May 2021

House-cleaning and Death

Death is multifaceted. After a loved one passes away, first comes the pain of loss, the tears, the funeral, the closing of the casket, and the cemetery. Not long after, though, the business side of death comes calling. The will’s read, banks, and financial institutions are contacted, death certificates sent. After days, or weeks, or perhaps months, the last facet of death must be addressed–the disposing of a loved one’s personal effects. For me, this has been the hardest. I’ve been laboriously sifting through closets, prying opened locked suitcases–their keys long lost–and rummaging through boxes so old that the masking tape, which once sealed them years ago, is now brittle with age. Now I know how Howard Carter felt when he trepidatiously pushed a lighted candle through the sealed door of King Tut’s tomb. What do you see, he was asked? Wondrous things! And I too have discovered fascinating things!

My mother wasn’t a packrat, as the old-timers say. She just kept things safe in case they were ever needed to prove a point or to fulfill a need. Hence, I found fifty-year-old bank statements, utility bills, insurance bills, to name a few. She also kept meticulous ledgers, writing down in her beautiful hand every dollar spent, on what and where–a child of the Great Depression she most surely was!  She also wrote now-funny little notes to herself. A $17.56 monthly power bill elicited this response: Too much! Frank’s gotta turn of more lights. An increase in the monthly car gas bill caused a stir. What are we going to do when gas goes to twenty-five cents a gallon? She also remarked on bittersweet things.  A 1964 ledger entry for one-hundred dollars indicated it was to help defray a relative’s funeral expenses. Mother wrote out to the side: Frank and I need to make our own funeral arrangements with Riemann’s, so Andy won’t have to worry. And that they did.

Bundling up Mother’s beautiful clothes was a chore that took several days. I would bundle, reminisce, tear-up, and stop. The textures of silk and velvet reminded me of her soft hands; the smell of Habanita perfume to evocative. When I pulled the car around to the Goodwill drop off sight, a functionary with a gap-tooth wearing a drab outfit met me at the door. I gently handed Mother’s clothes—still cleaned and pressed, sorta via color and style—to the lady who abruptly threw them into a dirty clothes bin. That it, she asked. Yes, I said. She didn’t even say thank-you as she waddled off. I couldn’t get into the car fast enough. I could hardly drive for the tears. I drove to the beach, parked, and sat looking out across the Gulf’s tawny-brown waters. I know in my heart of hearts that Mother would have wanted me to do exactly what I had done, just as she had done with Daddy’s clothes when God called him Home. But it conjured such finality–an irreversible ending. Thankfully, this trial is behind me. Life goes forward and so shall I. I’ve discovered other little tantalizing family tidbits too but will report those later.

Feb 2021

Musty Letters. Dusty Memories

I don’t remember much about that night, the night of the accident. I was only four-and-a-half years old. My father was working the night shift, and my mother and I were on our way to pick him up. As mother always did on those nights, she laid a snuggly-warm, patchwork quilt on the back floorboard of our 1949 “Shoebox” Ford. Holding tightly to my feather pillow, I drifted in and out of sleep as our old Ford puttered along Beach Boulevard toward Keesler Field. Suddenly, the car swerved. Mother screamed for me to stay down. I only remember the screeching tires and something hitting the front of the vehicle. My dear mother’s life would never be the same.

Today—February 22, 2021—is the 2nd anniversary of Mother’s promotion to Glory. Since then, I’ve cleaned out closets and emptied old trunks of musty-smelling letters, old utility bills, and the dusty memories of a lifetime. My mother was a sentimentalist. She kept little things that reminded her of family, friends, and times that were either happy or bittersweet. She carefully tied stacks of old Christmas cards, Valentine’s cards, and Birthday cards together with silk ribbons. She saved scraps of satin, brocade velvet, and lace. In a little wooden box, I found two sterling silver spoons, blackened with age, and a delicate Wedgewood teacup professionally mended. I have no idea where they came from. And then there were the scrapbooks filled with fading snapshots of loved ones long gone, friends long forgotten.  

As I decided what to keep and what to burn, one of the letters called out to me in a frail, dusty voice—Please read me. I did. And in so doing, the night of the accident came rushing back to me. An accident that—if memory serves—was never mentioned in our house, its memory hopefully buried. The letter, dated September 26, 1956, was from our former pastor of Biloxi’s Trinity Baptist Church. As I unfolded the letter, a yellowing newspaper article floated to the floor. I picked it up, read it, then read the letter. The newspaper article listed the details of the accident and stated a fatality had occurred. The pastor’s letter was a loving attempt from a caring pastor to console one of his former grieving church members.

It was then that I remembered something about the accident. Not necessarily it but an incident that followed it. In a spirit of sincere Christian concern, my parents went to the deceased man’s house to speak to his widow. They went there to offer their condolences in person, back in a kinder, more well-mannered time. They left me in the car, I guess, with a stack of my favorites, Golden Books, and a coloring book. I heard the woman screeching obscenities at my dear parents, especially my mother. I guess they were obscenities because even at that age, I knew her words were “bad words.” She was inebriated, as was her husband the night of the accident.   

In the weeks leading up to my dear father’s passing in 1997, I did ask him about the accident. He told me that the man was a habitual drunk and frequented the trashy bars and dives that dotted Beach Boulevard in those days. The night of the accident, near present-day Veterans Boulevard, he staggered out in front of our car. Mother only had time to slam on the breaks before slamming into him. When the police arrived, my mother was not charged in any way—the man’s death could not be avoided. 

My father also told me that Mother, being very sensitive, had difficulty resolving the death that had occurred that night. In the weeks that followed, she had a mild, nervous breakdown, took to her bed, and cried a great deal. That I do remember! Only with God’s grace and the prayers of those she loved did Mother put it behind her. Or so it would seem.

The mind is a twisted creation, completely disintegrating some bad memories while shoving others into its deepest recesses to be recalled later. In the days before Mother passed away, she ofttimes “spoke” to things unseen. There were times when she looked upward, smiling, her fading blue eyes dancing—perhaps seeing Heaven and the joys therein?

But once, only once, the smile faded, and the eyes stop dancing. In a frail voice, my mother—my kind, loving Christian mother—mumbled, “…killed…forgive…me…” She drifted off to sleep. I was stunned. Distant thunder rattled her bedroom windows. Rain peppered the glass. The clock chimed the hour. Tears drifted down my face. 

After all the passing years, was Mother reliving that night again? Reliving the mental anguish and the physical pain? And in her disoriented state, was she asking, once again, to be forgiven for a death that happened on a cold September’s night over sixty years ago? A death that was now just a dry, dusty memory? However, imagine the joy she experienced when that dusty memory was quenched by the words of her Savior, “Welcome Home, my good and faithful servant.”  

Miss you, Mama. Miss you, Daddy. But hopefully one day soon…

Dec 2020

A Bittersweet New Year’s Memory

     “Kal! We’re going to Disney World for New Year’s! And we’re staying at the Grand Floridian! I won’t take NO for an answer!” I could almost feel Aston’s excitement crackling through the phone lines. “I’ve not seen you in years,” his voice pleaded, “Please go with me.” It had always been hard to tell him no. I granted his request, making a joke about pulling my Louis Vuitton steamer trunk down from the attic. Alas, it was not meant to be. Aston did not live to dance in the New Year or taste its bubbly champagne.

       We knew each other from church. We sang in Youth Choir together. We went on more Mission Trips than I care to remember. Somewhat reserved in a crowd, Ashton’s warm, inviting smile always lit up the room. And once his reserve melted, his wit and humorous stories brought forth laughter from even the most stubborn of old codgers. He moved from Gulfport in the mid-80s and bought a Victorian house in the Old Sixth Ward section of Houston. He was employed by a company that other companies hired to save them from bankruptcy. He flew all over the country in the process, admitting those companies into his ICU program, as he called it. The more companies he helped save, the more in demand he was. He once told me that he felt uncomfortable telling men, who were old enough to be his father or grandfather, how to save their businesses. But his gentle demeanor, flashing eyes of blue, and award-winning personality always saved the day.

        As the years passed, months and months would go by without a word from Ashton. Then the phone would ring. His deep, cheery voice would regale me with stories about scary plane rides and angry clients. How he trained for and won 10K races. How he felt when he won the “Best Employee of the Year” award for the third time in a row. When his mother called late one night, telling me that Ashton had collapsed at the Houston airport, I was stunned. The reason for his collapse stunned me further. “Cancer? What kind of cancer?” I asked in amazement, knowing how healthy Ashton was. His dear mother’s voice, always soft and reassuring, answered, “The doctors don’t know. It’s a rare cancer…” Her voice faded.

         In the weeks that followed, her calls were my only connection to Ashton. He had lapsed into a coma, a coma that lasted for three months. He told me later that he could, at times, hear the conversation around him. It echoed, he said, as if the person was speaking down a long, metallic tube. Lying lifeless in his bed, had it not been for a visiting doctor, who, by accident, read his chart instead of the patient next to him, Ashton would have died. “This man doesn’t have cancer,” the doctor said. “You need to test him for HIV/AIDS.”

        In the late 80’s, AIDS was a death sentence, not just physically but socially as well. Like the abject fears that the COVID-19 virus conjures today, the AIDS virus was that, but so much more. Once a person was diagnosed with it, like Biblical lepers, that person was banished into the shadows of life. Ashton was no exception.  When he moved back to Gulfport due to his declining health, and word got around that he had AIDS, family and friends rejected him. His father and two older brothers, along with their wives, would have nothing to do with him; only his dear mother was there to comfort him. She never asked how he contracted AIDS. She only loved him.

      Not long after he moved home, Ashton called me. Even though his voice was healthy and robust, I instantly knew something was amiss. After some pleasantries, he hesitantly said, “Kal, I’ve got AIDS.” I was taken aback. I’d never known anyone with the disease. But, unlike so many, I had read enough to know how it was contracted, no fears there. Having seen horrid pictures of Rock Hudson, I was pleasantly surprised when Ashton opened his apartment door. He was just as dashingly handsome as always—smile warm, eyes sparkling blue.

Talking with Ashton brought tears to my eyes, not tears of sorrow but joy! We howled with laughter over old times, just as old friends should. Knowing Ashton as I did, I knew he would not live in the shadows long. And he didn’t. He contacted Coastal High Schools, asking if he could speak to the students about AIDS. Most declined, a few accepted. Ashton invited me to hear him speak. And although that speech was over 30 years ago, I’ve never forgotten.

On the day of his speech, I slipped quietly into a seat toward the back of the auditorium. The lights dimmed, Ashton and the Principle walked on stage, and he was introduced. There was my old church chum standing there, resplendent in a tailored Brooks Brothers suit, looking every bit the charming executive, he had become. As he spoke about AIDS—how it was contracted and that he had it—his Senior audience was attentive. But I did notice some of the football team making faces at one another, sniggering. It did not go unnoticed. Suddenly, Ashton stepped from behind the podium, walked to the edge of the stage, looked at two sniggering Senior boys, and said, “Listen up, you two!”  His voice was civil but intense. “I’m only trying to warn you guys. There’s something out there that will kill you if it infects you. You will graduate in May. Most likely…I’ll be dead by then.” The silence that followed echoed around the room.

Unfortunately, Ashton’s prediction came true.

In the last weeks of his life, I often visited Memorial’s 4th floor, then the infectious disease ward. This once powerful, energetic tower of a man had been reduced to nothing more than bones covered in rough, scaly skin. And the smell, oh my! However, Ashton never lost his sense of humor. Seeing my facial expression, which conveyed what my nose was smelling, he chuckled and said, “I’m obsessed with inventing something stronger than Calvin’s Obsession? What ‘ja think Kal?” His smile dimmed somewhat. “Wanna see what’s causing this awful smell?” I winced but said yes. As he pulled the sheet from his legs, I could barely look. His skin appeared to be covered with minute fish scales, each scale oozing yellowy pus. 

The night Ashton died his dear mother had called me. She told me the doctors said he would not last the night. “Please come sit with me,” she said, her voice trembling. “My family might come, might not.” “I’m on my way,” I said. Entering the hospital room, I was shocked at how quickly Ashton had wasted away since last I saw him. I hugged his mother. She sat to his left, and I sat to his right. We each held a hand. Ashton’s breathing was labored, a distinct rattle in his throat. It was a miracle that his once-muscular body, now like a rotting piece of material, held together at all. In the unforgiving hospital light, Ashton looked like the skeletal bodies seen in pictures from Auschwitz–eyes coated with the sheen of death, face chalky, mouth ridged, opened, and drawn to one side. The nurse came into the room and took his vital signs. “It won’t be long now,” she said with a kind smile. It was then I remembered what Ashton had told me months before…Kal, even in a coma, I could hear people talking. I told his weeping mother that we should tell him that we love him. I whispered it first, then she did. Ashton didn’t respond. Then, as his breath became more and more shallow, he breathed his last and was transported Home to Glory.

I noticed his passing first. I stood, walked over to his mother’s chair, hugged her, and said, “He’s gone…he’s gone Home.” Holding my hand, she looked up briefly at her dead son, then broke down, weeping in great, heaving sobs. The nurse alerted the family. After what seemed an eternity, father, brothers, and their wives appeared at the door. Father embraced mother, brothers just stood staring at the carcass of their once beautiful, once kind, and loving little brother. I knew their dark secrets. I could only imagine the thoughts racing through their minds. Grief? Remorse? Fear of the truth? To this day, I still don’t know.  I quietly made my way out the door, and there encountered one of the wives. “Is he gone?” she asked, nursing the mushy stub of an unlit cigarette dangling from her lips. I nodded in the affirmative. As I walked away, she mumbled to the other wife, “Just another dead queer.”

But Ashton was much more than just another dead queer! He was someone who had pulled himself up by the bootstraps, as the old-timers say. Ashton had made something of himself and had made the world a better place in which to live. He had struggled with who and what he was. In a time that was viciously unaccepting of those who knew firsthand about “the love that dare not speak its name,” Ashton never repaid hate with hate. He loved his God and his Savior, Jesus. He loved his family, even when they didn’t love him. And because of that and so much more, I will always be proud to call him…my dear friend!

Jul 2020

A Friendship Remembered

Who’s the cubby kid standing near the orchestra, I asked while sitting in the choir loft of Gulfport’s First Baptist Church? Don’t you know, replied a fellow choir member? His name’s Keith Ballard. He’s singing the boy soprano part in our cantata. And thus began my friendship with Keith. He was in the 6th grade, and if memory serves, his heavenly voice changed during the show’s run. He struggled onward through his song, smiling a big smile. Little did I know at the time that Keith’s smile would be my last remembrance of him.

      Not long after the cantata, Keith joined FBC’s Youth Group. As an FBC chaperone, oft times I went to summer camps, on choir tours, and led Vacation Bible School. Keith was always there. When he was in the 8th or 9th grade, we loaded into the old Bluebird bus, and off we went to Red Bluff, located outside Foxworth, Mississippi. Red Bluff is a gorgeous place, with miles of hiking trails, and the scenery is breathtaking. There are also huge hills—hence the term bluff—of red clay. Kids and chaperones alike slid down the hillsides, hoopin’ and hollerin’ with glee. But then the real work began.

      At the bottom of the hill, we discovered the only way back to the top was a steep climb. Keith had not lost his “baby fat” by that time. So climbing was a bit of a problem. I was enlisted to push him up the hillside. He’d lean against the red clay. I’d get under his wobbly behind and push. He’d grab a tree branch or cleft in the clay and pull. We’d giggle. And giggle some more. He’d lose his grip. I’d stumble. And then in a rolling mass of dirty shorts, tee-shirts, and gritty skin, we’d plunge to the bottom of the hill, howling with laughter. I can see and hear our marine-like youth director yelling from the top of Red Bluff—Kalberg! Ballard! Pull yourselves together and get up here! Keith would shoot me a big smile, and we’d try again.

      As the years passed, Keith matured into a strikingly handsome young man, blonde, slender, and tall. While in High School, the theater bug bit him and bit hard. I directed his Senior Class play, “The Antics of Andrew.” Keith portrayed an old fussbudget who gets into all sorts of trouble. He also accompanied a fellow cast member on the piano in a rousing rendition of “It’s a Sin to Tell A Lie.” It may have been a sin, but this is no lie—the number always brought down the house! Keith and I were together on stage three times. In the late 70s, he portrayed Joe Hardy to my Mr. Applegate in GLT’s “Damn Yankees!” Then we plied the Mississippi River together in “Showboat.” He was Gaylord Ravenal. I was Captain Andy. KNS’s “Sweeny Todd” was our final treading of the boards together. He was the evil Mr. Todd. I was the man-child, Toby. When the rehearsals became tedious, when the performances were exhausting, Keith and I could always be found in a corner, giggling about something. He’d smile. I’d smile. And we’d laugh a bit more.

     However, life was not always a laughing matter for dear Keith. Like all of God’s creations, Keith had his own covey of demons with which to deal. He struggled with those demons for most of his life. Dealing with them was like trying to climb Red Bluff. He’d grab onto something or someone for help in his climb. He’d lose his grip. He’d tumble to the bottom of the bluff; struggle to regain his balance, momentum, and love of life. He’d try to smile again.

I last saw dear Keith in February 2020. We attended an FBC Business Meeting. Thankfully, I saw him before he saw me. I was shocked! He was haggard and     stooped. Eyes sunken. Cane by his side. When the meeting adjourned, our eyes met. He hobbled to me, and I gave him a big bearhug. His once taught body sagged. But then, as always, he looked at me with a twinkle in his eyes. He whispered something silly in my ear, and just like old times, we giggled. I told him that I loved him. I told him to call me …we’d do lunch. Carefully putting one foot ahead of the other, he walked slowly to the door. Just before opening it, he turned to me and smiled. It was that smile, his smile, that I will always remember. Rest in peace, dear friend. Now you’re Home—no more tears or pain or fears. Home forever! Keith, I’ll see you soon. And like days of old, we’ll climb Heaven’s Red Bluff together. And once again, giggle and smile.

Jun 2020

The Humming Bird

Who remembers the Hummingbird? One delightful June morning in the late 50s, Dad dropped Mom and me off at Gulfport’s train station. He then motored to New Orleans and would meet us there, while Mom and I rode the Hummingbird. I remember how smoothly the train glided out of the station, as we took our seats. Mom and I then made our way to the dining car for breakfast. Oh! What a sight to behold!

The tables were set with crystal and china, a crisp white tablecloth too. Brightly polished silverware reflected the yellow-gold sunlight. The water in a petite vase filled chrysanthemums and lilies danced to the gentle sway of the dining car. From the kitchen car, the smell of frying eggs and bacon, coupled with the smell of freshly brewed coffee, filled the air. As we sat at our table, looking at the passing scenery, the Hummingbird dashed across the Bay St. Louis train trestle.

To this day, I can see the wavy sunlight reflected off the tawny-brown waters of the bay. That same light sashayed around the dining car as well. Because we could not see the trestle beneath the train, it was as if we were floating atop the water. When Mom and I arrived at the station in New Orleans, Dad met us with a smile. Son, how was your trip, he asked? For hours, I babbled on about how thrilling it was, how friendly everyone was, and how I’d love to do it again.

As I look around me today, with our dear country wrapped in disorder and confusion, I long to take one last train ride to do nothing more than escape it all. And although train travel is not what it once was, I’ll close my eyes and remember a train ride long ago. I’ll remember a bright-eyed, carefree little boy dressed in his Sunday best. How he was in awe of the Hummingbird, to him a living, breathing creature of glistening, blue and yellow steel. I’ll remember how it rumbled through the countryside, its constant clickety-clack forever in my mind. And then I’ll remember Mom. And I’ll remember Dad. I’ll remember how they loved me; a precocious, solitary child busting with energy and endless questions about life. Now it just me, and oh how I long to take one last, long train ride Home…

Apr 2020

The Ship of Dreams

By this time, one-hundred and eight years ago, the real ship of dreams, R.M.S. Titanic, was no more than a twisted hulk surrounded by a graveyard of people’s lives, memories, hopes, and dreams. Ever since my dad and I watched the 20th Century Fox movie, “Titanic,” one Saturday afternoon in 1966, I’ve been mesmerized by that great ship, a microcosm of early 20th century society. And because of that movie, my house is filled with ocean liner memorabilia. I must own over a hundred books on the great liners of the 20th century, perhaps a quarter of those books written about the Titanic. My collection consists of many framed pictures of those floating palaces, a few models, a China plate or two, and a slew of vintage cups and saucers. But the item I prize the most is a true piece of Titanic memorabilia. It is a homemade memorial to the great ship, created by someone must have absolutely loved the ship or—perhaps—who had a loved one die in the disaster. In the picture provided, you see a period rendering of the Olympic, the first of the Olympic-class Ocean liners which were a trio of British ocean liners built by the Harland & Wolff shipyard for the White Star Line during the early 20th century. The three ships were Olympic (1911), Titanic (1912), and Britannic (1915). I’ve seen this picture in many ocean liner books. It was part of the White Star Line’s advertisement for the three massive liners. The green boarder is old-fashioned blotter paper, the writing at the bottom is written on period stationary. What also intrigued me about this picture was the written information about the Titanic, most of which is incorrect. The text was written in an old French dialect, according to the antique dealer from whom I purchased the picture. It lists the Titanic’s construction cost, where she sailed from, along with the longitude and latitude of the ship’s sinking. Boston is listed as the Titanic’s destination. The antique dealer also told me that the person who wrote the information was a bad speller. (A man or woman after my own heart, wretched speller am I.) in the bottom right-hand corner, you see the result of the picture exposer to humidly. The frame is obviously handmade. There are holes in the frame that suggest it was screwed to a wall or some other wooden structure. The glass is thick and wavy. The back of the frame is covered with unfished wood. For whatever reason it was, I can’t help but believe that whoever made this picture must have been fascinated by the Titanic. Fascinated by the Titanic…imagine that!

Mar 2020

Love at an Early Age

The mellow sunlight was warm. Clumps of azaleas paraded in their magenta finery. In his backyard, a little boy squealed with delight as his old tire-swing drifted back and forth. Oh! What a delicious Saturday afternoon it was! Then his dad called from the back porch, “Son, come inside and wash your hands…we’re going to watch a movie.” The little boy loved watching old movies on the TV with us dad. “What’s the movie about?” the little boy asked. “A big ape!” The little boy had no idea that he was about to fall in love, a love that would last into his 68th year.

I fell in love all over again this afternoon watching the rerelease of KING KONG at the picture show. It was its first rerelease in 60 years since the big ape first frightened audiences in 1933. Due to the coronavirus panic, the theater was practically empty, which suited me to a tee! I climbed the stairs to my favorite spot—the seat directly under the projection booth window—and sat down with popcorn and a cold drink at the ready. The light dimmed, the overture music played, and then on an art deco backdrop the words, KING KONG, appeared. I was enchanted. I was a kid again. And I was safe in the arms of my dear father.

For those of you under fifty, who have not seen the 1933 movie, I wouldn’t recommend it. Alas, because you grew up with nothing but state-of-the-art movies, KING KONG’s black and white, stop-motion animation would most likely disappoint. But as I sat in the darkened theater, I tried to transport myself back to 1933.

What was it like to see and hear things that had never been experienced on the silver screen? Did seeing a robotic, 24-inch gorilla, created from aluminum, foam rubber, and rabbit fur that looked 18ft tall on the silver screen, make the audience ask…how did they do that? Would his lips, eyebrows, and nose fashioned from rubber, his glass eyes, and his facial expressions controlled by bendable wires in his aluminum skull have fascinated? Would the foam rubber dinosaurs, also jointed and robotic, with football bladders placed inside them to simulate breathing, have amazed?  Did Kong’s roar frighten, not knowing it was created via recorded growls of zoo lions and tigers played slowly backward? What about him beating his chest, unaware that the sound was created by strapping a microphone to a man’s back, while someone, at the same time, pounded on his chest with a bass drum mallet? What about that iconic fight scene between Kong and the Tyrannosaurus Rex, which took seven weeks to complete?

I could go on, but you get the picture about the picture KING KONG. It was a groundbreaker, using special effects, such as stop-motion animation, matte painting, rear projection, and miniatures, all of which were conceived decades before the digital age…and that’s what I like about it!

As Roger Ebert stated in a 2002 interview: “In modern times the movie has aged, as critic James Berardinelli observes, and ‘advances in technology and acting have dated aspects of the production.’ Yes, but in the very artificiality of some of the special effects, there is a creepiness that isn’t there in today’s slick, flawless, computer-aided images…. Even allowing for its slow start, wooden acting, and wall-to-wall screaming, there is something ageless and primeval about KING KONG that still somehow works.”  I totally agree.

For me —and the little boy still living within me—watching KING KONG on the big screen today, rekindled the same awe and mystery that I felt almost 60 years ago. And in a world gone mad over the coronavirus, I did what people did when the movie opened in 1933 at the height of the Great Depression—I escaped!  I escaped into another world filled with lush scenery, beautiful people, and a big hairy ape, all of which made me forget my cares for another day. And my friends…what’s wrong with that?

Feb 2020

Dispatches from Home – February 2020

One year ago today, February 22, 2019, God called my dear mother Home. The morning was foggy with rain. A dull silence filled the house. I’d slept a somewhat sleepless night, pondering what the future held for Mom and me since she was practically bedridden. When I checked on her in the wee hours of the morning, she was resting peacefully, although her breathing was faint. The home health nurse arrived later that morning. She bathed Mom and changed her nightgown. Just before the nurse left, she asked me if I heard the rattle in Mom’s breathing. I nodded…yes. I roused Mom, asking her if she wanted some breakfast. She did, so I fixed oatmeal, one of her favorites. When she finished eating, I put the bowl in the sink. Returning to her bedroom, I noticed the rattle in her throat had deepened; I knew that her time on this side of Jordan was short. I held her close to me and whispered into her ear, “Mom, you go on Home. I’ll be okay…and…I love you.” A faint smile creased her lips. In a gentle whisper, she said she loved me too. Not long after that, while holding her frail hand, she breathed her last, and her soul floated upward to Heaven.

This past year has been a series of highs and lows, and a significant revelation–grief is metamorphic, changing at will. More times than not, it is a taunting demon with a Hydra-like head, each one spitting memories at me; memories of my dear mother and all she meant to me. There are times, however, when the demon retreats quietly into the darkest crevices of my mind. And then, when I least expect it, it attacks. If I’m at home and alone, I cry out to God to help me in my misery. I stare at Mom’s rocker by the window, and long to see her there once more. But if I’m in public and the demon of grief attacks me, I cry out to God–in silence–and hide behind a mask. I paint on a clown’s smile, and the world smiles with me. But the mask helps hide the tears that I shed in the night. Friends and loved ones assume that I’ve handled my Mom’s passing with strength and finesse. Without the mask, though, I’d be a mess.

I am thankful that God spared my Mom the pain that I’ve witnessed in the parents of friends and loved ones. She’s Home now! No more pain. No more tears. Home! There is a part of me that envies my dear mother because she is Home. The Good Master can call me Home at any time.

One other thing about grief – “It’s like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All I can do is learn to swim.” I am happy to report that as the days go by, my swimming is improving.

Jan 2020

The Movie, 1917. An Escape

For those of you who know me well, you know that I adore a period movie or television series. Gone With the Wind, Sunset Boulevard, Brideshead Revisited, Midsomer Murders, and Downton Abbey are but a few of the celluloid masterpieces that allow me to do one thing—escape. In this insanely perplexing chasm that we call life, there are times when escapism appears to be our only alternative. Tomorrow, I’m going to see 1917 with dear friends, the Signs. I’ll sit in the dark, watching the flickering shadows and bursts of color, as the sounds of war surround me. And for a brief moment in time, I’ll be there in the muddy, rat-invested trenches of WWI. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to escape into another world, to forget your cares, to live in someone else’s boots.

     However, when escapism becomes an attractive solution to our day-to-day problems, causing us to run from them instead of facing them, that’s when there’s trouble afoot. Generally, when the going gets tough, we get going—in the opposite direction. Perhaps you play the blame game. It’s not my fault. Other people were unkind to me. I can’t face all that life dumps on me. Yes, I know that of which you speak. I, too, have played that game. Although when I did, life’s chasm engulfed me, squeezing the breath from my lungs. I then looked upward and saw a much-needed escape—the loving arms of a merciful God. He taught me that when conflicts and difficulties do arise, it’s best to run to them, not from them. Escapism is suitable for a moment, but like a misty morning, it quickly fades. And when it does, your problems have not been solved. Learn to face them. Embrace them. Challenge them. But don’t run from them! In the end, you’ll be thankful you did.

Dec 2019

Dispatches from Home – New Year’s Eve 2019

As Father Time shuffles off this mortal coil and awaits the arrival of the New Year baby, I’ve come to the end of the year and the decade amazed at how quickly 3,650 days disappeared. I’ve also pondered the grains of sand that have sifted through the hourglass of my life. I can, however, remember those lost days because I’ve kept a series of journals, which are filled with my thoughts on family and friends, my deepest secrets, and injected with my own brand of humor and pathos. My first entry was dated June 26, 1966. It will prove interesting to know what the last entry date will be.

But on this day in 2018, my thoughts were of my dear mother and what 2019 might hold. I wrote: “Mother started going to the bathroom about 3:30 this morning, up and down until around 11-ish. She’s somewhat agitated.” A new paragraph began with these words. “What oh! what will 2019 bring? Mother’s physical health—for being 92—is good. Her mental health is not! I’m almost afraid to leave her alone anymore. Kare In Home is great, but at $16.00 an hour, it can run into money. Scrooge the Musical cost me over $3000.00 in sitter expenses—can’t do that anymore. The Kalberg’s ain’t made of money. LOL.” At that point, humor ended, and reality set in.

“I’m also feeling somewhat trapped, trapped in a world that seemingly has no exit to which I can run. I know Mom can’t live much longer, and when she goes, I’ll be left totally alone for the first time in my life. It frightens me. There will be no ‘Andy’ to look after me like I’ve looked after Mom. I must trust God, though, to provide a way.” My journal entry takes another turn, indicating a shift toward a darkness that overwhelmed me at the time. It was the inky darkness of depression.

“There are times, though—after watching some maudlin old movie or hearing a certain song—that I feel like checking out on my own. I don’t have enough sleeping pills to transport me to Glory, and they’re not foolproof anyway. Don’t own a gun, much too messy, however. An accident? Too much of a pantywaist for that. Head in a gas stove? Having exhausted my options, I guess I’ll hang on to the bitter end, trusting God to provide. I must remember, HE AWAYS HAS!” Then, I wrote something that is too personal to post on Facebook. Thankfully, those words will die with me because it’s in my will that my journals must be destroyed. So, in case you’re wondering if YOUR secrets will be revealed, as you told them to me, rest easy, my friends. I ended the 2018 New Year’s Eve entry with a quote from the Baptist missionary, William Carey (“I can plod.”) and a poem penned by yours truly.

Eschewing Hell and longing for Eternity, one day I’ll be called Home and see afar Heaven’s golden dome. Then I hear the angel’s cheer, and thankfully I’ll never shed another tear. Heaven’s gate will open wide as into Glory I will glide. Gone will be my earthly life of struggle and hurtful days, as down the streets of gold I’ll dance and sing God’s holy praise.

With that lousy poem ringing in your ears and my last Dispatch from Home of 2019, I bid my dear friends and family a happy and prosperous New Year! May God bless. Big hug to you all. 

Dec 2019

Dispatches from Home – Christmas Eve 2019

Christmas is many things to many people. Giving special gifts. Traveling to unusual places. Fun with special people. But most of all, Christmas is a season of traditions. Each year at this time, families all over the world re-create those traditions. Perhaps it’s inviting family and friends to Christmas Day lunch, the same invites as in times past. Crowning the Christmas tree with an angel, crumpled with age, might be another tradition. Is a favorite Christmas song played on the piano, with choral hijinks provided by those who have imbibed too much, spiked eggnog, de-rigueur at your house? Whatever the tradition, it always adds a special magic to the season.                                                                                                                      

As I decorated my house this year, I was mindful that this was my first Christmas alone, just me, an only child whose dear parents are now living in their Heavenly Home. Many of our decorations have been a part of my Christmas’ for a long as I can remember. It was somewhat bittersweet unwrapping the frosted green “Glitter Tree” from the Paragon Victrylite Candle Company in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Its original, sixty-year-old box is showing its age. Unwrapping the ceramic Christmas tree that Mom painted and fired back in the 60’s brought a smile. After festooning the tree with lights and vintage, Shiny Brite ornaments, I unwrapped the first of the Kalberg’s Christmas traditions, an old family Bible.  For years on Christmas Eve, either Mom, Dad, or Granny read the Christmas story from the King James version of the Bible, with its lush, evocative prose. As a child, wrapped up in my woolies, I would listen, staring out the window at the night sky ablaze with sparkling stars, wondering which star might be “the” star from long ago. Last Christmas Eve, it was just Mom and me. I read her the Christmas story from that same old Bible. I’m not sure she realized it was me, but she smiled just the same, her bright blue eyes as bright as any star in the night sky.

Once the Bible was in place, I took an old shoebox down from a closet shelve and opened it. Therein was the other Christmas tradition—a crèche. It’s nothing fancy, just inexpensive, painted-chalk figures, but it’s the only crèche I’ve ever known. Since the first Christmas I can remember, it’s been a part of the season. Over the years, the Holy Family has survived intact. Alas, the crèche’s other figures have not been so lucky.

As a child, I loved playing with a huge set of wooden blocks, to which I’d added bits and pieces of carved marble (amazing what a child can find at the local cemetery) and small sections of two-by-fours. Oh, the vast castles that were imagined by moi, and constructed, block by block. But castles need gilded furniture and towering statues. I would cut out pictures of furniture from magazines and paste them to little blocks of wood. Task one completed. Now, for the statues…hummmm…where to find statues? Ah! Ha! Why not use the creche’s three Wisemen, along with a shepherd or two? And thus, it was.

When the furniture and statues were in place, oh, what a happy child I was! But children are fascinated by things that fall down. A destructive earthquake (moi shaking the castle) brought the entire structure down with a crash. In the rubble, to my dismay, Melchior and one shepherd had been crushed. Balthazar was unscathed. Caspar lost the hand that held his gift, fortunately for him—and my derriere—his injury was healed via glue. To this good day, however, Caspar’s face still bears the scars of that eventful day, and the years have not dimmed my memory of the severe tongue lashing I received from both Mom and Dad.

Placing the remaining figures in the manger some sixty years later, battered Caspar brought a smile to my face, but a tear or two ran down it. I could not help but cry, thinking how God, in His love and kindness, had blessed me with parents and a grandmother who loved me, provided for me, and prepared me for life, with its valleys and mountaintops. Most significantly, though, they taught me how to build a strong foundation. David Brinkley, NBC’s famous news anchor from the 1960s, once said, “A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him.” Mom, Dad, and Granny, now that you’re all gone, and it’s just me. I’m standing on that firm foundation though, laid with the bricks that life has thrown my way. The bricks you warned me about and the bricks that have strengthened me. For that, I’m eternally grateful!

Aug 2019

Dispatches from Home – Camille 1969 50 Years Ago

The crazy, chaotic summer of 1969 is remembered for many things: Woodstock, Chappaquiddick, the moon landing, the Zodiac Killer, and Charles Manson. But for those of us who lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, we remember only one thing about that summer: Hurricane Camille. Her very name conjures visions of apocalyptic destruction, heartache, and death.

Fifty years ago, tonight, much of the world that I had known vanished. Gone were many of the quaint things that made the Coast home: Victorian gazeboes and shooflies, grand mansions along the beach, and columned churches. And for months thereafter, gone too were the sounds and smells of everyday life: the wailful mourn of train whistles, the chatter of birds and crickets, the briny smell of seafood from the Point, and honking car horns. However, all that was yet to come though, as I readied myself for church that Sunday morning. The sky was already a strange, yellowish grey. Mom decided to stay home and prepare for the storm, even though it was predicted to hit the Florida panhandle. Dad was flying into Mobile later that day and driving home. Sitting in the choir loft of FBC Gulfport, listening to Dr. John Traylor’s sermon, I knew something was amiss when deacons scurried around asking men in the congregation for assistance. Then I heard the sound of scaffolding being erected. The clatter of hammers against iron and wood distracted from the sermon, as the church’s huge stained-glass windows were covered with thick plywood. Whispers could be heard too; the storm had turned toward us.

Someone interrupted Dr. Traylor’s sermon with the news. He then said a prayer for everyone’s safety, asking for God’s mercy on his congregation. I could not get home fast enough. In my absence, a cousin had called Mom, asking her if she, her husband, and three-year-old daughter could ride out the storm at our house. Mom, of course, said yes. The afternoon was spent readying everything for the storm.  We were concerned whether or not Dad would get home before bad weather closed the highway. After some tense hours of worrying, he did. We all gathered in our hallway–quilts for bedding, flashlights and candles, water, food, and a transistor radio. Dad said a prayer. We hunkered down and awaited our fate. The electricity failed at 9:26 that night. Little did we know that it would be three weeks before it was turned on again.

The rain increased, lashing our little house with sheets of watery hail, or so it seemed. The wind intensified. Within hours, the house creaked and groaned, as if it were fighting for its life. The screeching wind pushed hard against the windows; they appeared to breathe. I could see them moving ever so slowly, in and out. The back door did the same thing, pushing against its hinges and lock. Over the wind, though, we heard what sounded like mini explosions. Looking out the window, we saw writhing black shadows silhouetted against the black night sky. The towering pines in our backyard lunged backward and forward. One by one, they would bend, pop back up, bend again, this time almost touching the ground, and then with an explosive crack, would break off about four feet off the ground. We settled back into the hallway for safety, not knowing if we would survive the night.

As the storm raged, Dad turned the dial on the transistor radio, looking for news of the storm. The only station he could find with any clarity was out of Knoxville. As the house shook and the wind screeched, we were serenaded by the Mull Singing Convention. “I’ll Fly Away” was the opening song. Mom sat quietly, as did I. She held me tightly in her arms. My cousin’s daughter giggled and laughed, thinking we’re having a birthday party due to the candles. But what awaited us come the morn was no birthday party. Unlike the great storm of 2005, Camille was a fast-moving storm, which is what saved the Coast from even more destruction.

As dawn broke, it was evident that we had survived a cataclysmic event. Our street, Wilson Drive, was covered in debris. Neighbor’s roofs were damaged. Power lines were down, some still dancing with electricity. The morning heat was like a steam bath, the air dead still. But we had survived; survived one of the greatest natural disasters to hit the U.S. mainland up to that point. Many others did not. In the days and weeks that followed, the normal ebb and flow of life returned to the Coast. Neighbors helped neighbors. Federal and State assistance arrived. The Coast, however, would never be the same again.

Gone was a simpler time and place, so it seems looking back on those days. As I age, I tend to romanticize the past as many do. But to a sheltered, sensitive boy of seventeen, digging through the remains of what was and would never be again, I knew my world had irrevocably changed. The day before, everything was as it should be. Now, the morning revealed something new, something a bit frightening. Camille had awakened something inside me, made me rub my eyes, and see the world for what it truly was and still is. A place with little peace, satisfaction, or happiness unless you are grounded in what you believe; a belief that transcends all of life’s tragedies and pitfalls–a belief in God and Family. To mind simple mind, the world of today awoke on the night of August 17, 1969. 

Jun 2019

Dispatches from Home – Father’s Day 2019

For those who knew my father, you know how gregarious he was, never meeting a stranger. Boy! Pop could talk, but only when he had something to say. Otherwise, he was hidden behind the latest issue of the Daily Error, as we old-timers loving call our local fish wrapper. If not reading the paper, he was enjoying a good book, usually one about history. Mom, on the other hand, was busy around the house finding things for Pop to do…much to his chagrin. I always called my father, Pop. I got that moniker from old Charley Chan movies. Charley’s Number One son always called him Pop. My dad was a reader, a thinker, and a talker. But fixing things around the house was not his forte. However, in a pinch, he could rise to the occasion. Many years ago, after Mama and Pop had retired and I was still working, I arrived home for lunch. Mama always fixed a big lunch, of which I was happy to partake. Coming into the house, the smell of fresh baked hoe cakes, turnip greens, and fried chicken caused my taste buds to twitch with anticipation. Alas, little did I know that lunch would become supper. Where’s Pop. I asked? He’s putting a smoke detector in the attic, Mom said. The attic? I walked into the hallway and hollered, Hey Pop…you need any help? A constricted groan was Pop’s only response. I followed his movements in the attic by listening to the creaks of the rafters and his ouches and grunts. From experience, I knew how difficult it was to maneuver in the attic due to the low rafters. Mama suddenly arrived on the scene to supervise. I knew things would go south momentarily. She briskly climbed the ladder, poking her head into the attic. Frank, that’s not where I want that detector. Move it nearer the guest bedroom. Yes, Jackie was Pop’s only remark. I could tell from the sound of the Pop’s head banging against the rafters that his home project was not going well. Frank! Watch where you are stepping! As I stood in our guest bedroom, which is now mine, I heard a cracking sound. Looking up, my face was peppered with drywall dust. Wiping dust from my face, I then saw Pop’s shoe come crashing through the ceiling. Another grunt and a loud groan followed. Frank, you’ve stuck your foot through the roof! You okay? Yes, dear, I’m okay. In the days that followed, Pop got the smoke detector installed and “repaired” the ceiling. And thus, it remains to this good day. While cleaning house, I often look up at Pop’s repair job and smile. It’s just one more thing that makes this old house a home. Happy Father’s Day Pop! You and Mama are now walking on streets of gold. We’ll be together soon. Until then, know that I love and miss you both! 

Jan 2019

I don’t want realism. I want magic!

I’ve learned from experience that it takes me a week or so to recuperate from the draining, emotional high that a play–especially a musical–conjures within me. During that time, the haunting words of Blanche DuBois in Streetcar Named Desire echo through my mind like a soothing elixir: “I don’t want realism. I want magic!” And what better way to escape from the caustic, trying realism of this world than by immersing oneself in the magic of escapism as created by Hollywood, and in my case, the shimmering movies of Keira Knightley! Atonement. Anna Karenina. The Duchess. I’ve binged watched these evocative movies twice; watching just the movie the first time, then watching it again with the director’s commentary and how the movie was made. I love the “making of” just as much as the movie itself! Sets, costumes, locales, dialogue, and accents are all background players that lure me into their world, like the mythical sirens of old. Their magic is only enhanced by the luminous quality of Miss Knightley’s natural beauty, which is augmented by her chestnut-colored eyes and those incredible Joan Crawford eyebrows. She can also fill to perfection a period, haute couture evening gown or a billowing confection of crinoline, satin, and lace. To me, she is a modern-day Garbo, who, like Knightley, looked best in period pieces. Well, so much for the late-night ramblings of an old fool who loves escaping from this world into a magical one. A kingdom comprised of luscious beauties and dashingly handsome gentlemen callers. A make-believe world of smoldering love that lurks in the darkened corners of grand old houses, and evokes a way of life and a misty, water-colored universe that was and can never be again.

Jan 2019

2019 – Happiness or Joy?

What does happiness mean to you? Perhaps it conjures visions of Christmas morning, unwrapping gifts in shimmering gold boxes while drinking hot cinnamon cider. Or walking along the beach hand in hand with the one you love, watching a tangerine sunset. Laughing till your sides hurt, as a great uncle tells a funny story about times gone by. Could it be your first job, the one you’ve aspired to for years? What about that long-awaited train trip aboard the Trans-Siberian Express, rolling along in plush luxury, while watching lacy snowflakes dance by your window? Everyone wants to be happy! We make chasing this elusive desire a lifelong pursuit: spending money, collecting things, and searching for new experiences. But if our happiness is a direct result of our circumstances, what happens when the toys rust, love is unrequited, health crumbles, money is stolen or lost, and the party of a lifetime slowly dissolves in front of you? Our happiness is dashed. Depression and despair become our only friends. In contrast to happiness is joy. Running along inside us, it’s deeper and stronger. It is the quiet, confident assurance that come what may you will survive. You will indeed rise above adversity. Happiness depends on things and happenings, but joy is a choice. A choice only you can make before you shuffle off this mortal coil. And I think that pure joy is enhanced by a personal relationship with God and His son, Jesus. Again…that too is your choice. So, in 2019, what will it be? Happiness or joy? Here’s wishing my dear family and friends a New Year blessed with joy, peace, and love. 

Dec 2018

A Transforming Song

December 20, 2018, I first heard this song over 25 years ago while sitting in a darkened theater with friends. Christmas was just around the corner. Whenever I listen to it, I’m transported back in time to the beginning of one of the most tumultuous decades of my life, when I too…dreamed a dream. It was not meant to be. And to this day, when the season to be jolly rolls around, I hear this song echoing in the misty-dark hallways of my memory. It brings a tear because I know that my dream has died and cannot be resurrected.

Oct 2018

Old Times. Old Friends. Old Days

While watching old movies, I often wonder if the actors who appear in them ever watch themselves on TCM. As they stroll down memory lane, what do they see in the flickering gray light of their former theatrical glory? Do they chuckle at their pratfalls, draw a deep breath remembering an uncomfortable costume, or wipe sweat due to a dropped line? Do they plunge deep into their memory, conjuring up the smell of the set’s fresh paint and sawdust on the floor, the twinkle in an actor’s eyes, or the sweaty warmth of his or her body? But most of all, do they enjoy what they see? Or is it like watching bittersweet phantoms from times long passed?

On dark, rainy nights, I, too, wander down memory lane. I recently watched a DVD of KNS’s 1990 production of Showboat. It had been remastered from an eight-track tape; the results were, at best, a water-color memory. The mid-70s to the mid-90s were the salad days of my “theatrical glory.” I tread the boards many, many times in those years, the bulk of which—alas—is lost to memory. However, Showboat is one show that I didn’t have to dig too deep to remember.

Sometimes watching oneself on film can be a somewhat jolting experience. Speech patterns, mannerisms, body language, and the like can bring on the shivers. Why is your worst performance always the night that the show is videoed? The night the most staging snafus occur. The night you must check your program to reassure yourself that you’re performing in the right show. The Theater Muse’s do enjoy playing their little games…  

Watching Showboat for the first time in almost 30 years was jolting, but delightfully so! Watching dear friends—much younger in those years—prance around the stage, flawlessly delivering every punch line, and dancing with ease brought smiles to my face and chuckles and giggles from my mouth! Seeing the lush, final product washed away all memories of the often-tedious dance and blocking rehearsals. But such is the world of theater. As I often say, it’s the attention to detail that sets one above mediocrity.

The grainy DVD was also filled with its own bittersweet phantoms. I’ve now lived long enough to see dear, old friends pass away. Keith Ballard, Ben Wimberly Jr., James Henry LeBatard, and Skip Wasnack have all been called Home. Keith and Ben were in the show. Skip videoed it, using then state-of-the-art technology. And dear James Henry can be heard laughing in the audience. Tears welled up in my eyes, remembering all the happy times we spent together. 

Even though the Showboat DVD had its limitations, it did not limit my viewing enjoyment. I’m thankful that I have it because anytime I want to take a sentimental journey into days long gone, remember old friends both here and those gone Home, it’s there for my viewing pleasure. And for that, I’m thankful! 

May 2018

Dispatches from Home – May 2018

Just finished watching Kenneth Branagh’s remake of Agatha Christie’s classic tale of murder on the Orient Express. While watching the movie, I could not help but think of a time in the not-to-distant future–when my dear mother no longer needs me–that I too may take a long train ride in the depths of winter. I can see myself sitting alone in the dining car, looking out at the dying day resplendent in fading, lavender-blue sunlight. Perhaps those around me will wonder who the silent little old man is, somewhat out of place in a tattered tux and velvet tuxedo slippers. As I finish my dinner and stroll to the observation car, will they wonder who I am? What my dreams were? Whom I loved? Will they ponder if the love was unrequited? Or will they laugh at my old-fashioned manners and polite voice and mannerism? But as I sit in the embryonic warmth of the gently rocking train car, I will smile a bittersweet smile and remember. I’ll remember my dear parents and their love for their only child; a precocious child unlike the other children that surrounded him; a strange child that grew up to disappoint in so many ways…of this, I’m sure. I’ll sit in silence and wipe away salty tears thinking about the times that I tried and failed to accomplish all that which I wanted to do. I will think of all the people who touched my life and whose lives I was unable to touch. I will ponder my failures, which far, far outweigh my successes. And as darkness infuses the room with its peaceful solitude, I will contemplate my remaining years upon this mortal coil. Will I spend them in laughter or tears? In peace or pain? In loneliness or surrounded by those who love and care for me? Will I remember all the days of summer sun or the days of winter’s sorrow? Perhaps then, I will hear a still small voice that says, “Come home. Stay with me. Dance with me. Say you’ll smile that silly smile for me. Say you’ll hold me in your arms so sweet. Please come home to me..” It’s then I’ll know that one day I will indeed come Home. There standing at the door will be friends and loved ones. There will be eternal joy and happiness. Sadness will vanish. Failures will no longer haunt me. Tears will dry. And that love that I’ve looked for all my life will, at last, be found in the loving arms of my dear Savior. He’ll say, “Remember no longer, Andy. Hurt no more. You are Home, my child…Home.” 

May 2017

Mother’s Day

Mom and me at the beach

Mother’s Day 2017 was spent at home. The demons of dementia are respecters of none, nor do they honor a special day set aside to honor our dear mothers. And this weekend, those demons have been very active, dashing around in my dear mother’s mind, snatching bits and pieces of her memory, jumbling them up and throwing them back at her.

As you know, when things get bad, it’s into the family auto we go; sometimes a ride helps. We saw the sun go down Friday afternoon, came home for a while, and then early Saturday morning we were off again; this time we got to see the sun come up.

Mom slept off and on since then. But thankfully, she’s up now, as sweet as ever. It’s during her spells–as I call them–that I try to remember my mother as she was before in the snap. As a child, my dear parents were always there for me, answering my myriad questions about whatever crossed my mind at the time. We often drove to Pensacola Beach for the weekend in those gentle days gone by; Dad at the wheel of our Nash Rambler, mother riding “shotgun” and me bouncing around in the backseat in the days before seat belts. Oft times at the beach, I’d dash along the shoreline picking up shells and smooth stones that had washed ashore. In the snap, it’s some of those smooth stones that I’m showing my mother.

Seashells for Mother’s Day

A few months ago, while cleaning out our storage room, imagine my surprise when I discovered those same smooth stones in a box of seashells. The boxed seashells were purchased at one of those long-gone seashell shops that once lined Hwy 90 from Pensacola to Bay St. Louis. Mother had saved the box and its seashells, along with the stones, as she did with so many of my childhood trinkets, coloring book pictures, and the like. When another spell traps mother in its sticky web, where she does not know where she is and refers to me as “that boy who looks like my son, Andy,” I’ll think of those smooth stones and those seashells. For they will remind me of time, a happy time of childhood innocence. In a world gone mad, it’s those memories that make life happy once more. And once again, my dad, mom, and I are at the beach gathering seashells and smooth stones, not realizing that we were making memories that would–and have–lasted a lifetime.

Jan 2017

My Dad. A Remembrance.

Dad and Me 5 001Twenty years ago, January 11, 1997, was cold, bitterly cold. The sun was shining, though, its warming rays sprinkling the winter garden of the Brent House Hotel in New Orleans with sparkling rays of sunshine. As I sat quietly reading, “The Nazi Doctors,” I could not wait to tell my Dad about it. I’d inherited my love of history, especially World War II history, from my Dad. We often read the same books about the war, which led to lively discussions around the kitchen table. But on that freezing day, Dad was not capable of talking about books or anything else. Little did I know what that day would hold.

            The 1996 Christmas season had been busy. I’d taken off a few extra days from work to make sure my upcoming Christmas soiree would be as festive as ever. Invitations for December 21st were sent with this schmaltz opening: Never a Christmas morning, never the old year ends. That I don’t think of someone–old days, old times, old friends. The food had been ordered and would soon be delivered. My wonderful, old 2nd Street apartment was resplendent with glistening decorations. A good time would surely be had by all! But a phone call from Mom on December 19th quickly put a damper on everything. “Anthony, I need you. Your father’s sick. Come home now!” Without hesitation, I stopped putting the final Christmas touches on the dining room chandelier and rushed home. What I found was not good.

            “Dad, you okay?” I asked as I entered my parent’s bedroom. His answer was not one that I had expected. “Son, I don’t feel good.” Knowing that my Dad was a man of few words when it came to personal matters, I knew something was amiss. When he ask me to help him to the bathroom, my suspicions were confirmed. By the time he got there, he could hardly breathe. “Dad, I think you need to go to the hospital…what do you think?” He nodded yes. “Mom, I’m calling an ambulance.” And thus began a journey, one that would prove that I was stronger than I ever imagined.

Dad            After sitting for several hours in Gulfport’s Memorial Hospital Emergency Room, a preppie young doctor introduced himself and cut to the chase: “Mrs. Kalberg, we think it’s best for Mr. Kalberg to go to Ochsner. His tests indicate a severe blockage in two arteries, possibly some in the aorta. We can call Ochsner…get the ball rolling if wish.” Of course, we said yes. Dad had had heart surgery at Ochsner in the early 1960s, performed by its founder, Dr. Alton Ochsner. That surgery helped correct my Dad’s heart from the ravages of childhood rheumatic fever. Dr. Ochsner told my parents if they had waited six more weeks, Dad would have died. But for now, Dad would stay at Memorial until after the New Year.

            Mom took the night shift, and I took the day shift. Dad was weak, so weak he could hardly walk, talk, or eat. It was difficult to get him to do any of those things. But the first order of business was canceling my Christmas party. I enlisted the help of David Delk, who called my guests–all 100 of them–and let them know that the party had been canceled; family always trumps a party. While hospitalized, Dad would walk for me when he wouldn’t walk for Mom. I knew why. He was more than aware how delicate she was, both mentally and physically. She didn’t say much, but I knew deep inside she was fearful of what was coming–major heart surgery.

            My journal entry for January 9, 1997, started with these words: “I’m sitting here alone in a celery-green sitting room, which is part of the Surgical Intensive Care Unit at Ochsner…” Leave it to me to write about the room’s interior, which looked as if it hadn’t been redecorated since the 1960s. I also wrote about the families in the room. Some were in tears, some were laughing, but I sensed that everyone was somewhat fearful of the future. I too was one of those people. Mother was in our hotel room. For those that don’t know, the Brent House Hotel is attached to Ochsner Hospital, which is most convenient for families with loved ones there. Knowing my mother as I do, I knew that I’d be on my own for whatever the future might hold. And how true that would be!

Dad's 1992 Train Trip 001            Dad’s surgery was originally scheduled for January 8th. However, it was delayed until the next day due to a child’s emergency heart surgery–hospital rule, children always come first, which is understandable. January 9th did not go as planned either. Dad’s surgery was rescheduled for 5:00 A.M. The Front Desk was supposed to call us at 3:30 A.M. You know where I’m going with this story: they didn’t. I woke up from a sound sleep and knew something was amiss. I called Front Desk. The desk clerk told me it was 5:10 A.M. Yikes! Not a good start to what would be an incredibly long day. I told HER to call the Surgical Unit and inform them why we’d be a tad late! I quickly jumped into some pants, a sweatshirt, and slung a ball cap on my head. I then woke Mom and Dad, got him dressed, and dashed off to the Surgical Unit with Dad in a wheelchair; Mom said she’d  follow right behind once she got dressed. When I arrived at the Surgical Unit, I don’t know who was more apologetic: the nurses, due to the Front Desk snafu, or me for not having a travel clock, back in the day when folks still traveled with such.

            The nurse quickly put Dad in a room and started prepping him for surgery. Once she did, he was placed in a bed in another room with other patients who were waiting for surgery as well. After looking for Mom, I found her, and we went to the room where Dad was. Our pastor, Dr. Kiley Young, came in to greet us. What a surprise! He was there visiting another church member. We prayed for Dad’s surgery and its outcome until the nurse interrupted us. “Mr. Kalberg, it’s time,” she said. In the poignant silence that followed, my Dad’s eyes filled with tears. I’d only seen my father cry once before. It was at my sweet Granny from D’Lo’s funeral. He hugged my mother, who was crying too. He told her he loved her very much. Then he looked at me with his huge brown puppy eyes and said forcefully, “Son, you take care of your mother!” I said I would and with that, he was wheeled out of the room and down a long hallway. Just before turning a corner, Dad looked back at me with a strange, forlorn look on his face. I think he knew deep inside that the surgery would not go as planned. Alas, there had been no time for me to tell him that I loved him or him me.

            For the next five hours, Mom and I cooled our heels in the celery-green waiting room. A few dear family members came to keep us company. It was a delight to talk with them and play catch-up. Occasionally, a nurse would give us an update: All was going as planned. Late in the afternoon, Dad’s doctor came to the room with good news. The surgery had gone well, which surprised the doctor considering all that was done. He’d replaced Dad’s aorta and mitral valves; a bypass was also completed. We all breathed a sigh of relief. Mom and I hugged and kissed our relatives and said goodbye. Dad was resting peacefully in Intensive Care, so Mom and I ate supper. After that, we went to our room, got into our bed clothes, and went to bed. It had been a long, long day! Sleep came quickly. Unfortunately, so did a call from Intensive Care.  

flamingo motel            “Mr. Kalberg, please come to I.C. as soon as possible…your father’s taken a turn,” said a monotone nurse’s voice. “Yes, ma’am. We’re on our way.” Mom was awake when I got off the phone. I told her what the nurse had said. For the second time that day, we quickly dressed and dashed to the hospital. Dad’s doctor met us in a private waiting room and told us what was happening. “Mr. Kalberg has developed some internal bleeding, caused by all the new surgery. This is a serious development, one that I was not expecting. We’re doing all that’s humanly possible for him.” Mom started crying. I held her close to me. “Doc…what’s going to happen?” I asked with hesitation. The doctor looked directly into my eyes and said with great kindness, “Within twenty-four hours we’ll know. I’m very sorry” He smiled, shook my hand, and left.

            The nurse came in and ask us if we’d like to visit Dad. The Intensive Care Unit was huge. There must have been thirty or forty patients in it. As we passed room after room, we could see the patients with tubes and wires all over their bodies. Above each patient was a series of computer monitors recording heart rates and such. Just before we got to Dad’s room, the nurse stopped us. “Mrs. Kalberg, Anthony. I just want to warn you that Mr. Kalberg’s swollen due to the internal bleeding.” Then we entered the room. Mom gasp. I inhaled deeply. Dad looked bad, really bad. The nurse told us that he probably could hear us but could not speak. He could barely move.              

            As we approached the bed, I could not help but notice the tube in Dad’s mouth or the myriad of wires that spun around him like a huge spider web. He was covered in a thick blanket. And like the other patients, hanging above his bed were computer monitors; their green lines and numbers flashing. But it was his face that was the most distressing. He was so swollen, he was almost unrecognizable. His eyes were swollen shut, as were his lips. His face was bloated and jaundiced looking. Mother spoke to him, as did I. But I’m not sure he heard us, much less understood what we were saying. The nurse arrived and said it was best that we leave.

            On our way back to the hotel room, Mom was silent. I’d heard that silence before. It always meant that she was shutting down, withdrawing into herself. I also knew that from that point onward, I’d be on my own. I was accustomed to that too. Being an only child, I’d learned long ago to survive by myself. Or should I say, by myself with God’s help? For the second time that night, we got into our pajamas and went to bed. I fell asleep to the sound of Mom crying.

            The next morning, January 10th, dawned bright and cold. Mom wanted to stay in the room and have breakfast sent to her. I order her some and left. “Mom, I’ll keep you posted. I’m gonna have some breakfast and read in the winter garden after I see Pop. I love you.” She only smiled. It was a bittersweet smile, but a smile none the less. I could only imagine what was she was thinking. At 10:00, the first visit of the day was allowed. The celery-green waiting room emptied and was silent. I once again passed the many rooms with their very sick patients. I paused when I came to Dad’s room. I was not sure what I would see.

            I then heard a very cheery voice. It was one of Dad’s nurses. Her name was Rosie. Kevin and Lilly were his other nurses. I laughed and told them that I was terrible when it came to remembering names, so I’d best nickname them. Rosie was christened  Sweet Rosie O’Grady. Kevin became Kevin Costner. Lilly accepted her Tony as Lilly Langtry. We became fast friends. My journal entries for that day were posted about every two hours after visiting Dad. As the day lingered on, my entries were a mixed bag of fear, sadness, and a bit of anger. Why was this happening and why now? God are you up there? If so, where?

            Lilly told me that Dad’s body had so much excess fluid in it, the doctor had ordered a dialysis machine to help the body drain. Kevin came into the room and started that procedure, as Rosie emptied the urine bag. It was dark and murky. The room reeked of alcohol and disinfectant. Dad still had blood on him for the surgery, which Lilly started to clean. And the noise! Buzzers! People moaning in pain! Family members crying! And above it all the monotonous hum of the lights in Dad’s room!

            I knew that I needed a respite, a peaceful place to unwind and pray. Kevin told me where the chapel was. My last entry that day was at 10:06 P.M. It stated the following: “Have just spoken with the Doctor. He said at this point, Dad’s chances of surviving the following day were slim. And now new machines–one for Dad’s lungs to help him breathe; one to help his heart pump; a blood machine to keep his blood flowing. He’s so bloated and has a sickening, yellow-green color. Oh! Watchman, what of the night?

            My next journal entry stated this: January 11th, 5:45 P.M. Daddy’s gone!

            To this day, I’ve never forgotten those words. They are acid-etched in my memory! Late on the afternoon of January 11th, when the doctor told me that Dad had only a short time to live, I dashed to the hotel room to get Mom. She met me at the door. “Is Frank gone?” she asked, tears streaming down her face. “No Mom, but he’s going fast, very fast. Do you want to come with me?” She paused and looked at me with her big blue, tear-stained eyes. I knew she didn’t want to come. “Will you be okay?” she asked. “Yes, Mom. I’ll be just fine.”

            I then heard a voice on the intercom. “Will the Kalberg Family please report immediately to the Intensive Care Unit on Fourth Floor.” I hugged Mom. I knew this was it. I dashed back to Dad’s room and was greeted by his doctor, along with Lilly, Rosie, and Kevin. They told me that Dad had only minutes to live. The doctor once again said how sorry he was, just as he was paged to another floor with an emergency. He quickly departed. “What’s gonna happened now,” I ask.

            Rosie said that they would give Dad a massive injection of morphine to ensure that he would feel no pain in the end. Rosie said that once that happened, I should watch each of the five monitors. I had a huge lump in my throat. I wanted to cry but couldn’t. I then ask if any of my three new friends were Christians. And to my surprise, they all said that they were. “Okay, give him the shot. But before you do, please hold me, just hold me until it’s over.” And they did. I stood there and watch, as one by one the monitors flatlined. I knew Dad was in Heaven–no more pain, no more tears, no more fears. Only an eternity of peace, love, and happiness knowing that he was Home in the loving arms of Jesus!

            Not a day goes by that I don’t think of my Dad. Oh! How I miss him!


Dec 2016

A Day That Will Live In Infamy


I have two remembrances of this day–one from a dear lady in our church, the other from my dear mother. Here goes: December 7, 1941, dawned cold and wet, here along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The temperature outside was cold and the temperature inside the homes of many Gulfport residences was cold as well. Why? The main gas line providing natural gas to those homes had ruptured. The home of Mr. and Mrs. Reese Bickerstaff, located where the Federal Courthouse now stands, was one of those homes. I rented rooms from Mrs. Bickerstaff in the late 70s and early 80s. Many a morning she would tell me stories of life in Gulfport, “back in the day.” The morning of December 7, 1941, was one of those stories. She told me their cook was preparing breakfast for the family on that morning. Because of the broken gas line their house was “freezing cold.” When the cook ask if the family would be taking the morning meal in the dining room, Mrs. Bickerstaff said, “Heavens no! We’ll freeze to death! We’ll eat in the kitchen!” Why the kitchen? Their stove was not gas but electric and produced just enough heat for that room. As the morning wore on, Mr. Bickerstaff ventured into his study to get the morning paper. He decided to turn on the “wireless,” and it was then, over the crackling airwaves, that he and his family first heard the devastating news about Pearl Harbor.
It was those same crackling airwaves that brought the news to D’Lo Mississippi. Mother said that she, my grandmother and my uncle had just returned from church. My Uncle Ellis turned on the radio and the clipped voice of H. V. Kaltenborn issued forth. It was then my family first heard of the history-changing events that had taken place thousands of miles away in a sleepy lagoon called Pearl Harbor. Little did my dear family or the Bickerstaffs know, as they listened to the horrific news, that nine Mississippians had already been killed aboard the USS Arizona during the attack. An attack that “Will Live In Infamy.” Lest we forget their sacrifices and the many others who lost their lives 75 years ago today, so that we would remain “The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.”

To read excerpts from my current novel, “A Chasing of the Wind,” please go to my website . Purchase it on eBay or directly from me via my website. Thank you.

Dec 2015

Santa. Ducks. And Baked Bread.
A Christmas Memory!

The Holiday rush is once again in full swing. Halloween ghosts and ghoulies scare us. Thanksgiving turkeys fill us.
And the twinkling lights of Christmas thrill us. These festive times are filled with family, friends and the joy of holiday memories.

Many of those memories are wrapped in a pretty package of delightful smells. Candy corn. Pumpkin pies. And oyster dressing, thick with bell peppers, parsley, and smoked sausage. Come Christmas, the air’s filled with the sweet scent of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and evergreen. But there’s another smell that conjurers Holiday memories–fresh baked bread!

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Jul 2015

Coast Ghosts

Fall will soon come calling! Cool nights and crisp days. Monarch butterflies and jumping mullet. Popcorn trees draped with crimson leaves. Friday night football. Bonfires on the beach. But Fall is a prelude to something else–Halloween! Halloween, with its ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night!

We fear the unknown, but why do we gravitate to it–that shadowy darkness at the top of the stairs or that whispered voice in the billowing Gulf mist? Perhaps someone far wiser than me can explain the psychology of fear, but for me the explanation doesn’t matter. I’m one of those people who crave a good scare. And Fall nights are a good time to experience just that.

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May 2015

Ten Years Ago – A Remembrance

It was hot–very hot–on Saturday, August 27, 2005. While sitting in a wicker rocker sipping iced coffee and enjoying the cool of my balcony, I observed over two-thousand people moving steadily along Gulfport’s picturesque 2nd Street. Along the way, homeowners had set up cooling stations comprised of frozen bottles of water and garden hoses spraying a fine mist of cool water. People ran. People walked. They laughed. They perspired. Everyone was out to have a good time for a good cause–the American Heart Association.

As I sat admiring the runner’s determination, a dear friend from church dropped by and ask me to babysit his three-year-old son while he continued the run. I agreed. As little Weston and I built castles out of empty Cheerio boxes, the hot morning passed. Once his father had completed his run, he returned, out of breath and sporting a man-sized thirst. He guzzled down an icy glass of water and then asked a question— a question that would change my life forever. “What are you going to do for the storm. Leave? Or stay?” And then came my never-to-be-forgotten reply, “What storm?”

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Feb 2015

Before The Drive-in’s There Were The Air Domes!

They’re all gone now. The Do. The Don. The Beach. And the Moonlight. For those of us who grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, those names conjure up memories of our Drivein theaters. How can you forget going to the submarine races or the passion pit? Remember the little green citronella coil? You’d light one up to ward off those pesky summer mosquitos and then choke to death on the smoke! Remember the cutesy intermission music and the cartoonish hotdogs and popcorn boxes that danced across the screen, tempting you to visit the refreshment counter? What about those chunky gray speakers, with dubious sound quality? Remember Fivedollar-a-carload-night, the car’s trunk usually full to the brim with additional teenagers?

Most, if not all, of the Coastal Drive-ins were gone by the late ‘70s, victims of changing tastes and times and the elements. Pass Christian’s Moonlight Drive-in, located on Hwy 90 where Walmart is now located, was destroyed in 1969 by Hurricane Camille. In a bit of irony, Gone With The Wind was its upcoming attraction. But before Drive-in’s dotted the landscape, another form of entertainment tempted Coastal residents — the Air Dome. An April 3, 1909, Daily Herald article stated, “During all of last summer, a form of amusement enterprise known as the Air Dome became very popular in the cities, large and small, in the North and some parts of the South. Of course, an Air Dome means an outdoor theater, a theater the dome of which is the star-studded sky.”

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Dec 2014

A Scary Christmas Memory

It was a frigid-cold that night in December, 1967. The moonlight on the path through the woods was like a sparkling silver ribbon that lured us closer to our destination: Old Leather’s Place. The older neighbor-hood boys had promised us young-er boys that our Christmas Holiday wouldn’t be complete without a visit to a real haunted house. Earlier that night they first regaled us with stories of a headless ghost who played mel-ancholy tunes on an old piano—his music floating eerily through the late night air, and then they led us into the woods.

Suddenly, lumbering out of the woods that surrounded it, a ram-bling, derelict house materialized. It rested high on thick brick pillars, was enshrouded in peeling paint, and reeked with age. As we approached the house, the older boys did their best to frighten their young charges, but it didn’t work on me. I turned toward the wind, my ears wanting to hear tickling piano music. The words to a favorite Christmas song whistled in my mind: There’ll be scary ghost stories, And tales of the glories, Of Christmases long, long ago.

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Sep 2014

Granny’s Baby-Blue Buick Special

One of my favorite Coastal events is Cruisin’ The Coast. Each year I look Forward to the passing parade of jazzy, colorful cars sprinting along the highways and byways of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. As I sit in my lawn chair on Hwy 90, I’m also entertained by the attire many of the drivers and their riders wear. I especially like seeing a vintage car sporting a lovely lady resplendent in a silk head scarf and and a pair of cat-eye sunglasses, their rhinestones catching the glistening sunlight. A driver complete with a splashy Hawaiian shirt and Bermuda shorts, plus a Montecristo cigar, always rounds out the picture. But of all the classy cars zipping around with their spiffy riders, there’s one that I look for most of all: a 1949, baby-blue Buick Special.

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Apr 2014

The Socialist and the Southern Belle

Did you see the movie Midnight in Paris? It’s a romantic comedy splashed with fantasy. That fantasy begins one midnight when Gil Pender, played to the hilt by Owen Wilson, is whisked back in time to 1920s Paris. On a deserted, cobblestone street, a vintage Peugeot creeps to a stop, a door opens, and a gloved hand bids him enter. He does. Once inside, he discovers he’s in the presence of some of the 20th Century’s greatest writers and artists.

But what if you were whisked back in time? Imagine a balmy summer’s eve on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Gentle waves lap the shore. Ribbons of silvery moonlight dance across the water. Suddenly, out of the dark, you hear the clip-clop of horse hoofs. An elegant carriage approaches. You hear laughter as it glides to a stop. Riding in it are a distinguished gentleman and a beautiful lady dressed in the latest haute couture fashions. They smile, introduce themselves, and you discover you’re in the presence of Upton Sinclair and his Southern belle wife, Mary Kimbrough Sinclair. It’s August, 1915. Europe has descended into the madness of WWI, but your night of fantasy with the Sinclairs has begun.

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Jan 2014

Dogs! And Cops! And Bats! Oh! My!

“And Lord, please protect us tonight from dogs and cops…” The prayer was suddenly interrupted by a whispered voice. “Pssst, don’t forget the bats,” I said.

“And the bats, Lord, protect us from them as well. Amen!” Jimmy Curtrell added. He was the much adored music director of Gulfport’s First Baptist Church during the 70’s. “Now, let’s shake a leg and get a move on.” And with that, a caravan of cars filled with teenagers and kids home from college roared down Interstate 10 toward its destination.

Turning south on the Delisle exit, the cars came to a slow crawl as they entered a towering, pillared entrance. Beyond it a dark winding path snaked its way through the woods. The drivers turned off their car lights but kept driving down the path. The evening silence was softened by a springtime symphony of chirping crickets and bellowing frogs. But in the distance barking dogs could be heard.

The cars slowed to a stop. The riders got out. Their trail through the woods was hampered by tangled weeds and vicious vines. They stumbled into a clearing, and there, glistening in the silvery moonlight, was their destination.

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Nov 2013

The Biloxi Point – A Christmas Memory

“Son, we’re going to the Point after church, so keep your suit coat on,” my Dad said.

“The Point? Why there?” I asked. “Your mother has some Christmas goodies to deliver.” Dad rolled his eyes and smiled. “You know your mother. Mr. And Mrs. Clause all rolled into one.”

Then, I rolled my eyes in dismay. I was fourteen. All I could think about was going home, eating pot roast, and putting the finishing touches on our new aluminum Christmas tree with its rotating color wheel. The tree was a silvery creation covered in shiny, multicolored ornaments from the local TG&Y store. I was happy my family was up with the times. It was, after all, 1966.

As we rode along Highway 90 in the family Rambler, I peered out the window at the bleak, windswept sand flats. It was a typical winter day: rainy, coupled with bone-chilling cold. My thoughts then turned to our destination. “The Point? Wasn’t a girl at Gulfport East High School dating a boy from there? And wasn’t there a big stink about him being from the wrong side of town?” Just then, Dad swerved to avoid a huge pothole. The Rambler skidded on the slick pavement. Dad quickly regained control, and we plowed onward through the rain. Onward toward the Point.

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Jul 2013

Holy Mosquito Bite Batman! It’s Summer Time!

Do you remember the ‘60s TV show, Batman? Twice weekly, Batman and Robin treated audiences to their own brand of campy slapstick comedy, awash in the fiendish antics of the Daring Duo’s roster of villains: the Joker, the Penguin, and the Riddler, as well as others. These cunning scoundrels taxed the Daring Duo’s patience, as well as the Duo’s ability to eradicate them. Each show ended with a cliffhanger, leaving the audience to ponder if Batman and Robin would survive. But the Daring Duo may have met their match had they traveled south via the Batmobile and experienced a Mississippi Gulf Coast summer with its heat and those flying, biting Harpies of the South – the pesky mosquito.

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Bat House

Apr 2013

Public Enemy #1 on Mississippi Gulf Coast

“Mother of Mercy…is this the end of Rico?” This famous line ended the classic gangster movie, Little Caesar, starring Edward G. Robinson. That line may have ended the movie, but it was the beginning of America’s fascination with gangsters. Hollywood peppered the public’s appetite with movies like Scarface, White Heat and The Public Enemy. Movies like these were based in gritty reality, using real events like the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. They were also based on real people like Al Capone, Lucky Luciano and John Dillinger.

By the mid-30s, the violence surrounding gangsters and their illegal shenanigans was front page news. As the murderous violence increased, so did the public’s demand to stop it. To save the day, in blazed J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI with their “War on Crime.” That war led to the demise of the likes of “Baby Face” Nelson, “Machine Gun” Kelly, and Alvin “Creepy” Karpis. Of all the famous gangsters from the 20s and 30s, Karpis was the last Public Enemy #1 to be arrested, and also spent the longest time as a federal prisoner in Alcatraz, serving twenty-six years.

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Nov 2012

A Christmas Memory

The Christmas shopping season is at the starting gate, chomping at the bit, awaiting the starting bell. And once rung, Coastal shoppers can race to a myriad of exciting shops. From the Blue Crab Gal- lery in Bay St. Louis to Gulfport’s Martin Miazza Gifts, and from Bi- loxi’s Paper Moon to Salmagundi in Ocean Springs, Coastal shoppers are truly blessed. But back in the day the Coast was not so blessed. If Christmas shoppers longed for something unique, New Orleans or Mobile was their only option. But in the mid Fifties all that changed. The Purple Lantern opened and became THE place to shop on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

The Purple Lantern was the creation of Mary Jo Sternberg. Not long after graduating from New Orleans’ Sophie Newcomb College, she opened her first shop in Gulfport on 27th Avenue across the street from the present day Amtrak station. The building, like others on the block, had not been properly maintained. When Mary Jo painted it purple, the city fathers hardly raised an eyebrow. She filled her first shop with the exquisite finery for which the PurpleLantern would always be known. But problems lurked just outside.

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Dear Readers, Here’s some additonal information concering the Purple Lantern, as written by Nels Anderson:

When was the shop started:  I really don’t know, because it was in operation at the highway 49 location when I arrived at Gulf Park College to teach.  I heard quite a bit about the old shop, but that’s all.

How I met Mary Jo:  I suspect I met her through the Gulfport Little Theatre.  I’m sure I was introduced there and started borrowing items for the sets.  The theatre at the foot of Hwy 49 was in the process of being built, or was at least in the planning stage.  I do remember borrowing items from the store.  The first summer I was there, I ran the shows at SIX GUN JUNCTION, and I believe it was the second summer that I needed a job and was a good enough friend of Mary Jo’s to ask for a job at The Purple Lantern as a salesperson and general worker.  I remember spending many nights pricing merchandize before it went on the floor.  I can remember that the lady employees and I would look at some of the merchandise that Mary Jo had ordered, and say to each other, “This will never sell….it’s so ugly, or whatever.”  Those items usually turned out to be the one’s that sold first.  We’d just shake our heads.  And the amount of merchandise was unbelievable.  It would take us hours to price everything.  She had a pretty high mark-up, and we’d also always think things were priced too high to sell……but they did.  Again, we’d shake our heads.

My work as a salesperson was terrible.  Mr. Sternberg (Mary Jo’s father) would get upset with me because I wouldn’t follow the customers around and try to sell them certain things.  I was terrible at that, and I think the customerrs thought I was following them around to make sure they didn’t steal anything…….and that would make me nervous.

I started helping Mary Jo with the display work, and that became my main job.  This leads me to the big fire….in 1965, I believe, or thereabouts. I’m sure you have that date.  Immediately before the fire, we put a Christmas display in the windows existing of a huge Christmas Train, with a car in each window with built in shelves for merchandise.  I worked long and hard on that, only to have it burn up just a very few days after we installed it.  The fire was a big blow to Mary Jo.  I was on my way to New Orleans to see a play with Helen Picking ( a fellow professor at Gulf Park College) when we heard the news on the radio.  When we got home that evening, we drove by the store and could see that it was a major disaster….and I knew I’d hear from Mary Jo first thing in the morning.  Almost immediately, she found an empty building on the other side of the train tracks,  It was just a few days before Christmas.  We worked day and night getting that building ready, and had a new store painted (purple), stocked, and open in 7 or 8 days.  The next morning after we opened, I got on a bus for Albuquerque to spend Christmas with my sister.  I slept all the way across Texas, In was so tired,.

Some people may remember the fire sale that Mary Jo held in the garage room next to the main store.  We carried salvageable items there for days after Christmas I assume.  When the sale opened we were flooded with customers, and the sale went on for weeks and weeks.  If I remember right, she didn’t shut it down until she stopped making at least a couple hundred dollars a day from it.

We immediately started designing the new store.  The layout generally followed the layout of the old shop, with a few new innovations.  There were around 20 shops, and it was my job to design and build each.  I’m sure I had help at some point, but have a very sketchy memory of that time because we were working so hard.  I’d get the shops done, one at a time, until the building downtown was repaired and ready to move in to.  It was during this time that I finally earned the good graces of Papa Sternberg.  He just loved the carousel horses I designed and painted for the Toy Carousel.  He thought they were just great, and maybe I was worth my tiny salary after all!  We spent  hours and days getting ready.  Remember, I was teaching at Gulf Park College at the same time, so there were many late nights.  I think a lot of the heavy work was done during the summer, so that helped.  Opening day was a big occasion.

Just a couple of other things I can remember:  I  enjoyed shopping with Mary Jo at the new trade mart in New Orleans and at the big trade center in Dallas; eventually we drove all the way to Chicago to shop at the famous Merchandise Mart there.  Mary Jo had a very interesting way of shopping.  She would flirt with the salesmen unmerceably.  In New Orleans, I can remember her shopping for make-up and over-night cases.  She’d butter up the salesman, and the pull things off his display, and pile them up in the center of the room. Then she’d say, “Send me two of each,” and walk away, leaving the poor salesman to repair his plundered salesroom. I’d look back as we walked away, and he’d be standing there, smiling as hard as he could, and waving, and I am certain swearing under his breath!

Once in Chicago, she was buying coffee mugs, and there was a wall of mug sized niches, with a mug in each.  She’d pull out the mugs she wanted just to the edge of the shelf, leaving the salesman to run along and grab the mugs before they crashed to the floor.  She loved doing things like that, and the salesmen would stand there with big smiles on their twisted faces. Good times!  Occasionally, the salesmen would close their doors at 5:00 and bring out the champagne for everyone left in the shop.  We hit a lot of shops just before 5:00!

Jul 2012

Tree + Swing = Kindergarten Memories

The author, in the stripped shirt, enjoying his 5th birday party (c. 1957) at Mrs. Moore’s kindergarten.

It’s that time again! Schools across the nation will open their doors to streams of children, hopefully eager to learn. Remember your first day of elementary school? Or kindergarten? What conjures up those long, lost days? Is it the scratchy sound of chalk on a blackboard? A nun’s sweet face as she raps your knuckles with a ruler? Or is it the smell of fresh baked sweet rolls from the school cafeteria?

Or children’s high-pitched, gleeful laughter on a playground? Could a tree be a time machine back to those days of “reading and ‘riting and ‘rith- metic”? Me thinks – Yes! The front yard of the Cable One building on Debuys Road is anchored by such a tree. But fifty-five years ago that front yard belonged to someone else, Mrs. Moore. And Mrs. Moore ran a kindergarten. My first day of kindergarten is one of my earliest memories. I was five. My parents, with me riding shot-gun in my mother’s lap, were the first to arrive that morning.

Download PDF – Late Summer 2012

Apr 2012

The Sunken Gardens – Tranquility for the Shell-Shocked

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…” And the Garden of Eden! Remember that story? The garden was beautiful. Adam was weak. Eve was curious. And the Serpent was beguiling. God created a perfect garden for Adam and Eve. But they didn’t maintain it too well and got kicked to the curb. Ever since then, kings and queens, and the rich and humble alike have attempted to recreate that perfect lost paradise.

King Nebuchadnezzar II built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon – one of the seven wonders of the ancient world – for his wife, homesick for the green mountains of her distant homeland. There’s debate over their actual existence, but archaeological digs near Babylon have unearthed massive mud brick arches, which many scholars believe are the foundations of the famous gardens. The jury’s out on this.

Download PDF – Summer 2012

Jan 2012

Miss Effie, Rembrandt, and Me

Miss Effie

It begins each morning. By the time I’ve fi nished sipping my first cup of steaming, jet-black coffee, it’s in full swing – the vacation I take each morning. Without leaving the comforts of home, I can feel the heat from Arizona’s dry-hot deserts, dangle my feet in the placid, cool waters of Florida’s Suwannee River, and rub the gritty sand of Georgia’s Jekyll Island between my fingers. I can also gaze upon the majesty of Colorado’s Cross Mountain, and taste the salt-sea spray of the crashing, plungingwaves along California’s Pacific Coast Highway. And keeping me company during my travels is the mournful howl of an old hound.

Download PDF – Spring 2012

Oct 2011

Spanish Moss – The South’s Mystical Elixir!

Spanish moss! The very words epitomize the Deep South more than any other native plant. When Hollywood portrays the South, it festoons the set’s fake trees with the wispy gray plant. Southern artists splash it liberally onto their canvases. Writers like Faulkner and Tennessee Williams evoke it in their writing. Gordon Lightfoot even wrote a song about it! But the name, Spanish moss, is a misnomer.

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Jun 2011

Beauvoir Memories

Beauvoir was the last home in which Jefferson Davis lived. Mr. Davis, the only President of the Confederate States of America, occupied the house from 1877 until his death in 1889. After the War between the States, Mr. Davis was charged with treason, and imprisoned for two years, but was eventually absolved of any guilt. During that time he lost his fortune and his health.

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Apr 2011

The Inn by the Sea – Paradise Lost

“Once I built a tower up to the sun, brick and rivet and lime. Once I built a tower, now it’s done. Brother, can you spare a dime?”

These lyrics are an anthem to the dark spirit and the equally dark days of The Great Depression. They express the deep regret of an America that had lost its ability to dream. This anthem was sung by millions, as they witnessed their dreams of grandeur dissolve into bankruptcy and breadlines.

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Mar 2011

Pass Christian, MS – A link to a famous murder, a famous ship, and a famous book!

Before Katrina came calling, Pass Christian was a charming little town consisting of tree-lined streets, quaint shops, and grand old mansions that hugged the shoreline along Scenic Drive. Since that time, Pass Christian has struggled to reinvent itself, but hope springs eternal, and progress is being made.

Download PDF – KAL111

Dec 2010

There’s No Place Like Home For The Holidays!

I’ll also take my old Magnavox record player out of the closet, along with several old Christmas albums. Putting a record on the turntable, the scratchy sound of needle to vinyl will bubble out of the two detached speakers, along with the rich baritone voice of Robert Goulet singing “There’s no Place like Home for the Holidays.”


Oct 2010

Moonlight and Moonshine

In the summer of my 13th year, I was introduced to an amazing concoction the country folk called moonshine. Moonshine! The very word conjures up images of bootleggers, Dolly Parton singing “Daddy’s Moonshine Still,” or perhaps Faulkner’s steamy novel, Sanctuary, with its equally steamy character Popeye, and his unsavory past in the bootlegging business.

Download PDF – KAL310

Jul 2010

Miss. Jessie’s Tower House

Upon hearing those words as a child, did you cringe, knowing that you had failed in keeping one of childhood’s Ten Commandments: Thou shalt not be a chicken! And did your “chickenhood” follow you as you matured? Alas, mine did! I’m a chicken, and because I am, I missed a golden opportunity to meet one the Coast’s most eccentrically delightful grand dames – Mrs. Jessie Sherman Gundlach – and to visit her equally eccentric house, Castle Sherman.

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Mar 2010

Spring is for Weirdos!

Daffodils are among the first flowers to bloom in the spring. Their flowering brings a promise of warm weather and sunny days, along with a burst of color to a landscape still dressed in its winter greys and drab browns. A member of the Narcissus family, daffodils originated in the woods of Europe and are easy to grow. In the fall, put a few bulbs to bed under a cool blanket of soil and come spring, Voila!

Download PDF – KAL110

Dec 2009

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

Ever wonder what the Christmas tree in the proverbial Grand Hotel looked like? Can you see it now, touching the lobby ceiling, draped with garland and twinkling lights, each evergreen bough laden with sparkling ornaments? And what about that smell, the fresh cool scent of pine or cedar!

Download PDF – KAL409

Oct 2009

The Merry Mansion

You may be asking yourself what the first two statements have in common with the last? Our local real estate agents could answer that question with three words – Location! Location! Location! And that prime location would be the west corner of Hwy 90 and Lorraine-Cowan Road, where Fun Time USA once stood. Remember Fun Time USA?

Download PDF – Fall09KALBERG

The Merry Mansion during the summer of 1969, just before the house was destroyed in Camille. Photos courtesy of Diane Skelton. 

The Merry Mansion 1

The Merry Mansion 2

The Merry Mansion 3

Jul 2009

Hollywood – The Dream Factory

For almost one hundred years, the Dream Factory has created everything from sets and costumes, to movie stars and movie moguls. Many of the its glittering creations are iconic . Who could forget the creepy house at the top of the hill in “Psycho” or Scarlett’s green velvet dress made from her Mama’s portieres?

Download PDF – KAL209

Mar 2009

A Springtime Haint

As a child, I spent many spring afternoons playing on my Granny’s front porch. It was a typical Southern porch. Comfortable wicker rocking chairs invited conversation. A porch swing constantly whispered, “It’s nap time.” And framing it all in Kelly-green perfection were lacy ferns gently swaying in the dancing afternoon sunlight. In keeping with all things Southern, Granny’s front porch also sported a blue ceiling.

Download PDF – KalsKaleideoscope109

Dec 2008

Al Bowlly – England’s Answer to Bing Crosby










Click on the image to read the article in the Mississippi Newcomers & Visitors Guide, Holiday 2008

Oct 2008

Belle Grove – Majesty in Ruins

The misty memory of a beautiful lady haunts me – a beautiful lady that I never knew. My first introduction to her was in 1969 when I saw her picture in a book,“Ghosts along the Mississippi.” Her beauty was not created from flesh and bone, but brick, mortar, and lime.

Download PDF – KALlatesummer08

Jul 2008

Sea Serpents Spotted In Gulfport

Did you know there are sea serpents living under the bridge that space Fritz Creek? Surely you’ve seen them. They have long snouts filled with needle-sharp teeth. They are covered with diamond-shaped, interlocking scales that are hard like armor.

Download PDF – kalbergsummer08

Mar 2008

The Titanic – History or Warning?

When Spring brushes the countryside with brilliant color, and bathes it with sweet smells, most Southerners think of azaleas, wisteria, and Easter. But this Southern boy also thinks of the Titanic.

Download PDF – Spring08Anthony

Dec 2007

The Markham Hotel – A Phoenix From The Ashes?

As a child, can you remember stepping into the spacious lobby of an old, grand hotel, and upon entering the lobby, there in all its sparkling, twinkling glory was a Christmas tree? Usually the tree was “tree-top-tall,” as the old-timers say, and would almost touch the lob- by’s ceiling.

Download PDF – Holiday 2007

Oct 2007

Three Gracious Ladies – Going, going, gone?

During the Roaring 20s, the country was awash in giggling flappers, bootleg whisky, and red-hot jazz. Folks shed their Victorian yokes, and embraced the new freedoms and conveniences that were sweeping the countryside.
Download PDF – Kals Fall07

The music’s not my favorite, but the home movies and pictures are great!

Jul 2007

Remember the Drive-In Picture Show

The first drive-in picture show opened on June 6, 1933, in Camden, New Jersey. It was the brainchild of Richard Hollingshead, who mounted a movie projector on the hood of his car. The clicking projector beamed its flickering celluloid offering onto one of Mrs. Hollingshead’s best white sheets that had been strung-up between two friendly trees.

Download PDF – kalbergsummer07

Mar 2007

The Middlegate Oriental Gardens

The entrance to the gardens

To an impressionable, 17 year old boy, it was a magical place! Winding pathways tiptoed through masses of exotic greenery. Unfettered wisteria vines, lush with purple blooms, draped the trees like fine lace. Trickling water from an ornamental river could be heard, flowing gently under humpbacked bridges painted bright red.

Download PDF – Spring07




Oct 2006

The Theater Bug

Eons ago – the mid-70s – amateur theater was the far- thest thing from my mind. Sooo, imagine my surprise when a dear friend called and said, “Anthony, I’m helping direct A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum at Gulfport Little Theater. I need someone to play a eunuch.

Download PDF – KalsKaleidoscopeFall06

Jul 2006

Katrina’s Prince in Shinning Armor

I NEVER KNEW THE MAN’S NAME. But as Katherine Hepburn said in that wonderfully rich, warbling voice of her’s in the movie, On Golden Pond, he was “my Prince in shinning armor.” And he was a Prince that I discovered, but by chance. By 2:00, on the afternoon of August 31, 2005, the blistering heat had wrapped itself around me like a dense, woolen, blanket, drippy-wet with humidity.

Download PDF – Kals_summer06

Mar 2006

Natural Gas in Church

When’s the last time you had a good laugh? Not a nervous titter, mind you, but a real rip-snorter? Now granted, here along the Mississippi Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Katrina’s lacerating visit, finding something to laugh about can be as rare as hen’s teeth. And rarer still is the laughter brought on by a Southern winter.

Download PDF – KALSspring 2006pdf

Dec 2005

Katrina Angel

It was an angel. A child’s angel. A child’s homemade angel. A gift perhaps. For a parent or a grandparent. And there it was, seemingly hiding itself in the craggy crevice of a mountainous pile of rank smelling debris. Its hand-painted face smeared with mud. Its Styrofoam body crushed.

Download PDF – KALSHoliday 2005pdf

Jul 2005

A Remembrance of Camille

Those of us who call the Mississippi Gulf Coast home know why the “livin’ is easy!” Because it’s HOT! What else is there to do but take it easy and “hunt a cool place,” as the old timers say? For our tourist friends who might not know, a coastal summer can be a HOT, humid affair.

Download PDF – Kals_July2005