I live in Abilene, and a couple hours drive west are the towns of Midland and Odessa. All three cities of about 100,000 each are home to strong football programs that have claimed their share of state football titles. It is hard to win a state title in football in Texas because of the competition. In the last 50 years the Odessa Permian Panthers have developed quite a reputation that extends beyond the borders of Texas. The book, movie and subsequent TV show called Friday Night Lights based on the book by H. G. Bissinger comes from his research while living about a year in that city. The vast majority of schools in Texas will never win a state title in football. Permian has won six. A team from Midland won three titles in a row at the turn of the century which is also an extremely difficult accomplishment. Another team in Texas had done it in the mid 50’s, and that was a team from Abilene.
The Abilene Eagles are home to the oldest marching band in Texas and also one of the proudest football programs. They won three state titles before the 1950’s and then three in a row from 1954 to 1956. And then, ……….a drought of over 50 years before their opportunity for another state title.
Abilene High had been in the playoffs for a number of years but in2009 in December we were in the state title game. My son and I made the four hour drive to San Antonio where our team from Abilene would meet the Katy Tigers from Houston. The Tigers were a storied program competing for their third straight title. A school well coached and disciplined steeped in tradition such as the Katy Tigers would present quite a challenge.
The night before the big game we enjoyed a meal on the Riverwalk in downtown San Antonio. the next day we arrived early at the Alamodome and watched another good football game that was played prior to our title game. I anxiously watched the teams warm up. I wanted the Eagles to win so bad I could feel my demeanor becoming extremely focused. The Katy Tigers had had their share of titles in the last 15 years; now it was time for Abilene.
On the very first drive the Eagles got their running game going and took an early lead. They scored again, and then again. Yet the Katy Tigers would not succumb. They slowly came back in the second half and threatened to make the score close until the Eagles eventually took command of the game. It was needless to say a thrilling experience. A lot of time, effort, and energy is put in by the players, the band and the parental support to bring about such an accomplishment. My kids were all out of school but it was fun to be a part of this experience. It was one of my all time favorite football games.
It is now playoff time and the Eagles are on the march again. They got beat last year in the playoffs while competing in the new Jerry Jones Cowboy stadium which was also a good time. I am not sure how far they will get in the playoffs, but I am greedy. I want them to go far, and I want them to win another title. I will treasure my memories of that trip to San Antonio. I want to collect another state title. That would be treasure to me.
In the 50’s and 60’s when I got something special it was usually for Christmas, my birthday, or when dad brought home something in the suitcase when he returned from TDY. Seems funny now that I think about it, that I never knew what TDY meant. I just knew it meant dad would be gone for a while and we would have to help mom more. It also meant dad would be bringing home something in the suitcase for each of us. Years later when I was in the military I would learn what TDY(temporary duty) meant.
This was before the days of Wal Mart; that is buying what you want, when you want it, anytime. Yes, we had Sears and some department stores, but we only shopped for clothes and shoes there, and that was generally right before school started. Each of us would often get a new pair of leather shoes which was for church, and as they got a little bit worn in, eventually for school. We would also get one pair of sneakers for gym class at school. It is Interesting that I mostly remember wearing leather shoes to school, and it was not until I was in college that I began to wear tennis shoes everywhere. We all wore hand me down jeans and some other clothes and shoes but I recall getting enough new stuff that I was OK. The point is that if I wanted a basketball, or a certain toy,…….well……., I had to wait for either Xmas or my birthday. I didn’t think anything about it at the time. In today’s climate if your kid is in baseball, you go to the store and buy everything from the bat, balls, uniform, and shoes immediately. I guess Xmas now is when you buy expensive game systems. I think I like the old way better. We had to learn to wait and consequently things were more appreciated when a person received them. Shopping is much more impulsive now.
Christmas was very special at our house. My parents did a good job of giving my siblings and myself some very good memories. On Xmas Eve we would have our immediate family exchange gifts. That’s when we would get socks, pajamas, Sunday shirts, and stuff like that. However, with three brothers we also gave gifts to each other and by the end of the evening I usually had some neat toys or games. We would eagerly wait for Xmas morning when Santa came. That’s when we would get the really cool stuff. Each of my brothers and I would pick a chair. We would arise early, but the rule was you had to wait for everyone, including mom and dad, before going to see what Santa brought. As a young child I wondered if Santa came in through the patio sliding door since we had no fireplace. As an older child I used to listen for the squeak of the back door to the garage thinking dad had to zip to Sears and quickly buy the stuff. Our imagination is something is it not? In many ways it is a gift from God. Just to imagine and hope for what you would get from Santa.
We were all up by six or seven but had to wait until as a complete family we could finally enter the room laden with gifts everywhere. If heaven was anything like the Christmas mornings I had, then I look forward to heaven. I almost always received what I wanted, and then some, and then some more. When I was six I asked for trucks. I got a red fire truck(which I still have), a cement truck, and a freight truck. One Christmas I had a strange request: I wanted a barber’s kit. I loved pretending I was getting a haircut. Well, I got the toy barber kit. I do not know if they even make them anymore. That same Xmas I also got a doctor’s black bag. As you know the medicine was candy and lasted all of one hour. My brothers would each get their loot. By the end of the morning we had soldiers, Lincoln logs, board games, golden books, toy rifles, you name it. I also felt sorry for my oldest brother. Instead of toys he would get stuff I didn’t much care for such as books or a microscope. I didn’t know what a microscope was, or why one would want a chemistry set. One year he got a game I had never heard of called Monopoly. I thought I was going to like it but I’m not sure I have ever really liked Monopoly, except the little pieces. The same goes for Candyland. We’re supposed to like it. It is in every kid’s closet. Yet, I don’t think I have met an adult that genuinely likes Candyland. Most parents are anxious to give it away at the next garage sale.
Birthdays were also nice. I was allowed one special gift that I had requested. For example, one year I wanted to start a coin collection, so I received several books for collecting. I still have them. One year I wanted a football. One year it was plastic airplane models. With a large family I would receive a number of other presents, not to mention if I had friends over for a party.
Dad’s TDY’s were special because he would bring stuff from overseas that we could not get in the states. Chocolate and miniature cars from Germany; snow globes and wooden boxes from Japan. Not expensive, but I liked the anticipation of not knowing what we were going to get. Of course, now you can get it all at Wal Mart anytime instantly. Like I said, I liked it the way it was back in the 50’s and 60’s.
I also like the feeling of receiving gifts back then. They seemed special and to be appreciated. I have retained that same feeling when I look at life’s blessings. I’ve had my share of struggles, unanswered prayers, and disappointments in life, but I have also received many of God’s gracious blessings. To some degree I developed this frame of thought from my happy childhood remembrances of Xmas, B-days, and dad’s TDY’s. They are indeed memories to be treasured. I don’t think it is the same for kids today. Something is different, something is missing, and I think that is unfortunate.
Last week I shared how my son and I enjoyed some success with his pine wood derby while he was in the cub scouts. Success in terms of winning. We named his derby, “Jaws.” The others of his were not winners such as, “the Swiss Express,” which looked like a block of Swiss cheese, and was indeed slow as it came down the track. Another one of his we didn’t even bother to name which was just as well since it never even won one race. I like the pine wood derby experience as part of cub scouts although I believe it has now been hijacked by the fathers, of which I confess I was part of. But let me tell of a pine wood derby competiton were I saw a real winner.
The year would probably have been around 1960. My older brothers were in cub scouts and my mom was a den mother. The family went up to the school cafeteria and I saw all the older boys set their pine wood derby’s on a table. All the kids were bigger than me and they crowded around a slanted piece of wood in the center of the room. I sensed something important was going to happen. I watched as an adult put two of the cars on what I now realized was a track and heard the kids cheer and holler as their derbies raced down the track. I envied the man picking up the cars because I had not been allowed to play with my older brothers cars. I watched as my older brothers and their friends nestled closer and closer to the track. They were often reminded to move back but they couldn’t help it, they wanted to get close. So did I trying to scoot in for a better view.
I also remember wanting one of those blue shirts and yellow ties that the cub scouts wear. At home I would sometimes put on one of my older brothers shirts on and mess around with the yellow tie. The yellow scarfs also had that cool neckpiece to hold the tie, not like church where dad would tie it and it would stay on its own. I wanted one of those shinny necktie pieces with thw cub scout emblem.
I recognized the faces of a number of the boys in blue including one I did not like. Not so much disliked but one I was uncomfortable around. He was different. I was actually afraid of him. I remember his real name which I will not use here, but I’ll use the name George. He was not only older and bigger than me, but was loud and unpredictable. Most of the neighborhood kids tried to avoid him. My mom had asked me not to play with him. It was not said in a mean way, but more out of concern. I don’t know his condition but I now realize he was mentally challenged. George worked his way right up next to the track. About that time I saw the scout master reach and place my oldest brother’s car at the top of the track. By this time I had learned the first car down is the winner. Naturally I wanted my brother to win. The scout master then picked another car of the table placing it next to my brothers. It was George’s car. I heard some comments and of course all the kids wanted my brother to win. You see not many people liked George.
The scout master released the lever and the two pine wood derby cars began to race down the track and yes my brother’s was way out in front. Until, ……….what? ………..you can’t do that. George had perfectly placed his index finger on the track to stop my brother’s car. George’s derby raced to victory. An uproar ensued. Walter, a friend of my brothers stood up to challenge George. Others were calling him a cheater. Many were demanding a rerace. My oldest brother had been ripped off.
In the confusion of the room I heard my older brother tell the group, “It’s OK……. It’s alright.” Walter sat down glaring at George and the room quieted as the races went on. I don’t recall much more being said and I don’t recall if either of my brothers cars raced much more. I suppose they did. I do remember thinking my brother was nice to George.
It’s called grace. It’s being shown mercy when you don’t expect it or deserve it. If you have ever experienced true grace, it is a wonderful feeling. It is something we should all strive to extend to others more. I’m not sure I should talk on the subject. Being gracious is not one of my virtues. But I learned from an early age it can be done. I know, I saw grace given that day. Flash forward to 2010.
I’m eating breakfast with my dad and three brothers and I’m asking my youngest brother if his son James, age 8, is in scouts and if so, did they do the pine wood derby. “Yes,” they said but, “we didn’t do well in the races.” My brother went on to explain he had added some weight to help make James’ car heavier and therefore faster but that it still didn’t help. “Some dads now have this derby thing down to a science,” he explained. Little did he know I unfortunately knew exactly what he was talking about. My oldest brother at that moment was in the kitchen preparing the food. I looked at my dad and my next oldest bother and related my take on the story that happened over 50 years ago. They both remembered it vividly and just as I conveyed it to them.
I know we all hear suggestions about don’t keep company with losers, or something like, “show me a loser and I’ll show you someone who has never been good at anything.” I am sometimes guilty of such comments when trying to encourage my own children to keep the right company. However, I know of one time when I saw a loser, who turned out to be a gracious winner. I treasure my cub scout memories for the fun I had, but I also treasure some of the invaluable life lessons I learned such as seeing my older brother treat another person so decently.
The older I get the more I value my happy memories. Some years I don’t have as many good memories as others, and it seems the years we traveled more bring back a host of good stories. My early years with the Air Force while stationed overseas was a good time in my life. Such times I have begun to treasure in my memory bank.
The year was 1980. My wife and I were recently stationed in Germany with the Air Force. After years of school and no money we were ready to travel. I told her one of the men at work told me we would enjoy visiting a small quaint town in Belgium called Brugge. We hopped in our little Opel Manta on a Friday morning and drove off. No kids yet, a little free time, and finally, we had a little bit of money. About a five to seven hour drive depending on how often we would stop.
The weather was beautiful all weekend. We stooped in Brussels on the way and walked the town square. Spent a little bit of time finding what we thought was a famous landmark called the Statue of Pis. It turned out to be a little dinky statue of a little boy relieving himself. I guess everyone that visits Brussels gets suckered into this silly tourist trap about a block off the main square.
We arrived in Brugge late in the afternoon. The window of our hotel room overlooked the cobblestone town square where several eateries awaited. The church on the square would chime hourly. I have always liked church bells although most of my life I have not lived near churches that have bells to ring. The first night we dined at an open air restaurant on the square. I enjoyed the clickity clack of the cobblestone as people walked or rode their bikes through town. I also delighted in sipping some delicious purple wine. I’m not much of a drinker so it doesn’t take much for me to get tipsy.
The next morning we took a short tourist boat ride down the canals of the small river that traversed through the little town. Brugge has an interesting past. It was the primary harbor for the area for centuries. In time the harbor filled in with silt and Antwerp replaced Brugge as the main harbor to Belgium. The architecture of the buildings reveals the various people who have ruled over the town for almost a millennium. In addition to its Flemish , it has been has been under the oversight of the Spanish, the English, the Dutch, and the French. The tour guide on the boat ride pointed out that each of these cultures may have been present in the area for centuries thereby leaving their influence.
Belgium is full of antique shops if that is your thing. We spent a few hours at a flea market that had some cool antiques. Some of it was really old. I was surprised at the significant amount of military paraphernalia such as helmets, canteens and so forth from both world wars.
For lunch we drove a short distance to an ocean side café with a cool breeze. What do you think we ordered?
b. Brussel sprouts
c. Belgium waffle
Well, you guessed it; a delicious waffle. By the way, I also like crepes, but will never like Brussel sprouts. That evening we dined at an Italian eatery nestled on the river within the town.
We left on a Sunday morning with unusually warm weather and stopped at a nearby American cemetery called Flanders Fields. I was a little intrigued with the place because while in high school I had given a brief oral report by a poem written by a soldier who was at Flanders Fields during the First World War. We had a wonderful visit. That afternoon we stopped at Waterloo. It has a decent little museum but the battlefield itself is gone. Our last stop of the day was a Bastogne, Belgium where the World War II Battle of the Bulge was fought. All three battlefields visited in one day and not rushed. It was a delightful trip and one of the ones we most fondly remember of our many while stationed in Germany.
I like westerns. Some of the best movies ever made in my opinion were Westerns such as Shane starring Alan Ladd. The cast of the Magnificent Seven included stars such as Charles Bronson, Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn, and James Coburn. How about Paul Newman and Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? As for TV, I can remember dozens of westerns. On Saturday mornings as a kid I watched Roy Rodgers and a show called Sky King. The afternoons had The Lone Ranger. The evenings had guys such as Paladin who was a classy gunslinger, and The Rifleman which had a cool theme song. Gunsmoke was a stalwart running for years. And then there was Sunday night, that is, Bonanza.
As a family we were not always able to be together in the evenings as my older brothers got into high school, but from what I remember we were often together on Sunday night watching Bonanza. When we finally got a color TV I recall how beautiful the colors were on Bonanza. It also had a good theme song. Because it showed for many years it creating a bond with its viewers. I also recall Sunday evenings after church was snack night and we got to eat in front of the TV. All other nights was at the dinner table. One of my brothers often made tuna salad while I often heated up a can of ravioli. The only thing bad about Bonanza was in the back of my brain a voice whispering, “tomorrow is school.”
I do not submit for extended cable coverage but if I did I would want to receive the Western channel. Whenever I do watch a Western I still for the most part enjoy them although in more recent years they are too violent and getting a little bit unrealistic such as one man taking on fifty.
Westerns bring back a bunch(bonanza) of good memories. They may be too simplistic for many viewers but I enjoy a theme that has the good and bad element to it as well as a moral to the story. Toss in a little action, some romance while the good guys lasso the outlaws, and I still think they make for an enjoyable adventure. When I’m channel surfing I sometimes catch a Western and it seems to make me feel better. I’m never going to be as tough or as cool as the men depicted in the shows, but I have always thought being a Western action hero was much more plausible than being a Spiderman or Batman. The rugged individual has always had an allure to me.
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I packed my brown lunch bag very carefully. Half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a boiled egg, an apple, and some cookies. A boiled egg seemed to be part of a lunch back in those days. I don’t recall taking anything to drink. We didn’t have bottled water back in 1960 and I don’t recall canned sodas at that time. I think it was mostly bottled drinks back then, and besides, that generally was only on Saturday nights for our family. I was six years old and I was about to embark on a big hike.
The cowboy boots were not exactly the best to hike in but I sure loved them. Those were the days of Western TV shows so it was a must to have a cowboy hat and boots, especially when living in Texas. I would not be alone on my trek. Tommy showed up to go with me. I was a year older therefore I was in charge. I’m not sure I wanted his little brother to tag along but there were just a lot of us kids in those days and it sort of came with the territory that we include kids of many ages when it came to activities. We all enjoyed football, hide and seek, climbing trees, exploring the woods, and board games.
We lived “out in the sticks,” as people would say, but it was wonderful. There were woods all around us and the trees were oaks, perfect for climbing in. Exploring the woods and following deer trails was fascinating. One time my older brothers and I got lost and it took over an hour to find our way back to a fence in order to find a road to follow home. Dad had walked about a half mile to find us and had a look of relief on his face. Dinner time was 5:30, so I guess he suspected something was wrong when three of the four sons were missing. I was pleased we weren’t in trouble. I think I might have hopped on his back as we walked home.
All of our older brothers were in school that day. We crossed the front yard and our journey began. Without my brothers I was not sure I wanted to venture too far without them, but I was in charge so we had to go somewhere. My house was the last home on a long street. Directly across the street were woods, but I knew them pretty well by now. One block behind my house was some deep woods where I had gotten lost with my brothers and I was not up to that challenge today. On the other side of the house was some open space with shrubs and lots of cacti. We messed around there often but the woods in the distance behind the area were a little too far. That left one final direction, towards the other houses, obviously the safest. “Let’s go this way,” I told my friends.
We headed down the paved street that the family vehicle traversed every day. We passed about six houses until we came to an intersection. Looking all around, we crossed the street. There was a vacant lot, a rocky overgrown area big enough for about four houses to eventually be built. I now realize it would be about the size of an acre. It had some good sized boulders and mounds of dirt to climb on. We spent some time jumping from one large stone to another climbing the heaps of rocky debris. “I’m King of the Mountain,” we would yell as each of us raced to conquer the numerous four to six foot peaks. The rocks were tall enough that we could actually hide from each other until we would dash around and find the other. Hide and seek is a natural among children. After a little bit of time we decided to eat our lunch.
When I bite into my apple there was something hard in my mouth as I chewed. I retrieved a small hard white object that I quickly realized was a tooth. “Look, I lost my front tooth,” as I showed them. We were all excited about the prospect of how much the tooth fairy would bring. In those days a tooth was treasure. A quarter could buy lots of candy and I often got two quarters from the tooth fairy. The hike no longer seemed important.
I cautiously wrapped my prize in the wax paper from my sandwich. There was no cellophane at that time. I then put it back in my brown bag and folded it in and tucked it into my back pocket in order to get it home safely. A few moments later we realized Tommy’s younger brother Johnny was missing. We immediately began searching the area. He smiled and ran as we spotted him. Just as any small child he was learning to improve his hide and seek skills. Soon he was trying to find us. We chased each other for a while, oblivious to anything else. After a while I noticed my brown bag was missing. It must have fallen out of my back pocket. We frantically looked everywhere, trying to go back to where we had eaten hoping I had left it there. We found some egg shell remains but no lunch bag. Now the vacant lot seemed hugely big to me. We ran here, we ran there, looking everywhere, but no bag. I had lost my tooth: my treasure. It seemed hopeless; I quit and dejectedly headed home.
At first I ran but soon fatigued and walked the remaining distance. My crying intensified as I approached my home. Tommy trailed behind me and Johnny followed him both also crying by this time. As soon as I entered I told mom of my disaster. She told me to go lie down and rest a few minutes. I cried myself to sleep.
When I awoke I remembered to check under my pillow. My fingers touched some coins. I scooped them up and ran into the kitchen. “Look mom, the tooth fairy came during the day, not just at night.” She smiled and gave me a hug. “How much is it, I asked?” There was a quarter, three dimes, a nickel, and seven pennies, almost too much for my little hand to hold. She added it up and said it was 67 cents. “Wow, the best tooth ever, wait until dad sees this.” That was a fortune in those days. When I heard the back door later as dad arrived I greeted him with the news which he warmly received.
My own kids are grown now and I cannot recall how much the tooth fairy brought them but it is interesting how vividly I recall that lower front tooth. Now when I feel something hard in my mouth and realize a tooth has broken, it is to say the least not good news. Ironically it will be a costly trip to the dentist. Some experiences as a child remain so vivid in our recollections. Losing a tooth is often a desired occurrence as a child, while losing a tooth as an adult is the opposite. Losing a tooth as a child is gained treasure; losing a tooth as an adult is lost treasure.
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