Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy old year -- and happy new year

     For the Van Thyns, 2013 was, as Mr. Frank Sinatra sang years ago, a very good year.
     My first year of full retirement gave us plenty of time to read, to watch movies and television, to attend concerts and appearances, weddings and funerals, to travel (highlighted by a two-week trip to my home country in April), and -- best of all, as always -- to enjoy our kids and grandkids.
      Do I miss working? No, I don't. Don't think about it much, either.
      I get my writing fix from this blog -- this is blog No. 192 -- in 23 months since I started it. That's almost two per week, which is my goal.
      So I get enough of sports writing through it, plus what I read on the Internet, and get enough sports through my reading and from television.
      My vision of the blog when I began was to write about my life and career, and about my family's history, with sports and Shreveport-related pieces mixed in. This year it partly turned into a project -- to tell my father and mother's stories in relation to the Holocaust.
        I have done 13 chapters of my Dad's "story," with probably as many chapters to go. My intention is to then recap my mother's story -- although it more familiar to many people who heard her speak publicly over a quarter-century.
        This year another project was to tell Kenneth Harvey's story, the young athlete in Logansport, La., whose life changed dramatically in one instant in the fall of 1964 -- when we were both high school seniors. It was a story I'd always wanted to do, and now I have ... in nine blog pieces in September and a condensed (but not short) story that ran in The Shreveport Times on Oct. 9.
          Meeting Kenneth and the people in Logansport were two of the best days of my year. Thought of him many days, as I did my old, good friend Orville Kince (O.K.) "Buddy" Davis, who is still battling after a stroke in early July. The blog piece I did on him was a popular one, too, and I made two trips to Ruston to visit with him.
          Those guys, Kenneth and Buddy, are gentle and sweet, tough and determined. They are inspirations to so many people -- certainly to me.  
           I wrote blogs on what I think is most important in life (family and love), on my in-laws (Granny and Paw-Paw Shaw), on bullying, on keeping a positive attitude, on anger, on the great days at Woodlawn High School and at the Shreveport Journal, on wiffle ball in Sunset Acres, on Thanksgiving football ("Same Way Turkey Day"), on some of the great coaches and great men I've known, on my mother's place in Centenary's rose garden.
          And guess what the most-read blog this year was? Phil and Terry ... and 4-16? (yes, more than 2,000 views). Just to remind you: Phil Robertson and Terry Bradshaw were struggling quarterbacks at Louisiana Tech in 1966 and '67. Ruined their lives, didn't it?
           My favorite blog topic, though, was the trip Beatrice and I made to The Netherlands (Holland, if you prefer). Got 14 blog pieces out of that one. It was that great a trip.
           The trip of a lifetime? I wouldn't say that; maybe that's still to come. The trip of my lifetime? Yes, because I again got to see those places familiar to me in my first eight years -- my old house and school, my old neighborhood, the trams, the Dam Square in Amsterdam, the beautiful canals. Revisited some of my family's history, visited the Rijksmuseum a week after it reopened after a 10-year renovation,  and tasted the Dutch foods I've always loved.
A visit to the beautiful Keukenhof Gardens
 was one of the many happy days in Holland.
           Plus, we went out in the country and saw places I'd never been and some I'd probably been but was too young to remember (such as The Hague). We did a five-day river cruise, heard more Dutch spoken than even I could handle, toured the flower fields, saw a magnificent concert at the Concertgebouw in  Amsterdam.
            And how lucky, we were there for history -- the first change in Holland's ruler in 33 years, the first king in 123 years.
            After we had booked our trip, Queen Beatrix announced she was abdicating the throne and that her son, Willem-Alexander, would become king on April 30 ... while we were in the country. We saw it all on television as it happened just a few miles away. The next day, we took a flight back to the U.S.
            We again have to thank our host Kitty, my dad's second cousin with whom we stayed in Zaandam, just outside Amsterdam; Peter and Patricia DeWeijs, the one-time Centenary basketball player (1977-78) and his wife who spent a day with us in The Hague area; and my terrific cousin, Heleen Kopuit-Borgenicht and her husband Jacky, who came from Antwerp to Amsterdam on a Sunday for an afternoon with us and drove us to my parents' old neighborhood. (Heleen was back home, too; her father was a newspaper editor/writer in Amsterdam and my mother's first cousin.)
              Don't know if I'll ever return to Holland; hope I do. But to be there this time, with Beatrice -- we'd never been there together -- was very special. The trip was her idea, after all.
               We also relished the six-week period in which we visited family in central Texas and then had some of that family -- including Bea's sister-in-law and niece -- stay a few days with us in Fort Worth. Plus our trip to Arkansas with our son Jason and his two boys where our daughter Rachel and her daughter met us for a weekend, and then Rachel and Josie came back to Fort Worth with us.  Nothing as good as family.
               But there was so much of the year to like. Being retired gave me time to read at least 20 books and listen to a half-dozen more on audio tapes during car trips -- Rachel introduced us to this. Our old book club broke up (the young people moved away), so we found a new one.
              We saw at least 20 movies -- in the theater, on TV (On Demand), the classics on First Sundays monthly at the Fort Worth Central Library. We went to the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra's Bass Hall pop concert series, jazz concerts at the Central Library, the Maverick Speaker Series at UT-Arlington, the Schieffer Symposium at TCU, the Fort Worth museums (yes, I did), the  Jubilee Theater.
               We again relished two seasons of Dancing With The Stars, and another season of Downton Abbey on PBS. We were fascinated when the new Pope, Francis I, emerged on March 13; he is Bea's Man of the Year. The PBS NewsHour remains at the top of our watching list, especially (Mark) Shields and (David) Brooks. PBS also gave us varied entertainment time.
                We took a trip to Aggieland (for LSU-A&M men's basketball) and got a tour of Kyle Field. We made it to one Dallas Mavericks game, via the Trinity Railway Express; I went to one Texas Rangers' game ... much easier to watch on TV.
                Bea was still into her Mavericks and then the NBA playoffs without them, so she adopted Pop and the Spurs. My baseball season didn't go well, much of it without Derek Jeter and with a subpar Yankees team. But Mariano Rivera gave us lots of thrills, including his farewell tour and final appearance. We said goodbye to Andy Pettitte, and hello again to Sori (Alfonso Soriano).
               I don't remember watching the World Series (because I didn't ... under protest).
               Sweated every game of the LSU football season; the Tigers always make it exciting. It's a lot of fun, and a lot of agony.
               We marveled again at two superstars -- Peyton Manning and Dirk Nowitzki (and his "Gameday" promo, which we've seen at least 523 times now). Happy about Kate and William's royal baby George in England.
               We got our car repaired (damaged left side) and, more importantly, got it paid off in full and received the title. Bea carefully nursed a Mother's Day gift from her daughter, a bonsai tree (still hanging in after seven months). A friend helped me get our wireless printer operating again, and I learned to scan photos and copies of my old stories (Mr. Technology).
               More in that line -- Rachel introduced us to Facetime ... in addition to the Skype we already had. So now we can see the grandkids online if we want to.
               I had a second colonscopy, which went well, and it was on Inauguration Day (our year went better than President Obama's).  We again attended the Van Thyn Professorship lecture at Centenary in Shreveport and Holocaust Remembrance Day ... good visits always.
                Had a Sports Illustrated subscription this year, for the first time in 10 years, but won't be renewing. Started receiving my pension from the McClatchy Co. and began drawing my Social Security (welcome to age 66).  My birthday and Father's Day fell on the same day, for the first time since 2002 (a neat double play).
                Had some more great crawfish boils, found Hawaiian Hazelnut coffee, and two good places to shop regularly (Sprouts Farmers Market and Trader Joe's).
               We did our almost daily dips in the apartment pool during the summer, best when our grandkids joined us. We watched our two boys at their swimming lessons, and watched our girl's artistic talent develop as her mother posted them on Facebook.
               We gladly reconnected with some old friends, went to Bea's hometown (Jamestown, La.) for a school reunion, to Shreveport for a 95th birthday party and to Plano for a traditional Jewish wedding, and loved all those events.
               Of course, there were the usual tough days -- the tragedy at the Boston Marathon,
losses of such national icons -- I'd say Stan "The Man" Musial and Fort Worth's own great Van Cliburn topped that list -- and our more personal ones, most notably Frank Thaxton and here at year's end, Frank's wife Ann (she was a Dutch woman who married an American soldier from Shreveport and they became among my parents' clostest friends), and J.W. Cook.
                Plus, the close of my dad's old place of business, the A.A. Gilbert Pipe & Supply yard, and the Barnes & Noble Bookstore right around the corner.
                What we liked most, of course, was watching our kids grow and develop in their jobs -- Ann and Jason's Cajun Tailgators food truck and now the new restaurant, son-in-law Russell taking charge of his radio sports talk show and Rachel the master of her middle-school library -- and seeing those grandkids learn so much and become such personalities.
                 It was a very good year. And as Pete Alfano, the old Brooklyn Dodgers' fan, knows so well: Wait till next year.
                Happy New Year to all of you.

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