Friday, December 30, 2011

Arkansas A&M: Coach Lacewell gets Kissed

      My rides with Earl played out pretty quick, when he left A&M. My remaining option for getting home from time to time was hitchhiking. Amazingly, that worked really well, in those days. People had not yet learned that two out of three hitchhikers were serial killers. With my clean cut looks, (I'm not really sure what that is, but smarter people than I usually say it in a positive context, so I'll run with it. I think it meant I was wearing a flat top, which I did, until I lost most of my hair on top) and with a A&M bag in my hand, it was a snap. It was a four hour drive, and I could usually make it in five hours, even though it usually took a dozen or so rides to do it. I soon learned to stick to major roads, not try to go through Aly or somewhere like that, which gets about one or two cars a day. I sat on a roadside in downtown Aly one day, waiting for the next car, for nearly half a day.
      I only felt uneasy with one ride. A semi-drunk guy picked me up one day in South Little Rock. He started hitting me up real quick for gas money, said his car was about empty. I saw his gauge was on full, he said the gauge was broken. I didn't offer any money, mostly because I didn't have any, but I also didn't like the way this was going. He stopped, right in the middle of the bridge right in front of the state fair grounds, said “Get out,” and I was happy to oblige.
      I wanted to go out for basketball, as a walk on, but I couldn't do that and keep my job in the cafeteria, against the rules. I had to have that job, at $30 a month, to stay there. Track had no such rules, so I figured distance running was my best bet, because a person could not use a pine pole off the hen roost to pole vault with in college, and my technique, going over on the wrong side, did not lend itself to those limber fiber glass poles. I decided I was going to work really hard at it, but I was over-anxious. I started running so early in the winter, that I was about to reach my peak when the rest of the team was just beginning workouts. Those first few weeks of track workouts actually turned out to be my most glorious moments of my track career that year, 1962. Didn't make me popular with the real track guys, though. They kept griping at me to ease up, I was making them look bad. But Larry Lacewell and Red Parker, our track coaches, helped my ego along by bragging on me. But the coaches liked me less, and the other guys liked me more, as we approached the first meet and they were passing me up. I actually ran my best time, in the mile, a week before the first meet, around 4:40. It was all down hill from there.
      I made a little discovery one day. Being truly warmed up makes all the difference. I was in a swimming class right before track practice one day, and being in that very warm water for an hour right before I ran made all the difference. All us distance runners, which included a top guy or two, had to run a timed quarter right after we got to the field. I won. One of the high points in my track career. I never beat those guys again, except in running to Monticello and back, 7 miles or so. But there was no 7 mile event on the track schedule.
      Coach Parker stuck me in the two mile, in the first meet, at Louisiana Tech. I had never ran that before. I stuck with the pack for the first mile. Those skinny little boys leading the pack just amazed me, just running easily along, carrying on conversations like they were out for a stroll, joking and laughing, lap after lap. When we passed the mile mark, I was shocked to see it was only five seconds or so slower than my best mile time, so as you might have guessed, I was about done. I dropped off the pace quite a bit the second mile, and only finished ahead of one guy, but I was tickled later when I learned that he was one of the big hotshot runners last year in high school in Little Rock, a guy I had constantly read about in the paper. One of the guys I wanted to be like. A guy can always find a way to find something to be pleased about in his performance, if he looks hard enough.
      High points for me during the season were on the rare occasion that I could get a third or forth, contribute a point or two. But there were several low points. We traveled in station wagons with the back seat in reverse, looking back over where we had just been. We were going from Monticello to Arkadelphia, for a meet at OBU. Just quite naturally, I was in the back seat. Years later, my children always called that road “Throw up” road, for good reason. I had to jump out of the car and throw up before I had ever ran a lick, then go run the mile. A big low point.
      At Mississippi College, I was scheduled for the half mile, mile, and two mile. A big low point, right on the surface of that idea.
      One high point comes to mind, though I was not involved at all. Larry Lacewell was up in front of all of us, about to give a big pep speech. A hurdler, Blackburn I believe it was, stepped up right behind him, reached around, and kissed him on the lips. You wouldn't believe how red a man on the way to becoming a coaching legend can get....

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Arkansas A&M: ALMOST finding Barbara

This series of posts chronologically fits following post 31, " My life at Wing is Ending,"  posted July 28. (I never have been real organized.)
      I don't seem to have a long, solid stream of memories from college, so I'll work with bits and pieces. I chose Arkansas A&M for two reasons. First, I fit right in to high school well, where cutting up in class and having fun with the guys were concerned, and in sports. But in the really important areas, for example girls, I was somewhat of a drag. I was shy, like I've said. I was a sort of fifth wheel; or, if there were four couples and an extra guy, I was the extra guy. I wanted to go to college somewhere almost nobody knew me, to try to re-focus this part of my life. I knew a lot of the problem existed within me, because I was a good athlete, and while I was not anything to brag about in the looks department, I was not dog-ugly either.
      Reason number two: I loved the outdoors. I had spent the bulk of my young life, while growing up in Wing, alone, in the mountains and river bottoms, and I loved it. Let me clarify that statement a little bit. I'm talking about my leisure time. I actually spent the bulk of my time working my butt off. I did have one constant companion, Tooter, but he had gone where all good dogs eventually go, and now I was on my own. Alone in the woods, I always felt competent, self assured, and confident.
      I always felt confident that Tooter and I, along with my trusty .22 rifle, could just disappear into those bottoms and mountains, and live there forever, and do fine. And I know we could have. Having said that, though, I must admit, I always showed up at Mom's table at meal time.
      I wanted to spend my adult life in places like that, the wild places, helping assure that they would always be there for other young boys, and girls, like me. Arkansas A&M was a big forestry school. Get the connection?Forests – Forestry? I thought it was that simple, but it wasn't. I learned that lesson very quickly when I got to A&M. Forestry majors, I saw, were all about farming pine trees, maximum number of board feet harvested, and the like. Getting rid of the wild and truly natural places, as fast as possible.
      Many years later, I was teaching in Project Land, a summer program for gifted and talented students .We were touring Arkansas studying the six natural divisions of Arkansas. Our director had booked a program at A&M, now UAM, “A Forum on Clearcutting in the National Forests.” I soon realized when it started that it was not a forum at all, but an attempt to brainwash our kids into thinking that clear cutting the National Forests was a good thing. Our kids were far too smart to fall for that, though, and some of them, and I, started playing the Devil's advocate in their program, and started asking questions that embarassed them. One UAM forestry prof was saying, “The program we support could be used to plant hardwoods, as well as pines.” I asked, “How many hardwoods were planted in that program last year?” He dodged the question. I asked it again. He finally stammered out, “The acreage was low.” The only other true conservationist there, head of the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission,other than some of my group, stood up and said, “The answer to that question, my friends, is “none.” Needless to say, the faculty at my old Alma Mater gave me the cold shoulder after that meeting.
      I told the director of our program, that was not a “Forum” at all, and she later booked a conservation speaker at Hot Springs to balance them out. The speaker was pretty good, in what she was saying, until she later admitted in her speech, “I have never actually seen a deer in the wild in Arkansas,” and that sorta killed the heck out of her credibility with my kids. She was a California girl.
      It was with these early on mixed up feelings that I went to a meeting for freshmen one day, and they started separating us by major. Someone said, “Physical Education”, and that sounded good. Basketball and track were also a big part of my life at Wing. Right there, I went with it.
      Butch Garner started to A&M with me. But he had chosen the love of his life, early on, at Fourche Valley high, and she was still there, and A&M was a long way off. I didn't think he would endure that long, and I was right. There went my only ride home.
      I got to know Earl, who was from Hollis, only 30 or so miles from Wing. I rode home with him sometimes, then hitch hilked on to Wing. Once, he needed to go over toward the Arkansas river, deep in the Delta, to pick up a fox hound for his daddy, before we went home. We drove out dirt roads through the cotton fields for miles, it seemed like, and finally stopped at a house to pick up the dog. Another farmer's house was real close. I looked at that house. Little did I know that day, that the love of my life was in that house, just pining away, awaiting the day I would come charging in, sweep her up, and carry her off on my great white Stallion. That day was still 4 years into the future, however, and she was only 13. I wish we had just driven by that house, that day, so that I could have gotten a look at that little girl, and knew what the future held. Wouldn't that have been grand?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Bonnie Goes off the Deep End

      I talk a lot about Barbara, in my writing, but I seldom mention Bonnie. And, as you know if you've seen my book, The Gillums aren't like other people.
Well, Bonnie is not just unlike other people, she's a whole lot different. She is so different, we just don't treat her like we do other members of our family. When we go somewhere, and take Bonnie along, we just normally leave her sitting outside, in the parking lot. People would just not be understanding if we tried to take Bonnie inside.
      Well, when we got back from church a while back, something was wrong. Maybe she was upset about us leaving her outside. Anyway, we knew something was bad wrong with her when we got home. Bonnie would just not stop chattering. No matter what we did, she would just not shut up.
      We called our friend Skeet. He knows a lot about Bonnie's type. He has three of his own, who live with him. In fact, he is so crazy about Bonnie's type, his wife Willene just has to really stay on top of the situation, or Skeet would pick up a new one, and bring her home, every time he goes to town. But Skeet just has a thing about red. He always says, "Red is the natural color" for those like Bonnie.The most prominent feature, on all those Skeet takes home, is red.
Well, Skeet and Wilene came over, and even an experienced man like Skeet couldn't figure out how to make Bonnie shut up, without hurting her, and we sure didn't want to do that.
As it happens, we have a friend, James, who is in charge of a bunch of guys who spend the day, every day, keeping Bonnie's type healthy. If anyone knew how to shut her up, he would.
We called him, and as luck would have it, he just happened to be driving by Arkadelphia on I-30 just as he got our call. He was soon there.
      He took one look at Bonnie, opened her up, and started pulling things out. We were shocked and horrified, but it worked. Bonnie didn't say another thing.
He said that we should take her to this place that specialized in helping the Bonnie's of this world, first thing Monday.
      Then he said he had one other thing he had to do to her today, to keep her from being all run down by Monday, but he wasn't really sure where it was located on Bonnie in particular.
     He searched all over her, and finally, he had to check her rear end. And there it was. Barbara couldn't stand to watch anymore. He just reached in there and took the negative cable off, and that did it.
I called Gildner Chevrolet, first thing Monday, and made an appointment. The service manager said the warranty would cover it, if she had under 35,000 miles. Well, she was just a few miles short of that. I figured we would just barely make it there, and I started taking off all the stickers, from that place we bought her from in Hot Springs, that I could find on Bonnie.
      I asked the service manager, Jeff, if we could park Bonnie right up at the very front of the garage, and please, don't test drive her until you check the mileage.
     Jeff, who just happened to be an ex-student of mine, just smiled and said, "Don't worry, Mr. Gillum, I'm going to take GOOD care of you." I was just a little scared about what he meant by that, and I started running back through in my mind, trying to remember if I had missed a sticker, and what grade I had given him in biology. But anyway, its generally good to have ex-students in powerful places, and it worked out well this time.
      Bonnie only needed, as it turned out, to have her ignition switch repaired, and Jeff took care of me.
By the way, Barbara named Bonnie, her cute little HHR car, after Bonnie and Clyde, after someone told her she resembled their car.               ______

Merry Christmas to all my readers all over the world, and thank you for your time, and your attention. 
Those two things are very valuable, and finite, more valuable than money.  I never lose sight of that.
I will start a new series, next post. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Peru Conclusion: Crashing Glass and "Wild Child's" Screams

      I knew I would never be back to Cusco. That altitude thing hit me hard this time, and I know I would be pushing my luck going again. One of our OBU kids, who went on up to 14,000 feet or so, got extremely sick, and had to be quickly brought back down. There's only a couple of places in the world where people actually live at those altitudes, and there's a reason for that. My very last morning in Peru, our group decided to take the names of all those we worked with this week to the top of a mountain and pray for them. I carried the names, and we headed up. About halfway up, I handed the names off and told the group I would wait for them there. You young'uns go on. Nice to be young.
      I sat down on a rock, and just looked. Far below, I saw a person working out in a field. The more I watched, the more I began to realize, I was watching a world class athlete of some description. He/she could raise one leg straight up, with the other standing on the ground, and put that body in all sorts of amazing positions.
      I watched a plane take off in the valley far below. The runway was at least twice as long as an ordinary runway, even one designed for the large jets. It took every bit of it for that plane to get airborne. Thin air.
Goodbye Peru. I love you. Goodbye, Aqua Amigo. I'll hold your hand again in Heaven.
For some reason, the other leaders had to fly back half a day early. I was given the job of making sure all the kids got home. At the airport, I was sorta nervous. Being a world traveler, I shouldn't be, But Barbara always got me through the airports, and this was an awful lot of kids to get home. When my carry-on was X-rayed, they found something. They told me there was a Leatherman tool in there, and why was that? Well, I did carry several of them down in my checked luggage, as gifts, but they were all gone. I emptied the bag, it was not there. They X-rayed it empty, and there it was. Showed me the x-ray. I dug around in the bottom, and found it under the first layer of the bottom. They were very concerned about me now, I could tell. I gave up the weapon, then repacked the bag, and hurried down to rejoin the kids. A few minutes later, the same man came down to see me. Said someone left a hat up there, did we leave it? My hat was on my head, so I asked the kids. No response. I said, “Last chance! Did anyone leave a hat?” no response, so he left. In about 3 minutes, I remembered I had bought a hat for Frank Teed, and that was it. I rushed back up to him, told him that was my hat. He was about tired of messing with me now, and said, “But you said, last chance! Last chance!” A couple of my kids had to come up and rescue me. And the hat.
      A strange, safe feeling has always enveloped me on mission trips. What better way or place to die, than out, doing God's work. Fulfilling the Great Commission. I guess I figured if I die here, St. Peter will just give me a pass straight through to Heaven. I won't even have to account for all my sins.
We flew into DFW, and I rode toward Arkadelphia with the “Wild child.” He had been on the other trip, too, and he was trouble. Once, in Lima, he followed some stranger off down a dark alley who told him he had a special deal for him, he said, and he got lost. Almost missed the plane. On the first trip, he wanted to carry only camo clothing. I told him that camo attracted unwanted attention in third world countries, told him how my camo hat had gotten a truck load of soldiers to point their guns at me once in southern Mexico. We argued awhile. He would always do the unexpected, kept a person nervous about what he would do next. Little did I know he was about to totally outdo himself.
      Anyway, I wound up riding in “Wild child's” car. I went to sleep in the back seat, and woke up to the sound of our windshield breaking, "Wild child" screaming, and screeching tires. When I opened my eyes, we were lodged under a 16 wheeler, crossways, right in front of the back tires, and being dragged down the road at 70 MPH. The side of our car had cut a “V” shaped, two inch gash in the bottom of the truck siding, and the car being lodged in that was all that was keeping us from being rolled up like a tin can. The driver of the truck handled it perfectly, slowing down very slowly, and when he got down to about 40 MPH, our tires were gone and the metal was grinding away.
      When we stopped, I looked up at the two boys in front. Other than shaking with convulsions and probably in shock, they seemed to be OK, and lots of people were already on the scene getting them out. I was worried that traffic would hit the car before the boys got out. It was sticking out in the fast lane. I got out and started directing traffic. Strangely, I never got excited. Not one bit. Others in our group started arriving, found the two boys lying in the grass shaking with convulsions. They knew I was in that car, so they started walking the road ditches trying to find me. Finally, someone yelled, “There he is! He's the one directing traffic!”
      I really just have no explanation for my reaction, or lack of one. I called Barbara two minutes after I got out, and she said later I was perfectly calm. Maybe, I've just ran out of adrenalin. Maybe being asleep when it happened caused it. Or, maybe, just maybe, that strange safe feeling was still surrounding me. The mission trip wasn't over yet.
      As we rode on to Arkadelphia, in someone else's car, I asked "Wild child" for an explanation about how he could POSSIBLY have gotten that car in the position it was in when I woke up. “Well,” he said, I've had six other wrecks, and they were just barely my fault too, and -” That explained it all.