Wednesday, November 30, 2011


The New Horizons Band at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas may never threaten Hot Chelle Rae for space on most iPods, but the member-musicians aren’t all that concerned.  For over fourteen years the music department there has encouraged seniors to learn to play a musical instrument or re-learn long dormant musical skills. 
As odd as it may seem to see a room full of graying and white haired men and women coaxing dissonant squawks and screeches from assorted clarinets, flutes and other instruments, the pupils in the beginners band are determined to accomplish their goals.  The advanced band’s efforts actually can produce identifiable tunes.  One of those members, 63 year old Carl Backes, is reaching back through the decades to recapture the joys of music.
Carl learned to play the clarinet in fourth grade at McDonough 39 in New Orleans, LA.  As he moved into Junior High, he expanded his skills to include the bass clarinet.  Adding tenor sax while at Ben Franklin and John McDonough High Schools, he became one of the original members of the then-nascent Louisiana State University at New Orleans’ band, earning invitations to play in several All-City and All-State bands as well as the Pelican Boys State Band.
Finally, at age 17, Carl’s years of academic toil finally began to benefit him financially.  He got a job in a band on Bourbon Street, in New Orleans’ famed French Quarter, laboring in obscurity to provide musical accompaniment for…strippers.  He even played in back-up bands for recording sessions and performances as well as the Navy band at NAS Memphis before losing interest in the 1970’s.
Life took up more of his time, adding the roles of husband and father, which necessitated more than the undependable monies that music provided.  And so it went as Carl worked first in the banking and finance sector, followed by the insurance industry.  Finally, in 2005, he retired with Peggy, his wife of 41 years.  Together they had planned to spend several years touring the United States and took possession of a brand new RV.  Then they ran into a little storm named Katrina.
Their home in New Orleans was destroyed, so their RV became their home, parked in a friend’s driveway for months, while they volunteered hundreds of hours cleaning up Ben Franklin High School before selling the gutted remnants of their house.  Carl and Peggy finally were able to embark on their journey across the USA, spending nearly three years discovering the West before deciding to build their new home in Denton, Texas.  They still spend part of the year traveling in their RV, making sure to always include JazzFest in New Orleans.
Like many older Americans, Carl does have a bucket list.  He takes occasional courses, belongs to clubs, and attends theater and concerts with his wife.  Several of his photographs from his travels have been published, and one was even purchased by National Geographic.  The musical score of his life has been full for Carl and tomorrow he will play in public – with the New Horizons Band – for the first time in 30 years.  Let the music begin.  Through The Lens: New Horizons Band « CBS Dallas / Fort Worth

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My Own Private Penn State Was... Everywhere

The Penn State scandal is everywhere.  Turn on television, radio, open a browser, pick up a newspaper or magazine and there will be some mention of the sensational allegations of child abuse.  Most of us believe there is real substance behind the heart-rending accounts, but I use the word "allegations" as even Sandusky is entitled to his day in court. Hopefully it won't end with the injustice of the Casey Anthony trial.  Personally, I think we may never know the real number of boys whose lives were irrevocably damaged.

Sexual abuse is a silent killer that alters a child's sense of trust and self-worth.  It lays waste to the very principles that parents labor to instill in the minds and hearts of their children.  All of us still struggle to find a balance between teaching respect for authority and when to ring the alarm bell.

I find it hard to listen to reports and testimonies from anyone who has been victimized, and wonder if there is any adult out there who has been fortunate enough to have never been subject to some form of actual or attempted abuse.  We've seen the shocking number of priests whose crimes were swept under the rug as the church shuffled them from parish to parish.  It seems every month or so there is another account of a coach or teacher accused of some form of predatory activity.

My book, "Ednor Scardens", didn't start out that way, but eventually became a vehicle for purging some of my own experiences as a young girl.  And yet the anecdotes recorded there hardly scratched the surface.  Some will likely go to the grave with me, but I still find it hard to believe that these all happened during the 1950's and early 60's, a time that most people naively think of as a more innocent time.

Unlike some kids, my own exposures began soon after puberty:  Between the ages of 11-14, there was a flasher at the library, a guy with a hooded sweatshirt who appeared at the kitchen door, a bus driver at the end of his route (my aunt lived at the next stop....the first on the new route), two different men sitting in parked cars on the way to school, and the father of two of my neighborhood friends.  I know those girls must have wondered why I stopped coming to play at their house, but it came so closely on the heels of an assault by a man who worked at the ice skating rink near my home that I didn't go anywhere for weeks.  The other incidents will remain buried as the men responsible are deceased.  They are beyond reach and distressing their family members serves no purpose.

My parents never discussed improper touching, but most kids know instinctively when someone has crossed that line.  What they don't realize is that it isn't their fault and that they need to tell a parent or other trusted adult. I never told because I was afraid of losing the small amount of freedom I'd earned by virtue of my preteen and teen threshold.  And by the time I reached fourteen, I was no longer a quiet, trusting child.  I was athletic and finally capable of defending myself, or at least out-running someone.

So to those who lament the wounds inflicted on the mighty Penn State dynasty, your tears are wasted on me.  And if you are a parent, and haven't discussed this issue with your children, don't wait.  It is one that must begin early and be repeated periodically in age-appropriate ways.  We live in a sadly dangerous and confusing world, but it's always been that way.  We just didn't know it. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

THAT ORANGE RUBBER BAG.....The Real American Horror Story

Ever since "Twilight" hit the book stores, we've been assaulted by a tsunami of books, movies and television shows that feature vampires, werewolves, zombies and assorted supernatural elements.  Some are better than others and I'm too ashamed to tell you how many times I've read the entire "Twilight" series.  I once watched the movie every day for thirty days in a row...but that's my problem (one of them, at least).  Some thngs are scarier than others, depending on your childhood experiences:  visits to the dentist, prostate exams for men, and the fear of what kind of comments health professionals make to relieve the tedium when we're out cold on the surgical table.

If you're wondering where I'm going with this.....well, I just got finished filling out a shaft of paperwork for a, um, oh christ, I'll just say it...a colonoscopy.  There, are you happy?  Can you sit there reading this and lie to me electronically that you don't have a little snarking smile on your face?  I don't want to go.  I hate it.  But I have a family history that is scarier than the prospect of undergoing the procedure.  And the 24-48 hours before the procedure are more frightening than the colonoscopy itself.  You can either drink a gallon of a foul-tasting powdered mix or endure a 32 to 40 pill regimen.  The recommendation is to prepare yourself to spend 1-2 days on a toilet.  Some wise-ass recommended stocking the bathroom with your favorite magazines or a book you've been meaning to read.  Avoid tear-jerkers as you'll be losing enough fluid already to cancel out all the anti-pollution efforts of the last two years for the Chesapeake Bay.  At least during the colonoscopy, you'll be sedated while the surgeon plays "Where's Waldo" in your plumbing.

Quite by coincidence, an email popped up in my inbox today from a popular company that specializes in customer reviews of local service providers such as contractors, repair men, etc.  Today's topic was, "Does colon hydrotherapy provide a healthy flush?"  Now I don't know about you, but I'm not all that keen on getting this advice alongside roofing repairs and lawn maintenance.  Apparently this practice is called a 'colonic' and people actually pay to have it done to rid their body of 'toxins'.


This is where my basic childhood fears come into play.  My mother wouldn't have known a 'colonic' from a hole (sorry) in the ground, but she was a big fan of monitoring her kids' bowel habits.  If you didn't poop for two days, she'd loom large in the hall with the.....drum roll, please....enema bag.  I hated that orange bag with the hose and hook and would go to any length to stay beyond the reach of that nozzle.  She didn't give a fig about toxins.  We knew what she was really after....and I'm not shi**ing you.

So, be kind to me for the next few weeks as I face down the gastroenterologic boogieman, the professional spelunker.  At least mom never had a camera and it was over quickly once she could grab hold of you and plant a knee in the middle of your back.  Just don't call me on the phone until its over because I'll be holding on desperately to my Kindle...and my voice might sound a little strained.  

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Living single tends to bring certain urges to the forefront.  Initially you go a little crazy at the freedom, but it's a scary world out there, fraught with danger and disease.  So you look for safer alternatives, weighing online reviews comparing power, options, noise level and price.  Some wax euphoric over the versatility of their purchase while others emphasize size and speed.  I agonized for weeks, wavering over whether to choose the less expensive utilitarian device, the Ferrari level beast or somewhere in between.  One thing it had to have was an extended warranty because if it performed as promised, I'd be using it frequently.  And it had to be quiet.  I've never forgotten the time I was settling into my seat on a flight to Boston and something started buzzing in my bag that I'd shoved under the seat in front of me.  Two twenty-something guys across the aisle started snickering as I dug frantically through the bag until I emerged victorious with an electric toothbrush.  I made a show of turning it off as my face flushed furiously.

I know what you're thinking...why in the world is she talking about something this private in a public forum?

Because I bought it.  It has been delivered to my doorstep by an unsuspecting UPS driver.  And I'm so crazy about it that I use it every day.  It's shiny, black and heavy, powered by a single auger drive.  This 6-in-1 model is the awesome Samson Masticating Juicer.  That would be a nasty name if it were actually what I know you were thinking it was.

Once I'd lived alone long enough for my cooking enthusiasm to wane, I realized that I wasn't getting enough vegetables and decided to do something about it that didn't involve regular stints at the stove.  On a visit to my daughter's she introduced me to something I'd previously dismissed when I saw 90 year-old Jack LaLanne exhorting audiences in his jumpsuit.

My 7 year old granddaughter happened to be at my home the weekend the machine arrived and we lined up carrots, apples and greens to shove into the thing.  I couldn't get it to start until she threw a long-suffering glance my way and said, "Nana, it won't start because you keep pressing the 'off' button."  Once that technical issue was dispensed with, we eagerly pushed veggies through the auger and watched as juice trickled into one container and brightly colored fiber poop dropped into another.  My initial concoction was a beautiful light green as we each took a sip before recoiling in horror.

She waved her hand at her mouth, pleading for water which I quickly supplied for both of us.  I later found out that mustard greens lend a very peppery result in juice.  The carrot, apple and pear nectar combo was much more pleasing to the palate.  I don't look twenty years younger yet, but I'm comforted by the fact that I'm finally putting some beneficial elements down my gullet.  Now I look forward to more adventurous combinations and concoctions.  Just no more mustard greens.