Sunday, March 10, 2013


My Friend - Eddie Jean Billings

My memories of Eddie Jean are sweet, rich in texture, and from long ago. I probably haven’t spent 10 minutes with Eddie Jean in the past 30 years, but as is the nature of friendships, time spent together is not the measure of value. Eddie Jean married her first cousin Vernon who was one of my first husband’s best friends. I’d never known anyone who married a cousin, and at the time it seemed peculiar. However, as time flowed, I could only be happy and thankful for that strange union, which brought Eddie Jean into my life.

Eddie Jean and Vernon’s upbringing couldn’t have been much different. Vernon’s dad owned and ran the Judge Roy Bean Museum and Trading Post in the tiny town of Langtry, just about as far from everything as you can imagine, and Eddie Jean was raised in the metropolis of Houston. After returning from Vietnam with a somewhat debilitating injury, Vernon took his young bride to Langtry where they took over the museum and shop for his aging parents. Perched on the lip of the Rio Grande, Langtry is a unique and interesting outpost reminiscent of the isolated forts of long ago. The town was famously named for the legendary Lillie Langtry, mistress to the Duke of Edinburgh (Prince Philip’s grandfather), and a woman with whom Judge Roy Bean was infatuated.

I immediately loved Eddie Jean for her no-nonsense personality and easy laugh. During the 1970’s, my husband and I would drive about 90 miles to Langtry from our ranch outside of Sheffield to hang out with Vernon and Eddie Jean while they catered to the occasional tourist visiting the Judge Roy Bean Museum. Sometimes the four of us would drive the additional 50  miles to Del Rio (home to famous DJ, Wolfman Jack between ’62-’64) to water ski in Lake Amistad. Then at the end of the day we would cross the border into Cuidad Acuna, Mexico, where we would dine on Chicken Portuguese at the famous Ma Crosby’s restaurant, and drink and raise a small amount of hell at the Shangri-La Bar.

West Texas women are notoriously fabulous cooks and Eddie Jean was no exception. I recall the first time I ate Steak Tartare, it was prepared by Eddie Jean. Of course it didn’t have that fancy name. It was called “Hot Hamburger” in the unpretentious style of West Texas. Many a wonderful gal-talk took place while sitting at Eddie Jean’s kitchen table working over one dish or another. The type of talk that forges cast-iron friendships that withstand time and distance. As we picked (shelled) pecans, or baked a cake, or ground steak and jalapenos into hot hamburger, we offloaded our fears, anger and sadness, finding solace and peace in our commonalities.

Unfortunately, as often happens, divorce (mine) separated Eddie Jean and I, and that is a long and complicated story for another time, but I am forever grateful for the friendship, love and wisdom she shared with me during my young married life. Eddie Jean Billings is one of those Very Smart Gals you never forget, and never stop loving.

My Friend Cathy Crabtree Cathy, or “Crabby” as I call her, is one of those friends I know little about but don’t need to because our souls connect on a plane populated not by history or facts, but rather by sensibility, attitude and understanding. I don’t know how old she is. I don’t know where she grew up. I don’t know anything about her family. I barely know what she does for a living.

Here’s what I do know about Cathy. I met her in 2005 through The Book Goddesses book club. She was a journalist somewhere in East Texas, then moved to Austin to become the Executive Director of the newly formed Children’s Advocacy Centers of Texas, and went on to become a consultant for the National Children’s Advocacy Center, traveling to the 800+ centers in the US. But that’s all stuff you could learn from reading her bio. It’s what I know about Cathy that you can’t learn from reading her bio that tethers our souls.

I tend to lean on certain friends as compasses for practical, ethical, moral, spiritual, political and other guidance. Cathy is my behavior compass. She possesses the capacity for restraint, where I do not. She knows when to shut up and listen, where I do not. She personifies order, where I do not.

Cathy is so private that I’ve accused her of not really having the husband of whom she occasionally speaks. In fact, it is a running joke between us. When she recently hosted book club, she arranged for her husband to be there for a brief period – sort of a “proof of life” demonstration. I accused her of hiring an actor.

One of the strongest connections between Cathy and I is books. She is one of my few friends who craves, relishes and devours books like I. And although I’m not sure why, she almost always likes the same books that I do.

Cathy and I don’t talk to each other much, but we don’t have to. There’s a subliminal communication between us that defies words. I hear wisdom in her silence. I see solution in her eyes. I feel peace in her minimalism. She is my invisible rock. My friend, Cathy “Crabby” Crabtree, I love her.

My Friend, Connie Cothran Ramsey

Connie must have been in my dreams last night because I woke up thinking about her.  I Googled her name this morning and found nothing, as if she never existed.  But she did.  She was my first “daughter.”

My ex-husband and I got a call one day from relatives in El Paso who were concerned about their eldest teenage daughter. They said she was rebellious and headed for trouble.  I suppose they felt my ex-husband’s my-way-or-the-highway character seemed a plausible solution to their problem.

So Connie landed on the doorstep of our West Texas ranch.  I was immediately smitten.  She was sweet, beautiful, smart, and like me, she loved horses.  We soon became best friends, and in many ways I thought of her as a daughter.  We registered Connie at the local high school and she quickly became popular - school favorite, cheerleader, etc.  She also became the girlfriend of one of the most popular boys, Max.  It was a fairytale situation, at least in our ‘neck of the woods.’  Connie was enjoying the best of her teenage years and I was reliving mine. 

We had so many fun times together. I especially remember once, while riding double bareback on Buck, a sweet stocky dun horse. We galloped across the pasture, dodging trees and cacti, jumping over small draws, hanging on with everything we had.  Eventually we were laughing so hard we both fell off, rolling across the rocks and stickers.  We were still laughing later as we picked prickly pear thorns out of our face and head. Click on Read More Below...

Connie began participating in amateur rodeos, riding barrels, poles and rescue races on Josie, my half-quarter half-thoroughbred horse who was fast as the wind and as cranky as a diva.  I designed and sewed beautiful rodeo outfits for Connie and bought boots and hats to match.  She was my ‘Rodeo Barbie.’ We’d practice every day, then load up the trailer and hit the road, traveling to small nearby community rodeos.

At one point Connie and Max’s relationship became serious, and my ex turned into the classic protective father, forbidding Connie to see Max.  In defiance, Connie moved from the ranch to Max’s parents' home, where she lived until she finished high school.  I was stuck in the middle.  I loved Connie, but had to live with my husband’s decision.  It was a sad time.  Connie and Max were later married in a small ceremony at the local Baptist church, I was her matron of honor, and then they moved to Lubbock and enrolled in college.

Meanwhile, my ex and I had started our family and I was busy becoming a mother.  On December 17, 1974, in the middle of a bad case of flu, I went into labor with my youngest son, Colt, who was trying to come into this world breech.  In Lubbock, the pistol Connie had given Max as an early Christmas present accidentally went off. The bullet hit Connie in the head.  She was rushed to emergency but was soon declared brain dead.  As Colt came into the world, Connie left.

Colt was born with a neonatal respiratory distress syndrome (a breathing disorder common in small or premature babies). He had a 50/50 chance of surviving.  There were three babies in our hospital with this same syndrome; Colt was the only baby to survive. I remember it being so cold the day we left the hospital with Colt.  He was tiny, only five pounds, and I was exhausted after the flu, being in labor and then surgery, and the stress of Colt's illness.

They didn’t tell me about Connie until Colt was out of danger, and when they did,  I was both overwhelmed and numb.  It just didn't seem possible, and since I had a 3-year-old son, Cuatro, a 1-year old daughter, JoLene, and newborn Colt to care for, not believing it was real was really the best I could do.

Three weeks later I began crying and couldn’t stop.  Cuatro, said, “Mommy, what’s wrong?”  I could only tell him that mommy was sad because I loved and missed someone.

I still grieve for Connie when a  memory or a dream drifts through.

My Friend Cathy Weaver

“Hey. Hey!” she said, the second “hey” sort of yelled in an insistent tone.

I was walking at a good clip that cool, crisp day in the uber cool, retro reinvented Travis Heights neighborhood. I didn’t want to be harassed by some busybody resident, but something in the woman’s voice made me turn around and wait for her to catch up to me. Maybe it was the “I’m talkin’ to you” attitude I heard, or perhaps it was just that she had the snap to even speak to me.

The next words out of her mouth were, “Who are you, and why are you walking in my neighborhood,” which under some circumstances might sound threatening and biach-y, but the lilt of her delivery and the big smile registered friendliness and confidence.

Little did I know that day Cathy Weaver would become my political conscience, my walking partner for several years, a member of my Book Goddesses book club, and a true and adored friend.  I call Cathy my political conscience, not because our politics align, but rather because Cathy doesn’t just talk the talk, she walks the walk, and that is such an admirable attribute.

Not only is Cathy a political bulldog, getting in with all fours to fight for her beliefs, but she’s also a very adventuresome and disgustingly disciplined person. She was a County Commissioner in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for a number of years and ran and nearly won her U. S. Congressional seat.  She has also hiked all over the world and stays in fabulous physical condition to be able to do that (the discipline I spoke of earlier). She’s traveled to Machu Picchu, Italy, and all over the US, almost always by herself, just picking up friends along the way.

OK, and get this. Cathy went back to school at the age of 50+ to become a licensed counselor and  got braces on her teeth when she was 60+! And her boyfriend of many years is a published writer and former Unitarian Minister. How cool is that?

My friend Cathy Weaver, I love her.

My Friend Loralee Martin

I remember with amazing clarity the first time I met Loralee Martin. It was at a fabulous yet unpretentious party she threw, probably around 1990. As I watched her buzzing around serving people, being the consummate, charming, articulate hostess, I thought, “She is so thin, tan, blond and elegant! How can anyone possibly be that perfect? I think I hate her.” Her home was perfect, she was a fabulous cook, she had an amazing yard and garden, and even her dogs seemed extra special! Then to top it off, no matter how standoffish I was, she remained warm and genuine, always making me feel special. So she healed my jealousy with pure love and, indeed, I fell in love with her as only women-friends can. Over the years I’ve continued to be enraptured by her energy, her charisma, and the life she builds everyday that makes her a celebrity in her very large circle of friends. Loralee, a New Yorker by birth, is a former restaurant owner, the former manager of Word of Mouth Catering, and is current private chef and personal assistant to a power-couple in Austin, which continually places her in the company of people with national and international stature.  She spends months each summer in Colorado, and has chitchatted with the likes of George Bush Jr., and a long list of other such A-listers. I guarantee you that Loralee can hold her own and beguile anyone of any stature. She  is also the events coordinator for “I Live Here, I Give Here,” helping to propel that wonderful organization to preeminence. Oh yes, and she looks and dresses like a fashion model. Bottom line, though, what makes Loralee my icon of cool and so lovable isn’t her fab home, her lifestyle or her fashion. It is her mind, heart and soul. I simply adore her, as do her legions of other admirers!

I first met Sharon Tate in 1979, when she was an executive with the Texas Association of School Boards and I was a mid-level administrator for the University of Texas System. She was looking for info about self-insuring unemployment compensation claims, and that was my bag, so we met several times. It didn’t take me long to figure out that Sharon was smart, down-to-earth and fun, and we struck up a friendship that has lasted more than 30 years, although we rarely see each other more than a couple of times a year. Her marriage to Lynn Tate brought into my life a wonderful family that includes another very dear friend, Debbie Tate. I’ll never forget Sharon pulling me aside in 1979 and saying to me, “SueAnn you really need to dress more professionally.” She explained that it didn’t matter how I dressed after hours, but during business hours, it most certainly did. It was risky of her to do that, but it was right, and I’ve never forgotten it, and never stopped being grateful to her for caring enough about me to take that risk. I could spend hours talking about how much I love Sharon, but instead, I’ll share a poem I wrote for her on her 40th birthday, many years ago.

Sharon by SueAnn Wade-Crouse

Sharon, Sharon, Duchess of Mystery, briefly here to grace our time.
Shimmering through life oh so sweetly, leaving a residue quiet divine.
Laughter, joy, and tears she gives, filling our days with passion and calm.
A beloved enigma that startles and endears with each new day that dawns
Hold on to your heart dear friend, for I must share a secret grand.
She is not of this world as we, she is from another land.
She's not from Spain or some such place so exotic and far away
But rather from another time...another life...another day.
She rode with Joan of Arc and was there on the Trail of Tears.
She sheltered the Jews in Berlin and soothed their darkest fears.
Now not to worry beloved ones, and don't prepare to grieve.
She'll always love and protect is we who will eventually leave.
For she is a traveler in time, though her spirit will always remain.
Her smile is the sunrise, her sadness the sunset, and her tears fall as the rain.
I am one of the lucky ones, by some phenomenal fate,
For I knew her myself before, in the days of Henry the Eighth.
Perhaps you will be lucky too, and you can love her again.
In another life...on another a far, far away land.

Freida Kay has been my x-sister-in-law for 33 years, and  I still love her.  I remember the first time I saw her was when I was 16-years old and she 17. We were at a volleyball tournament in Ozona, Texas. I was playing, but she wasn’t, she was in the stands, walking on double crutches, and I thought she was crippled and felt so sorry for her. At six feet tall, thin as a rail and flaxen haired, Freida Kay is pretty unforgettable. The second time I saw her was across the net on a volleyball court, and she had just spiked a ball about 60 mph straight down my throat. I ducked. She and the Ozona Lionesses slaughtered us. I found out later that when I'd seen her the first time she'd had two broken ankles. Not long after that, I met Freida Kay when her brother, my future husband, brought me to the family ranch, which is just outside of Sheffield, 30 miles west of Ozona. Freida Kay took me under her wing and made we feel very welcome, and became a wonderful friend. She told me she wanted to go to Hollywood to become a stunt-person, which I thought was brave, adventuresome and fabulous. She didn’t make it to Hollywood, but not for lack of being tough. She, like many gals, fell in love, got married, and adjusted her dreams. I have two other memories, one funny, and one very sad - funny first. I’d ridden horses some as a kid, but not often. One weekend I was at the ranch and Frieda Kay and a friend invited me to ride with them. Wanting to fit in, I said sure. We rode to a close by draw (creek bed), which was very overgrown with trees and bushes. Freida Kay asked, “Have you ever played Tarzan?”  I suspected something was up, but it felt like a test and I was determined to pass. She continued, “Just ride as fast as you can from one side of the draw to the other.” The goal was to stay on your horse. I took off and somehow managed to make it across in one piece. The sad memory is of Freida Kay and her mom, Freida. About 5 years after I'd married into the family, we found out that Freida had inoperable cancer. Freida Kay took her mom home and cared for her until the day she died in Freida Kay's bed. Freida Kay is a wonderful friend, as was her mom, and she has remained a friend regardless of circumstance, distance and time.
My Friend Debbie Tate
I wrote about Debbie more than a year ago, but somehow her story got lost, so I’m going to write about her again – because she is such a dear friend and good person. In 1988 or 89, when I was the Executive Director of Keep Austin Beautiful, I got a call from old friend, Sharon Tate, saying that her step-daughter had just graduated from college. “Do you by any chance have a job for her?” she asked. I winced, but agreed to interview “Debbie.” I didn’t want to disappoint Sharon, but I also did not want to end up with a slacker employee. Sometimes in life, although we are completely unaware of it at the time, we make decisions that change the course of history. My decision to interview Debbie Tate was one of those, because it began a friendship whose value is greater than gold. As though it were yesterday, I remember Debbie sitting across from my desk on the day she came in for the interview. Here hair was cut in the popular style of the day. She was short and pixy-like, but her unique voice (pleasantly short of booming) made her seem tall. She had on a light-blue pinstripe suit. Long story short, I hired her and we set off on a friendship/adventure destined for eternity. Debbie is smart and decisive, but she is also funny, fun-loving, loving and a little bit crazy for cowboys. She goes to the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas nearly every year, but somehow never seems to end up with “the” cowboy. Don’t get me wrong, she’s had and has plenty of cowboys in her life, and there’s probably a cowboy out there with a little bit of rock-and-roll in him who can stand tall next to Debbie and her family (it’s a package deal), but he hasn’t gotten that lucky yet, and Debbie’s life is full and rich and beautiful without him anyway. Love you gal!
Happy Birthday to My Friend, Sandra A. Martin!
Life can sometimes gift us with such amazing elegance. Such is the case of my fortunate friendship with Sandra A. Martin. I met Sandra in 1998 when I went in to interview with her for a position as the Director of Development for The Center for Child Protection, where Sandra has been the Executive Director since its inception in 1989. I worked for and with Sandra for about five years, and have been friends with her for twelve. Although Sandra is most often identified with The Center for Child Protection, and the fact that she “dares to dream” that children can live free from abuse and neglect, I think that part of her is actually just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. This woman is a quiet legend. Perhaps I stand in awe of Sandra because she radiates the human characteristics I hold most precious. I could name a long list of accolades and commendations attributable to Sandra, but what I’ll say instead, is when I am faced with a life challenge, my pivot point for decision-making is often WWSD (what would Sandra do). Sandra is a loving mother and grandmother, an amazing professional, and the kind of friend that we all should be and have.  Love you Sandra. 
My Friend Debbie Kern

The first time I met Debbie Kern was in 1988, and after about 20 minutes of listening to her talk, I felt like I’d just taken a too-long ride on a Tilt-A-Whirl, a little dizzy and disoriented, but certain I wanted to do it again. The energizer bunny is a typical yet grossly insufficient metaphor assigned to Debbie. She can roll out more creativity and spunk in five minutes than most people produce in a lifetime! Debbie has owned a high-caliber events marketing company for many years, i3 Event Marketing Group, with a client list of bigs – IBM, Tivoli, Hewlett-Packard, Vignette, etc., and is always off to some exotic destination, staying in 5-star hotels. She has a cool hubby, a super smart daughter at American University, and a son destined to invent something extraordinary and be wildly famous someday. Another thing about Debbie is that she does everything at 200%, Like PlayBingo, the crazy-fun and super successful fundraiser she chairs each year for The Center for Child Protection. This luncheon re-wrote the book on fundraisers. Women show up at the Hilton each October dripping "Diva", drink lots of Champagne, play bingo, whoop and holler like a bunch of cowhands, and throw money at the Center like it was burning their hands. It you haven’t been to PlayBingo, you gotta go. It’s a blast, and seriously important because it funds programs to help abused kids. Debbie Kern enriches the lives of everyone she touches. She is a wonderful, loving, generous friend and I feel so fortunate to have her in my life. Love you Deb.

My Friend Therese McHugh
If someone stepped into a crowd and said, “We need somebody to volunteer to build and fly a rocket to Mars next Tuesday, and then set up a successful macrobiotic food restaurant,” Therese McHugh would reply, “OK. I can do that.” I met Therese around 1987-ish when I hired her to work for me at Keep Texas Beautiful. It took me about 2 minutes to figure out that she was very smart, very down-to-earth, and could do anything. Little did I know that she in fact, did almost everything. Since Therese is one of the most private people I ever met, I suspect there are lots of things she does, or can do, that I don’t even know about, but I do know that she’s:   An amazing photographer,  website designer, masseuse, landscape artist and natural gardener, member of a “commune” or sorts, carpenter, professional dancer, and an active environmentalist (saving the reefs). And this is just what I know, which probably isn’t much. Therese could be on the WE TV series, “Secret Lives of Women.” I recently asked Therese to come to a particular Very Smart Gals luncheon and she said, “Oh, I can’t, I’m flying to North Dakota that day to prune my cherry trees.” Only Therese! Anyway, she’s one of the coolest gals I know and my life became better when she slipped into it. Love ya gal!

My Friend Nancy Bussey
I met Nancy Bussey, probably around 1987 through my husband, and have adored her ever since. She and I both love to write and although that’s what I do for a living (and for fun), for Nancy it remains a hobby because she doesn’t seem to realize just how good a writer she really is. Regardless, I fully expect her to call me someday all excited, saying that one of her books has been accepted for publication, and I won’t be surprised at all. Another thing about Nancy that I admire is her tenacity in dating. There aren’t a lot of gals out there our age with the dedication to dating like Nancy. The gal is a serial dater! She’s always going somewhere dancing, dinner – whatever – and there’s always a man involved. She belongs to several singles groups and is a pro. I’m serious, although single for years, Nancy seems to have few lonely moments and knows how to fill her life with life.  OK and get this, she is retired! Yes, retired. Nancy was secretary to a string of UT Head Football coaches (interesting job huh?) and retired from UT several years ago. Now she spends her time traveling to Vashon Island where she has a home (for sale) and a boyfriend, and traveling to other exotic ports of call. She and I share a love of travel as well. Did I mention how nice she is? Nancy’s one of the nicest gals I know, and I’ll say it again. I adore her.

My Friend Carol Adams
I met Carol Adams when I was the Executive Director of Keep Texas Beautiful (the state affiliate of Keep America Beautiful, grassroots arm of Don’t Mess With Texas, etc.). A gal called and said, “ I have a friend who just went through a horrible divorce and needs a job.” I was leery but said that I’d meet with her. Gal-howdy was that a fortunate decision, because I met one of the coolest gals that ever decorated my life! Carol will probably be horrified that I posted this photo of her in her pj’s, and which includes my daughter JoLene, but there’s a really cute story about it that I must tell. Carol went to work for me (as did my college age daughter during long holidays), and we occasionally ended up in Washington DC, for conventions. So we’re at the hotel, in adjoining rooms, after a long day, and out of each bathroom walks Carol and JoLene. They immediately broke into giggles and when I looked up, I saw why. Both had on the same pink Victoria’s Secret pajamas, same eyeglasses (which neither of them wore in public), and were brushing their teeth with the exact same color and type of toothbrush – they were accidental twins! It was hilarious – but then it was one of those spooky, synchronistic, “had to be there” moments. That was about 18 years ago and although Carol and I have gone separate ways professionally, we’ve always stayed together spiritually. She is one of the quickest, funniest gals I’ve ever known and I adore her. I will always remember her saying to me, on those very rare occasions that I neglected to put on lipstick, “I know you are there SueAnn, but I can’t see you!” What a true and wonderful life-long friend is my gal-Carol!

My Friend Paula Debetaz Kleinpeter
Coonass women are the best! Now before you get your panties in a wad, let me define coonass. Coonass is an epithet used in reference to a person of Cajun ethnicity (Wikipedia), and Paula Debetaz Kleinpeter is one of the best coonass women I know! Coonass women are some of the friendliest, fun-est women you'll ever meet. Seriously, you walk into a women’s bathroom most states, and even if there are 30-women in there, they won’t exchange a word. You walk into a woman’s bathroom in Louisiana and you’ll spend 30-minutes visiting!  I met  Paula when we both worked in notorious County Commissioner Bob Honts’ office in the early 80’s, and I can’t give her up and never will. She moved back to Baton Rouge about 20 years ago, married Lionel, and had a baby girl, Sarah, who is now 20-something, beautiful and I’ll bet as wonderful and fun as her mother! I could tell you some great stories about Paula and me if I could remember them! But trust me, we had some fun and we had some laughs. In fact, other than the day-to-day drama that was the mot du jour (nod to the French Cajuns) in the Honts office, the highlight of every day was working with Paula. Paula’s best friend Patricia, another coonass, but more subdued than Paula, was great too, and they both cemented my love for Louisiana women. I'll tell you about my other coonass friend, Dianna some day. If you don’t have any Louisiana women in your life, get some. 
Paula, you’re a great friend and always will be. I love ya gal.


My Friend Suzi Crane
I met Suzi Crane, who at the time was Suzi Patterson, around 1978 when she and I were both working for the University of Texas System (13 institutions at the time). She was working as a legal secretary in the Office of General Counsel, and I was a low-level administrator in the System Personnel Office. My very first impression of Suzi, almost by osmosis, was that she was super-intelligent, and I soon came to realize that that snap-impression was 100% right on. She went on to become a Paralegal at Fulbright & Jaworsky in San Antonio, and I’ll bet you $100 bucks that if you ask anyone there who the smartest person in the office is, and who is the glue that holds it all together, they’d say Suzi Crane. The only reason Suzi’s not Barrack Obama’s Attorney General is because Suzi doesn’t believe how smart Suzi is. The second thing about Suzi that I discovered quickly, and which really surprised me was that she was raised just 70 miles from me, which by west Texas standards is close. She is from Fort Stockton, TX, home of Clayton Williams, who unsuccessfully ran again Ann Richards for Governor, and which tells you something about Fort Stockton. Not that it’s a bad place, but it is just about as isolated as you can get, which provides a pretty good argument for nature in the nature vs nurture debate. Suzi and I have found ourselves separated by circumstance and life in general, but we’ve always remained true friends. I know that if I ever got in a bind, she'd be by my side in a New York minute. She has an adult son, who is gorgeous and creative and at one time was very involved with the local Salvage Vanguard Theater. Love you Suzi, and really need to see you more often so I can absorb more of your good stuff.
My Friend Lou Hall 
 Louann Hall and I became friends when I was fresh out of college and living on a ranch pretty much out in the middle of nowhere. She was a young mother and elementary school teacher in the tiny little local school, in one of those communities where everyone knows everyone and everything about everyone. And if everyone within a 50-mile radius came to town, there would be about 100 people total, counting moms, dads, kids, grandparents, and a few old bachelor ranch hands. Lou undoubtedly is unaware of this, but she taught me, by example, some wonderful lessons. She was, and still is, one of the most beneficent people I’ve ever encountered. How many people do you know that never puts themselves first. Lou is one, and it shows in her kids, all of who are wonderful people, with personalities reflecting their mom’s - smart, funny and fun. Lou was all the kids’ favorite teacher because she gave love unconditionally, saw the beauty in ever soul, had a whimsical imagination, and could bring out the best in anyone. She spins like a whirling dervish – keeping an immaculate house, cooking three square meals a day, sewing much of her kids clothes, creating an imaginarium-like classroom, and serving as a confidant and counselor to everyone within her sphere of magic. No matter how down or angry or hurt or discouraged you were, a trip to see Lou would fix everything. She would listen intently, never losing contact with your sometimes-tearful eyes, never pretending to solve your problem, but nevertheless somehow magically suctioning off much of your pain. Then she’s say something hysterically funny, and you’d feel so loved. Lou has a sui generis capacity to take in heartache and process it into hope and love.  At a watershed point in my life, a very, very difficult time for me, I lost contact with Lou, and recently rediscovered her in Brady, where she owns Texas Tumbleweed Rare Books .  When I recently asked her to come to Austin to have lunch with me and a couple of other Very Smart Gals, she declined because she couldn’t take a day away from caring for her very ill husband of probably 40 years, and because she has daily chores on her family’s ranch. I wasn’t surprised. She is the “Mother Teresa” of my world. I love and miss Lou, and I’m going to drive to Brady soon, just to tell her so.
My Friend Charlena Chandler Vargas Prada
 Life is infinitely entertaining the way it turns and tumbles us into amazing stories. I probably first met Charlena Chandler when I was a rotten little brat – the baby of a large family. Her mom and dad owned a ranch about 25 miles south of IH 10, just a little northeast of the Big Bend, 30 miles from the Mexico border, and 100 miles from what most folks would consider a real grocery store, where Independence Creek connects to the Pecos River – some of the wildest, most isolated and beautiful country in Texas. At some point it became a local tourist destination – Chandlers Guest Ranch. I say local because it’s where all us west Texas folks went to cool off in the summer in the spring-fed waters – but they entertained guest from all over the world in that surreal-y-beautiful country of crystal-clear springs, ferns, giant catfish, some of the best perch you’ll ever lay a lip to, and pecan trees the size of redwoods – all encased in a harsh and unforgiving desert. The area is so environmentally precious in fact that the Nature Conservancy got involved in 1991. But back to Charlena, who, along with her sister JoBeth ruled high school as cheerleaders, most popular, prettiest, smartest, etc. etc., and were every little west Texas girls icon of teen beauty and grace. Since my brother J. S. (Jessie) dated Charlena, and often got stuck “baby-sitting” me (or was I supposed to be the chaperon), I often went along with him to Chandlers, running wild, drinking cokes full of peanuts, swimming, and playing the old upright out-of-tune piano in their big recreation room. It was sort of the boonies version of a country club. The photo above of Charlena and my brother was probably taken around 1954-55. Check out the tiny waist on Charlena! Scarlet O’Hara had nothing on her! Charlena went on to a life of travel and adventure (correct me if I’m wrong here Charlena) as a airline stewardess (glamour profession of that generation) and married a no doubt rakishly handsome South American (Vargas Prada - although I never met him, I base the rakish on the fact that they’re not still married and handsome on their two gorgeous children). I’m sure that I must have missed a load of adventures between her leaving our little home town and when she returned, to probably care for aging parents, but other than her two kids, I’d guess that her biggest claim to fame has got to be the fabulous book she recently wrote “On Independence Creek: The Story of a Texas Ranch,” which is available through and a number of other sources including Texas Tech Press. She also became many kids’ favorite teacher at Iraan High School (named for Ira & Ann Yates), and the school librarian – no doubt instilling the love of literature in the mind of many unsuspecting teens. She is currently retired and is a contributing writer to the Odessa American Newspaper (reference review of Palin’s and Kennedy’s books). Our paths re-intersected when I began writing my blog. She has been a wonderful mentor, muse and friend. Thanks Charlena! And thanks for unknowingly being a positive roll model to me and many other little girls when we were growing up in the backcountry, struggling for our own identity.
My Friend Suzy Smithson Powell 
Suzy Smithson is one of those people that everyone likes and no one doesn’t like. She was one of the most popular kids in school, a cheerleader, an excellent athlete and just about everything else you can say nice about a person. She wasn’t one of those kids who was popular just because they were beautiful, very cool, an extrovert, or drove the hot car. She was popular because she was nice, the nicest person I ever knew, and still is. Suzy grew up in a family of three boys and three girls – let’s see if I can remember their names, Johnny, Suzy, Boyce, Tommy, Letta Joe and Lori. Their mom is Marie Smithson and dad, who died a number of years ago, was Jack. When I first started hanging out with Suzy, they lived out in an oil camp about 40 miles from my little home town. I learned how to drive in an old standard shift pickup that Marie and Jack let the kids drive around out in the pasture. I’ll never forget that experience, a milestone in my life, and I felt really lucky to know a kid whose parents let them drive. We were probably 11 or 12, and it was years before my mom let me drive in town. Boy did we grind those gears in the pickup. The Smithson kids were all super athletes, but basketball was something they excelled at – probably due to the fact that they had a basketball goal on the front of their garage and spent most of their out-of-school hours out there playing. Suzy and I got pretty good going against her brothers, to the point that when she and I were in the 8th grade, we talked our science teacher into letting us organize the first girls basketball team ever in Iraan. We were pretty awful that first year. I’ll never forget our first game in Barnhart – a town with probably less than 50 kids in the entire school. We had to be the only team they beat all year, but that just made us want it more. Within two years the high school boy’s basketball coach had taken over our team and we became district champs. And as they say, the rest is history – girl’s basketball is big all over west Texas now. I went to see Suzy recently at her and her husband’s farm in northeastern New Mexico. It was just a joy and reminded me of why I always loved her as one of my best friends, and wanted to be her when I grew up – which I still do – want to be her – not grow up. At my 98-year-old mom’s funeral a couple of years ago, Suzy’s mom Marie told me that when she was just a young mother, my mom kept a small library in our home and loaned books out to the oil camp wives. I knew that my mom established the first official library in Iraan, but I didn’t know that the first unofficial library was in our home, and I appreciated Marie sharing that story with me. My friends had great mom’s – Marie, Inga, Helen, Bobbie, Margie. Do you remember your friends’ moms?
My Friend Becky McEwen 
I met Becky sometime around the late 1980’s or early 90’s, through her Kiwi husband, Rob, who was working with my husband in the marketing business. I love Becky because she is one of the most unpretentious, laid back people I have ever met, and because she would kick the livin’ crap out of anyone or anything that got between her and her marriage or her children. I don’t mean to say that she’s mean, but rather that she is dedicated – I’ve never seen a woman, or man for that matter more dedicated to keeping a family together, where they belong, and for that, and many other qualities, I admire her. Becky comes from a very large family (I think she has 8-10 siblings), and they are all just good folks. Although they are scattered, when they were young, they sang together in a church group. Each summer, they religiously get together for two weeks to swim, sing, eat and love. I have a couple of funny stories about Becky, and actually they both happened to have happened the same night. Although Rob and Becky lived many years in Austin, Rob is originally from New Zealand, where they have been living about the past 10 years. Since they come back to the US each summer, we traditionally get together over at our house for dinner and martinis (lots of martinis), naked hot tub soaking, wild dancing, and laughing out asses off – the basis of our relationship being that we don’t give a damn how our bodies look or how stupid we act, because we’re just too good a-friends for any of that to matter. Anyway, couple of years ago Becky and I were running around naked after a hot tub soak, and we decided to try out my new hammock. So we’re inebriated, naked, swinging in the hammock (not in a carnal way – just a friend way), and as hammocks are prone to do, it flips over and dumps us on top of each other. We were laughing so hard and trying to get off of each other, limbs tangled, backs cramping up. It was just so funny. That same night, in our inebriated state, we decided to take pictures – nothing sexual, just silly, goofy photos. Suffice it to say, the next morning, having sobered up, I ran to the camera and deleted all the photos. No one should ever have photos of 60-year-old naked people. Had to be there. It was hilarious. Anyway, the photo above is of Becky at our Millennium New Years Party in 2000, and you can see how beautiful she is. What you can’t see is that she is beautiful inside as well and I feel so blessed to have her as my friend.
My Friend Jane Dixon Swan
Jane is one of those gals I don’t remember not knowing, but I think that I really just started hanging out with her when we were in Junior High, probably right after Katie Sherrod, my previous best friend got shipped off to Incarnate Word. I want to take a moment to recognize Jane’s mom Inga, who died this week. I remember her being a good mom and a really lovely person. She was from Sweden, and I can still hear her calling her daughter Jane and son Gary, with her Swedish accent, “Yane!” Yarry!” I also remember marathon, all summer-long games of Monopoly with Jane and Gary, and when we got bored with that we’d go to the draw (a dry creek bed), which was just a few hundred yards behind their house, on the edge of our little hometown. We’d build forts and play house all day long. I honestly don’t remember being home that much as I think that mom just let me run wild. I’d leave the house in the morning and go home for dinner, otherwise I was at one of my friends’ houses. Perhaps since I was the 5th kid, mom’s concern threshold was much lower than most of my friends parents’. I remember that Jane always had “weiner dogs,” Dachshunds, and I loved those dogs. Jane went on to be a teacher and eventually retired as the librarian in Fredericksburg. She has recently become a grandmother and is enjoying that new and wonderful adventure. Jane always was a great gal and I’m happy to say that she is still a great friend.
My Friend Katie Sherrod
I think that Katie is my oldest friend – well, technically not my “oldest” friend, but she was my best friend from my earliest childhood memories. Her father was the “town doctor” in our tiny little west Texas community, which made them also one of the most respected families. I so vividly recall us playing “play-like” endlessly, which usually revolved around a dog, a teacher, a blind girl and someone mean. Being the dog or the blind girl was a coveted role and Katie’s imagination was limitless. She was smart, self-assured and classy and she still is. I remember her dad had an Aston Martin and we would sit in it in the garage and pretend we were driving. He probably would have been horrified if he’d known. I also remember eating fish sticks at their house on Fridays because they were Catholic. I spent so much time at her house that her mother had to set some rules about how early I could show up and how long I could stay. I strongly suspect that her family sent her off to Incarnate Word in San Antonio when we were entering the 5th grade, just to be rid of me. Just kidding, they were all classy people. Most of my memories of Katie are childhood ones, but she went on to become just as famous as I expected she would. She is an independent writer, producer and commentator in Fort Worth. She is the editor of and a contributor to "Grace & Gumption, Stories of Fort Worth Women", published by the TCU Press; and "Women of the Passion, a Journey to the Cross". Katie received many awards for her consistent advocacy of women's reproductive freedom and for her 25 years of writing about efforts to combat family violence. Her print media and broadcast awards include Best Newspaper Column, Best Radio Commentary and Best Interview/Talk Show from the Dallas Press Club, and the Exceptional Media Merit Award from the National Women's Political Caucus. She holds the Associated Press Managing Editors Award for feature writing, and the Texas Headliners Award for investigative reporting. She was inducted into the Texas Women's Hall of Fame in 1987 for outstanding contributions in the field of communications, named one of Fort Worth's Outstanding Women in 1988 and Texas Woman of the Year in 1989. Not bad for a little ole west Texas Gal!
My Friend Dusty Garland Cain
This photo of Dusty Diane Garland Cain, holding my oldest son Cuatro, was taken in 1972 or ‘73, after she’d already been an Eastern Airlines Stewardess (the glamour job of my generation), and married a mortician. I played the organ in her wedding, which was held in her fiance’s family’s funeral home, and I can’t tell you how weird that was. The marriage didn’t last, but it did produce a beautiful son.  Dusty and I were best friends growing up, and have stayed close over the years – not close as in proximity, but close as only true friends can. She was always one of the most calm and serene people I’ve ever known and still is.  Her husband, who recently retired, is a great guy who just happened to be legal counsel at Virginia Tech, site of the horrible 2007 shooting incident that left 35 dead and 15 injured. Dusty came from a large and colorful family and I spent much of my Junior High and High School life at her house, to the point that they probably wondered if they were raising another kid. I remember one time I had a bottle of wine hidden in my closet (a gift from an older boyfriend), and although I’d experienced getting drunk (in Mexico – just a short distance from our hometown), Dusty never had. So one Sunday, I drove her around and she drank. It ended not well, with Dusty throwing up all over my mother’s white commode lid cover and rug, which forever more would be pink. Dusty was “Miss Popularity,” cheerleader, honor student, and plowed mercilessly through all the best-looking boys, breaking hearts. She was, however, a good kid, is a good woman, and is a good friend, and I love her.
My Friend Mary Wright
Mary D. Wright and I have been friends for so long I don’t remember if we met in the first grade or if it was more like the fifth grade. Her dad worked in the oil business, and they lived out in what us “city kids” (Iraan, TX, population 1,250)  ironically called the boonies, an oil camp. Oil camp kids typically lived 20-40 miles out of town, down dirt roads in oil company housing. Life was quite different for them it seemed to me. Their “camps” usually included a playground, a “club” or party house, nice big yards and houses, and a close-knit sense of community, surrounded by miles of wilderness, pump-jacks, “Christmas trees” (well head piping), plenty-o-rattlesnakes, and hours-long school bus rides to and from school each day. Although our lives have taken very divergent paths over the years, we’ve managed to stay in touch, for which I am grateful. Mary was always one of the “smart” kids, honor society, etc. so I wasn’t surprised when Texas Monthly magazine recently chose her (via subscriber survey) as a 2009 FIVE STAR Wealth Manager for the Austin, San Antonio and Central Texas Region.  So if you need help with financial strategy – you couldn’t do better than Mary Wright, Financial Advisor, CFP, CRPC, AAMS, Ameriprise Financial (512-328-5235) Oh, and by the way, she’ll always be “Dee Dee” to me! Love ya gal!
My Friend, Lisa Rayburn Marshall
I met Lisa sometime between 1979-1981 when I was dating John Blasutta, a top sound engineer for a concert sound company, Showco, and she was living with the manager of ZZ Top, Jimmy something. Because we were both involved with guys in the music business, we ended up at lots of concerts, backstage with the likes of ZZ Top, The Who (who John asked me to invite to go water skiing with us on Lake Austin the next day – yes, I talked to Roger Daltrey), Rolling Stones, Boston, The Commodores, Bon Jovi, Toto, Foreigner, Rush, the Eagles, Santana, etc. Needless to say, we’ve got memories. One of my fondest actually being the time she and I went to New York together. Lisa was a very close friend of John Lee Hookers from when she and her roommate loaned him their van. Anyway, John Lee was playing at Carnegie Hall, so we were of course backstage and got to have our pictures made with John Lee, and Richard Gere, who was an ass and really short. Lisa remembers that Elvin Bishop (Fooled Around and Fell in Love) was staying down the hall from us at our Hotel, and his Korean wife cooked Korean food on a hot plate in their room. And Mickey Thomas, who went on to take Grace Slick's vocal role with Jefferson Starship was there. I have photos of Lisa and I drinking Champaign at Windows on The World restaurant, at the top of the World Trade Center, which I of course now cherish even more. Well, Lisa and I eventually ditched our “music” boyfriends and went on to real lives, but we have remained wonderful friends, and I absolutely adore her.
My Friend Linda Sue Owens Gage
Linda Sue and I are bonded by 50-years of history – much of it spent living on ranches 100 miles from the closest town of any size. We had babies together, ate friend chicken at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, killed a rattlesnake that went under our babies playpen, and laughed and cried together – a lot.  After I moved to Austin and my life changed from rounding up the stock and cooking for a table-full of cowboys, to concerts at the Armadillo and high-voltage politics, I said to Linda Sue, “Can you believe how much I have changed?” She looked at me with the strangest expression on her face and said, “What do you mean. You haven’t changed a bit!” I wrote this poem for her. 

The Nurturer and The Adventurer
She is kind and oh so dear. I lust for life and have no fear. 
She is steady, solid as a rock. I love challenge and hate to talk. 
She's always been such a pretty girl.  I want to travel around the world. 
She will always stick by a friend.  I've spent too much life thinking of men. 
She would love to read all day. I could dance the night away. 
She always thinks years ahead. I really love to dress in red. 
She will never leave her home. I've probably spent too much time alone. 
She's always funny and makes me laugh. I've made a difference on women's behalf. 
She likes for things to be the same. I think leadership is my claim to fame. 
She keeps a home that's warm and fun. I march to the beat of a different drum. 
She never thinks of herself first. I write books and create verse.
She has more friends than anyone I know. I wage the battle against social woes. 
She can talk about most anything. I've tried to teach my kids to dream. 
She's sentimental and really soft. I crave power and being at the top. 
She is cautious about everything. I love fine music, food, and spring. 
She is the mother I always wanted to be. I tell of my adventures to set her spirit free. 
She's not anything like me. I know best friends we'll always be.
My Friend Isabel Jordan
 (Photographed with her lover and friend, Pepe Diaz, grandson of Porfirio Diaz, Dictator of Mexico for 31 years)

I first met Isabel in 1979. I had just finished nine hours at the Red McCombs Graduate School of Business at UT and was pretty burned out. A friend said, “You should go to Yelapa.” I was dating a professional water skier from Washington State, so I invited him along. He was pretty and “fun,” but not particularly smart. “Be sure to bring a photo id I admonished, which he didn’t, so I gladly left him at the airport (I wasn’t his mother!) and I went to Yelapa by myself.  The only instruction I had was “Get off the boat (only way in or out) on the beach, walk through the village, stay on the trail by the ocean, and go in the second gate past the blue tile bench.” That began my 30-year love affair with Isabel and Yelapa. Isabel and I were not lovers of course, but we loved each other dearly, and she passed away this year. I will miss her always.  One of my fondest memories being the full-moon night, after a little too much local white lightning called ricea, she and I sailed her Catamaran in Yelapa bay, naked as the day we were born! Problem was we forgot to put the plugs in the pontoons and began to sink, and the closest beach was the main beach, where everyone else was partying. So… we sailed to the beach, lifted the very heavy pontoons and emptied them, laughing our asses off, and sailed back to our clothes. It was my birthday. Love you always Iz.
My Friend Orlinda Naranjo
Orlinda Naranjo, aka The Honorable Orlinda Naranjo, Judge, 419th Judicial District Civil Court, Travis County – Orlinda is one of my very best friends and I love her and her family. She is a woman of integrity and is incredibly smart. Orlinda knows what it means to be a friend and I am so fortunate to have her in my life. Crouse and I have spent many hours with Orlinda and Jim in their beautiful homes and with their many lovely family members, in Austin and in Chama, New Mexico. I remember the first time I met Orlinda she came to a party on a ridiculously large yacht on Lake Travis, the date of a good friend, Jim Ewbank, a local attorney. She was so beautiful and so sexy, I thought, "I don't know Jim!" But gal-howdy she turned our to be a wonderful catch for Jim and a true friend. She and Jim unexpectedly got pregnant, so now they have a older daughter who is married and has twin daughters, and a young daughter who is around 12 years old. Hats off to Orlinda for being a mother when most of us were just glad to have the kids in college. Orlinda is a very popular and highly regarded Judge and I admire her so much. Love you amiga!

My Friend Deborah Fondren


  1. How great to read about your friend, and mine, Lou Hall. We go back a long way. First, her daughter Linda - so bright and sweet - was one of my students when I taught 4th grade in Sheffield. Then many years later, Lou was my son Joe's third grade teacher when we moved back to the ranch. Joe (or Joey) had weathered several new schools by then so I thought Sheffield would be an easy move. Not so. He decided he didn't want to be there and didn't want me to leave. First day - what to do? Lou said, "Charlena, why don't you go down to Babe's and then come back at noon and we'll see what happens?" Good call. I went back at noon and was met by a happy third grader who said, "Mom, I love my teacher!" Thanks, Lou, for a wonderful year! And for lots of years of friendship. Charlena

    P. S. Congratulations on the book store!

  2. This is one of the many things that I love about the web! It brings people together. Thanks for commenting, Charlena.

  3. Oh, Charlena, what a wonderful memory. Give Joe
    (he's still Joey in my mind) a hug for me. I've loved your book, but can't keep them on the shelf. I first bought a copy for me...then took it down to the store. When it sold, I bought two more copies and, as of today when I went down to rearrange the rare and hard to find books, I found that both copies are gone. I have two more ordered so they need to hurry and get here...your shelf space is bare again. Isn't Sue Ann's blog favorite place to visit. Thanks again to both of you for the wonderful memories. Lou

  4. A touching story. Thank you.

  5. I never heard you mention Connie. And now, I'll never forget her story.
    Thanks for sharing, SueAnn.
    XO, L.