A friend of Ronnie’s

Last summer, I spent my weekends in Montgomery County covering stories for their local newspaper, “The Courier.” It was a good job, and I eventually got to know Conroe like the back of my hand.

When my articles were finished, my second duty was to lay out the obituary page for the following day, and finally, before I left every night, I would upload new stories and photos to the paper’s Web site.

The pay was fine and it was great for my portfolio, but of the nearly one hundred stories I covered that summer, there are only two that I love to share. One is fascinating, the other a little odd

Like the time I was assigned cover a party thrown by a rich couple who had recently had a $5 million dollar home built on the Lake Conroe, and they were throwing a party as a way to thank all the workers who helped build their home, which took over a year to complete.

The home was beautiful; a 10 bedroom home with a guest house larger than every other house on the street. There was a sauna, fitness room and cabana. They even had a room for their live-in help, who had moved with them from California.

They were a wonderful couple. The wife, who coordinated the party, spared no expense; she had hired an authentic mariachi band for music, had security verify all the guests and the seafood dinner was one of the best meals I had ever had in my life.

Still, I had no idea what these people did for a living. This was my first story and I wasn’t sure if was appropriate to ask. After all, my feature was about the party, not about their wealth. So I never asked. However, I couldn’t help but to “Google” their names later that night.

The pair, Gilbert and Pamela Bazan, were formerly a lower-middle class couple from Sacramento, California. That is, until they won an $88 million dollar jackpot in the California lottery. The Bazans chose to receive a one-time payout worth roughly $44 million and moved to Conroe, Texas.

Who says no one ever hits the lotto?

The second story took place at a tiny church just outside of Grangerland, Texas. I was assigned to do a story on a Major General of the U.S. Air Force who was visiting the church. The reception was held in a cramped gymnasium and everyone brought something to eat at the afternoon picnic.

After I got my story, I was invited to eat with the fellowship, and I accepted.

“I’m Ronnie’s friend,” a little boy said to me. He had to be about six. He was the kind of kid that begins mid-conversation as though picking up from an earlier dialogue. “My hat is too small for your big head,” he added.

“Yes, it is,” I replied.

“This is sausage,” he explained as he opened his mouth and pointed to the chewed remains of pork in his mouth. “You chew it and you eat it and it comes from a pig. My dad said that.”

Later, a little girl sat next to him. “This is Ronnie’s seat!” he yelled. Clearly defeated by his scream, the little one walked away, defeated. I quietly finished my food, and headed back to my office.

That night, there were two obituaries, which were a little less than average for the weekend. One was of an old woman who had died in her sleep outside of Conroe. The other, a seven-year old boy named Ronnie from Grangerland, Texas.

This column has been updated by the author since it originally appeared in The Houstonian in August 2006.

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