Our next house was in Levelland, Texas. Dad was the minister of music and youth under pastor David Evetts. We lived in a small house right next door to the church. Since we only lived there a short time, during the summer, I never even attended school there. I got my first lawn mowing job that summer, and was paid four dollars to mow a yard down the street. I saved up all of my money to buy a one hundred dollar plane ticket to fly up and see Grandpa and Grandma Lewis in DeSoto. Grandma Lewis ended up coming down to see us, so I was able to take the Greyhound bus back with her when she returned to Missouri.
Staying with Grandma and Grandpa Lewis
Since I didn’t have to fly, I was able to keep some of the hundred dollars I earned mowing lawns. I stayed with Grandpa and Grandma for two weeks, which was a lot of fun. I helped them mow the grass and spent a lot of time exploring and fishing in Joachim Creek. We made a couple of visits to our Cousin Clifford’s dairy farm and helped milk the cows. Grandpa also took me squirrel hunting and fishing in the farm pond during those visits.
Sweating to Death
One day, when I was mowing the grass, I started sweating all over. I went to Grandma and asked her what was wrong with me. She said, “Nothing’s wrong. It’s hot, and you’re just sweating.” Up to that point in my life, I had mostly lived in the desert, where it was dry. I had never sweated much. It seems funny now, but because the humidity caused me to soak my shirt in sweat, I thought I was dying.
Germs can Kill You
Grandma and Grandpa Lewis were very clean and their house was spotless. I couldn’t understand why Grandma made me wash my hands before we ate. Before each meal, I would have to go to the bathroom and wash my hands. She said it killed the germs, but I was trying to be tough and not show any concern for germs. Grandpa and Grandma also sprayed Lysol on everything, which I didn’t understand. It didn’t smell good to me and it was an unfamiliar practice. At home, Mom didn’t spray Lysol or make us wash our hands and we never had any problems with germs.
On one of my fishing trips to Joachim Creek, I ran into something else we didn’t have in New Mexico: poison ivy. Before I knew it, my legs were covered with red welts, and they itched terribly. Grandma made up some bleach water and had me soak my legs in it because she said it would kill the poison ivy germs. The bleach didn’t seem to clear up the poison ivy, but it burned my legs so badly that I thought I would die. Grandma hated germs and she was convinced that bleach would dry up the poison ivy, but I have since learned that putting bleach on your body like that is very unhealthy. However, her treatments did give me a huge incentive to learn how to identify poison ivy in the woods!
Wading in the Creek
Joachim Creek was about a mile from Grandma and Grandpa Lewis’ house. Grandpa said he would give me a ride and show me where to fish and that after that I could walk down to the creek by myself. When we got there, and he was ready to leave, I asked him, “What do I do if I get hung up?” He took me down under the bridge and said, “Just wade in, reach down, and pull the hook off of whatever it’s hung up on.” I told him I didn’t have my swimming trunks on but he said that didn’t matter and acted like wading in the creek was nothing to be scared about. He watched me for a bit, reminded me to walk home when I was ready, and left.
The creek was not a big one but it had some really deep holes in it. In several places the water was over my head, but it was perfect for wading and fishing. I had never waded in a creek by myself before so I was a bit scared about getting in the water. After Grandpa left I decided I would just fish from the shore but it wasn’t too long before I got hung up on a rock and couldn’t free the hook.
I took off my shoes and shirt and timidly waded in, but my initial inspection revealed that my hook was on the other side of a big rock. The water was up to my neck by the rock and I was really scared to be in that deep. I had to go underwater to reach my hook and I decided to just get it over with. I ducked under, got the hook free, and scampered back up to the shore as quickly as I could. As I put my shoes and shirt back on, I was fairly proud of myself for wading into the deep water. With renewed confidence, I quickly baited my hook with a new worm and returned to fishing.
It wasn’t long before I was hung again, but this time I kept my shoes on and I waded right in. I wasn’t as scared at all now that I’d done it once before and I saw that getting in the water didn’t hurt me. While I was in the water, I noticed some good fishing spots on the other side of the creek. I waded over to them, cast my line and caught a fish. After that, I started wading all over Joachim Creek. I spent almost every day wading up and down that creek, learning where every deep hole and ripple was for about a five mile stretch.
Each day I walked down to the creek and each afternoon I brought my catch back up to Grandma’s. I was proud of those fish and if I caught one I kept it no matter how small it was. Some of them were so small that the stringer was almost too thick to fit in their mouth. Grandpa told me some of them were so small they didn’t even have their eyes opened yet. He taught me how to clean the fish and then Grandma fried them up for me to eat.
Playing with Knives
Grandpa had a reputation for keeping all of his knives really sharp and that year he gave me a pocket knife that I was very proud of. He showed me how to use it and told me to be careful because it was sharp, but about two hours after he gave it to me, I sliced my thumb open and cut it fairly deep. Grandma told him I was too young for a knife but Grandpa said, “He’ll learn to be more careful.” He was right and I used that knife to clean fish and whittle on wood for the remainder of my trip. It was a prized possession when I went back to Texas.
Traveling with the Ganses
Mary and Richard Gans brought me back home, which saved even more of my flight money. They were coming down to visit Mom and Dad and agreed to bring me back with them. That was a fun trip. We listened to Ray Stevens tapes on the way, and they would stop and eat at actual restaurants – an unfamiliar event for me. When we traveled, our family always stopped at rest areas and ate sandwiches that Mom brought along from home. Since we didn’t have much money, traveling usually meant driving straight through and only stopping for gas and to use the bathroom. Mom always had snacks, and we never ate at a restaurant. We also never stayed at a hotel.
Dad bought a pop-up camper and Richard and Mary stayed in the camper out back during this visit. The Ganses were from DeSoto and used to double-date with Mom and Dad when they were in high school and college. They also had four kids and their son, Steve, was about my age.
Playing in the Park
In Levelland, I used to go down to the city park to go fishing. I would catch the goldfish they had in the pond there. I was an expert goldfish catcher after living in Petersburg. Lottie and I asked Mom if we could go to the park often. It was three blocks away, and on the way there was a big, underground flood pipe. The opening had metal bars across it but they were bent just enough in one place that Lottie and I could crawl through. We used to play in that tunnel for hours. Inky had puppies there, and we kept one and named him Jake. Unfortunately, Jake was hit by a car.
I don’t have many memories of spending time with Dad at that house. We didn’t live there long. In retrospect, I don’t think he enjoyed his time in Levelland. I have heard him say that the church offered him a big salary but that it was a mistake to move there simply because of the money.
Sometime before we moved back up to Missouri, we were camping with the Wigley’s and had spent the afternoon swimming in a creek. Dad had me take Courts up to the changing room so that we could both get our jeans back on. We’d been swimming in our underpants and would be going commando on the trip home. I was helping Courts into his pants and somehow zipped up his peter into his jeans. He was screaming like crazy, and I couldn’t get them unzipped and had to go and get Dad to do it. I have always felt bad about that for Courts!
GORDONVILLE, MISSOURI –
Uncle Tom and Aunt Joan – 1979
When we returned to Missouri, we lived with Aunt Joan and Uncle Tom for six weeks until we found a house. That was fun for us kids, but I bet Mom, Dad, Uncle Tom and Aunt Joan didn’t enjoy it as much. I was in fifth grade, and Mrs. Chick was my teacher. She was a great teacher be-cause she was funny and everybody liked her. I got bad grades in spelling because I couldn’t spell well at all, but I did okay in the other subjects. We had a class spelling bee at that time and I spelled “egg” wrong. I think I said, “E-E-G.” That was the year that Dallas and the Steelers played in the Super Bowl, and of course I was for the Steelers. I excelled at most sports by that time and really liked flag football.
My cousin Ed and I rode the bus home from school each day, and every night Uncle Tom would come home, sit on the couch, and drink beer. I was scared of Uncle Tom because he was strict on Ed, and I had never been around anyone who drank beer. I thought it was a bad thing to do.
Looking back at these thoughts of Uncle Tom make me chuckle. He was a saint to let his brother-in-law’s large family move into his house. He also helped Dad get a job building houses. He is a great guy and I’m very proud to have him as an uncle. Later in life, he stopped drinking when he realized it had become a problem. While drinking, by itself, may not be wrong, as I’ve gotten older I’ve met more and more people who have struggled with its effects. Dad said, “The Bible doesn’t say not to drink, but it does say not to get drunk,” and he always added, “There is a lot more bad than good that comes from drinking.”
Ed and I used to play army in the woods and we spent a lot of time playing football. Dad didn’t have a church job for the first time in a long time and he worked a few different jobs to make ends meet. He worked at a frame shop during the day and cleaned buildings at night, plus he worked in construction with Uncle Tom.
Even though Dad was working hard, we didn’t have much money. It was during the bad recession of 1979. Things were not good for anybody because interest rates, inflation and unemployment were high. We went to church at First Baptist of Jackson, but Dad wasn’t on staff so it was a different experience than before. I had always been proud that Dad was a respected music director and it was a bit unusual to not have him on the church staff.
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