Today, creativity and recognition. The University
of Houston's College of Engineering presents this
series about the machines that make our
civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity
Creativity is the ability to
recognize ideas out of context. When Louis Pasteur
said, "Chance favors only the prepared mind," he
meant that we must be ready to react to that chance
glimpse over the fence we've built around
ourselves. When we learn to do that, dross becomes
gold, enemies become friends, and a drab
monochromatic world takes on form and color. That
came home very powerfully to my wife and me this
Since our children grew up and moved to distant
cities, we've learned something new about
Thanksgiving. It's a day when people move indoors,
and the outer world takes on a poignant,
soul-settling quiet. We've found that if we drive
the empty Texas back roads on this particular day,
serendipity usually awaits us.
One year, we found remnants of the early twentieth
century scattered through Wharton County -- aging
grain elevators, a fire station with a 1936 fire truck, and the roadside
kitsch of the abandoned TeePee Motel. It was the
America we'd known as children.
Another year, on the quiet Galveston wharves, we walked by a
huge rebuilt Russian tugboat. A sailor unexpectedly
invited us aboard and gave us an ad hoc tour of all
the sonic oil-exploration equipment that now formed
the heart of this old workhorse.
This year, we went for the Texas barrier islands,
which run along the Gulf, almost all the way from
Louisiana to Mexico. We began our island-hopping at
Galveston and headed south (actually leaving the
road for a while to drive the beach itself). As we
neared Freeport, my wife said, "There's that nice
restaurant where I ate lunch when you spoke at Dow
-- wonder if it's open."
I went to the door. A woman opened it and said,
"We're not really closed, but we're not open,
either. We're feeding Thanksgiving dinner to the
kids from the Brazoria County Youth Home." I
thanked her and started to leave. Then she said,
"No, wait; you'll eat with us." And there it was --
one more mystic nexus-with-the-unexpected -- a gift
not to be turned down.
We said, "Why, thank you!" and were soon surrounded
by twenty-five children from families broken by
various pernicious forces abroad in the land --
along with their housemothers, the director, and
the fine restaurant people who were providing the
We joined two boys at their table -- sixth and
seventh graders who immediately made family of us.
They told us all about school, life in the home,
and the things they especially liked to do. Fishing
and reading Harry Potter were high on the
list. They mentioned college offhandedly --
something they expect to do.
So the Texas byways continue to yield their
largess. The corner of the eye catches what the
direct gaze misses: lives being mended, the gift of
food, creative recognition of strangers out of
context. The day was about children, elderly
travelers, and ideas -- all being grasped in that
instant when they unexpectedly appear.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds
The restaurant featured in this episode is the
Red Snapper Inn, 402 Blue Water Hwy.,
Surfside Beach, TX, 77541. The kind proprietors were
Mr. and Mrs. Ivan Stathopoulos. The Brazoria County
Youth Home in Freeport, TX is run by Ms. Ann R.
Two excellent dinner companions
The Engines of Our Ingenuity is
Copyright © 1988-2002 by John H.