We moved back to Roswell when Dad became a music evangelist. At about that time he was ordained as a preacher at New Bethel Baptist Church where we attended when he was home. The trees were not very big in the yard of our new house, so I couldn’t climb as much as I wanted, but we lived by the edge of town again, allowing me to perfect my hunting and exploring skills. Once again I was able explore the desert, kill things and catch lizards. I would spend hours out there, all by myself.
We also had some nice neighbors who lived next door. They had three boys, but they were all older than me. The family was really nice to us and helped Mom out when Dad was on the road as an evangelist.
I joined the Cub Scouts during that time and went to the meetings after school, but I didn’t stick with it when we moved again. While at that house, I got a Big Wheel for my birthday, but it was raining that day so I rode it in the house instead. I made big black marks on the floor and Mom made me clean them up. In almost no time, I got really fast on my Big Wheel. One time, Dad clocked me while riding his motorcycle, and I was going 30 MPH.
Potty Training Inky
We got Inky when we lived at the second Roswell house. Lottie was sick and not feeling good so Dad said, “Let’s go down to the Humane Society and get a dog for Lottie.”
Dad and I went down to pick our new pet, and there were plenty of puppies to choose from. I had my eyes set on one dog, but then Dad noticed a little black dog sitting in a corner all by itself. It didn’t take him long to convince me that the shy dog in the corner was the best one. We named her Inky because she was black.
We took Inky home, and he said, “Let’s keep her in the house.” I was all for that! Our plan was to potty train her to go to the bathroom outside. Mom didn’t want to keep her inside but eventually said, “Fine, but if you keep her in the house, you’ll be responsible for cleaning up after her.” Luckily, we had tile floors that made cleaning up after Inky a lot easier, because training Inky was easier said than done.
Inky just couldn’t seem to learn to go outside, and I was the one who got stuck cleaning up her messes. Every morning, I would wake up and there would be a fresh pile to clean. I hated that part. I sat newspaper down in a designated area, rubbed her nose in her mess, spanked her, but nothing worked.
The final straw came when my hamster got out. Of course Inky started chasing it, and just as I was about to catch the hamster Inky bit it. As the hamster died, it bit me. It didn’t hurt that bad, but I was sad to lose my old friend. After that, Inky stayed outside.
That was the time when I first remember being good at sports. Dad used to take me down to the shoe store about once a year to buy a pair of new shoes. I would usually get the cheap, off-brand canvas sneakers with rubber soles, similar to Converse’s. I always picked the green pair and I loved getting those shoes. As a kid, there was probably nothing I enjoyed as much as new shoes, and I am still that way. The problem then was that I rarely got new shoes, which meant that I was wearing shoes with holes in them most of the year. The first thing I did when I got new shoes was test them out. I would see how fast I could run in them.
Some of the kids made fun of my shoes because of the holes, and it was embarrassing, but I just told them it helped me run faster. They believed me, because I was fast and always did well in playground football games. I rarely played baseball because of my previous accident where the ball met my eye, but I loved football and played every day at recess. We would play “Smear the Queer” (No, you couldn’t say that today), or just regular football, and I always seemed faster than the other kids.
Mom complained that my shoes only lasted a few months before getting holes in them. Once, a shoe salesman at church told her that if she would buy good shoes for me they would last more than three months. The next time I needed shoes, we went to him and I got my first pair of expensive, name-brand shoes. I don’t remember this, but Mom said they lasted three months, just like the cheap ones. When she took them back and showed the salesman, he was really surprised, but she didn’t get her money back. Evidently, I was hard on shoes, and I never did go through a year without holes in my shoes.
One day, in the desert, I caught a snake and brought it home. It was the first of many. The neighbors next door thought it was a rattlesnake and Mom was worried. She made me take it to the science teacher who lived across the street. He told us that it was a hog nose, which look like rattlesnakes, but are not poisonous. The crazy thing is, I would have tried to catch a rattlesnake if I could have. I was never scared of snakes. But spiders were a different thing!
Pushing Mom Around
Dad was gone a lot during this time doing revivals. I remember traveling a lot to watch him lead the singing at different churches. Sadly, I kind of liked him being gone. When Mom was with us, I got away with more and, as I’ve already mentioned, her spankings didn’t hurt that bad. I didn’t dislike Dad but, just like any kid my age, I liked to get away with as much as I could, and with Dad, that wasn’t much. Of course, there was always the chance that Mom would tell him if I did anything really bad, so I didn’t stray too far.
I got in my first and only fight while we lived at that house. It was nearly dark and I was arguing with a kid about something. We started throwing punches and ended up wrestling each other on the ground. I wound up on top of him and was hitting him when Dad started calling me home for supper. I don’t think I hurt the kid. He was in fourth grade and I was in third. Thankfully, Dad didn’t realize I’d been fighting or I would have been in trouble.
I have not been in a fight since, although I have had a couple of opportunities. I’m proud to say that. I always had the ability to talk my way out of difficult situations, and I don’t generally put much stock in what people say about me or my family. I was never bothered by it because I figured they didn’t know what they were talking about anyway. Dad never took it as well. He would lose his temper if anyone said anything about his family. Like Grandma Jetton, sometimes Dad gets his feelings hurt easier than Mom and me.
We took several trips up to the mountains while living in New Mexico. The first was when I was little and we stopped at the place where they found Smokey Bear in a forest fire. There was a big lake up in the mountains where Dad caught a lot of fish. I never caught many, but one time we were traveling in the Wigley’s RV and were in a beautiful mountain meadow with purple flowers everywhere. It was very remote and peaceful, and we were fishing in the lake there. I caught a huge trout all by myself. I was sure proud of that fish.
Dad took a trip, in his Toyota, to El Capitan Mountain once. Lottie and I were along on this trip, when Dad decided to take a “shortcut” down a back road. We had no food, no water and no camping gear. It turned out to be a jeep trail and we almost didn’t make it out. I don’t remember the trip much, but I do remember looking out of the window to see huge boulders on either side of the car. After several hours, we came out into a field and followed the fence to a gate that let out onto a paved road. We were really hungry, but Dad only had enough money for one McDonald’s hamburger and French fries. He let Lottie and I split that, and he waited to eat until we got home. The mountains were so beautiful, and I always liked going on those trips. We sometimes went to big camper conventions up there, which were a lot of fun.
ROSWELL, NEW MEXICO– Circular Drive – 1977
Next, we moved to a different house in Roswell that sat on a circular driveway. I played little league football and Dad was still doing evangelism. We attended New Bethal Baptist Church with the Wigleys, and so did my old girlfriend Jerusha. I used to kiss her during choir practice out behind church. There were a lot of kids at that church, and I sang a few solos there. Everyone encouraged my singing, which made me think I might lead the choir like my dad someday.
Inky caused me some more problems with her activities in the new house. She liked to poop in our neighbor’s yard, and I would always have to clean it up. For some reason, she preferred to go next door to do her business and this infuriated the old guy who lived there. He would call Mom, and Mom would send me over for the cleanup. We didn’t have Wal-Mart bags back then, so it was a messy task, and one that I hated.
There weren’t many kids in the neighborhood, but the older people were very nice. There were some nice Mexican kids who lived next door. They were Catholic and I played with them a lot. Once, I got into an argument with them once about church communion. They said it was Jesus’s blood we were drinking and his body we were eating. I told them it was just grape juice and crackers, but that it represented Jesus. My comments really upset them, and I didn’t mean for them to.
At this time, Dad also had a small Indian motorcycle he got from Joe Wigley. We also had the little red Toyota that we drove when we took the occasional trip back to DeSoto, Missouri. That car got pretty crowded. Can you imagine four kids, and a family’s worth of luggage, in a small Toyota for a twenty-four hour car ride? Lottie got sick and puked during one of those trips. They were terrible.
Little League Football
I will always remember trying out for little league football. At tryouts, they took all of the boys in the city and divided us up into ages. Then we each passed, kicked and ran a sprint with all of the coaches watching. Following this, they started picking teams. While we were waiting, Dad explained to me that the best kids are picked first, just like in the NFL draft. The longer I sat there, watching all of the other kids get picked before me, the more I wondered about my football abilities. Finally, after all of the other boys had been chosen, I was the last kid to be picked. Dad then explained that it didn’t matter much. “They must do it differently than I thought,” he said.
The good news was that I ended up on the Packers, which really excited me. There were four teams in our league, one of which were the Cowboys. I was so glad to be on the Packers since they were my favorite professional team. I ended up being the starting defensive end. Dad came to every practice and game I ever had. He coached me and talked to me the whole time.
As the defensive end, when opponents ran to my side, I was supposed to tackle the runner or turn him inside. Making a play was hard because in little league they would give a running back two blockers and sweep around the end. I had to fight them off and get to the runner. I guess I did okay because we made it to the championship game, which was between us and the Cowboys. I can’t remember who won that game, but I sure loved football. Some of the kids hated running drills around the football field. I always liked the running drills and usually came in first. I didn’t think about it then, but it was another indicator that running was in my blood.
One funny story from my little league football days involved Mom. One day, she bought me a bottle of orange Gatorade for the game, which was a BIG deal. During halftime I went over to her and got my bottle and began sipping from it while the coach
gave us our halftime talk. I was enjoying my Gatorade when, all of a sudden, the coach stopped talking and looked directly at me. “Are you going to drink all that Gatorade yourself?” he asked, “Pass it around and share with the team!” I felt terrible, so I quickly passed it around.
Mom neglected to tell me that the coach’s wife had forgotten to bring the halftime drinks and had asked Mom if they could use the Gatorade she brought. I was so embarrassed, and worried that the coach would think I was selfish. You’re probably asking yourself if we all really drank from the same Gatorade bottle. Yes, we did. It was the seventies—before anyone worried much about germs—so we passed around the Gatorade each week during halftime while coach yelled at us about the game and nobody even thought for a moment that what we were doing was odd.
Deer Hunting with Dad
I will never forget the deer hunting trip that Dad took me on in his truck. I don’t remember where we went, but it was way off in the middle of nowhere. We parked and slept in the camper that night and it was really cold. Dad started a Sterno heater the following morning, and we ate some sardines with cheese and crackers. There was some snow on the ground and, before the sun came up, we headed out to find a deer. We walked a long way until we reached a secret spot with a big tree that Dad was looking for. He sat me on one side of the tree, and he sat down on the other and he told me to be real quiet and to not move. That’s the part about hunting that I hate. It’s always been hard for me to not move.
The sun came up, and we were there for an hour or so when Dad asked me to come around to his side of the tree. When I got over there he said his back had slipped out of place and was hurting. He asked me to help him up. When he finally got to his feet, he told me we had to stop hunting and get back to the truck. This was very odd for me because I had never heard my dad day that anything hurt him before, and he never stopped hunting.
I felt like a big shot because then he let me carry the gun. I had the rifle slung around my neck and Dad hanging on me as we slowly made the long walk, over rough terrain, back to the truck. Once we got there, he slowly sat down and drove us back home. It was an old stick shift, and he complained about the pain several times during the trip, but I was so surprised at him being hurt that I didn’t even call him a sissy.
I have always liked to bake cakes and cookies, and my first memory of baking involved using Lottie’s Easy Bake oven to make chocolate chip cookies. Mom was gone, and Dad was watching us, so I decided to make cookies. I took my first “batch” out and gave one to Dad for a taste test. He bit into it, made a weird face and said, “Those are terrible, they taste like crackers. What did you put in them?”
After Mom got home, I showed her what I did and we figured out that I’d mixed up the tablespoon and teaspoon scoops, which evidently makes cookies too salty. I got better at baking over the years.
Grandma and Grandpa’s Visit
Grandma and Grandpa Lewis came down to see us when we lived in our third Roswell house, and brought our cousins Jeff and Sheri with them. I got a kick out of watching Grandpa take a ride on Dad’s motorcycle during their visit. We also took them to see White Sands and Carlsbad Caverns, which was a lot of fun. I was getting to be an expert guide to those two places since we took all of our visitors there. It was always fun when they arrived and Mom always cried when they left.
Mom sold Tupperware when we lived out west. I can’t remember what level she reached with the company, but our kitchen was always loaded with Tupperware. She also made pottery. Mom has always loved plants and she had a white plant stand with nine or ten plants on its shelves and she made a pottery dish for each of them. At all of our houses, she would set this stand in front of the window so the plants could get the sun.
Breaking Mom’s Stuff
One day, we were running through the house and Courts ran into the plant stand and one of the pots fell off and broke. The dirt and broken pieces were all over the floor, and of course Lottie ran straight to Mom to tell her what had happened. Mom came in and saw that broken pot and just started bawling. She yelled at us and we went to our rooms and Mom went into hers. I crept out, though, and looked through the crack in the door and saw her sitting on the floor of her room crying and hitting the floor. I felt so bad for her. I told her we could buy her another pot and she said, “No, I made that one and it’s the only one like it.” Then I said, “I could glue it back together and fix it,” which is what we did after she settled down.
When I got older and had kids, every time I got frustrated I would remember that image of Mom crying and hitting the floor in her room. I really don’t know how she put up with us kids every day for all those years. She is a saint.
One day, Dad and I were throwing a football in the house and Mom told us to stop and go outside. Dad ignored her and just kept throwing me the ball. Just then, we threw the ball a little too high, and it broke the glass part of a lantern Mom had on top of the piano. Dad didn’t have much to say after that. I didn’t get in trouble but I’m pretty sure he did.
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