- A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum
Wednesday, September 29th, 2010
A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum…..
With a tip of the hat to Stephen Sondheim for use of his title, a funny thing really did happen on the way to the Forum—Woman’s Forum, that is. A few weeks ago, my longtime friend Ginger Beisch, now President of the Senior Junior Forum, called to invite me to the Woman’s Forum membership celebration dinner and before I could answer, she added, “….as our speaker for the evening.” That sealed the deal for me. Little did she know that I have a boatload of memories related to that venerable venue. So in addition to my own memories, the reminiscences of 83 years of Woman’s Forum history was very compelling.
The dinner was great and the musical entertainment could not have been better. If you haven’t heard this trio of Andrews Sisters Sound-Alikes, you have missed a treat. Shelby Waller, Keven Robertson and Debi Walters made beautiful music.
For a long time, there have been whispers of a ghostly presence in the building, appearing to staff or guests in quiet times. One tale is that it is the spirit of a former Forum president who didn’t want to give up her treasured position. Another is that it is the spirit of a member who instructed her family to spread her ashes around the property. All these stories contributed to my “If Walls Could Talk” presentation.
I happily shared my personal memories of times past when as a singer, I was invited by the formidable Nita Aiken to sing for luncheons or dinner entertainment. What a thrill that was for a small-town girl to perform from the stage of the Woman’s Forum. Soon Dr. Aiken realized that our entire family was a “Sound of Music” prototype. With mom Agnes Milford on piano, Dad R.C. singing harmony, sister Julie (now Julie King of Fort Worth) hitting the high notes in her soaring soprano, brother Cliff singing harmony (also a piano/organ virtuoso), sister Kim on alto and I singing melody, we sang for “An Evening with the Musical Milfords”—wow, ancient history now. Suffice to say that we had many good times as guests in the fabulous Forum.
As I delved deeper into the history of the Forum and the guests who had appeared there since the 1927 opening, it got curiouser and curiouser. And since “curiosity” is my mantra, I went to work. Among the famous guests to grace the Forum were the following: Will Rogers in 1933; J. Frank Dobie in 1934; Cornelia Otis Skinner, actress, in 1938; Rubinoff and his violin in 1940; Elsa Maxwell in 1950; Meredith Wilson, composer of “The Music Man” in 1955; Ogden Nash, “The Purple Cow” poet in 1958; Will Rogers, Jr. in 1959. But it was another guest whose listed appearance caught my eye: Amelia Earhart in 1936.
Amelia Earhart right here in our part of the country—in the Woman’s Forum in 1936, the year before she disappeared on her attempt to go around the world in her Lockheed Electra. I am not an aviation aficionado by any stretch. However, just the thought of Earhart stopping in Wichita Falls certainly piqued my interest. Adding to my curiosity was the fact that we, too, had a trailblazing aviatrix in our area: Jimmie Hudson Kolp who lived in Electra and flew out of her own airport there. Both women were early members of the Ninety Nines, the organization for women in flight. Jimmie Kolp was the first woman in Wichita Falls, second woman in Texas and the 37th woman in the United States to earn her pilot license. Their ages and years of licensure were very close making it plausible that there must have been a connection.
My affinity for Jimmie Kolp was no doubt influenced by the fact that her mother, Mrs. W. A. Gault, lived across the street from my family when I was in high school in Electra.
That sweet little woman could never understand why Jimmie would want to get in that plane and fly. Regardless, she was her daughter’s most stalwart supporter…even when her daughter eloped to marry Col.C.F. Kolp who, incidentally, is said to have presented Jimmie with a Rolls Royce when she married him at 16 and later with an airplane and her own airport! These things stick in your memory even after all these years. Mrs. Kolp remained a family friend to her death in 1970. Oddly enough, she died at Love Field in Dallas while preparing to come home from a state aviation committee meeting in Austin. My sister Julie sang for her funeral and my brother played the organ for the service. Memories, memories.
Perhaps you can now better understand my curiosity about Earhart and her visit to Wichita Falls in January of 1936. Why was she here? Did she know Jimmie Kolp?
Did she fly in to Wichita Falls? Did she present a lecture at the Forum? At this time in her life, Earhart was a lecturer at Purdue University in addition to her aviation. She was hired by Purdue to speak to young women about the career opportunities open to them—not only in the world of aviation but also in the earthbound professions. To say she was a forerunner of the equal rights for women movement is without a doubt.
But back to my query: who invited Earhart to Wichita Falls? How long did she stay? Was there newspaper coverage of her visit? Prior to my “If Walls Could Talk” presentation, I enlisted Ms. Beisch’s help to try and track down some of this information.
We explored all the usual avenues but for one reason or another, the information was not forthcoming. Then Ms. Beisch went upstairs at the Forum (where the ghostly spirit is said to waft) to go through Forum records. Her payoff was to find the guest book for January 24, 1936 neatly signed by none other than Amelia Earhart! However, not another word was on the page. Foiled again!
Those who were at the forum last week for the celebration dinner have heard this tale of woe. Several of them have taken up my challenge to contact people in the aviation community who may have some information about this mystery trip. This little piece of history may not be greatly significant to the world but it contributes to our north Texas history and ties us to a fascinating time. And the clock is running as to finding the answers to the questions from someone who really knows. The walls are not talking to us about Amelia; I welcome your help in unraveling the mystery.
Carolyn Milford GilbertShare
September 27, 2010
- Curiosity: Not Just for Kids
Tuesday, September 21st, 2010
One of my continuing curiosity factors is the role such curiosity plays in our lives as time marches on. Some months ago I wrote a column aimed primarily at the need for unbridled curiosity in youngsters as they are exposed to the educational experience. I opined that such curiosity seems to wane as youngsters move up the educational ladder so that by the time they are in high school, there may not be much curiosity left.
I am pleased to report that a number of readers checked in with me on the subject by email. Their universal agreement that we need to do a better job of encouraging curiosity in our students let me know I had hit a vein. In fact, I learned that a group of private school educators in the Dallas-Fort Worth area used the column as a topic for discussion with their teaching staffs and parents as well.
Their interest in the curiosity factor nudged me to dig deeper in the curiosity well to explore the causal relationship between that “need to know” attitude and the “don’t care” attitude. Then I hit curiosity pay dirt!
“Is it heredity or environment ?” The age old question rears its head. Is curiosity innate or can it be taught? If it is not nurtured, does the curiosity factor fade away?
Is it a sign of intelligence..creativity? The pay dirt kicked up more questions than answers.
Those questions gave way to a couple of additional queries:
In regard to education, what type of teachers and or parents can cause that childhood curiosity to continue through middle and upper school?
What role does curiosity play in success or failure in adult life?
It seems to me that the teacher is a key component in the care and feeding of the curiosity factor in students as they progress from level to level. If the teacher is himself/herself an energetic and curious person, it makes sense that students will be more likely to infuse curiosity in not only school-related activites but also in real life.
However, I can just hear school superintendents and those responsible for hiring instructional staff saying “…But how can we measure this ‘curiosity factor’ or how can we tell if a prospective teacher has that factor when we are interviewing them?” And I am not sure I have the answer except to say that intuition and observation may be the critical tools for interviewers.
In the same way we rely on our intuition and experience to spot the talented or gifted student, we can focus on evaluating instructional staff. And, yes, we may be fooled on occasion by the individual who is adept at the interview process….the one who knows how to play the game. But if we as experienced educators are vigilant in finding the teacher with the natural, built-in curiosity about life, surely we can select such teachers for our schools.
Sadly, one of the basic drawbacks to the selection and retention of outstanding teachers for our students is the inability to dismiss or reassign the teacher who is not fulfilling his or her assignment adequately. In order to provide teachers with job security, our system has bent over backwards to retain teachers who really should be in another line of work. Any school administrator will tell you how difficult it is to discharge a teacher–especially an experienced one. Here is where community expectations for teaching performance need to be clear. Granted, the community of private school education may have more ability to handle the problem of nonperforming teachers than the public school community. But if the goal is good teachers to teach and energize students, what are we to do?
The second question about the role of curiosity in our adult lives is also difficult to quantify. Look around your work life and home life. Do you have friends who are interested in diverse or unusual topics? Friends who are fun? Friends who can solve problems creatively? Friends who are always seeking not just the “why” about things but also the “why NOT?”
Oddly enough, the inquisitive or curious adult is not always rewarded for that curiosity. In fact, sometimes they are even punished for questioning long-held standards or authority. And that very fact flies in the face of what we say we value in the educational process. Except in a few areas in industry or service, curiosity is not the number one quality sought in an adult worker.
Is there ever any question that Bill Gates is a curious person? And what would we have done without his remarkable curiosity?
And athletes who are curious as to how far they can push their bodies to achieve?
Researchers seeking the cure for diseases like AIDS or cancer? Architects who experiment with amazing designs for buildings—and ways to keep those buildings standing! Historians who have an endless thirst for uncovering our history. Automobile designers and engineers who seek the plan to make a car run better, faster, longer–as well as to make it a thing of beauty.
As we age, is it taken for granted that we will slow down–mentally as well as physically? Are we expected to become disinterested bystanders who merely hear about life and news from radio or television and not from first hand experience? Does becoming a “senior citizen” mean that we tamp down those flames of curiosity from our youth or our middle age? I certainly hope not!
Just think how life experience can continue to feed our intellectual curiosity. And whether you are a young teacher of wiggly grade schoolers or a grandparent of young adults, your own curiosity about life and learning may provide the incentive for those around you to seek answers to difficult questions, to figure out why something isn’t working as it should or to evaluate options for life’s critical decisions.
How lucky we would be if from one end of the lifeline to the other there would always be someone in our lives to generate enthusiasm, energy and curiosity!
- Scattershooting While Wondering…*”Does Everybody REALLY Love Raymond?”
Monday, September 20th, 2010
*Anyone who loves sports will know the name Blackie Sherrod as one of the foremost longtime sports writers in the southwest. He coined the phrase “Scattershooting while wondering…” for his many columns running for years in the Fort Worth Star Telegram and The Dallas Times Herald among others.
This interesting little phrase allows the writer to wander off into reverie or ‘wonderland’ as she raises rhetorical or literal questions about a person or an event.
Today I am scattershooting while wondering about a number of things like:
Did everybody REALLY love Raymond? I never was drawn to this show in its first incarnation in 1996. Oh, I probably saw it a couple of times but it was just a little too pedestrian for me. I was a little more upper class than that, I thought.
Ray Barone, played by comedian Ray Romano, was just a bit too much of a simpleton– a sports writer who worked out of his basement except when he was running back and forth to his mama’s house (and her cooking) across the street. If I say he was sort of a dullard, I think you will know what I mean. How he ever convinced his cute and sassy little wife Debra–played by Patricia Heaton–to marry him in the first place is in itself a matter of great wonderment!
Ray’s family members are really the stars of this show. Mom Marie Barone–played by Doris Roberts– embodies every mother who has tried to run a son’s married life. And she cleverly used her home cooking to bribe, console, cajole and reward the various members of the family. By the way, she played that part as if it were written just for her as it may well have been.
Ray’s older brother Robert is played by actor/comedian Brad Garrett. Robbie, as Marie insists on calling him, is really the crux on which the show turns. He is the older brother (conceived out of wedlock OMG) who grew up with his precious little brother Raymond getting all the attention and everything he wanted…thus the derivation of the title, “Everbody Loves Raymond.” And nothing has changed now that the the brothers are adults. Mom Marie dotes on Raymond through food and snide remarks about his sassy little wife and kids. The children in this show are not seen or heard much which is rather a relief after all those family shows that did nothing but showcase spoiled brats.
Now comes the Emporer of the family, Frank Barone. Played perfectly by the late Perter Boyle, a classically trained actor. Frank is the next generation of Archie Bunker who was played by Carroll O’Connor in “All In the Family.” Barone is unflinchingly racist, sexist (except when Marie threatens to stop cooking for him) and as socially unacceptable as one can be on television. Like many men who consider his home his personal castle, Frank feels free to eat, walk a few steps to his recliner in the living room, sit down, pull up the footrest and proceed to unzip his pants so he can really relax! Peter Boyle made this character his own.
As I pointed out earlier, I did not find the show amusing in its first run some years ago. But time passes and things change. Now television is overflowing with breaking news shows, regular news shows, do-it-yourself construction shows, investigatory shows, crime units out the wazoo, dancing shows and mating programs like “The Batchelor” and “The Batchelorette.” Outside of sports, there is really precious little programming for simply watching or being entertained.
Now stay with me here. I really thought that, like me, everyone couldn’t stand Raymond, much less love that show. However, in the absence of programming designed for pure enjoyment instead of constantly battering the viewer, I must admit timidly and apologetically that I find myself watching the “Raymond” re-runs and rather enjoying the time spent.
Yes, the characters are over the top. Yes, they probably remind you of someone in your own family. Yes, if you are over 50, you probably can’t contain your occasional outtbursts of laughter. And, no, I doubt if everybody loves Raymond this time around either. But if laughter is the best medicine, I can at least take the show in small doses!
So if you find yourself longing for the good old days or searching for a program of gentle rather mindless entertainment, find the “Raymond” re-reuns and let the world go away.
- Sensual Smells and the Memories They Bring
Monday, September 20th, 2010
Isn’t it strange how our sense of smell can affect us? We step out on the patio and smell the smoke from the barbecue grill and think, “Yum.” And if the grass has just been cut, don’t you love that smell? Whatever fragrance you select as your own–Chanel No.5, White Diamonds, Opium–usually brings back memories. As long as I can remember, my mother wore Chanel No. 5 and to this day its fragrance makes me think of her. And, of course, Old Spice was Daddy’s choice.
Of course, there are other smells that are not quite so elegant that, perhaps, do not elicit happy thoughts…like dirty, sweaty tennis shoes. Like wet puppies. Like broccoli cooking!
I have had this obsession with smells for a long time. Even as a child, I can remember getting nauseous
on a driving trip through the Arizona desert where the air was heavy with that sweet sickening cactus smell. But one smell that always makes me happy is that wonderful musty smell of an old bookstore. You know, the smell that envelopes you when you set foot in Larry McMurtry’s book stores filled with books that have been hot off the presses many years ago. I have often thought how great it would be to bottle that smell and sell it. Or perhaps, just hoard it for my own use.
Those who know me know that I eschew these new-fangled things that are taking the place of books in the hand. Instead of reading a good book in bed, you have the opportunity to read on your computer or your Kindle or Iphone using stanza. How can that be any fun? Not only do you lose the sensory perception of holding that book and turning the pages, there is absolutely no noticeable aroma at all. It is like reading off a blackboard.
Well, I have great news for those of use who yearn for the smells that make us happy or that bring back happy thoughts. Some genius has created the answer in an aerosol can. The e-book enhancer is called “Smell of Books” and looks something like a can of hairspray. You can choose between the “New Book Smell” and the “Classic Musty Smell.” How great is that? A few squirts around the room and you are set to go. You can be transported to the store of new books or the store of old books within a few seconds. Check it out at http://smellofbooks.com
Of course, this clever approach also can be applied to other scents beyond the bookshelves. For instance, how about the spray, “Eau, You Have Cats.” Or the kitchen version of “Crunchy Bacon Scent” or “Burned Toast.” Even those sweaty tennis shoes, wet puppies or broccoli cooking could be pressurized, I suppose. Or the floor wax they used to put on the schoolhouse floor. Or popcorn!
And remember how we used to talk about that new car smell and how we wish we could bottle it? Well, someone has been working on that. It is not in an aerosol can but packaged in a small packet to put under the seat of the car and let that “New Car Smell” waft away. Now what will they think of next? Perhaps the smell of new money. Oh, yes!
- Where Is the Voice of Reason ?
Monday, September 20th, 2010
As a rule, I don’t wander into the world of political commentary unless I am forced to do so. There are many other writers and news analysts who have chosen that beat. My overarching goal is to bring a smile to your face or to discover something that will bring a new perspective to an old subject….or to just plain entertain you.
However, my back is to the wall. Gone are the double entendres; the funny lines; the references to times of joy in our lives. This time I am serious…dead serious.
Once upon a time we celebrated our differences without being mean. We learned from our diversity without being prejudiced. We used the media as a means of sharing information without using it as a sneak attack venue. We ran for public office as a way to serve the people rather than to destroy our opponents. We viewed our political system as an organized format to include differing philosophies and to do so in good faith…. not to tear down any belief that ran contrary to our own.
What happened? The continuing rant about the location of a cultural center in New York City is not the cause. Virtually every religious group in our country has some type of “cultural center” for sports, studying, performing, bowling. I think even the Southern Baptists have bowling alleys and the like! But this Muslim cultural center in New York City is merely a symptom of the cause of this ugly moment in our history. Why are we doing unto others the very unspeakable things that we would not want done unto ourselves?
Freedom of religion? That seems pretty straightforward. Freedom of speech? A fundamental right. And all the other freedoms we take so much for granted? Do they apply to only one group and not to all?
I understand the use of “terrorist” and the threat to security as defined by our leaders. I understand that “freedom of speech” thing but NOT when it is loosely applied to lies, half-truths, innuendos or twisted rhetoric. But this is not anything new. It seems we blew the lid off our adherence to our country’s stated goals when there was a confluence of events: the shock of 9/11; the realization that such an attack could take place within our boundaries; and our unrelenting insistence on placing blame on anyone who seemed a likely suspect regardless of fact.
These statements merely imply that our pattern became to blame the likely suspects immediately regardless of facts. And if the facts were not strong enough, make them up. This does not apply to those situations where the facts were clear and the truth was strong enough.
Now that we get our news from so many sources all day every day without let-up, it is possible for a story to take flight in one country or on one coast and within minutes it becomes “Breaking News” on every conceivable news outlet. With that speed, there clearly is not time for every fact to be checked, verified and checked again–especially if your outlet wants to be first to break that “Breaking News.”
The issue of “Mosque-gate” in New York City is a prime example of how gossip and fear-mongering can become an absolute wildfire with as many tentacles as an octopus. All that was necessary was to put ”9/11,” “mosque,” ”Ground Zero,” and “Muslim” in the same sentence and Willie Horton came marching home. Like yelling “FIRE” in a crowded theater, it should be against the law to knowingly ignite such a flammable issue as the location of a cultural center near such a sensitive piece of New York City real estate.
It is very difficult to know what is the truth in this situation. I can handle the truth–even though Jack Nicholson (“A Few Good Men”) may not think so. It is even difficult to identify all the issues involved. However, those who want to use it as a cause celebre, are not worried about the facts. Let’s just sprinkle those incendiary words in close proximity to one another and we are off and running with yet another distraction and perpetuation of hate-mongering.
Since the facts are difficult to ferret out among all the red herrings, I am searching for a Voice of Reason. I am looking for someone who can be trusted to tell me the truth. I am looking for someone who can show me the various pros and cons of the situation based on fact and not on firebrand politics. In fact, I am not looking for a politician. I am looking for a Statesman. Is there one left? Is there one Voice of Reason who would dare lead us out of this morass? Is there one who would dare NOT use the situation for continuing to try to fool most of the people most of the time for his own benefit?
This approach to fear-mongering is seemingly based on the Karl Rove school of
” gotcha” politics. Or at least on his curriculum of “make it up gotcha” politics. Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly and others have learned their lessons well in this genre. Let’s stir up the populous. “The sky is falling!”
Where is that statesman? Walter Cronkite, the most trusted man in media is gone. He led us through the blackest days of the Kennedy assassination. Ronald Reagan? His “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall” speech might be applied. Could Tom Hanks handle the job? He has distinguished himself with his appreciation of the Greatest Generation. I could believe him. What about Regis? He is our trusted friend who comes into our homes every morning to chat about what is happening in our lives. What about Oprah? She could buy and sell most of those howling politicians. Heck, she could buy and sell those media outlets that are so intent on spreading disinformation. Remember when she took the lying writer to task on national television? I could believe her.
But what keeps coming back to me are the words from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inaugural address in 1933 in which he really hit the nail on the head. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” And right now there is plenty of fear to go around. Fear of those who don’t look like us…who don’t dress like us…who don’t worship as we do…who don’t talk like us…yet they choose to become citizens: “Give me your tired, your poor.”
I am searching for a Statesman, a Voice of Reason. That Statesman, those Voices of Reason must be ourselves.
Phone 940.495.2190 or 214.502.7801
P. O. Box 747
Electra, TX 76360
- Betty White’s Saturday Night Live!
Monday, September 20th, 2010
If you grew up on Betty White’s shows in the early days of television, you probably had an inkling of her humor and grace. Ever the inventive hostess on her talk shows, she brought sunshine into an otherwise dreary black and white medium. With dimples that put Shirley Temple to shame, Betty and her love of animals could talk you into liking dogs, cats, squirrels or whatever–even if you were not an animal lover. To this day she is a supporter of animal causes.
Thank goodness, she didn’t have to rely on her cuteness to propel her into one of the longest productive careers in entertainment. At 88 1/2 Betty White is at the peak of her career when most of her peers are blowing bubbles in the nursing home for old actors. She may have shrunk a few inches but she put those young whippersnappers to shame last Saturday night.
SNL is known for cutting edge comedy and imagination. The show has produced some marvelous talent such as Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Tina Fey, Amy Pohler, Chevy Chase, Al Franken (now a Senator,) Gilda Radner, Martin Short and Billy Crystal just to name a few. SNL grads have gone on to change the face of movies and television as far as comedy is concerned. But the show has lacked a little spark during the past couple of years for whatever reason. Sometimes the show was not well written. Sometimes it was not well performed. Other times the hosts seemed to be odd choices and really didn’t enhance the production.
But all that changed last Saturday night. Betty rode in on her White charger and put the “LIVE” back into Saturday Night Live. Having been at the forefront of live television (she once had a live five hour talk show daily!) Betty showed those kids a thing or two. She was in virtually every skit except the News. She knew her lines–as opposed to most of the guests who read their lines from cue cards. She hit her marks. She bounced down those steps at the beginning of the show without even looking down to be sure her feet were in the right place. She had wigs of every color and hairstyle. She had costume changes aplenty. She danced and shook with the youngest of them.
And when it was time for her to introduce the musical guest, she did it so convincingly you would have sworn she knew who Jay-Z was!
Betty White’s magic is is signaled by her sparkling eyes and mischievous smile. When she delivers those loaded punch lines, you can see what is coming in those baby blues. Whether she is rolling her eyes or batting her lashes, her timing is perfect. She may give the appearance of a little old lady grandma but grandma was nothing like this.
How I wish her co-conspirator in life Allen Ludden had been there to witness not only her flawless performance but also the esteem in which she is held by performers generations younger than she. How pleasing to see this talented little old lady (HA!) full of life and energy
doing what she does best. And by the way, it is reported that she partied with the cast until 3 a.m Sunday morning. She probably would have stayed later but she had to get back to Los Angeles to start filming her new situation comedy, “Hot In Cleveland,” Monday morning.
Word on the street has it that Betty White’s SNL had the highest ratings it has had in over a year and a half. With that in mind, I suggest that the “nerds” in her promo last week for SNL definitely start typing frantically: ACADEMY AWARDS…BETTY WHITE FOR HOST!”
As Allen Ludden used to say: “And the Password is…….fantastic!”
By Carolyn M. GilbertShare