Author Archive

Jul 2022

DISPATCHES FROM HOME – A Streetcar, Tennessee Williams, and Louis Vuitton Jr.

Directing a play is no easy task, especially when it’s a classic like A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. At long last, the WATP production of STREETCAR is but a memory. The two and a half months of rehearsals and building and dressing the set, which involved nine-and-ten-hour days, seven days a week, were strenuous but rewarding! My sensational cast and crew made the hard work and long days fade away each time I was privileged to watch them perform. Their level of professionalism never wavered, and they helped me fulfill a 40-year-old dream. For that, I am eternally grateful! 

               Not long after the show closed, I rewarded myself with a few days’ vacation. I reserved a room at the Royal Sonesta Hotel, located in the heart of the French Quarter. I wanted to spend time in the city that Tennessee Williams so loved. My dear friend Michael (aka Louis Vuitton Jr. due to his admiration of Vuitton’s merchandise, especially his luggage and sunglasses.) drove us over. I was thankful that all I had to do was watch the springtime landscape dash by and plan our stay in the city.

               I could live in a classy old hotel, and the Royal Sonesta might be that hotel. Since first seeing it in the late 70s, I fell in love with the lobby’s elegant chandeliers and its marble columns, the splashing fountain, and the low hum of vintage Dixieland jazz on the intercom. Michael and I were more than pleased with our lovely room. It was decorated in subdued blues and greens with a dash of silver and gold. French doors opened onto a lacy, wrought iron balcony; the view of the swimming pool below, glistening in the morning sunlight, was peaceful indeed.

               After unpacking and settling in, Michael and I decided a walk to the Hotel Monteleone would be our first “Tennessee Williams” stop. The hotel’s Carousel Bar tops the list of all the thriving bars that make New Orleans so magical. It makes a complete slow spin every fifteen minutes, its vintage, carousel-like chairs adding to its festive appeal. It’s been a favorite with the young-at-heart–regardless of their ages–since it opened in 1949. It was a regular stop for Tennessee during his days in New Orleans. Hemingway, Welty, and Faulkner wove the Carousel Bar into their stories. Truman Capote was a regular too. And the bartender! He made the most divine Cosmopolitans, heavy on the vodka, light on the cranberry and lime juice.

               If the spirit of Tennessee lingered at the Carousel Bar, would it linger on a streetcar as well? Walking to Canal Street, we caught the Saint Charles Avenue streetcar. As it rumbled along, I could not help but think that Tennessee might have ridden on that very same streetcar. Passing the grand mansions that grace the avenue, I pointed out the Romanesque Brown mansion, the Wedding Cake house, and the squared-columned house designed to look like Tara in GONE WITH THE WIND. Our fellow passengers were a mixed lot: a few college students, an elderly couple, and tourists with strong Northern accents. As we passed Audubon Park, Michael pulled the cord, the streetcar rattled to a stop, and we got off.

               The afternoon sunlight, dancing through the trees, was bright and warm. It was a glorious day to be in the city! Looking down the long avenue with its moss-draped oaks, we walked around a bit. Then a new experience for me rolled up – a Uber. We were miles from our hotel, so Michael decided we’d hail a cab. Again, I enjoyed being chauffeured around, watching the teeming masses whoosh by, wondering who they were and what made them tick. Was that a modern-day Delta Dawn, complete with a hat and faded rose, her suitcase replaced by an old leather shopping bag? How old-school the elderly black lady looked with her tattered black umbrella opened to blot out the sun, her Pepsodent smile pleasant and reassuring.

              Returning to the hotel, we planned our next adventure, a walk through the historic French Quarter. If you’ve been there, you know it is the beating heart of New Orleans with its raucous energy, vibrant history, and remarkable architecture. Jazzy jazz flows out of bars, the smell of Cajun-inspired food wafts through the air, and fine art galleries, antique shops, and restaurants beckon.

               Walking to Jackson Square, we entered the heavenly calm of the St. Louis Cathedral, enjoying its beauty. While inside, the church bells rang. I thought of Tennessee again. He had heard those same bells, hence Blanche’s line when she hears them. “‘Those cathedral bells–they’re the only clean thing in the Quarter.” As we left the cathedral, my dreamy state was interrupted when I heard Michael exclaim with glee, “Oh! Look at that!” Looking at the object of his delight, I let out a muffed, sissified scream. My feet dashed away. I quickly followed.           

               Jackson Square is known for its street vendors and entertainers. Laughing clowns and creepy voodoo fortune-tellers, with “98% accuracy,” vie their trade. Tap dancers tap. Painters paint. However, a man with a massive, albino boa constrictor slithering all over his body is not my idea of fun. When Michael said, “Oh! I want to touch it!” I said, “I’m out of here.” Michael laughed. “Pawpaw, you’ve got to get over your fear of snakes. Let’s walk down to the river.”   

               Old Man River is still rolling along, I’m happy to report. The breeze was brisk off the water. A riverboat passed; its paddlewheel churning up the river’s tawny-brown water; its calliope screeching out a tune, which I’m sure could be heard for miles down the river. The smell of French coffee and beignets called our names, but, alas, the line outside the Café Du Monde did not. We hailed another cab. However, this one had three wheels, two legs, and a driver with thighs bigger than my waist. The driver’s name was Marcus; his modus operandi was a rickshaw-like bicycle. Once again, I loved being chauffeured around the city.

               Marcus dropped us off at a quaint, little sidewalk bar as the afternoon shadows lengthened. We had an icy glass of something made with ice cream and booze. Mercy me! It was good. We sat, kibitzing with the friendly bartender and the other patrons at the bar. While there, we heard a rumbling coming from our stomachs. Supper was next at Betty’s Bar and Bistro. It was just the right spot to relax–a quiet patio with swaying palms, wrought-iron tables and chairs, and shrimp etouffee. A glass of Sauvignon Blanc and some conversation with the people next to us was an added delight. 

               For all its allurements, the French Quarter is not the safest of places; crime lurks in dark corners. We’d both agreed not to stay out too late but knew we’d have to take in world-famous Bourbon Street. After a quick fresh-up at the hotel, out the door we went, ready for whatever might come our way–first stop, Rick’s Cabaret. “Michael, are you sure this is where you want to go?” I ask. “Come on, Pawpaw, don’t be a stick in the mud.” (Ah! Youth wasted on the young.) We ordered another round of Cosmopolitans and took a seat at a table near the dance floor. Giddy laughter echoed around the room, as did the muffled conversation.

               In the semi-darkness, I saw a stage, a silvery pole, and nothing else. Suddenly ear-splitting dance music filled the room. Twirling, multi-colored lights lit the scene. A “lady,” dressed in only a few strips of leather strategically placed in certain areas, pounced onto the stage. She writhed around the sliver pole, much like that snake had writhed around the man back at the cathedral. Honey, let me tell you. She oozed up that pole and slid down it, twirling around it as she descended. She then did a bump-and-grind number that brought the house down. Michael clapped and hollered, “You go, girl!” The lady leaned over and whispered, “I don’t want your applause. I want a dollar.” With a laugh, Michael said let’s go. We did. Bourbon Street waved its glitzy hand, and we followed. 

               Noisy, rowdy, and nocturnal, Bourbon Street pulsates with neon lights, throbbing music, and wandering people walking or staggering along. We strolled through the crowds, looked, laughed, and strolled some more. We were toasted by that ubiquitous Bourbon Street creation, the strolling libation known as the go cup. We passed the Chris Owen’s Club with its iconic performer. Little did we know that she would pass away some days later. After a few more bars and drinks, we decided to call it a night.

               I never sleep well when I’m away from home. I tossed and turned all night, finally waking around 6:00 am. Knowing I wouldn’t go back to sleep, I decided to take a walk. Michael was sawing logs, and I didn’t wake him. The lobby was deserted except for the employees behind the reception desk. I was surprised to find Bourbon Street deserted as well! In the wee small hours of the morning, the street cleaners had washed the street down. The foamy disinfectant smelled of lavender. Walking along Bourbon, its silence was refreshing but a bit jarring too. Hours before, it had been filled with a cacophony of sights and sounds, now all washed away like the swirling refuse disappearing into its gutters.

               Walking down Royal Street, I perused the 18th Century antiques in the windows of many of the street’s famed antique shops. One art gallery featured Andy Warhol-ish-looking paintings of mundane things: a broken china skull, a rusted rake, and a pile of vintage jewelry. All of it rendered in a thick, impasto style. Walking further down the street, I saw a scantily dressed woman sweeping off her balcony. She waved and said good morning, as did I. Her husband, or perhaps a boyfriend, clad only in his underwear, sat ensconced in a decaying wicker chair, sipping his morning coffee. I heard the cathedral bells chime again and thought of Tennessee. Did he walk down Royal Street on crisp spring mornings? Perplexed and pondering? Wondering if A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE would be successful? Wondering if he would lapse into obscurity?

               As I continued my morning stroll, delivery trucks unloaded fresh flowers, vegetables, and fruit boxes to various restaurants, and a few people walked their dogs. One vagrant, disheveled and dirty, rolled out of a doorway, yawned, stretched, and then returned to the land of Wynken, Blyken, and Nod. As the sun rose higher in the pinkish-blue morning sky, I decided it was best to return to the hotel, wake Louis Vuitton Jr. from his slumbers, and ready ourselves for the ride back to Gulfport.

               Once the car was loaded, we were away. I was so pleased that all I had to do was enjoy the ride and observe the passing world. Michael cued up a Reba McEntire album. As she belted out FANCY and he sang along, we topped the interstate bridge heading east out of the city. I looked back at the Big Easy. I thought about my direction of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE and I thought of my dear cast and crew. I thought about Tennessee too and his incredible contribution to the theatrical world! The city slowly dissolved into the late afternoon sun, and as it did, I could not help but remember a snippet from one of his poems, “So moments pass as though they wish to stay. We have not long to love. A night. A day…”

Jul 2022

DISPATCHES FROM HOME – 131 + 43 + 4+1 = 179 Titanic memories.

While recently waiting in line for some eye meds at the local apothecary shop, I spotted what I thought was an old friend of mine, who seemed to whisper, “Please don’t leave me here. It’s been so long since last we met.” I didn’t and quickly picked up the reissued National Geographic magazine that initially held me spellbound back in 1985 due to its subject matter: the discovery of RMS Titanic.

     I have now added the reissued magazine to my little collection of Titanic memorabilia that began in 1967 when my dad gave me a copy of “A Night To Remember” for Christmas. Since that time, I’ve collected 43 books about the Titanic, along with owning four large, framed pictures of her. I also have 131 copies of the Titanic Commutator dating back to 1984. This magazine is the official publication of the Titanic Historical Society. One of my favorite little Titanic tidbits is a popcorn bucket given to me by a friend during the 1997 movie’s phenomenal run of 54 weeks.

     Inevitably, come the anniversary of the April 15th, 1912, sinking, someone will ask me why the Titanic saga still captivates me after all these years? Some reasons are obvious. It was her maiden voyage, and she was the largest, most luxurious ship in the world. Her 1st Class interiors were the finest examples of Edwardian splendor, boasting magnificent grand staircases, a Moorish-inspired Turkish bath, and a smoking room encased in stained glass and mother of pearl. Her 2nd Class interiors and services were equivalent to 1st Class on other ships. In Third Class, most of her passengers had never seen electric lights, experienced hot and cold running water, or indoor plumbing. And the food. Many of them had never known the simple luxury of three tasty meals a day. She was the wonder ship of her age.

     However, Titanic’s story continues to beckon for another reason. Her tragic sinking is rife with strong symbolic metaphors. Hers was not just another 20th-century catastrophe. It was a wake-up call to human arrogance. In his Sunday sermon after the sinking, the Bishop of Winchester said, “When has such a mighty lesson against our confidence and trust in power, machinery, and money been shot throughout the nation. God grant that we and our sister nation of America may take it to heart and profit from the lesson. The Titanic, name and thing, will stand for a monument and warning to human presumption.”

     Do any of the good Bishop’s words ring true today? Don’t we, as a society, still presume that we can overcome all the world’s problems via our knowledge of science and technology? Isn’t our “confidence and trust in power, machinery, and money” still dominant in our thinking? As our world leaders once again “rearrange the deckchairs on the Titanic” due to the horror being played out in Ukraine, might the Titanic’s sinking be a metaphor for our undoing?

     On the day passengers and their luggage were being loading aboard the Titanic in Southampton, a 2nd Class passenger, Mrs. Sylvia Mae Caldwell, was apprehensive about boarding the great ship. She asked a deckhand, “Is this ship really unsinkable?” With a cavalier smile, he replied, “Madam, God Himself could not sink this ship.”

     The Titanic’s tragedy shines a light on many of those on board that fridge-cold night, exposing their chivalrous acts, as well as their agony and heroism. And that tragedy still provides vital lessons for each of us living today. We are all traveling somewhere, perhaps not from Southampton to New York, but most certainly from here to eternity. We can put our faith in our money and our county’s supposed power, and the world’s leaders. We can lean onto our own understanding. We can assume that we are unsinkable, much like the Titanic’s passengers thought she was.

     In the end, however, we will all find ourselves in one of two lifeboats. On both, there will be no class distinctions. There will be no 1st Class or 2nd, or even 3rd. One boat will sail into the harbor of Glory, and its passengers will live there eternally, safe in the arms of Jesus. But the other boat will sink into the fiery depths of a terrible place filled with “weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth,” its passengers living there forever, severed from God’s mercy and love. I, for one, have booked passage on the lifeboat bound for Glory. I will reaffirm that passage come this Sunday morning when I celebrate the resurrection of Christ Jesus, Savior of the world.

Jul 2022


On Christmas Day, 2016, the sunlight slowly melted the delicate tracery of the morning frost hugging the rooftops on dear ole Wilson Drive. Little did I know that would be my last Christmas with my “mom.” Why the quotations? Although Mom was not called Home until 2019, Christmas 2016 was the last time she was fully aware that it was Christmas, fully aware of who she was, fully aware of who I was.

                The following year, my precious mother began her long, slow journey down a dark road, trying but failing to dodge the demons of dementia along the way. However, Christmas Day, 2016, found Mom and me traveling along another road, one that helped complete a family tradition—the Christmas Day ride.

               For as far back as I can remember on Christmas Day, Mom, Dad, and I piled into the family auto, and off we went, coasting along at various slow speeds, enjoying the countryside. We always went west on that day. Sometimes we ended up in Slidell after traversing the Rigolets and giggling at the fishing camps–their names and the quirky folks who owned them. When Dad passed away in 1997, Mom and I continued that tradition–December 25, 2016, was no different.

               Mom got dressed, looking ever so cute in her green pants and Christmas sweater, as did I in my snappy-red sweater and socks adorned with mischievous elves. “Where are we going today,” Mom asked? “Let’s head up Hwy 49 and then west, out the Saucier-Lizana Road,” I answered. “Oh! What fun,” she said with a sweet smile. And off we went, anticipating a delightful day of new sights, sounds, and the people we might see. In our delight, how could we have imagined what we would soon discover?

               Herrin’s Quick Stop was one of the first places we passed. Although closed for Christmas, that did not stop me from savoring its tasty lunches of fried catfish and shrimp, all of which could be washed down with a classic milkshake. Herrin’s famous Christmas House was another holiday treat. Dancing Elvis dolls, a vast collection of potbellied Santa’s, tinkling music boxes, and a myriad of Christmas trees adorned with glimmering lights and glistening Shiny-Brite ornaments delighted children and adults alike.

               Continuing westward, Herrin’s slowly faded in my rearview mirror as the afternoon sunlight danced through dangling branches, sprinkling the black asphalt with pools of light; the air marinated with the earthly-sweet smell of pine needles. Winding through the countryside, we passed vintage houses and sparkling-new house trailers. One yard had a small pond and another some cows and chickens. It was then we topped a hill, a vast hollow yawning below. Seeing a muddy Tahoe stopped in the middle of the road, I hit my breaks, thinking to myself, what was the driver doing? Mom wondered the same thing.

               As my car slowed to a stop, I saw the Tahoe’s driver talking frantically on her cell phone. She started backing up, and so did I, not knowing what was happening. She managed to maneuver around me in her haste to leave. She motioned for me to do the same. Suddenly, a carload of teenagers screeched to a halt. The driver yelled, “Roll down your window.” I did. “Mister, you’d gotta turn around! Don’t go down there. They got pipes, knives, maybe a gun! It ain’t safe!” He hit the gas and roared away. I eased forward and then I saw it.

               In the hollow below, a vicious fight was in full swing. Young shirtless men, muscles glossy with blood, were in a fierce battle over who knows what. Knuckles pounded faces. Fists hammered into clinched stomachs. Profanity-filled threats filled the air. As Mom and I watched in horror, I heard police sirens in the distance. Then in a frail, sweet voice, Mom said, “How sad…fighting on Christmas Day. What has our dear country come to?”  

               I quickly drove away. I was silent. Mom was silent. The silence softened by the strains of a violin playing Strauss waltzes on the car radio. The music lulled her to sleep. Shadows lengthened as I drove home, the sun a fiery orange ball about to collapse below the horizon. Mom’s words burrowed into my psyche. And as they did, I thought, “I want a magical shredder for Christmas.”

               If I had one, I could shred broken families, broken hearts, and broken lives. I could shred people’s misery and sadness conjured by their past failures, current disappointments, and future fears. I could shred the Klan and Neo-Nazis and their racist theology. Shred the Marxist hypocrisy of Black Lives Matter. Slowly shove the caustic virus of wokeism into the shredder’s razor-shape teeth.

               The hypocrisy of Christians who claim to love Jesus, but don’t via their actions, would be shredded too, as would other religions that claim to be peaceful but aren’t, plotting to destroy all that stand in their path. Congress, and its individual sandboxes, would be shredded as well. Although those in the sandboxes most likely wouldn’t stop throwing sand until they were ground into dust.

                “Kalberg, you old fool,” I thought to myself, “there’s no such shredder and you know it!” Tears welled up in my eyes. I knew that was true. But then I remembered a hackneyed old story that I’d once heard in Sunday School: a young man was once walking along the beach, so runs the tale. It was swarming with starfish that were desperately trying to crawl back into the sea. He noticed a man, white-haired and stooped with age. He was throwing starfish back into the water, thus saving their lives. The young man sneered. “Shore’s littered with hundreds of starfish. You can’t possibly make a difference.” The old man smiled and threw another starfish into the sea. With a touching grin, he said, “It made a difference to that one.”

               Today is Christmas Day. Perhaps we can’t shred all the world’s ills, but we can make a difference in lives of those with whom we come in contact. Will you help shred a sliver of that which they fear? Will you tell them there’s hope? Will you tell them about a baby born in Bethlehem who brings eternal joy because of his death on a cross? Will you tell someone you love them? Will you? Here’s wishing my family and friends a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year! With kindest remembrances and best wishes for your future health and happiness, I am, as always, your Andy.

Jul 2022

Dispatches from Home – 125 Years!

On a Sunday evening in the hot summer of 1966, my dear parents and I joined Gulfport’s First Baptist Church. As we walked down the aisle, and the pastor, Dr. William Tanner, greeted us, I was fascinated by the greenish-amber stained-glass dome soaring over our heads. I was fourteen. That walk and that decision is one that I’ve never regretted.

                The domed church, built in 1916, burned in the late 60s. It was replaced by a magnificent church that featured a soaring steeple, luminous blue stained-glass windows, and stately Corinthian columns. That church was battered by Hurricane Camille and eventually destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. However, through wars, depression, nature’s wrath, and turmoil, the real FBC Gulfport survived unscathed. The real FBC, you ask? It is its members-past, present, and future.

                Today, September 19, 2021, to the day FBC celebrated its 125th Anniversary. Oh! What a glorious day it was! The church house was filled, and the choir loft rocked with hymns and praise songs rendered by William Carey University’s choir and orchestra. There were videos from former pastors who spoke of times past and challenged FBC to go forward into its future. The church’s eldest member, 98-year-old Mrs. Charles “Pete” Stanford, was recognized. Her bright smile and loving countenance were a joy; she quoted her favorite verse: James 1:22– “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” As Christians, isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? Be doers of the word…to love as Christ loved? To be joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, meek, and self-controlled?

               As I’ve aged, I’ve never forgotten that night 55 years ago, when a loving pastor took the hand of a gangly teenage boy and greeted him with open arms. Over the years, as many of my friends joined other churches and other faiths or gave up on God and the Bible–thinking it nothing more than a collection of myths and fairytales–I chose to remain faithful to God, his Son, Jesus, and FBC. Why? Because in times of great stress, the deaths of dear family and friends, periods when I stumbled down dark alleyways and slammed into scary dead ends, the loving members of FBC were there to hold me, love me, and say, “We’re here for you.”

               Is Gulfport’s First Baptist a perfect church? No! Why, you ask? Because it’s a gathering of people—imperfect, flawed people—who seek the perfection shown to us by Jesus’s death on the cross. Do I agree with all things Baptist? No. But growing up at dear ol’ FBC Gulfport, I’ve seen Jesus. I’ve seen him in the eyes of dear church members, those who’ve gone Home, and those who remain. I’ve seen him in the way church members have aided each other, ministered to the dying, cared for the living, and through it all gave God the glory.

               Three of FBC’s brick-and-mortar churches are now nothing more than a collection of sepia-tone pictures and loving memories. There is no guarantee that the present church house will not succumb to some natural disaster. But it’s not the real church. FBC’s members—past, present, and future—are! They have been and will continue to be the concrete foundation on which FBC rests. Because of their faithfulness and their love, they will continue to be a light in the darkness of this old world. And for that, I will be forever thankful.  

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!

See Full Article

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.

See Full Article

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?”

DOWNLOAD PDF – Ten Years Ago – A Remembrance

Apr 2015

A Tale of Two Libraries – Letter to the Editor

Letter to the Editor April 12 2015 001 scroll-1







Click to See Larger View of Clipping

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.”

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

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.

DOWNLOAD PDF – A Scary Christmas Memory

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.

DOWNLOAD PDF – Granny’s Baby-Blue Buick Special

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.

DOWNLOAD PDF – The Socialist and the Southern Belle

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.

Download PDF – Dogs! And Cops! And Bats! Oh! My!

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.

Download PDF – Holiday 2013

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.

Download – Summer 2013 PDF

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.

Download PDF – Spring 2013

Jan 2013

Why Romney Didn’t Get Enough Votes to Win

Published: Tuesday, November 13, 2012  by Rabbi Steven Pruzansky

Rabbi Pruzansky is the spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun

The most charitable way of explaining the election results of 2012 is that Americans voted for the status quo – for the incumbent President and for a divided Congress. They must enjoy gridlock, partisanship, incompetence, economic stagnation and avoidance of responsibility. And fewer people voted.

But as we awake from the nightmare, it is important to eschew the facile explanations for the Romney defeat that will prevail among the chattering classes. Romney did not lose because of the effects of Hurricane Sandy that devastated this area, nor did he lose because he ran a poor campaign, nor did he lose because the Republicans could have chosen better candidates, nor did he lose because Obama benefited from a slight uptick in the economy due to the business cycle.

Romney lost because he didn’t get enough votes to win.

That might seem obvious, but not for the obvious reasons. Romney lost because the conservative virtues – the traditional American virtues – of liberty, hard work, free enterprise, private initiative and aspirations to moral greatness – no longer inspire or animate a majority of the electorate. The notion of the “Reagan Democrat” is one cliché that should be permanently retired.

Ronald Reagan himself could not win an election in today’s America.

The simplest reason why Romney lost was because it is impossible to compete against free stuff. Every businessman knows this; that is why the “loss leader” or the giveaway is such a powerful marketing tool. Obama’s America is one in which free stuff is given away: the adults among the 47,000,000 on food stamps clearly recognized for whom they should vote, and so they did, by the tens of millions; those who – courtesy of Obama – receive two full years of unemployment benefits (which, of course, both disincentives looking for work and also motivates people to work off the books while collecting their windfall) surely know for whom to vote; so too those who anticipate “free” health care, who expect the government to pay their mortgages, who look for the government to give them jobs. The lure of free stuff is irresistible.

Imagine two restaurants side by side. One sells its customers fine cuisine at a reasonable price, and the other offers a free buffet, all-you-can-eat as long as supplies last. Few – including me – could resist the attraction of the free food. Now imagine that the second restaurant stays in business because the first restaurant is forced to provide it with the food for the free buffet, and we have the current economy, until, at least, the first restaurant decides to go out of business. (Then, the government takes over the provision of free food to its patrons.)

The defining moment of the whole campaign was the revelation (by the amoral Obama team) of the secretly-recorded video in which Romney acknowledged the difficulty of winning an election in which “47% of the people” start off against him because they pay no taxes and just receive money – “free stuff” – from the government. Almost half of the population has no skin in the game – they don’t care about high taxes, promoting business, or creating jobs, nor do they care that the money for their free stuff is being borrowed from their children and from the Chinese. They just want the free stuff that comes their way at someone else’s expense. In the end, that 47% leaves very little margin for error for any Republican, and does not bode well for the future.

It is impossible to imagine a conservative candidate winning against such overwhelming odds. People do vote their pocketbooks. In essence, the people vote for a Congress who will not raise their taxes, and for a President who will give them free stuff, never mind who has to pay for it.

That engenders the second reason why Romney lost: the inescapable conclusion that the electorate is dumb – ignorant, and uninformed. Indeed, it does not pay to be an informed voter, because most other voters – the clear majority – are unintelligent and easily swayed by emotion and raw populism. That is the indelicate way of saying that too many people vote with their hearts and not their heads. That is why Obama did not have to produce a second term agenda, or even defend his first-term record. He needed only to portray Mitt Romney as a rapacious capitalist who throws elderly women over a cliff, when he is not just snatching away their cancer medication, while starving the poor and cutting taxes for the rich.

Obama could get away with saying that “Romney wants the rich to play by a different set of rules” – without ever defining what those different rules were; with saying that the “rich should pay their fair share” – without ever defining what a “fair share” is; with saying that Romney wants the poor, elderly and sick to “fend for themselves” – without even acknowledging that all these government programs are going bankrupt, their current insolvency only papered over by deficit spending. Obama could get away with it because he knew he was talking to dunces waving signs and squealing at any sight of him.

Similarly, Obama (or his surrogates) could hint to blacks that a Romney victory would lead them back into chains and proclaim to women that their abortions and birth control would be taken away. He could appeal to Hispanics that Romney would have them all arrested and shipped to Mexico (even if they came from Cuba or Honduras), and unabashedly state that he will not enforce the current immigration laws. He could espouse the furtherance of the incestuous relationship between governments and unions – in which politicians ply the unions with public money, in exchange for which the unions provide the politicians with votes, in exchange for which the politicians provide more money and the unions provide more votes, etc., even though the money is gone. He could do and say all these things because he knew his voters were dolts.

One might reasonably object that not every Obama supporter could be unintelligent. But they must then rationally explain how the Obama agenda can be paid for, aside from racking up multi-trillion dollar deficits. “Taxing the rich” does not yield even 10% of what is required – so what is the answer, i.e., an intelligent answer?

Obama also knows that the electorate has changed – that whites will soon be a minority in America (they’re already a minority in California) and that the new immigrants to the US are primarily from the Third World and do not share the traditional American values that attracted immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries. It is a different world, and a different America. Obama is part of that different America, knows it, and knows how to tap into it. That is why he won.

Obama also proved again that negative advertising works, invective sells, and harsh personal attacks succeed. That Romney never engaged in such diatribes points to his essential goodness as a person; his “negative ads” were simple facts, never personal abuse – facts about high unemployment, lower take-home pay, a loss of American power and prestige abroad, a lack of leadership, etc. As a politician, though, Romney failed because he did not embrace the devil’s bargain of making unsustainable promises, and by talking as the adult and not the adolescent. Obama has spent the last six years campaigning; even his governance has been focused on payoffs to his favored interest groups. The permanent campaign also won again, to the detriment of American life.

It turned out that it was not possible for Romney and Ryan – people of substance, depth and ideas – to compete with the shallow populism and platitudes of their opponents. Obama mastered the politics of envy – of class warfare – never reaching out to Americans as such but to individual groups, and cobbling together a winning majority from these minority groups. Conservative ideas failed to take root and states that seemed winnable, and amenable to traditional American values, have simply disappeared from the map. If an Obama could not be defeated – with his record and his vision of America, in which free stuff seduces voters – it is hard to envision any change in the future. The road to Hillary Clinton in 2016 and to a European-socialist economy – those very economies that are collapsing today in Europe – is paved.

A second cliché that should be retired is that America is a center-right country. It clearly is not. It is a divided country with peculiar voting patterns, and an appetite for free stuff. Studies will invariably show that Republicans in Congress received more total votes than Democrats in Congress, but that means little. The House of Representatives is not truly representative of the country. That people would vote for a Republican Congressmen or Senator and then Obama for President would tend to reinforce point two above: the empty-headedness of the electorate. Americans revile Congress but love their individual Congressmen. Go figure.

The mass media’s complicity in Obama’s re-election cannot be denied. One example suffices. In 2004, CBS News forged a letter in order to imply that President Bush did not fulfill his Air National Guard service during the Vietnam War, all to impugn Bush and impair his re-election prospects. In 2012, President Obama insisted – famously – during the second debate that he had stated all along that the Arab attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi was “terror” (a lie that Romney fumbled and failed to exploit). Yet, CBS News sat on a tape of an interview with Obama in which Obama specifically avoided and rejected the claim of terrorism – on the day after the attack – clinging to the canard about the video. (This snippet of a “60 Minutes” interview was not revealed – until two days ago!) In effect, CBS News fabricated evidence in order to harm a Republican president, and suppressed evidence in order to help a Democratic president. Simply shameful, as was the media’s disregard of any scandal or story that could have jeopardized the Obama re-election.

One of the more irritating aspects of this campaign was its limited focus, odd in light of the billions of dollars spent. Only a few states were contested, a strategy that Romney adopted, and that clearly failed. The Democrat begins any race with a substantial advantage. The liberal states – like the bankrupt California and Illinois – and other states with large concentrations of minority voters as well as an extensive welfare apparatus, like New York, New Jersey and others – give any Democratic candidate an almost insurmountable edge in electoral votes. In New Jersey, for example, it literally does not pay for a conservative to vote. It is not worth the fuel expended driving to the polls. As some economists have pointed out generally, and it resonates here even more, the odds are greater that a voter will be killed in a traffic accident on his way to the polls than that his vote will make a difference in the election. It is an irrational act. That most states are uncompetitive means that people are not amenable to new ideas, or new thinking, or even having an open mind. If that does not change, and it is hard to see how it can change, then the die is cast. America is not what it was, and will never be again.

For Jews, mostly assimilated anyway and staunch Democrats, the results demonstrate again that liberalism is their Torah. Almost 70% voted for a president widely perceived by Israelis and most committed Jews as hostile to Israel. They voted to secure Obama’s future at America’s expense and at Israel’s expense – in effect, preferring Obama to Netanyahu by a wide margin. A dangerous time is ahead. Under present circumstances, it is inconceivable that the US will take any aggressive action against Iran and will more likely thwart any Israeli initiative. That Obama’s top aide Valerie Jarrett (i.e., Iranian-born Valerie Jarrett) spent last week in Teheran is not a good sign. The US will preach the importance of negotiations up until the production of the first Iranian nuclear weapon – and then state that the world must learn to live with this new reality. As Obama has committed himself to abolishing America’s nuclear arsenal, it is more likely that that unfortunate circumstance will occur than that he will succeed in obstructing Iran’s plans.

But this election should be a wake-up call to Jews. There is no permanent empire, nor is there is an enduring haven for Jews anywhere in the exile. The American empire began to decline in 2007, and the deterioration has been exacerbated in the last five years. This election only hastens that decline. Society is permeated with sloth, greed, envy and materialistic excess. It has lost its moorings and its moral foundations. The takers outnumber the givers, and that will only increase in years to come. Across the world, America under Bush was feared but not respected. Under Obama, America is neither feared nor respected. Radical Islam has had a banner four years under Obama, and its prospects for future growth look excellent. The “Occupy” riots across this country in the last two years were mere dress rehearsals for what lies ahead – years of unrest sparked by the increasing discontent of the unsuccessful who want to seize the fruits and the bounty of the successful, and do not appreciate the slow pace of redistribution.

Two bright sides: Notwithstanding the election results, I arose this morning, went to shul, davened and learned Torah afterwards. That is our reality, and that trumps all other events. Our relationship with G-d matters more than our relationship with any politician, R or D. And, notwithstanding the problems in Israel, it is time for Jews to go home, to Israel. We have about a decade, perhaps 15 years, to leave with dignity and without stress. Thinking that it will always be because it always was has been a repetitive and deadly Jewish mistake. America was always the land from which “positive” aliya came – Jews leaving on their own, and not fleeing a dire situation. But that can also change. The increased aliya in the last few years is partly attributable to young people fleeing the high cost of Jewish living in America. Those costs will only increase in the coming years. We should draw the appropriate conclusions.

If this election proves one thing, it is that the Old America is gone. And, sad for the world, it is not coming back.


Dec 2012

The Story of the Unhappy Nail.

A cautionary tale penned by Anthony Wayne Kalberg (with apologies to the movie, “On The Waterfront.”)

Once upon a time, the way all good stories begin, there was a nail. He did what nails do best – hold things together. Now this particular nail was unhappy doing what nails do best. So he said to his fellow nails, “Hail! Nails! I’m tired of doing what we do. I want more. I wanna have class! I wanna be a contender! I wanna be somebody instead of just an old nail high up in the bell tower of this old cathedral!” His fellow nails begged him to reconsider. They attempted to make him realize how immensely influential he was to the architectural integrity of the cathedral, but alas to no avail. And then it began. The unhappy nail wiggled and squiggled out of the tight hole that for years had been his happy home. Finally he was free!

“Goodbye all you loser nails…I’m out of here! The world will soon by my oyster!” (Not that nails know a lot about oysters, he just thought it sounded sophisticated to use such phraseology.) With his fellow nails looking on and powerless to stop him, the nail suddenly found his little elongated self sliding down the side of the bell tower at warp speed. And with a resounding plop the little nail landed on the sidewalk below.

“Here I am world…and any oysters that might be in the vicinity! Come and get me! I’m all yours!” Alas, it was not meant to be. No one noticed the little nail. People walked all over him, kicked him around, and finally after much abuse he was ignominiously swept into the street, only to be washed down the drain that night during a violent rain storm, never to be heard from again. And thus ended the life of the unhappy nail. But the nail’s story does not end there.

During that same rainstorm, which swept the unhappy nail to his early demise, his fellow nails found it difficult to hold things together. Much to their horror they were unable to keep the shingles covering the bell tower in their proper place. The shingles started clattering down the side of the bell tower, landing plop, plop, plop on the sidewalk below. “Oh! Where is that silly unhappy nail when we need him!” they cried. “Without him, we are doomed!” And so was the stately cathedral.

The violent rainstorm pounded the bell tower. It started linking. A small leak became a gushing waterfall. It coated the bells in the tower, causing them to rust. It oozed into the plaster covering the cathedral’s ceiling, turning its magnificent frescos into mush. The relentless, dripping avalanche then bore down on the priceless stained glass, loosening the lead that helped hold the intricate pieces of glass in place. After the rain had ceased, the morning sunlight exposed a total ruin, the result of one nail’s unhappiness and discontent.

Are you like the nail? Unhappy where you are? Discontented with the deck of cards that Life’s dealt you? Have you ever stopped to think that the Good Master’s put you where you are because you are doing what you do best – hold things together? Ponder this: Without you, and the power you possess because of God’s influence in your life, what stately “cathedral” in your life might crumble into ruin if you were not there to help hold it up? So when you become discouraged thinking you are useless, please remember the story of the unhappy nail, who should have stayed where he was because he was doing what he did best – hold things together. And if he had, his story would have ended happily ever after…the way all good stories should end.

Take care and may God bless.

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.

Download PDF – Holiday 2012

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!

Sep 2012

Kinard Fite

Sep 2012

Kinard Fite – A Few Thoughts and Memories

I was saddened to hear of Kinard’s passing on September 7, 2012; for many months the man has been on my mind. Over the years I’d lost track of him, not knowing how to contact him. But after hearing that he did not wish for me to accompany him to the 20th Anniversary production of Sweeney ToddI thought it was best to let well enough alone.

I first met Kinard in 1986. He and I were in that year’s Sanger Theater Production of OliverHe played Mr. Sowerberry to my Artful Dodger – a stretch if ever there was one…I was 34 at the time. LOL. That production led to another – a musical version of The Christmas Carol which he directed, casting me as mean ol’ Mr. Scrooge. And thus began a most interesting relationship.

Kinard was always kind, casting me in many of his grand, over the top productions: Cabaret (another stretch since I don’t sing or dance to well. LOL) Show BoatSweeney ToddGuys and Dolls, to name a few. There were times when he exasperated me to no end with his meticulous attention to detail. But I always knew that in the end, whatever the problems during production, said production would be the finest amateur theatrics the Mississippi Gulf Coast had ever seen. I was proud – very proud – to say I was in a KNS Show!

During that time, Kinard allowed me to enter his inner circle; said circle small, exclusive, and not easily accessed. It was there that I discovered the inner man, the man who few knew, or were allowed to know. More times that I can count, we dined at the Bombay Bicycle Club, or strolled the Biloxi streets in the cool of a Fall evening. There were a slew of Saturday morning motor trips to New Orleans, which were always a delight! Whenever I’d pick him up, he always had a colorful bag filled with strange, but entertaining objects: note cards on which were written his thoughts, or a bit of poetry, or a line from some obscure play; some tasty morsel or a bit of fresh baked bread; a lady’s high-heal shoe filled with artificial flowers or peacock feathers; and there were always his notebooks for KNS’s next production. “AWK,” he would say, “What do you think of this? Would such-and-such be better or worse?” AWK! No one had ever called me by my initials. I thought that was cool. And for that matter, I thought the fat little bald man with piercing blue eyes and a glare that could cut diamonds was just that too – cool!

Upon our arrival in the city, he always took me to the most evocative places – the old “Lavender District” in the French Quarter was a personal favorite. He told me that back in the day the area was where the city’s gay population had lived and hung out. He showed me where Tennessee Williams once lived; told a delightful tale concerning an old light fixture that once hung near the front door of Mr. Williams’ house. It was Mexican in design, made of multi-colored stained glass. When it was on in the evenings, it meant Mr. Williams was at home and was receiving – as it were – guests. Kinard said he had been one of those guests. To a country boy at heart, coming from small town America, I was enthralled by it all. We always ate at a delightful hole in the wall, embedded deep within the French Quarter on a back street. The restaurant had a French name that I can’t pronounce, much less spell. LOL .

But it was during our return trips at night that he often turned melancholy. He spoke of old lovers, life in the 50s and early 60s, and at times, his ex-wife, his child, and his family – a source of pride and remorse. Our little outings always ended with: “AWK, I’ll call you…” Which he did when he got home , and would continued to do almost every day for weeks thereafter. I always came away from those times with Kinard thinking I’d just experienced something out of the ordinary, strangely fascinating, but always uplifting, my knowledge broadened, my horizons expanded.

And then there was the first time he allowed me entrance into his house; not something that all were allowed to do. We always entered via the back door, where a note pad and pencil were attached to the door molding. With a creak, the back door slowing opened. I was agog! I thought I’d entered the home of the Mad Hatter, with accouterments purloined from The Old Curiosity Shop. I almost expected to see a male version of Miss Havisham waltzing toward us, reeking of stale rose water and brittle lace. But no such apparition appeared, only dear ol’ Kinard shuffling around in a tattered silk kimono, into which he had changed upon our arrival. The walls of his kitchen were covered in a menagerie of fascinating objects: a spindle from the grand staircase of the old St. Louis Hotel in New Orleans; a large poster of James Dean, augmented with a string of white Christmas lights; and a myriad of notes that people had left on his back door, along with old newspaper clippings and greeting cards. The sink was filled with dirty dishes, the stove top covered with cans of scented candle wax and the occasional ancient cooking pot. Then there was the bedroom: bed high up off the floor, stacked up on concrete blocks, a large rectangular mirror as a headboard; a rickety bookcase, filled to overflowing; a radio tuned to PRM, classical music filling the air. There were other rooms as well: a study, dining room, living room, and front bed room; all the rooms crammed-packed with old costumes, books, furniture, and my favorite – “sculptures” made of Waffle House to-go boxes. Those were just tooooo funny, and sooooo Kinard!

But the man did have his demons.

And many times those demons took us to sad, dark places from which I feared we’d never return. Those demons oft times materialized in the form of anger, or bitterness, or just a sticky malaise that was hard to breech, much less understand. I finally realized that Kinard’s demons were part of his genius – you could not have one without the other. And if you could not accept the demons, your time with him was short. I lasted longer than most, but alas, the demons won. They finally encrusted his mind, causing him to lash out at others with vicious cruelty and acidic criticisms. I saw dear old friends attempt help, only to be rebuffed. He was like a werewolf, killing the very people he loved the most and that loved him. I wanted to help, but did not know how. I wanted to reach into that brilliant, hard head of his and decapitate each of his demons, freeing him from their grip. But that was never meant to be. And thus we parted.

I last saw Kinard in the tumultuous months following the great storm of ‘05, when my dear Mississippi Gulf Coast was irrevocably change forever. He was in Dr. William Sams’ office in Gulfport. I’d taken Mother for her check-up, and when we were walking down the hall, I saw that dear ol’ bald head. When he saw me, I guess he thought I’d not seen him first – he acted as if he were asleep. I thought, “Oh! No you don’t…you dear ol’ codger you!” I bounced up, shook him awake, and planted a big ol’ smacker-roo right on top of his old bald head. “AWK, fancy meeting you here,” he said in that droll voice of his, glasses precariously perched on his nose. After a few pleasantries, we told each other goodbye, and as I looked back at the old man sitting in the chair, a tear filled my eye. I thought of all that could have been, should have been; all that I could have learned, and all that I could have created under his tutelage. But his demons – and mine – did not allow for that, and for that I am truly sorry. I can only hope that in his last days, Kinard made his peace with his Maker. And perhaps if he did, he’s experiencing an eternity, not one filled with demons, but one filled the joy, happiness, and love that he longed for on this side of Jordan, never quite found, but never gave up the hope of finding those human emotions that we hold so dear. Goodbye to you – my dear, long lost friend.

Sep 2012

Titanic Boat Songs. Great Collage

Aug 2012

The Art to Growing Old Graciously

Fifty years ago, when I was 10, I remember my sweet Granny from D’Lo telling me there was an art to growing old graciously. At the ripe ol’ age of 10, I smiled, not really knowing what that meant. Now I do. I was never good in art classes, but this is one “art” project that I intend to master. With age comes a wisdom that transcends book “learnin’.” You learn to say a polite “No” when needed; you learn to do the things you can do, and not to fret over those that you can’t; and of greatest importance, you learn who “sticketh closer than a brother,” so says the Good Book. At 60, you tend to look back over your life (if you’re brave) and realized that most of your dreams were just that: dreams. You intended to put “feet” to those dreams, but somewhere along Life’s hilly, bumpy trail, those “feet” lost their way. And when dreams get lost, they are sometimes replaced by a bevy of mistakes. And Oh! My Grasuhus! Have I had my share of mistakes along Life’s trail. Thankfully, I learned from my mistakes (for the most part) and I’m happy in the knowledge that God ain’t though with me yet! But although my dreams might not have come true, I do count myself as one blessed individual. Blessed with parents who loved me, warts and all. Blessed with dear friends, who indeed “sticketh closer than a brother.” Blessed with a strong belief in God and his only son, Jesus. And blessed with the knowledge that someday ( soon or not so soon) I’ll be granted access to a place that I don’t deserve, by someone who gave His life for me, a poor wandering wayfarer trying to get Home. Home – where there’s peace, love, and joy, no tears, no pain. It is then I will know that I truly did master the art of growing old graciously; awaiting a new, spotless canvas on which to splash the brilliant, sparkling colors of Eternity.

Jul 2012

Attention First Baptist Church Crystal Springs, Mississippi

In church this morning at FBC Gulfport, I was shocked (but not surprised) to hear of your decision to deny a black couple’s marriage in your sanctuary. Was it due to their color? Is it somehow related to church politics? Or a power struggle to rid the church of some member or staff member? Whatever the real reason, the reason was ill-timed. …

Ill-timed because those responsible threw dear ol’ Mississippi right back into the hands of the media; back into the shark-infested waters of the those that smell blood and viciously attack. Your decision only intensifies the country’s negative image of a state that for all of my 60 years I’ve called home; a state that is light years away from it’s racist past – your decision only strengthening the tether to it.

Question? Now that the Southern Baptist Convention has voted as its worldwide leader, a charismatic, highly articulate African American, how does that sit with you? Will you leave the convention? If you can’t let a Black couple’s marriage take place in your sanctuary, how can you be led by a Black man?

We live in trying times, times we’ve not seen since the 1930s – world-wide financial collapse, wars and rumors of wars, and seemingly inept, world-wide leadership. Do we as Christians really have time to worry about skin color? Or church politics? Shouldn’t we be honoring one of the Good Master’s last commands? “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another as I have loved you. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if you have love one to another.” Does Christ’s command stop at the front door of some Baptist Churches in Mississippi because of skin color or life-style choices? To some at FBC Crystal Springs – some…NOT all – it appears so. Forgive them Lord. And forgive me, a sinner at best, struggling to get Home to thee.

Jul 2012

Anthony Steps Out to the Titanic Anniversary Dinner

To read the article in its entirety, click here.


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

What good deed will you do this day?

Mornin’ Folks! When I was a little boy, I spent summers with my sweet Granny from D’Lo, Mississippi. Each morning started with the smell of bacon and eggs frying in an old black skillet, the smell of coffee filling the air. We’d sit at her little breakfast table, say our blessing, and dive into the delicious breakfast she had cooked for us. And then she would ask, as she did every morning, “Anthony, what good deed will you do for someone this day?” Her question is mine for you this morning – “What good deed will you do this day?” A kind word? A friend comforted? A loved one called? A shut-in helped? Just a thought on this lovely cool Spring mornin’. Later ‘Gaters

Apr 2012

Here’s the question: Are you a bully? Or were you the victim of one? I was the latter.

Morning Folks! Here’s the question: Are you a bully? Or were you the victim of one? I was the latter.

Reading about the poor teenager whose life has been irrevocably changed due to a spinal injury, the result of a bully’s fist punch to the boy’s abdomen, I was reminded of my days in High School. Thankfully, my injures were not physical, only mental.  In my High School annual there’s a snap of a group of girls, all aglow with Pepsodent smiles, standing in front of a water fountain. That water fountain was at the base of a Y-shaped staircase. For me, said staircase was not “the stair way to Heaven.” I had to climb that staircase everyday, passing the giggling girls. And when I started my climb, they started their jeers: “Whoooo! Look who’s here….sissy boy. Hey sissy boy, where’d you get that trench coat? Did you mama buy you that briefcase?” Their taunts brought the jeers of others, and if I could, I would have crawled between the paint on the walls and the concrete blocks to which the paint was attached. This assault was daily, and daily I climbed the stairs looking desperately for an escape. I never found one. If the girls were vicious, the boys were just down-right mean! One in particular seemed to take sadistic pleasure in making my life a living hell at school. I can see him now, tall with mop of coal-black hair, sauntering down the long school hallway; he was the cock of the walk, as it were. He was the campus football hero, the idol of his coach’s eye, and eyed by all the giggling girls at school. He was in a word – perfect. Perfect that is until I came into his sights. And Oh! My grashus, the nasty, lewd things that “perfect” boy would say to me. Some of the things he said, I didn’t even know what they meant. And looking back now, I wonder if he bullied me because I was small of stature and perhaps he was bullied at home; his father and brothers were all “real men.” And did I mention that he was also a member in good standing of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes?
But all good things come to those who wait.

Years later in the mid-90s, after a smashing run of The Christmas Carol at Center Stage, I was standing in the lobby receiving kind words about my performance as Scrooge. And lo and behold who should appear in the receiving line but Miss Pepsodent Smile of water fountain fame! She had brought her grandson to see the show. And when she came up to me, it was like old home week. She hugged me, and told her grandson that we’d been in school together. He was a cute kid, about 12 years old, and full of questions about my makeup and costume, etc. I smiled, answered all his questions, the entire time thinking, “Little one, I hope you never have to experience the living hell I did, all of it brought on by someone like your dear ol’ grandmother.”  I also saw Mr. Perfect some time back, gorging himself on raw oysters at Gulfport’s Half Shell Oyster House. I was dining on the upstairs balcony and had a bird’s eye view of him. I could not help but laugh. Gone was the mop of coal-black hair, replaced by a lovely bald scalp of blotchy pink skin. Gone too the muscular physique, replaced with one that somewhat resembled a large wooden barrel. He was escorting some bleached-blonde bimbo, perhaps all he could reel in his “declining” years. As I was leaving, our eyes met. For a second, he acted as if he didn’t remember me, but then he smiled a toothy grin and said, “Well, look who it is…the little pansy boy.” Little did he know that the “little pansy boy” had grown up over the years, and no longer feared Mr. Perfect. With a sweet smile, I looked at Mr. Perfect and said, “You know, in an ever changing world there’s one that never changes…once a jerk…you’re a jerk to the day you die.” The bimbo giggled. I left Mr. Perfect was a spot of gumbo on his tie and a look of bewilderment on his face.

Now…said all that to say this, were you a bully? If so…shame, shame shame on you. And if you were, have your reared you sons and daughters to be the same, or perhaps your grandchildren? If so…shame, shame, shame on you! I look back on those hellish days at school and can say without reservation that I would have not survived if it had not been for my loving parents – Mom the school teacher, Dad the Marine – and dear ol’ FBC Gulfport. Those two places – home and church – were my anchors in the vicious, turbulent waters of my youth. Had it not been for those anchors, which tethered me to places where I found true love and acceptance, I shutter to think where I might have ended up, or what I might have become. Bulling has erupted on our school campuses; its bitter pus oozing into festering sores. It has brought untold misery to millions of young people, and death to some. And now a teenage in Ramsey, New Jersey, will live the rest of his life in a wheelchair due to a bully. But how can we fault the bullies, when many times their parents taught them how? How? By never telling the little bastards: “No, you can’t do that,” or “Honey, it’s alright. Mommy and Daddy will smooth everything over…don’t you worry Honey…” But then there are times when parents do everything they can, bringing up their child as best they know how. And now the child has morphed into some type of Frankenstein monster, trying to kill the very person who created it.

So what to do? How to stop the bulling? I have no idea. But I do know if children who are bullied do not stand up, backed up by their parents, nothing will change. If you even suspect your child or someone else’s child is the victim of a bully, talk to that child. Talk to his/her parents, grandparents, school officials. I never told my parents or anyone else in authority about my days at the hands of bullies. Perhaps if I had, something would have been done about it. Silence may be golden in a library, but when it comes to bullies, silence is a road map to an irrevocable destination: disaster.

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

Feb 2012

To my angered Legislators:

“Many lawmakers – mostly Republicans – were fuming mad Tuesday over an online campaign that had teachers and other public employees and retirees ringing their phones and filling their email in boxes with complaints over a vote they took last week.” – this was the opening paragraph of today’s local fish wrapper.

Fuming mad? It’s your CONSTITUENTS who should be fuming mad. And even if your constituents – the ones who VOTED you into office – tied up your precious phone lines and emails with complaints and comments – and YOU had to “spend hours” reassuring them YOU are not out to cut retiree benefits – isn’t that part of your job description? Silly me…I thought it was. And unless I’ve been misinformed over the past 60 years, this is still America, and we – it’s citizens – can still voice our complaints on the soapbox of our choice. Fuming mad…indeed!

Here’s a few thoughts and comments concerning those august Legislators who were quoted in today’s article:

  1. Rep. Richard Bennett – You stated: “This is a partisan group putting out misinformation…” What partisan group? What misinformation? Care to elaborate on both? Inquiring minds (mine in particular) want to know. You also stated the Legislature is not “going to do anything with PERS this year…” THIS year? What the other three remaining in your tenure of office?
  2. Rep. David Baria – Thank you. But you do understand why State Employees and Retirees – past and future – look at the Sunshine Act with a jaundiced eye, as the old-timers say? Was it not revealed that Mr. Barbour’s PERS overhaul committee stated their lawyers had found a way around the PERS Retirement System? And as today’s fish wrapper stated: “if the agency (PERS) wanted to cut benefits, the agency would simply go hire a lawyer that agreed with them.” If this is not correct, PLEASE address this falsehood.
  3. Rep. Timmy Ladner – I’m sorry you received 60 to 80 emails…nasty form emails at that. You should let your constituency know, from now on, slews of form emails simply won’t be tolerated.
  4. Rep. Jeffrey Guice – “he (you) doesn’t believe lawmakers – at lease those from South Mississippi – are going to take any stance to take away any earned benefits…” Let me thank you for that – but – what about the other gaggle of Legislators from the other counties? Will you lead the charge against them should they “turn” against State Employees, voting to cut benefits? I’ll be your drummer boy if you do.
  5. Rep. Scott DeLano – “Who is this? Who do you respond to?….” Well, dear sir, why not join Honor Your Promise on Facebook. And if you do, you can respond and “deal with this type of new media…” I look forward to your future comments on that group’s site.
  6. Rep. Bobby Moak – I guess the old adage is true: “What goes ’round, comes ’round.” It’s the Republicans who are currently “weeping and wailing and gnashing” their teeth; it will be you Democrats when your back in power. Some things just never change. Your stated “Baria’s amendment, thought not a direct vote on PERS benefits, would have provided some protection to major changes in the direction for the agency.” Major changes? In the direction of the agency?

And therein Bill Shakespeare lies the rub. WHAT major changes? And you, and the other boys and girls in the Legislature, wonder why State Employees and Retirees are just a wee bit queasy when it comes to our retirement pay and 13th check? So – said all that to say this – if you folks have issues with Honor Your Promise and the “false and misleading information” spewed out by this group, put it in writing. Have a town hall meeting. Say it on the telly or the wireless. But by all means SAY IT. And if you do, perhaps your won’t be bothered by those nasty emails and bothersome phone calls. You have a bully pulpit! We – State Employees and Retirees – have no voice! None… other than the likes of Honor Your Promise.

Thanking you in advance for you consideration in this matter, Anthony Kalberg (A tax payer who votes.)

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.

Download PDF

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.

Download PDF


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.

Download Spring 2011 PDF


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.

Download PDF – KAL210 2

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

Gulfport Little Theater Article

I did audition and got a part – a eunuch in Gulfport Little Theater’s 1975 production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. A eunuch? Don’t go there! But that first audition, that first part, and that first production was “the beginning of a beautiful friendship” with the local theater community – and of course Gulfport Little Theater.

Download JPG – Summer09

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




Feb 2007

A Letter to the Editor

Before we pay a visit to our individual sheds, barns, or outhouses, in a combined effort to sharpen our plowshares, bring the tar to a bubbling boil, and snatch up all the pluck-able, non-laying hens we can find, I would request restraint from my Fellow Armpits… restraint and also patience.

Download JPG – SunHeraldLetter

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

Aug 1998

The Romance of Ocean Liners

The same thing this nation is going through now with this Titanic craze, the nation was going through 86 years ago.

Download JPG – articletitanic