We were in New Mexico for only a short time before Dad took a job leading the music and youth at The East Sedalia Baptist Church. We lived in a big, white, two-story house. I started kindergarten in Sedalia, and my memory is less hazy about the events that happened when we lived there. I remember finding my first four leaf clover and Mom putting it in my baby book. I was also excited because I got to walk to school by myself, although I later learned that Dad followed behind me every day to make sure I got there safely.
We had two dogs in Sedalia; one was our beagle Sam and the other was a Saint Bernard puppy who we think was stolen from the backyard one day while we were gone. Brother Elmore was the preacher at East Sedalia Baptist Church, while Dad led music and worked with the youth. Brother Elmore had been the preacher in DeSoto when Mom and Dad were kids attending there. He was the one who gave me the small red bike with training wheels that I first learned to ride on.
During one of the church services I fell asleep in the pew and, unfortunately, I fell off onto the wood floor right in the middle of the preaching. Evidently, that made a loud noise and, from then on, Dad decided there would be no sleeping in church.
One time, we came home and found that the youth group had held a TP party at our house. There was toilet paper all over the
house and hanging from all the trees. I got quite a kick out of that.
I got more stitches in Sedalia. We used to go out to this farmer’s house, and I loved playing in his barn. I was climbing up on something and reached up to grab hold of a big long metal bar. It was not bolted down to the barn and when I grabbed it I fell
We came home one day to find that somebody had broken into our house and stolen everything they could carry away. They went through all of our dresser drawers and clothes were strewn across the floor. The house was a mess. I don’t remember everything they took, but I do remember that they stole all of the silver dollars that Grandma Jetton had given me. Each year on my birthday she would give me one, and I was upset about losing those five silver dollars. We thought Uncle Greg might have come in and scared the robber away when he dropped off some strawberries, but we never knew for sure. The police came over, but they never caught the people who did it.
Lottie was bitten by a dog at the farmer’s house where I got my stitches. I was up in a tree when the dog bit her, and I couldn’t get down fast enough to help. He grabbed her arm and shook her before finally letting her go. The bite left several holes in her arm that ended up getting infected. By this time, I had seen “Old Yeller” and thought we might have to shoot her if she had rabies, but she healed up, and we didn’t have to. Lottie was always a bit scared of dogs after that.
Dad would take me to a big pond and I would put my line out while he walked around the edge, fishing from different spots. I never caught much, but one time I decided to try and catch a huge bullfrog sitting on the bank in front of me. I dangled my worm in front of his face, and he jumped up and bit it. I hooked him and he was splashing around while I reeled him in. Dad came running over excited that I had finally caught a fish, but after he saw it was a frog he wouldn’t let me keep it because it wasn’t in season.
Dad and Mom were friends with Roger Pickard and his wife Cindy. He was another preacher in town. He and Dad spent a lot of time working in their gardens and fishing. The Pickard’s also had four kids and they were the same age as us so we spent a lot of time together. I remember some very fun times on vacation at Bennett Spring State Park where Mr. Pickard and Dad would trout fish while Mike, (their oldest son) and I played in the water and took care of all of the other kids.
My First Hole in the Wall
Courts was also born in Sedalia, and my first memory of him is of a time when I was playing with a fishing reel and for some reason Courts started crying and decided that he wanted it. Mom made me give it to him so he would quit crying, which threw me into a royal fit. I went upstairs and lay down on my bed, crying and kicking my feet against the wall. I kicked so hard I busted the sheetrock and left a huge hole between the studs. I still remember holding the sheetrock pieces through my blurry crying eyes and trying to get them to go back together as I thought about what Dad was going to do to me for this. When Dad found out about that he gave me a real reason to cry. Mom didn’t hang a calendar over the hole like Grandma Jetton did.
Growing up, we usually didn’t have a TV, but someone at church always seemed to give us their old one. We got one in Sedalia, and it was upstairs, in my room. Sometimes at night, when I was supposed to be asleep I would turn it on. I remember watching “Star Trek.” I still love that show today. One night, Dad came upstairs and I didn’t have time to turn the TV off, so I just jumped in bed and acted like I was sleeping. My heart was beating fast and I was so scared, but he just turned the TV off and didn’t say anything to me. That house was also where I had the wind knocked out of me for the first time. Dad and I were wrestling upstairs and he hit me in the stomach. Since it was the first time I’d ever lost my breath, I thought I was dying, but I soon recovered, got my breath and jumped on him again.
Dad’s Big Bass
Dad caught his biggest bass ever on that farm pond in Sedalia. Dad, Mr. Pickard, and his son Mike went one morning while I was in school. In those days, kindergarten was only half of a day. I went in the mornings, and Mike went to the afternoon class. The story goes that Dad caught his huge bass and immediately started waving it in front of Mr. Pickard and talking about how much better of a fisherman he was than him. Now, Mr. Pickard was a really good fisherman and he was known to be pretty competitive. My dad’s taunting made him mad. Fortunately for him, not too long after Dad caught his bass, Mr. Pickard caught one just about the same size. That quieted Dad down and gave them both something to brag about. We had a good fish fry that night.
I should note here that just before this book went to print I received a call from Mr. Pickard who learned from Dad that I was writing this book. He wanted to make sure that this fishing trip was accurately documented. In accordance, he provided the following additional details, which were later confirmed by Mom. After Mr. Pickard caught his big bass, he also caught a huge crappie. This is a very important fact for competitive fishermen because the huge crappie allowed Mr. Pickard to brag about out-fishing Dad!
ROSWELL, NEW MEXICO
– Blue house – 1973
For some reason, I remember a lot of things that happened at the blue-trimmed house in Roswell. I was in first grade and our neighborhood had a lot of kids. We went to Calvary Baptist Church where Kenneth Stoner was the pastor. Dad was the minister of music and youth. I didn’t know it then, but Dad didn’t get along with Brother Stoner. I liked him because he could do magic tricks. While living there, I met my first girlfriend, Jerusha. She was a pretty girl with long, black hair, and we were in the same class at school.
My first stage experience happened in the first grade school play in Roswell. I was Hans Christian Anderson and sang a short solo. Mom and Dad came to watch the play and I must have really liked the attention because, from then on, I considered myself to be a good singer.
In Roswell, I also became a champion toad catcher. Occasionally, Dad would take me walking around under the lights at night and I would catch toads. Sometimes I would catch up to thirteen or fourteen in one night. I have always loved frogs, and I thought having all of those toads was great.
Dad had a good friend named Don Sloan who owned a gas station. In the seventies, gas stations still had full-service pumps and the self-service pumps had to be reset with a wrench after each customer used them. I thought Don was the greatest because he would let me pump gas at his gas station, and I loved having a red rag in my back pocket and helping people pump gas. He also let me have a Frostie Root Beer out of his soda machine, and he was funny. Gas was only fifty-two cents a gallon back then, which is the lowest I ever remember it being in my life.
Playing With Ammo
As I mentioned, the neighborhood was full of kids. A nice black family that lived next door had a boy my age, and another kid, named Ronnie, lived across the street. I got into lots of trouble with Ronnie. One time, Ronnie got some shells out of his dad’s drawer (his dad was a cop), and we went around throwing them on the sidewalk. They would explode making a big bang. They were .22 shells and, fortunately, Dad never found out about this. But Ronnie’s dad did catch us. He told us we could have killed ourselves or someone else if one of the bullets had hit someone. Back then, his talk sure scared me, but after charging an exploding ammo pile in the Marine Corps I learned that exploding bullets can’t hurt you much. But that is a story for another time.
In the summer, when the streets got hot, Ronnie and I would pick tar from the cracks and roll it into a big ball. I have no idea why we did this. One day, we were throwing our tar balls against his house. Unfortunately,
one of my throws was high and broke Ronnie’s window. I ran back home as fast as I could and was afraid to go to Ronnie’s house for a while after that. Lottie
and I also spent a lot of time at Ronnie’s house watching our favorite TV shows. Some of our favorites were “Gilligan’s Island,” “The Andy Griffith Show,” “The Brady Bunch,” and “The Beverly Hillbillies.”
I brought my tree climbing skills from Artesia and became the neighborhood “expert” tree climber. One time, Ronnie followed me up into a very tall tree in our backyard, but he couldn’t get down. Dad had to climb up and talk him down just as he’d once done for me. I can also remember making my first pumpkin Jack O’ Lantern with Mom, and trick-or-treating on Halloween.
Another memory I have is of the tooth fairy visiting me for the first time. I put my tooth under the pillow, and in the morning I found a quarter. That was exciting. I know a quarter doesn’t sound like much today but for a fist grader in 1974, it seemed like a big deal.
One day, I was out in the street and Ronnie and some of the guys were throwing rocks at cars. I didn’t throw any because I knew I would get in trouble. Well, somehow it got back to Dad anyway that I was with the boys who were throwing rocks and he ended up grounding me. I learned a good lesson that day. He said, “Son, if you hang around with troublemakers you will get in trouble. Even if you were not doing what they did, folks will still think you’re guilty.” He recommended that if I found myself with someone who was doing something wrong, I part ways as soon as possible. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn this lesson well enough.
Trying to Kill Lottie
Arguably the worst thing I ever did as a kid happened after Dad cut my hair one day while we lived in Roswell. Grandpa Lewis normally cut my hair each year when we visited him at Christmas, but my hair was getting long, so Dad decided to trim it. He was not good at cutting hair, so what started out as a trim to tide me over until I saw Grandpa turned into a full-fledged haircut, which looked terrible. He finished, but it was lopsided so he tried to straighten it up, but then it was lopsided again so he just kept cutting off more hair. This continued until almost all of my hair was gone. But it was not a flat-top or crew cut. Keep in mind, this was during the seventies when everyone had lots of hair, except for me. Mine was buzzed off like I was on my way to Marine Corps boot camp.
All of the neighborhood kids started making fun of me by calling me “the bald eagle,” and I got so mad that Dad made me come in before it was even dark. The next day, Dad went to work and I went out to play, only to face all of the same tortures as the day before. I got so mad, I climbed up on the refrigerator andgot Dad’s big hunting knife, took it outside, and threatened everyone with it.
For some stupid reason, I grabbed Lottie, put the knife to her throat and told them that if they didn’t get out of our yard and leave me alone, I would kill her. Someone went next door and told my mom what I was doing, and she came running and settled everyone down. She was very upset and made me go to my room to wait for Dad to come home. I just sat in my room nervously waiting while Lottie reminded me how much trouble I was in.
When Dad got home he had a long talk with me. Surprisingly, he didn’t spank me, but he told me how serious my threats were and that if I had killed anyone I would have been taken away and put in jail. I was forbidden to ever touch the knife again and he grounded me for a month. It sure scared me because I didn’t want to go to jail. Plus, this happened in the summer and being grounded in the summer was no fun.
That was the first time I remember being grounded. When Dad grounded me for a month it was for a full month, not two or three weeks. A lot of my friends would get grounded but after a few days their parents would either forget about it or let them off because of a special occasion. Not Dad. When he grounded you, it was like the Ten Commandments had been written in stone.
For the knife incident, I was grounded to my bed, and the only way I could get up was to use the bathroom, eat or help Mom with chores. I still remember washing the windows for Mom and watching the kids playing outside. I really wanted to go out, but Dad never let me. Looking back, I think it was best for me. I learned a good lesson. When my dad said something, he meant it. Too often these days, parents tell their children something, and the kids know they don’t mean it. So they just ignore them and do what they want.
New Race Track
My most memorable Christmas morning took place at the blue house. I still believed in Santa Claus and woke up after trying to stay awake all night. I walked into the living room and there on the floor was an electric race track from Santa Claus. What fun I had racing my cars around the track. After making a few laps around the track and opening up my other gifts, all I could think about was having my friend’s race cars with me. I couldn’t wait to show it to them. But on that same day, Lottie stepped on it and broke it. Dad fixed it, but the track was never the same. My friends thought I got the best present on the block.
I also had a small birthday party at that house. I wanted a bike to ride with my friends, but Mom and Dad didn’t have the money for a new one. Fortunately, they found a bike at a garage sale that was perfect for me. It was chopper styled with tall handlebars. It was also my favorite color, green. I would ride in front of the house and yell at Mom to watch me ride with no hands. As she was watching me, I let go of the handlebars, lost my balance and promptly wrecked. Those chopper bikes make riding with no hands much harder. I used to put cards in the spokes with a clothes pin so it would make noise while I rode. I had a lot of fun on that bike.
I started first grade in Roswell and my teacher’s name was Mrs. Gara. Like most first graders, I liked school and loved recess, but I struggled with reading. After a while, I was moved to the slower reading group. I had trouble pronouncing words and some of the kids made fun of me. That hurt my feelings and really made me dread reading time. One day, before recess, I got so flustered from their teasing while I was trying to pronounce words, that I started crying. Mrs. Gara sent them to the office for that, but the incident caused me to dislike reading even more, so I made very little progress. Thankfully, another teacher would change that.
Sometimes kids get their feelings hurt at a young age and it messes them up for life. Fortunately, I recovered down the road, but some don’t. One thing that encourages kids to read is reading exciting stories to them. After recess, Mrs. Gara would sit down and read to us. It was so interesting to hear what was happening in the books. Those stories made time go by fast and they made me want to read, too. That’s why I tried so hard to take time to read to you kids when you were growing up.
The Great Pumpkin
There was another time in school when Mrs. Gara got mad and started yelling at everybody because we had not done very well on our coloring assignment. We were coloring pumpkins and she thought they were all bad. Except mine! She held mine
up and said it was the only one that looked like someone had taken their time and tried to do a good job. I was so proud I puffed up like a toad frog.
First Trip to Principal’s Office
My first trip to the principal’s office took place that year as well. One day, when the teacher stepped out of the classroom, I somehow led all of the students in reciting our ABC’s. By the time she got back, we had thirty kids screaming their ABC’s, and she was not impressed. I thought it was a good thing, but Mrs. Gara didn’t see it that way. She asked the class who started the ruckus, and everyone pointed to me. She immediately sent me to see the principal—a large lady who seemed very irritated that I was there. She sat me down, pulled out this big paddle and told me that since it was my first time in her office I would get a warning. Then, just as she said, “But if you are ever rowdy again…” BANG! She slapped her paddle down on her desk, and it made a very loud noise that caused me to jump about a foot off of my chair. My eyes must have been as big as tennis balls when I promised her I wouldn’t cause any more trouble.
Now, a visit to the principal’s office presented me with a hard decision. Dad had always told us that if we got in trouble at school then we were also in trouble at home. I wondered if he needed to know about that visit. After thinking things over, I decided that the principal had done a good job of convincing me to be good and that Dad didn’t need know about the incident. After all, I technically did not get a paddling. I was a little worried that the principal might call him, but he didn’t say anything about it when he got home, so I didn’t either.
About a month later, during dinner, Dad said “So what did you get in trouble for at school today?” I was totally stunned and dropped my fork right in my plate. I immediately spilled my guts and told him the whole story. It turned out he was just joking, but I didn’t know that. Thankfully, I wasn’t in trouble, but he told me to be good. I think he was just as surprised as I was.
Playing With Fire
Sometimes Mom and Dad would go for walks in the evening. When they left, I would go out behind the garage and light matches. I would light one after the other and get a small fire going. One time, Mom and Dad found the pile of matches and asked me about it. I told them what I did and they had a long talk with me about the dangers of starting fires. I thought I would really get in trouble, but they just talked to me and stressed how dangerous it was.
Dad spent a lot of time helping me get better at catching a ball. When we lived in Sedalia, I was hit in the eye with a baseball and had to get stitches. After that, every time a ball came toward me, I closed my eyes. Dad bought me a Nerf football, and we would play catch. Since a Nerf is soft, it lessened my fear of catching. Dad wanted me to play football, and I did too, but I had to overcome my fear of the ball and learn to catch. Slowly, with lots of work, I got better and better until I could catch a real football just fine.
As a new student, I made very good grades those first few years. With the exception of reading, I had mostly “A’s” and “B’s.” This was important to me because Dad would give me two candy bars for each “A” and one for each “B.” I used to love taking my report card home and getting that candy. As I got older, I didn’t care as much about getting candy bars.
Monday Night Football
Dad and I would go over to Don Sloan’s house on Monday nights to watch football. By this time, I was a huge Green Bay fan, and green was my favorite color. Unfortunately, in those days Green Bay didn’t get on Monday Night Football much. Dad and I always rooted for Green Bay but everybody else always seemed to be for Dallas. We never liked Dallas. I still remember eating popcorn and listening to Howard Cosell and Don Meredith on Monday nights. As I’ve said before, I really liked Don Sloan, and it made me feel important to be able to go with Dad and watch Monday Night football when the rest of the kids in the neighborhood had to go to bed.