Sixty Years and Still Dancing

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Texas Toast

Henry Halff was asked to deliver a toast to his parents at the party. Here is the text of that toast. It was given extemporaneously, and the version here is somewhat more polished than that delivered at the party.


Texas Toast

I need to begin with a warning. It was only yesterday, the eve of this great event, that my brother, Bro, who planned and orchestrated this entire affair, worked up enough nerve to ask me to deliver a toast to our parents. To his great dismay, I said that I would. So, those of you who know me realize that now is a good time to leave.

Those of you who don’t know me, deserve some explanation. It all has to do with genetics. You see, Lee and Albert passed a genetic heritage on to their sons. But some of thier outstanding genetic material did not find its way to me, and other unexpected mutations have, as they will, crept into my DNA. These genetic alterations explain why I am not like the other members of my immediate family.

One of the genes I don’t have, for example, is the smart gene. The smart gene is what allows you to speak intelligently, and on demand, about any subject of importance, or of no importance. Although this gene runs in my family, it has somehow bypassed me. But that’s all right. I have found that not having the smart gene puts me at something of an advantage. By hanging around the same people for long periods and being, over and over again, unable to come up with anything to say, I’ve gotten the reputation of being a good listener—a definitely handy reputation to have in my family.

I’m also missing another gene, the art gene. The art gene is what keeps you awake after intermission in a concert by the National Symphony Orchestra in the Kennedy Center, or what keeps you buying paintings long after they’ve covered all of your walls, have been hung in your back stairs, and are piling up under your sofas. The art gene runs in the Halff family, but I don’t have it. Nonetheless, I consider myself lucky, because instead of shelling out a few hundred bills to suffer through four hours of some screechy-deechy at the opera, I can get a kick of sitting outside at the Specht Store in the Texas hill country, watching the sun go down as some kid takes care of his prize bull in a far pasture and a terrible Texas troubador plays his heart out as if the Specht Store was the stepping stone to Nashville, or at least Austin (which it is, in fact). And all this for nothing more than a tip and the price of a chicken-fried steak.

But perhaps the worst gene to be missing in this family is the ambition and industry gene, which runs deep in the Halffs. Witness my brother’s monumental efforts in putting this party together (applause). Or witness my father’s 55-year career building the city of Dallas (applause). Or even more prodigious than either of these witness my mothers ceaseless and heroic efforts whereby she has, for lo these 57 years, managed to keep me out of jail (thunderous applause)! I have none of the ambition and industry gene, but that’s all right by me. I figure that I’m the only one in the family that will die relaxed, and with nothing left on my list. Indeed, I don’t even have a list.

But let’s take a look at some of the genes that I do have. My first, and very best gene, is, of course, my sweetie, Jean. (Jean enters to applause.)

But there are others that deserve mention. I’m the one in the family that got the mischief gene. There’s one member of every generation that is a total screw-up, either through intention or ignorance or a combination of both. And I am that person. If I don’t inadvertently mess things up, I’ll do it intentionally. I’m the only one, for example, who wears his hat indoors, to my mother’s great shame. (Be thankful, Mom, at least I’m not in jail, yet.) In fact, the reason that we were late arriving at the party tonight was that I forgot to bring my hat and insisted on going back to get it so that I could wear it indoors right here.

Related to the mischief gene is a gene that I’m very fond of, the beer gene, which needs no explanation. Except perhaps to note that the beer gene, in the presence of the art gene, tends to mutate into the very, very dangerous wine gene. Those with the wine gene look forward to a future first of snobbery, then of financial ruin. Thank goodness, my beer gene is intact. One reason the beer gene is so wonderful is that its possessors never at a loss for a toast, as those of you who were unwise enough to stick around now realize to your horror. And what better beer to toast this incredible couple than a Shiner Bock (pours a beer) from the Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas (raises glass, takes a sip).

Which brings me to the last, and most important gene, that I could possibly have tonight—the TEXAS gene, yee-haw! (chorus of yee-haws) Why? Because almost all of the 60 years that this couple has been married have been spent in Texas. And here they are out in California, celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary so far from home. And, here am I, sandwiched between the California quiz show and the Hawaiian hula. About all I can bring to this celebration is a little bit of Texas.

Music is the only way that I know of doing this, so what I’ve got are three hastily chosen songs from the Lone Star State. One, sung by San Antonio’s great Tejano music star—Augie Meyers, is just to get things started. It’s the first song I ever learned, and it’s made for clapping to and singing to.

The second is a song about Mom and Dad’s courtship. It was written by a couple from Wimberly, Texas who had the same kind of courtship in Boston. So the details of the song don’t quite match. But, what the hey, Boston and Chicago are pretty much indistinguishable from Texas, as I’m sure they are from California. And I imagine that there are very few people in this room that know the difference between Wimberly and Kingsville. It’s the spirit of this song that captures the story.

The third song was the hit song of 1940. I don’t know whether they knew this in 1940, but it’s sure apparent in hindsight. The song is a classic not-so-western swing number rendered by Austin’s premier Western swing band, Asleep at the Wheel and sung by Dwight Yoakum. If you don’t find yourself dancing to this song, check your shoes; they’re probably nailed to the floor.

(Three songs: Deep in the Heart of Texas, performed by Augie Meyers; Texas Waits for Me, performed by The Denns; and New San Antonio Rose, performed by Asleep at the Wheel with vocal by Dwight Yoakum. Jean and Henry start to dance to the last number. Lee and Albert join them on the dance floor.)

The toast: Mom and Dad, here’s to you—sixty years and still dancing.


Still Dancing