Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Cold Way to Skinny, and the Guilt Gift

      I once worked the entire Christmas break for Bleigh, on a bridge job, and the temperature never got above 15 degrees. I lost 15 pounds. Cold work is a good way to diet!
      One summer, I was sent out to a 3-story school building with a block layer, to re-do all the bathrooms on the third floor. There was a stack of blocks out front, about as big as a small house. He told me to move the blocks up to the third floor. There was no elevator, and I thought he was kidding me, but he wasn't. It took about five days, two at a time. While I was resting, I was hauling mortar up to him in two five gallon buckets. So now you know why I'm a broken down old man.
      We were given the job of painting the inside of water tanks with epoxy. There was no venelation system, not even fans. By noon, I had tunnel vision, my head ached, and I couldn't paint a line, much less a straight one. Two guys went to the hospital that day. That was Friday, and I was sick all weekend. Bleigh had been good for our finances, I needed the money, but I decided it was not worth that much to us. I had my mind made up on Monday morning to ask for a different job, and if I couldn't get that, I would quit. I walked into the office, and the boss told me, before I could say a word, “The foreman says you couldn't paint a straight line Friday. I'm moving you to another job.” I didn't protest.
      Three of us teachers were assigned the job one summer of remodeling the three bathrooms at Stowe Elementary. One of us, thankfully not me, was designated the foreman. Now, we were all raw novices, and this job involved lots of skills we didn't have. We had always had a REAL construction man foreman before. We just made the best of it.
      When we got out our lunch pails one day, I remembered Barbara couldn't find anything but potted meat for my sandwich. Now that's nasty stuff. I asked Dan, my working buddy, if he would like to just, for a change, swap sandwiches, sight unseen. He said he didn't see why not. So we did. As soon as I got my hands on his, I started laughing so hard, he knew something was wrong, and he wouldn't touch a bite of mine.
      Dan and I talked about a lot of things during lunch break. He was Catholic, and I asked him one day if they believed it was all right to drink whiskey. He said, “Sure, that's fine, as long as we didn't get so drunk that we do something really sinful, like using a birth control device.”
      Dan and I were each carrying in a five gallon bucket of water for the mortar mix. We were kidding each other about throwing it on the other. In the doorway, I just emptied my bucket over his head, and I started running down the hallway, and he grabbed his bucket and started after me. Now, I didn't have a load, like he did, but I was handicapped by laughing so hard, he caught me on the stairs and returned the favor.
      The summer was coming to a close, and the boss came over to inspect the job. When he looked at the first bathroom we did, he came totally unglued, and our pore' “Teacher foreman," caught it really good. Our leader explained, “Well, none of us knew how to do it, so we just sorta learned how on that one. But the others are better.” “So what am I supposed to do!? Just close that one off? Just tell them, that was our learning room!?” Fortunately, Bleigh is a big company, so they brought a ton of REAL craftsman out, and re-did that room in a couple of days. All's well that ends well.. But it got worse again when the boss asked for the building key, and our pore' ole' leader said, “Well, I just don't know what could have happened to it. It was right here, in my shirt pocket, when I started working this morning. I just don' know-” The boss just snorted and stomped off. The boss never again put us out there on our own, without a REAL foreman over us.
      Quincy, Ill. Was across the Mississippi river, 25 miles away. We loaded the whole family up in Dad's old pickup after school, and headed over there to do some shopping. When we started back, it was getting dark, and I knew most of our tail lights were out. Coming down on a long stretch on the other side of town, I noticed a police car pull in behind me, a long way back. I made a quick left turn, driving the back streets, and a couple more short turns. I kept looking back to see if the police were following. Corey, about six, said in a panic, “Dad, are you running from a policeman!?” Barbara settled him down, while I continued weaving in and out of side streets. He never got behind us again, but his buddy was waiting for us on the way out of town.
      I was driving to school one morning, and a dog ran out in front of me and just stopped. As I stopped, I felt a bump behind. Looking back, I saw a motorcycle lying in the road, with a couple of guys sprawled out on the road. Waiting for the police, he was nice, but made it clear to me that he thought I should pay for his damage. “Lets just wait, and talk to the police and insurance,” I said. Well, the police wrote it down as all rear end collisions are, his fault .I knew in my heart, though, I DID stop awfully quick. The insurance company said, “Don't you pay him a dime! You will be admitting guilt! I know you feel bad, but it's his fault.” So I let it slide. Three months or so later, after everything had settled down, I looked him up and paid half his damage “as a gift.”

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Hannibal: Our first house, and Muddin'

     We met a couple of new friends, Patty and Eddy, and they quickly brought us into their very  very large    extended family, and into their even larger extended family at Calvary Baptist Church. That gave us a very large circle of friends, and it took away the loneliness of moving to a new city, knowing no one. Calvary brought us many friends, such as Wes and Cheryl, who we also stay in touch with today. They were both teachers. Wes was an Industrial Arts teacher, and he and his buddy made a couple of really neat handmade canoes. Barbara later bought one of them for me, something she had been saving her substitute teaching money for a month to buy. Now, who else in the world would put up with substitute teaching for a month just to buy a birthday present? That's just Barbara for you. I got a lot of mileage out of it over the years. But a heavy limb fell during an ice storm years ago, like a spear, and took the bottom out of it. I still have it, though it's unusable, and about rotted out, but wild cats still raise their brood under it regularly. Our little cat house.
Barbara and I moved to towns where we knew no one several times, in our moves during my teaching career. It always made our own family closer. We had each other.
      Calvary Baptist Church was like no other church we had ever known. They always seemed to have it figured out, and the people who we knew seemed to be there for the right reasons. The church services were never really quiet, because they always bussed in lots of poor kids. They always had lots of outreach going on. When we left Hannibal three years later, we searched twenty four years for another church like it, and never found it, until we showed up one day at Fellowship Bible church in Arkadelphia, a new church just starting up. Today, we are still there. Barbara and I are the only members from that original church still present. How that came about is a long story in its own right, and I will tell you more about that later.
      We finally managed to get a loan, and we bought an old, old house up on top of one of the highest hills around. You remember Tom Sawyer, Injun Joe, and all those other characters of Mark Twain? Well, the cave Tom and Becky were lost in, supposedly, was in that area. We had an acre up on top, and we made the most of it. I could finally grow a garden, like I grew up with at Wing. The neighborhood was great, lots of other kids close to the age of ours.
      One house, down the street, was a little different. The adults were not friendly, and we quickly learned that our kids were picking up a lot of words from their kids we didn't want them to know, and they were very rough around the other kids. Our kids were instructed to come in the house when the wild ones were outside. Most of the other neighbors had learned what we learned, and often a kid came running up the street, shouting, “The wild ones are out!" followed immediately by a dozen kids running indoors. We never knew, while we lived there, just how bad the situation was for the poor "wild ones."
      In the spring, the people in Hannibal didn't brag about how many fish they caught, like in Arkansas. They bragged about how many Morel mushrooms they had found. For two weeks or so in the spring, people just seemed to put everything else on hold, and hunted the mushroom. I finally found out exactly what they looked like, and Corey and I walked miles along the Mississippi River hunting. When we got home, totally exhausted, with nary a mushroom, our neighbor boy came over and showed us the bucket full of Morels he had found in our back yard, in our woods, while we were walking the river bank. They shared, and they are wonderful to fry up and eat.
      As the weather finally warmed, seemed like forever, I went in search of the catfish with my church friends. The mighty Mississippi and the Salt river were much colder that I was used to, and the fishing was slow. I made the mistake of bragging to my friends that I could dress a catfish in 30 seconds, and not a one of them would buy that. They ragged me pretty good about it. Finally, one night, we caught a few, they all came over to my house, and told me to put up or shut up. I dressed it in 23 seconds. They just had no idea how many catfish I had skinned in Arkansas.
      When fall rolled around, we went “muddin'” a few times with our friends Wes and Cheryl in their jeep. I had traded brother Harold out of his trail bike, tied it on top of the Corvair, and hauled it up to Hannibal. When hard winter hit, Wes and some of the guys wanted to go camping and Muddin'. I took the trail bike. The river had been frozen deeply for a long time, then a thaw had put six inches of water on top of the still hard ice. They drove all over the river in this mess, and not to be left out, I drove my trail bike along, most of the day. We slept in a tent, freezing, and a heavy snow fell. When we got home, Wes, the experienced mudder, also a good mechanic, made sure he got all the water out of his motor. I, the novice and not a mechanic, let the trail bike sit, never cleaned it out. It never ran again

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Hannibal: The Scab

      I had not been teaching long when I got a call from sister Barbara Lou in Memphis. She had been worried about Mom, and took her to live with her for a while. She got worse, and was now in the hospital there. I drove down. When I got there, she was already in a semi-coma state. Something had gone wrong in the back of her head. I realized, as I sat there beside her, that I had never told her that I loved her. Now, I know that is hard to believe, But open expressions of love were just not often said in our house as I grew up. Or maybe that was just me. With a mother like God blessed me with, I should have said it every day. And I knew it.
      I started saying it over and over to her, as if I could make up for all the times I didn't. She was moved into intensive care, and one or two of us could visit every three hours. I lived in the ICU waiting room for days.
There was a shortage of recliners there, and other chairs were not comfortable at all. One night I did have one. About midnight, an elderly woman and her two daughters came in. I gave my recliner to the elderly woman, and she was very appreciative. I moved over and answered the phone the rest of the night. The next day, I noticed as I came and went from visiting Mom, that one or the other of the two daughters were always sitting in that recliner, if the elderly woman was not. About 8:00 that night, the daughter sitting in the chair called me over. “We have been saving this chair for you all day. You gave my mother this chair last night, when she was in very bad shape. You need to sleep tonight.”
      My oldest brother Harry arrived from California, and we took him in to see Mom. She had been in a coma for days, and we never knew if she heard anything we said. When I told her Harry was here, she stirred visibly. I now knew she had heard me tell her I loved her all those times. But way too little, far too late, for a sweet woman like her. She died shortly afterward. I made a vow that there would never be a shortage of expressions of love in our family, from that day forward. And I have kept that vow.
     An Italian guy, Michael Via, interviewed for the assistant principal's job the year I came there. He came from a school in inner city Chicago, and had dealt with a variety of shootings and stabbings while he was in administration there. He was asked in the interview, “If the situation comes up where corporal punishment is needed, could you do that?” Michael looked at the interviewer with disbelief for a moment, then put his hands around his own throat with a choking motion, and said, “You mean like this?” He got the job.
      Digital watches were first being introduced about then, and a guy who taught math got one as a present from his wife. He was a bit of a gadget geek, and that day in the teacher's lounge he came around to each of us, proudly showing us all it could do, punching every button. Then he sat down, and pressed all the buttons the rest of the period for his own entertainment. He laugh and giggled with his new gadget all period. Toward the end of the period, he pressed a button, it just shut down, and never ran again. He almost cried.
      I continued working for Bleigh Construction on Saturdays and holidays. Several other teachers did too. On union jobs, I sometimes got 3 or 4 different wage scales in a single day, one scale for tying rebar, another for using a hammer, still a third and lesser rate for digging a ditch. But it rained a lot that year, and I was most always up to my knees in mud. Once when I griped a little about the mud, I think the foreman must have heard me, because the next day I was up on the steel skeleton, five floors up, reaching out over the edge holding a beam up while the welder fastened it in place. When I got back to the mud, I never griped about it again. On one union job, a disagreeable guy called me a scab one day, and I didn't realize I was being insulted. In Arkansas, a scab was just the top part of a sore.
      I was well into my first year of teaching at Hannibal junior high, and I began to realize, most of the teachers I spent time with in the teacher's lounge every day were a little stand offish toward me. Just didn't quite know what to make of this Arkansas hillbilly in their midst. My buddy and I decided to try to shake them up a little one day. I had already lost a good bit of my hair, so I got a lady's wig, put it on, and strolled into the lounge when it was full, as serious as I could be. To my field of vision, they acted perfectly normal. But in my buddy's vision,(he was trailing behind me,) they went wild! I pulled it off, we all had a good laugh, and they warmed up to me.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Land of Huckleberry Finn

       We were in a tight. We had very little money. I had to pay back some of the money I had already received at Fayetteville, And I would not get a check at Hannibal for a while yet. I had to ask the superintendent for an advance on my first check. A new administrator piped up. “Well, it looks to me like, if you get an advance, you will just be short the next month too.” I didn't say anything, He didn't know us, so there was no need to try to explain to him that we weren't like that. The boss was wiser, though, and he knew more about life, and people. He gave me the advance. I found a Saturday job with Bleigh Construction, and they paid well, not like the $1.25 an hour construction jobs in Fayetteville. When we got my first check from Bleigh, $75 for one day's work, compared to $30 per week take home for a summer job in Fayetteville, we thought we were rich!
      When I started teaching in Hannibal, I soon got acquainted with two young men, just beginning their teaching careers. One asked me one day, “Do you have a problem with girl students coming on to you?” “No,” I said, “I never have.” He told me that had been a real problem for him in student teaching. He said, “I guess it's because you are older.” Well, I was bouncing near thirty, but I used to be young, and that wasn't a problem then either. He kinda smiled, looked at me sorta sympathetic like, and the conversation ended.
A few days after school started, I was talking to him outside his classroom door during class change. A pretty girl walked out. He swatted her on her backside with his meter stick, she looked at him, and he winked. “My friend,” I said, “I think I can tell you what your problem is.” He had to leave teaching a couple of years later. In fact, because of statements made by that same girl.
       My other young teacher friend was newly married, very excited about teaching. By semester, his excitement was gone. Some students said, he now passed out the assignment, then lay his head down on the desk the rest of the period. After awhile, he was struck with a strange ailment. He would have to stay home for long periods of time, then on returning, the ailment seemed to return. Teaching is not for everyone.
      I was teaching Introductory Physical Science, a new Lab-based science course. I taught that course for six years, six times a day. So, even if it was lab based, it was hard to stay on track if we didn't have a little fun along the way. I always started in the fall being pretty hard core, until I had established who the Big Dog was, then I gradually slacked off that and we had fun. If I had started out that way, they would have taken over. Anyway, I knew pretty quick which kids could take a little joke now and then, and they soon learned that if I pulled a little prank on them, I was fair game. Give and take. Kept things more fun for everyone.
      I had one student who was a really good kid, very smart, and he and I regularly swapped barbs, put downs, and jokes. One day the principal caught him with cigarettes at school, and he was expelled for three days. We had a lab experiment where they hooked up a cigarette to a tube, pulled air through it, then caught the residue on the other end on a cloth, to show them what went into their lungs when smoking. So I always had a good supply of cigarettes on hand. The day this particular student came back from his suspension, We were busy with an experiment. I caught him looking the other way, and I slipped a cigarette under his book. Later, as I came around looking at his work, I just happened to lift his book. He saw the cigarette, and he grew pale. I explained I sure hated to send him back to the principal so quick, but he MUST quit bringing them to school. For his own good. When He left the room, head down, to make that long walk down to the principal's office, I sent another student down there the short way, double time, to head him off at the principal's door, and bring him back. He was laughing when he came back, very relieved, and he took it well. Then, he started working on a plan to get me back, and I'm sure he did.
      I had a little bucket with 6 pieces of paper in it. When someone messed up bad, they had to “Go fish” out of the bucket. Four pieces of paper had some creative penalty they had to do, the fifth said “Go free,” and the sixth was the one everyone longed for. If they drew that one, I had to get on my knees, hold their hand, and beg their forgiveness for picking on them. I have no pride.
      I once had a little book that I kept in my desk, and kept a month's supply of good jokes in it. They helped keep kids from dozing off. Once, a substitute teacher found my little book, and spent the day reading all my jokes to all my classes.
      I dearly loved ninth and tenth grade students. That's really about where my maturity level stopped, anyway, and never went past that.  They were mature enough to be real, but not too sophisticated to laugh at my jokes if they were funny. When I taught twelfth graders, and told a good joke, they never laughed, I was totally greeted by silence. But when they left class, they went out telling it to everyone. Ninth and Tenth graders never treated me that way, and we had fun.
      Barbara started substitute teaching, and when they found out she could handle about any situation well, with THE LOOK, she was kept busy. Our financial problems were over.
The Hannibal School District had just bought a new computer that year, 1973. Big news. The thing took up a room. Once they got it and had it set up, they found out there was nobody in the county who could run the thing. Cost around $50,000.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Caylie the Miracle Baby: The Double Bullet Dodge

     Before we all load up in my old 1960 Chevy truck and move to Hannibal, Mo., I've got one other little story I want to relate. One that I've been thinking about for 18 years, wondering how this was possible. We'll all head to Hannibal, next post. Thanks for reading!

      I heard the siren, 300 yards away, over on the Interstate highway. "Must be a wreck," I thought, then went back to work on my houseboat. Minutes later the phone rang. Barbara soon came running out to me with the phone. The police were calling. Son Corey and his family were involved in a wreck. Three in the car, one ejected . Come to the Emergency room. Just the bare facts.
      We arrived at the Emergency room well ahead of the ambulance. We were anxiously awaiting when the Ambulance showed up. Caylie came out first, just a baby, strapped tightly to a board, and screaming her head off. She looked around, within her limited field of vision, and saw Barbara and I. She stopped screaming, and smiled at us. We have never seen a smile quite so beautiful. Christi came next. She was also strapped down, but seemed alert, responsive, and, everything considered, remarkably calm. Corey was not in the ambulance.
      He arrived moments later in a car. When he got out, he was beyond emotional. Way beyond that. As best he could, he was telling us he was driving behind Christi, in his car. A wheel had came off a trailer they were about to pass, hit her car in front, and the car did end over end flips, at least 12 rolls, then another flip, landing upside down. He reached through the broken back window, cutting his arm, and got Caylie out, but could not get Christi out. He was too racked by emotion to tell us more. Well, I knew Corey was totally distraught, probably in shock, far too upset for me to buy into all that. Nobody could have survived what he had just related to us.
     It was determined that Caylie and Christi had only scratches and bruises, no broken bones, and as far as they could tell, no internal injuries, but Christi had a concussion, and both were cut up by flying objects in the car. Corey settled down enough that we began to get the whole story.
       The family was driving home from church, driving both cars because Christi had early choir practice. They both stopped at Westerm Sizzlin', at mile marker 73 of I -30. Being Easter Sunday, it was closed, so they and their friends decided to drive on down to Wendy's, at exit 78. Corey buckled Caylie into her infant seat, strapped in the middle of the back seat. Starting to his car, for some reason, he stopped, turned around, went back to Caylie, and tightened up all the straps really good. Corey followed Christi in his car.
Approaching mile marker 74, Christi started to pass a pickup pulling a horse trailer. A wheel came off the trailer, hit the front of the car. That broke the car's front axle, starting the series of end over end flips and rolls, ending upside down in the median, with one last end over end flip, right beside mile marker 74.
      Corey pulled up behind. Later, a friend who happened to be nearby described the horrible sounds of anguish from Corey as he rushed to the car. Caylie was hanging upside down. The only way he could get to her was through the broken back window, which he did, cutting his arm. When Caylie emerged, he checked her over as quickly as he could, passed her off to a stranger standing beside him, saying, "Don't leave my sight with this baby," and rushed to Christi. As he tried to get her out, a fire started. A man from the interstate showed up with a fire extinguisher, and put it out. Christi was hanging upside down, and he could not get her out. About that time, the ambulance and police arrived. They had trouble getting her out, having to use the Jaws of Life.
     Once Christi was out, and being strapped to a board, a paramedic tried to get Corey on a stretcher.
Corey was bleeding more than anyone there, and the paramedic would just not believe he had not been in the car, and ejected.
      Christi, not one to get unduly excited, later described her thought processes as the wreck progressed. "Well, that's one more flip, and I'm still alive!"
      The car was a mess. Completely flattened on top, except for the two places where a human could have possibly survived. They just happened to match the two places where Christi and Caylie were.
The paramedics working the wreck said that upon arrival, they had no expectations of finding anybody alive, much less a 4 month old baby. They added that the car seat straps were so loose, one more roll and she would have flown. Good thing Corey had just tightened them up.

I went to the site the next day. Car parts were strewn along the road. From the location of the first car part thrown off, to the final destination of the wrecked car, 100 yards. Twelve rolls and three flips? You be the judge. Our family dodged two major bullets that day.
We are always being told, wear your seat belts, all the time, most accidents are within one mile of home. Well, my family has been in seven accidents, mostly minor, none fatal. How many within one mile of home, as the crow flies? Five. For your own safety, please do as I say, but in all honesty, not necessarily as I do. I hate being hypocritical.
      Caylie, early on, assumed the role of seat belt enforcer in our family. Nobody is perfect, but I sure haven't found any flaws in her yet. At 18, she just got her first car, right after returning from the mission fields of Jamaica. God, it seems, had his reasons for sparing this girl.
      If you live near Arkadelphia, judge this story for yourselves. The car came to rest even with mile marker 74. The first car part thrown off was even with the brown sign just west of it.
      This story had been in my head nearly 18 years. It automatically replays, in living color, every time I drive by those two signs. I now know the story very well. I needed no notes to write this.
My son- in- law, Mickey, a paramedic, described a roll over wreck they worked. A man was dead, but no marks were found on his body. Finally, a round mark that looked just like the top of a coke bottle was found on his temple. Every loose, even modestly heavy object becomes a deadly missile in a rollover wreck.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Post 85: Goodbye, Fayetteville

      Dad was not doing well while we were at Fayetteville. He was still struggling to keep the farm going until Harold retired from the Air Force. He had several bad spells, and my sisters and I swapped off a lot, being there to help them out. One really bad time, he got so weak he could not take care of himself, Mom was not strong enough to lift him, and Jonnie and I had a hard decision to make. We checked him in at a nursing home at Ola. As he began to get stronger, he worked hard on creative ways to take care of himself, including using his walking stick to help him put his clothes on. We were finally able to take him home.
Harold retired from the Air Force, and he moved his family back to the farm, which was his plan all along. With Dad relieved of the responsibility of the farm, rhumatoid arthritis became his master.
      He had a stroke, and went to the hospital at Ft. Smith. Our preacher was there at the same time I was, once, and Dad introduced me as his "Son, a teacher at Fayetteville."
      After Dad went home, every time I came down on the weekend to see them, the preacher kept trying to get me to preach at his church. I told him, "That's just not my thing." He looked puzzled by that, but he just kept on trying. I finally realized, Because of his stroke, Dad was not speaking clearly when he introduced me, and the preacher thought he was saying, "My son, a PREACHER at Fayetteville." Well, I didn't waste any time setting him straight about that, and the preacher finally left me alone.
      As I mentioned earlier, Aunt Lula had held a grudge against Dad for decades. When Dad was in the hospital the last time, she got my cousin Juanita to take her there. "I've got to make things right with John." Dad was in a final coma state when she got there. She went in, Dad came out of the coma, and they talked a few minutes. Then Dad passed away. Lula settled her grudge with Dad in his last few moments. Dad was 78.
By 1973, coaching was wearing thin. I had made some key enemies among the Fayetteville coaching staff, and that was not a pleasant time. I could tell you my side of it, but I'm sure they have a side of it too.
I was never a good football coach. Having never seen a football game until I was grown, I never knew the game well enough. I judged myself a fair + basketball coach. I never had a losing season, but that does not constitute a great coach. I was a better teacher than coach. Some of the coaches I was around were good coaches, but I never knew one during my coaching career that I would judge to be a good, true man. When I read Tony Dunge's book last year, I finally realized that good, Christian coaches do actually exist, even at the highest level. But I never worked with one.
      My weakest team lost seven straight games before Christmas, usually by two or three points. Some teams, and maybe some coaches, just don't have the stuff to finish an opponent off. The killer instinct.
I sat down during the Christmas break, and tried to figure how we could possibly come out on top. I looked at the schedule, marked the games I thought we could possibly win, and those we couldn't. We came out 13-12, with every game going the way I had it marked.
      Coaching tends to suck you, all of you, into the game, and leaves time for little else. I now had two babies, and it was hard to be a good family man. At least, that's the effect it had on me. I wanted out.
In August, Barb and I sold our trailer, loaded everything in Dad's old pickup, packed the babies into our old car, and headed for Hannibal, Mo. to a physical science job. Barb knew I had to get out of Fayetteville, she supported me completely, and never complained. I've never forgotten that.
      When Mom found out we were moving, she said, “I want to go with you. I could cook and clean for you, and grow a garden.” I knew mom hated living alone. But we had very little time to get there and get set up before school started. I told her I would come back for her, when we got a house and got set up. I could see the disappointment in her eyes. Had I known what the future held, I would have done differently. I still have a lot of trouble about the decision I made that day. Sometime, a person just has no second chance to redo a bad decision.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Post 86: Basketball and a Surprise Baby

      One year, I had a fair basketball team, and Ramey, the other junior high in Fayetteville, had a great one. They wound up losing in the finals of the state tournament that year. They had already beaten us twice that year, and I tried to figure out how we could possibly win the third match up with them.
      I started four small guys and a very large, very strong guy. The best physical specimen I had ever seen in junior high. He played inside, and I just kept telling my guys to feed the big guy. Just keep feeding the big guy. He made all his free throws that night, 15 out of 15, and we edged them out. Some of the other coaches around town got mad at me for winning that way, but I figured winning was winning, any way you can, within the rules of the game. I really think some just did not care much for the fact that it put a blot on the record of the best junior high team Fayetteville had in a long time.
      One of my players started at guard for me at 5' 10". His sophomore year, he started growing so fast, the doctor had to put a cast on his back. His senior year, he played guard at 6' 9". Later he started at guard for Kansas State at 6' 10". I've never heard of that, before or since.

      In what turned out to be my last coaching year, I had a good team. I had a tall boy, for junior high, 6' 5”. A very good point guard. We were playing the last game of the regular season, and we were currently 15-0.
It was a close game, against Ramsey Junior High of Ft. Smith. We were down one, seconds to go, and my fast little point guard got his hands on the ball, dribbled through the entire defense, and made a layup. At some point along the way, the final buzzer went off. The crowd was screaming so, even the officials had not a clue if the ball left his hand before the buzzer.
      The officials walked over to the score keeper. He was a teacher at Ramsey, and we were playing on their court. Us coaches gathered round. The moment of truth, and my dream of a perfect season lay in the hands of a teacher from Ramsey.
      The official asked the score keeper, “Had the ball left his hand before the buzzer?” I looked at the face of the score keeper, and I knew. His face told me before he ever said a word. I could tell he was dreading saying what he had to say.“The ball was on the rim when the horn sounded.” I jumped and screamed. We were all so excited, I never got a chance to thank that score keeper for being so honest, and I don't even know his name. I wish I did. A good man. I keep a list of good men in my head, “Pat's Good Men Club.” Normally, my requirements are: (1) Must be over 50. (2) I must have known him for a long time. (3) He must have always, to my knowledge, done the right thing. Now, this scorekeeper does not meet all those requirements, but I still reserve a little blank space, in my club, (Right in the middle of the big blank space in my head) for him. As you might guess, that list is pretty short. And private. Only I know the members.
In the district tournament, we easily won the first game. The second was different. I won't make any excuses here. We just lost.
      We were scheduled in the State Tournament at Hot Springs. We would leave the next day. The night before we were to leave, Barbara pulled a big surprise on everyone. One nobody expected.
She went into labor. The baby was not due for weeks yet. Yet here she was. In Labor.
      I went to see my assistant coach, after I got her placed in the hospital. Told him it was up to him to take the team. The baby should be born in plenty of time for me to drive down.
      Well, Barbara had different ideas. When she goes into labor, she stays there awhile. It lasted 24 hours. The AD had a plane standing by, to fly me down once the baby was born. Kinley was finally born too late for me to drive down, and the airport was fogged in. No small planes out that morning. We lost, and I never coached another game. But I was there when that sweet baby was born, and that's worth a lot more than all the trophies in the world.
      I have absolutely never had any regrets. Ballgames fade in one's memory, but that beautiful daughter was a lifelong thing.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

A&M Conclusion: Dumas in the Delta

      At the end of three years, I realized I could finish up in one semester, with a double major in P.E. and biology, if I took a correspondence course, and a full load. Then I got to thinking, I could work a semester, then finish up in the spring, on time. So I got a job working on a barge on the Mississippi river, and went home to store up my stuff, and build a shed to store my car in. By the time I had finished that, I found out I would be drafted immediately if I dropped out of school, and soon be in Viet Nam. So, I gave up my job and went back to school, just put Viet Nam off until I had finished my degree. I took astronomy, of all things, by correspondence, and I don't remember looking at a single star while doing that. Also, I got a major in biology without ever having taken a single chemistry class. Things were different then. Chemistry was not such a major part of biology studies in 1965.
      I chose Dumas, over in the delta, home of the Ding Dong Daddy, to do my student teaching. Aunt Pearl lived there, but I didn't want to be so forward as to try and impose myself on her, so I got an attic room in a big house 12 miles away. As soon as she found out I was in Dumas, she insisted I move in with her, so I did. At least, this way, it was her idea, not mine.
      It was deer season. I had my 30-30 in my car, so I bought a hunting license.and drove over and parked on the levee, and went down and hunted awhile along the river. On the way out, just before dark, from down in the woods I could see my car up on the levee, and a game warden was parked 30 feet away. I sat down and tried to figure out if I was illegal in any way. No way. I was covered. So I walked up to my car and put my gun away. Then the warden got out. Wanted to see my license. I showed it. Then he smiled and said, "Now, show me your county license." My heart sank. I had never heard of a county license. Turned out, Desha was the only county in Arkansas that required one. He stuck me, and I had to pay a $16 fine. He thought he was giving me a real break, but that amount, at that time in my life, might as well have been $500.
Some of the local young merchants and bankers heard I was a good basketball player, and asked me if wanted to play that night on their independent team against Gould, so I said yes. As we were getting ready in the dressing room, I started noticing that every one of these guys, early 30's, had a roll of fat around the middle. I couldn't believe it. "How could they let themselves get like that?" Little did I know that I, then 21, would be joining their ranks in about 10 years. Well, all these guys, and the other team, were slow, so I got to be the star that night, scoring 35 points. I had a downer when I came out to my car, though. Someone had stolen my license plate.
      That fall, 1965, was the year Dumas integrated. In all my life, I had never gone to school with a black person, or played against one in sports. We had only one black man in Wing, Henry. He was serving a life sentence, and the local politician had got him out to work for him. I walked by his house to go to the store, and we became pretty good friends. He was, actually, the only black person I had ever known when I went to Dumas.
      At Dumas, a couple of black guys came out for football, but the other players made it hard on them. There was a really good basketball player that transferred over from the black school, but the white basketball coach just refused to let him play. I heard he had averaged 30 points per game the year before. The coach got away with it that year, but he soon had to retire. Things were changing.
Toward the end of my student teaching, I drove down to the Delta Dip, the local hamburger hotspot one night. And my life changed forever. Little did I know, as I drove to the Delta dip that night, that the love of my life awaited me there. And I had forgotten to bring my great white Stallion.

Please note: This story is continued on post 44, "Early and Late in 1966," posted 2 months ago. I will continue with my Fayetteville story, next post. Sorry about the inconvenience. I just don't always write in order! Thanks for your time, and your attention. I will be away from my computer about a week. Next post will be around the 14th.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A&M: Finally! Romantic Entanglements

       I asked a good friend of mine that I worked with in the cafeteria one night if she wanted to go to Monticello and get a Coke. Well, on the way back to campus, I decided to park on a back road, a couple of miles from campus, to see if that friendship might blossom into something more. I soon saw that it was not going to happen. I was only a brother figure to her. She was due into the dorm pretty quick, so I turned the key. The car just would not start. We discussed what to do. She was a bold little girl, and she insisted I just run to campus and get a car. I was in pretty good shape then, so I did. I flung Jim Draper's door open, and hollered, "Get your car keys and come on!" He did, and we got her back to her dorm about 25 minutes after the doors were locked. Poor gal, she didn't even get a kiss out of the deal, but the dorm mother chewed her out good, and branded her a loose woman. In those days, a "good girl" just did not show up after the dorm doors are locked at 10:00 PM.
      Another girl I knew was a real beauty. She had been dating a big football jock for a couple of years, but they had broken up. After a while, I guess she was getting lonely, because one lonely weekend, she hooked up with me. She must have really missed making out with her ex-jock, because she moved into action really quick. Kinda shocked a slow mover like me. I had to go to work cooking breakfast at 4:30 the next morning, and she was right there, helping me. I had little experience with an aggressive woman like her, but still, I knew I could grow to like it.
      When my best friend, Ted Hobbs, got back to campus that night, the first thing I did was tell him all about it. ( College boys ALWAYS kiss and tell, in spite of what they may tell you girls.) He turned pale, then related a similar experience he had with her only a couple of days ago. He thought she was his girl.
Ted insisted that we both go talk to her right now. He wanted to settle this. I knew this was not the wisest course of action, but he was my best friend, so I went along. We talked to her outside her dorm. She got the drift in about two minutes, and she just dumped us both, right there on the spot.
      Though I was never a big talker, I just had a knack for saying the wrong things at the right time. I still do.
      Another girl I dated once was very straightforward. She just told me right off that she never planned to marry, and she realized she would always just have to just fill in her sex life whenever the opportunity arose. "However," she said, "I have a good reputation around campus, and I don't want to mess that up." She stopped there and waited for me to assure her that whatever happened between us would always stay between us. Well, I guess I always was somewhat of a Chicken Hawk. Even though I was as hormone laden as any other college boy, that little "Do right mechanism" just always seemed to pop up at the these times. This was my out. I never assured her of anything, and that's as far as it went. I never told that story to anybody on campus, she was also a friend. But stories of that side of her were soon circulating. Like I say, college boys just HAVE to tell of their conquests. They just can't help themselves.
      I called up a girl I knew named Peggy and asked her for a date to the dance. She turned me down, she already had a date. 20 minutes later, she called me back. She said she no longer had a date, and she could go.
      Just before we walked in the door at the dance, she stopped, looked at me kinda worried like, and asked me, "Are you real strong?" I said "No, but I can run a long way." She just shook her head, and we walked in. Right inside the door stood Tank, a big football jock. He was staring at me hard, and I soon saw the picture. He was the one she had broken the date with. I thought for a minute or two I might have to prove to her (and him) how well I could run, but he turned out to be a reasonable guy, and soon realized I was somewhat of a victim in this, too.
      I never tell stories such as those above to anyone. Only my computer. Alone with it in my room, it just seems totally trustworthy. I know I can trust it with my secrets. And, I never lie to my computer. That's not to say I tell my computer every single thing. Even a trusted computer could just start spewing it all out to the whole world someday. But what I tell, I tell it straight.
      That last year at A&M, I went to summer school. Two pretty girls started that summer, both from Watson. Pretty new girls make a big splash, and I was caught up in the backwash of one of them, Janice. We hung out together some, and I began to realize in our talks that she lived in the house in the delta I had gone to with Earl, to pick up that fox hound. She showed me her pictures in her wallet one day, and in one picture, I saw a beautiful girl in shorts. I said, "Who is THAT?" Well, she didn't like the idea of me going on about someone else while I was with her, and she grabbed her wallet, mumbling, "Oh, just a girl I live next to at home."  I had finally seen her. The love of my life. At the time, though, she was still just a picture of a very hot chick. She was still 6 month into my future. But I was closing in on Barbara Sue Dunnahoe, step by fateful step, getting ever closer.

Monday, January 2, 2012

A&M: The Shotgun Party

      When the AIC championship meet came around, at OBU, it was a two day event. Not surprisingly, I did not qualify for the final day, and Red Parker was telling us losers he was sending us home. I begged to stay for the finals, I wanted to see it. He thought a minute, then said, “There are two of us in my room, with two single beds. If you will go push the beds together, you can sleep on the crack.” I was happy with that, and I slept all night centered exactly over that crack. The next morning, I realized Red Parker was out all night, partying with the other coaches, and he never came in.
      At the end of the season, Red Parker put me on the letterman's list, and told my buddy and me he had letter jackets for us, coming in soon. Mine just never showed up, and I never quizzed him about it, because I just could see no way Red Parker could make a mistake. I would kinda like to have that letter on my wall now, though. Funny, he listed me as eligible for the Lettermen's club, letterless. I know, I know, I should have brought it out in the open. But that was not my nature at the time.
      In the early workouts the next year, I donated blood one day, a big mistake at that time. I dragged so far behind that day, along with the fact that I was deeply in love, that I just quit. My thought pattern was something like, well, I won't have track anymore, but it will give me more time to pay more attention to the tiny little girl I had fallen for, but as it turned out, then I had neither. She didn't fall for me in return. I think my size was my downfall. She was looking for a tiny little man, and I just did not fit that description.
      I tried to come back in mid season, didn't work. A distance runner beats himself down to nearly nothing for two weeks or so, in early workouts, and just as I was beat down the lowest, Red Parker told me I would be running the two mile at OBU tomorrow. After the first mile, the bear got on my back pretty hard, and twice Red Parker sent someone down to tell me to drop out. ( He was realizing his mistake, I was not even close to being ready yet.) I had never done that, and was not about to start it now. I was just about to finish the seventh lap when I heard the leader, a real hotshot on his way to running a 9:20 two mile, coming up behind me. I had never been lapped, and I had to sprint real hard to avoid that disgrace. The handwriting was on the wall. I could not come back in mid season. That was my last race.
      I got truly grilled by the police, my first and last time, Right after a lonely weekend at A&M. My buddy and I were visiting all the “hot spots” on campus, (where girls might be hanging out) and we dropped by Wesley Foundation. We opened the door, looked in, saw no likely prospects, and left. Somebody saw us, however, and Monday morning I came back to my dorm room after class and the police were searching it. Seems like Wesley Foundation had been broken into shortly after our visit, and my name was thrown out there by a witness. They hauled me over to the Ad building, started putting me through the wringer. All that was missing was the bright light in my face. After a few minutes, they realized that, the way things were progressing, I would be throwing tears all over them shortly, and they gave up and let me go. A truly dull life, mine, when that's the most exciting police encounter one can come up with!
      One little game we sometimes played on dull weekends involved a deer camp about five miles off in the woods. We called it a “Shotgun Party.” A couple of us would go hang out there early. The other guys would tell the would-be victim(s) about a couple of really wild girls who lived a few miles back in the woods. Their papa was bad news, very protective of his girls, but it was Saturday night and the girls promised he was always at a drunken party on Saturday nights. They were there all alone, and wanted company. I had never been picked as a potential victim for this. I wasn't bold enough, and everybody knew I was not into wild parties and wild girls. This time, I had the shotgun. I heard the guys, the “victims” approaching the house. I had no idea who the victims would be. Had I known, I would never have volunteered for this duty. I burst out, screaming about them “messing with my daughters!” and shot off a couple of rounds into the air. They scattered into the woods, and this particular time, we just didn't know when to let it lie. We got in our car, chased after them, and a half mile up the road the guys who had been slashing blindly through the woods were picked up by their buddy, who had gathered up their car. We followed, still trying to carry on with the scare, not knowing when to stop. Well, they led us to a spot out behind the stock barn on campus, and when we got out, ready for us all to have a big laugh about it, a football jock named Hardcastle (and he really lived up to his name,) stormed up to us with scratches all over him, not in a laughing mood at all. Hardcastle was big, strong, and mean, the type of guy who loved to hurt people for fun. Just before we were about to hit the woods and gather up some scratches of our own, somebody he knew, in on the joke, showed up and explained the whole thing to him, and convinced him this was all in fun. He never did really get into a good fun mood about it, though, and we got gone pretty quickly.