The Idle American: On Going Home…


Thomas Wolf, the author who insisted that we can’t go home again, got it wrong. One can indeed do so, but “home” may hardly be recognizable, and/or--truth to tell--noticeably improved.

It’s a two-hour drive from our Metroplex home to Brownwood, our hometown, so our visits there have dwindled.

Age has something to do with it. With 85 near at hand, inclinations to visit points in any direction lessen, and wherever we are at a given moment seems like the right place to be….

Two major reasons to visit are compelling, however. Sometimes there are goings on at Howard Payne University (where I was president from 1985-1997) that beckon. I’m also back home from time to time to speak at funeral services of friends or colleagues.

Most recently, I was asked to relate remembrances of Ethelyn Smith, who died recently within weeks of age 98.

She didn’t want a traditional funeral service, nor any “verbalization” at all aside from a couple of hymns. Daughter Judy George and son Robert Smith Jr. overruled, however, realizing that she wanted nothing “said.” Perhaps I was the nearest thing to nothing they could find….

Renowned sportswriter Blackie Sherrod, describing his longtime friend and fellow columnist George Dolan, joked that before God made George, He broke the mold.

I’m just sayin’ that the same description of Ethelyn would hit mighty close to home. As a seven-year resident with son Robert Jr. at Redstone Park Assisted Living Community, she kept life interesting for the five dozen other residents--as well as three dozen or so Redstone employees. Her life deserves review in far greater detail. In column #999 next week, there’ll be more, assuming the Lord doesn’t come, I don’t go and creeks stay within their banks….

The most recent visit there was reflective.

I was wandering around the campus before the clock struck 7 a.m., marveling at its manicured appearance. I remembered times when we were grateful for occasional lawn waterings and mowings.

I saw a light on the president’s office, so I stopped by. Sure enough, already at work was Dr. Cory Hines, HPU’s fourth president since my retirement. He has amazing energy, vision and commitment. I could not be prouder of his work; he’s simply the best and brightest of all the presidents I know. I started my presidency at HPU at about the age Dr. Hines is now, and don’t worry about being “on par” with him. I KNOW I wasn’t….

Leaving his office, I thought of a wonderful friend to whom I handed a diploma some 30 years ago. I smiled, thinking of his racing down “thrill hill” on a bicycle during his collegiate years, and his entanglement with barbed wire at ride’s end. (This was but one of his great adventures, this man who is now Col. Dan Murray, an aerospace flight surgeon in the US Air Force.)

He called the other day, so I told him about my two falls which occurred six months apart--one from our church podium during an October heart attack that necessitated multiple heart re-starts and the other during a May visit to Howard Payne when I failed to see four-inch “step-down” of a sidewalk.

“I’d recommend a cane,” he suggested. “They have some nice ones now, so you can look fashionable and ‘with it’ whether you are or not.” I told him I’d plug that into the equation.…

I made my way to the Runaway Train, a favorite eating place fashioned from a railroad car.

There’s a series of steps to the entrance, with iron handrails for safety. As I ascended slowly, salivating at the prospect of a luscious hamburger, I grabbed the rail, hopeful to avoid “derailment.”

The handrail was hotter’n somewhat, and a sobering thought occurred: Would I rather take a fall, or arrive with limbs intact, albeit one hand severely blistered by a hot rail? Maybe I should have ordered curbside, uh, railside….

Dr. Newbury, longtime university president, still speaks throughout Texas and writes weekly. Contact: 817-447-3872. Email: Facebook: Don Newbury. Twitter: @donnewbury.


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