Brother Jessie Nave was the pastor at First Baptist Church and Dad was the minister of music and youth. It was not a big church, and Dad didn’t have a big salary, but Mom said that the people were so kind to us there, it was worth it. To help with the family budget, Mom did some substitute teaching in Petersburg. Mom didn’t work much outside of the home with the exception of those teaching jobs and the selling of Tupperware. She always stayed home and took care of us kids. I was in the fourth grade in Petersburg. That was the only place where I didn’t get along well with all of the kids. I made friends with some of the poor kids and the Mexicans, but I didn’t get very tight with any of the rich kids. I always seemed to make friends with everyone, everywhere we’d lived. But for some reason I had trouble winning those rich kids over.
Hunting in Texas
Dad and I spent a lot of time together at that house. He used to take me hunting a lot, and I started shooting Grandpa’s Jetton’s 4/10. We went rabbit and pheasant hunting regularly and we went duck hunting once.
We had a crazy way of rabbit hunting that didn’t require the use of a gun. Since it was an agricultural community, we would go out and check all of the irrigation pipes in the fields. Invariably, there would be a rabbit in one of those pipes. I would put my hand in one end and Dad would pick up the other. He would lift it higher and higher until the rabbit came sliding down toward me. I would grab it and pull it out. Then dad would break its neck, and we would clean it. We ate a lot of rabbit at that house. My biggest worry with this technique was that the rabbit might turn out to be a skunk, as was sometimes the case.
We did quite a bit of pheasant hunting. They are pretty birds, but hard to find. Dad would drive along the road, and we would look down the crop rows for a pheasant. When we saw one, we would stop and he would have me walk from where we saw the pheasant toward him. That normally flushed the bird to Dad and when it jumped up and flew, Dad would get his shot off. Since he was colorblind, Dad always had a hard time confirming that the bird he was shooting had a white ring around its neck, since those were the males. Everyone would comment that I was the best pheasant hunting dog around, since I was so good at flushing the birds toward Dad.
Duck hunting was also interesting in Texas. On the single occasion that we did it, a farmer drove us into the middle of a big field, where all I saw was a big mound of dirt. It turned out to be a pond. Since the land was flat there, they dug a big hole and piled all of the dirt around the pond to make a bank. We drove up close to the mound and then quietly snuck up the side until we were just below the top of the lip of the bank. On the count of three, Dad and the farmer rushed over the edge and started shooting.
That pond was full of ducks. They each hit two or three and we used a fishing pole to snag the ones in the middle of the water and pull them to shore. I have been on several duck hunts since then and never have I hunted ducks quite like that. I still laugh when I think about how that farmer hunted ducks. Mom cooked our ducks, but I didn’t like the taste much. Dad leaned over and whispered, “She didn’t cook it right,” but I have had duck several times since then and never enjoyed it.
Horses and Electric Fences
Ruth was kicked in the face by a horse in Petersburg and had some ugly bruises for a long time. We were taught to not walk behind them, but she didn’t listen and got kicked. Fortunately, she healed up okay, but whenever I see “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” and they talk about Ruby Sue falling in a well and her eyes crossing and then getting kicked by a horse and her eyes going back straight, I think of Ruth.
I also learned a valuable lesson about electric fences at this house. One day, I was out hunting with my BB gun and had to go to the bathroom. I laid down my gun and was taking a leak next to the electric fence on our farm and decided to pee on it. That was NOT a good decision. I have tried to pass on some helpful lessons in this book. This is one lesson to remember. Do not pee on electric fences, because it is VERY painful. Needless to say I never tried that again!
A Texas-sized Blizzard
I enjoyed living on the farm in Petersburg. It was in the Texas panhandle, a farming area. The climate was hot and dry in the summer, which required the irrigation of fields, but in the winter we sometimes had big snows. They blew in fast and didn’t stay long. I remember one in particular.
One afternoon, the snow started falling hard and fast. Dad had a meeting that night and was not going to be home until late. I started going out and shoveling the driveway every twenty minutes or so to make sure it was clear for him. I can’t remember when Mom made me go to bed, but I do remember telling her that I needed to stay up and keep the driveway clear until he got home. Of course, I didn’t think about the many miles of highway or the long dirt road that Dad would have to navigate before getting to the driveway.
As it turns out, he almost didn’t make it home. That storm was a real blizzard with true white-out conditions. Dad ran off the highway up where it diverged onto our country road. He had to walk the rest of the way and had a really hard time keeping his direction and finding the house. In the morning, we woke up to snow everywhere. I can’t remember how much fell but because the wind blew so hard there were twenty-foot drifts in some places. We couldn’t get to school, and we had a lot of fun playing in the snow instead.
As I mentioned before, I never had very good shoes. Most of the summer I went barefoot and my shoes almost always had
holes in them. That being the case, we sure didn’t have money for boots. When we went outside to play in the snow we would put two layers of socks on, and Mom would give us bread bags to put over the socks to “waterproof” our feet. Then I would put my old holey shoes on. Needless to say, our feet froze and we came in quite a lot to warm up before heading out again.
Tracking My First Rabbit
During that snow, Dad decided it would be a good time to go rabbit hunting. I got dressed, put on my extra socks and bread
bags, loaded the 4/10 shotgun and was raring to go. It wasn’t long before we jumped a rabbit. Dad shot and missed, which is very easy to do when a rabbit is running. We were in a cornfield, and Dad saw where the rabbit ran, so he decided this would be a good opportunity to teach me how to track a rabbit. I knew what rabbit tracks looked like, but had never “tracked” one before since we didn’t get snow very often.
Tracking game is very exciting. Each time we would get close, the rabbit would jump up and take off again. We tracked him for what seemed like forever. He must have been a strong and smart rabbit because he led us a long way across the fields and even doubled back on his tracks several times. Knowing where he was and which track to follow was not easy, but Dad always seemed to be able to keep me pointed in the right direction. I can’t remember how many times we jumped that rabbit, but finally he ran into a big snow bank and buried himself in the snow. Dad told me to sneak up, take off my glove, reach in the hole and grab him. I did exactly what he told me, and I guess that rabbit was so tired of being tracked that he just gave up. I was so excited to catch him, and Dad made a big deal out of how well I had done. Of course, it only showed how good of a tracker Dad was.
Once we had the rabbit, my thoughts returned to my freezing feet. Two pairs of socks and a bread bag do not keep your feet very warm in the snow. I wanted to go inside, but Dad said we should keep hunting. I tried to stay out there with him because I didn’t want him to think I was a sissy, but my feet were freezing. Finally, I told Dad I had to go in. He ribbed me for being a sissy, but I was cold and didn’t care. I ran in the house, took my coat and shoes off, and went over to the heater and sat there. My feet hurt so badly, I was crying my eyes out, but I didn’t want Dad to know. Mom said that I shouldn’t have stayed out for so long. She was right, but she didn’t understand how much I wanted to impress Dad and show him I was a tough hunter.
Those cold hunts had an effect on me. Since then, I have developed a distaste for cold and suffering while hunting and fishing. I like to do both, but I don’t enjoy sitting in the cold for long. When the fish are biting and the ducks are flying I will suffer for a while, but I just don’t like being out there all day. Dad is tough and he will stay out all day and night if he has to. I had several cold hunting and fishing trips with Dad growing up and they were excellent training for my time in the Marine Corps. The Corps put me through a lot of suffering in the cold and, thanks to Dad, I was prepared.
Learning to Depend on Myself
Part of growing up as a boy is learning that sometimes you cannot depend on anyone else but yourself. Sometimes you have to buckle down and finish the job with no one to help. I will never forget when this first happened to me. Dad bought us a pig that we named Arnold, and my job was to feed him. The hard part about this chore was that we kept Arnold at another farmer’s barn, which was located a few miles away from our house.
The bus I rode home from school went by this farmer’s house, dropped off a few kids at the end of the highway, then turned around and went by his house again before heading to ours. This allowed me to get off at the farmer’s house, feed Arnold and be ready to get back on the bus for the ride home. The bad news is that this only allowed me about ten minutes to feed Arnold. If I didn’t feed him fast enough, the bus driver wouldn’t wait for me, and I would have to run the two or three miles back to our house.
Now, feeding a pig may sound like an easy task, but this particular chore had an added degree of difficulty. I had to fill one five gallon bucket with corn, another with water, and carry them both several hundred yards to Arnold’s pen. Unfortunately, my route forced me to go under an electric fence and across a small pasture where a mean cow with frightening horns stood guard. To get out, I had to duck underneath another electric fence and arrive at Arnold’s pen. After feeding and watering Arnold, I had to carry the empty buckets back under the same fence and across the same pasture, all while trying to avoid a cow that seemed to be waiting for me each day at 3:30.
I was about ten years old and in the fourth grade. Carrying a heavy, five gallon bucket in each hand was hard. My hurting arms made me want to stop and rest so badly but, because of the bus, I didn’t have time. I would pick up the buckets and carry them as fast as I could to the electric fence and stop only momentarily to catch my breath so I could move fast and avoid the cow.
I stopped one day with my arms hurting and wishing that I could get Dad to help me. As I was standing there, I remember thinking that there was no one to ask for help. That no matter how tired I was, I had to complete the job myself. If I took breaks or wasted time, I would miss the bus and have to run all the way home. This probably doesn’t seem like a big moment to anyone else, but there have been several times in my life when I have been tired, beat down and wishing I could quit. Each time, I think about those buckets, that mean cow and the approaching bus. I remember how I kept going. Most of the times in my life when I have been in this situation, I have not given up. I’ve regretted the few times when I did.
Most days, I fed Arnold fast enough to catch the bus back to the house, but sometimes I missed it and had to run back. There were several times when I had to wait on the cow to move, which slowed me down, and there were also a few times when I would carry one bucket at a time across the pasture so that I could run faster and get away from the cow. When I missed the bus, I would run home cutting across dirt fields and playing in the irrigation ditches on the warm days, which was actually kind of fun. Now that I’m older, I realize that the cow probably wasn’t all that mean. She saw a bucket full of corn and only wanted some of it. But as a kid I saw a big cow with pointy horns running after me, and I was scared.
Does Everybody Love Dallas?
The other thing we did at that farmer’s house was watch football. He invited us over to watch all of the games. Dad and I were always the only Green Bay fans there while everyone else loved Dallas. I wanted to be just like Dad so we hated Dallas and always rooted for Green Bay. The Packers had beaten the Cowboys in the Ice Bowl the year I was born, but by 1977 the
Packers were bad and Dallas was one of the best teams in the NFL. Dallas fans still hated the Packers and enjoyed ribbing Dad about each Cowboy victory.
The house we lived in had a big horse trough out back. When I say big, I mean big enough to swim in (which we did), and there were several large goldfish in it. I caught many of them, but always had to throw them back. The property included a big barn and several electric fences. I used to climb up in the barn and collect all of the bird eggs I could find.
One of my jobs was burning all of the trash in our burn barrel. Of course, burning trash was fun to me. One painful memory was when I burned my hand. I had a steel rod that I used to pack down the trash. Once, I grabbed the wrong end of the steel rod and badly burned my hand. I put it in cold water, but that didn’t keep it from hurting. We went to the house of the farmer who kept Arnold, and his wife had an Aloe Vera plant. Aloe Vera gel really soothed the pain, and after that Mom always grew Aloe plants too.
Even though he was a Dallas fan, that farmer and his wife were really nice. They didn’t have any kids, but I always liked going over to their house. They had several toys to play with, but I always put on the chaps and pistols and pretended I was a cowboy. Another thing I remember was that she always gave us a honey bun, which was something we never had at home.
Family Game Night
In Petersburg we didn’t have a TV, which is probably hard for kids to believe today. We started Friday night family night and would play games such as Uno, Monopoly, and chess. Dad taught me how to play chess, but he didn’t play games with us like Mom would, and if you ever beat Dad at a game, he wouldn’t play that one with you again.
Mom beat me in Monopoly one time. I was doing well and then I hit New York Avenue, which she had a hotel on. I paid the $1,000 rent and then I rolled a three, which landed me on the Chance spot. I drew my card and it sent me back three spaces, which cost me another $1,000. That knocked me out of the game. Mom laughed and laughed when she put me out. We had a lot of fun playing games, but like all kids I wanted what I didn’t have. I sure wished we had a TV.
Courts Lets My Duck Go
In Petersburg, we rode the bus to school, and on wet days the dirt roads got so slick we had to walk to the highway because the bus couldn’t come down the muddy road. I can’t even explain how slick that Texas dust got when it rained. There was not a rock in that dirt, which made it great for farming, but muddy in the rain.
Because of all of the farming, there were these long irrigation trenches at the end of most of the fields that were about three feet deep. Lottie and I used to swim in those ditches, and we had a lot of fun playing in the water. When it rained, very shallow ponds would form in the low ground. We waded in those ponds and would play for hours in the water.
Once, I caught a duck that was hiding under a bush in one of the flooded, low areas. I took it home and put it in Inky’s dog house. I then called Dad and told him that I had caught a duck just like we had caught the rabbit in the snow bank. He didn’t believe me, but I told him he could see it when he got home. Someone, however, opened the doghouse door before Dad came home and my duck got away. I think it was Courts but he never admitted it. I was so mad.
Killing a Rabbit with My BB Gun
I killed my first rabbit all by myself in Petersburg. I tracked him to a big wood pile behind the house and started shooting him with my BB gun. I knelt down and tried to hit him in the eye between the sticks of wood. He tried to get out, but I kept him scared enough that he stayed under the wood pile. It wasn’t thick enough, though, to protect him from a good shot. I must have used over a hundred BB’s before I finally hit him in the eye. I called Dad at church and told him that I had killed a rabbit with my BB gun all by myself. I asked him to come home and help me clean it, but he told me that he thought I could do it by myself. I had helped Dad hundreds of times so I cleaned it all by myself and was very proud of that rabbit. Mom showed it to Dad when he came in.
Becoming a Track “Star”
It was there, in Petersburg, that I first became a Royal Ambassador (RA), and it was at the state RA congress where I ran my first race. The longest race they had for my age group was the 330 yard dash. I started at the back of the pack and ran as hard as I could, passing several runners and taking second place. Victor, who was one of a pair of twins, beat me. His brother, Hector, came in third. While my RA leaders congratulated me on a good race, running was still just something I did in order to be a better football player.
Our Green Chevy Truck
At that time, Dad had a green Chevy truck with a camper on the back. The camper had a big bed in it. We loved riding back there in the camper because we could lay down and play. Dad had the back window cut out so we could talk to him and Mom and also crawl through to the cab.
Today, you wouldn’t think about having your kids ride in the back of a truck, but we must have driven thousands of miles inthat thing. Dad had it until we lived in Cape, on Carter Street. It had a light in the back that we could turn on at night and play games while Dad was driving. Sometimes, when Dad didn’t want to stop to let us go to the bathroom, Courts and I would pee through the screen out of the back window. That truck made traveling with four kids a lot better than the Toyota Corolla!
Leaving the Farm
When we moved from Petersburg, it was the only time we had movers come to help us. The church we were moving to sent a truck to pick up all of our stuff. Mom already had it packed, and once they finished loading the truck I was sad to leave the farm. Even though some of the kids at school didn’t like me, I loved the farm and hated to leave the hunting opportunities it offered behind.
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