Welcome to My Autobiography
A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son grief to his mother. (Proverbs 10:1)
Looking a Gift Horse Right in the Mouth
††††††††††† To this day I canít figure out how Frank and I became such good friends, because we were opposites. I liked playing cowboys and he liked playing sports. He was like Wally Cleaver and I was... What was I? Oh yea. I was a kid! And Frank was an adult who got his wish to be a kid again and still know what he knew as an adult.
††††††††††† Frank is the reason I started collecting baseball cards. He is also the reason I donít have a Mickey Mantel card today. Every time I got ďthe Mick,Ē Frank would talk me into trading it to him, even though, each time I got one I told myself I would not trade it. Frank, in all his infinite wisdom would wind up offering me 200 Ė 300 cards for that one Mickey Mantel card and I would fall for it every time. All those cards together arenít worth what one of those Mickey Mantle cards is worth today. I believe he knew because he had already lived in the future.
††††††††††† Frank was a sports nut. He even watched sports on television. He watched any sports that were on, even golf. I couldnít relate to that. Like I said, I canít figure out why we became friends. He would get me to play sports with him, but he never got me to watch them on television. Hey, I was a kid and I donít think he was. On weekends kids were supposed to be outside playing, not in the house bothering their parents, especially their dads who were watching sports on television. I didnít know kids actually watched sports with their dads. What a concept. Of course, my dad wasnít watching sports, but I didnít want to bother him, anyway. Let sleeping giants lie.
††††††††††† Even though I havenít heard from Frank since we were fifteen and we went and played golf, I figure heís one of those guys who watches nothing but the all sports channels on television and listens to the all sports stations on the radio. But who knows? We all change. I no longer play cowboys.
At the Y-M-C-A
††††††††††† Mother got me a Y.M.C.A. membership and signed me up to play basketball, but I only remember playing in one or two games. I donít know what happened. I think mother just didnít want to keep taking me to practices and games. We did just have the one car. Of course, it could have been I stunk so bad at basketball the coach didnít want me back. Thatís probably not it, but, whatever the reason, I never did play organized basketball again, ever.
††††††††††† I went, one time, to the Olympic-sized indoor swimming pool at the downtown Dallas Y.M.C.A. and that was one strange experience. The only light in the huge, warehouse-sized building was from a row of windows way up about thirty feet high, across the top of the walls. Old, fat, naked men were sitting on the edge of the pool having a conversation like they didnít know they were naked. I felt an urge to shout, ďHey! Do you know youíre naked?Ē Of course, they were looking at me like, ďWhoís this weirdo with the swimming trunks on?Ē
††††††††††† Thatís probably why kids like swimming, but donít like taking baths. Itís the naked part. Or maybe itís just the part about being in hot water. When kids used to see movies about someone being boiled alive by natives it was scary because it looked too much like taking a bath.
††††††††††† I also joined the cub scouts and I
went on paper drives, trips to the bakery and potato chip factories and
bottling companies. I also went to a Scout Jamboree, where everybody was
walking around looking at the scoutís handiwork. Only I didnít have anything,
so I picked up a piece of leather that someone else had been working on, and
I picked up a tool and a hammer and acted like I was working on it when
parents came walking by. They thought I was good, but I was bad, and I felt
guilty. Of course I was guilty. I feel bad about that even now. If
youíre reading this and youíre the guy whose work was missing at the 1959
Dallas Jamboree, Iím sorry. Tell the guy who found my treasures on the window
ledge of the house on
Just Call Me Daisy
††††††††††† In 1959 we stayed on
††††††††††† I was starting to see two distinct sides to the giant. When he was drinking he was mean and seemed to go out of his way to be hateful, but when he was sober he pretty much ignored me. If he went long enough without a drink he was actually sort-of nice, but that was rare and getting rarer.
††††††††††† Mother also had a drinking problem. She drank Dr. Peppers like they werenít going to be available tomorrow. I think thatís why she had false teeth before she was thirty. It seems like I would take a twelve pack of empty bottles back to the store and trade them in for a new twelve-pack every other day. Sometimes the law of averages would catch up with me and I would drop a carton and break some bottles. It was hard holding a carton of bottles while riding a bicycle.
††††††††††† Motherís hair was also turning gray, but that wasnít the Dr. Pepperís fault. She had to have a hysterectomy when I was about ten or eleven and I wanted to do something nice for her while she was bed-ridden, so I pulled the weeds out of her flower bed. The bed was overrun with weeds, but they pulled up real easy. When she discovered I had pulled up her daisies she cried. That wasnít the intended result I had planned. After all, daisies are flowers, and flowers are supposed to have flowers on them. Thatís why they call them flowers. Right? Those plants I pulled up did not have flowers on them. Of course, they would have had flowers eventually, if I hadnít pulled them up. The giant called me ďDaisyĒ the rest of that summer.
††††††††††† It was just one of many humiliating experiences of the ďfoolish son.Ē Like the time I was going to eat my chicken pot pie in the living room, while I watched the noontime cartoons on channel eleven. I sat the pot pie, which had just come out of the oven, on the couch, while I got the TV tray.
††††††††††† It was a summer day and I was wearing shorts. With the TV tray in my hands, I backed up to the couch, intently watching the cartoons. The back of my legs hit the couch at my knees, which immediately bent and sat me down on the pot pie scalding my butt and thighs.
††††††††††† Everywhere we went that summer the giant called me ďDaisyĒ and mother would make me pull up my shorts so her friends could see what a four hundred and fifty degree pie can do to a stupid kidís legs. She didnít call me stupid, but thatís sure how I felt.
††††††††††† One day the carnival was in the parking lot of Lochwood Shopping Center and, in the course of walking around checking it out, because I didnít have any money, one of the carnies told me he would give me a quarter to go get a soda at the Walgreenís. He gave me the quarter and I headed for the drugstore, got a stool, and ordered a soda. I drank it and took his change back to him. Much to my surprise, he was furious. He apparently meant for me to bring the soda to him. He thought I had conned him, but I was really just a stupid kid. I think that was the summer my parents took me to a psychiatrist. Thatís how I know Iím not really crazy. I was tested.
††††††††††† One day my fifth grade arithmetic teacher got angry at the class. Apparently our collective minds were somewhere else. Usually it was just my mind wondering about important things like, why some months have 31 days and others have 30, except February, which has 28, except during leap year. Anyway, the arithmetic teacher told the whole class we were all going to grow up to be garbage collectors. In the fifties sanitation control wasnít the lucrative career move that it is today. I was really upset the rest of that day, because I didnít want to be a garbage collector. I think I cried about it. Iím serious.
Ah, the Fifties
††††††††††† When I think of the fifties, I think of how I could name every car I saw on the road. For one thing, I had a plastic model of just about every car there was, and there werenít that many. But the colors sure were bright. I had glass shelves on my walls to display my model cars. My toy guns hung on the parts of the walls where my shelves werenít.
††††††††††† Another pleasant memory of the fifties was drive-in movies. Friday or Saturday night at the Garland Road Drive-in meant you got there early if you wanted a good parking spot, especially if it was a popular movie. If we got there early enough I could go to the playground down in front of the screen and play until the movie previews started. Then I had to find my way back to the car in the dark.
††††††††††† On my way to the playground I would count the number of cars to the main walking aisle then count the number of rows to the front. That way I could count my way back, assuming I remembered the numbers. Sometimes I would wander around for a long time trying to find the car. And to throw in a little extra twist, if it was right after the giant got a new car, I would forget and be looking for the old car. I figure he and my mother were probably sitting in the new car laughing as they watched me walk back and forth several times in front of them. No wonder Iíve got such a good sense of humor.
48-49-50 Who wants to be President?
††††††††††† In school we were celebrating
††††††††††† I was in the fourth grade and the
teacher had us making little booklets shaped like
††††††††††† Speaking of bird poop, I used to think I had a target on the back of my head, because I kept getting hit there, and I donít mean by the giant, although he got his share of blows in. Even birds seemed to have my number, and not just while I was under a tree or a telephone line, but they could hit me while they were in flight. Several times in my life Iíve been the victim of a fly-by pooping.
††††††††††† And, of course, people had my number, too. One time I was walking down an alley and a little kid in his backyard threw a rock and hit me behind the left ear. Another time while I was walking along the bar ditch on Jupiter Road, I was hit square in the back of the head by a big wadded up piece of paper thrown by a kid from a moving school bus. He hung out the window shouting with victory and waving his arms. All the other kids were laughing. Iím sure if it had been anyone else walking down that road he would have missed.
††††††††††† Since my head seemed to be such an easy target, I decided at a very early age not to ever run for president. And to this day I never have.
††††††††††† My guilty conscience told me I was being punished for the things I didnít get caught doing. Like one morning, while the giant was shaving, I got into his billfold and took $2.00, then ran and jumped back in bed and pretended to be asleep. Like a fool I didnít even think he would miss the money. I mean, it wasnít like it was a goose that laid golden eggs. I didnít even think he knew I woke up, but soon he and mother were both standing over me throwing back the covers and searching me. They didnít find the money, so they left and it was never mentioned again. That was a whipping I would have deserved, but never got. How stupid do you have to be to steal from a giant? Look what happened to Jack. In his case the giant died, but how often does that happen in real life when youíre dealing with giants?
Stupid Things Just Happened to Me
††††††††††† I used to think I was the only kid who did stupid things. I remember the time my tongue got stuck to a Fudgesicle that was maybe two degrees warmer than dry ice. Instead of waiting for it to melt or running water over it, I ripped it off leaving a layer of my tongue on the ice cream bar.
††††††††††† One day I was riding my bike watching something other than where I was going and I ran into a parked car. I had to walk home limping, dragging my bike, because the front wheel was bent and rubbing against the fork.
††††††††††† I learned things the hard way, but I learned them good. I watched where I was going when I rode my bike after that. I never ripped my tongue off of another frozen confection. I never stole money from giants or anyone else again. I learned to walk backwards down alleys especially when I saw little kids with rocks. And I still keep my eye on school buses and birds.
Strict or Restrict
††††††††††† When the giant would punish me for frivolous or nonexistent reasons, my mother would try to explain his austerity by telling me he was from a very strict family. I guess that was so I would know why he was so strict on me. Iím sorry he didnít get to be a kid when he was little. But why was he stopping me?
†††††††††† When I got to watch television, I had to bring my rocker into the living room and place it in front of where he was sitting. As I sat there I was constantly aware of his presence behind me, because if I moved around or fidgeted, what he deemed, too much he would thump me. It kind of took the fun out of watching Paladin. I couldnít even scratch more than once or twice during a half-hour program.
††††††††††† It seemed like he was getting meaner with each new week. It finally got to a point where he was overreacting to minor things. I got whippings for forgetting to flush the commode, or leaving a wash rag or a sock on the floor, or not cleaning the ring out of the tub after my bath. There were times when I cleaned the tub, but he didnít think it was good enough. I used to sit in my room in fear after my bath waiting for him to check the tub.
††††††††††† One time he was so angry about the ring in the bathtub, he made me take off my pajamas and called my mother in to watch as he whipped my naked butt. I donít know what was worse, the whipping or the humiliation.
††††††††††† When he would whip me I would start crying and he would tell me he was going to whip me until I stopped crying. Have you ever tried to stop crying while a bully three times your size was beating up on you? It wasnít right. And nobody was coming to my rescue.
††††††††††† It was about this time I started wishing the giant would die. I know, now, that the abuse was just one of the natures of alcoholism, but I was really taking it personal. Especially since no one else in the house seemed to be getting his wrath. It seemed to be just him against me.
††††††††††† When I was eleven and even after I turned twelve, I still had to go to bed at 8:30 on school nights, which wasnít so bad, but on Friday and Saturday nights I had to go to bed at 9:00. There were special occasions when we got together with another family for the adults to play poker and drink. Then I got to stay up late and play with the other kids.†
††††††††††† Joey and I werenít allowed to get out of bed on Saturday or Sunday mornings until mother and the giant got up, and sometimes that might not be until after 9:00. That was a long time to have to lay awake in bed, especially if you woke up at 7:00, which wasnít that early if you went to bed at 9:00 the night before.
††††††††††† I donít remember, back then, watching shows like The Nelsons, Leave It to Beaver, Donna Reed, or any other show that depicted happy families with happy parents and happy children loving each other and having fun together. This was a very unhappy time in my life, and I wanted out. I remember praying, please let the giant die or just go away.
††††††††††† I believed that God answered prayers, so it wasnít just a perfunctory prayer. We went to church as a family, maybe two or three times a year at Casa View Baptist. Every year mother would take Joey and me to buy new dress clothes to wear to church on Easter Sunday. I would go to a Pentecostal church with Mommy and Papa when I spent a Saturday night with them. And there was a man from their church who would come and get me and take me to Sky Pilots, a church organization for boys that met every Tuesday night. Iíll never forget that man. I believe he actually cared about me.
††††††††††† Every chance I had, I was gone
from the house. I would go to the creek,
†††††††††† The problem was, at other times, the giant told me to stay close enough to hear him whistle. There were times when I thought I heard him whistle and I would run to check and he would say he hadnít whistled. I suspected it was just a test. I wasnít taking any chances.
††††††††††† Life at home was becoming a total bummer. I was actually glad when the weekends were over and I could go back to school. Not that I was learning anything, it was just a peaceful haven.
††††††††††† I donít know if Joey was really getting treated better than me, or if it was just my imagination, but it sure seemed like he was, and I was growing more and more jealous of him. After all, he was the giantís real son, and I was just the stepchild even though, legally, I was his son.
††††††††††† In the spring of 1961 Joey was not quite six, and I caught him and a little girl showing each other their private parts. So like a good big brother, I blackmailed him. For a few weeks he became my slave. I made him give me the biggest piece of pie or the last piece of candy. All the things he used to get, I was now getting. I was becoming a bully. I think thatís why God has never allowed me to be in a managerial position over other people. He knows what a jerk I become when I have power over someone. Usually bullies are people who are being bullied. They usually have bully fathers.
††††††††††† At my lowest point of jerkdom, one day in the garage, I tied a rope to the rafters and made my five year old brother stand on a chair while I tied the rope around his neck. I donít know what I was thinking. Just scaring him, I guess. I told him I was going to kick the chair out from under him and hang him. He started to cry and I guess I came back to my senses. I took the noose from his neck and hugged him and told him I was sorry. I felt terrible and I never pulled that stunt again. There was some good lurking down inside me.
††††††††††† I didnít quit with the blackmail though, but after a few more weeks he got tired of it and told me to just go ahead and tell on him. So I did, and mother didnít care because it had been so long since the incident. She told Joey not to do that again and then I got in trouble for not telling her at the time it happened.
††††††††††† Dallas landmarks in 1961 were the Flying Red Horse, Neiman Marcus-downtown (the only one in the world until 1955), the Southland Life Building, which was the tallest building west of the Mississippi, and Youngbloodís fried chicken, which was, and still is (even though they are no longer in existence), the best fried chicken I ever ate. I remember the little drawings on their napkins of a chick, then a chicken, then a hand around the chickenís neck, then a hand with an ax, then the chicken on the plate. That could be the reason the restaurant no longer exist; graphic advertising.
††††††††††† There was also Roscoe Whiteís
drive-in restaurant across the street from the Dr. Pepper plant on
A Triplet of Twins
††††††††††† There were three sets of twins in our sixth-grade class. One set was boys, who were both very slow. They were in my class, which was definitely not the smart class. They were both real nice guys, though, and I even hung around with them some when we werenít in school.
††††††††††† The other set of male twins was
mean as four foot tall
††††††††††† The third set of twins was girls named Cindy and Lindi. I remember them because they dressed alike, even though they barely looked like sisters. Cindy had dark hair and Lindi had blonde hair. They also wore their bluebird uniforms once a week. Other than that I barely remember them, except that twenty years after the sixth grade I married Lindi.
††††††††††† There was another kid in our slow class who wasnít a twin, but he would talk to himself like there was two of him. He mumbled under his breath all the time and was always trying to start something with somebody, sometimes even the teacher. The kid got sent to the principal a lot and nobody liked him until one day he died and suddenly it was like he had been everybodyís best friend. It seemed like over half the sixth grade class went to his funeral.
††††††††††† It was about this time I became obsessed with death and the thought of dying. I would become preoccupied with the thought, ďThat this time next week I could be buried and beginning to decay.Ē The thought of nothing, forever and ever, would boggle my mind with terror. I would lay awake nights trying to imagine there not being anything ever again, never. I would get really depressed. When people get depressed sometime they kill themselves. But what do you do when youíre depressed about dying?
††††††††††† If youíre reading this and you
have thoughts and depressions like I just described, Iím here to tell you
that it doesnít bother me one bit to talk about it or think about it now,
because I know where my hope lies. Looking back to this time in my life I
believe my soul was craving God. I was hearing the gospel message at Mommy
and Papaís church, and two or three times a year at the
††††††††††† I would think about the possibility of living to the year 2000 and being fifty-one years old. That was how old Papa was at the time and he was an old man. What were the odds that I would live to be that old?
††††††††††† That sixth grade classmate was the first person I ever knew that died. But that was about to change real fast.
Spite or Respite
††††††††††† I went to YMCA camp at
††††††††††† We went on overnight campouts on horseback. We went on overnight campouts in canoes. We went fishing and water skiing. The first time I skied I forgot to let go of the rope when I fell. Fast moving water can really peel your eyelids back over your forehead. I went sailing and not only turned the boat over, but got it upside down with the sail sticking ten feet straight down into the lake and had to call for help to get it back upright. They didnít let me take the sailboat out again.
††††††††††† We caught tarantulas and put them together in a box and watched them tear each other apart as they fought to the death. Okay, that wasnít one of the more uplifting moments at camp, but all in all it was a great experience and a lot of fun.
††††††††††† Despite everything I learned at camp, the one thing I remember vividly was how smart hornets are. There was a classic hornetís nest very high in a tree right in front of the tent I shared with about six other boys and a counselor. It was right there on the main path to everything.
††††††††††† One day a kid in a red shirt began to throw rocks at the hornetís nest and actually hit it two or three times. The hits didnít even seem to budge it and the bees didnít seem disturbed by it. The kid finally got bored and left. Most of the kids wore white t-shirts with the camp logo on them, and during the next half hour thatís all that came down the path, kids in white t-shirts.
††††††††††† But along came a totally innocent kid wearing a red t-shirt. As he walked under the tree with the nest, hornets swooped down on him and suddenly this kid was writhing on the ground, screaming, and, at first, we didnít know why. He was stung so many times they had to send him home. I never did know what happened to ďLumpy.Ē
††††††††††† Coming home from the summer camp of 1961 was the worst. It was so bad that mother was finally seeing the side of the giant I had been seeing for quite awhile. She saw how unreasonable and unrelenting he had become. She took Joey and I out to ball games and stuff, and now I believe it was to get us away from him.
††††††††††† One Friday night she took us to a minor league baseball game at Barnett Field. I believe the home team was called the Dallas-Ft. Worth Rangers, but Iím not sure of that. It was just the three of us and it was fun, except, eventually we would have to go home.
††††††††††† Soon things got so bad mother had Joey and I pack our clothes and she called her sister to come get us and take us to Mommy and Papaís house, leaving the giant at home alone. Mother had told him he had to quit drinking before we would return. He called on Saturday night and begged mother to come back. She said, ďNo.Ē
††††††††††† And I believe it was a divine no, because Monday morning she went to the house to get more clothes while he was at work, and when she arrived there was an ambulance in the driveway. The police were also there with a man the giant worked with.† Apparently, when he didnít show up for work, the man, who knew there had been some marital issues, had called the house and, when no one answered, he drove over. When he saw the car in the driveway and no one answered the door, he called the police.
††††††††††† The giant had shot and killed himself late Saturday night or early Sunday morning and I had some major guilt to deal with. I had wished and prayed he would dieÖ and he did.
††††††††††† Now I know all about the choices that we each make in our lives, and Iíve made some bad ones in mine, as youíll see. So I certainly canít criticize the giant too much for the bad choices he made. And I certainly canít blame him for the bad choices I made. At the same time I had to forgive my real daddy for the choices he had made, and that was much harder to do. After all, I blamed him for letting the giant adopt me and giving me rejection issues to deal with. We canít change the past, but we can let the past change us, for better or for worse.
††††††††††† We never spent another night in that house on Lippitt. We moved back in with Mommy and Papa and converted their garage into a bedroom. It looked like we were going to be staying there for a while, and that was alright with me. It was my happy place.
††††††††††† To this day I drive by that house on Lippitt and wonder if the people living there have any idea what happened in that front bedroom? Would they even care? Do they have children who stay home alone and sit out on the curb and watch the ghost pass by the windows?
Though your father on earth may fail you,
Your Father in Heaven never will.