Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I Liked “The Help.”

I read the book last year and was sorry to see it end.  So when I heard the movie was coming out, I couldn’t wait to see it. I wasn’t disappointed.

I am not going to rehash the plot of  “The Help.”  Those of you have read the book or seen the movie already  know what it is about; those of you who have not, go read the book and/or see the movie, and then you can form your own opinions, regardless of what I or the people who get paid to review movies say about it.

And I will have to tell you that I have started over at least three times writing this because I don’t mean to offend anyone, and when anything is written involving race, that is always a real possibility. We all bring to the race table our own set of experiences and baggage, and that forms  the lens through which we see the world. This sometimes creates misunderstandings. I hope I am not creating any misunderstandings or hurt feelings here. That is certainly not my intention.

I grew up in the 60s in the South and was certainly aware of the injustices dealt with in the movie, but never witnessed them firsthand. I was  not taught  to treat  people differently  just because of their color. We did not have a black maid, but my father happened to have a black man, a Mexican man, and a white man who worked for him for more than 25 years, and he treated them all the same; with respect.  He didn’t hire them as part of some affirmative  action directive- he  hired them because they were all good,  skilled,  dependable  workers.  They all, including my dad,  drank ice water from the same Igloo cooler that he always took to the jobs; they all used the same restroom at his shop; they all rode together in the front seat of the work trucks. 

It’s kind of like a friend of mine said his army sergeant told him one time: Ass-holes come in all colors. Skin color is not what makes a person good or bad; behavior and convictions are, and that should determine how we respond to people.

Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal said the movie was “a pop culture tour that savors the picturesque and strengthens the stereotypes it purports to shatter.” I’ll admit it; the pop culture tour was, I guess, one of the things I could relate to in the movie. While I had not witnessed  the racial prejudices spotlighted in the movie, I could relate to the bridge club afternoons, the cars, the music, the prevalent smoking, the clothes, so many little details-they did a great job recreating the era. My mother was not a snotty Junior-Leaguer  but she did love her bridge club. And I had to smile when the scenes set in Aibileen’s kitchen showed her stove. On that stove was  a metal  grease can with the word GREASE pressed into its side and a round, dark red wooded knob for a handle on the top, just like the one I watched my mother use to collect cooking  grease  all my life, and which is now full of grease I have collected and is sitting in my cabinet. Yes, I know, it is  not supposed to be healthy  to save and reuse the grease, but Mother did, and I do, and it hasn’t killed any of us yet.

I will admit I get bogged down in details, and this paragraph is about some other little details I picked up on. I do think the movie missed the boat on a couple of things in its depiction of the South: in the 60s the white women would have most certainly worn hosiery to be considered properly dressed, and the white actresses  in this movie didn’t.  Someone suggested that even back then  in Mississippi maybe they didn’t wear hose because it was so hot, and that may be, but I doubt it; in the Deep South bare legs would have been frowned upon. If anyone from Mississippi can shed some light on this issue, please do. The other thing I wonder about was Minny’s infamous chocolate pie. I am thinking that most Southern cooks would have covered the entire top of the pie with real egg white meringue, and the filling would have had a shiny, pudding look to it, which this pie did not. Any thoughts on that?

As to the stereotypes, yes , a case could be made  for that, but sometimes creating stereotypes helps drive a point home. Not all Junior-League members are like Hilly, but rest assured they did, and probably still do,  exist. And while not all maids and nannies were black then or now, most of them were and to tell this story correctly, the maids had to be black. I  understand some people saw the maids as the perennial victims, but goodness, considering the danger they put themselves in by sharing their stories with Skeeter,who was just the vehicle by which to tell the stories,  I don’t see how they can be considered anything less than the heroines of the story.

And one other picky thing that bugged me when I read the review by Don Groves of SBS Films is that this movie is a “warmhearted chick flick” and the men “were mere appendages of  the women.'” Well, gee, how many movies have we chicks sat through where the women characters were “mere appendages” of the male characters? And all the main characters were men? I don’t think we called those guy flicks. Yes, I know all the main characters of “The Help” were women, but so what? If it is a good movie with a good story, it really doesn’t matter if all the main characters are all of one sex or the other. (Ass-holes can come in both sexes, too.) Plus, I can’t think of many movies or books dealing with the fight for racial equality that had women as the main characters, so it was finally time to see things through the female perspective.

So there you have it. I think the movie is worth the price of the ticket. It serves as social commentary and history lesson, especially for a generation too young to have been there. What do you think?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Mules 28-Shallowater 35

Well, I don’t even know where to start. This first game of the new season was not one of our best efforts. To begin with, it was 103 degrees at game time, way too hot for football. Wearing shorts, sleeveless shirt, and flip flops to the stadium  just isn’t right. On the other hand, as the game slowly trudged on, it was kind of nice to sit there in no wind, and after the sun went down, a pleasant 80 or so degrees. Sure beat braving icy cold weather, which we do quite often during football season.

But I digress. The game started off with promise as Ryan Deleon scored on a nice pass from Beau Avila on the third play of the game. Then after kicking off to Shallowater, we recovered a fumble, ran a trick play so  Jr. Baca could make a nice run, but then we fumbled on about the 10 yard line and gave up the ball. The Mules were able to  keep them from scoring and then it was  the end of the first quarter.

Things didn’t get any better for the rest of the game. Lots of mistakes, fumbles, interceptions, and even touchdowns, but it just wasn’t a very exciting game. Eric Orozco was taken out on a stretcher, Isaac Baca  scored twice, Saul Elizalde scored once, and I will have to admit I lost interest way before the game was over.

Of course, part of that lack of concentration might have been brought on by the kids who couldn’t/wouldn’t/didn’t sit still and spent most of the game going back and forth, up and down, all  in front of our seats, naturally. To be fair, there were also too many young adults doing just about the same thing. So I guess the slow play of the game had its effect on everyone.

Bless the Mules’ hearts, though. They have pretty much spoiled us with all this winning they have done for the last few years, and now that they are rebuilding and not being quite so successful all the time, it is hard to get used to. I am quite sure they and their coaches are not too happy with the situation, either. I  look for things to change as the season progresses because I am sure they don’t like losing any better than their fans like watching them lose.

Next week is Portales there, so keep the faith and let’s give them a chance to bring back the magic.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Poopie and Black&White Kitty

Poopie and Black&White Kitty came to live with us when Colten came to live with us in May of 2010. Caroline had just remarried and was moving to Clovis, which made sense since her husband’s business is in Clovis. Colten, however,  didn’t want to change schools and friends again, so it was agreed that he could live with us in order to finish up at Muleshoe High School. He and his mother could still keep close contact since Clovis is only 30 minutes away, and he wouldn’t have to disrupt his high school education.



But no one asked Caroline’s last two cats,  Poopie and Kitty, where they wanted to live, but it was pretty much a done deal that if Colten came, Poopie was coming too, as they had been together her whole life, which at the time was for the past eleven years. She hung around wherever he was and slept with him every night. Kitty had been with the family a year longer, although not as close to Colten, but I decided she might as well come along, too.


Which was all well and good, except at the time we already had six cats, so there was some concern about if they would all get along. And we already had one named Kitty (Kitty The Lap Cat, October 4, 2010) . As it turned out, they all made it just fine, although these days I am beginning to see a lot more insecurity in Peaches’ behavior, so I try to give her a little more attention. Occasionally I will hear a spat or two, but they all have their routines and favorite places and have settled into life with each other. But that meant we would have eight cats, which my smarty-pants friends love to remind me is the cut-off for qualifying as one of those crazy cat-hoarding old ladies. But my cats have all had their shots, been spayed, and have clean litter boxes. So there!


Unfortunately, though, as I write this we are down to six cats, having lost the lap cat Kitty and Little Cat. We had called the new Kitty Black&White Kitty to distinguish between the two cats, which worked fine. Now she could just be Kitty, but I catch myself still calling her Black&White Kitty, out of respect for Kitty.

IMG_2731 Poopie is completely devoted to Colten, expects to be in his room with him and is perfectly happy when she is in the middle of his bed, usually curled up right on top of him.  She has been no trouble at all, so we are glad she came to live with us. When his door is shut, she patiently waits by it until someone opens it to let her in. And her name? Well, Colten said she would do funny things and thought she needed a funny name.  Poopie does bring out the smiles.




Black&White Kitty was a little longer coming around. A bit timid, she wasn’t real sure she wanted to be here. She had been more of an outside cat for the last few years and still seems more comfortable outside, but now she will ask to come in, gets a bite to eat just for the reassurance that this is her home and she is welcome, and then it is back outside. Her favorite place during this hot summer has been on the front step where she lounges in the corner napping and watching the traffic go by. She appears magically when I go out to weed or water and has even taken to jumping into laps for a little one-on-one time, which I enjoy, too.

So now you have met all my cats and been with me for the loss of three; Pedro Jesus, Kitty, and Little Cat. The head count stands at six, as of today. I hope it stays like this for a while. I don’t want to lose another one any time soon.

And considering that most of our cats just mysteriously found our house and stayed, I might  turn off that sign visible only to cats  that says “Safe House,” because for now, six really is enough…

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Art Loft


Back in 1961, Inez Bobo, Marie Lenau, Arline Phelps, Matilda Slemmons, and Vere Fox embarked on a venture that gave birth to another one of Muleshoe’s claims to fame, the Art Loft.

It all started when these five friends, neighbors, decided to take art lessons from Dr. Emilio Cavallero, who at one time was the head of the art department at West Texas State University (now West Texas A&M University) in Canyon. As their passion for creating pieces of art grew, their need for a convenient place to paint and work, and eventually show their work and perhaps sell some of it, led them to the first version of the Art Loft, which was on the top floor of Sanders Lumber Yard. Sanders Lumber Yard was located in the now vacant lot next to Edward Jones and west of  where Muleshoe State Bank now stands.  Each of the women had a separate room to make  their own special place, which they did by decorating in their own distinctive and unique way.

Since entrance to these rooms was gained by way of an outside stairway to the top floor, or loft, of the building, and since art is what would be found there, calling it the Art Loft seemed just right and appropriate.

And the name stuck, even as the establishment left the lumber yard location and as it grew from being just an art gallery to the unique store it became.   Art, Antiques, Furniture, and  Interior Design is how the business cards read as the scope of merchandise broadened to include all this and much more, as well as the very busy framing department. The store  made its way down American Boulevard (Highway 84)  to a building (which later housed Cliff Allen’s saddle shop)  across the street from present-day Leal’s, and later  to its final location farther down  the highway. At the time there were four “starter houses”  in a row at 1529 W.  American Boulevard. At one time and not necessarily in this order  the John Purdy family,  Maureen and Robert Hooten, M.D. and Pearl Gunstream, Roy and Joy Whitt and I am sure others, lived in those houses.

I get tickled when I write these things about Muleshoe’s history; I always learn things I didn’t start out to write about, such as who lived in these houses that turn into the Art Loft. Interesting facts and little stories always have a way of coming out, and it is always fun to connect the dots. 

But I digress. So the five friends bought this string of houses as they became available,  gutted them, and had carpenters build sections of walls to connect them so that the building became one long structure. And to the first of the houses, the one on the west end, one important component was added-a staircase up to a small loft. After all, this was to be the Art Loft.


Through the years other changes came to the Art Loft. Vere Fox and Matilda Slemmons left the group early on  for various reasons.  The scope of the merchandise changed. The remaining partners each refined and developed their own styles and found their niche in the business.

Marie Lenau  made the enamel on copper her signature pieces but also painted watercolors in the impressionist style. Marie was the next to leave, wanting to spend more time with her husband Charles.

Arline Phelps was also a fan of impressionism and painted acrylics and watercolors. She was the businesswoman of the trio; her focus was not to get rich, but to make  money to  put back in the business. Arline was probably the better known artist of the group, having shown her work in galleries in New Mexico as well.

Inez Bobo,  who tended to paint in browns and related hues, was the social butterfly of the group. Her thing was visiting with the customers rather than selling them things. If Arline was the business heart of the place, Inez was the social soul. She would greet and visit with people during the work day and then at night, especially after Mr. Bobo died, would stay at the store, make a batch of microwave popcorn, and tend to the paperwork that needed to be done. Carefully crafted  handwritten greetings and notes would be interspersed with the items listed on the invoices she would prepare as she ate her popcorn and took care of business. In fact, her love of connecting with people moved with her after her departure from the Art Loft due to health reasons and her move to Lubbock to be near family. She subscribed to the Muleshoe Journal, and when someone’s accomplishments or life changes would make the paper, she would hand write chatty notes of congratulations and mail them to surprised and pleased recipients. I was one of those lucky people who was blessed with her graciousness and was always pleased when her notes came.


But back to the Art Loft. A cut-out of Uncle Sam has graced the front of the building for as long as I can remember. He was Inez’s idea for one Fourth of July celebration. Dale Hughes, whose talents and skill contributed much to the business through the years,  built it, first out of metal and then out of wood. Uncle Sam was a hit, so there he stayed. Now I think people might get lost looking for the Art Loft if he was not there to greet them.

Another thing special to the Art Loft that I remember was their handmade  splatter-painted gift-wrapping paper.  Marilyn Riley, who worked there for 21  years with Sydna Flowers and Arline in the interior design department, laughed about what a pain it was to make. They would roll out brown paper on a wood floor in the back and proceed to splatter latex mixed with gesso and acrylic paint all over it and the floor, so that in the process they unwittingly created a distinctive splatter-painted floor that remained that way for many years.

Something else unique to the Art Loft at the time was when they came up with the Think Christmas week in October. They found the idea in a book and decided to try it.  They sent out invitations to customers, including ones  from out of town (as by this time they had a host of loyal repeat out-of-town customers),  hosted lunches in the beginning, and it was a success. Busloads of women from Lubbock and as far away as Waco came to shop. And to this day, the Think Christmas week in October continues.

In 1994 the Art Loft caught on fire. It didn’t burn down but did suffer quite a bit of damage, especially smoke damage to the merchandise. The decision was made not to close down but to hold a fire sale and start over. Loyal local customers volunteered to help, and it was quite an event. All the merchandise was spread out in the parking lot and people came to buy a piece of history at a bargain price. During the cleaning and rebuilding, the business was housed in what is now the Muleshoe ISD bus barn, which used to be the home of Robbie Green’s GMC dealership. (See, there’s another one of those local history connections!) They reopened in 1996.


But then the Art Loft closed in 2000. Medical problems got in the way. Inez had fallen and never was able to go back to work. Arline battled cancer and even with Dale’s help, just couldn’t do the place justice and decided to sell.


Arline and Inez sold the business to Sharon Agee in 2002 and the Art Loft was again up and running. The east end of the building now houses other businesses, but the Art Loft still remains. Sharon says that today the best part of owning the Art Loft is getting to meet people passing through town  who stop, many of them long-time customers, who will look around with fond memories and say things like “I bought one of these sand candles twenty years ago here, and I still use it.”

Marie Lenau died in 2002, Arline Phelps in 2005, and Inez Bobo in 2006, but their legacy lives on every time people drop by and share memories about this place that has been a part of the Muleshoe landscape for so many years. The hollyhocks that used to bloom by the front door are no longer there, but the sign that Sharon Agee says symbolizes the three friends’ legacy still remains and will continue to greet visitors:IMG_5596                  Enter As Strangers-Leave As Friends

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Random Acts of Kindness


I’ve often heard people relate times when they felt that God had spoken to them. While I definitely have felt like I have been in the presence of God, I’ve never really felt like He was sending me a message. Well, Sunday, all of that changed.  Thanks to Monty’s sermon, God was practically yelling at me with a bull horn.

The topic was “The Fruit of the Spirit and Kindness and Goodness” and based on scripture from Luke 6:27-36, Galatians 6:9-10, and Proverbs 25: 21-22. 

Now, I try to be  a nice person. I make an effort to be thoughtful of others. We donate to the Food Pantry and  other causes. We help deliver dinners to families at Christmas. But responding to a  one-on-one request from someone on the street?  I have always had a hard time with that, and I‘m not sure why. Fear of being conned? Fear of then being overrun by a horde of homeless people watching from the shadows? Guilt over the fact that I have been blessed with so much and this person hasn’t?

I am still haunted by the memory of the homeless man pushing his little daughter in a beat-up  stroller in Seattle when we visited there in 2006. We had seen him earlier on the street, and while we were eating a sandwich at a Subway shop he came in with an empty cup and timidly tried to refill it at the drink station. The staff ran him off, and we sat there and watched, lamenting his situation but not offering any assistance.

Then coming home from the lake the other day, we stopped in Sweetwater for a rest stop and an ice cream cone. While I stayed with Mari and  Bill went in for the ice cream, a homeless man approached me and asked if I could help him out. I didn’t.  As he walked off  there I stood,  with clean clothes,  a full stomach, and  a new car.  I can’t get that image out of my mind, either.

Monty made the statement that simple acts of kindness make a difference. What would it have hurt me to help those people? Granted, I might have been taken advantage of. But so what? For every person who plays the system or  squanders what is given him or her, the next one might be very grateful and use a donation wisely. Plus, another point made in the sermon was that if we do the right thing and kill people with kindness, God will heap burning coals on [their] heads, as mentioned in Proverbs 25:21-22, perhaps causing an epiphany and creating changes in their lives.

My friend in Austin used to drive by a homeless man on her way to work every morning. He had staked his territory on an intersection median and would ask motorists for help when they were waiting at the red light. She would always roll down the window, say hello, and give him a breakfast bar. That may not seem like much, but a kind word and a bite to eat was certainly better than how I handled that kind of situation.

Monty’s message was not specifically about helping homeless people, but helping homeless people is an act of kindness, and that message was intended for me. I just know it. I heard you, God. I needed that.

I used to teach my students that two of the ways authors develop characters in their stories is by what they have the characters do and say. What the characters do is much more revealing than what they say. I tried to teach my children that in real life the same holds true: people can say anything; what they do speaks volumes about what kind of person they really are.

Now, if I am going to say helping those less fortunate is important, I need to actually help the less fortunate. So with that in mind, I am going to purchase gift cards from some of the popular fast food chains and have those ready to share the next time I am asked for help. And if money is more appropriate, I will have that ready as well. And to make sure my actions match my words, I also mailed a check to a family I heard about on the  HLN- TV network  today. Mr. and Mrs. Stark adopted six special- needs kids, and then this July  Mrs. Stark died unexpectedly, leaving the husband to care for these kids. The family didn’t ask for help, but The Bert Show, a radio show out of Atlanta, Georgia, told their story and donations started pouring in for this family. Look it up on the Internet if you are interested and would like to help, too.

Ephesians 2:10 says we were created to do good works. Acts of kindness qualify as good works. The next time a situation presents itself, I will be ready.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Velveteen Car

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of  your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” *


The green Cougar was my second Cougar, the first one being Aggie  maroon. So I had a history of being seen in a Cougar when I bought this really pretty 1992 model 25th Anniversary Edition that I drove to school for eleven years. It had mocha leather interior, automatic controls on the driver’s seat,  a leather -covered steering wheel, keyless entry, all the whistles and bells that were a big deal at the time that I won’t bore you with here. But its best feature was its paint job, dark tourmaline, as it was listed on the dealer’s tag, which sometimes looked dark teal, sometimes dark blue, sometimes black, but always with a little metal flake sparkling in the sunlight. A pretty flashy car, I must say.  I didn’t like the 25th Anniversary wheels, however,  and had them changed to these standard Cougar wheels. It handled easily, had some get-up-and-go, and was just the right size for me. We later installed a CD player, so I had everything I needed for a comfortable ride.



And since I like cats, I guess I also liked the fact that it had the Cougar logo on it in several places.

My little  car and I traveled over 150,000 miles together and had a great time doing it. Most of that mileage was the utilitarian trips to and from school, but we covered a  lot of the state of Texas in those miles, too. I   washed it all the time, kept the interior neat and tidy, and always felt good in that car.

But then in 2003-2004 I was to be the state president for Texas Classroom Teachers Association, which meant driving all over the state to visit with local affiliates, attending a variety of education-related meetings, traveling to TCTA headquarters in Austin, and in general going anywhere my presence was requested as the state president. It just so happened about that time that the Cougar’s alternator went out and had to be replaced, and Bill decided it just wasn’t safe for me to be traveling hither and yon in a car that old, so the decision was made to upgrade to a newer car, this time a blue  2004  Chrysler 300M Special.

But I kept the Cougar.

Time passed, the blue Chrysler was traded in for a smaller white Chrysler Sebring, and the Sebring was recently swapped for a pale green Toyota Avalon.  And all that time the Cougar had been parked under a shed and covered with the same car cover it had been protected with in the garage. That was so  the cats wouldn’t walk all over it and leave footprints all the time. But it was sad to see it just sit there without a life. My family doesn’t have a history of tinkering with and repairing cars, so I had to face the fact that if we weren’t going to get it up and running again, it was time to let someone else love it and give it a new life.

So I listed it as one of the items for sale in the garage sale (Welcome to Garage Sale Central! July 12, 2011) “1992 Mercury Cougar-needs work,” my ad said. We had a few inquiries about it, and on the second day of the sale, a serious buyer. Sylvia made a down payment on it with a promise to come back for it when she had help to tow it home.

On July 27th, Sylvia reappeared with the rest of the money, along with her father-in-law, Frank Guzman, to help tow it to its new home. Now it turns out that Frank Guzman is the father of my former student, Frank Guzman, the son. It was then I found out I was in the dog house with former student Frank for selling the car to someone other than him. I should have known I would be in trouble. I can’t count the number of former students, including Frank,  who, to this day I when I see them around town or at a football game, still  greet me with, “ Hi, Miz Liles! Still driving the Cougar?” Frank always told me if I ever sold it, it should be to him.

Well, I am truly sorry, Frank. I am convinced that my brain has turned to mush since I retired, and I guess I just plain forgot, or thought that you would not want  it any more, especially since it wasn’t in running condition.  But it is in the Guzman family now, so that’s not a bad thing, right?




I sat in my little car one more time before watching it glide down the street. It still looked good, even if it was being towed and was a bit dusty. And I have to admit I cried when I sat in it one last time and  patted it good-bye. And I am crying right now! Silly me. It’s just a car, after all. But to me it was a friend through thick and thin. And with that car goes a part of my life, a  busy, productive, sometimes harried, mostly happy, memorable time. So it is the end of any era for me. I look at the empty space under the shed and hope my little car will be happy and useful in its new life.

We had some good times, didn’t we, old friend?  You will always be Real to me.

Scan_Pic0022“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.” *

*From The Velveteen Rabbit or How Toys Become Real, by Margery Williams. First published in 1922.