Editor’s note- Working on this post brought back so many good memories. No doubt, I made stupid teenager mistakes, but what a good group of friends. As I was working on the stories and looking at our yearbooks I couldn’t help but smile as I saw so many old friends and read the very kind notes from everyone. Maybe everyone feels this way, but it seems like we had a very fun class that treated each other so well. I probably had too good of a time, and I am sorry I was not a better Christian witness, but I sure appreciate the friendships! Rod
We went down to Southside Baptist Church in Charleston, Missouri for Dad to meet the people and preach a sample sermon. I really didn’t want to move and leave my friends and my cross country team behind, but after I went there I decided I liked the church, and would not mind moving. This was mainly because a good looking girl named Pam Babb was really nice to me on my first day in Sunday school. It’s funny how, at that age, a girl can change your whole mind about something. I didn’t even know her, but I told my parents on the way home that it would be okay to move there, even though I really didn’t think that it would happen.
Of course, the people at Southside Baptist ended up asking Dad to come and lead their church, so along we went. Charleston was where I finished high school. I wasn’t overjoyed to leave Cape, but I had already moved many times before, so I knew it would be okay. Charleston was a lot smaller than Cape. Up to that time, I had never drank or smoked. I had seen a few friends do it, but I still thought that it was bad. I still got along well with Dad, but the forces of rebellion were moving fast, and that teenager in me was starting to take its natural course and tell me that I knew a lot more than him.
We moved down to Charleston in time to start the spring semester. I jumped right into track and making friends. Lottie was not as happy. She couldn’t do gymnastics in Charleston, and this really upset her. She cried a lot and was mad about being there, but she got over it in time. The one big concern for me was that Charleston did not have a cross country team, so I decided to play football again.
Going to a small school in Charleston was different than Cape. For teenagers at that age, for whom perception is more important than reality, if you act important and take charge, most kids just accept that you are those things. Moving to a new school allowed me to totally redefine myself, and I took full advantage of the opportunity. I was friendly and quickly made friends with almost all of the kids. I decided that they didn’t know anything about me except what I told them, so I didn’t force myself on anybody but played it cool. I presented the image that I was a very successful football player and runner from a big city school, arriving on the scene in Charleston. It worked like a charm. I was accepted into all groups and even hung out with the popular kids.
Fortunately, we were not as poor anymore, and I quickly built up another successful lawn mowing business and had some spending money, which allowed me to buy clothes and dress like the “cool” kids. In the eighties, styles were a bit like the fifties except our hair was longer. Popular kids wore short-sleeved Polo shirts with a pair of Levi 501 blues jeans. Tennis shoes or even penny loafers were in style as well. Since Charleston was such a small town with only a handful of white churches, Dad’s new position was also respected.
Let me explain the racial issues in Charleston. Half of the townspeople were white, and half were black. This was not a new thing to me since I had lived in New Mexico and Texas, where the population was similarly distributed, but between whites and Mexicans. In Charleston, everyone got along well, but there were people who still harbored racist feelings. There was definitely a black side of town and a white side. In the cafeteria—with only a few exceptions—the white kids sat together, and the black kids sat together. Nobody made us do this; it just happened.
We were all friends with each other, and I was fortunate because I ran track and hit it off with the two most popular black guys in school, Trent Lane and David Stovall. They initiated me as a freshman track member that spring by duct taping me naked to the goal post on the football field. I was the first runner to get points in the mile and two-mile for the Charleston track team in years. Trent and David were fast and won the sprints, but Charleston always lost meets because they got smoked in the distance events. Getting points in those events made me a popular white boy on the track team.
Anthony Lewis was also a good friend of mine and a very good high hurdler. He was so fast he got a scholarship to a Division I school. Anthony was a drummer in the band, and we were very good friends. He used to come over to my house all the time, but his dad didn’t seem to like me going to Anthony’s house because I was white. Back in those days we didn’t worry about germs, and kids shared sodas and other drinks, but this was uncommon between white and black kids. Anthony and I caused a lot of concern to our friends when we shared sodas.
Mom and Dad always taught me that everyone was a child of God and all people are created equal. I never thought anything about blacks or Mexicans being different from me. I remember the first time I met someone who told me that blacks were not as smart as white people. It was one of my friend’s dads. I worked with him on his farm, and one day he explained to me that black people just didn’t have the mental skills that white people had. I tried to argue that different people had different levels of intelligence, but being black didn’t mean you were dumb. “What about all of the dumb white people?” I asked. He didn’t agree with me, but admitted that a few blacks were smart. Then he summed up his thoughts by saying that, in general, white people were smarter.
That’s the way it was in Charleston. Some black people didn’t like white people because of how white people had treated them and a lot of white people continued to believe that black people were inferior. Fortunately, most of us school kids didn’t think that way and we all got along better. But the Missouri boot heel is a place where people seemed to be extremely rich or extremely poor. A few rich, white farmers still owned most of the farm land, and most of the blacks were poor because, just over a century before, they’d been slaves, and then sharecroppers for decades after that. There were, of course, some poor white people and successful black people, but most of the blacks had been held down until the late 1960s, and the situation hadn’t changed enough in the decades since to do away with racial misconceptions.
Of course, all of my classmates were born around 1967, and we had no idea what segregation was like or how it affected black people. My parents raised me to treat everyone equal and since we were considered poor for most of my childhood, I never thought I was better than anyone else. Learning that there was a time in America when whites wouldn’t let black people eat at the same restaurants, go to the same schools, or use the same bathrooms, was shocking.
Today, there are a lot of black people who are very resentful and blame all of their problems on white people. Many of these blacks did not grow up under segregation and have had opportunities that their parents could only have dreamed of. There are also a lot of whites who are still racist and don’t understand what the black people are mad about.
Unfortunately, these feelings are hindering the ability of all of us to get along. While I wish many of these angry young black people would buckle down and take advantage of the opportunities they have, I also think that white people need to consider how segregation hurt black families. Just imagine how much different many white people’s lives would have been if their parents had not had opportunities to get jobs and make money or send them to good schools.
In Charleston, they had segregated schools all the way into the seventies. Martin Luther King was shot in 1968, and opportunities for black people were very limited until then. The segregation laws kept most black people from achieving the American dream. Many times, they were kept out of good schools and were prevented from getting a good education. They were held down and held back from good jobs and opportunities to make money or send their kids to college. There were a lot of poor whites who struggled in the 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s, but their chances of getting an education and finding a good job and making their life better than their parents’ was much better than those of most blacks back then.
Minorities in my generation and your generation are finally having the same opportunities that whites have enjoyed for decades. For the last thirty years, black and white parents have had good jobs. We can save our money and send our kids to college, and finally the playing field is a lot more level, but there is no denying that segregation took away opportunities for blacks. Be thankful you live in American in this day and age and remember that God created all men equal.
When I was a Marine Corps captain, some of my best Marines were black and Hispanic. I once wondered what would happen if you took a prejudiced black guy and a racist white guy, let them get shot and then asked them if they would accept the blood of the opposite race to stay alive. I bet that their racist feelings would stop fairly quickly. God made us so that either white or black blood cells will keep us alive and transport oxygen through our bodies. People should think about that more often!
In Charleston, we moved into the parsonage; a small brick house right next to the church. It was a three-bedroom house, and I shared a room with Courts. Lottie with Ruth shared another room, and as always we spent a lot of time around the supper table eating dinner as a family each night. The church had about 120 attending each week. Not long after I moved there, I broke my collar bone playing touch football. I had broken the same bone when I was younger, so I knew the drill. It hurt but it healed up in time for track season.
My first good friend was Kevin Bone. He lived close to me, and since we were both too young to drive, we hung out together. We hung around David Slaughter, Missy Grissom, Carl Bone and a few others after school. I was also good friends with the guys at our church like Chris Blaylock, Rodney Stanley and Phillip Wicker.
I had a decent track season that year. I was the top long distance runner for Charleston. I finally broke a five-minute mile, but didn’t run varsity. I was fast for a freshmen but not fast enough to beat the juniors and seniors in the mile or two-mile.
My First Drink
At about this time, I had my first opportunity to drink. We went over to David Slaughter’s house after school most days because his mom was always at work, and they had some beer. Everybody drank some, but I said no because I thought drinking was wrong. Nobody made fun of me or said I was a sissy, and it was really no big deal. This same thing happened two or three times. We hear about peer pressure all the time, but my friends never really pressured me to drink.
One night, I got invited to a dance at school with a bunch of guys. One was sixteen and had his dad’s van. Dad didn’t want me to go but finally he said I could. Dad said nothing good went on at dances and, as a preacher, he thought the whole atmosphere was bad. I had to be home by 11 p.m., which was a lot earlier than all of the other guys. Somebody had gotten some beer and everyone in the van was drinking. They asked me if I wanted something and I said no just like before and, again, nobody gave me a hard time.
I don’t know why, but later I asked the guys if I could try a beer. My friends were actually surprised, and Carl Bone smiled and said, “Preacher boy wants a beer?” They gave me one and right there, of my own free will, with very little forced peer pressure, I made a decision that was to have a very negative impact on my future.
That first beer tasted terrible to me. I could hardly choke it down so they gave me some root beer and rum, which was a lot better. I didn’t drink enough to get a buzz that night, and we went to the dance and then they took me home. Looking back, I wonder why I tried it a second time since it tasted so bad, but I did.
Before long, I was going over to David’s house after school and drinking two beers. It only took two beers for me to get a buzz. I loved getting a buzz. Any day we could find someone to buy us beer, we would go over to David’s house after school and drink.
During the summer, when I wasn’t mowing grass, Kevin Bone and I would go to the park. We would sit on the bleachers by the
tennis courts and watch everyone cruising what we called “the big block,” or the main streets, or we would go over to Johnny’s drive-in and get a Cherry Coke. I used my mowing money to buy beer and eat out. We occasionally drank, but mostly we played basketball, baseball and did the normal stuff kids do in the summer.
I trained for cross country, and played tennis that summer, but mostly I hung out and watched girls. They were fixing the Main Street in Charleston, and we would move the road construction signs into the road, throw eggs at teacher’s houses and do a lot of other stupid and daring things. I always did the most daring feats because I knew I could outrun everyone else and didn’t think I would get caught.
I went out a little bit with Christy Walker, the church song leader’s daughter, but we ended up breaking up. The youth group did a musical that summer, and we went around to a lot of churches singing and doing mission work. Our youth group was small. Rodney Stanly, Chris Blaylock, Phillip Wicker, Christy, Susan Nelson, Lottie, and I were the main participants. We didn’t do a lot together outside of church except that we boys played Risk a lot. There were two groups of kids I hung around with. My church youth group friends and my school friends. I always tried to be the involved in both groups.
Dad was my cross country coach that year. He talked to Al Cope, the school principal and said that if they would pay the entry fees, he would take me to the meets along with anybody else who wanted to run. I didn’t realize then how much time, energy and effort Dad put into helping me run. He rode his bike while I ran on many of my workouts and he timed me in practice. We spent a lot of time together during the season and Dad ended up being the track distance coach as well.
Even though we spent time together, I didn’t talk to Dad about the temptations I was facing. I was scared of him finding out about what I was doing. I was going through that normal teenager reaction to my parents. I didn’t like them much. I didn’t think they knew much, and I wanted to do my own thing without having them tell me what to do. During this time I started lying to them more and more. Sadly, I was getting pretty good at it. I was doing things that I knew were wrong, and I had to lie to cover my tracks.
Getting My Driver’s License
That September, I turned sixteen, which made me the second oldest in my class behind Matt Whiteside, and more importantly I could get my driver’s license. Dad had let me drive a little for practice before I was sixteen, but it didn’t go very well. He would yell and make me nervous, so needless to say I was not an experienced driver. On September 9th, I wanted to take my test, but Dad said I needed to practice more. We ended up making a bet that if I passed the test he would buy me a steak dinner, but if I didn’t pass the test, I would have to wait thirty days to take it again.
I had to take the test in the Oldsmobile 98, which was a very long car. I asked Dad how long the parallel parking spot was and he said eighteen feet. I then measured the car and it was over twenty feet long. I told him it wouldn’t even fit, but he laughed and said he’d just made the eighteen feet up. Mom took me down to take the test, and I passed the written portion and then headed out on the road to take the driving portion. I didn’t do that well, and the parallel parking section was extremely hard in the Oldsmobile. I needed a seventy percent to pass and just made it with a seventy-three percent. Dad couldn’t believe it, but I was ready to hit the road.
Once I had my license, I wanted a car. I had saved up some money to buy one and was cleaning the church every week, so I had a steady check coming in. Dad and I found a red 1976 Firebird—every kid’s dream. It cost $1,500, and Dad gave me $300 to go with my stash for the down payment. He also co-signed my loan at the bank, and I had an $86 monthly payment. I ended up paying the car off early.
I really liked the car and so did my friends. That was when I started hanging around Rodney Crawford, Clinton Gross and Carl Bone. They couldn’t drive yet, so I provided our transportation. I also had my heart broken by Celeste Powell that year. I really liked her, but she dumped me soon after I got my license. I went to her house to talk to her but was only able to visit with her mom, who explained that Celeste liked me but didn’t want to hold me back now that I had a car. Of course, I said that didn’t matter to me. The next day, I sat with her at lunch, and she blew me off. It was an embarrassing situation, and I decided that, from then on, I would play it cool and not show any girl how I really felt.
Jim Abner went to church at Charleston and he was a hoot. He sold cars at the Ford dealership and he loved to fish. I went with him and Dad on a lot of fishing trips, and just like Mr. Duckworth they caught a lot of crappie. We had some delicious fish fries at the Abners’.
Fishing was fun, but at Charleston we also got back into frog gigging! The boot heel is perfect for frog gigging. It’s full of drainage ditches and ponds, and there are tons of bugs. The frogs grow big and fast in southeast Missouri. Mr. Abner would load us up in his johnboat, and we would get our big lights out and go frog hunting. He had two boys about Courts’s age, and we all had a lot of fun catching frogs.
The big frogs were in the small drainage ditches that you couldn’t get a johnboat in. The only way to get those frogs was to wade through the mud. Most people were afraid of snakes and wouldn’t do it. That didn’t stop Mr. Abner, and I had never been afraid of snakes so I was all in. Dad didn’t like snakes as much, but he was always right behind me. As long as we made a lot of noise, the snakes would be long gone by the time we got close to a frog.
There is nothing like seeing two big green eyes shining on the bank while you’re wading in a ditch with muddy water up to your chest, and knowing that if you can just get close enough before he jumps in, you’ll be able to put that big bullfrog in the sack. Whenever we saw a big one, Mr. Abner would say, “Man, you could fit a hammer between that one’s eyes.”
Catching frogs is fun but eating them is even better. We fought over those legs at the frog leg fries. My mouth is watering just writing about them. Frog legs have the tenderest white meat I have ever eaten. When that corn meal is fried to a golden brown, the meat just falls off in your mouth.
Cleaning the Church
I have already mentioned that it was my regular job to clean the church. Each week, I had to vacuum the carpet, empty the trash, and mop and wax the floors. Dad was always inspecting to make sure that I had done it right. I would sometimes hire Lottie to do some of the work because I didn’t have to pay her much and I made fifty dollars a week. But cleaning the church, even with Lottie’s help, was not as easy as it sounds.
On several Sunday mornings, I would wake up to Dad yelling at me about how he’d had to clean something I had missed. Dad always got up early on Sunday mornings, read his Bible and prayed. On the mornings after I cleaned the church, he did his inspection before he started praying. After a Saturday night on the town, waking up at daylight to an angry father was not very fun.
Dad had been a janitor when he first married Mom, and he taught me to strip, wax and buff floors. I had helped clean buildings before, but on this job I had to do everything on my own. It was good, steady money in the winter, when I couldn’t mow grass, but Dad made it a tough job. I don’t know if anyone else would have kept the church as clean as I did under his watchful eye. Dad made sure that nobody could complain about the church not looking good on Sunday morning.
Missing State and Working Harder
I had a good cross country season that year and just missed going to state by a half-second. I came in eleventh in districts, and only the top ten went to state. I was in tenth place sprint-ing into the finish, but a guy just edged me out at the end. It was a very disappointing day, but that loss really motivated me for the following year.
In cross country, I have seen runners have a really good season and then become lazy and get stomped the next year. I have also seen guys do terribly during the season, work really hard in the off season then come back the next year to win it all. It’s a lot like life; sometimes the victor becomes complacent and gets lazy while the man who has lost doesn’t give up, but works harder and obtains victory. Most of the time, success tends to make people prideful and complacent. I have seen this repeatedly in sports, business, politics and Christian living.
I wasn’t drinking much that season, which was a good thing. Toward the end of the season, I started dating Chrissy Shuler. She was a pretty freshman and a nice girl, but after about two months I broke up with her. Rodney Crawford and I were cruising around drinking when I asked him to drive by her house so I could break up with her. I didn’t give her a reason for breaking up, and Rodney said that I shouldn’t have done it. She had given me a bottle of Polo cologne for Christmas, which was nice and I have always liked that cologne.
Chrissy was a little upset, but she went on just as all teenagers do. Breaking up with Chrissy worked out because just after that I was grounded. Dad grounded me because I earned a “D” in Biology. He took my license and keys for a whole quarter. I had the teacher send a note home showing Dad that I had a “C” at midterm, but Dad didn’t let me off early. My friends couldn’t believe it, nor could I, but Dad was determined to show me that he meant what he said. Being grounded was the greatest motivation in the world to get “C’s,” and when the semester was over I had one.
I was still in the band and I still wanted to quit, but Dad didn’t want me to. I played trombone but was not very good. Dad was probably thinking I could get a scholarship like he had, but I dreaded band. It took a while, and much persuading, but I was finally allowed to quit before my junior year. I stayed in choir and worked harder at my running.
Coach Kraft was the head track coach and he had Dad continue coaching the distance runners that season. Nobody at Charleston knew anything about distance running, and Dad did the best he could. Neither he nor I knew much about what kind of training program we needed to run to really improve, so we ran hard and fast during every workout, every day.
I made more friends at school that year. Tristan Goodin and I were long distance runners on the track team. His dad was a big farmer in Charleston, and Tristan was a wild man. Whenever I hung around him I always got into something I shouldn’t have. One time, on a long run out on highway 60, we picked up every bottle we could find beside the highway and threw them onto the road, breaking them. Somebody saw us doing it and told coach Marshal. Boy, did he get mad. But thankfully he didn’t turn us into the principal. During track season that year, I broke a 4:50 mile and ran a 10:30 two-mile. Those times didn’t get many varsity points, but I was one of the top tenth graders in the district.
Getting Kicked By Dad
Dad came to all of my track meets, timed all of my training runs, and pushed me to be my best. Once, he put me through a very hard workout running half-mile intervals. I ran them all in good times and, after I was done, he said, “Now, let’s do one more.” I was tired and had prepared my mind for what I had just successfully done. I had put all of my energy into that workout, and I didn’t want to run an extra one. Predictably, I ran it very slowly. Dad knew I could run faster and gave me a kick in the butt as I ran by. That made me so mad! I didn’t say anything and almost ran right off the track and straight home, but I finished the interval and cooled down.
Afterwards, Dad said he was sorry for kicking me and that he shouldn’t have done it. Now, the kick didn’t hurt me, but it sure made me mad. It turns out that whole experience was good training. In the Marine Corps, they would give us assign-ments that wore us out, and just when we thought we were done and had accomplished the mission, they would give us another hard and unexpected task to accomplish. I saw a lot of guys give up and quit when that happened.
The Marine Corps was training us for combat, where things never go as planned, but life can be just as unpredictable. It’s mentally hard to get your mind going again in those situations, but thanks to Dad’s training I was ready for the Marine Corps, and life. The ability to keep going even after I thought the task was completed is one trait that has contributed to the successes I’ve enjoyed.
Singing was something I enjoyed and, since choir was an easy class, I signed up. That year the high school musical was “Little Abner” and I played the role of Hairless Joe. It was a small part, but I really enjoyed it, and being in a musical gave me a chance to hang out with a lot of upperclassmen. Charleston always put on nice musicals in those days.
My Last Spanking
I received my last spanking when I was sixteen. I don’t re-member getting one when I was fifteen, but I guess I caught Dad on a bad day that year. Mom would hang our clothes out on the line to dry, and sometimes I would want to wear something that was hanging out there. Unfortunately, I usually didn’t realize this until after I had taken my shower and was getting dressed. So I would go out with only my underwear on and get the clothes that I wanted to wear.
Mom and Dad had caught me doing this before and told me not to go out in my underwear ever again. I have never been very modest about stuff like that so I didn’t think it was a very big deal to walk outside in my underwear. To me, it was about the same thing as wearing a swimming suit. For some reason, my parents didn’t agree.
Somehow, Dad came home at the exact time that I was walking back into the house in my underwear after getting some pants off of the clothes line, and he was not happy. He sat me down and we went through the whole talk about whether or not I knew I was not supposed to go outside in my under-wear. Then he stood me up and gave me three bare-bottomed licks. The funny thing was that they didn’t hurt much. I didn’t cry and found myself instead trying not to laugh. I guess Dad could tell it didn’t affect me much because that was the last spanking I ever got.
I learned a very important lesson from Dad when we lived in Charleston. A man stopped by the church and told Dad that his wife had cancer and that he had no money and needed help to pay her hospital bills. Dad couldn’t give him the church’s money without talking to the deacons but, since this man was just passing through and couldn’t stay, Dad prayed with him and gave him some of his personal money.
A few days later, after talking with other community leaders, we found out that this man had stopped at all of the churches with the same story. Sadly, it was all a lie. He didn’t have a sick wife and was only scamming folks out of money. Dad was not the only one to give him money, but I will always remember everyone making fun of Dad for giving the guy money and not getting his contact information or even his license plate number in exchange.
Dad never cared about money, but he admitted he should have checked into the man more. I will never forget what Dad said: “We are not responsible for what people do with the money we give them. That’s between them and God. We are supposed to be generous and help others, and God will take care of the rest.” I have tried to remember that lesson when I see people who need help. Many times I think they are just lazy, or drunk, or scamming people, and I don’t want to help them. But then I think of Dad and how he helped that guy. Who knows what his real problem was, and who knows if Dad’s kindness had an effect on him or brought him to the Lord.
Many times, we don’t help people because we judge that they don’t need the help. We should be wise in our giving, but we should also understand that we may occasionally give help to undeserving people so that we make sure we don’t withhold help from those who truly do need it. I hope I can be as generous and giving as Dad was. I know I try.
The next summer passed a lot like the first one, except that I had a car. I cruised around a lot, went to Johnnie’s Drive-In, played football and basketball, talked to girls and drank more than the summer before. I also ran more often, but still not nearly as much as I should have. That fall, I stopped drinking for cross country season.
I had a very good cross country season as a junior. I came in third place at districts and easily qualified for state. I remember looking back during the last half-mile to make sure nobody would pass me at the last second. Unfortunately, I choked at state. With my finishes and times that year, I should have easily placed in the top thirty, but I came in 83rd. All of the pressure just took me out of my race and, after one mile, I hit the big hills and lost it mentally. Of course, just going to state was nice, but I missed a very good opportunity to show college coaches what I could do. I had trained hard and given up drinking that season because I was trying to be a top runner, but I lost it all when I choked at state.
Making Grades a Low Priority
As a teenager, I had a stupid policy on school. I didn’t care what I learned as long as I got a “C” or higher. I did the bare minimum, except in history, so I took mostly general classes. I really liked to read, so I would at least read my books and study in history and government. I never studied much or tried very hard in other subjects. The only thing I cared about was making “C’s,” so that I could play sports and avoid getting grounded.
This was a big mistake on my part and I would pay for it later, in college. At Charleston, they had four tracks of classes: academic or college prep classes, honors classes for the smart kids, basic classes for the average kids, and general classes for the slow kids. I took mostly basic and general classes because I was lazy.
Accused of Taking Drugs
At that time, Dad and I were not getting along. I didn’t want anything to do with the family. I didn’t talk much when everybody was around and it probably seemed strange to them. One day, Dad asked if I was taking drugs. I said no, which was the truth. I did drink, but I had never taken drugs and had no plans to! We had a small fight, but soon it was over. I never talked back or yelled at Dad. He just said what he wanted to say and I said okay. Unlike Lottie, I knew better than to talk back to him.
Becoming a Bad Christian Witness
During my junior year, I dated a very pretty girl for about three months. We would do some heavy making out, but never had sex. I was still a virgin and was a little shy about that. We both wanted to have sex, but neither of us had the courage to talk about it. Looking back, I’m glad we didn’t, and I’m sure she is too.
One night in particular, she came to church with me and watched a movie on the second coming of Jesus called “A Thief in the Night.” Afterward, at Sonic, she started crying and asked me about the movie. She said it scared her. I told her a little about God, but what more could I say? I was drinking and cussing and doing things with her that I knew I should not do. I have often looked back on that moment with regret. There was a girl who was most likely not saved and didn’t know if she was going to go to heaven, but because of my lifestyle I could do nothing to show or explain to her how to be saved and live for the Lord.
There are a many things the Bible can and should teach us. My beliefs were shaped by my dad’s instruction and my own Bible study as I grew older. At the time, I knew what was right, and I knew what was wrong. I knew that my drinking, cussing and the things I was thinking about girls were wrong. Every Sunday, I went to church, and every Sunday I felt remorseful and guilty for the bad things I had done that week, but every week I would do them again. It seemed as though my body was not strong enough to resist the temptations.
That is a very dangerous place to be. In Revelation 21:7-8 the Holy Bible says, “He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God and he will be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whore-mongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” These verses didn’t worry me much until I got to the “all liars” part. It’s hard to overcome tempt-ation, but God makes it clear that if we don’t, we are headed for that second death.
I was not overcoming much in high school, but at least I was going to church each Sunday. There were never any fights, arguments or discussions about me not going to church. I knew that I would go. Now, there were times when I didn’t want to, but I never had enough courage to bring that up to Dad. And if I had, it wouldn’t have mattered. Dad would have made me feel guilty enough that no order or mandate would have been necessary. You see, because of all of my years in church, deep down in my heart, even in my rebellion, I knew I should go. Later in life, when I was out on my own, that good habit of attending church on Sunday was the only thing that saved me from total self-destruction.
It wasn’t long before my girlfriend and I broke up. It happened one day when she wouldn’t leave the car radio on a song that I liked. After a long argument, I kicked her out of the car and made her walk home. I will always regret acting that way as it was not very mannerly of me, but my cocky temper was starting to show. I didn’t want to get attached to another girl as I had with Celeste Powell, so I put her and my failure to help her reach heaven out of my mind as I moved on with my selfish ambitions.
Working on the Farm
That summer, I worked on Marshall Farms. It was one of the largest farms in Mississippi County, and Eddie Marshall ran the operation. Everyone called him “Little” Eddie because his dad was called “Big” Eddie. His dad passed away before I came along, but he was a legendary figure around Charleston. They said he always drove a new Lincoln Continental on the farm and he kept a full cooler of beer in it each day. He would drive that car through fields and mud, treating it just like a truck.
Clinton’s dad was the chemical foreman, and I worked with Clinton driving highboys, spraying beans, and fertilizing corn. Each morning, we would get up at about 4:30 a.m. and be out at the farm with our highboys, ready to roll as soon as the sun came up. We would spray all day until sundown and we did that six days a week. Those were long, hot days, but we had a lot of fun.
Clinton is a genius and could fix anything. He ended up becoming a nuclear engineer in college. Back then, Clinton was the guy who could do any math problem, fix any mechanical engine, paint a wonderful painting, and still start on the foot-ball team. In all my life, he is the most talented person I have ever met.
Today, he is a very successful nuclear engineer and holds several patents on things he has invented. His hobby is marble sculpting. This guy can do anything and in high school there was nothing he couldn’t figure out. Clinton was an only child and his mom was, and is, a successful, well-known artist. His dad didn’t spoil him a bit, and even though Mr. Gross didn’t have much formal education, he was famous in the farming community because he was the regional expert on pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.
I have never met a person that was as smart, creative, athletic or hard-working as Clinton Gross. The only thing he was not good at was keeping money. When we were kids, he would lose his wallet or his cash, or both, all the time.
My training program changed after we met Coach Bill Dixon from West Plains at an Armature Athletic Union (AAU) cross country meet in St. Joseph, Missouri. We ran into him in the bathroom and started asking about training. Coach Dixon was the best coach in the state. His team had consistently placed in the top four teams at state year after year, collecting numerous state championships. He had produced lots of All-State runners and a few All-Americans. We asked him if he could give us a few hints on training. Coach explained that it would take longer than we had to go over it. He invited me to come to his running camp that summer where he said I could learn a lot about distance training.
I was excited about getting the chance to train with him that summer, so I called him once the farm work slowed down, but the camp was already over. He offered to let me stay with him and I could train with the West Plains team for a couple of weeks. I jumped at this opportunity. We gave him fifty dollars a week for food and Mom took me to West Plains. Once I arrived at his house, Coach asked me what my goals were. I quickly blurted that I wanted to be the 3A state champion and break sixteen minutes on the state course. I was sure that if I did that I would get a college scholarship, and I really believed that, with Coach’s help, I could do it.
Now, back then only two people had broken sixteen minutes on that course, and I already mentioned that I finished 140 in the previous year’s race. Coach calmly responded that it was good to set high goals. He then asked me what kind of training I had been doing and finished by stating very strongly that if he was to help me I could not lie about my running. I couldn’t even stretch the truth. No matter how little or how much I had run, he wanted me to tell the truth. He explained if I didn’t it would be hard for him to correctly plan my training.
Those two weeks with Coach Dixon were great. The training was hard because I was not used to running as much as his team did. We ran twice a day, five days a week with one long run on Saturday. He took Sunday off, but some of the guys ran on their own on Sundays. I kept up on most runs, but I was always tired and took naps during the day. I learned a lot during that time. Not only did I do what Coach told me, but I was constantly asking him questions about his program and about how to train.
Coach treated me like another son. He already had two boys, and I took them fishing and helped mow the grass. I went to church with them and to his mom’s for dinner each Sunday after church. He really took me into his family and I had a great time. Coach Dixon told me that if I ever wanted to come back again I was always welcome, and we had an agreement that I would call him once a week during the season, to tell him what I had done and get his opinion on what I should do.
With my new training program, I had a great cross country season that year. I ran strong and would usually come from behind and catch people. My favorite race of the season was the state qualifying sectionals race. I started out almost in last place after the gun sounded, but ended up passing almost the whole field to come in third in the race. That qualified me for state, but once again I got there and choked. I was projected to place in the top fifteen, but my mind mentally fell apart on the hills again and I died. I can’t remember where I ranked, but it wasn’t pretty.
Throughout my entire running career up to that point, I had been interested in getting a college scholarship, but I didn’t realize I wasn’t running fast enough to get any serious looks. I missed my goal of winning state and breaking sixteen minutes, but I still had my best season ever. Having high goals is good because, in trying to reach them, you pull yourself up higher with the effort.
When Vince Lombardi joined a losing Green Bay Packers team in 1959, he told them, “Gentlemen, we will chase perfect-ion, and we will chase it relentlessly, knowing all the while we can never attain it. But along the way, we shall catch excellence.” He took a team with only one win in 1958 and by 1960 they were in the NFL championship game. He went on to win five NFL championships coaching the Packers. While we may never reach our high goals or catch perfection, the effort will likely bring us success and hopefully make the world a better place in which to live.
Slamming the Door
Lottie always had a big temper, and when she got mad you had better watch out. On one occasion, Lottie walked next door to the church to ask Dad if she could go somewhere and he said no. Lottie was mad about it, and when she got back over to the house she slammed the door really hard. Somehow, Dad heard her slam the door and he came over and calmed her down. He made her open and close the door one-hundred times to teach her not to slam doors. Clinton Gross was over at the house at that time and Lottie always had a crush on Clinton, so she was really embarrassed to have to stand there and open and close the door so many times.
The Freezing Mechanic
My car started having some engine problems and Dad decided that I needed to buy a new engine and replace the small V6 that was in the Firebird. There happened to be a guy at church who had an old Corvette engine that he was willing to sell. I can’t remember the numbers, but it was a big, powerful engine. Dad also thought that changing the engine would be a good way for me to learn how to work on cars.
Rocky Walker, the church song director, let us use his metal shop building, which got me out of the wind, rain and snow, but the building was not heated. Holding cold wrenches and cold metal parts while your fingers are freezing is not fun. Having a wrench slip and busting your knuckles when it’s cold is extremely painful. I managed to get the old engine out but was struggling to get everything on the new engine hooked up and working. That’s when Clinton came to my rescue and helped me get the new engine back together. Without his help, I never could have done it.
After we got it running, that car was fast. When I pressed on the gas, the tires would start spinning and I could burn rubber! Dad then decided that it was too much power for me, and he was worried that I might have a wreck, so he told me I had to sell it. I argued with him but he was right. I used to drive like a madman and do some stupid things in my car to impress my friends. Having all of that extra power would have made those daredevil feats even more dangerous.
I wasn’t too happy about it but we sold the Firebird, and I also decided that would be my last mechanic endeavor. Dad always said that I needed to learn how to work on cars because it would save me a lot of money in making repairs. Working on my car that winter made me decide that I needed to find a job making lots of money so I could hire somebody else to work on my car.
Making the Charleston Basketball Team
I went out for basketball my junior year because I thought it would help me stay in shape for track season. I was not very good but Coach McFerren let me try out so I could stay in shape for track. Keep in mind I was a long distance runner for a reason. My coordination and quickness were lacking.
I really struggled during the drills but I always won all the wind sprint at the end of practice. Somehow I made it through every cut except for the last one. Coach called three of us into his office and told us that we had done a good job, but unfortunately he couldn’t keep us. He advised us to keep practicing for next year as we shuffled out the door.
As I was leaving he said, “Jetton come back in here for a minute.” I turned around and he shut the door and then he told me. “I know your just doing this to stay in shape for track and you have proved to be a very hard worker with a good attitude. I like those traits on my team, but you have no talent for basketball.”
I knew there wouldn’t be much good coming after that but. He went on to describe my skills by saying, “You can’t shoot or handle the ball plus you’re slow on defense. He then explained my prospects on the team. “You will never play in a varsity game and I doubt I will even put you in a JV game. If you don’t improve on the pregame warm-ups (coach believed the pregame warm-ups intimidated the other team) I won’t even let you participate in them, but your welcome to stay on the team if you think it will keep you in shape.
As bad as that might sound to anybody else I was overjoyed, because Coach McFerren, who I considered one of the best coaches ever just told me I could stay on the Charleston basketball team. All my life I have told anyone I could that I actually “made” the renowned championship winning Charleston basketball team. I ended up staying on the team for a while, but soon realized that basketball training was not very helpful to staying in shape for long distance running.
Cheating Myself Academically
My senior year I only needed a few credits to graduate, so I tried to get by as easily as I could. I dropped out of typing because it was getting too hard and instead I took office help. I cheated in typing during the beginning, and when it got harder I couldn’t keep up. Many times during college and even now I have regretted my actions and laziness during typing class as an eighteen-year-old. At the time, I thought that I was sly and cool, but as I grew older my lack of typing skills slowed me down and cost me money. The only reason I cheated, and the only reason I quit, was because of laziness. Unfortunately, that was not the only case of academic laziness and my lack of effort towards school work would cost me dearly over the coming years.
By that time, I had also found an ingenious way to keep Mom and Dad from finding out about my grades. I would find some blank report cards at the beginning of the year and save them. Then when grades came out, if I had a “D” or an “F,” I would have a girl fill out a blank report card with a “C” so Mom and Dad never knew my real grades. That allowed me to keep running and not be grounded. I took Algebra III that year and just got tired of it halfway through. I couldn’t change the class, so I just quit doing anything and got an “F” both quarters. Mom and Dad never found out, and I thought I was so smart. But later on, in college, I had to drop my plan to become a teacher because I couldn’t pass Algebra.
I tried drugs during my senior year. I was drinking and buzzed one night with my friends when they offered me a hit on a joint. Many times I had been given the same opportunity and many times I had said no, but for some reason that time I said yes. I am sure that being buzzed played a part in my decision, but the lesson I have learned is that you will do what others around you do, especially in your teenage years.
All the years of church, all of the classes at school, all of the advice about how to say no, and all of the times I had said no myself were tossed away that night. I don’t really remember any special feeling that came from the experience. Just like my first drink, smoking a joint was not that great. I didn’t notice any effects that night and really didn’t even like it, but soon I
would try it again. After a while, I would smoke a joint or two during the weekends. I was always careful when smoking dope, because the smoke smell was hard to get rid of.
As a cross country runner, smoking dope was really stupid. There I was training hard each morning and evening to get in better shape, while smoking dope and filling my lungs with smoke. Not a very good choice.
I was drinking a lot during the off-season. I went out almost every night and drank and I also drank heavily on the weekends. Once, I was pulled over, and the officer made somebody else drive all of us boys home. Another time I was caught by the sheriff’s deputy, but he took our liquor and didn’t tell anyone. Those were two close calls that Mom and Dad never found out about.
Getting around Dad’s Rules
You may be wondering how Dad or Mom never knew that I drank or never caught me drinking when I did it so often. First, they trusted me, and I was very, very careful each time I drank. I always stopped drinking at least one hour before I had to be home, and I would eat Nacho Cheese Doritos to hide my breath. If I was planning on staying out late and drinking a lot, I would spend the night with Clinton Gross or Rodney Crawford. With these precautions, I never got caught, but one night I came close to ruining my record.
We were doing a musical that year called “Guys and Dolls.” I played Sky Masterson, which was the lead part. We practiced almost every weeknight except Wednesdays and Fridays. Sometimes I would tell Dad that I was going to play practice then skip it to go out drinking. Mr. Miller, the play director got tired of me missing practice, so one night he called my house to see where I was. Lottie answered the phone and told Dad that Mr. Miller had called to ask where I was.
When I got home, Dad asked me why I had not been at play practice. I told him I had gone to Rodney’s (Rodney helped me stay out of trouble a lot) to study for a big test instead of going to play practice. Thankfully, Dad didn’t totally check out the story, and he thought I had just lied about play practice. Had he called the Crawford’s and asked if I had been there studying, things would have really been bad. For the small discrepancy that he knew about, Dad took my driver’s license and keys for one month. I was depressed but relieved that he didn’t know the whole truth.
Dad also had a few other rules that I had to abide by. I couldn’t go on single dates, only double dates with another couple. I had to be in by 11 p.m. unless the event I was attending took longer. I also couldn’t take girls into my bedroom when they came to the house.
Usually, I told Dad I was going on a double date to the late show. This allowed me to stay out later, but I seldom went on double dates or to the late show. We had a lot of levee parties in Charleston, and most of the time I was at one of these or out drinking with friends. As I’ve already mentioned, I was drinking about every weekend and a couple nights during the week, which meant that I was also driving. Like those my age, I couldn’t drink at home so we drove to parties in the country or cruised around town when we were drinking.
I remember a few other close calls. I almost got caught one night when I told Mom and Dad that Clinton and I were going to the movies on a double date with some girls. My mom went grocery shopping that night and saw Clinton at Town and Country, where he worked bagging groceries. She was surprised to see him working and asked him where I was. Fortunately, he had the presence of mind to say that he was getting off soon and that I was supposed to pick him up there. He then saw me that night and told me what he’d done so that I knew what to say the next morning. (once he and Tammy started dating Clinton didn’t go out with they boys much LOL)
Another close call came when a friend spilled a can of beer in my car. We stopped at Wal-Mart and got some cologne to put on it, but the mixed smell of beer and cologne was bad. The next day Dad got in and asked what that smell was. I said that David had bought some cologne from Wal-Mart and on the way home he’d spilled it on the carpet. Somehow, he believed me.
As you can imagine, to get my parents to believe those things I had to look, sound and act convincing, which I did. There was another reason they believed me, though. They trusted me. They didn’t believe that their son could be into all of those bad things. I took that trust and with some quick thinking and careful planning, I was able to hide the truth from my parents.
Sadly, I developed a reputation as someone who could think up good lies. Everyone knew my dad was strict, and they knew I was good at lying. I helped a lot of kids stay out of trouble. This is probably one of the saddest and most embarrassing aspects of those years and my actions. It is something I’m ashamed of and will always regret. I often wonder how I could tell such cold, dark lies to the two people who loved and trusted me more than anyone else in the world. Trying to hide my sinful lusts and desires probably hurt those I loved more than the mistakes I made.
I am ashamed to say that I made other mistakes during my senior year as well, mistakes and errors in judgment that I will always be ashamed of. When I was seventeen, eighteen and nineteen, I was old enough to take actions and make decisions that could have a huge adverse effect on my life, but unfortunately I was not mature or wise enough to understand how those choices would mess up my life.
I believe that there are a few things that can have terrible, life-changing consequences for teenagers. They are sex, drinking and driving, and drugs. Many young people are mature enough to make the right choices in these areas. Unfortunately, I wasn’t.
Like most teenagers, I wanted so badly to be popular and accepted. I also thought that I was invincible. I remember thinking, “She won’t get pregnant,” “I won’t have a wreck,” “Drugs aren’t that bad,” and “I won’t get caught.” I never even thought about having trouble with drinking.
As we all know, books and magazines are full of examples where young people are wrong, just as I was, concerning their invincibility. My friends and I were extremely fortunate in many areas, but I didn’t come through those years without scars. Those scars will remain with me for life.
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