July 4 fell on a Sunday in 1976, and that was the bicentennial observance of the birth of our nation’s freedom. Anyone who can remember so many years back knows it was a spectacular and emotional day.
In Brownwood though, it could have been any other holiday. People bought fireworks at one of the stands at the city limits. Many grilled burgers in the back yard while others went skiing at the lake. Major celebrations were broadcast on television, but those happened in other places.
Several days before that weekend, Brownwood’s all-time greatest cheerleader, the late Groner Pitts, and I crossed paths at the post office. It was probably a Saturday, because that was the day I routinely made the mail run for our office. It was long before the era of e-mails, cell phones and text messages, and Saturday’s delivery often contained something that was needed for Sunday’s newspaper.
Groner seemed uncharacteristically down. A simple “How are you doing?” opened a conversation in which he expressed regret that the community hadn’t planned something big for the bicentennial. It may be a year late, he told me, but things were going to be different next year.
I wasn’t the only one with whom Groner shared that thought, so it wasn’t a surprise when we heard that those plans were coming together. A year later, those plans resulted in a concert and Fourth of July celebration at Gordon Wood Stadium, featuring Anita Bryant.
It became more than just a patriotic concert, though, because after she was booked, Miss Bryant and her now ex-husband became politically active opposing gay rights in Florida. The Miss America runner-up, recording star and commercial spokesperson for Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, Florida citrus and Holiday Inn was suddenly a lightning rod for controversy. But her show in Brownwood went on, and the massive protests that many thought might be a distraction failed to materialize.
Groner invited me to join the delegation that met Bryant and those traveling with her at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. The stated purpose was for me to do an interview on the trip back to Brownwood. But along the way I also picked up various other assignments, including but not limited to being a baggage handler, orange juice go-fer and skycap tipper. As a matter of fact, it was an incredible personal experience for a young guy like me — and one that could not be fully told within the rather confining format of a news interview. I needed a more flexible forum to relate the full scope of this story, and a column was the only way to do it.
During my days at Howard Payne, while working on the student newspaper, I had written a weekly column called “tgif.” The Yellow Jacket was published on Fridays, so the initial letters of words in the phrase “thank goodness, it’s Friday” were appropriate.
For a long time, I’ve referred to this as an acronym — until one of my good readers called last year. He said since you can’t make a pronounceable word out of it (like NATO, scuba and radar), “tgif” is actually an initialism (because you enunciate each letter). My own research has found a great deal of support among experts for this distinction, although some dissent persists. There’s even less agreement, however, on what to call mixtures of the two, like JPEG and MS-DOS. For now, those are being described as acronym-initialism hybrids. But I digress.
Thus, on Friday, July 8, 1977, this column was launched. Three decades later, I still consider that first column among the best I’ve done. But for better or for worse, it’s continued weekly since, with only brief interruptions, following me to positions in newspapers at Alice and Stephenville, and then back to the Bulletin in 2004. That’s when Associate Publisher Bill Crist graciously yielded his Friday slot and moved to Wednesday so “tgif” could continue on a day of the week when its name made at least a little bit of sense.
A month ago, I mentioned this column’s approaching 30th anniversary and joked that a big celebration was in the works. Sorry. It’s a milestone that merits nothing more than this simple notice, some personal reflection and perhaps the new photo to your left. But if it’s a celebration you want, consider tomorrow night’s fireworks display at Feather Bay on Lake Brownwood. Now there’s something worth cheering: 231 years of American independence.
Gene Deason is managing editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Friday. He may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.