Welcome Home, Hero. Rest in Peace.

This was not the first military funeral I had attended.  It was the first time I’d been to any funeral that took place 76 years after the deceased had died.  This young man, a kid the same age as my third of five children, has finally made it home to be put to rest with his family in a hero’s ceremony.  Seaman First Class George Anderson Coke, Jr. came home to Arlington today for the first time since he left for boot camp back in 1941.

My friend, Leslie Dorn Barton, is George Coke’s second cousin once or twice removed.  I’m still unclear on all that genealogy stuff.  While I’d like to be able to trace back my family tree, I’m quite unorganized and tend to think circularly rather than in clear straight lines.  Besides, I’ve got aunts and cousins on both sides of my tree who really dig that sort of thing and they actually journal it all. Anyway, Leslie is one of the Special Education teachers who taught my daughter at Sam Houston High School. We became friends over the last couple of years. So naturally, when she mentioned that this funeral was happening today, I told her I’d come.

It’s been hotter than ever all week and I was so relieved when the thunderstorms hit our city last night and it rained until the wee hours this morning.  I donned my black abaya and a gray and black scarf and then headed over to the First United Methodist Church and tried to “blend in” with the Arlington locals.  I know.  I didn’t. The sole Muslim in a sea of mostly older, white, Christian faces.

I listened to the history of George Coke, Jr., son of George Coke, Sr., who was the Chief of Police in Arlington back in the 1920s.  I learned that of the 3,500 American casualties that day in Pearl Harbor, that Arlington lost 48 souls.  My mind wandered, as is the norm during funerals.  Everyone in some way or another is reminded of their own immortality at a funeral.  With military funerals, you are also reminded of all of your family members and friends who also served in the armed forces.  I felt a few tears escape today as I remembered friends who were killed in foreign wars.  I felt a few more tears escape as I offered prayers of thanks and gratitude for those family and friends who returned safely home.

I followed the funeral procession to Parkdale Cemetary. We were escorted by members of the United States Navy and a large number of the Arlington Police Department.  I watched as the sailors, now pallbearers, respectfully carried the remains of their comrade who fell in the line of duty more than half a century before any of them were born.  And the firing of the three volleys, though I knew they were coming, still caught me off guard and those tears of relief that most of my loved ones returned to me fell from my eyes as a silent salute to Seaman Coke and all of the thousands who didn’t.

My heart stirred as I watched the slow and deliberate movements of the sailors folding the flag and the hand off of that folded flag followed by the final salute from Seaman to Non-Commissioned Officer to Officer to Rear Admiral and finally to George Coke, Jr.’s family members.  The spent shell casings from the three volleys, symbolizing duty, honor, and country, were then placed into the hand of the young descendant of Seaman Coke.

A cool breeze gently blew across my face, air-drying the silent tears and leaving my cheeks a little bit sticky.  I hugged Leslie and shook hands with her son, aunt, and mother.  I looked back to see the final resting place of Seaman Coke, under the Live Oak and the Crepe Myrtle trees, beside his mother and father.  Welcome home, hero.  Rest in peace.

 

In Memoriam

The doctor is not in. He is no longer accepting new patients. He is gone. There will be no referrals. You’re on your own. It’s just as well. No one could fill his shoes anyway. His title was honorary. He wasn’t really a doctor. He was a pipe-fitter, master mechanic, automotive hobbyist. He was known as Dad, Uncle Tracy, Mr. Tracy, and Honey. (His grandkids call him Honey.) To me, he will always be Dr. Tracy – the brain surgeon who earned his title teaching his teenage daughter how to drive a 3-on-the-tree manual transmission pick up truck as I sat between them. “If this truck is in first gear, then I’m a brain surgeon!”

When Dr. Tracy called me back in January to let me know that he was terminal, I was at the high school doing volunteer work. He seemed matter of fact and could just as easily have been telling me that he’d sprained an ankle.  Being the walking Kleenex commercial that I am, I sat down and started to cry.  He got upset that he’d upset me. I guess that’s always the way with any terminal disease, isn’t it? The person who is doing the dying always spends his last days consoling those who aren’t.  He said, “Now see? I shouldn’t have told you. I knew you were at the school, and I’ve gone and upset you. I didn’t call to make you cry or beg sympathy.” Well, then the tears were replaced by anger. (Yeah, I’m an emotional funnel cloud some days.)

“Look here, Old Man!” I told him (without shouting because he is still my elder.) “I love you almost as much as I love my own daddy. So, you’ll allow me the privilege of crying for you.” Aside from my dad, husband, and brother, there is no other man I’ve loved more.

It took a few weeks to arrange things here in Texas before I could get down to see him. While my five children are mostly grown, there are still 4 in high school, one of whom is “special needs.”  My siblings took turns heading from here to Mobile to visit with him. And then it was my turn. And I think for each of us it was similar. We arrived at the house and had something to eat at the kitchen table with him. Then we held down that kitchen chair talking to him, laughing with him, reminiscing with him until it was time for us to head back to Texas. Our cousins from Alabama, Mississippi, and even New York, traveled down to Mobile to sit on that chair and love on him these past few months.

Aunt Ginger and Wendy have both told me how “tickled he was” that we took the time to come visit with him. And I think that I speak for all of us when I say that we wished we could have done more. You see, Uncle Tracy was not our “blood relative.” He married our Aunt Ginger more than 54 years ago and he seemed to think that he was an “in-law” to all of us. He seemed genuinely surprised by the number of his nieces, nephews, and grandnieces and grandnephews whose lives had been touched by him. Most of us had known him as long as we’d been alive and had gotten advice from him about various mechanical issues, or home repair issues, or just chewing the fat. He’s family. However it was that he joined it, by birth or by marital bond: He’d been part of it longer than any of us.

Our family is short by one tall member today. And while we mourn our loss of him, we rejoice that he is no longer suffering the pain that he endured for these last months. The good doctor will always be with us in spirit and in memory. And every time I start to drive after accidentally putting my car in third gear rather than first, I know that there is a brain surgeon smiling down from Heaven at me.

Prom Season is Upon Us

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I’m not going to lie to you. We NEED money. Hosting a prom each year is expensive. But STARRY NIGHT PROM is doing everything in its power to continue keeping this event cost-free for the Arlington ISD high school students with significant disabilities and their chaperone. It truly isn’t easy. But here’s how you can help.

Donate: If you could just provide us with as much as you are comfortable with donating, it could make all the difference in the world. Each and every donation, regardless of amount, is greatly appreciated. To reach our secure fundraising site, please click on this link———————————> RIGHT HERE!

Share:  Please share this post. Circulating this blog post among your friends via your social media outlets can assist us in reaching even more potential donors. This can make all the difference in the world. Please click on the Facebook, Twitter, or email links below to help our cause.

In-Kind Donations:  If you own a business or represent an organization that would like to sponsor STARRY NIGHT PROM by in-kind donations of logo-bearing promotional items (such as pens, pennants, t-shirts, hats, refrigerator magnets, keychains, lanyards, drink koozies, etc,) please email me here———————> starrynightprom@outlook.com.

We are also accepting gift basket items to be raffled off during the event, 29 April 2017. If you have a gift basket that you would like to donate for raffle, please contact me at the email address above.

ALL DONATIONS ARE TAX-DEDUCTIBLE. STARRY NIGHT PROM IS A REGISTERED 501 (C)(3) NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION.

STARRY NIGHT PROM 2017

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This kid right here? He’s having a blast, dancing his heart out at the Starry Night Prom last year.

2017 will mark our TENTH ANNUAL STARRY NIGHT PROM! Can you believe we’ve been doing this for an entire decade? We decided to celebrate that fact by throwing an even better prom this year than we did last year. But in order to do that, we need your help. This prom is run entirely on donations. Yes, that’s right. The invitations, corsages and boutonnieres, decorations, food, DJ, desserts, photography, commemorative t-shirts, swag bags and everything in them: ALL donated or paid for with your donations. Even the people who provide service on this night- all volunteers.

And throwing an event like STARRY NIGHT PROM each year is not cheap. So we’re calling on you to help us out. Please donate to help us reach our $6000 goal and make this magical night a reality for these kids within the Arlington ISD. Just click on the highlighted link below and you’ll be directed to our crowd-sourcing fundraiser site.

CLICK HERE TO DONATE TO STARRY NIGHT PROM 2017!

If you own a business and would like to donate logo-bearing in-kind donation for swag bags, please contact our Vice-President of Donations by emailing her here: starrynightprom@outlook.com

If you have other in-kind donations that you’d like to donate, such as gently used prom dresses or tuxedoes, or if you’d like to purchase and donate food items or gift cards to local grocery or department stores, swagbag items, etc., also please contact our Vice-President of Donations via email: starrynightprom@outlook.com.

Remember EVERY donation is appreciated and we will provide  you with a tax-deductible receipt.

**STARRY NIGHT PROM is a registered 501(c)(3) Non-Profit Organization.

The Doctor is In

I’ve known him all my life. And after my dad, he’s the “adult male” that I would turn to for car maintenance advice, a kind word, a belly laugh in the form of some hilarious anecdote that had  happened that week. Uncle Tracy has been a comfortable constant in my life no matter where the Army sent us throughout my childhood.

My cousin, Wendy, was my best friend/pen pal during all that back and forth moving overseas to Texas to Alabama and back overseas, etc. I felt grounded reading her letters and a sense of normalcy writing back to tell her all about my softball season, how much I hated Algebra II, and which boy I had a crush on that week. I always sent love to her parents and she always sent it back to mine. And for us, there was never any awkwardness. Even though she wasn’t a military BRAT like me, we would pick up right where we left off three years before. We’d run out to play on the zip line that Uncle Tracy had built using the tallest trees in the backyard or play basketball or throw pine cones at each other or at night, jump out from behind a fat bush on the side of the road to scare the crap out of teenage drivers who were speeding up the street and then take off running as they slammed on brakes and cussed at us out the open windows.

When I spent a week with them during the Summer Wendy had gotten her learner’s permit, Uncle Tracy earned a new nickname. We were in his pick-up truck. Wendy was driving. We were in the left only turn bay and she was having trouble with the 3-on-the-tree. Uncle Tracy was patiently bellowing directions from the passenger seat. I was the quiet moron in the middle; head turning left then right then left again as the conversation continued across me. After about 4 light changes from red to green and back to red, Wendy was beyond frustrated as the engine choked and died again. Uncle Tracy stated loudly, for the tenth time, “Wendy, you’ve got to put the damn thing in first gear!”

“It IS in first gear!” she shouted back, red-faced.

“Wendy, if this damn truck was in first gear, we’d already be in the driveway by now. Put it in first gear.”

She violently pulled the shift bar from where it was to neutral and then back to where it was. “It IS in first gear, Daddy!” The light turned green again. She let up off the clutch again. The truck jerked forward and died again. The car behind us started honking again as he was too close to go around us like the cars behind him. The light turned red again.

“Wendy, you’re in third gear. Put the truck in first gear!!”

“Daddy, it IS IN FIRST GEAR!” she shouted back.

Uncle Tracy actually yelled this time, “IF THIS TRUCK IS IN FIRST GEAR THEN I’M A GODDAMN BRAIN SURGEON!”

The dumbass in the middle, sensing the tension and trying to show solidarity with her cousin waved and said, “Hiiiiiiiii, Doctor Tracy!”

They were too pissed off at each other to laugh. She finally found first gear and we went home. When we got  back to their house, I figured I should make myself scarce and then I heard my aunt laughing in the kitchen. I went to get a glass of tea and she handed me a tall cup to take to “the good doctor.” She and Wendy howled with laughter.

I handed him his tea and he just looked at me. Then he laughed and said it was in third. I  told him that out of all the pipefitters in the world, he made a fine brain surgeon. He’s been Dr. Tracy ever since.

 

 

6 Days Left

Starry Night Prom 2015 SWAG BAGS

These are STARRY NIGHT PROM goodie bags from our 2015 prom. These customized backpacks were donated to us by the Elks Lodge #2114 in Arlington, Texas. We stuffed them full of swag for each of our attendees; AISD High School students with significant disabilities. The swag included a customized Starry Night Prom 20-ounce cup, pens, pencils, keychains, compact mirrors, coupons and gift certificates from many local businesses, toys, stickers, magnets, and other cool items. Each backpack also contained a STARRY NIGHT PROM commemorative t-shirt with all of our big sponsors printed on the back.

So all of that stuff inside the goodie bags? FREE for our students who attend. You know what else is free? The meal for each of them (and for one attending chaperone guest per student,) the prom portrait photography, the prom fun photo booth style photography, the boutonnieres and corsages, the beautiful custom made invitations, the dessert fountain, the DJ and big dance floor where they can dance and have a wonderful time. All of this is paid for by the donations of kind and generous people who want to see these kids have a magical Starry Night Prom.

And even though a lot of the swag, backpacks, venue, services including cooking and catering are donated as in-kind donations, we still need money to pay for the photography, DJ, printing of invitations, shirts, cups, decorations, additional swag, and a large portion of the food items that are purchased each year.

Our ongoing FACEBOOK fundraiser event is still active for 5 more days! Facebook has waived all of their usual fees for registered  501 (C) (3) nonprofit organizations with Facebook pages during the #GivingTuesday fundraiser drive. This means that 100% of all donations made via the Starry Night Prom Facebook page will be donated to our noble cause.

Won’t you please consider donating to Starry Night Prom and give these kids their magical night this Spring 2017? All donations are 100% appreciated. Thank you for your support.

 

 

Starry Night Prom Fundraiser in Progress

Randa and Hamo Prom 2014

So, what’s it been? About 12 minutes since I wrote about Starry Night Prom? I can’t help it. These kids are so stinkin’ precious and seeing them celebrating their prom in a safe and accepting environment is just a truly moving experience.

We are currently in the middle of a Facebook fundraising drive. What’s awesome about this one is that Facebook has waived all of the usual fees they collect during their #GivingTuesday campaign. This means that 100% of all donations contributed through the Facebook fundraiser through 15 December 2016 will go directly to Starry Night Prom. And since Starry Night Prom is completely run on the generosity of others, this is HUGE.

As some of you are not already aware, I’ll explain a little about Starry Night Prom. We are a registered 501-C3 nonprofit organization serving Arlington ISD high school students with significant disabilities. We host an annual prom for these kids and a chaperone and all of it is paid for 100% with donations. So their invitations, corsages and boutonnieres, photographs, food, deejay, and goodie bags complete with commemorative t-shirt (sponsors printed on back) are all FREE. A lot of these kids would have to miss out on their high school prom. There’s usually not a lot of accommodations for those who have feeding tubes, oxygen tanks, wheelchairs, or need for assistance in the bathroom, etc. Starry Night Prom takes all of that kind of stuff and makes it the norm. The social playing field is leveled and everyone is “at home” in their gorgeous ball gowns and tuxedos. Spring 2017 will be our tenth year hosting Starry Night Prom.

Won’t you consider making your #GivingTuesday contribution to Starry Night Prom? Please follow this link for our Facebook Fundraising Campaign———–> CLICK HERE

And if you don’t have a Facebook account or would prefer to donate through a different site, you could follow this link for our YouCaring.com account* by clicking –> HERE. (*Donations to the YouCaring site will have transaction fees added by YouCaring, but will remain open through May 2017.)

Thank you so much for your sponsorship. We also accept In-Kind donations, so please drop me a line in the comments section and I can provide information on how to sponsor us in this way. And for those of you who are in Texas and Louisiana, you can link your Kroger Plus shopping card to Starry Night Prom under their Community Rewards program, so that Kroger will donate to Starry Night Prom with every swipe!

(ALL donations, big and small, money and in-kind, are GREATLY appreciated and tax-deductible.)

THIS IS ONLY A TEST!

Like most of the “popular vote,” our family mourned the election results on November 9, 2016. My 11 year old niece was in tears, asking my sister, “But how could HE be elected? He’s mean. How could America elect a bully to be our next President?” Indeed.

She wasn’t the only kid to react this way. I have friends in Florida, North Dakota, Wisconsin, California, Maryland, New York, Georgia, Arizona and everywhere in between who held their children on Wednesday morning, wiping away tears of confusion and disappointment that someone who bullies others in public and on television and LIVES the example of what they are NOT supposed to be, could be elected to lead our country.

I gave myself that Wednesday (and honestly, the following Thursday and Friday, too) to grieve Hillary Clinton’s loss of the election. And then I chose happy.

My sister has a sign in her kitchen that says: Happiness is a Choice. Of course, she keeps that sign on the counter right next to the knife block. So, I guess if you can’t choose happiness, you can always choose the butcher knife. Still, it’s a choice. I chose happy.

Am I happy that Donald Trump is our President-elect? Hell, no. But I am happy to have the next four years to find someone better to run against him in 2020. (Sidetrack: Wouldn’t that be an awesome campaign slogan? JOAQUIN CASTRO FOR PRESIDENT- Because hindsight is 20/20. I digress.)

Look, I am an American Muslim of Irish descent, married to a naturalized Egyptian. We have a disabled daughter and we live under the poverty level and we don’t have health insurance because it’s not offered at my husband’s job and we fall through the cracks of ACA because our dumbass state officials in Texas decided to “show them” and not expand Medicaid….EVEN THOUGH Texans are still federally taxed. So we’re paying for Medicaid in other states and not insuring the poor in our own. I had EVERYTHING to lose in this election. But I’m choosing happy.

My faith teaches me that I must be PATIENT. I can be patient for 4  years of a Trump administration. I can USE that patient 4 years to write letters, investigate and research better qualified Democrat candidates and help to promote them. If we move NOW and are patient through the next 4 years, we can help put forth far better qualified candidates to win in 202o. Hey, you third party voters. PLEASE, do the same. If you in the Green Party and in the Libertarian Party work hard at finding a better candidate NOW….start fund-raising NOW….to get better candidates than Stein and Johnson…..get the monies needed to build up a great campaign 4 years from now…..I’ll bet you have a shot. Hell, you guys come up with someone better than the Democrat nominee and I’ll vote for him or her. But
ALL of you, Democrats, Greenies, and Libertarians: Let’s start NOW. Let’s get out in front
of whatever is coming down the 2020 Republican turnpike and make some serious changes in our government. Start finding mid-term candidates for your congressional representatives now. Put some effort in early so that you can all make our Congress more honest; more representative of US, the voters. They work for us. Make them earn their pay.

This is a test. ONLY a test. Somebody wanted a big shake up and change to the status quo. They got their wish. Let’s take their wish for change a step further and use the next 4 years to work toward true greatness. We’ll have a lot of pieces to pick up. Maybe we can build something new instead of just putting it all back together again. It’s not over. It’s a bump in the road. We can do this.

It’s NOT a Tantrum

Walking through a supermarket, the severely Autistic person wears gun-range headphones to help block excess noise to protect her highly sensitive hearing from the overwhelming barrage of clanking, banging, muzak, baby cries, squeaky buggy wheels and blips and bloops from cash registers. A woman getting over a cold coughs into her elbow, and the Autistic person’s face grows dark. Her mother notices the scowl and the wincing on her non-verbal daughter’s face. She puts the Cheerios back on the shelf and grabs her daughter’s hands and softly speaks into her face, “Poor lady. She’s sick. Sick people cannot help coughing, honey. It’s okay.”

The mom gently guides her daughter from the cereal aisle and the cussing begins followed by screaming and crying. “Ears hurt! STUPID WOMAN!” People begin to stare. Some people whisper and make angry faces. The screaming continues while the mom gives deep pressure hugs and wipes away tears, speaking gently about good choices and soft voices.

An angry woman walks by with her nearly full buggy with the squeaky wheel and stops to SHUSH! the girl. The mother spins around on her heel and tells the woman she is out of line. “You should shut her up! It’s incredibly rude to the other shoppers for her to be throwing a tantrum in the middle of the supermarket! What is she? Retarded?”

“First, she’s got Autism and she is in distress, NOT that we owe you an explanation. A tantrum is a fit thrown in order to get what one wants. This is an Autistic Meltdown which is brought on by environmental situations. What makes them continue is rude judgmental people like you! Secondly, this is Kroger. If you want quiet, go to the fucking library!” The mother turns her back on the sputtering woman, who has now become just another bit of background noise. The girl continues to cry and loudly repeat the same line from her favorite movie, as though stuck on a loop.

The store manager walks up and smiles. He knows the woman and the daughter, as they are regular shoppers here. He asks if everything is all right. The woman nods that it is. The girl notices the manager’s very large mustache and points at his face. “It’s big whiskers!” she says, wiping away her tears. The man laughs and agrees that they are. The girl smiles and says, “Bye. Come on, Mommy. It’s Cheerios.” The mom grabs the hand of her 20-year old girl and mouths a quick thank you over her shoulder to the manager. She returns to the cereal aisle and adds the Cheerios to the buggy while the girl happily pushes beside her.