Conversations about the life of President George H. W. Bush didn’t remain on shore as more than 3,000 folks left Galveston last week for a short cruise on the Carnival Valor. About the time we put out to sea, the United States’ 41st president was completing the final miles of life’s journey, aboard a special train from a final funeral service in Houston to College Station for interment next to his beloved wife, Barbara.

Texas Highway 6, near the tracks on which the train slowly traversed, was a frequent topic. Some vacationers stopped in small towns along the way to pay respects as it rumbled through. Others purposely took different routes to the cruise port to avoid the congestion….

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Conversations I overheard about this “people person” elicited smiles. Folks spoke positively, putting aside political labels. Many pointed to his being a patriotic American. Remembered were his “family values” and dry humor. And his seeming refusal to often take himself too seriously.

Topics included Dana Carvey’s “wouldn’t-be-prudent” TV impersonations, the president’s dislike of broccoli and his endorsement of “crazy” socks that a young special needs guy introduced and now on the fast-track to favor.

One man wished to have been a “fly on the wall” during banter between “43” (when he was vice president) and President Reagan. A story was resurrected about Bush’s asking Reagan how his meeting had gone with Tutu (Desmond, the South African civil rights activist). “So-so,” Reagan is said to have responded….

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I’m happy to say that our granddaughter, Juliana Penney of Tyler, innocently made possible a positive laugh at our tables, where 24 friends dined. She had made it clear that she wanted no special attention at dinner about her reaching age 16.

Her parents, Kyle and Jana Penney, have long conducted “menu checks” for her and her brother Kedren, 12, both of whom have severe nut allergies. (Carnival professionals are ever alert to such situations, and carefully provide menu choices to be made one day in advance.)

Birthday observances, however, are the result of extractions from boarding records. Honorees get small cakes topped by single candles, delivered by servers singing joyfully. Juliana’s server, perhaps realizing at the moment he thrust the cake toward her that it might not be “nut free,” whispered, in broken English, “Don’t eat cake, just blow out candle!” She “led the laughter,” happy to be able to smile about an issue that usually is devoid of humor. She had her cake, and didn’t eat it, too….

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Come Sunday, our bunch gathered in the Winston lounge for “preachin’ and singin’.” An entrance sign invited visitors. Five joined us. Larry Martin, our church organist back home, provided piano music as we sang old hymns. Longtime Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor, Dr. Jimmie Nelson, preached, not once referencing Saturday’s “first ever attempt at snorkeling.”

He could easily have embellished, describing several minutes of observing schools of fish in the sparkling blue water. But he didn’t. Before the service, he admitted he had his face underwater for a minute or two--that he saw one fish, not a school--and that it was “hand size,” not the length of hands spread wide apart.  Slowed by neuropathy, he has been preaching for more than 70 years. Dr. Nelson thrives on being ever-unpredictable. In the summer of his 90th year, he rode the zip line over Palo Duro Canyon. He’s ever-determined to take on whatever comes next….

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He is as committed to Christian service as Senator Bob Dole is to patriotism. That’s saying a lot.

Many will never forget Dole’s being lifted from his wheelchair--standing as upright as he could--to pay final respects at President Bush’s coffin. Able to lift only his left arm for a final salute, he straightened gnarled fingers as much as he could.

Would that all of us make such efforts to pay homage to lives well-lived….

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Dr. Don Newbury is a former educator who “commits speeches” round about. Comments/inquiries to: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: www.speakerdoc.com Twitter: @donnewbury. Facebook: don newbury.

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