With 60 just days away, taking an un-Frank-like leap for a new look

“Is this the craziest thing I’ve ever done?” I asked Kay.

“Yes,” she said, without hesitation.

“That’s just because you never do anything crazy,” Alex, the 16-year-old, chimed in.

Two days later, it is done.

This afternoon, I spent over an hour at a cool place in Arlington called Kelly’s Haircuts, which I found through mega-great reviews on Yelp. The creator of my new look was the owner, Kelly, who combed a lightish-brown dye into my all-gray and white hair and partially gray eyebrows, set a 35-minute timer and went off to cut another client’s hair.

Without my glasses on, I watched the slow, slightly blurred transformation in the mirror while spending time on my phone, hoping I’d not made a huge mistake. I looked, I thought, very strange with my hair slicked back with the goopy dye stuff that was changing my hair hue before my eyes.

In showing Kelly the look I was shooting for after walking through the door and meeting her, I pulled out my high school senior photo on my phone — the one taken just five months after I turned 16 in 1977, when my hair was a dark shade of brown. She assured me we could achieve it.

As I checked out, Kelly and her colleagues raved about the suddenly younger me. It’s really lighter than my hair’s ever been, but that’s OK.

After my hair-dyeing experience at Kelly’s Haircuts in Arlington on Wednesday, there wasn’t a (visible) gray hair to be found.

In recent days as I considered the birthday coming up for me Sunday, my 60th, I’ve been apprehensive, dreading the number and telling Kay it’s “the beginning of the end.” (She will confirm that I can be a tad dramatic.)

Maybe it’s all the unwelcome health hiccups I’ve had the past few months: ruptured appendix, DVT/blood clot, kidney stones and, as it turns out from my hospital CT scan report that I finally got a look at this week, gallstones, too. Or the sheer fact that the number I’m staring at scares me more than any age I’ve hit. Way more than 50 did, and 55 sure didn’t give me the willies like 60 is.

All I can keep thinking about is how 80 is only 20 years off — the same amount of time plus one year I’ve been working at The Dallas Morning News as of this week (I actually started Feb. 29, 2000). Twenty years is the blink of an eye.

I’ve also never allowed myself to buy into the “age is just a number” and “60’s the new 40” assurances that our society loves to throw around and that friends who’ve gotten there before me espouse. But who knows, now that I’m about to cross that threshold, maybe I’ll jump on those bandwagons. Could be I’m just overreacting for nothing.

What I did today is so entirely unlike me. I’ve never been one to take chances, and Kay will tell you I’m far from impulsive or spontaneous.

But why not, I figure? I started going gray in my late 30s, progressed at a rapid pace, and with the exception of a few dark brown strands, have sported the Steve Martin look for over 10 years.

Hopefully lights won’t shine off my hair now like they did back in October when Kay and I visited our dear friends Steve and Valerie Kaye.

After finding my birth family in 2005, I learned premature graying has been hereditary for the Workmans and Campbells. I’m told that my late brother Robin, who passed away at 61 in early 2009 — just three and a half years after my three full siblings and I became a reunited family — began going gray at 21 in early 1969 when he came back from a year in Vietnam.

When I looked in the mirror at Kelly’s today after the deed was done, it was a real shock. At first, I thought I might have made a colossally regrettable life decision (not that I would say that to Kelly or her colleagues). I thought I would come off looking like someone having an old-guy crisis going out of his way to appear younger. I definitely don’t want to be that person.

And to some who’ve only known me as a grayhair, that may be the line of thinking. Our Will and Alex, born in 2001 and 2004, have only known Dad to be gray — old-looking enough that I’ve been mistaken for their grandfather a few times.

Thankfully, when I got home, Kay and the kids liked it (so they said). The longer I stared at the stranger in the mirror, the more I did too.

After finally getting in to see a urologist about my kidney stones first thing this morning (and to think, that event is secondary to the hair news), I’d actually gotten a haircut at the Pro Cuts where I’ve gone for years. Turns out the lady who cut my hair today also works part-time at Kelly’s and was excited to hear that I planned to get dyed there later.

I showed the owner of Kelly’s Haircuts my Conroe High senior photo, when I was 16, to give her an idea of the color I was hoping for. I think she came close.

Kay and Alex both said they think my new/old hair will look even better when it’s longer. I told Kay that I don’t even look like her husband anymore. Seriously, who is this impostor? After I gave her a kiss, she joked, “You even kiss better!”

I don’t know if I’ll keep the look long-term, but I’m going with it. I’ll be doing the dye upkeep myself, and if I get tired of doing it, I may let myself go back to being the “Wild and Crazy Guy” so many people have compared me to the past dozenish years.

But for now, you’ll be seeing this version of soon-to-be-60 Frank. Nice to meet you all! 🙂❤

P.S. Since some of you may be wondering about the urologist visit: We discussed the kidney stone I passed (which, TMI, I brought in for testing), the ones still lurking, the gallstones and the dietary changes I need to make. To be brief, the kidney stones are really too small to take action on (lithotripsy or anything more invasive), so we’re just going to let nature take its course. Hopefully drinking tons of water will help. And as I already knew, I need to try really hard (sniff, sniff) to cut back on sugars, sodium, processed foods, dairy (especially cheese and ice cream, both major staples in our family), meats and a few other no-nos and beef up (pun intended) on healthier stuff. So, basically what we all should be doing, right? All easier said than done with my lack of willpower, but I’ll give it my best shot! 😉

A week of bitter cold, lost power, boiled water and hot Texas tempers over outages

Today’s the day!!

It’s the day we *finally* escape the subfreezing captivity that has gone on for what seems weeks — but has been only 10 days. The day we finally start to see some of the snow that has blanketed North Texas since Sunday begin to melt. The day we can look up and see nothing but blue instead of nothing but a grayish-white expanse hovering over us and feel bitter cold — both outside our homes and inside, thanks to the power outages that have tormented millions of families across Texas since Monday, leaving them suffering and sullen.

We had the lowest official low of 2 below in the Dallas-Fort Worth area Tuesday night, and other nights with wind chills well below that. We’ve had nights with lows in the single digits. We’ve had frozen, bursting pipes (luckily, not at our house) drenching residences, including at Edgemere, the senior community in North Dallas where Kay’s 86-year-old mother Caryl lives. We’ve had water main breaks cause numerous area cities to issue boil-water notices — including here in Arlington, where we’ve been boiling our water since Wednesday.

Last Sunday, the temperature and snow began falling in North Texas — and it didn’t stop all day.

There have certainly been other long stretches of bone-chilling cold in our state over recorded history. But to have Old Man Winter hold every part of Texas in his grasp for this long, squeezing so hard and causing so much devastation and distress? It’s a first in my lifetime, which will reach 60 years in nine short days.

This has been a week unlike any other, one that my family sure didn’t see coming, at least from the standpoint of the power snafu that Texas officials will be answering questions about — and hopefully *doing* something about — for months to come.

Many have seen their electricity yanked away, returned briefly and turned off again repeatedly all week. Others have gone days without power, lifesaving heat and internet capability, unable to charge their phones to stay in touch with the outside world or be aware of what’s going on.

Yes, the elements took down the electrical grid, but the state simply wasn’t prepared for a winter storm of this magnitude. And there are plenty of folks to blame for that, from legislators to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas to the state’s Public Utility Commission.

We kept our outside and inside faucets dripping all week. Before we realized we should keep the outside spigots on, they’d already frozen, but we used a hair dryer to get them thawed.

When the Great Ice Storm of 2011 paralyzed the state and caused widespread power outages, Texas leaders had their chance to make fixes to ensure it didn’t happen again.

But instead of “winterizing” our power supplies and putting other protections in place, leaders decided, in effect, to put the lives of Texans on a back burner and focus on the partisan issues so commonplace in our state. And, if we shared a power grid with other states like the rest of the country, rather than exerting our independence as we do in so many other ways, this disaster could’ve been avoided.

As for our home, thankfully we were only without power for about 30 hours, from around 6 a.m. Monday to 10 a.m. Tuesday — and once it came back, it stayed on.

When it was clear our house was going to get frigid Monday night, Kay and I thought it best to look into a hotel reservation. But every place we called was booked, because everyone else had the same idea. We finally found a Days Inn across from AT&T Stadium (home of the Dallas Cowboys) in North Arlington — on the other side of town from us — and booked a room.

I knew it wasn’t the best hotel because I’ve driven past it for years, but we thought it’d be worth any discomfort. So we piled our elderly dog, Maisy, into the Forester and headed out, leaving our cat, Teena, with plenty of food and water.

Once we got there, saw the rundown, dirty place, the long line and all the people with multiple dogs, it was clear we’d made a mistake. Standing in line to check in, I called Kay in the parking lot and we decided to cancel and take our chances back in the cold house. We picked up some snacks at QT and headed home, where Alex, who’s been taking guitar lessons since September, gave us a mini-concert by candlelight after “dinner.” It got down to 44 that night in the house, but the four of us were well-bundled, with enough blankets piled on to stay relatively toasty.

I thought this was a cool shot of the sun shining off an icy patch on our driveway this morning as the sun finally started melting everything away.

One thing I’ll say about this week is that the snow was beautiful. After all, we rarely get any around here. About 3 inches or so fell on our place Sunday, and then we got more Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. Because it was so cold, it didn’t melt all week — and I can’t remember ever having snow on the ground this long since moving to D-FW in 1987 to work for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

As always, my colleagues at The Dallas Morning News have done superhuman work not only covering a huge ongoing news event under dangerous and difficult circumstances, but producing the newspaper both digitally and in print with extremely early deadlines. Unfortunately, many readers of our print edition have not received their papers because distributors haven’t been able to deliver them. The only day our DMN was delivered was Thursday, and we haven’t gotten mail all week and there’s been no trash or recycling pickup. With any luck, all should be back to normal tomorrow. 🤞

We hope all of you who have had to deal with the difficulties of this winter storm, whether you’re in Texas or elsewhere, are safe, warm and dry — and have power and drinkable water. And we sincerely hope better days are ahead, weather-wise, pandemic-wise and otherwise. Hugs to all! ❤

On the sixth day, the snow finally began to melt at the Christlieb home in southwest Arlington, TX.

6 years later in my memory, Dad’s red jacket waits for him

This is taken from a Facebook post I wrote six years ago today, Feb. 9, 2015 — coincidentally, almost exactly four years before I started this blog. Although it wasn’t the last time I would be in Dad’s house in Missouri City — I did go back later for the grandfather clock — this visit with my wife and children was very important to me, because it was the last time all four of us would be there together. So here’s what I wrote after we drove back home to Arlington …

*****

The red Stewart & Stevenson jacket hangs draped over a chair at the kitchen table. Any moment, we’ll hear Dad shuffling down the hallway, the worn tiles crackling and snapping every few steps. He’ll come around the corner, grab the jacket, scoop up his keys and wallet from the table and say with a smile and a lilt, “All ready to go?”

But that won’t happen, because Dad’s not here. The contagious joke-a-minute, laugh-a-lot, friend-to-all personality that made everyone love being with him has ascended to another plane. Death hasn’t changed him; he’s just catching up with the old gang and carrying on as much as ever.

It’s been six and a half months since Clark Lindsay Christlieb’s 84-year-old body finally gave out — but never gave up — after he fought a gutsy five-month second round in his bout with melanoma. It seems such a short time, yet so unbelievably, unbearably long. We all lose our parents and other loved ones, and it suffocates us in grief for a time. All we can do is keep loving, keep longing, keep looking up, and keep living.

*****

Early Saturday morning, Kay, Will, Lindsay and I hit the road in Arlington for Dad’s house in Missouri City, on the southwest side of Houston. Knowing our Sentra’s trunk had too little room to cram more memories and family history into, we rented a Pathfinder. It would be the fourth trip to sift through Dad’s left-behinds, as well as those of generations of both of his parents’ ancestors. It almost certainly will be our last time in the house before an estate sale this spring and the sale of the home Dad moved into with his aging mother Alma in summer 1994.

The musty aroma of time’s passage lingers throughout. In a room off the garage, layers of dust remain on stacks and shelves of books dating well into the 1800s: schoolbooks of ancestors; engineering texts belonging to my grandfather Frank and great-grandfathers Isaac and Knute; college and high school yearbooks; Hardy Boys books from Dad’s childhood; stamp collection volumes; and so much more. The house hasn’t been lived in for nearly a year, as Dad moved in with my brother Isaac last March when the chemo and radiation treatments began.

I spent most of an hour going through a teetering, partly torn stack of loose piano sheet music and books of all manner of musical compositions. The books are in amazingly good condition for having been published in the 1880s and 1890s as some of them were. I envisioned my great-grandmother Adelaide “Addie” Brabec Christlieb — a classically trained pianist who performed with the Minneapolis Symphony — perched on her bench for hours playing music so advanced and bleeding with so much black ink that I could only shake my head at the level of difficulty, realizing the pieces were way beyond my novice grasp.

Addie’s son, my grandfather Frank, was also an accomplished pianist, and my grandmother Alma played quite well too. Even Dad took lessons at age 12, and I found one of his lesson books from 1942 that bore his writing. I could only chuckle, imagining Dad laboring through piano theory and performance, knowing he hated every minute of it. I can just hear young Lindsay — he went by his middle name as a youth — struggling through a piece and finally muttering, “Aw, the hell with it.”

Not long before my grandfather Frank died, just as my junior year at Conroe High began in August 1976, I heard Granddad utter the same words while playing the old ragtime standard “Doll Dance” on the 1930s Haddorff upright at home in St. Paul. His 76-year-old fingers weren’t as nimble as they’d been during his younger piano-playing days. Seven years ago, Dad handed off that old Haddorff to my family, and it’s made beautiful music as Will, Lindsay and I have taken piano lessons off and on.

A photo of my great-grandmother Addie Brabec Christlieb, a classically trained pianist, rests on the highest-register keys of my grandparents’ Haddorff piano, which we’re blessed to now have.

*****

Dad’s is like most homes that go unlived in for a while: cold, dusty, still. Dead cockroaches lay here and there, beckoning to us about the long-overdue cleaning that’ll be needed soon. But most of all, it’s lonely. Desolate. Incredibly. Still full of furniture, heirlooms and other family history, despite the fact that we’ve taken what seems a truckload of cherished documents, photos, books and antiques back to Arlington. Yet so, so empty. So bare. So devoid of the life Dad gave it.

Saturday night, it was boys in one bedroom and girls in another. As 13-year-old Will and I lay in the room that had most recently been Dad’s — and his mother Alma’s before she died just days from her 91st birthday in September 2000 — I closed my eyes and drifted. Even my slightest move made the loudest of creaks. As I tried to find a comfortable position to avoid aggravating the puzzling left shoulder pain that had begun earlier that day, I likewise tried not to provoke the bed’s groaning in a way that would wake Will. Maybe the bed was trying to tell me something. Maybe Dad was trying to tell me something.

Whatever it was, every noise reminded me of hearing Dad shift positions in the crabby old bed when I’d visit him. I could still hear him clearing his throat and coughing during the night. I could hear his occasional sleep-talking. I could hear him wake up and lumber across the hall to the bathroom, then amble back to his creak-interrupted slumber. How the heck did he ever get any sleep?

*****

And then there’s the wonderful old grandfather clock. We haven’t researched how old it is, but certainly well over 100 years. I remember its soothing chime so well from childhood visits to our grandparents’ house at 1401 Grantham St. in the serene St. Anthony Park section of St. Paul. It always stood like a tall, proud and dutiful watchman right by the front door, near the blue-carpeted staircase that led to 3 bedrooms — Dad’s childhood room (where Isaac and I always slept when we visited), Alma and Frank’s room (with the requisite twin beds rather than one), and the pink (yes, pink) guest room our parents used during visits.

Me and that wonderful grandfather clock, which we learned a few years ago from the American Clock & Watch Museum in Bristol, Conn., was likely made in the 1840s in Pennsylvania. I’m so glad we brought it home to Arlington.

I’ve struggled with the grandfather clock. It’s magnificent, stately and in decent, albeit nonworking, shape. It’s full of bygone times and warmth. And it’s family. But the revered mementos of yesterday can only flow into so many tomorrows before they must be parted with. Every monument to the past cannot stay home forever. Even though the chimes have long since been silenced, I’m torn between a desire to cling to this statuesque connection to my father, grandparents and whatever other relatives the clock belonged to, and the reality that there is little room in our home for it. And, that once we’re gone, the odds are slim that our children would want it.

But the more I revisit its prominence in my childhood and cherish its unbreakable tether to the past, the more I realize it must be saved — for now, anyway.

*****

In less than 24 hours, our final frenzied treasure hunt through Dad’s home had ended. Such a short time to relive memories, to wish for more time there with Dad, to look for any other scraps of the past that should either be tossed or salvaged. The exquisite linens made by hand — many by Grandmother Alma, others by her Norwegian mother Agnete during the long, mournful decades she spent in a mental institution after being placed there in the 1920s when Alma was only a teen. The beautiful china of what seem infinite patterns. The large, ornate marriage certificate of my great-grandparents Agnete and Knute Anker. Alma’s baptismal record. The receipt from Clark and my mother Olga’s purchase in Huntington, W. Va., of a crib for my brother Isaac on Aug. 25, 1959 — three days after his birth and coinciding with his adoption. The letters and paperwork documenting Dad’s 1954 Navy discharge and return to the U.S. with his bride Olga after their marriage in Panama a little over a year earlier.

The vestiges of a family’s history are endless.

And the red jacket waits, ready for Dad to pick it up and head out the door.

Dad at age 38 in 1968 holding a piece of luggage on the driveway of my grandparents’ home in St. Paul — the home where he and his parents moved in 1937 when he was 7. He was an only child.

There’s something perfect about our first car, isn’t there? For me, it was an ’80 Ford Fairmont

Don’t ask me why I have zero pictures of my first car, a 1980 Ford Fairmont that my parents bought for my 20th birthday in February 1981, when I was a sophomore at Texas A&M. Who the heck doesn’t take photos — lots of them — of their first car?

I came home from school for my birthday, which fell on a Saturday that year, and Dad told me to come out to the garage. I walked through the breezeway from our house in Oak Ridge North, south of Conroe and 30 miles north of Houston, opened the garage door and was stunned to see a baby blue car with dark blue vinyl roof where Mom’s blue Oldsmobile Toronado was usually parked.

Of course, I had no idea what make or model it was. On the windshield was a piece of white cardboard from one of Dad’s sample boxes from his job as a lingerie salesman for Hollywood Vassarette. On it, he’d written in all caps:

TAKE ME
I’M YOURS

I really couldn’t believe they’d bought me a car. One I didn’t have to make any payments on; all I had to do was buy the gas and take care of it. It came from Max Mahaffey Ford, the dealership owned by two of my Conroe High friends, bandmate Scott, who graduated the year before me, and his sister Jan, who graduated with me.

Yep, this is the 1980 Ford Fairmont I had — baby blue body, dark blue vinyl roof, stick shift, 4-door, bucket leather seats with plaid cloth in the seating area. Sure wish I had photos of mine so I wouldn’t have to go searching online!

Kay and I were Googling last night and found this photo, and this is the car I had. Not exactly a chick magnet, but I loved it. It was a stick shift, and my brother Isaac — who had learned to drive manual on Dad’s ’70s brown Pinto hatchback that Isaac rebuilt the engine on — took me to the old McCullough High parking lot in The Woodlands to teach me how to drive it.

We all endured a multitude of hardships with Mom’s abusive, destructive behavior, but one thing she deprived me of was taking driver’s ed — she never seemed to come to terms with the fact that I was growing up, despite being a year younger than all of my classmates.

So, Dad had to teach me how to drive without her knowing, and in August 1979 on the day he took me to A&M to move into my dorm, Moore Hall, we stopped at the DPS office in Conroe so I could take my driving test. I’ll always love him for that, and for the things he did to try to make life a bit less painful for his sons. I just wish he’d done more.

Needless to say, when Dad bought that Fairmont a year and a half later — I’m quite sure it was his idea, not Mom’s (and she probably needed convincing) — I was SO ready to finally have my own car.

This Fairmont got me through my last 2 years of college, nearly 4 years of my first job as an Odessa American sports writer driving all across dry, desolate West Texas, and through my first couple of years at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram until I traded it in 1989 for an Aggie maroon Nissan pickup — another manual transmission.

This photo’s from my graduating semester at Texas A&M in spring 1983, but it’s what I looked like two years earlier when I started driving the Ford Fairmont I received for my 20th birthday in February 1981.

I always had a blast driving stick. The first car Kay and I bought after we married in ’94 was a manual Geo Prism (I know, what were we thinking?), trading in her beloved ’83 Toyota Celica (her first car — a stick, too). I later traded my pickup — which was totaled in the historic Fort Worth hailstorm on May 5, 1995, but I drove it another 4 years — for a manual Mazda Protege. We finally bought our first automatic in 2003 — Kay’s Honda Accord, which we kept until trading it in 2016 for a Subaru Forester.

Anyway, this Fairmont (well, not *this* one, but a duplicate!) will always be special to me, even if it wasn’t exactly a looker!

Happy birthday — and thank you — to Dr. Gil from all of us

To say I was thrilled to have a brief phone visit Thursday with the gentleman at left in this cool 1970s photo would be an understatement. Jan. 7 marks Dr. Gilbert Alonzo Ratcliff Jr.’s 83rd birthday, and he and his late wife Betsy have been the definition of family to my family since 2005. 

We keep track of birthdays the old-fashioned way around here — on a big calendar hanging on the side of our refrigerator — and I knew Gil’s big day was coming up. I really wanted to be able to call and wish him a happy birthday, and I knew I’d probably need to take time during my Dallas Morning News editing shift to do it. But it would be so very worth it.

I messaged Lenore, the oldest of his three daughters, this afternoon to ask if it would be OK if I called her dad. He’s been dealing with some health issues, and I didn’t want to bother or inconvenience him. I was so glad she welcomed me to call, which I did about 5 p.m. our time — 6 p.m. at the cozy little Ratcliff farm in Proctorville, Ohio, just across the Ohio River from my birthplace of Huntington, West Virginia.

It was even more wonderful to hear Gil’s voice, how clearly excited he was to talk to me, and how thankful he was that I remembered his birthday. His caregiver answered and didn’t say hello but handed him the phone, saying it was someone named Frank. When I heard him excitedly say, “Oh, it’s Frank Christlieb!” it warmed my heart to know he was so happy I’d called.

Dr. Gilbert A. Ratcliff Sr. with his sons, Dr. Gilbert A. Ratcliff Jr. (left) and Dr. Bruce Ratcliff, in the 1970s.

We talked less than 10 minutes, but it was enough time for Gil to tell me he’s eating really well and getting around fine with his walker, and for him to say (jokingly, I think), “It hasn’t shut down yet?” when I told him I was still working at the paper. Being of similar political persuasion and knowing we’ve had many discussions on that topic, I considered touching on politics with all that’s been going on … but I figure we can save that for another visit.

Gil, a native of Huntington and a 1963 graduate of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, served his hometown as a beloved pediatrician/neonatologist for 49 years until his retirement in 2012. He co-founded the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Cabell Huntington Hospital, where I was born in February 1961, one of over *10,000* babies delivered by his father, Gil Sr. (shown between his two doctor sons, Gil and now-retired OB/GYN Bruce, in the photo).

The elder Dr. Ratcliff practiced medicine into his 80s and lived to be 101 before his passing in 1999. Not only did he deliver me — he also was instrumental in arranging for my private adoption. My adoptive parents, Clark and Olga Christlieb, were so indebted to him for making it possible for them to adopt a second baby boy, they gave me two middle names — Lindsay and Gilbert, both of which appear on my birth certificate.

Brothers Gil Jr. (right) and Bruce, who are both retired from their medical practices.

I can’t tell you how enriched my life has been by knowing Gil Jr. He is one of the smartest, most charming, wittiest and most gracious people I’ve ever known. He’s also among the blessings I’ve lost count of during the life-changing adventure my birth family journey has been. In fact, without Gil and Betsy, who passed away in late 2017, there might have been no journey.

When Gil received a letter in the spring of 2005 at his office from some guy in Texas — who so badly wanted him to know his intentions were genuine, he enclosed a copy of his driver’s license — Dr. Ratcliff’s giving, compassionate heart opened yet again as it has been doing for decade upon decade.

The adopted stranger — having been familiar with the name of Gil’s father from the amended birth certificate listing him as the delivering doctor on Feb. 28, 1961 — wanted to see if he’d help him find the family he came from. The adoptee’s main question: Did Gil have access to any of his father’s medical records that might provide clues to the Texan’s biological mother? 

Gil Jr. with his beautiful daughters (from left, oldest to youngest), Lenore, Leah and Lynn.

The details are many. But the Ratcliffs did want to help, because that’s the kind of folks they are.

It took a lot of legwork and about three months. But by the time Betsy called me early that June, she had all the answers — names, dates and other details I’m certain I never could’ve found on my own, even as a journalist. That day, I learned I had two brothers and a sister who, mind-bogglingly, were 17, 14 and six years older than me.

By the next day, after I’d spent two hours meeting the oldest of them, my brother Crys, by phone, our lives had changed forever. Within a few weeks, we confirmed through DNA what we suspected — that we’re all full-blooded siblings, sharing both parents.

The most unexpected, joyous of reunions — all thanks to the Ratcliffs.

Gil and his late wife Betsy with their six grandchildren in a photo from several years ago.

So when I talk about how much Gil means to us, they’re not mere words. He and his beloved Betsy, who was a nurse and a longtime Red Cross difference-maker, changed the course of two families with their goodness and willingness to help others.

A million thank-yous to you, Gil. And a million wishes for this birthday and as many more as you can celebrate. We love you and will always have the deepest respect and admiration for you and your family.

“I love you. I love *all* of you, very, very much.”

“I thought you might enjoy it … and have something to remember your mother by. I’ll talk to you later. I love you. I love *all* of you, very, very much. Have a merry, merry Christmas. Bye-bye.”

clyp.it/5hwclvrq (Betty Talks to Her Children)

Every Christmas in recent years, I’ve listened to those words over and over, with weepy eyes and wistful heart. They came from the loving, lonely heart of my biological mother about 30 years ago as she put the finishing touches on a cassette tape of holiday music — a gift to her children, who lived far away and almost never made it home to West Virginia for the holidays.

Before Betty died of lung cancer five days before Christmas 1992, Thanksgiving 1990 was the last holiday she and sons Crys and Robin and daughter Terry shared at her home in Huntington — and that had been their first holiday together since the 1960s.

As she had earlier in her life performing with bands and throughout her life while always singing at home, Betty used her remarkable vocal talents to accompany records of Willie Nelson and others on her recorded Christmas gift. Though her voice had aged to that of a near-70-year-old, it still had the clear, on-pitch quality it always had, with a sweet, not overdone vibrato that made it perfect — to me, anyway.

clyp.it/k1kpayo5 (“I’ll Be Home For Christmas”)

Weeks after I found my three older full siblings in June 2005, my family and I drove to the Denver area to meet Crys and Terry and their families. It was during the Fourth of July holiday, and we had a memorable reunion, getting to know one another as my sibs embraced the little brother Betty had never been able to bring herself to share the truth about.

At one point during our visit, Crys’s wife Charlene left the living room, saying she had something to share with me. She returned with the Christmas cassette and popped it into the player, and for the first time, I heard my birth mother’s voice — not only her beautiful singing, but her poignant words to her children. As I listened, I had a hard time taking it all in during the moment. I couldn’t believe I was really hearing the voice of the woman who’d given birth to me.

clyp.it/dskvbmec (“The Christmas Song”)

When Betty softly uttered the words “I love you. I love *all* of you, very, very much,” it didn’t hit me at first. Someone else in the room said it — I think it was my wife Kay — but Betty was including me when she emphasized the word “all” in addressing her children. Of course she was.

I am sure of many things about Betty — how much she loved me, why she knew she couldn’t keep me, how painful it was for her from that moment on — and her intent in those eleven words is among them. Although the three children she raised didn’t meet their fourth sibling while she was living, her heart must have told her that somehow, someday, the four of us would be together.

I never had the honor of meeting my birth mother Betty, but thanks to my dear friend Karen Erickson, I have a photo of Betty and me together. Karen, a birth mother like Betty, created this image in 2018 by combining a photo of Betty from about 30 years ago with one of me from a family pic a few years back.

The rest of the closing section of her tape is so Betty, who I’m told had a great sense of humor. She calls herself “Bette Cazadler” — a reference to Bette Midler and to Betty’s last name after marrying her second husband, Ronnie Cazad, in 1971. I’m not sure what her “Terry Baxter Orchestra” reference means, though. 🙂

On Feb. 28, Betty’s youngest child will turn 60, and next July 22 would be Betty’s 100th birthday. I hope her fellow angels will be throwing her a gigantic party, because she sure deserves one.

Happy holidays, Betty. Your four kids will always love you. ❤

P.S. The photo is the one my dear friend Katie (Karen) Erickson — a birth mother like Betty who gave up a son for adoption — created two years ago as a sweet gift to me. She combined a photo of Betty from about 30 years ago with one of me from a family pic a few years back to come up with an image I’ll always cherish. Thank you, Karen. You are a true gift. 🤗

Christmas, Betty and her family

In the weeks leading up to Christmas 1954, the family leasing 121 Perry St. in east Huntington, West Virginia, was brimming with anticipation and excitement. In a home where a father’s heavy drinking and years-long molestation of his oldest child — unknown to the boy’s mother — had brought unhappiness, fear and pain, a much-needed gift was soon to arrive.

With two boys, 10 and 7, money was tight on their father’s salary as a refrigeration mechanic and what little their mother brought home from her late-night shifts working at the town’s huge Owens-Illinois glass factory. Bob Workman drank away far too much of those earnings.

It’s doubtful Betty and her struggling husband had planned to bring a third child into the difficult and often chaotic environment they lived daily. Their second child had been born almost seven and a half years earlier, so they couldn’t have been planning on a fifth mouth to feed.

And yet, on Dec. 19, sons Crys and Robin and their parents enthusiastically welcomed one — brown-eyed Teresa Ann, born at St. Mary’s Hospital a healthy 6 pounds, delivered by the same doctor who’d delivered Crys, the oldest, on Feb. 28, 1944.

Two days before Christmas, Betty brought baby Terry home, and her brothers fell in love.

“Our gift came a few days before Christmas in the form of a baby girl,” Crys remembers. “We all wanted to hold her and enjoy her peaceful disposition. Although I was only 10 years old, I remember a closeness that had been absent in our family. To paraphrase Shakespeare, the winter of our discontent was made a glorious summer by this little girl.”

My three birth family full siblings, brothers Crys (left), sister Terry and brother Robin, in 1955, a matter of months after Terry was born six days before Christmas 1954.

Though I didn’t grow up in this family, it is mine.

I actually joined my first family twice. The first was a little over six years later, when I was born Feb. 28, 1961, to Betty, by then a single mother who had divorced her husband nearly two years earlier before a moment of “something” within a year resulted in my creation. I left the family through adoption three days after my birth, then left West Virginia before 1961 was out when my new family moved to Houston.

The second time I joined my birth family came 15 years ago, when I located and reached out with only hope to my three unknown, but as it would turn out, remarkable full siblings. When they took me in with no doubts, nothing but love and acceptance, we began forging the bonds we’d been deprived of the first 44 years of my life.

Last week, when our sister turned 66 and she, Crys and I had an hour-plus video call along with my wife Kay, I asked my siblings to share Christmas memories from their childhood with me, especially about Christmas with our mother Betty. Because of their age differences and that of our brother Robin — who was born in 1947 and passed away at age 61 in January 2009 — and due to their broken family, the three of them had few Christmases with both of our parents.

“That’s why I’ll always remember the first one,” Crys says of Christmas ’54. “I’ll never forget that.”

Unfortunately, Crys also recalls that the euphoria over baby Terry seemed to wear off after a time, because Bob was never able to overcome his alcoholism — which took a toll on his ability to hold down a job and, ultimately, to save the marriage.

“I enjoyed it while it lasted, but I was already jaded by events in the past,” Crys says. “Our father was soon back to his old habits and the reality was harsh. Our mother, however, made sure that our baby girl would grow in love and happiness.”

Crys is certain Betty, despite the financial hardship of a third child, was overjoyed to have a little girl after two boys.

My birth mother Betty Campbell Workman Cazad at Christmastime in the late 1970s in Huntington, WV.

I asked Crys and Terry if they thought Christmas was Betty’s favorite holiday. Crys said that because she always saw it as a holiday for kids and wanted it to be special for her children, that made it a big deal for her. But it wasn’t like the family had tons of money to spend on gifts. They moved around Huntington a lot, never owning, always renting.

“She never really wanted anything,” Crys says of Betty.

That doesn’t mean she didn’t like getting gifts, though.

“And when she got presents? She was excited — she was like a little kid when she’d open ’em up,” Terry says, a touch of glee in her voice.

From Terry’s birth until Crys graduated from high school in 1962, Betty had eight Christmases to spend with all three of her children — from 1954 to ’61. In September ’62, Crys joined the Air Force for a four-year stint, and after Robin graduated in 1965, he joined the Air Force a year later, just as Crys was finishing his tour.

So because of the way things worked out with my brothers’ years spent serving our country, Betty didn’t have all of her children with her at Christmas most of the 1960s. Terry does have a memory that Robin, who served a year in Vietnam from early 1968 to early ’69, came home for Christmas after boot camp before leaving for that terrible war.

“We walked over to Stewart’s Hot Dogs and then bought a Christmas tree,” Terry says, “and Robin carried it all the way home.”

This would’ve been Christmas of ’67, and that would’ve been about a mile walk in East Huntington, where Betty and Terry — who turned 13 that month — were living in an apartment on Third Avenue. At the time, Crys, who’d been back from the Air Force a little over a year, was working full-time at WSAZ-TV and attending Marshall University, majoring in English.

When mother and daughter were living in that apartment, Terry was the designated tree-trimmer — by choice.

“Christmas was always near my birthday and I loved decorating the tree,” she says.

After Robin got out of the Air Force, where he’d been stationed at Eglin Air Force Base near Fort Walton Beach, Fla., he stayed in the area, marrying a young woman he met there. When Crys graduated from Marshall in 1972, he and his new wife moved to Colorado, where he’d been stationed. The year after Terry graduated from high school in ’73, she moved to Colorado as well — and she and Crys and their families have lived there ever since.

Over the years, Betty’s children and daughters- and son-in-law visited her, bringing the grandchildren, sometimes at Christmas. But she never had all of her children together again for Christmas, which is bound to be why one of her dearest friends and colleagues at Stevens Drugstore told me when I spoke to her in 2011 that Betty would get emotional whenever she heard “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.”

My beautiful birth mother Betty Campbell Workman at home in east Huntington in 1944, just weeks after she had her first child, my brother Crys. The sweet cocker spaniel is Mickey. Betty turned 23 that July, so she’s likely still 22 in this photo.

Betty, who spent nearly three decades as a drugstore clerk, was known for being kind and gracious to everyone — it’s no wonder she was a customer service ace. But she also had a reputation for her beautiful singing voice, which her children have always admired and appreciated. Betty performed with bands from the ’40s to the ’60s.

“I can remember her singing Christmas carols,” says Crys, who also has memories from his early childhood of when Betty and Bob performed with a dance band while they and the boys lived in West Logan, West Virginia, in the late ’40s and early ’50s.

Crys has memories of Christmas in West Logan, too, when he was between 5 and 7 years old. He recalls getting an American Flyer train set and Lincoln Logs, which was a huge deal for a kid whose dad couldn’t have earned much at the Borden’s facility in town.

“And the cool thing about the train was you could put a little pellet gun in the smoke stack and it would actually smoke as it was going around the track,” he says. “I thought that was the coolest thing ever.”

Late in her life, before she died of lung cancer five days before Christmas 1992, Betty recorded a cassette on which she sang with Christmas LP selections, including several by Willie Nelson. Even approaching 70, her voice was still amazing. (Here’s a link to those recordings, and to some priceless recordings of Betty and Bob performing in Logan: https://clyp.it/user/kjbqzyf0)

Another special Christmas memory for my long-lost sister was her first — and only — bike. Our maternal great-aunt Vic (Victoria) and great-uncle Walter bought her one for Christmas ’61 — late the year I was born and adopted, and months before Crys graduated from Huntington East and soon enlisted for Air Force duty. My birth family was living on First Avenue, and Terry still has a knee scar from falling as Crys taught his 7-year-old sister to ride her new bike.

My sister Terry on Christmas morning in 1966, just six days after her 12th birthday. Looks like she got Twister and Kaboom that year!

During the 1960s, when Betty was supporting Terry and herself on her clerk’s salary, she dated a man named James Gregory for a few years. He was very kind to them, giving Betty money to help her buy things she needed and items for Terry — including Christmas gifts.

“So I had some really nice things and I know there’s no way she could have afforded it,” Terry says. “When I wanted Shindig (go-go) boots, we bought them; when I wanted candy-red apple shoes like (a friend) had, Mother bought them for me.”

Cancer took Mr. Gregory at 49 in 1970. Terry always wondered why our mother never married him. But there may be a good reason: His obituary that I found lists a wife as one of his survivors. It’s possible Betty never knew, at least while he was living. It’s a relationship I’ve tried to learn more about, without much luck. In 1971, weeks before she turned 50, Betty did remarry, to a man 17 years her junior — and, regrettably, like my birth father, an alcoholic.

Betty with her second husband Ronnie on Christmas morning in 1978. Ronnie was 17 years younger — in this photo, he’s 40 and she’s 57.

As with every memory that comes my way — from my siblings, through a photograph, a document or someone else who knew one of my birth family members — these Christmas reminiscences are yet more pieces of my family history to treasure. I can’t possibly learn it all, but as long as my loved ones are willing to keep sharing with their curious little brother, I’ll keep asking.

I could never adequately thank them for opening windows to their past that I never got to be a part of. But I have, repeatedly, and they know how much I love them. And I know the love is mutual.

Merry Christmas to you all and your loved ones with you, apart because of the pandemic and other reasons, and those departed. And may 2021 be less stressful and less painful for us all. ❤

50 years after 75 lost their lives, We Are, And Will Always Be, Marshall

Fifty years ago on a cold, rainy, foggy Saturday evening, tragedy visited my birthplace of Huntington, West Virginia.

“This town died today,” a local hospital nurse would say that night, according to an Associated Press report.

Save for those few who hadn’t made the trip, the bulk of the Marshall University football team and staff, flying home from a game against East Carolina on Nov. 14, 1970, died when their charter jet crashed less than 2 miles from Tri-State Airport, which sits atop a mountain in Kenova just west of Huntington.

The Southern Airways Douglas DC-9, coming in too low, clipped some treetops, causing a loss of control and sending the jet cartwheeling and flipping into a hillside at 7:36 p.m., erupting into flames.

All 75 people aboard died. The victims included 36 football players, five coaches, eight school administrators, 21 fans and five flight crew. They ranged in age from 19 to 60 and had roots in 13 states. Radio man Gene Morehouse, “The Voice of the Herd,” Marshall athletic director Charlie Kautz, and 20-year-old Jeff Nathan, the sports editor at The Parthenon, the school newspaper, were among them.

The non-players on the Marshall flight included a newly elected state legislator who was one of Huntington’s wealthiest citizens, a city councilman, and the sports director of a local TV station.

As a result of the crash, which claimed eight married couples, 70 children lost at least one parent and 27 were orphaned.

It was the only plane trip planned that season for the Thundering Herd, who traveled to most games by bus. The deadliest accident involving a sports team in U.S. history occurred a little over a month after 14 Wichita State football players and 17 others died in a crash while flying to a game at Utah State.

I was born and adopted in Huntington nine years earlier, moving with my new family to Houston before I could walk. But my three older full siblings — brothers Crys and Robin, and sister Terry — grew up in Huntington. At the time of the crash, Terry was a 15-year-old sophomore at East High School and months earlier, Robin had completed a four-year tour in the Air Force, including a year in Vietnam.

Our oldest brother, Crys, was born in 1944 and graduated from East High in 1962, then spent four years in the Air Force. But he returned to Huntington in 1966 and enrolled at Marshall, where he studied English while working full-time.

Crys has a more vivid recollection of the night of the Marshall crash than many others might. For several years while in college, Crys worked at Huntington’s NBC affiliate, WSAZ-TV, eventually filling every possible duty in the control room. Around the time of the crash, 26-year-old Crys was learning what it took to be a director.

“I was there when the news came over the wire service,” remembers Crys, who’s now 76 and usually worked until the station signed off around midnight.

He also remembers Bos Johnson, the station’s legendary news reporter and anchor who died six years ago, coming into the control room to tell the crew what had happened. Bos, whom I developed a friendship with during my birth family journey and had lunch with on one of my Huntington trips, along with Fritz Leichner Sr., another of WSAZ’s legends, broke into network programming to deliver the solemn news to the community that night.

“I remember that information didn’t travel as quickly back then, so most of the evening was spent trying to gather facts, with several news crews just trying to reach the crash site, which was hopelessly inaccessible on a cold, rainy night,” Crys says. “Of course, the first responders were already witnessing a grim scene.”

His fiancee, Charlene, also a Marshall student, often brought baked goodies to the station for Crys and his colleagues. The night of the crash, she walked into the 2nd Avenue studio west of the Marshall campus, tears on her face.

As Crys recalls, on the campus of 8,500 students and in the city of 73,000, “everyone was in a daze for months afterwards.” He and Charlene married the following April and he graduated from Marshall in the summer of ’72, after which they moved to Colorado, where he’d been stationed in the Air Force. Although they’re not together anymore, they have three awesome kids and five fantastic grandchildren and have never left Colorado.

My birth family felt the devastating effects of the Marshall crash in another way: Sister Terry tells me that one of the team physicians, Ray Hagley, who was aboard the flight, had been her and our mother Betty’s family doctor. His wife, Shirley, also made the trip, and if that’s not sad enough, they left behind six young children — four daughters and two sons. Shirley had just turned 35 a few days earlier, and Ray was three days from his 35th birthday.

The tragedy came as Marshall’s football program had already suffered an earlier trying stretch of 27 games without a win, had been kicked out of its conference for recruiting infractions and had seen its head coach fired. The program hadn’t posted a winning season since 1964.

As was chronicled in the 2006 movie “We Are Marshall” starring Matthew McConaughey as new head coach Jack Lengyel, the university somehow cobbled together a team and brought back football the following year. Marshall didn’t have another winning season until 1984, but the program has had its share of success and a number of players who’ve gone on to long NFL careers, including Randy Moss, Byron Leftwich, Mike Bartrum, Carl Lee, Ahmad Bradshaw, Troy Brown and Chad Pennington.

Marshall won NCAA Division I-AA titles in 1992 and 1996 and lost three other title games in the ’90s, finishing the decade with 113 wins — more than any other college program. The Herd moved up to Division I-A in 1997 and has compiled a 12-3 record in bowl games, including winning seven of its past eight.

For a program that lost so much 50 years ago, I’d have to say Marshall has lived up to the title of “Ashes to Glory,” the 2000 documentary about the program’s comeback.

On Friday, Marshall posthumously awarded degrees to 39 students who were on that plane: the 36 players, an assistant trainer, a student assistant statistician and Nathan, the student sports editor. I call that a beautiful gesture that should’ve happened long ago.

Then, on Saturday, a commemoration of the 50th anniversary was held on the Marshall campus, at the site of a memorial fountain dedicated to the crash victims in 1972 and rededicated in 2008. At the end of each year’s Nov. 14 service, the fountain is turned off, then flows anew the following spring.

I hadn’t known this until reading about Saturday’s service, but famed contemporary Christian singer Michael W. Smith hails from Kenova. The Grammy winner sang “Amazing Grace” to begin the ceremony, then told those gathered about his memories of the crash, eight minutes from his home, according to an Associated Press account.

https://www.marshall.edu/neverforget/

“It forever changed my life,” said Smith, who was 13 when the crash occurred. “The town died. But the town came back.”

Four members of the 1970 East Carolina team that played Marshall the day of the crash drove eight hours from Greenville, N.C., to attend the ceremony. “I remember having to chase that quarterback all over the field,” former Pirates defensive tackle Chuck Zadnik told The Washington Post of junior Ted Shoebridge. “It was a hard-fought game” — one Marshall lost, 17-14.

Later Saturday, the Marshall football team stayed undefeated with a 42-14 win over Middle Tennessee State. The Herd, now 7-0 and ranked No. 15, wore black uniforms and No. 75 decals on their helmets in honor of the 75 who lost their lives 50 years earlier to the day.

I’m proud of my hometown, and of the university my brother graduated from. Go Herd! 

https://www.espn.com/video/clip/_/id/30313492

Making up for lost time with a sweet friend, the wife of another dear friend we lost 18 years ago

Last week, I posted a tribute to my best friend Doug, who left a huge hole in countless lives and hearts 18 years ago when he died suddenly at the age of 45. In those 18 years, Kay and I have done a very poor job of spending time with his kind, giving, compassionate and sweet wife, Melissa Brown — who also happens to have one of the cutest smiles and best laughs in recorded history.

As we all know, life “gets in the way” and often keeps us from spending time with the people we love. I’ve seen Melissa at the funerals of her father in 2011 and her mother last year, but social get-togethers with her have been nonexistent for far too long.

So, pandemic be darned, I texted her recently and asked if she’d like to meet up with Kay and me some Sunday, and of course she was all for it. We finally decided on this past Sunday. Instead of restaurant patio dining, Kay and I suggested keeping it simple: Bringing chairs to a park, social distancing and visiting for a while. Melissa lives in Crowley (south of FW) and we’re in SW Arlington, so Kay came up with a cool neighborhood linear park in south Fort Worth called Overton Park, not far from Texas Christian University (Kay’s alma mater).

We met up at 3 in the afternoon. The weather was perfect, in the low 70s with just a few clouds, and we found a shady area under some big trees to fold out our chairs. We ended up catching up for two and a half hours until, with the time change, we lost some light and it started getting chilly.

The three of us had an absolutely fantastic time talking about our families and so much other stuff that we haven’t been able to share over the years except for occasionally through texting and FB messages. All the while, people walked and biked the paths on both sides of us, many with their dogs. As I told Kay, we definitely have to go back and take advantage of that park!

After 32 years as a kindergarten teacher — 27 at Ridglea Hills Elementary in Fort Worth ISD — Melissa decided to retire last spring. To say she was beloved would be a major understatement. She’s enjoying retirement so far, spending time with family, and once the pandemic is over (I’ve asked this before, but it *is* going to end, isn’t it?), she has other activities in mind.

After we said our goodbyes and Kay and I were driving away, she commented that it was so sad that Doug had passed away, because he and Melissa made the perfect couple — because they are both such wonderful people. I told her that was so true.

For those who have struggled coming up with safe settings for spending time with friends during the pandemic, we highly encourage parks. We started with masks and took them off right away, knowing we were sitting far enough apart that it wasn’t a problem (except for the photo we took before leaving!).

Of course, cold weather’s here so there won’t be as many nice days to spend outdoors. But take advantage of the ones we do have by getting together with friends — especially ones you haven’t seen in a long time or don’t get to see very often!  

Another friend and former colleague gone too soon — one of the *really* good guys

A few hours ago, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram family — which I’ll always be a part of after working there from April 1987 to February 2000 — received devastating news about the passing of one of the kindest, most easygoing, funny, professional and skilled friends and colleagues we’ve ever had the privilege of working with. Stephen Schroats, who’d just turned 61 in September, died of a massive heart attack Sunday.

Our friend and former colleague John Henry shared this note via Messenger with several of us after getting the news from Steve’s distraught wife, Saskia:

“It is with great sadness that I pass along the news of the passing of our friend and colleague, Stephen Schroats, who died yesterday. Saskia called about 20 minutes ago with the news. She said he had spent the entire day outdoors, his last stop a field where he was flagging balls in the outfield for a father pitching with his son. It was there that he collapsed … a massive heart attack the suspect. Saskia understandably is devastated.”

As John commented about Steve on our Star-Telegram Friends Facebook group earlier tonight after I posted the shocking news there, “That he took the time to help facilitate a ‘moment’ between a father and son, complete strangers, I think, is all you need to know about the guy. A dear human being.”

Steve with Janneke, the oldest of his two daughters, in the early 1990s.

Steve, nicknamed “Schroatsie,” was an editor/designer in the S-T Sports department for over 25 years. In an intense business where there’s never a stress-free day and the pressure to achieve accuracy, write great stories, break news and hit deadlines can make even the most laid-back get flustered, Steve always kept his cool. He was always upbeat, always calm, always handling situations with restraint and respect for his colleagues, whether writers or fellow members of the copy desk on the S-T‘s award-winning sports staff.

I always felt like Steve’s calm and calming demeanor was one of several on the sports desk that helped keep us all from losing our heads when things got crazy — which, for a major metropolitan newspaper’s sports staff, happens on a nightly basis. The common refrain is that in newspaper sports departments, “Every night is election night.”

Steve and his wife, Saskia, this past summer at Inks Lake State Park, in a photo shared by their friend Glenda French on Facebook.

I haven’t had a lot of contact with Steve in the 20-plus years since I left the S-T for The Dallas Morning News, but we’ve seen each other a handful of times and have exchanged some FB messages and post comments. A few months after being a victim of one of the S-T‘s numerous rounds of layoffs a couple of years ago, Steve took a job designing pages at the Killeen Daily Herald in Central Texas, staying there during the week and driving home to Granbury on weekends.

But Steve told me when I wished him a happy birthday in September that he was now retired and spending time traveling with Saskia in their RV. They have two beautiful grown daughters and I believe one grandchild. Steve was so very proud of his family. They bought their home on Lake Granbury years ago and have cherished living there.

Here’s another photo of Steve with his oldest, Janneke.

Steve and I should’ve known each other years before he arrived at the S-T in the early ’90s — and we may have actually talked on the phone a few times but didn’t realize it. When he was a sports writer in Hobbs, N.M., in the mid-’80s, I was a sports writer in my first job at The Odessa American. The two staffs always exchanged scores and stats, but I never knew Steve — I only knew one of his colleagues. Steve and I only figured out later after he got to the S-T that we’d been at those papers 90 miles apart at the same time.

Steve’s tragic passing is yet another heartbreaking example of why it’s so important to love one another — and show it — every day and make every moment count.