Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Bad Things

Shall we chat, you and I?  Will we speak of dark times when we have no stars or moon to light our way?  May we talk of feelings which jolt us awake in the middle of the night?  Of things which make our hearts race while our skin crawls?

The unease felt while reading a horror novel may be ended  simply by closing the book, thus returning us to a comfortable reality.

But sometimes we experience horrors which are not fiction, but all too real fact.

We have seen the terrors of 911, of wars and tragic acts of nature.  We can imagine the sudden death of a loved one...of the diagnosis of a deadly disease or the abduction of our children.

A well-used movie plot has the hero or heroine overcome some act of happenstance or evil by the end of the film.  Real life does not allow us a scriptwriter to create our happy ending;  we are on our own, unprepared for the trauma that we are enduring.  We may scamper around in panic or stare in abject fear as the threat asserts itself.

Watch the evening news and you will find terrible things happening: some created by nature, some by the acts of man.  Imagine the depth of the evil which spawned the terror of 911.  Imagine yourself on one of those burning towers.  What do you think you would feel?  What do you think you would do?

Halloween has always been a time to observe diminutive ghosts, witches and goblins, scampering happily from house to house, collecting candy and treats.  But underneath this joy, there is a pulsating sense of menace...perhaps a reminder of real life.

As we pursue our day to day lives, we are apt to forget that there are threats to our happiness waiting somewhere in our future.  These threats may be happenstance or they may be evil, but we must be prepared to act as our own hero and not expect anyone to come to our rescue...there will be no writer waiting to pen a happy ending.

So you must beware.  You must know that somewhere ahead of you, likely waiting around a dark corner, there are things that are going to test your moral and physical courage...

Bad things...

Friday, October 14, 2011

Lair Family History: Afterword

These stories of our family history were written for the benefit of my sons:  Eric and Monty.  It was written so they might better understand who and what they are...after looking at their antecedents.  Some traits seem to recur from generation to generation;  sometimes this is a good thing, sometimes not.

These stories are also written for those few I still hold close, that they may read some lines which may cause them to smile in remembrance.  If a casual reader should stumble over these stories, perhaps they might learn something or at least be entertained.

This history was compiled thanks to a family tree, penned by Genevieve, which dates back to 1714.  Madlyn, JoAnn and Diane provided accounts and anecdotes, along with letters written during World War II.  I include my own recollections, albeit in some cases I had to connect the dots.

I made some discretionary omissions of some stories that might cause embarrassment to anyone I care for.  I also left out several stories that were too long, but shall write as stand-alone articles.  I also omitted anecdotes which might clog the narrative... which might make it appear more like a child's scrapbook.

I have tried to draw a picture of a culture that evolved over three generations in the twentieth century... of a culture that was gentle, civil and caring.   Many of the members of these generations lived most of their lives without air-conditioning; their electronic entertainment system was a Motorola radio, sitting in their living room.  Their greatest entertainment seemed to be one another:  the women clever and catty and the men facetious.  The activities and misadventures of their children were their sit-coms and melodramas.

I have tried to show a fabric of a way of life that, over time, has frayed to the point of being threadbare.  I despair at that, but hope my sons have gained some insights and some stories that they will pass on to their kids...and their kid's kids.  I suspended the history when they were of an age to make their own observations.

There are "great families" of immense inherited wealth (usually originating from a crime) who proclaim their greatness with each new generation.  But few of these families do anything other than procreate and count their money.  Small lives are often damaged by their activities. To paraphrase Fitzgerald: "The very rich are often careless with other people's lives."

 "Ordinary families," besides scratching out a living, do all that they can to make sure that their children have better lives than they do.  Their nobility or greatness is in their care and love of those who follow them. 

"Royal families" can trace their lineage and bloodlines back centuries.

So too can a thoroughbred race-horse...             

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Lair Family History 302: The Denouement ( Precis continued)

Mr. Stone was disconsolate.  Mary's death had broken his stoic shell.  He began to shuffle rather stomp around the house on Clifford Court.  Louise had suffered memory lapses over the last several she had them with greater frequency.  He changed his will to make adjustments made necessary by Mary's passing.  Sonny was once again named executor.

Dick Robbins' health was of concern.  The webbed capillaries in his cheeks were bold red and dark blue;  from ten yards away, his cheeks appeared to be purple.  Using his canes, he would drag around his lower body through the Mustang Club.  He looked out on his world through watery red-rimmed eyes.  Always a good partner, he told Sonny that he would not be able to work much longer.

Babs, regretfully, moved back to Dallas.  She was missed.

One night at the Surf Club, as Sonny and I were talking, Sadie walked in with a man.  She introduced him as Tom:  a retired Army Major and her new husband.  Major Tom, as we would call him, had jet black hair with a red tint...a cheap dye job.  Sonny, always gracious, offered them a drink.  Fine they said, but they were hungry.  They were well fed.  They did not offer to pay.

Sonny bought Jane and I a new Camaro.

I left the bank...or rather the bank left me.  I bumped from one job to another.  Sonny continued to underwrite my income shortfalls.

Sonny put the house on Dinn Street up for sale.

Adrienne began coming for visits.

The negotiations with the Master Hosts Inn became more contentious.  Without Mary to act as a stabilizer, Sonny was not as able to deal with adversarial negotiations.  Sonny and Dick conferred.  They decided to close the Surf Club and Sandy Shores Restaurant rather to sell out to someone who would become a competitor.  They would transfer all the club's members to the Mustang Club.  A bright and brief era was over for Corpus' cafe society.

Walter Conring, now totally psychotic, died.

The Mustang Club's  profits dipped, but the Derrick Restaurant continued to be very profitable.

On August third, 1970, Hurricane Celia hit Corpus.  I had been through several prior hurricanes and tropical storms, so I was pretty casual in my concern.  The storm was a beast.  We would be without electricity for over two weeks.  Jane's parents met her at a National Guard roadblock and they took Eric back to San Angelo.  They left us a Coleman stove so we could cook.  Ice was at premium;  Sonny provided ice for us from the Mustang Club's ice-maker.  There were communal meals with the remaining residents of the apartment project we lived in.  In spite of no hot water or air-conditioning, we had a pretty good time.

Sonny. George Parma and one of George's brothers purchased a property in Kingsland, a village thirteen miles west of Marble Falls.  It was called Green Harbor Lodges.  It was set on three acres and had a two hundred foot waterfront facing out on Lake LBJ.  Green Harbor had a two story tin utility barn and a two bedroom frame cottage on the north side of the property.  Eight cabins, rented by the week to deer hunters and fishermen, sat on the south side.  Also on the south side, was a large masonry house which had two large bed rooms and a bunk room which would sleep twelve.  A large grassy yard sloped forty yards down to the lake;  several very tall trees provided abundant shade.  There was a pier running twenty yards out into the lake which connected to a gaily painted fishing house.  The fishing house was a two story building with an interior fishing well on the first floor and stairs to a sun deck above.  A cement boat-launch ramp ran down the eastern end of the property.  The property would remain in the family for two decades.

The house on Dinn Street sold.

Sonny married Adrienne in San Antonio.  A small family   family party followed at Betty's house.

Dick and Mary Robbins sold their share of the Mustang Club and Derrick Restaurant to Paddy Lann, an independent oil man.  Paddy was a portly man with gentle manners.  He would look kindly out from behind bifocals which sat on a long, thin nose.  He had a very high voice which sounded womanish when he was excited.  He had made a great deal of money in the oil business and was looking for ways to put his fortune to work.

Paddy, though a friend of Sonny's for many years, proved to be a meddlesome partner and Sonny began planning another project.  That project was "The Shadows."

The Shadows was located on the first floor of a multi-story condo on south Ocean Drive.  Eddie Fontaine was flown in to entertain for the grand opening.  There was a full house that night...the only full house the club would ever have.

Mr. Stone, still grieving for Mary, died.  Major Tom and Sadie appeared displaying a "new" version of Mr. Stone's will which named her as executrix and trustee to Mr. Stone's estate.  From that day on neither Sonny nor I would ever speak to Sadie again.  We would get news of her from Madlyn, the only person in the family who would speak to her.  Louise wandered aimlessly around her house;  her mind totally fogged over by the loss of her daughter and the sudden absence of her husband of over sixty years, she would look, birdlike, from room to room.  Mr. Stone had left an annuity which was tied to a nursing home for her care.  There, alone, incapable of recognizing anyone who might visit her, this simple, sweet woman passed quietly from life. 

Jane gave birth to Monty, our younger son.

Sonny called me and told me that recent business reversals would prevent him from giving me any more financial aid.  He told me to go see Jack Pagan...immediately.  I went to see Jack, who smiling in knowing satisfaction, turned me over to Bob Pagan and Steve Tatar.  They made my life hell for the next several years (no doubt with Sonny's knowledge), but they taught me a profession which has supported me for nearly forty years.

Sonny closed down The Shadows.  To satisfy his debts, he sold his interest in The Mustang Club and Derrick to Paddy Lann.  Sonny announced that he was retiring; he and Adrienne moved into the the frame cottage at the Green Harbor Lodges.  He was fifty-five.

One afternoon, after leaving her doctor's office, Paddy Lann's wife went to their townhouse and put a gun to her head, killing herself.  No one ever learned why.

Lenard "Pedro" Loyd, Jane's father, died suddenly of a stroke.  When young, he was one of the greatest athletes in west Texas and he was a fascinating character.  Obsessed with my new career I, shamefully, did not accompany Jane to the funeral.

Working twelve and thirteen hour days put an end to my days as a mediocre musician playing with mediocre bands.

Eric began playing little league baseball.

Jane and I began playing tennis together on Sundays; Eric and Monty would come along and shag balls.

I was promoted to finance manager for the dealership.  Eric and Monty would often come with me on Sundays.  They would ride their skateboards while I caught up on paperwork.

Jane began taking art lessons from the noted artist, Dick Turner.  She also joined with the local Chi Omega alumni chapter.

Bob Pagan left Corpus when he, in partnership with Charlie Thomas, purchased a Ford dealership in Galveston.  He and Jack had become estranged and would be for many, many years.

Eric began playing pee-wee football, then basketball, then soccer.

To everyone's amazement, I was becoming a workaholic.  I would arrive at the dealership by 7:30 am and often work until 9:pm.  Steve would continue teaching me how to run a car dealership...he had an eager student.  Sonny would occasionally come to Corpus on business and he would stop by the dealership and say hello...then he and Jack would go out for a drink or lunch.

Several insurance-men that the dealership worked with played tennis.  Steve and I would meet them at the Corpus Christi Country Club tennis courts and we would play cut-throat doubles.  Sandwiches, bloody marys and screwdrivers were served court-side.  Some nights we played until midnight.

Restive in retirement, Sonny took a job cooking at the run-down Packsaddle Club.  The Packsaddle was a failed real estate project.  The golf course was in disrepair, but the kitchen and club house still functioned and did a brisk business.  Sonny also began driving into Austin to attend real estate classes at the University of Texas, totally enjoying the experience.  He looked ten years younger.

For several Christmas eves, Jane, the boys and I would drive from Corpus to Betty's house in San Antonio.  We would exchange presents (or Santa would come) and have a nice meal.  The next morning we would drive to San Angelo to have Christmas with Jane's mom and her sister Judy's family.  If the next day was a workday, we would then make the eight or nine hour drive back to Corpus.

Eric and Monty took tennis lessons.

Sonny received a real estate license.

After his fourth year of football, Eric said he wanted to play tennis more seriously.  Jane enrolled he and Monty in the tennis program at the H. E. B. Tennis Center.  They would go every day after school;  during the summer, they would stay there all day long.

Cousin Diane Saliba called me and said that she and another girl were in Corpus, staying at one of the bayfront hotels.  Business was slow, so I agreed to meet them for a drink.  Diane had grown to be a very pretty young woman.  She, also, was in the automobile business, currently working for a GMC and RV dealer.  She had a reputation within the family as a hellion.  We laughed that when I was in trouble, the family would give a philosophical shrug saying:  "Oh well, boys will be boys."  However, when Diane made a misstep, the hiss of shame was upon her, along with predictions of her future moral destruction.  We spoke of missing the family holiday celebrations of the past.  We decided to try and organize a family reunion.  We decided that time would be late in the coming spring;  the location would be the Green Harbor Lodges.  We called it "The Estranged Family Reunion."  Sonny gave his okay, saying between the cabins and the big house there was room for fifty people.  Invitations were mailed and Diane followed up to make sure that there was a good turn-out.

Sonny, to no one's surprise, came out of retirement.  He was named general manager of the Meadowlakes Country Club and vice-president of the adjoining real estate project.

Eric and Monty began playing in local tennis tournaments.

Dolores and Johnny adopted two children, a boy and a girl.

I was now third in command of the dealership, answerable only to Jack and Steve.

Eric and I arrived at Green Harbor early to assist Sonny in preparations.  Monty was playing in a tournament, so he and Jane would come when he was finished.  Diane also arrived early, driving a motor-home which would sleep eight people.  Betty and her family arrived early and brought a ski-boat.  People began to roll in on Friday evening.  The Durhams arrived as did Dolores with her expanded family.  JoAnn, George and Chip Saliba came.  The Kinney family landed.  Rick Kinney, the oldest, brought his new wife and her children.  Several of the kids brought friends...the adults were outnumbered.

Saturday was a blur of kids swarming back and forth to the lake, cooking constantly in the big house kitchen, firing up the barbecue pit, harried mothers dashing back and forth to the lake and an emergency booze run to Llano by Diane and I.  Monty arrived;  smiling toothily, he displayed a trophy.  Jane followed him in, angry at me for not being there for his moment of triumph.  But with the festive activity, her anger could not last.  Monty scampered down to the lake to join in the junior riot.

The sun went down, but not the energy level of the youngsters.  Most stayed in the fishing house until after midnight;  there were rumors of tequila shots.

Sunday morning brought a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, grits and biscuits.  The kids went back to activities on the lake, but were somewhat subdued in their doubt from their exertions of the night before.

Sonny served a lunch of cheese enchiladas, pinto beans (soaking from the night before) and guacamole salad. 

Then it was over.  The families left, unaware that this would be the last festive family get-together.  There would be funerals, sure, but at least one member was sure to be absent...and funerals tend not to be festive.

And that is where I suspend this history.  The "estranged reunion" was nearly thirty years ago and all of the older generation are gone.  So too are many of my generation.

Also gone is a way of life that no longer can exist...

(continued in Aferword)   

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Lair Family History 302: What Goes Up...

Alcohol takes no prisoners, only slaves...

A precis of events from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s:

Dick Robbins, in constant pain and almost immobile, would start drinking in the Mustang Club bar at lunchtime.  He would then spend the afternoon in the club's card-room, gambling and drinking more.  By dinnertime, he was usually irascible, prone to lash out with one of his canes at any employee or patron who angered him.  Mary Robbins was of little help.  She too was drinking heavily.  Dick's daughter, Babs, was brought in to be a floor manager.  Babs was a finishing school girl and a graduate of Southern Methodist University.  She was pretty and a perfect lady, she handled her job very well.  One of Bab's finishing school friends, Jayne Mansfield, became famous as a big-breasted, blond bombshell movie star.

Dick was always good to me.  When I was in trouble, he would ask about it and revel in the details.  Once, after we were on a dove hunt, he gave me a twenty gauge Belgium Browning humpback shotgun.  Perfectly balanced, it would come up to my shoulder as if on it's own.  That gun would be worth thousands today.

The owners of the Master Hosts Inn raised the rent on the Surf Club.  What had once been an amiable business relationship became tense.

That summer I picked up six hours at San Angelo College.  I lived in a dorm with no air-conditioning.  I saw Jane as often as possible.

In the fall, I went to Del Mar College to pick up more hours and improve my GPA.  I would earn some money doing odd jobs for the clubs.  Jane arrived, taking a job with the phone company which she hated.  We married early in the following spring.

We returned to Austin.  Jane went to work for some doctors; I picked up twelve hours and some good grades.

Sonny and Mary came for a brief visit.  Upon learning where Jane was working, Mary told her that she would never trust doctors again.

Later that summer, Charles Whitman went to the Texas Tower where he killed or wounded over a score of people.

I took a job at the state capitol with the Texas Railroad Commission.

Later that year Eric, our older son, was born.

In the spring, Mary had surgery.  Ominously, Sonny said nothing.  Madlyn came to Corpus to care for Mary and manage the house on Dinn Street.  She would stay for nearly a year.

Jane and I moved back to Corpus.  I took a job with a bank, Jane with a title company.

Bill, a musician friend who was a drummer, told me that one of the bands he played with was looking for a base player.  I didn't play base, but I bought a base guitar and amp.  I learned quickly and joined the musician's union.  I was soon playing gigs up to four nights a week.  This activity was not smiled on by my bank employers.

Madlyn cared for Mary as if she were her child.  She would help Mary with her bath, make-up and hair; she would always make sure Mary had a clean dressing gown to wear.

One day, the doctors told Mary that she was not going to get any better.  Mary spoke to no one for the rest of the day.

Eventually, Mary returned to the hospital for her final stay.  We took Eric to see Mary.  He looked unknowingly at her and she looked at him knowing that she would not live to see him grow.  At least he smiled at her...

Madlyn returned to San Antonio.

Sadie returned to San Antonio...She had visited Mary a few times...very briefly.

Several widows began showing up at the Surf Club.  They would smile at Sonny and look daggers at one another  One of them was Pearl Clogston.

Sonny arrived at the bank one afternoon and took me to our clothing store.  We bought new black suits.  One evening, shortly thereafter, I walked into the Surf Club and found Sonny sitting with a man and woman.  He introduced Doctor George Parma and his wife, Betty.  Dr. Parma was a dentist, Sonny explained, and Betty was my sister.

The conspiracy of silence, created and insisted upon by Mary, was undone.  Sonny and his sisters had all complied with Mary's demand that I was not to be made aware of Betty's existence.  Sonny and his sisters had seen and talked to Betty over the years and they were all on congenial terms.  We talked pleasantly for a while and then I went home and told Jane of my illumination.  The next day I wrote Betty a letter.

Coming back to my desk one day after lunch, I was told:  "Go to the hospital and hurry!"  Mary, mercifully, was dead when I got there.  She had not been cognizant for two weeks;  she weighed sixty pounds.

There were two Catholic funeral masses:  one in Corpus and one in San Antonio.  Some people were scandalized that Napoleon Jackson, the Black Headwaiter from the Surf Club, was one of the pallbearers.  Monsignor Al Cannon, a three martini lunch man, conducted the service.  Many people from Corpus followed us to the service and burial in San Antonio.  Mary was laid down in the family plot near Jessie.

Leaving the cemetery, most people went to Betty's house.  There were plenty of covered dishes of food for the hungry and booze for the thirsty.  Sonny, understandably, was very thirsty.  I was to drive us back to Corpus that night in Nora Myers' Lincoln.  She was one of the widows in pursuit of Sonny.

Before we left, I was introduced to Adrienne...


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Lair Family History 301: Life at the Top

A precis of events from the early 1950's to the middle 1960's (though not chronologically exact):

Genevieve and Walter Conring's daughter, Virginia, who had married Leroy Arnold, began having children.  They would have four, the youngest would have severe birth defects.

JaAnn and George Saliba would have a daughter, Diane, and a boy, George, (always called "Chip".)

Madlyn and Sam Durham adopted an eleven year old girl named Dolores.  She was a tall, troubled and violent girl.  She would cause the Durhams many problems as she grew to adulthood.

Sonny and I would go hunting with Walter Conring at the ranch.  I had saved from my lunch money and bought a .22 rifle and a .410 pump shotgun.  Walter always wore a tie, even when hunting.  We shot dove, quail and rabbits.  Sonny and Walter would clean and cook the game.  In the evening, there would be a fire in the ranch-house fireplace.

Mr. Stone came to Corpus and bought Sadie a car from a friend of Sonny's, Jack Pagan who owned a Lincoln-Mercury franchise.  Mr. Stone enjoyed haggling and spent the entire day negotiating the price.  He enjoyed the process so much that he would return a short time afterwards and buy himself a car.

Mr. Stone bought air-conditioners for his home, previously only cooled by an attic fan.  He did the same for his tenant homes and raised the rents.  All of the families would follow suit.

Mr. Stone bought the first television in his neighborhood.  It was housed in huge console which also contained a radio and a record player.  When visiting the Stones, I would arise at dawn and turn on the TV.  I would watch the snowy screen until the test pattern appeared.  Finally, the broadcasts would begin.  There was only one Television station in San Antonio at that time.

Sonny also bought a TV even though there was no station in Corpus at that time.  He installed an antenna, which towered over the house, hoping to get a signal from San Antonio.  Stations would come.  We watched Elvis Presley's first performance on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Growing families and geography  slackened the number of holiday get-togethers and part of the family culture began to die.

Mr. Stone made Sonny the executor of his will.

During summer vacations, I would spend a month with the Stones and a month with the Durhams in Kerrville.  JoAnn would occasionally bring Chip and Diane to Kerrville to play with me.

One day while snooping in Mr. Stone's office closet, I found a fancy sword with his name engraved on the blade, as well as a huge, rusty shotgun with an octagonal barrel.  I asked him to tell me about them and mumbled that he would...someday.  He never did...

Boy Scout activities and camps put an end to my summer visits to the Stones and Durhams.

Sonny booked a singer named Eddie Fontaine into the Surf Club.  He was a big hit; people would come to see him night after night.  The demand for seats was so great that that Eddie would do two shows a night at the Surf Club and another two acts at the Mustang Club.  The teen-aged girls (and some of their mothers) screamed as if he were Elvis.  He could sing rock, country, standards from the '30s and '40s as well as Italian ballads.  He would accompany himself on guitar for some songs and on others, the house band would accompany him.  He was held over again and again.  The crowds never waned.

Sonny and Eddie showed up at my Boy Scout summer camp.  He sang for an hour and left to go back to Corpus and do four floor shows.  He left five hundred screaming boys in his wake.

I told Eddie that I wanted to learn to play the guitar.  He asked Sonny for ten dollars and took me to a pawn shop.  After securing a guitar, he showed me how to tune it and drew up a handful of chord diagrams.  My education in music had begun.

Several months later I took piano lessons from Jack Davidson who played piano in one of Sonny's house bands.  He was progressive teacher who thought scales and exercises a waste of time for a beginner.  He taught melody line and chords which allowed the student to play right away.  I could already read treble clef and had learned chord construction so piano education moved along rapidly. Sonny had an old Baldwin piano placed in my bedroom.  I would play with several bands during high school, but always piano since there was an abundance of guitar players.

Eddie left for Hollywood to audition for some television shows.  Over the years, he would appear in character roles in several series.
He would return to Corpus several times to do one or two week gigs.

Pearl Clogston, Herb's wife, was an attractive, spunky Oklahoma woman.  She called Sonny and told him that she was concerned about Herb's health and was taking him to the hospital for some tests.  She was right; he had a severe liver disease.  She took him back to Oklahoma.  Unable to do the work he loved, Herb died within a year.

Walter Conring was diagnosed as a manic-depressive.  He had some violent incidents.

A second cousin from Iowa, Robert Kinney, his wife Lois and their five kids moved to Corpus.  He took a job at Reynolds Aluminum.

Dolores met and married Johnny Wyant who, to everyone's amazement, was a great guy.  The wedding reception was bawdy affair;  Dolores was very drunk, surprising no one.  To Sonny's distress, they moved to Corpus, taking residence in a garage apartment near Ocean Drive.

Joel Kinney, the Kinney's youngest son, somehow climbed into a freezer in the garage of their home.  He died, smothered to death.

Sonny was named to the "Order of Arrow" by the Boy Scouts of America.

Word circulated among the family that Walter was beating Genevieve.  Hunting trips on the ranch were halted.

Sonny went hunting, however, with the infamous Parr family in notorious Duvall County.  They were hunting from a helicopter...they said for coyotes.

In 1960, the Dallas Cowboys became part of the fabric of Texas.

The Marine Room was sold when Ernest Setliff accepted a position with one of the Las Vegas casinos.  He remained a very loyal friend.

Sonny gave me a car, a 1963 Comet S-2, from Jack Pagan's dealership.  I abused the car; I would drive it through the surf on Padre Island and constantly run out of gas (even though gas cost less than twenty cents a gallon).  I had a spectacular accident which did no damage to the Comet's body, but knocked all four of it's wheels off.  Sonny's insurance agent called and asked me if I was trying to bankrupt him.  Jack Pagan called me and asked how I had contrived to have such a stupid accident.

Mary began running a low-grade fever.  She had not trusted doctors since she had worked in a clinic during the war.  Finally, at Sonny's insistence, she saw a physician.  She was assured that it was a small infection and was given some pills.  The fever did not stop.

Sonny and Mary went to the 1964 Cotton Bowl.  They came back raving about a quarterback named Roger Staubach who played for the Naval Academy.

I arrived at the Surf Club one afternoon and found Sonny and Jack Pagan huddled together at the bar.  Jack had brought Sonny some brochures from the New Mexico Military Institute.  It was school for affluent boys who tended to find trouble.  Jack was a graduate.  I said, not politely, "NO!"  Jack would get even with me eight years later.

After graduation, I went to summer classes at the local junior college and picked up twelve hours.

I entered the University of Texas in the fall of 1964.  I pledged Sigma Nu fraternity.  I was a spoiled and undisciplined brat.  So were my fraternity brothers...I fit (as they say) right in.

My first year of college would yield, for me, much to be ashamed of and little to be proud of.

One night at a Sigma Nu-Chi Omega match party, I saw a girl.  She was tiny: less than five feet tall and could weigh no more than ninety pounds.  She had enormous blue-green eyes which looked out at the world with ingenuous humor.  She was surrounded by several of my fraternity brothers; she seemed able to laugh and talk to them all at the same time.  Using beer-courage, I approached her and asked for a dance.  Her name was Jane Loyd.  She was from San Angelo and her father raised thoroughbred horses.  She would be the finest person that I would ever know in my life...


Sunday, October 2, 2011

Lair Family History 202: The Rise

There was always a joint celebration of Christmas and Easter by the Stones, the Lairs and the sisters' families.  They were formal affairs; even the boys and girls were expected to dress in their Sunday finest (unless still in diapers).

Easter would be a pot-luck barbecue in the back yard of one of the family homes.  All families brought meats for the pit, drinks and side dishes.  It was a casual affair (the coats and ties were soon removed and the women would discard their high heels) which would begin shortly after Easter Sunday church services and end around sunset.  Leftovers were divided between the families.

Christmas had a more formal protocol.  In late afternoon, the families would gather at the Stones' house for cocktails.  Mr. Stone would serve as bar-tender and prepare two batches of egg-nog (one non-alcoholic for the children).  He was a surprisingly cordial host, growling only if someone dared to look over his shoulder as he was preparing his secret formula nog.  Louise would produce several trays of appetizers.

The families would then drive to the next house (usually the Salibas') for soup and salad.  Next they would drive to Conrings' (they had a very large dining room) for the traditional turkey dinner.  For desert, they would motor to the Durhams' to enjoy an array of pies and cakes.  Then it was back to the Stones' for a final drink or two along with pecans from Louise's own pecan tree.  There were brief gift exchanges at each stop on this circuit.  Each host family underwrote the expense for their portion of the repast.

So when Sonny's promotion was announced, it was not a surprise then the families arranged a celebratory feast and party at the Conring home.  The sisters were proud of their baby brother, as was Mary of her husband, as were the Stones of their son-in-law and as was Walter Conring, who had originally brought Sonny into the company.

The company was opening a new store and warehouse in Corpus Christi to be closer to the clients there and in the Rio Grande valley. Sonny was to direct a staff of two salesmen, a delivery driver, a mechanic, some warehouse men and a small clerical staff.

Sonny and Mary moved to Corpus, and bought a modest three bedroom home on Dinn Street.  The new store, once opened, prospered immediately.  Mary would paint pictures for Sonny's growing number of clients.  He joined civic clubs and in a very short time had a web of contacts.  Many of these contacts would become very good friends.

Mary was relegated to the role of a home-maker (albeit with a full-time maid) which she found tedious and boring.  But there were friendly neighbors and frequent week-end trips (even back then it was only a two hour drive) back to San Antonio to ease her ennui.

Of course, Sonny's good fortune could not last.  While the Corpus store was a great success, the San Antonio operation was foundering.  The company would ship questionable equipment which it was unable to sell, to Corpus expecting Sonny to pander it to his clients.  Sonny balked, arguing that business ethics would be violated by selling clients overpriced or low quality equipment.  The company, now under more financial pressure, could care less about ethics.  They wanted...they needed... profitable revenue.

So after a little more than two years of opening his store, Sonny resigned.  He would open an employment agency with Walter Koepsel as his partner in an office on Chapparell Street. The company was called "South Texas Employment Agency."  Before agreeing to the partnership, Sonny called (of all people) Bubba Whitley, who owned an employment agency in San Antonio.  A surprisingly cordial Bubba advised Sonny that the two most important facets of the agency business were securing job listings and advertising.

Sonny had more than enough contacts to obtain job listings, but he found Koepsel to be of little value as a partner.  Within a few months, Sonny bought Koepsel out of the agency with a "gentleman's agreement" that Koepsel would not open a rival agency.  In less than six months time, Koepsel violated the agreement, opening "Koepsel Emplyment Agency."  Sonny would laugh, noting that the last year had taught him much about "honor" in business.

At about the same time, Mary while attempting to light the pilot light  in her gas oven, conceived to cause a small explosion.  She suffered some singed hair and some light burns to her face.  She vowed that this was the end of her career a domestic engineer.

South Texas Employment Agency moved into a suite of offices on the fifth floor of the Wilson Building in uptown Corpus Christi.  Mary, now the office manager, hired a secretary.  Sonny would continue to procure job listings from his contacts.  The business was brisk, but only modestly profitable.

Leaving Mary to run the employment agency, Sonny rejoined the company assuming his old position.  But the company was still in trouble and Walter Conring, displaying the first symptoms of mental illness, was being forced out.  Sonny was approached by one of his clients, Dick Robbins.

Dick Robbins was the owner, along with his wife, of the Mustang Club which was located in the basement of the Wilson Tower, immediately adjacent to the Wilson Building.  Dick's wife's prior name was Mary Wilson and yes, there was a connection.  Dick had been a pro golfer as well as on pro bowling circuit, but he looked more like a retired wrestler.  He had a massive frame and head;  his cheeks had the red veins of a heavy drinker  He had steel-gray hair and walked with a pronounced limp-a degenerative hip disorder caused by his years on the bowling tour-which would soon cause him to use canes to walk.  Sonny became Dick's partner;  it was a good partnership which lasted over fifteen years.

Sadie appeared suddenly, with her divorce final and tired of Mr. Stone's scrutiny, she vowed to make a new beginning in Corpus.  She took up residence in the vacant bedroom in the house on Dinn Street.  Sonny acted quickly; he called some contacts and arranged a job interview for Sadie.  All she had to do was walk in the door and smile and she had the job.  Mary made her a small loan so she could move into an apartment and the Sadie problem was solved...for a while.

Sonny and Dick expanded quickly.  They moved the Mustang Club to the Vaughn Plaza, a new uptown office tower.  In the same building they opened the Derrick Restaurant which catered to the uptown secretarial trade.  The Mustang Club's business came from oilmen, attorneys and bankers with expense accounts.

Sonny and Dick opened the Surf Club and the Sandy Shores Restaurant.  They were located in the Master Host Inn on the north beach area of Corpus.  The clubs had live bands nightly and became popular with the city's cafe society for many years.

They opened the Marine Room, a private pub on north Shoreline.  They acquired two new partners:  Ernest Setliff, a local gambler of excellent repute, who would manage the Marine Room and Herb Clogston, a chef from Oklahoma who would oversee all the kitchens.  Dick would manage the Mustang Club and Derrick Restaurant.  Sonny ran the Surf Club and Sandy Shores Restaurant.  Mary quickly sold the employment agency and became Sonny's office manager.  Mary Wilson Robbins held the same position at the Mustang Club.  Mary (Lair) hired a book-keeper and two of the secretaries was Sadie.

Herb Clogston would enter the walk-in freezer at the Surf Club with two blocks of ice, each weighing several hundred pounds;  he would carry in a hammer, chisel and a bottle of brandy.  Several hours later he would emerge from the freezer with two huge ice-sculptures...and the brandy bottle would be empty.  The sculptures would be placed on the buffet table for the Surf Club's Sunday evening feast.  The club would be full with people waiting in line for a vacated table.

The clubs were also filled for the floor shows.  Sonny would book singers, solo musicians and bands who would put on two floor shows an evening.  The patrons also came for the food;  the club's kitchens producing cuisine which is now called "fine-dining."

So it was in 1964, as I was preparing to go to Austin and become a fraternity boy, it appeared that the the future was very, very bright.

That outlook would darken over the next seven years...


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Lair Family history 101: Mom-Part 2

World War II sent two men of the family away from home, but drew all of the women closer together.

Sam Durham went to the Pacific.  As an engineer, he designed and built airports for bombers and fighter-planes.

Sonny enlisted in the Army Air Corps.  He had good co-ordination and exceptional eye-sight, traits which were coveted in pilots.  He departed for basic training and then flight school.

Mary, Madlyn and JoAnn took secretarial jobs.  Genaveve had a small daughter and stayed at home.  Sadie found herself with only one boyfriend: Bubba Whitley.  Bubba had been declared 4-F: physically unfit to serve in the armed services.  Thanks to the war, there were few young men left in San Antonio to compete with him for female attention.

No one could understand what Sadie saw in Bubba.  He was tall and thin with thick, black hair brushed back from his forehead.  He had thick, red lips and sunken cheeks;  his dark skin had acne scars.  He had an oily, grasping manner. He had every appearance of dishonesty and his words seemed insincere.  Mr. Stone, usually aloof, was openly hostile...especially when Sadie said that she planned to marry Bubba.  Mr. Stone eventually gave his grudging (though un-necessary) consent.  The marriage occurred shortly before the end of the war and Bubba had his trophy wife...for a while.

On a routine training mission near the Rocky Mountains, Sonny's plane strayed to a dangerous altitude and his eardrum burst, grounding him for the rest of the war.  He would be given billets which would allow Mary to live and travel with him...she joined him in a flash.  The next two years were spent traveling around the country;  they befriended and entertained with other military couples, all feeling somewhat guilty in passing the war under such pleasant circumstances.  In the early summer of 1945, Sonny was notified that he was being discharged and that he should return to San Antonio to be mustered out.  On the way home, he and Mary made a stop-over in the small (then) cross-roads town of Las Vegas. Nine months later, they tell me, I was born...

Sam returned from the Pacific with his regimental mascot, a cocker-spaniel named "Jigger."  He rejoined the highway department.  He would be transferred to Kerrville to open a new construction office. 

Walter Conring's cattle ranch, thanks largely to the war, prospered.

George Saliba's fledgling business began to grow.

Sonny returned to his old job and was given a sales territory between San Antonio south to Laredo.  He opened many accounts.  A large number of them were in Corpus Christi.

Returning home one day, Bubba walked into his home to find Sadie entertaining several of her pre-war suitors.  They were drinking his booze.  He was not gracious, but they would return, thinking of him (as did most people) a "skinny draft dodger."  There were several separations and, finally, a divorce.

In 1947, to everyone's shock and sorrow, Jessie died of a heart attack.  Sonny and Mary moved into the house on Cumberland.  Mary continued to paint, gaining some commissions.  Sonny continued gathering accounts to the south, often gone for most of the week.

Mary never pictured herself as a house-wife.  She learned to cook a few meals from her mother and Sonny's sisters, but she was not an enthusiastic student.  She would rather dress up and go shopping or meet someone for lunch, not attend to washing and ironing.  From then on, she would always have a maid or cleaning lady.

Then, in 1950, Sonny was given a promotion...