Hook Story: Dr. Hook is Ruining My Life

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2009: Hook on campus at St. Edward’s University. Photo taken by fellow biologist, protege, and friend,Tara Maginnis during her Darwin Days event.

Last night, I hosted a mini Hookabration, a celebration of Hook’s life, for the entomologists who are in Austin for the annual ESA conference.  Five different hymenopterists shared heartfelt stories of their relationship with Hook — how he influenced their lives, what he meant to them as a friend and colleague — with 30 other entomologists in attendance.   This mini celebration was a smaller version of the larger Hookabration which we had only a few days after Hook passed away in early September.

One of the testimonials given at the original Hookabration was from a former colleague of Hook’s, Megan Murphy.   Megan had friends laughing and picturing Hook at his finest, ornery self.  Although I cannot share every testimonial or story given at both Hookabrations, I can share those that were submitted during my Call for Hook Stories.   It’s time for me to begin sharing those with you.  Enjoy …

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Dr. Hook is Ruining My Life by Megan Murphy

The first time I heard mention of Dr. Hook’s name was from a tearful student who came to my office to ask if there was any way she could withdraw from his freshman Biology class after the official drop period.  She said he was too hard. She was convinced that staying in his class would screw up her otherwise perfect GPA, which would keep her from getting into graduate school, which would limit her future career options, which would diminish her earning potential, which would ruin her life.  I will never forget her wailing, “Dr. Hook is ru-in-ing my liiiiiiiiife!!!!”

I worked in the St. Edward’s admissions office and learned to keep a fresh box of Kleenex in my desk for post-midterm revelations such as these. I don’t have any statistics to back it up, but it seemed to me like Al Hook stories were responsible for a disproportionate share of the freshman tissue usage.

Somewhere in the blurry early years of my 14-year tenure at SEU I finally met Dr. Hook. By then he had become a mythical creature in my mind.  Part man, part bug, and according to my tissue count, as heartless as the Tin Man. It was at one of those obligatory faculty/staff gatherings in the Maloney Room (the ones you really only go to because there’s free food), that I walked up to him and blurted out something like, “You’re Allan Hook, right? Do you think maybe you could stop making my freshmen cry?” He flashed me that exaggerated/open-mouthed “how dare you” look and then just started laughing …sort of loud….at me. He suggested I consider recruiting students with stronger backgrounds in the sciences, and then just walked away.

How we became friends after that less than gracious introduction I’m unsure, but over time we did.  Looking back, I think I can attribute our friendship to two things:

1)     Hook is funny (I’m a sucker for funny), and in spite of his crustiness he doesn’t take himself all that seriously. Hook didn’t seem to mind that I called him the Orkin Man when he dressed in head to toe khaki like an exterminator. Obviously he wasn’t too caught up in what anyone thought of his fashion sense because he swam laps in the school pool in a bathing suit that was so famously awful it had a name  — “The Rat.”  Over time I warmed up to his grumpy irreverence, his fascination with wasp copulation, and his creatively profane language.  In fact, I kind of liked it. All my life I’ve heard people say, “nobody likes a smart ass.” Well I disagree.  Some of us actually do.

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Megan Murphy with her fossilized scallop shell and dinosaur bone from Hook.

2)     Hook gave me two of my most prized possessions. Everyone at St. Ed’s knew that I collected found objects. Whenever fellow employees went on vacation, I asked them to bring me back something they found. I got everything from tiny jars of sand to pennies, but my favorites were the rocks and seashells. By the end of my employment I had amassed such a large collection of objects that there was little room left on my desk for anything but a phone and a Kleenex box. The found objects all ended up in a box somewhere, except for Hook’s contributions: a fossilized dinosaur bone and a fossilized scallop shell. They have been on display in my home ever since, and if my house were to catch on fire they would be among about five things I’d grab as I fled out the door.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should probably add that over the years there were far more students who bragged about surviving Hook’s classes than there were freshmen begging to get out of them.  Hook was a right of passage for a lot of science majors. They liked that he made evolution interesting and that he was curiously animated when he lectured on the topic of mating.  They groused about his tough grading but took pride in working along side him on his projects.  Hook had many devotees who credited him with preparing them for graduate education, research, and careers in science-related fields. I’d like to say that all his good deeds were somehow the result of my repeated requests that he consider taking a kinder and gentler approach to student advising……. but nobody likes a smart ass.

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WATCH YNN AUSTIN interview about Hook http://youtu.be/OmFFv0hfYbI
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Here But Not Here

And think not, you can direct the course of love; for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.”  – Kahlil Gibran 

 

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Rosemary and Allan Hook, 2009.

–    –     –

It started with the light bulbs and ended with the cockroach.  Two light bulbs blew out.  The first was in the master bathroom which went dark about a month after Hook died.  Instead of changing the bulb, I stopped using that bathroom and started using the guest bathroom.  Then the light in the guest bathroom blew out a week later – in the exact spot as in the master.  It was just a screw-in bulb, so easy to replace but to do so seemed a herculean effort.  I was never going to hear, “I’ll take care of it, babe.”  I stood at that vanity in the dark sobbing then walked out, leaving the bulb for another day.

After the light bulbs, the weed edger string ran out as I was halfway through edging the lawn.  That I was doing the lawn in the first place was not by choice, but the kid next door had not shown up to mow and the yard was looking suspiciously unkempt.  There I was squatting on the front lawn with the machine turned upside down, staring at the black spool as though doing so long enough would make the little blue string reappear.  I put the edger down, threw it down actually, and placed my hand over my eyes as my shoulders started to heave forward with the gulps of crying that were starting to form in my chest.  I didn’t have to worry that my neighbors might see me because I’d started the mowing and edging just before dusk so that even if the weeder had still worked, I wouldn’t have been able to see clearly enough to finish the front lawn. 

After the edger stopped working, the newspaper stopped showing up in the mornings.  Every week since Hook passed away, there would be at least one morning that the paper just wasn’t there.  The man of the house, the paper’s dedicated reader, was no longer alive and there was no one who was going to read the paper front to back or dive into the sports section at the crack of dawn.  I might skim over the syndicated columns or read the business section, but I was barely keeping up with reading snail mail.  If you peeked inside the house, you would have seen a couple of papers still in their original plastic sleeves.  If I were the local newspaper, I wouldn’t bother showing up either.   

My breaking point came when the Texas tree roach made his appearance in the living room next to the fireplace.  When I think back now, it was as though a bug memo had gone out:  Hook is gone, she is alone; invade.  I didn’t mind the enormous snail that plastered itself on the sliding glass door or the Texas longhorn beetles that kept landing on top of the BBQ grill or even the geckos (had there been babies?) that were running in and out every time I opened the door.  But even Hook had said that the house roach served no purpose and could be decimated upon sight.   

I returned home one afternoon and stopped still in my tracks when I saw the roach.  If Hook had been here, I would have called for him and he would have grabbed it with his bare hands.  Instead, I had to wait for my immobilizing fear to wear off.  Once it did, I ran to the garage for the roach shoe — the special shoe I use to defend myself from cockroaches that somehow managed to get past the external pest control service.  Shoe in hand, I ran back into the living room, took a deep breath and screamed as I whacked the roach to death leaving the shoe on top of him.  I dropped down onto the sofa and bawled, falling over to my side, eventually curling up so I could hold myself as I wailed. Light bulbs and lawns and newspapers and bugs fell under ‘stuff Hook took care of’ and they were just more reminders of my everyday reality that no matter how many times I wished him back, Hook was not going to magically appear and make this house a home again.

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I’ve spread his ashes and I tell myself I’ve accepted his death, but he’s the only person I think of when I want to share something I’ve read or heard or seen.  Hook is here but not here.  His body is gone but he’s everywhere in this house, the rental house where we lived, where he lived and died, where I live today, and where I face time and space without him.  When I walk into the closet, I press my face into his clothes to catch any remaining scent of him before even that disappears, too.  I stare at photos, willing him to return and make himself whole again.

Two weeks after Hook’s memorial, I flew to New Jersey to spend time with his step-family.  I needed to see again where Hook had grown up, to walk the Sandy Hook beach where he’d been a lifeguard in the summers of his youth.  Two of his step-sisters drove me by his high school and then down the street to his childhood home.  I reminisced on his behalf the tale he once told about a party he threw as a teenager one weekend when his parents were out of town.

Almost a month after the New Jersey trip, I flew to Trinidad with some of his ashes. Hook wanted a small portion of his remains to be spread in the rainforests where he’d collected his wasps. I felt I owed it to him, and to the Trinidadian community, to bring the ashes in person. That Caribbean island, that beautiful rain-washed country had harbored Hook for two, 1-year sabbaticals and fifteen summers. I realized that I wasn’t taking Hook’s ashes but bringing him home to a people who treasured him.  In between the New Jersey and Trinidad trips, I made a short trek to San Antonio for a three-day business conference, thinking it was time to start engaging the business world again.  I chose a conference out of town though so I would know fewer people.

After each of these trips, each time I returned to Austin, I found myself forced back to the beginning of the grieving process where the initial loss sits on you like a weight.  I already knew there was a danger in grieving too little, which comes right before the danger of grieving too long. No one can tell you what either of those is.  Each person has to figure it out for themselves which is how I learned that I needed to walk into my grief, to sit with it, to feel the depth of the loss so that Hook’s passing won’t haunt me forever. 

It’s why after a funeral is over, and everyone leaves, and you’re all alone that then and only then do you get a sense of what things will be like from now on. And it’s not anything that can be rushed or helped by the presence of another. Sometimes being around people actually makes it worse, because you don’t openly grieve, not like how you would if you were alone. Instead you hold it all in. When I’m with others I feel normal, like before, and I think, This is all going to be okay. But then I’m alone and I fall apart, taken by surprise at Hook’s absence because he is still gone. He is gone and he is never coming back.

–     –     –

When people ask how I’ve been, I say “Fine; hanging in there; good.”

I’ve felt each of these things at one time or another, but I’ve no idea how I am really and I won’t know for some time.  I think about how it would be so much easier to live during a time when retreating from society for a year was the norm after the death of a spouse. And I think, it’s still not too late for me to do that except sometimes I need the interaction of other people but not in the quantity I did before.  So I tread lightly into public, refusing to go at anyone’s pace but my own and learning the hard way that even if I were dressed in all black with a veil covering my face and the words, Be Gentle, written on my forehead that there would still be those who lack emotional intelligence of any kind when it comes to those of us who are mourning.

Certainly that was the case on the plane to Trinidad with the man who moved into the vacant seat next to me once he realized no one was going to be sitting there. He asked why I was going to Trinidad and I told him. About two hours into the five-hour flight, when the attendant handed out the customs forms, this man turned towards me and watched as I started to check off boxes.

“You’re a widow now,” he said as he tapped my form with his pen.  “You’re not married anymore. You’re single now. You have to mark single.”

With every word he spoke, tears welled up in my eyes as I stared down at my form, liquid blurring my vision.  This stupid, stupid man kept saying it over and over again, “You’re a widow now.” 

I wanted to beat him with his own iPad or scream in his face, SHUT! UP!  But I didn’t. I didn’t because Hook wouldn’t have done that, and I didn’t want to do anything Hook wouldn’t have done.

When I was sure my voice would be steady, I asked, “Will you be moving back to your seat?”

“You want me to move?” the man asked, incredulity in his voice. 

“Yes,” I said, “then we can have more room to spread out so we’re not so crowded.”

If there was a Hook test, I’d passed it. 

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My friend, Angelica, had a dream about Hook the night before I returned from Trinidad.  In her dream, Hook was flying a plane to ACL. The ride was bumpy with all sorts of alarms going off inside, but Hook still managed to land the plane safely. 

I’d been waiting for Hook to show up in someone’s dreams because he hadn’t shown up in mine.  I’ve fallen asleep night after night with tears on my lashes and whispering, Please talk to me. But he hasn’t come to me in my dreams and that’s both bothered and saddened me. What I mean, what God knows I mean, and what Hook knows I mean is that I’ve been waiting, waiting for some sign, some dream, something that will tell me whatever it is I believe I still need to know. 

He landed safely.  It had been a bumpy ride, but he got there safely.

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WATCH YNN AUSTIN interview about Hook http://youtu.be/OmFFv0hfYbI READ about Hook Wild Basin Endowment LIKE Wild Basin on Facebook http://on.fb.me/17tvEg1

Obituary: Allan W. Hook, Ph.D.

Services for Dr. Hook in Austin will be held Sunday, September 8th, 5pm at St. Edward’s University’s chapel followed by a Celebration of Hook aka a “Hookabration” in the Maloney Room inside the Main Building, 3rd floor on SEU’s campus (look for the tallest, red-peaked building).  

In lieu of flowers/plants of any kind, please consider a tax-deductible donation to Hook’s legacy, The Dr. Hook Wild Basin Endowment, instead:  http://bit.ly/1KR8YDv  (Choose OTHER for donation then type in HOOK ENDOWMENT)

Condolence cards may be mailed to the Hook House, P O Box 151240, Austin, TX 78715-1240.  (I’m torn between not wanting you to waste paper but wanting to support the U.S. Post Office.  Your call.)

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OBITUARY:  Dr. Allan Hook, November 17, 1953 – September 3, 2013

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Allan William Hook— known to the masses as “Hook”—passed away at his home at age 59 on September 3, 2013.   Surrounding him were his family and friends who gently guided him through to his end here.

Hook was born on November 17, 1953, in Quincy, Massachusetts, but spent most of his childhood in Fair Haven, New Jersey, where he excelled in school science fairs and achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. Summer days spent as a lifeguard at Sandy Hook beach on the Jersey shore would help shape him, physically with a trim physique that he maintained with daily laps in the pool, and spiritually with a love for the sand and salt that later led him on many fishing junkets to Port Aransas, Texas.

But it would be wandering in the wild with his mother on nature walks that ultimately inspired his passion and lifelong love for natural science. Hiking through creek beds for fossils and taking the time to stop and turn stones and leaves in search of bugs fueled his curiosity about the natural world.  He embarked on a journey of learning that began at the University of Maine (Orono) where he received a bachelors in biology. Hook obtained a masters in entomology and zoology from the University of Georgia (Athens) and under the direction and guidance of the world-renowned wasp expert, Howard Evans, he completed a doctorate in zoology and entomology from Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

Academia led him to Austin, Texas, where Hook taught at the University of Texas and then as a professor at St. Edward’s University, where he spent over 25 years teaching evolutionary biology to undergraduates. His research focused on the social behavior and biodiversity of solitary wasps.  Hook spent much of his time roaming the fields and woods of Texas collecting insects, then collaborating with colleagues on research at the Brackenridge Field Laboratory on the West Austin shores of Lady Bird Lake. He also enjoyed several sabbaticals in the rain forests of Trinidad, Honduras, and Brazil collecting and collaborating with fellow biologists and smuggling home fiery homemade hot sauces. For his peers, he was a source of respected research and knowledge, and if they were lucky enough, a hilarious companion for collecting trips into the wild.  He was dependable as a loyal friend and an endless source of ribald jokes muttered from an infectious smile.

In addition to a large body of published research, Hook had the honor of discovering three new species of insects which now bear his name: Nemomydas hooki (fly), and two, solitary wasps—Solerella hooki and Pseudopolis hooki.

In 2009, Hook married Rosemary Guzman (a non-bug person), and as any good hymenopterist would do, he took his wife on a honeymoon to the jungles of Chiapas.  Together, Hook and Rosemary created the Dr. Allan W. Hook Endowed Wild Basin Creative Research Fund to support his reverence and study of nature.  This fund provides fellowships to any student in the world interested in conducting creative research at the Wild Basin Preserve in Austin, Texas.

Hook was preceded in death by his parents Walter Allan Hook and Andrée Jeanne Gougé Hook. He is survived by his wife, Rosemary Guzman Hook, his sister, Claire Hook Patton (Curtis) and brother, Walter David Hook (Paula), step-mom Faith Hook, stepsisters Sandy McCray (Big Mike), Gay Benedict (Roger), Amy Bergh (Greg); and numerous nieces and nephews.

Hook’s ashes will be spread in Texas and in the countries of Trinidad and Australia.  

Services for Hook in Austin will be held Sunday, September 8th, 5pm at St. Edward’s University’s chapel followed by a Celebration of Hook, a “Hookabration” in the Maloney Room, 3rd floor of the Main Building, on SEU’s campus.  All are welcome.

As an advocate of sustainability, Hook’s final request was to encourage a donation to the Hook Wild Basin Fund in lieu of flowers/plants.  You may make that tax-deductible donation to the Dr. Allan W. Hook Endowed Wild Basin Creative Research Fund at http://bit.ly/2lEHKyW

Or, you may mail your donation to St. Edward’s University’s Advancement Office, ATTN Hook Endowment, 3001 South Congress, Austin, TX 78704.   To read more about the Hook Wild Basin Endowment, click here:  http://bit.ly/2ASJGrb.  To watch the YNN Austin interview about Hook’s life, click here:  http://youtu.be/OmFFv0hfYbI

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It All Began with Wheat Gluten: Part II

(Click here for It All Began With Wheat Gluten: Part I)

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The original bag of wheat gluten from Hook!

Hook loves to brag, “I almost didn’t get a second date!”

If it hadn’t been for the wheat gluten, he may not have. Neither Hook nor I were the common 20 to 30-year-olds when we met. I was 42 and Hook was 53.  His balding head was losing hair follicles by the dozen and my body was sprouting new follicles in places I do not care to describe. That we are opposites is no surprise to those who know us, but we are also alike in the most organic of ways, and that organic part began with wheat gluten.

The First Date

Allan spotted me on campus, our common place of work at the time, a few months after I’d started working at the university. He’d asked around and found out that one of his colleagues knew someone who knew someone who knew me. Around the same time, I’d been told by a friend of a friend that someone was making inquiries. Once I learned it was Dr. Hook doing the asking, I figured it was just a matter of time before he made his interest known. I waited but no Dr. Hook.

I’m sure a more liberal woman would have just picked up the phone and asked him out.  But I’m a closet conservative so I was going to need to invent a reason to contact him. The thing was, Allan taught traditional, undergraduate biology students while I career counseled working professional students mostly in graduate business programs. I counseled the occasional undergraduate student but rarely were they biology majors.  Then one day a colleague asked if I knew which employers were actively hiring biology students. That seemed a legitimate reason to pick up the phone and call Dr. Hook. I left a detailed voice mail explaining who I was, why I was calling, and when he had a moment would he please call me back.

Now, when I tell this story in person, I like to exaggerate and say that I had barely put the phone back in its cradle when Allan showed up on the threshold of my office door. Since I don’t want to embellish, let’s just say at least ten minutes passed between the time I left my voice mail message and what appeared to be a slightly winded Dr. Hook standing in the doorway of my campus office. He walked in, sat down, and propped his feet up on my desk and repeated back to me the question I’d asked on the voice mail. When I saw the side of his shoe on my desk, I couldn’t help but widen my eyes and smile with the thought, Who does this guy think he is?  He immediately started talking about biology-related employers which I paid no attention to until I remembered my made-up reason for calling him. I thought I’d better at least pretend to write down some of the things he was telling me. When we’d exhausted that part of the discussion, we started talking about (I no longer remember) and next thing I knew, I was asking him to give me three adjectives he would use to describe himself.

Allan did not like that question at all. I saw what could only be described as a smirk show up on his face as he looked me in the eyes and answered.

“Old, ornery, and obscene.”

I laughed out loud.  This guy is a hoot!  What I didn’t learn until months later is that Allan was annoyed at what he perceived to be “a marketing question.” It was a common question I asked of my graduate students as a way to pull from them what they believed to be their greatest strengths, in essence, how to market themselves to employers. Except, this guy in my office, this old, ornery, and obscene man with his feet propped up on my desk was not going to put up with ordinary questions from a commoner. But even my marketing question wasn’t enough to annoy him into forgetting what he came over to do and that was to ask me out on a date.

“So, do you want to get drinks sometime after work?” he asked.

Well, that seemed out of nowhere, but Allan was done with the conversation and wanted to move on to more important matters back in his office.

“Sure,” I said.

“When?” he asked.

Apparently, small talk was over. We agreed on a Friday in the future. We met, we had a drink, actually, I had two drinks – two pints of beer in fact — to kill the pain of our conversation which wasn’t an actual conversation but more my asking questions and Allan mumbling into his salad with his head bent over. This must be the old of old, ornery, and obscene. Halfway through the date, I decided I would not be going out with him again.  We didn’t have enough in common and whoever had shown up in my office a week and a half ago was not the same man who showed up for this date.

How to Get a Second Date

The day after, I received a looong email from Allan, the length of which he has never written to me again in the last five years. He thanked me for the date, said what a nice time he’d had and that he had stopped by the store to pick up a bag of wheat gluten and would I like him to drop it off at my office. What is he talking about?  Wheat gluten?  Then finally, Oh my God he remembered …

Somewhere between pint one and pint two, I’d asked Allan how to get rid of the dallisgrass weed in my yard. I’d read something about using an organic alternative like wheat gluten, and since he was a biologist, I figured he must know something about that sort of thing. I’d completely forgotten we’d even discussed weeds and gluten, so for him to remember then to actually follow-up and buy some wheat gluten was for me, quite impressive. I sat there thinking, Wow he was paying attention.

In the email, Allan said he’d drop the wheat gluten off at my office or if I wanted, I could stop by his house. He’s insane.  I am not going to his house. And then after I’d researched his address which he’d offered in the email, I realized, he’s only a mile from campus!  Since I was driving 45 miles round trip every day to work, and since I must have whined about this during our date, the good professor cleverly offered up his logistical attractiveness to our place of work.

To keep him from dropping into my office again, I mentioned something in my response email about meeting up at an art function the following weekend. He could bring the coveted wheat gluten then. Now why I didn’t just say I’d pick up the wheat gluten from his office, I’ll never know. Except, as I started to recall bits and pieces of that first evening, I remembered a part of our conversation that stumbled into the area of ‘what do men want?’

Allan said with clarity, “That’s simple.”

“It is?” I asked as I sat up to attention.

“Yes,” he said. “Men just want women to be happy.”

I remembered feeling disappointed with that answer; it seemed too simple. But as I typed out my response on the keyboard to his email, I couldn’t help thinking two things:  He listened — and — He’s trying to please me.  There was something genuine about the offer of wheat gluten, especially since he didn’t actually believe it would make the dallisgrass disappear. He’d bought me a bag anyway because it meant something to me.

When we met at the art function a week later, Allan seemed different, more relaxed somehow.  He told me later, “I was just so happy you agreed to a second date.”

“But it wasn’t a second date,” I said. “I just wanted the wheat gluten.”

“Yeah,” he said, “but I didn’t know that; to me, it was a second date.”

Well, it did end up being our second date because we stayed at the function for several hours looking at all the different artwork. He engaged in the conversation and we laughed a lot. I learned he was a wine drinker more so than beer which surprised me given his affinity to plaid shirts.  Allan saw bugs in all the abstract watercolors while I looked for people in the paintings. Even though I didn’t initially see insects in every piece of artwork, once Allan pointed out how to look at something differently, sometimes I could see them.

Afterwards, as he walked me to my car, I thought:  There’s depth to this man. Then as I turned to face him, he snuck in a lightening fast peck on my lips.

“Oh” was all I could think to say.

“Do you want to go on a nature walk tomorrow?” he asked.

“A nature walk …” I repeated, because I was a bit flustered. Did he just kiss me?

“There’s a place where I do some work,” Allan said. “I could take you on a nature walk there.”

The Nature Walk

No one had ever taken me on a nature walk before. I wasn’t even sure if I knew what a nature walk was, but I’d enjoyed myself at the art event so I agreed to meet him the next day at UT’s Brackenridge Field Lab. When I arrived that Sunday, Allan walked me inside the facility, showing me parts of the enormous insect collection full of pinned wasps and moths, butterflies and beetles. There was also a disturbingly large ant mound that gave me the heebie jeebies but which I found myself asking questions about. Then he led me over to the tropical butterfly tent which was a huge blue tarp draped over a greenhouse area with butterflies flying over our heads.

“Wow” was all I could think to say as I stared upwards with my mouth open watching all these colorful insects fluttering around and around. The tropical part of the butterfly tent was owed to the Costa Rican butterflies that were visiting. Allan said there were Texas butterflies, too, like the Zebra Longwing, the Tiger something and a bunch of other iridescent beauties. From the butterfly tent, we exited outside to a dirt trail where Allan pointed out grapevine and cypress and pecan trees and elms. Surely I’d walked by grapevine a thousand times in Austin but until that day, I’d never really seen it. My ignorance and obliviousness to nature astounded even me. Further along, he showed me a man-made pond full of squishy things that was being used for an ongoing study of more squishy things.

Halfway through our walk, we found a log and sat down side-by-side to share a large Honeycrisp apple. I took a bite then Allan took a bite then I took another bite and so on until the entire apple was gone. I felt shy all of a sudden and worried if I looked okay so close up. But Allan was so comfortable with himself that I started to feel perfectly fine, and I forgot to care whether my hair was too big (it usually was), or whether my forehead was too greasy (you could fry an egg on that thing), or if any apple bits had wedged in between my front teeth.

Our nature walk was on a late January afternoon which would normally be jacket weather. But that particular day, the winter air had warmed so Allan was dressed in blue jeans and tennis shoes and a white t-shirt with pictures of bugs on it. I was bundled up in worn khakis with a navy blue hooded sweatshirt assuming, I guess, that I was going to be mauled by biting insects or something. Allan had on his head a weathered white baseball cap with a blue flap which sat pushed back on top of his head. He carried a long stick in his left hand so that each time he described something to me, he could point to it with the stick.

We didn’t always walk together, sometimes I was trailing him. At one point, when he stopped to show me some cypress trees, he was positioned underneath a canopy of leaves from the live oaks on either side of the path. Their branches reached across the trail to touch one another. Allan stood facing me, smiling, waiting for me to catch up, and I couldn’t help thinking, He’s just a big kid and this is his playground.

Later as we continued to walk, he ran up to what looked like a circular bundle of dark green nothing hanging high from a branch. He poked it with his stick and said, “It’s mistletoe.”

“That’s not mistletoe,” I said as I laughed. I thought he was egging for another kiss except it really was mistletoe. For some ridiculous reason, I thought mistletoe started growing the day before Christmas Eve then died right after New Year’s Day.

“It is!” he said then he began to explain how mistletoe grows.

The more he talked, the more animated his face became, and I finally understood.  So this is who he is.  He was in his element, at his best, enthralled to be sharing this world of nature he obviously loved with someone who obviously understood so little of it.  He was thorough with his descriptions, generous in his sharing, and I began to fall in love with my future husband as he explained mistletoe to me.

Allan eventually gave me the bag of wheat gluten many dates later, but I’ve never been able to bring myself to use it.  I’ve been holding onto it, treasuring it I guess. When we were planning our wedding, I thought about dividing it up and placing it inside glass centerpieces for the tables, then realized that was too weird even for me.

But this is our story, how two incredibly opposite people came to be. My husband is not old but he is ornery and he is obscene and I love him.

Thank God for wheat gluten.

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Stay Tuned

 

hook_malfordmilligankelleyshook

L-R: Charles & Angelica Kelley; Malford Milligan, Austin Blues Musician; Hook and me.   Healthier, happier times.

 

I read the other day that it’s rude for an author not to respond when comments are made on their blog.  I’d stopped responding to comments months ago because I worried it might be rude to have a public response to otherwise private people.

Please know that I read every single comment even if I haven’t responded personally.  When Hook’s not annoyed with the blog, he reads them, too.   He’s not so much annoyed with Hooks Down Under — although he is — as he’s annoyed with anything social media related including blogs, microblogs, etc.

All of your prayers, thoughts, good juju, wishes are read by us and mean much to us both.

With that said, I deliberately did not post the last few weeks which is not exactly a recommended strategy for keeping people informed.  I’m trying my best is all I can say.  I do have an updated post coming and, like before, I’ll ease you into an update on us, Hook’s health, and everything in between.

Stay tuned …

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Hook the Comedian

HDU_StevenWrightComedianIt’s a Saturday and I’m laughing to myself because I only have the cat, Gatita, as company.

Hook drove to Port Aransas yesterday morning for a long weekend of fishing and to enjoy a time of de-stress before he begins a new round of chemo treatments in another week. I worried that he shouldn’t be driving alone because he’s been so tired lately. I asked multiple times if he wanted me to go with him, afraid he might get down there and realize he was too tired to drive back.

After asking for a fourth time if he was absolutely sure that he didn’t want me to go, he said, “Well, not if you’re going to bitch all weekend about how you don’t want to be there.”

With my index finger pointing at his face, I said, “Okay, I’m not going to be offended by that but only because you might still have cancer. Otherwise, I would kick your ass all over this kitchen.”

Can you feel the love?

I kissed Hook on the cheek afterwards and let out a sigh because the thought of driving four hours to the coast and four hours back was not enticing. I’m trying to finish my first book: The Mystery Behind the Masters. Raise your hand if you think it’s a book about golf. It’s not. It’s a how-to book for professionals considering a master’s degree as a component of a career change.

It’s hard enough to stay motivated when writing creative fiction. Imagine what it’s been like for me to finish that piece of sleeping material.   But, I’d put so many hours into writing it last Spring then I’d set it aside when everything started happening with Hook.  I’d expected to finish it late last year so I could move on to a creative fiction story I’d briefly outlined.  I didn’t want to give up on The Masters project just because I’d lost interest.   It’s a critical read for anyone contemplating additional degrees, certifications, or licensing for their career or hoped-for career.  Plus, it’s targeted to my Hook The Talent consumer audience.   Oh my goodness, I sound like a commercial.

Anyway, I’d finally gotten my mojo back with the first draft written and now I’m in the editing phase.  I’d been coveting a long weekend that would allow me to think/drink/breathe this book while editing, talking to myself, and drinking massive cups of coffee. When I write, my work is spread out all over the kitchen table with piles of paper everywhere. Notebooks lie strewn in varying positions on the sofa, fuchsia sticky notes plastered on stacks marked READ TODAY, yellow sticky notes on stacks marked READ SOMETIME, and red pen marks on stacks that mean READ RIGHT NOW.

You would think today and right now are the same, but in a writer’s world today is tomorrow and right now is today. Now you understand the need for coffee.

My paper mess annoys Hook. It annoys me, too, but less than it motivates me to keep focused. Hence my secret relief that Hook desired a fishing weekend alone which gave me the physical space I needed. Gatita was relieved, too, because it meant she could sleep on the beds and the sofas without some male voice yelling, “Get off!” every time he caught her breaking unexplained house rules.

Hook doesn’t know it but when he’s not here, Gatita’s favorite thing to do is dig her claws into his leather lounger, kneading the same area over and over again. She pokes little holes into the leather with her claws leaving what looks like pock marks in the corner of the seat of the lounger. Hook felt them one day by accident and he took off his glasses to peer more closely while feeling around for them.

“Has Gatita been on this lounger?”  he asked.

“What?” I said, shaking my head and avoiding eye contact, “She knows you’d scream at her if she did that.”

That’s me telling the truth while not telling the truth.

I was laughing earlier not because of Gatita and her dirty little secret to silently ruin her master’s favorite lounger. I was laughing because I remembered something Hook said to me towards the end of last year.   Something to do with me briefing his people on his hospital stay.   Something that was uncomfortable for him to talk to them about so he asked if I would do it instead, but then he tried to tell me how to say it.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ll be subtle about it.”

Hook snorted, “You’re about as subtle as a nuclear weapon.”

“Yes,” I said.  “and even that isn’t enough sometimes.”

Still, another good one by Dr. Hook . . .

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