Sunday, March 22, 2009

Thankful Uncle Les made a will

I buried my uncle recently in Galena, Kansas, a depressing place located in the extreme southeast corner of the state. A few miles east is Missouri, and a few miles southwest is Oklahoma.

He lies in Hillcrest Cemetery, next to my mother, who is next to my father, who is one row away from grandparents and other uncles — all on my mom’s side of the family.

Galena used to be a mining town of 4,000. Now, it looks like only 400 residents remain. My mom and dad grew up there. My father was an only child, and I’m an only child, so all the relatives were my mom’s. She had four brothers and one sister. They graduated from Galena High School, then left the area to earn a living.

My parents took me to Galena often while we lived in St. Louis. We celebrated every major holiday by driving the 300 miles southwest on old Route 66. Galena was the first town in Kansas as you headed west on that famous highway. Today, Interstate 44 is five miles away, but travelers following the old highway still stop to take pictures of what’s left of small-town middle America.

I remember one day in St. Louis my mom got a phone call and started crying.

My grandfather, her dad, had died in Galena. That seemed to initiate a succession of deaths I’ve had to deal with: another grandfather, both grandmothers, my father (just before my 20th birthday), two uncles, my mother, an aunt and now my uncle Lester.

I never really thought about uncle Les dying. For 32 years, he served the role of my dad. He came to my graduations, my daughter’s high school graduation, and was planning on attending her college graduation. We talked by phone almost every Friday night.

The tragic thing is my uncle Les had been married only three weeks when he died in the intensive care recovery room following triple-by-pass surgery. He was 79 and had just married his longtime girl friend, also 79. It was the first marriage for both, and after dating 43 years, their wedding was front page news in the Colorado Springs Gazette, accompanied by a color photo.

Since they had no children, I was the closest relative available to make all the final arrangements for two services; a memorial in Colorado Springs for his friends, and the final service in Galena.

Here’s what this is all about. The services became a celebration of Lester’s life rather than an event of sadness over his death.

I was able to remember all the good times because I was free of any guilt from things I hadn’t done. I conversed with him frequently, sent him copies of the Keene Star, and had just visited him on New Year’s Day.

I was able to make economically sound business decisions regarding the final arrangements because I was not motivated by guilt to purchase unnecessary and expensive items as some sort of restitution for things I didn’t do. I had done the most important thing that a close relative or friend could desire, I had taken the time to visit him in person.

And, Uncle Les did something for me.

Many questions were answered because he had a will. Just three weeks before his marriage, he wrote a new will, explaining exactly what he wanted done with the assets and which charities got what gifts.

And that’s the real point. Rethink whatever it is you think is so important and demanding of your time, and go visit in person your grandmother, aunt, uncle, or whoever it is that you have been avoiding.

And if you really love your children, prepare a legally written will. Your death will not come one day sooner if you do, and your death could be a celebration of your life because you did.

Paul Gnadt is the editor of the Keene Star. He can be reached via e-mail at

Friday, March 20, 2009

Did William Barrett Travis really draw that line 173 years ago?

I visited San Antonio recently and, as I always do when there, drove downtown to the Alamo, which observed the 173rd anniversary of the famous battle on March 6.

I had first met Travis, Bowie, Bonham, Crockett and the other Defenders of Freedom while teaching five years of seventh grade Texas history.

I became fascinated with the events preceding and following the massacre at the old Spanish mission called San Antonio de Valero.

One point of interest I really enjoy is watching the movie about the battle. The “Price of Freedom” is shown continuously at the IMAX Theater, across the street from the Alamo in the River Center Shopping Center.

The movie is factually accurate in depicting such events as the women and children who were spared and permitted to leave, the defender Louis Rose electing to depart before Santa Anna attacked, Bowie’s illness and method of execution, the location where Crockett fought and fell, and the disposal of the Heroes’ remains.

One moving moment in the movie is when 29-year-old William Barrett Travis assembles the men and tells them Bonham’s lonely rides to rally assistance from nearby troops has been unsuccessful. He tells them help isn’t coming and they are destined to die in the Alamo.

Unless, of course, anyone chooses to leave.

Standing before them, he takes out his sword and traces a line in the sandy soil. The line separates Travis from the others.

Next, Travis asks for all who will stay and fight to step across the line. Anyone who doesn’t is free to leave and there’ll be no hard feelings. All step across except Rose.

Their fate sealed with one step of defiance, they raise a shout of final determination.

After the massacre, after the final pyre has become smoldering ashes, and Santa Anna declares it was “just a minor inconvenience,” the movie’s final scene is the Alamo as it looks today.

Suddenly, the scene of the Defenders shouting defiance is superimposed on the screen and you think they’re just outside, still hoping Fannin will arrive.

It also hits you just exactly what they did.

My eyes get teary and sniffles start.

The first year, I told the seventh graders I was simply tired. In subsequent years, after the lights went down and the image of 29-year-old James Butler Bonham appears on the screen, riding alone through hostile territory to report to Travis, I headed for the back to sit alone.

I know what’s going to happen when the final scene appears.

Recently, there has been speculation Travis really didn’t draw that line in the sand. It is only a legend; it isn’t true.

I think about what those men stood for, and how generations of other Americans, male and female, have made the same sacrifice so I can have the freedom to write this column.
Friday was one such day to remember them.

I am glad recent movies such as “Saving Private Ryan” and books like “Flags of Our Fathers” remind us of the horror they endured and the price they paid.

Regardless of where they were at the time, their stores are just as heroic and there fate is just as certain.

It could have been in Vietnam, or Korea, on the sands at Iwo Jima, or a beach called Omaha.

Did they really do the courageous things we hear about?

Did William Barrett Travis really draw that line?

Of course he did.

Paul Gnadt is the editor for the Keene Star. He can be reached via e-mail at

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Diabetes can devastate

My family’s heartache of losing two young members

In 1972, my 28-year-old sister-in-law died from type 1 diabetes. She left behind two precious little girls and a grieving family.

She had been diagnosed at the age of 16.

To say our family has been deeply affected by diabetes would be an obvious understatement. At the time of her death we had no way of knowing this dreadful disease would also claim the life of her younger daughter at the age of 11. The coronary defects which killed her were linked to her mother’s diabetes.

They had gone undetected. Our family was devastated.

Research has come so far since then. Her older daughter, my oldest niece, is living with the same disease in a completely different atmosphere. Her two boys are healthy and thriving but the risk of their developing diabetes is real.

In 2000, diabetes killed 224,092 people in this country, according to the American Diabetes Association.

The statistics surrounding diabetes are startling.

While our population, as a whole, gains more weight, the risk of contracting diabetes increases as well. The unbelievable fact, to me, is in most cases, type 2 diabetes is mostly preventable.
There are 20.8 million children and adults in the United States — or 7 percent of the population — who have diabetes.

While an estimated 14.6 million have been diagnosed, unfortunately, 6.2 million people are unaware they have the disease.

While the symptoms may be duplicitous, it is always wise to inform your physician of any concerns you may have about your health.

After all, no one knows your body as well as you do.

Two years ago I was shocked to hear my doctor tell me I was pre-diabetic. My biological family had no history of diabetes. He told me if I didn’t take immediate action my health would suffer irreparably.

I lost 30 pounds and began a walking regimen. It wasn’t easy or overnight but I thought my children and grandchildren might one day appreciate it. I know I do.

The American Diabetes Association tells us 54 million Americans have pre-diabetes, which puts them at greatest risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

Among the primary risk factors for type 2 are being overweight, sedentary, over the age of 45 and having a family history of diabetes. African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asians and Pacific Islanders are at an increased risk, as are women who have had babies weighing more than nine pounds at birth.

Diabetes is the fifth leading cause of death by disease in this country and has no known cure.
As the 21st Annual American Diabetes Alert Day, March 24, approaches, I implore each of you to have yourself tested for this insidious disease. Taking care of yourself is a gift to your family.

Candy McMichen is editor of the Everman Star and may be reached by email at

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Oh, beautiful for spacious skies...

America is alive and well in Texas.

The evidence was there for all to see Thursday night during the annual Burleson Chamber of Commerce awards banquet.

No, there weren’t 76 trombones blaring or even 100 flags flying. There were just scores of folks like you and me wrapped in the love and freedom that makes the United States of America the envy of the world.

Even with our problems, millions would love to enjoy what we often take for granted.

First we were allowed a peaceful assembly. There were no guards to keep us out. There was no one to search us as we came through the door. In fact, no police officers were seen.

What we did see and hear were happy young people saying “hi” and “go on in.”

In a lot of countries this would not be allowed.

Here were people anxious to greet a newcomer to the community with a personalized card, handshakes a smile and a genuine desire to help if need be.

America, alive and well.

A ladies choir clad in bright clothes with their voices loud and strong rallied us all with America the Beautiful, God Bless America and the National Anthem. People young and old lifted their voices together in a salute to the USA.

Four young men from Burleson High, spiffy in their ROTC program uniforms flawlessly presented the colors just perfectly, marching together to place the U.S. and Texas flags in their proper places next to the head table.

Thank you young men, it is people like you that will ensure that the future of America is strong.

As we pledged our allegiance everyone was respectful, hands over hearts, voicing the words we should never take for granted. There were no protesters and everyone was in accord. Words caught in the throats of some and tears were in evidence.

Yes, America is alive and well.

Awards were given and people were honored for their selfless commitment to the community. Men, women, young, old, winding a thread of service that binds us together as one nation.

Businesses owners and managers who believe in America and our community were honored. One drew special praise for helping a young person along the way academically. One said it was great just to make someone smile Yes, people really do care.

After the applause, the awards, the pats on the back a woman who reflects the American dreamed challenged the crowd. A black woman from a small town in Texas, she has climbed out of tough early childhood into a successful career in real estate and public speaking. Yes, only in America could her success be found.

Burleson is a great example of what all America is about, she declared. What about the problems we’re experiencing in America? “We are a nation that has learned to stick example to the world. We have survived. We are a people with a will to win. We will rise to the top. We will!”

In that meeting there were Republicans, Democrats, no doubt independents, and probably some who don’t know what to call themselves, politically. That’s okay, but we are all Americans. Look around today. Can you see America for what it is, a land of the free and home of the brave.

Sing it with me:

America, America, God shed His grace on thee, and crown thy good, with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.