Grandpa and Haggard

This past Thursday evening I made a quick trip to Brenham, TX to meet my family for Marty Haggard’s show, A Tribute to My Dad, Merle Haggard….and what a great show it was! He sang many of his Dad’s hits, a few lesser known classics, and told stories about his dad and the songs he wrote. He prefaced the show by noting he hoped the show was as much of a trip down memory lane for the crowd as it was for him. Judging by the joy on the audiences’ faces, the singing, clapping, and occasional one-off conversation between Marty and members of the crowd, I believe he accomplished his goal. For me personally, I know for a fact his show was the ultimate trip down memory lane for my grandmother, mother and even myself, regardless of the nearly six decade age difference.

Allow me to back up. Mom grew up in southern Michigan in the household of a guitar playing, Johnny and Merle singing, hardworking, car salesman. Mom and her brothers often talk about hearing their dad and his friends strumming guitars and singing tunes in the basement through the air ducts from upstairs. Bo, her brother was once asked “How do you know the words to all these old country songs?” His reply: “When you go to sleep hearing them every night you don’t have much choice.”

As they moved around Michigan and across the US Grandpa’s love for music traveled with him from place to place. He always had a guitar nearby and greeted any opportunity to play and sing with and for friends with open arms; entertaining and having fun were two of his greatest joys. One of Mom’s high school friends, Becky, once remarked, “The Schultz house was just a place you wanted to be, the love there was palpable; there was always a camera close by, music and Mr. Schultz playing the guitar.”

Fast-forward some years later and I entered the world. My memories of Grandpa aren’t much different from those above. His Martin D-35 was always nearby, whether at his car lot in Houston or at his home in Weimar. He would sing and play just about every classic country song produced, on three chords, and if he forgot the lyrics he’d carry right on with his own version.

His CD collection was larger than most record shops and he would shuffle through six discs at a time on his stereo in the barn…anything from Bob Wills, to Merle Haggard, to Johnny Cash. Just like Mom and her brothers it was inevitable that I would know all the lyrics to music produced 20 to 35 years before I entered the world while riding my bike or shooting guns near the barn.

In addition to his CD collection I often remember sorting through the hundreds of albums stored under their record player and contemplating which one to play next. Sometimes it was a game and Grandpa would rattle off a song and I’d see how fast I could locate the artist and album. Needless to say I got pretty speedy over the time…and thanks to this game I often associate album covers with songs when I listen to old country music today.  

Occasionally Grandpa would pick my brother and I up from school and the cassette player in his ‘97 Chevy was humming some flavor of what I would call classic country, but what he would say is good music. Either way, at ages 68, 10, and 8, we’d all sing along to light-hearted tunes such as Roly Poly or deeper songs like Sing Me Back Home as we headed down CR 222 to their house.

Music and guitars were so near and dear to Grandpa that about 10 or 12 years ago my mom surprised Grandpa one weekend by showing him that she could sing and play right along with him after taking guitar lessons for the past several months. At 45 she not only learned to play the guitar, but learned to play the songs she grew up on and the songs Grandpa sang.

It’s my belief that the reason Grandpa enjoyed music so much is because he was a creative. He constantly encouraged us grandchildren to find what sparks our creativity. While I didn’t take the music route as I have no musical ambition and can’t carry a tune in a bucket I do appreciate good music…and that is just the world Grandpa Jim introduced me to. My fondest memories of Grandpa will always be him playing the guitar and singing songs.

Today, most call me an old soul, and I’ll admit I LOVE classic country. There are certain songs and especially certain artists that will always remind of Grandpa, Merle Haggard being one of them.

So thanks Marty, for taking my family for a trip down memory lane. It’s amazing to me how one genre of music and a handful of artists can have such a lasting impact through the generations. Music for me provides wonderful memories of those who are no longer with us – I know two gentlemen that were smiling down extra big that night, Grandpa and Merle.

Here are a few pictures of Grandpa Jim over the years doing what he loved!

 

Myself, Marty, Grandma, and Mom after the show. Marty asked me “How old are you?” I replied “23”. He said, “….and you really like this music”. Absolutely Marty, absolutely.

A Special Gift for a Special Lady

Grandma Elli turns 80 tomorrow, but with the thought of the upcoming weekend being pretty busy celebrating her birthday, I made a quick trip to Columbus Tuesday evening and surprised her with an early birthday gift that has been in the works for quite sometime!

So here it goes….

Although we are 58 years apart, she is one of my best friends and I am incredibly lucky to have such a spunky/fun/caring, Grandma. She’s the coolest! So for her 80th birthday I wanted to do something special, after all a person only turns 80 once!

So what do you get a volunteerin’-lawn mowin’-fast walkin’- Solitaire playin’, Wheel of Fortune watchin’-crossword puzzle solvin’, Grandma for her 80th birthday?!?!? Well, I’m not entirely sure, but what I ended up doing for her was one of the most rewarding/overwhelming/humbling/fun projects I’ve ever done.

So what could this project possibly be?

Well, for the past several months I have worked on compiling 80 years of written memories from Grandma’s friends and family, with the intention of placing them in a book. I simply sent out out a letter (you can check out the letter here) to her nearest and dearest asking them to write down their favorite Elli memory, and let me tell ya I was thunderstruck at the response I got!

I received memories from Grandma’s old co-workers, several friends, present and past neighbors, childhood/high school/college friends of Grandma’s children and grandchildren, family friends, and of course numerous family members…each one so special and unique. In fact, I received so many letters and pictures that it all wouldn’t fit in one book! I guess Dad wasn’t lying in his letter when he said, “You could write a book about Ms. Elli and it would probably be a bestseller.” Shortly into this project it became apparent that was the case.

So after a couple books, nearly 100 pictures, many heartwarming stories, kind words, and funny memories later, Grandma has a collection of memories that stretch from Michigan to Texas (and every stop in between), the 1930s to present day, old friends to new friends, and from people she hasn’t seen in years, to people she saw yesterday. It is truly the neatest record of a special lady that has touched many lives, been on many adventures, shared a many of laughs, and is loved by many.

I couldn’t thank everyone enough that has been part of this project – for taking the time to write down a memory, send pictures, and just for the thought and time that went into each and every letter that I received. They all brought many laughs, smiles, and a few tears (happy tears!), that when placed together tell the story 80 years in the making of a truly wonderful, wonderful lady that I have the honor to call my Grandma.

To say I was touched by this project would be an understatement. Grandma Elli is so loved and we are incredibly blessed to have the best friends and family around. You guys made this gift so much more than I ever dreamed it could be! Thanks to you, it is a priceless treasure today, tomorrow, and in years to come and a timeless gift that spans eight decades of ever-changing times. You guys are AWESOME!!

On a side note, I would also like to say I thoroughly enjoyed all the “happy mail” that I received over the past 4 months due to this project. I couldn’t wait to open my mailbox or email each day and find another “Elli Memory”. I read each letter multiple times and smiled endlessly while putting it all together. So if you would like to keep up that happy vibe, my address is…ha just kidding!

Overall, my favorite part of the entire project was the the opportunity it gave me to connect with all the special people in Grandma’s life through letters, emails, and phone calls; some I knew and others I now know. No doubt, Grandma has an awesome tribe of people! Such a fun, fun project that I’ll cherish forever!

Happy 80th Birthday, Grandma!

 

Summer Camp that Lasted ALL Year

Rancho Delores- Weimar, TX

Summer is upon us and many kids are heading off to summer camp. They are ready to brave the hot weather, connect with new and old friends and learn new skills. Watching these kids head off to camp brought back many fond memories of my time as a camper at various camps. While I enjoyed each one, it’s hard to beat the one that was located just 15 miles from my house. After a quick drive down a farm-to-market road and a few curves down a county road you arrived at “camp”. As you drove along the white fence, you noticed the huge American and Texas flags waving proudly out by the road. When you turned in you were greeted by two of the nicest individuals and you couldn’t wait to jump out of the car and begin your adventure! So after a quick hug goodbye to Mom and Dad…..it was HELLO Camp Grandma and Grandpa!!!

What an awesome place to spend just about every weekend and many summer days…..it was literally a summer camp that lasted ALL year! It was a place for creativity, skill building, fellowship, adventure and FUN. Not to mention we (my brother, cousin and I) could do just about anything we wanted…..and we did!

There is no telling how many bike ramps we built, go-carts, 4-wheelers, or dirt bikes we rode, clay pigeons we shot, fish we caught, guitars we played, trails we trimmed, Blue Bell ice we devoured or bacon sandwiches we ate. The possibilities were endless and if for some reason you were bored, someone was quick to dream up the next adventure!

One of my favorite memories is Grandpa sitting at the only spot he ever sat at, at the picnic table, smoking a cigarette and giving us grandkids a challenge….something he LOVED to do! The challenge entailed each grand kid riding the go-cart, 4-wheeler or dirt bike around the property for 15 minutes in which we were to return with an exciting, fictional story of what occurred during our ride. Needless to say we came back with some pretty creative stories- from the bear that chased us to the bubble gum weapon we used to defend the bear.

He was also excellent at mental math and loved to give us math equations at the dinner table that weren’t overly difficult, but certainly made you think. After all, unless you used your carrots as a calculator you had to really exercise your brain power to find a solution to his questions.

On the other hand, when we got the bright idea to build or create something Grandma was always there to help out. I don’t know how many pools, rafts or boats she repaired so that the fun would never end. She always seemed to be the one picking up a lot of the tree limbs as we cut new trails through the woods for mountain bikes and 4-wheelers.

I also spent many hours with her learning to sew and created what I thought were works of art at the time, but looking back would be considered a good effort. And of course like any good Grandma we spent a lot of time in the kitchen baking and cooking…not to mention she made sure we wore plenty of sunscreen, stayed hydrated and took lots of breaks! 😉

It’s fair to say, Grandma and Grandpa’s house was the place to be! From swimming in the lake, jumping on the water trampoline, paddling around in the paddle boats, fishing for catfish, racing RC boats, building and creating things and everything in between, Rancho Delores will always hold a special place in my heart. Creativity was abundant, skill building was endless and living quarters were above a bunk bed in a cabin of 20. I’m thankful that it wasn’t a place to be visited just one time a year, but year round…..it was summer camp that lasted ALL year!