One Graham's View

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Happy Birthday, Pop

Today is my father’s birthday, who is hitting the three-quarter century mark. But this is a poignant stamp of time in my life, as well.

On this day in 1993, all of my family and a good collection of my dad’s friends, assembled from his various paths of life had gathered for a surprise 60th birthday party for him. I recall so well all of the special steps that had been orchestrated to make everything just right.
My brother and I took special care to move the cars of the party attendees, parking them around the corner from Mom and Pop’s house, so when he came home from work that afternoon, he didn’t know what was up. Everybody milled around the covered back porch and pool area, getting ready for him to come home. The icing on the cake was that two of his best friends had driven in from North Dakota just to be there and they would be the last to pop up and say “Surprise.”

It was also that day, fifteen years ago that I last saw Pop’s face. I'm 46 now, so that means I've not seen him for a third of my lifetime. The good thing for him is that, to me, he looks the same today as he did that day when he received his assorted collection of black balloons and other “Over The Hill” items for his birthday. In my mind’s eye, he hasn’t aged a day since then, even though I personally know how much he has slowed since then.

I’m not wanting to get too reflective here, but just wanted to mark time and celebrate the growth we’ve both made in our lives since then. It was the events that followed on Oct. 9, almost one month to the day after his surprise party that all our lives took a wicked and unexpected twist, changing us forever. All of us in our family have come a long ways since then and that is what we should recognize, not any negative downsides of the aging process.

To that end, Pop, I wish you a happy 75th. And I’m very proud to be your son.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Looking for my half sister

I’ve been on a search for a half sister for the past several months and the returns have been pretty fruitless to this point. So, I turn to the power of the internet in hopes of locating her.

Her name at the time of her birth was Deborah, or perhaps Debra Jones, born in late 1958 or early 1959. I believe that she was born in Leesville, Louisiana, but this might have also been on Fort Polk or elsewhere in Vernon Parish. Her mother’s name was Marie Jones.

She has a sister, perhaps half-sister, named Shirley, whose last name may or not be Jones.

The father’s name on Deborah’s birth certificate most likely is that of Marie’s husband, who was not around during the time Marie became pregnant and whose name is unknown to me.
Marie Jones and my father Bobby Graham met in Leesville, Louisiana. Marie worked at The Barn, a bar owned by J.L. and Margo O’Bannion.

I’ve looked over the birth records in the Leesville Leader from July 1958 to April 1959. The earlier date was the last time my father saw Marie, when he shipped out overseas with the U.S. Army. She was noticeably pregnant at that time, which is the reason I looked over birth records that far into 1959. There were no listings in the Leesville Leader showing that Marie Jones gave birth during that time. I don’t know what else to do, so I am posting here so that maybe the search engines pick this up and the right person reads it.

I would like to make contact with my half-sister, or find out where she is today. Anybody who can help in this matter can email me at
(Explanation: I live in Houston and psycho in that address references my field of study-- psychology. I'm not a psycho!)

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Friday, November 02, 2007

My favorite trick or treater

Can you guess who this is? I'll give you three guesses and the first two don't count.



Thursday, October 11, 2007

New blog for the 516th Engineer Company Reunion

A couple of weeks ago, I returned from my dad’s military reunion in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

One of the neatest things that happened there was that I came up with an idea to help the soldiers who had been in this company and wanted to find the reunion group. At first, my idea was to get a domain and put up a web site, but then I thought it might work better if we just got a blog. So, that’s the idea I pitched to the group. Of course, I had to explain what a blog is as some of them didn’t know what a web log was, but when I finished my pitch, everybody was all for the idea. So, there is now a blog for the
516th Engineer Company Reunion.

Heere's what the blog's heading states:

The purpose of this web log is to act as an informational resource for the U.S. Army soldiers who served with the 516th Engineer Company on Pioneer Kaserne in Hanau, Germany, active 1942-1993.

So far, the blog has worked well. In just its first week of existence, there were three emails from soldiers inquiring about the group. Two of these had served with the 516th and the other with a sister company.

Hopefully, this blog will help others find the group. It really is a lot of fun getting together with this bunch of guys. Even though I didn’t serve in the military and am only associated as an Army Brat, they took me as one of their own last year when I first attended with my dad

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Sunday, August 05, 2007

Underdog and advertising overlords

Good evening,

Never fear…you know who is here.”

Well, I’ve got to hand it to the marketing masterminds at Disney. They have a finely tuned and well funded promotional team at work for them.

My point of reference is the just-released movie Underdog. I’m in my mid-40s and remember this show on Saturday mornings when I was a kid. That was back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Since then, the only time I saw or heard of Underdog was an ad that used to run in the back of Rolling Stone or other similar publications featuring a rumpled Underdog character on the front of a t-shirt or sweatshirt.

Now, here we are in 2007 and I’ve got a 5-year old son who is leaping with his favorite stuffies, saying, “Underdog is here.” It isn’t just playing it once or twice, he does this several times during the day, or at least says that line. This isn’t even taking into account how animated he gets when those movie trailers come on television.

Where has he heard about Underdog if the cartoon hasn’t been running on the regular kid vid channels? That leaves only the heavy media blitz Disney has been using to promote this film. And, smartly, they have been running the ads on not only the kid channels like Disney and Nickelodeon, but also on about any other local outlet they could buy advertising space from, which means most of them.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the movie sounds like a fun romp and I want to make sure I’m with the little dude when he goes to see it. I’m just seeing how Disney has resurrected an old Saturday morning cartoon with a likeable character and given it a new and, most notably, live action representation to build a whole new following for Underdog.

I don’t know how much the advertising budget was for this movie, but it was no doubt in the millions, as they have really saturated the television channels with the various trailers of the movie. I also feel certain that they will see a big return for the advertisement investment. If this movie scores big at the box office, which I predict it will, I’d say we’re in for more Underdog movies. Who knows, they might already be filming the sequel as you read this, just banking on the success of the initial launch.

The bottom line is this, if you invest heavily to build a name and have the bucks to fund the onslaught of advertising it will take to do this, you can probably bank on success. Add to this that when you work to bring about loyalty fueled by the patronage of the parents with familiar ties to the character, then you could probably make and sell anything that strikes the nerve of fond, nostalgic reminiscence.

Underdog marketing is not alone. Austin can easily sing along with other familiar jingles that have bombared his young mind. One of his favorites is a Dodge truck ad that says, “Bigger in Texas, better in a Dodge.” When that ad’s opening sounds play, he will jump up and say, “Daddy, our song.” I don’t recall when that became our song, but it no doubt has become such. I have also noticed him chiming in with the “Thanks, By Owner” ads.

The above examples are just more proof of what advertisers know very well. Kids minds are like sponges. Throw something at them that appeals to them and they are going to remember it. And, when it comes down to it, these kids are going to grab mommy and daddy by the wallet and head out to find the product.


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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Our Jimmy Buffett concert experience

I want to share our experience this past weekend at the Jimmy Buffett concert. Maybe, the better word for that would be carnival, because his shows draw a crowd together that you’re not going to find anywhere else. The ages of concert-goers ranged from the late teens to somewhere in the 60s and 70s. It was truly a gathering of generations. And, many of those generational members donned the appropriate gear of Parrothead (as Buffet’s fans are affectionately known). This gear included Hawaiian shirts, leis, grass skirts, and coconut bras. The men were as prone to wear any or all of this stuff as the women. If you’re a Parrothead, you already know this, though.

An additional feature of this concert was the opening act, Robert Earl Keen. Just having an opening act is unique for Buffett, but having Texas’s own Robert Earl Keen was a real treat, especially for me as he is one of my favorite singer/songwriters. I’ve been a fan of REK for about ten years now and have seen him at least three times before this one. The only difference in the past performances is that at those, he was the headliner, two of those being daylong concerts with many other Texas singer/songwriters, and the last time being a REK concert at the Historic 1892 Opera House in Galveston.

Never had I ever thought that Robert Earl would be an opening act. However, this was a great gathering for REK to put his music out to a whole bunch of music fans that would not usually otherwise hear him. Being the venue for this show was Minute Maid Park, where the Houston Astros play, gave REK the opportunity to share his down home musical philosophy with a whole lot more music fans than he might have ever had before him at any given time. Estimates of the gate said that attendance was about 40,000.

Our seats were on the floor, as were more than 8,000 of our closest friends. It was all assigned seating and the field of Minute Maid had an elevated flooring system that let us all get out there and also keep the field intact for the ‘Stros when they return for their next game.

The acoustics of a ball field are different than the standard concert hall. We had to adjust our listening, if that makes any sense. It was sort of like a filtering we had to adjust to, to compensate for the echo bouncing off the sides of the stadium. I had never been to the park, so I had no idea what to expect acoustically. When REK promptly took the stage at 7:30, though, it became clear that I had to tweak my listening.

While REK has a catalog of several albums behind him, including four live albums, and a fan base that is as loyal as a hunter’s favorite hound, he still lacks name recognition by many music fans. That’s a real shame, as he’s a fine musician and a great showman who loves to perform for these fans. The shortened stage time meant that he had to pick his songs carefully so he could present his best to this large mass of potential new fan base. For the REK faithful, though, it meant they got to hear choice live cuts of some of their favorite REK tunes.

He first jumped out with 1998’s Feeling good again, and quickly transitioned into the similarly rythmed Gringo Honeymoon. He then burned through songs spanning different periods of his career including Mr. Wolf and Mamabear, Merry Christmas from the Family, Corpus Christi Bay, and Amarillo Highway. Of course, as any die-hard REK fan knows, he finished with a fine presentation of his jamming, storytelling tune The Road Goes on Forever.

All in all, those who were REK fans before the night just got enough to hunger for more. For the uninitiated, though, they got a good sampling of what his regular shows give his fans. There are some concerts when I can take or leave the opening acts, but this one was a must see for me. And, I’m glad I was there for it! Like REK said when he led into Merry Christmas, “The next song is a slow song that we normally don’t play this time of year, but we usually don’t play at a ballpark in front of 40,000 people.” Good choice of both words and song, Robert Earl!

As for Mr. Buffett, I’ve been to one of his shows once before, about 11 years ago. It was at a smaller venue, the Starplex Amphitheater in Dallas. Because of that, I had some idea about what a circus-like atmosphere the show can be. I had told Mrs. OGV and our friends Susan and John about the festivities that surround the show. I think my description was a good start, but still fell a little short in grasping the festive atmosphere that is a Jimmy Buffett show.

It was a special night for Houston Buffett fans. We haven’t had one of his concerts in the Bayou City in several years and he made up for it in grand style. We were the opening city of his Bama Breeze tour. (Bama Breeze is the country-tinged lead-off song on his latest album, Take the Weather With You.)

He started off the show with a nod to another Texas musical gem, Willie Nelson’s On the Road. He then hit all of his fan favoritesmaking sure to interact with his fans between songs. He played Fins early as well as Volcano, amid many other faves.

I have one gripe about his show that bugged me. During the second half of his show, which was presented without his usual mid-show intermission, he threw out a string of several new songs from the latest album. In a string of about six songs, there was only one that I recognized in the middle of it. I believe it would have been a better presentation to intersperse the new songs throughout the show instead of having a big chunk right together.

Then again, I’m just a fan, what do I know about the music business? He’s probably got mega-honcho types on staff who analyze this stuff and they’ve figured this is the best way to present new music that’s unfamiliar to those who don’t have the new album. After all, this is a tour promoting the new album, so he needs to sing a good selection of the new stuff.

Anyhow, following the slew of new material, he followed up with several more of his signature songs. I knew that the show wasn’t over before he played what is probably his best-known song Margaritaville. Once it played, though, I knew that the end could come at any time. And, so it did.

Like at any other concert, once Jimmy left the stage, the crowd kept clapping, calling for an encore. Like at any other concert, he gave them one. He came back out and played three more songs, leading off with his tropical version of the CSN song Southern Star. As that song finished, we made our way up the many steps from the floor. As I told Mrs. OGV, if he plays two more songs, we can be up the stairs and at the door exit before the main crowd converges on the stairway. He gave me what I needed and it was perfect timing.

I was at physical therapy yesterday and talked about the Buffett concert with John, my therapist. John is about 30-ish and had been a student of my brother in law several years ago back when he coached at the junior high level. John said he didn’t go to the show, but his father did. Ohmygosh! I think that’s another thing that is typical of Parrotheads, we’re an aging bunch.

Still, it was an event not to be missed. Like Mrs. OGV said, it was one of the best concerts we’ve been to. That about sums it up.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Surgery recovery update

Good evening,

It has been way too long since I’ve posted anything on OGV and I’m going to change that right now.

I am still progressing in my surgery recovery. I am now 7 weeks post surgery and had the walking cast removed one week ago. I had my first physical therapy session yesterday. I’ll undergo PT three times a week, for four weeks. The biggest trick is to train the nerve that usually pushed down my right foot to think differently. It now needs to understand that when a signal is sent to it, that I want it to pull the foot up, not push it down.

I’ve been made to understand that this will be slow work. However, after my first PT session, I am feeling encouraged. John, my therapist, did some light work with the foot and ankle yesterday. In one of these, he had me lie back on the elevated mat and he pushed the foot up, as if the foot were being normally raised. I tried to help, but that muscle isn’t working yet. When he had it raised, he slowly let go, letting the foot fall. My job was to try to hold the foot in the raised position. It felt futile as he repeated this exercise for about twenty reps. Finally, at the end, it felt like I was actually holding it up just a little bit. He could see my leg relax when I stopped trying. This is one of the main exercises that is going to help train that nerve to learn its new job. This felt like some real success on this first day of therapy.

There were several other exercises he had me do, some with the foot and others with the right leg. I was there for just at an hour, the last ten minutes of which included a cool wrap to help reduce the swelling in the ankle. That felt really soothing after doing the exercises.

The fact that the swelling is still present seven weeks post-op has really surprised me. It was really noticeable yesterday and John said we need to get the swelling to go away for proper healing to begin. He explained that when a joint is swollen, it sends a signal to the nervous system and brain that it is not ready to begin working and they respond accordingly by not providing the support they would otherwise have in place. It made sense when he told me, and I hope this does now when I’ve explained it here.

Today, the swelling seemed to be worse. I’m thinking that maybe the PT aggravated the ankle, more so than just walking on it has in previous days. I’m working on keeping the foot elevated and icing it down to get the swelling down. Hopefully this will work in short order. From the way it has been today, I’m worrying a bit about it. After getting up this morning with a noticeable reduction in the swelling, it was swollen bigger than ever three hours later. I have kep the foot elevated and iced down all afternoon, even missing out on going out with the MRS and little prince. While the swelling has gone down some this evening, it is still pretty large.

Yesterday, after going to PT, the three of us went to a girl’s soccer game at the local high school. The reason we went was two-fold. First, the opposing team was the school from where Mrs. OGV teaches and she knew several of the girls. The long-time girlfriend of one of our nephews was also playing for the home team.

While we watched the game, our nephew showed up and sat by us. His girlfriend’s parents also sat next to our small group. He introduced us and we made some small talk. I said something about having just left physical therapy following a recent surgical procedure. The mom seemed interested in the subject and I explained that it was to help me fix the foot drop and hopefully get out of the brace I’ve worn for 13 years.

The mom then surprised me. She asked me, “Oh, do you have an AFO?” The term AFO is not something that a lot of people know, so her bringing It up was what surprised me. (The term AFO is an abbreviation for the type of brace I have, an ankle foot orthesis.) I usually call mine a brace, because most folks don’t know what an AFO is. I figured she knew somebody else with one of these assistive devices and tried not to make too much about her comment.

However, she totally blew me away by her next question after I told her that it was an AFO. She asked, “Oh, did you have a tendon transfer?”

I can’t imagine my face when she asked this. I know my eyebrows raised noticeably and I think my jaw dropped. I believe that my head shook in disbelief as this woman I had never met asked me out of the blue about this obscure procedure that I had never heard about before a couple of months ago, and I only learned about it after doing research into a similar operation I had read about. Nobody that I’ve explained this procedure to had ever heard of it and these include some very knowledgeable folks.

I looked in the direction of this woman’s face. I acknowledged her question with an awestruck “Yes,” but had to ask her how she knew of this procedure.

She laughed, Oh, I’m a therapist. I know the language.” After a little more Q&A between us, I learned she has been a physical therapist for 26 years. That also explained her knowing about the AFO.

I should’ve known.

That is the long and short of what is going on with the surgery. Still not much evidence of the muscle working yet, but with time and dedication to the PT, I should hopefully report some positive news in the coming weeks.

As for the family, we’re all out on spring break this week. We’re not doing anything like a trip or something like that. One of us has physical therapy to go to! We’re hoping things will look a lot better trip-wise for the summer.


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