Christmas is on the radar (Also, this *is* your card)

It was my favorite Christmas growing up.

It was in 1971, and I was six years old. Our parents let us stay up late to watch the weather on KFDX because they had the Santa Claus tracker on radar. The radar in those days looked like a record album with a straight-line laser circling it and it blinked red when it detected Rudolph, who we all knew was leading the team of Christmas joy.

This particular Christmas at around 10:15 p.m., the local authority on such things was the meteorologist, known to me at the time as the weatherman.  He told us that Rudolph was taking off from Chicago, which meant he was in the country and on his way to the greater Wichita Falls area.

I knew enough to know that Santa wouldn’t stop at my house if I was awake, so I willed myself to be tired. Like super tired, only I wasn’t.

I shared a room with my three older sisters, and I had the top bunk so  I crawled up the ladder and got in bed with my stuffed gingerbread man, Clyde. Normal six-year-olds slept with teddy bears. I slept with a large gingerbread man … named Clyde.

The fabulous television program about the lovable and caring doctor, Marcus Welby, M.D., was on the TV and the last thing I remember was him talking to a patient with a concerned, yet caring look on his face.

The next thing I remember was I woke up and it was daylight. My only hope was that Santa didn’t show up before the unfortunate diagnosis the night before.

A glorious blue quilted-side baby carriage under the Christmas tree told me I had maintained a six-year streak of falling asleep before Santa made it to Texas.  I also received a blue and green plaid poncho that year, the perfect accessory for the new six-year-old mother of a plastic baby.

A lot of Chistmases have passed since then, but the local TV stations are still the go-to place to locate the exact whereabouts of the jolly one, only with more advanced radars.

It’s a tradition that I’m happy to see has stuck around, and also I hear that ponchos are making a comeback.

I no longer have a poncho or a baby carriage, but I still check on Santa’s whereabouts every year.

I love traditions, and even with people I love in different locations, I try to observe as many as I can.

Every year, I bake Christmas cookies, which I consider to be my spiritual Xanax. I bake them, I ice them and I take pictures of them to text to my daughter. Twenty years ago, I would have had to send her a letter after the film was processed.

We used to bake together every year, now we bake in different states. Same tradition, modified execution.

And there are some traditions I’m just bad at, like sending Christmas cards (or if I’m being honest, cards in general). Exhibit A:  this is your Christmas card and it has been for close to 20 years. I suppose this in itself is a tradition, which means I don’t totally suck at it.

But while we are on the subject, Merry Christmas. I truly wish for you a beautiful Christmas filled with traditions, old and new.

So turn off the TV and get some sleep. I hear Santa Claus is coming to town

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Iowa Park really does rock, y’all

Plainview has the cows. Wichita Falls, the horses.

But, Iowa Park?

Iowa Park Rocks.

If you are one of my out of town/state readers, in Plainview and Wichita Falls, Texas, part of the art culture is the existence of  life-size cows and horses at businesses around town – all painted by local artists.

Personally, I love them.

But the rocks? They were new to me, and I love them also.

The rocks have captured a lot of people’s attention, including mine, and I have a notoriously short attention span.

But this phenomenon has people all over town looking up, at least for a while. It also has people interacting in person  by doing something called art. It’s all kinds of amazing.

A woman named Julie started this unlikely madness last week when she and her equally artistic family painted a bunch of rocks and put them all over town for people to find, and rehide. Or, keep and make another to put out.

It seems a lot of people are getting involved – local stores are running out of paint and smooth rocks have become the hottest commodity around town.

Local families are now communicating in person, instead of by text, and they are putting down their cell phones to paint.


Then they’re leaving their homes and hiding the rocks to bring somebody else a little happiness and spread their art.

Julie started something that matters.

It’s kind of a really cool “pay it forward” that jars us into the present, where most of us forget to live.

As someone who is genuinely surprised when a newly-constructed house pops up on a route I drive daily, I’m very bad at paying close attention, so this is good therapy.

Monday, Leader reporter Sherrie Williams and I found one of the painted rocks – a bumble bee! – hidden in a tree next to our office. I felt like I won the lottery, I got so much happiness out of that.

The rocks come with instructions, written in Sharpie on the back, to take a picture of your rock and post it on the Facebook page Iowa Park Rocks. We re-hid the bumble bee, by the way.

It’s a thing, and I’m feeling participatory. So much so, that my little masterpieces took four days to conceptualize. That’s a very long time for me considering I list instant gratification on my resume as a skill.

My rocks will be hidden as soon as they dry.

If you find a rock and feel the spirit move you, take a picture and post it on Facebook. If not, take it home and thank Julie for the gift.

Thanks, Julie. This has been a breath of fresh air the first week of Spring.

Iowa Park really does rock. Keep paying it forward, y’all. We need your art.

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Rooftop Meteorology 101

You may have noticed that we are smack dab in the middle of tornado season, or the “Super Cell Solstice” as we call it in these parts.


Last Friday was the 36th anniversary of Terrible Tuesday, which was the day that an F5 tornado famously hit Wichita Falls, killing almost 50 people, injuring some 800, and devastating a chunk of the city.

While I didn’t live in Wichita Falls, but in geographically-lucky-10-miles-to-the-west Iowa Park, I remember that day – and the days that followed – vividly.

I remember seeing the tornado  that didn’t even look like a tornado because of its massiveness; sitting in my Mom’s Ford Granada in the driveway, intently listening to the car radio’s live accounts of the devastation in Wichita Falls; and having to cook everything from the freezers because it would be a long time before the electricity came back on and we were one of the few in the neighborhood with a gas cook stove.

And I remember that April 10, 1979, was the last time I ever saw my neighbors get on top of their houses in tornado season.

I was in eighth grade and lived on Cornelia Street at that time, just behind Kidwell Elementary, where no one had a cellar to go to when tornado warnings were issued.

We had two choices: go to the basement at the high school (with your dogs, if you had ‘em and we did) and hang out with some of the most questionably interesting people ever; or, go up on the roof to see for yourself if a tornado is really approaching.

Back in those days you could tell in our neighborhood when bad weather was coming our way because the roofline on Cornelia Street looked like a giant, block-long Whack-A-Mole game.

It was our version of a block party.

And, the bigger the storm, the more people got out ladders and crawled on top of their own roof to act as dual lightning rod/meteorologists. I have long suspected this is a southern thing.

And they would stand up there and talk to each other across streets and property lines, the most intelligent among us  giving the best color commentary.

“Them clouds comin’ in, they’re green. Reckon that’s hail?,” one man would yell to another on a roof caddy-corner across the street.

“Yep, might be time to get down,” the other would yell back and everyone would get off their respective roofs and go inside, presumably to run with scissors.

In retrospect, it is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard, but back then it seemed totally normal.

April 10 cured that. It pretty much scared the dumb out of my neighborhood, my redneck self included. My career as a rooftop meteorologist ended when I was only 14 years old.

I don’t know if Terrible Tuesday brought the realization that the weather they saw approaching was so much bigger than they were; or if once you see with your own eyes the massiveness of an F5 tornado – even from 10 miles away – it seems much safer to stick your tongue in a light socket than to stay on the roof.

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