Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Phil and Terry ... and 4-16?

Phil Robertson, Louisiana Tech
starting quarterback, 1966 and '67
       Every day it seems I run into  Duck Dynasty, and the Duck Commander.
       Not literally, of course; I haven't seen Phil Robertson in person since about 1968, or the season after he quit football and left the No. 1 quarterback job at Louisiana Tech University to Terry Bradshaw.
       No, it's figuratively -- TV promos, TV reruns, dozens (or hundreds) of links on the Internet, videos all over YouTube, an ad for Phil's new book: Happy, Happy, Happy: My Life and Legacy as the Duck Commander, a story telling of Miss Kay's new cookbook and the new collectibles featuring Uncle Si, Jase Robertson showing up supporting LSU at the College World Series, a story on the Willie and Korie's family audiobook, a link to the Duck Commander cruise next year
       Oh, wow, what else? In case you are reading this and you haven't heard of this Northeast Louisiana backwoods family -- and that might be the case for some of my readers in ... Holland and Israel -- just take my word: This is one of America's hottest topics. It's a craze ... maybe because they're kind of crazy.
       We made a weekend trip to a cabin on the Little Red River in north-central Arkansas -- Bea and I, our kids and their kids -- and some of the family we met there, the Dowers (15 of them) from the Sulphur/Moss Bluff, La., area began talking about ... Duck Dynasty, their favorite TV reality show.
       Plus, on the way to Arkansas, they stopped in West Monroe so they could visit the Duck Commander Co. headquarters. And they were excited about it.
       Just today, The Shreveport Times had a story that the Duck Commander Co. has entered a long-term agreement with America’s oldest family-owned and operated firearms manufacturer.
       Like I said, they're everywhere.
       I look at Facebook and there's a link to Terry Bradshaw's recent appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, with Terry talking about his Las Vegas stage show this Friday and Saturday at The Mirage. It's based on his life and is entitled "America's Favorite Dumb Blonde: A Life in Four Quarters."
       Yes, Bradshaw on stage in Las Vegas.
       I close that link and up pop a dozen other video links, and one is "Phil Robertson talks football and Terry Bradshaw." Hadn't seen it before; couldn't resist.
       For those of us who grew up in Shreveport and/or were at Louisiana Tech in the mid-1960s, we don't forget that in the 1966 and 1967 seasons, Phil and Terry were our Nos. 1 and 2 quarterbacks -- in that order. The national media -- ESPN and elsewhere -- jumped on that story earlier this year.
       We already knew. And -- I don't know how to say this gently -- both of them played terribly. I've got some numbers to bear that out, but I'll save them until the end. Just look at the team's records those years: 1-9 and 3-7.
         They were miserable, frustrating, disappointing seasons.
          So this is proof how much losing football seasons -- in the long-term -- really mean in life.
          I've written about Bradshaw's career previously: We had Oak Terrace Junior High, Woodlawn High and La. Tech in common.
         In my first game as a manager for Woodlawn's football team, Sept. 6, 1962, Phil Robertson was the winning quarterback. Trouble with that was, he played for North Caddo High. In the rain, on a soaked field, Phil was 4-of-8 passing for 30 yards -- and that was much better than our QB fared. North Caddo won 8-6, only one of two games we lost all season.
             So his name stuck for me. The next year, we beat his team 13-0 to open the season. The following season, 1964, he was a redshirt freshman at La. Tech already married to Miss Kay.
             One of Phil's older brothers, Tommy, was already playing football at Tech as a fast, talented cornerback/running back/kick returner.  An even older brother was my first connection with the Robertsons -- Jim was a sports writer at The Shreveport Times for little more than a year in 1963-64; he now lives in Elgin, Texas (near Austin), and has written a book, The Legend of the Duck Commander.
             Honestly, I've seen little of Duck Dynasty. It's not my thing -- neither duck hunting nor reality series. At this risk of hearing from its fans, it's too hokey, too contrived for me, too many stories that are embellished just a bit.
             But I appreciate Phil's ingenuity and the dedication to family values. He had a vision when he invented his duck calls, and started the company 4-5 years after leaving Tech, as he transformed his personal life and found religion, he was on his way to making millions of dollars.
             "He deserves everything he's got," said Jesse Carrigan, who grew up in the North Caddo area near the Robertsons and first remembers Phil as a junior high basketball star and then was an all-conference offensive lineman at Tech.
             He had a strong right arm and could throw a football with accuracy, could read defenses and run the pro-style offense legendary coach Joe Aillet put in at Tech before just about any other school in the area did. We expected Phil would step in nicely as the starter in 1966 to replace Billy Laird, who had been an all-conference QB before him.
             We also knew -- everyone knew -- how much Phil loved hunting and fishing, that few at Tech (maybe no one) was better at those things. He was popular with his teammates because he was -- literally -- so down to earth. He was all country; it was no act then, but he was sharp, too. As he's said and written, football wasn't everything to him, it was a means to get through school.
             The stories of him showing up for practice or QB meetings and wearing camouflage or smelly clothes from hunting or fishing trips, and of him skinning deer on his dining room table, they're not embellished. And so maybe he wasn't as dedicated a football player as he could've been.
             Still, we expected to have a good team in 1966. Tech had a coaching staff that had been together for a decade, plus Lee Hedges -- Bradshaw's high school coach and arguably the best high school coach in Shreveport-Bossier history -- had joined that year as offensive backs coach.
             And Joe Aillet -- brilliant, detail-oriented, soft-spoken -- had been guiding QBs and teaching winning football for 25 years with nearly twice as many wins (150) as losses (77). Two years earlier, Tech had gone 9-1, and the loss (at Southern Miss) was a disputed one. 
              Somehow, it all came apart that year.
               There is a clip on YouTube, 6 minutes and 17 seconds of the game's top plays, of Louisiana Tech vs. Alabama in Birmingham, our second game of the 1966 season. Alabama was the defending national champion and had a typical quick, aggressive, talented Bear Bryant team. Kenny Stabler was the quarterback, Dennis Homan the top receiver.            
       Bama would finish the season 11-0, ranked No. 3 in the country, uncrowned national champs (Notre Dame was No. 1 at the end of the regular season; that what counted then),
        Bama beat us 34-0, but the video shows Phil moving Tech's offense smartly several times, completing at least 13 passes -- many good reads, to backs out in the flat or on screens -- but also throwing four interceptions, one under duress, the other three right to Bama defenders.
             But you could see his talent.
             That Tech team, though, had spotty line play, some key injuries on defense, and a tougher-than-expected schedule with some opponents having great years, such as arch-rival Northwestern State (which had its best team ever and beat us 28-7).
              In February, 1967, Joe Aillet, at age 62, retired from coaching and became the fulltime athletic director. His successor was Maxie Lambright, and with an almost new coaching staff and not as many talented players as in previous years, the 1967 season was only slightly better for Tech.
             Phil was terrific in a couple of games, including a then-school record 302-yard passing day (but in a loss). Bradshaw was better, too, but neither of them made a big difference.
              In the season's final game, against Southern Mississippi in Shreveport on Thanksgiving Day, they combined to throw seven interceptions (five by Bradshaw, two by Robertson) and we lost 58-7.       
              As I've noted often, neither Phil nor Terry were very funny that day.  
             Sometime early in 1968, as I remember it, we got word that Phil had decided not to play football that fall. As he tells it now, football was no longer what he wanted to do, and that hunting and fishing was. Perhaps, too, though was the sense that Bradshaw was going to emerge as the No. 1 quarterback.
              Phil doesn't address that in the YouTube video recounting their reunion last November at the Los Angeles airport.  He does talk about Bradshaw's potential to play in the NFL and how he encouraged him.
LA airport reunion last fall: Terry and Phil, with Miss Kay
 and Willie Robertson (photo by Korie Robertson on
             What's funny is Phil telling Terry, "Bradshaw, son, you've got the arm. I said you certainly have the desire to be a great pro football player. I said, you've got the brains.' He said, 'You think so?' He only questioned me about the brainpower.
            "I said, 'Hey, you got enough sense. ..." and then adds, "You'll do well, my boy. I said, I'm gonna hunt ducks because I just love it more than throwing touchdown passes. So good luck to you.
           "Of course, he appreciated it because it moved him up to the No. 1 slot [at Tech].
            "So 44 years later, he runs me down in an airport, he grabbed me and I looked around and said, 'Good night, Bradshaw, is that you?'
             "So he went to tell me about his ailments: 'They broke my neck, they broke my ribs, they tore my knee up.' He's telling me all the things that happened to him, you know. I told him back there some 40 years ago that I was going the less stressful route."
          Through the years, some ex-Tech players would ask me about Phil or tell me that they'd heard he'd done quite well in business with the duck calls, etc.,, and that he had grown a long beard and had a "mountain man" look.  But it wasn't until a couple of years ago that I saw what he looked like, when he had an appearance with Conan O'Brien just prior to the Duck Dynasty pilot show.
            And Phil that night was much funnier than I had remembered. Bradshaw, of course, has always been quite the character/entertainer ... while he was playing football and certainly for three decades since he retired.
              So we, the people from Tech who saw them struggle in football for two seasons, certainly are proud of where they are now.
             Robertson said Bradshaw told him, "You know, you ain't done bad" and Phil told Terry, "Well, you did pretty well yourself son, four Super Bowl (titles). He said, "But now you're a movie star.' I said, "There you go.
                "Hey, we both came out of it pretty good.
              "But it was good to see him. He's a good guy. Bradshaw's a good dude."
                Jesse Carrigan has a good twist to it.
               "You know, I used to tell people that I played football with Terry Bradshaw," he said. "Now I tell them I played football with Phil Robertson.
                  "Actually, now we can all say we played with both of them."
               Now the numbers I promised. In 1966, Phil threw 18 interceptions and only four touchdown passes; Terry threw eight interceptions and no TD passes. In 1967, Phil threw 14 interceptions and five touchdown passes; Terry threw 10 interceptions and three TD passes.
               Add that up: Phil, 32 interceptions, nine TDs; Terry, 18 interceptions, three TDs.
               I could give you more, but here's the idea. Those aren't winning numbers.
               And obviously -- as I always tell people -- those two seasons didn't exactly ruin their lives.
               They are, in the Duck Commander's way of putting it, two good dudes. Yeah, they both came out of it pretty good.   


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Greatest of All Time? You decide

       When I see these stories or hear talk on TV, or in a newspaper sports department, or anywhere, about "the greatest" in whatever category, I try not to pay attention.
       It's a stupid discussion, thank you.
       Here's my point: Who is going to decide? You might see Sports Illustrated or Sporting News or ESPN, or any other media outlet or individual, do a survey or make its own choices and I say, it doesn't matter.
       It's all subjective ... unless God makes the ruling, or Moses returns with those tablets that give us the final selection.
       I bring this up today because I've seen recent references to LeBron James being the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time) in basketball. Yes, LeBron and his Miami Heat teammates might win a second consecutive NBA title tonight, but LeBron as the greatest player ever?
       Hardly. Not even close.
       Frank Deford, who is on my list of nominees as Greatest of All Time in sportswriting, had his take on this subject a month ago: So he can write it more effectively than I can.
       But here's what I'm trying to point out. You've got LeBron, who still has a few championships to win before I'd even put him in my conversation. You've got Michael Jordan, who did lead six NBA championship teams and who many people think is the greatest ever. And those six championships are only five short of Bill Russell's titles as the Boston Celtics' center/leader.
       Was there ever a greater individual talent than Wilt Chamberlain, who once averaged more than 50 points a game for a season and another season played more than 48 minutes a game (think about that)?  
       You could pick Oscar Robertson, who could do everything well, and personally Jerry West was the player I most loved to watch.
       How about Lew Alcindor, certainly my pick as the greatest college player ever, and as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, perhaps the greatest college/pro ever (three national/six NBA titles) to Russell's two/11))?
       Those of us from Louisiana might go with Bob Pettit or Shaq or "The Mailman" (Karl Malone) or "The Big E" (Elvin Hayes) ... or the one and only Pistol Pete Maravich, a scoring/passing talent unmatched in college ball.
       So how the heck do you decide? Who decides the Greatest?
       Pick a "greatest" category:
       Hockey? The Great Gretzky. Movies? The Great Gatsby. Magic? The Great Houdini. Television? The Great Carsoni (the young Johnny Carson act ... OK, it's a reach). World dynasty? Alexander The Great. A structure? The Great Wall of China.
One of the "greatest" in my opion:
Sandy Koufax (
       Greatest home run hitter? Babe Ruth. Hank Aaron. Barry Bonds. Mark McGwire. We'll take the Babe, of course, because as my great friend Casey Baker always pointed out, he was so much better than his peers. And how else can you compare players from different eras?
       Greatest left-handed pitcher? Warren Spahn or Sandy Koufax or Whitey Ford or -- a distant fourth, in my opinion -- nasty Randy Johnson.
       OK, here's one that's not going to get any argument: Greatest left-handed Jewish pitcher?  A dandy named Sandy. Not Kenny Holtzman.
       Golf? Well, it's hard not to say Tiger Woods these days, but he might not be the greatest living golfer as long as Jack Nicklaus is still around. Ben Hogan. Byron Nelson. Gene Sarazan and, oh, yes, Bobby Jones, who never did turn pro.
       Back to basketball -- greatest NBA coach? Red Auerbach or Phil Jackson? Pat Riley? And, yes, Gregg Popovich, whose number of championships could change from four to five tonight.
       Don't believe John Wooden as greatest men's college basketball coach will get an argument. But if you read this blogger's post of 02/29/12 it said that Pat Summitt "is the greatest coach in the history of college athletics."  That did get some argument.
       And the blog post of 11/15/12 called Bill Snyder of Kansas State "the greatest college football coach ever." Ha. I think Alabama fans now have two men they could nominate for that.
       (See, I can have my own stupid opinions.)
       I could go on and on, but let's turn to greatest quarterbacks.
       When I worked at the Florida Times-Union in the late 1980s/early 1990s, we had a group of writers who often argued about the greatest QB in NFL history. Often? No, every day at lunch, and as they came back to into the office after lunch? Every day ... for about two years.           
       They -- Pete Prisco, Jeff Fries, Ray McNulty, and sometimes Gene Frenette, Frank Frangie, Garry Smits -- are probably still arguing Dan Marino vs. Johnny U., Bart Starr, Joe Namath, Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach, Dan Fouts.
       A few of those writers were huge Marino fans -- and they're still waiting for his first Super Bowl title.
       I could have told them Bradshaw or Staubach, although Unitas -- in my mind -- was the role model for any QB that followed him.
       What I did tell them was how stupid their argument -- their every-day argument -- was ... who was going to make the final decision so we wouldn't have to listen to them anymore?
       They never even considered or talked about Joe Ferguson ... unless I brought it up. Totally partial here, but we know Joe is the greatest high school quarterback of all time. If you want to argue that, check with Chuck Baker of Alma, Ark., or with A.L. Williams or J.W. Cook or any of the thousands of 1960s Shreveport Woodlawn faithful.
The cover says it all about Ali

       I have saved boxing for last because it's a double-sided argument: (1) the greatest heavyweight of all time and (2) the greatest pound-for-pound fighter of all time.
       In heavyweights, you've got Jack Dempsey, Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Joe Frazier, George Foreman ... and one other guy. Pound-for-pound, it's Sugar Ray Robinson or maybe Roberto Duran or Sugar Ray Leonard, but Floyd Mayweather -- unbeaten and still going -- might be the pick.
       But The Greatest? That was what he called himself.
       First, he was known as Cassius Clay, then he became Muhammad Ali.
       For a few decades, he told us and told us and told us, "I Am The Greatest ... the greatest of all time." He can't tell us anymore, but if  you don't believe it, just watch this:
      Hey, this is my choice. You make your own choices. We can all believe we're right.  And that's just ... great.          

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

'Let's go hit a lick'

Pete Dosher
       There were many reasons I attended Louisiana Tech University, but the main reason was the sports information director.
        His name was T.H. Dosher -- Taliford Harris Dosher. Taliford Harris? No wonder everyone knew him as Pete.
        Without his influence, without his help, I might've gone elsewhere.
         But in the early 1960s, the best athletes from Woodlawn High School in Shreveport, and dozens  of kids from there were going to Louisiana Tech. By the middle of my junior year in high school, I knew I was too.
          Because by then, I had met Pete Dosher, and he pretty much made it known that he wanted me to come work in the sports information office. Yes, he "recruited" me.
          I'd been hearing about Tech, about the famed football coach/athletic director Joe Aillet, from a sportswriter at The Shreveport Times, Ed Shearer, and some of my coaches at Woodlawn, ex-Tech players -- Jerry Adams, Billy Joe Adox and A.L. Williams (especially A.L., who was one of Coach Aillet's biggest fans).
         When Ed, and later Jim McLain of The Times, began inviting me to accompany them to Tech home football games they were covering, I met Pete Dosher, and I got to sit in the little press (maybe it seated 20) at the old Tech Stadium.
           Ed and Jim had been talking to Pete about me; so had Coach Williams. Pete showed me what the young men who were keeping statistics during games were doing, and let me sit close so I could observe.  I knew that starting in the 1965 season that job would be mine.
            Pete told me that Tech had a work-study financial aid program, and usually had money available from that for a student assistant in sports information. He kept in touch by mail, and by the middle of my senior year at Woodlawn, he had me lined up to begin that fall.
           And again -- this happened to me a lot -- he was one of the most influential people in my life.
           He was really my guardian angel at Louisiana Tech. Pete, who was one of the most unflappable, most unemotional, calmest people I've ever been around, would probably have snorted at being called a guardian angel. But just as he had done with Shearer, and maybe Louis Bonnette, and with Glenn Lewis, and others in athletics and journalism at Tech, Pete really took care of me.
           He was also a journalism professor at Tech, so I had probably a half dozen courses under him. But those weren't gimmes; you had to do your work in Pete's classes.
            In fact, Orville K. "Buddy" Davis -- my best journalism pal and already the Ruston Daily Leader sports editor then (and still, after 50 years) -- and I called him "Sneaky Pete" because Pete usually threw in a couple of tricky questions on tests.
           Of course, we didn't call him "Sneaky Pete" to his face. And we'd laugh because Pete -- as droll and dry-witted and country as anyone -- would refer to us as "peckerwoods."
          But here's how Pete took care of me. In four years at Tech, there were few weeks -- if any -- that I did not eat at least one meal at the Dosher house and visit with Pete and Miss Mary, and their two little daughters, Kelsey and Kathleen.
          Some weeks it was multiple meals with the Doshers out there on the Monroe Highway in Ruston.
          Plus, Pete loved his coffee breaks. We'd go to the P.O. Cafe, at the corner of Tech Drive and Highway 80, almost every day.  
          He gave me guidance in picking classes and professors, and finding textbooks through the athletic department. He paid attention to my Dad when he'd attend Tech games.
          And I learned a helluva lot from Pete in my one year with him as the SID.
          He had been a reporter at a couple of newspapers before coming back to Tech, and he was a very solid writer. He was so fundamentally sound as a journalist, and he was a quick writer. He loved athletics -- he had been an All-State basketball player at Jena (La.) High School and also played at Tech in the late 1940s -- and he loved Coach Aillet and really all the Tech staff. Many had been there for years, preceding Pete.
            Pete, who had been Tech's first student SID assistant, became Tech's SID in 1957. He knew everyone on campus that was anyone, and he knew his business thoroughly.
             He went over the statistics forms with me, how to report them to the NCAA weekly, and how to report game stats and facts -- or call in stories -- to the various papers in the area. Remember, this was before fax machines, long before computers; it was all reported by phone, by dictation.
              He gave me carte blanche to reorganize Tech's athletic record books; Pete trusted me to do it the way I wanted.
               But here's the two biggest lessons Pete taught me, journalistically.
               In football season, we'd send out a couple of stories a day -- maybe a feature, or a game  advance, or just a daily practice report, or a factsheet for the upcoming game. From day one, Pete encouraged me to write.
               In those days, we would write the story on a stensel, then run 30-40 copies on a mimeograph machine to mail out. First day I went to write, I wanted to type the story on a sheet of paper, then retype the complete version on a stensel. That way, if I screwed up and had to rearrange, I wouldn't have a messy stensil.
              No, no, Pete said, that takes too long. Just organize your story as you go, don't worry about the mistakes. If you have to xxxx out a word or two, it's OK, don't sweat it; we'll copy-edit it.

My freshman year at Louisiana Tech: At a home
basketball game with Pete (from the Lagniappe)
               So that helped me to learn to organize the story immediately, to type more carefully to avoid typos -- and to strive to do it right the first time. Writing off the top of my head would serve me well for the next 45 years in the newspaper business.
                Lesson No. 2: Pete stressed that when you're covering a game the way you're supposed to, or you're doing statistics, there's not time to get emotionally involved in the game. Pete was a cool guy, so that was no problem for him.
                As a newspaper reporter, I almost always followed his example well; I was busy trying to keep stats and play-by-play, and think of story angles. As an SID (at Centenary), I was far, far too involved. So that lesson didn't take entirely.
               And so many days, it'd be lunch time and he'd say, "Well, let's go to the house and grab a bite. Mary (who was a nurse) will be there." The conversation with Pete and Mary was always a pleasure. She was as informed and interesting, and low-key and friendly, as Pete.
           When we'd get ready to return to the office, Pete would say, "Well, let's go hit a lick." Which meant there was a story to write.       
           Soon after I came to Tech, the twin boys (Karl and Keith) joined the Dosher family. Pete wanted more time with all his bunch, so he left the sports information job but remained a journalism professor.
           Pete had hoped to become the head of the journalism department when Kenneth Hewins, who had been at Tech since the Middle Ages, retired. Pete didn't get the job; instead, it went to Wiley Hilburn, a Ruston High/Tech alum who was an editorial writer at The Shreveport Times and a darned good one.
            Wiley would build an outstanding journalism department at Tech over the next three decades. Pete moved on -- to nearby Grambling State University. He started a journalism department there and also, as Grambling's football program became nationally famous, helped the legendary SID there, Collie Nicholson, with publicity work. Pete became as big a fan of Eddie Robinson's as he had been of Coach Aillet.
          His journalism program, at a time when opportunities were opening up for blacks, paved the way for many of his students to get jobs at prominent papers all over the country.
           Still, even that year (my senior year) when Pete was at Grambling, he would call me in the SID office at Tech once or twice a week to go have lunch at the Dosher house.
           We stayed in touch over the years, always. I have a dozen Pete letters, most of them gems. I go back and read them now, and I can't help but get choked up.
             In one of his final letters, Pete mentions the people we knew, friends, who had died and he said, "It might not be too long for me." I think he knew he had cancer (he was a longtime smoker).
            It wasn't long after that when I got word that he had been in Little Rock for treatment, but had gone home to Ruston. In February 2003, I made one last visit to see him for a brief moment. I've talked about that in a previous blog
              Two days later he died.
              I had told Mary I couldn't return for the funeral, but after I read his obit, I called her and said, "That was a wonderfully written obit." Mary laughed and replied, "Pete wrote it."
               Four years later, the Louisiana Sports Writers Association honored Pete with the Distinguished Service in Journalism Award, which pleased his family greatly -- and pleased me.
              For me, Pete Dosher's distinguished service went far beyond journalism. Nothing sneaky about it.  

Sunday, June 16, 2013

It's a double "happy ..." day

The photo Rachel posted for Father's Day ... this was a litte
more than eight years ago -- one of the great days.
       This is one of those rare June 16ths -- not only my birthday, but also Father's Day. Doesn't happen all that often.
       It's the first time June 16 has fallen on a Sunday in 11 years, since 2002. It's happened five times -- 1985, 1991, 1996, 2002 and today -- since I became a father.
       So that means double "happy ... " today. Double the cards and double the presents from my wife, my kids and my grandkids -- all my favorite people. And because this is my third Facebook birthday, I thank you in advance (because I'm posting this early this morning) for all the birthday wishes.
       (Actually, those began Sunday a week ago from my old Shreveport Times friends Gerry Robichaux and Jim McLain, who -- in newspaper parlance -- got their copy in early.)
        My mother, in her last couple of decades, used to joke, when asked about her age, that the number had a "7" -- later an "8" -- in it, but she couldn't remember the other number. Today, my birthday number has a "6" ... in fact, two 6s.
        Doesn't bother me; age really is just a stage of mind. But then my wife says she's waiting for me to act my age, and she's been waiting a long time. What are the chances?
        What does bother me is that my reflexes, flexibility and balance aren't as good as they once were. I don't hear as well on the phone, and I get tired more easily. Yet, because of daily walks and much healthier eating (not always, mind you, but most of the time), I'm still in decent shape.
With Jason in 2005 ... now it's Father's Day for him, too
         So it's OK to have another birthday, and I'll take as many more as I can. But I'm a lot prouder of the significance of Father's Day; being a dad and granddad is the best part of my life. No presents can equal that.
         A year ago on my birthday, I did a Q&A with myself for the blog. Today I will offer some birthday wishes.
         Some of these are sincere, some are folly, some are idealistic. Deep down I'm still an idealist, although I try to look at the world realistically. So please excuse what might be silly notions.
         Here goes ... here's what I wish for on my birthday:
         -- Continued good health. It's irreplaceable. We've been so blessed that Beatrice is going strong, 11 years after her first colon cancer scare/surgery.
         -- Much more time with the three grandkids. They give us the most joy, the best moments and memories.
         -- More success for our kids in their respective businesses, whether it's in plumbing construction supply, the Cajun Tailgators food truck, sports talk radio ("The Drive" in Knoxville) or the middle school resource center.
         -- More good blog topics.
         -- The resolution of confrontations through compromise in the U.S. Congress and in the Middle East (see, I told you some of this was idealism).
         -- Relief from our financial crisis/mess and a sensible way to solve the immigration issue that leaves everyone satisfied to an extent. Impossible, right?
         -- Cures for the physical ailments that rob years from so many people.
         -- No losses, ever, for the Yankees (this has been a bad week), LSU, Louisiana Tech and the Dutch national soccer team. (Don't wish anything bad for the Rangers and Astros ... except when they play the Yankees). If LSU and La. Tech face each other, in any sport, may the best team win.
         -- Convince Jerry Jones that the way to really improve the Cowboys is for him (and his family) to sell the team to someone who knows what they're doing. Stop trying to convince people that the Dallas Cowboys are still an elite franchise in the NFL. It just isn't so.
         -- Give Jason Garrett a personality to match what everyone says is his brainpower. As the head coach, he is just plain boring -- cliche-ridden, secretive, rote -- and his playcalling was as boring as his meetings with the media. And Tom Landry had a "plastic man" reputation?
         -- Make the careless and overrated Tony Romo stop sinking to the occasion when the Cowboys most need him to come through. Dez Bryant? Don't even want to start ...
         -- Renewed relevance for the Mavericks in the NBA and the Stars in the NHL. Some guards for the Mavs who can play with games on the line.
         -- A lot less media time for Nick Saban and Gary Patterson and several other college football coaches who take themselves much too seriously. (We'd like to hear from some other people.) A lot less goofiness and better in-game decisions for our man Les Miles; is that possible?
         -- Speaking of too seriously, a lot less media time, too, for Tiger Woods, who doesn't seem to enjoy himself as he's winning golf tournaments and who isn't much fun for me to watch. Sure, he's the greatest player going, but he could show a human side.
         -- While we're on golf ... happy birthday (43rd)/Father's Day, too, to Phil Mickelson, who -- if he can finish this off -- can give himself his first U.S. Open title today (after five second-place finishes).
         -- Make LeBron James and Dwyane Wade go away. Don't like watching them, either. In fact, I don't like watching the NBA, period. But Beatrice loves her Mavericks, and at least Dirk looks as if  he's having fun, most of the time.
         -- New faces in tennis ... tired of Nadal, Djokovic, Federer, Serena. How about Patrick Harrison, or Christian Harrison? That way I might even watch tennis.
         -- Somehow, some way, new life for newspapers and continued employment for those who are still working in that field. Good luck to you people. I don't miss it.
         -- Happy retirement for Mariano Rivera, but plenty more saves for the Yankees' closer the rest of this season.
         -- A return to the field, in good physical shape, for Derek Jeter -- like Mo, a class act, always.
         -- Lots of change -- coins and dollar bills -- on the ground in the streets around the TCU area where I walk daily. I'll be looking for it and if I find it, it's mine.
         -- Enough exercise to make it worthwhile. And while it's hot in the summer, daily dips in the pool.
         -- Continued forms of entertainment for us in Fort Worth and/or Arlington -- concerts at Bass Hall, monthly old movies and jazz performances at the Central Library, the Concerts in the Garden, the Botanical Gardens, plays at the Jubilee Theater, the golf tournament at Colonial right down the street, even a ballgame now and then.
         -- More great meals, at home and elsewhere. But sensible ones -- cut the white bread and the potatoes and gravy, limit the cake and cookies and ice cream, no sweet tea, no soft drinks. Lots of fruits and greens, almond milk and low sodium vegetable juice.
         -- More good books. I've read about a dozen the last couple of months, some of which had been sitting near this computer for two-plus years. Our book club has taken me far beyond the realm of sports (seriously).
         -- For my friends who have loved ones with serious health challenges, prayers and best wishes and sympathy, and the strength to deal with whatever they face. Seems as if every day, we have a friend who has lost a parent or a spouse, and it's one aspect of growing older that I find difficult. We must accept that this is part of our experience on earth.
         -- For all my friends, old and new (on Facebook), good thoughts. There's lots to cherish in this world of ours.
         I didn't ask for too much, did I?            

Thursday, June 13, 2013

In touch with my great-grandparents

      (Sixth in a series)
      My grandfather's father, Levi Van Thijn, was a devout Orthodox Jew. He lived by the laws of the religion.
      When, in the last decade of his life, he lived in a Jewish home for older people and it was the weekend or a Jewish holiday, and he wanted to join his family in their old neighborhood, he walked a significant distance. Because Orthodox Jews don't use public transportation, cars or (as then) bicycles on those occasions.
      He was there because gatherings for his extended Van Thijn family in Amsterdam in the 1930s were a big deal. That's how my Dad described it in his USC Shoah Foundation interview as a Holocaust survivor.
      My Dad, also named Levi Van Thijn at birth, was not devout and was not Orthodox.  I wouldn't say he was religious; I would say he was faithful to his heritage. 
      I don't think he knew many of the prayers by heart, whether in Hebrew, or Dutch or English (or his mixture of the two). He knew phrases and he knew the traditions, and he enjoyed the connections with the Jewish community -- in Amsterdam and in Shreveport --
and he liked the participation.
      He was once president of the men's club at his synagogue in Shreveport, and he was involved in many of the activities. He did handy work around Agudath Achim, which was -- if he had preferred -- within easy walking distance from the house.
       My parents didn't follow the kosher dietary laws and they were not regular attendees at Sabbath services, but they didn't miss going to worship on the High Holidays. 
       However, don't mistake this. My mother and father were extremely proud of being Jewish.
       They knew the price that so many had paid as Jews -- for centuries, of course, and specifically during World War II. They knew the price their family had paid, that they had paid.
       They were among the Holocaust survivors -- consider them "lucky," if you will, because they did -- and they knew the horror of losing almost entire families.
        My Dad, and my Mom, perhaps felt they didn't need to be told what it meant to be a Jew; they didn't feel the need to be preached to or to have it defined for him. His grandfather and his parents had set the definition in his mind. 
        "I believe in God," he said late in his Shoah Foundation interview, "but I cannot sit and hear sermons. I cannot sit inside a room and listen to speeches at the organizations where I'm a member. I don't -- how do I say this? -- I don't feel good that I have to listen all the time."
      But his devout grandfather and those family gatherings were some of Dad's fondest memories of his boyhood.
      Near the start of his 1996 interview, Dad was asked about his hometown.
      "Amsterdam is a big town now," he said. "It was big in that time, too. Amsterdam was a nice town to live in, especially for the Jewish people. We were living in a Jewish neighborhood. It wasn't necessary, but my parents wanted that, they wanted to live in a Jewish neighborhood."
        Unlike my sister Elsa and me, my Dad grew up surrounded by family. His father and mother each had six siblings; many of them living in that neighborhood.  The nearby clothing company for which his mother worked also employed three of his uncles -- one of his mother's brothers and two of her sisters' husbands.
     Jewish holidays particularly were times for family.
     "With Pesach (Passover), we went to seder, with my grandfather," Dad recalled. "My father had all those brothers and sisters, and they were all there. Here (the United States) you'd get a hot meal. There, we'd eat matzos for the meal. I remember that real well.
       "We'd have it at one of my aunt's house, and there'd be children and grandchildren, and it'd be about 40 together. Only matzos and something on the matzos, like cheese or eggs or brown sugar.
      "One year, my mother was a member of a group, and for Pesach, she got 100 eggs. She gave a nickel a week -- someone would come and pick it up at home; there was a special man, he made a living at that. He went through the whole neighborhood every day and picked up some money from the people."
      Dad's grandfather had been a widower for years, and at one time lived with one of his kids. Dad remembered him living in the Jewish retirement home.
      In the early 1940s, when Dad was in the Dutch army, "I remember that I go visit him with a cousin, both of us in military clothes. And he was so proud."
      Our genealogy shows that Levi Van Thyn died Nov. 20, 1942, at age 82. It was a merciful death.
      "It was a couple of weeks before he would've been deported to Auschwitz," my Dad noted. Two weeks later, that whole house was deported to Auschwitz or somewhere. It was a Jewish hospital, and in the back was the old-age home."
     My Dad's paternal grandmother, Levi's wife, died when Dad was young.
     "I remember the funeral, that's the only thing I remember," he said in his interview. "We had to stay on the side because we were Cohens [according to the Jewish Funeral Guide, a Cohen is a descendant of Aaron the High Priest and may not come in contact with any dead body or within a certain distance of a Jewish corpse or grave]. You couldn’t go to the cemetery. They had a special building for us.”
     He never knew his mother's father, who died young, but he knew her mother, Eva.
Eva Aandagt-Van Beem
     "I knew her real well because she stayed with us for a while," Dad said. Six of Eva's children, Sara and her siblings, lived in Amsterdam, but Eva wound up living with the one child in Antwerp.
     "But she came often to Amsterdam," Dad said. "She had a cousin of my mother who was working for the railroad, and she had a free pass and she'd pick her up in Antwerp and took her to Amsterdam all the time."
      When Eva died in the late 1930s, Dad noted, "I took her place in Antwerp" when he went to apprentice for diamond cutting.

     In 1991, when I returned to Holland for the first time in 36 years, one day my Dad took me to a cemetery near Diemen, where we were staying with Dad's closest friend in Holland. It was within walking distance.
      After he searched for a while, Dad found his grandfather's grave -- against a back fence on the right side of a good-sized old Jewish cemetery. He was quite satisfied to remember the location.
      It was a memorable moment for me, a reconnection of sorts.
      There are no graves for all the family we lost in the Holocaust. But the memories -- fleeting as they are -- live on. Those people, many of them devoutly Jewish, are not forgotten. There's still family carrying on.

Next: Growing up in Jewish Amsterdam

Monday, June 10, 2013

A place for memories ... and tears

      There were many emotional moments for me on this trip back to The Netherlands, but nothing like the emotions at the Hollandsche Schouwburg.
      It is a place of deep meaning, of symbolism, of a time before I was born, of confinement and suffering, of goodbyes ... and of death.
      It was part of a personal four-stop tour of Jewish history in Amsterdam, with the Joods Historisch Museum, the Portuguese Synagogue and the Auschwitz memorial. I'd seen them all before, on previous trips (in 1991 and 2004, both with my Dad), but I wanted to see them again -- and Beatrice, too, wanted to see them.
      Visiting them, and reading the material in panels on the wall and watching the informational videos provides a sense of Jewish life in Amsterdam and Holland for centuries, with specific emphasis on the buildup to and the events of World War II, and the Holocaust.
From the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam,
an explanation of the Holocaust survivors' plight
after the end of World War II.
        The Schouwburg is the place where I could, somehow, touch my family, honor their past. This is as close as it comes to a memorial -- a gravesite, so to speak -- to those who didn't survive the Holocaust.
      Here, from the Schouwburg's web site, is the history of what this building represents:
      Until 1940, The Hollandsche Schouwburg was a popular theatre, putting on many well-known Dutch plays. In 1941 the Nazi occupiers changed the theatre's name into Joodsche Schouwburg, or, Jewish Theatre. After that, only Jewish actors and artistes were allowed to perform there -- for a strictly Jewish audience. Over the years the function of the Schouwburg changed drastically. Between 1942 and 1943 Jews from Amsterdam and surrounding districts were obliged to report at the Hollandsche Schouwburg before being deported. Most of them were brought to the theatre by force. They were transported to the Dutch transit camps in Westerbork or Vught. These were the last stops before they were herded onto trains bound for one of the extermination camps.
      After the liberation, attempts to put on public performances in the Hollandsche Schouwburg led to a storm of protest. In 1947 the theatre was sold to the Hollandsche Schouwburg Comittee, aimed at preventing the Schouwburg from ever being used again as a theatre. In 1962 the city council of Amsterdam placed a monument here in remembrance of the Jewish victims of the Nazi terror. In 1993 a memorial chapel was installed, listing the 6.700 family names of the 104.000 Jews from the Netherlands who were murdered in the war. Today the Hollandsche Schouwburg is a monument and war memorial.
      There's not that much to the site, really. The building doesn't jump out at you; it's in the middle of a block on Plantage Middenlaan, not far from the popular Amsterdam zoo (Artis), and about four blocks walk from the Jewish Historical Museum and the Portuguese Synagogue.
     But three elements stand out: (1) An eternal flame just inside the front entrance; (2) a wall, a bulletin-board type wall, with hundreds of family names; and (3) outside the back door, a garden area with a plain stone wall, a memorial to those who fought to save the Jews of Amsterdam and Holland. There are benches to sit and reflect -- or offer prayers.
Videos shown on a brick wall in the Jewish Historical Museum
give a view of what life was like for Jews in Amsterdam and
The Netherlands pre- and post-World War II.
      The eternal flame -- just as the one for President Kennedy and his family at Arlington National Cemetery -- is a beautiful symbol.
      The wall of names ... I remembered it. Now, you can use a hand computer-like device to center on a name and find a link to a digital directory/history.
      I also remember that, on a previous visit, those names could be found in books -- names of those who had come through the Schouwburg on the way to the deathly concentration camps. Now it's computerized ... and you can link to it through the web site.
      I searched out the name "Lopes Dias" -- my mother's family -- and found the link to Abraham, my grandfather, plus the links to family (my grandmother, Rachel Lopes Dias-Kopuit, and my aunt, Anna Fierlier-Lopes Dias, and a reference to one child, no name listed, who survived the war. My mother.)
      A link to the page:
      Confession: I could not find "Van Thyn." Brain cramp. Here's why: I forgot that it was listed as "van Thijn." Moreover, it was listed alphabetically as starting with a T, as in "Thijn, van."
      After getting help with that, I found Nathan Van Thijn, my grandfather, and the link to his wife, my grandmother Sara van Thijn-van Beem, and my uncle, Jonas van Thijn -- my Dad's younger brother (who died at age 10). Had to look in another spot for my dad's older brother, Hyman, and his wife (Regina Van Thijn-Kok) and 2-year-old son (Nico).
      And again, the notation ... one child that survived the war. My father.
      Here's the page:
      Each time I found one of these links brought tears.
      My Dad, for those who aren't familiar, wasn't in Amsterdam or Holland in the early 1940s when the Nazis moved in. So he didn't experience the Schouwburg. He had moved to Antwerp, Belgium, and was living there -- and was deported to the transit camps in Belgium and France from there. And he also lost a family there -- his first wife and her parents.
      Also looked up the name "Lezer," as in Moses Lezer, my mother's first husband, and found that link.
      And searched for the name "Kopuit" and found my mother's uncle (Philip) and his wife (Helena) and their son (Maurits). But they didn't go to the Schouwburg or the camps ... they were hidden out on a farm in South Holland. There, Philip Kopuit died young of a heart attack.
      But that family's history is included in the Schouwburg records ... I suspect because Maurits supplied the information. He became the editor of the Jewish newspaper in Amsterdam until his death of heart disease in 1992.
      Best thing about our visit to the Schouwburg was that the people there gave me the information I needed to link into the digital site, and make the connections to my family's pages. And if you're interested, here are the links ...

      Next: I return to my series on my Dad and his family's history. It's "A Search for My Great-Grandfather."



Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Holland trip, pictures ...

      Here is a collection of photos I have not posted previously from our trip to Holland (please excuse the quality of some, especially those taken at the Rijksmuseum, where I ran afoul of the no-flash watch a couple of times) ...

The marina in Zaandam just below our host Kitty's
apartment at Hoge Horn

The building next door (note: the base is in the water)

The cruise ships arrived in the Zaandam harbor every night

The string of old windmills at the Zaanse Schans

Nice setting at the entrance to the Zaanse Schans

A solitary windmill across the bridge from
the Zaanse Schans

The drawbridge over the River Schans
Bea and Kitty, at one of the most popular
spots for photos at the Zaanse Schans
Polder land in the fertile farm area
One of the beautiful old windmills lined up in a row
A couple of the smaller windmills in the farm area

Kitty and Bea after their visit into the old oil mill

This goat put on quite a show begging for food

A wooden shoes display (you can get them
 any size, any design, any color)
An American couple enjoys the visit to the Zaanse Schans
The layout of the very popular tourist attraction
The International Peace Palace, in The Hague
Bea with our tall friends Peter and Patricia DeWeijs
Thanks to Peter for taking this photo (and for
a wonderful day and a renewed friendship)
One of the Dutch Parliament buildings in
the area known as the Binnenhof (inner square)
This is the entrance to the Ridderzaal (Hall of Knights), where
the new king will open Parliament on the third Tuesday
 each September. He will arrive, as the three queens who
preceded him (his great grandmother, grandmother and mother)
in the Golden Coach after a short ride from his working office.
This is the palace where then-Queen Beatrix had her working
office, just a few blocks from Parliament square
Peter and Patricia took us on a lengthy drive around the
 beautiful and bountiful flower fields in South Holland province

Back in Amsterdam, with Dr. Karen Gordon of Shreveport, my
cousin Heleen, her husband Jacky Borgenicht, and Bea
Even before you see the masterful paintings,
the Rijksmuseum's front lobby area
 is spectacular.

Beatrice at the Rijksmuseum (a great photo of her)
... and a not-so-great photo subject (looking lost in the crowd)
The Rijks has a massive library section, a couple of floors deep

Ship models ... everywhere
Andy Warhol's portrait of Queen Beatrix
A bust of the famed William of Orange in armor
The replica of a battleship, inside and outside
Knights, always knights ... couldn't resist
taking this photo
The historic Delft blue collection (Delft blue is another
Dutch trademark ... available in many places)
So many scale models of oldtime Dutch battleships
William of Orange III ...
 ... and his story
Bea said these government officials, posing for an official
portrait, should be called "the sourpusses)
A painting of the Royal Palace in Amsterdam
Cabinet making a couple of hundred years ago
produced some masterful work on display
in the Rijksmuseum

A plaque explaining how the United States helped Holland
on the road to recovery in the aftermath of World War II
This pelican was a little reminder of Louisiana
Shooting into a mirror, with the pelican in
the background

 This is a figurehead from the frigate Prins van Oranje, circa
1844. Made of wood, it was built in the
naval yards in Rotterdam in 1828.
In The Hague, a statue of Queen Wilhemina (and in my
opinion, not a flattering one. Bea says it was art).
A view of the Concertgebouw (concert hall) in Amsterdam
A view of the Concertgebouw's lower-level seating area
(taken from the right side of the Great Hall)
A much smaller music venue: A hall in the Zaantheater in
Zaandam, scene of a jazz battle of the bands -- a real fun
event -- on the night of the new king's investiture. Some
talented young people performed.
The street where my Dad lived as a young man
The street where my mother lived, only a couple of blocks
from my Dad's house in the Transvaalbuurt
The street where we lived my first 8 1/2 years
And the streetview taken looking back from the canal
(our house is the little white one on the right -- right above
 the van -- next to the red-bricked apartments)
The Kostverlorenkade cafe, along the canal just a few
blocks from where we lived
In front of the old house (this is a very short video)
Following my parents' footsteps in Holland
... yes, big shoes to fill