In the winter of 1985, Dad left Southside Baptist Church and went to First Baptist Marble Hill. I went up there with him when he went to preach so the church could vote on him. On the way, Dad noticed that I had tennis shoes on. He stopped in Cape and made me buy some dress shoes for the church service. I was mad and told myself that Dad was only worried about appearances but, in hindsight, I can see that he was right. I was being selfish and only thinking about myself. There is nothing wrong with trying to make a good first impression. Of course they loved him, so Dad prepared to move. There was one big problem for me, though. I didn’t want to go to a small 2A school that didn’t have a track team. Since my goal was to get a scholarship, I needed to run my senior year of track and try to post some fast times. Dad agreed, so he asked Judy Blaylock if she would let me stay with her to finish out my senior year and run track. Thankfully, she said yes. Her son Chris was also a senior, and he threw the shot-put on the track team. We were already good friends, and once I moved in we were like brothers.
Falling In Love
Soon after I moved to Mrs. Blaylock’s, I started dating a girl from Dexter who I met on a blind date. We quickly “fell in love” and wanted to spend every second together. It wasn’t long until sex entered the picture. Like me, she was a virgin, but we both decided that we were in love and wanted to have sex. Finally, we both got the nerve up and the opportunity presented itself, and it happened. Two teenagers who thought we were in love did something that we should have waited to do. Had she gotten pregnant, it would have caused irreversible changes in both of our lives.
We continued our sexual relationship without any protection for two months, which is another fine example of how fortunate I was. One night, I was praying and looking up at the stars. I asked God for a sign as to whether this was the girl for me, and I saw a star shooting across the sky. I told my dad that this was the girl I would marry. He laughed at me and that hurt my feelings a little, so I decided I wouldn’t talk to him about love again.
After three months, the love wore off; we had a few fights, and Jamie Hess, a very good looking and popular girl at school, started taking an interest in me. I didn’t know how to break up with a girlfriend and it was at about that time that her mom found out we were having sex and was getting her on the pill. Her mom and dad were good Christians, so I am sure I was a big problem for them. Finally, I went out with Jamie one night, and when I told my girlfriend she got mad and that pretty much ended the romance. As I look back on our relationship, I regret having sex with her, and I am quite sure she feels the same. We were young and did not fully understand the consequences of our actions.
Mrs. Blaylock Caught Me Drinking
Mrs. Blaylock, Chris and I were getting along nicely. I used to torment and tease Chris, but Mrs. Blaylock would protect me. Chris was 6’4” and weighed about 260 pounds, so I needed protection. We went to church together, and Chris and I drove to school together every day. I was drinking as much as ever and thought Mrs. Blaylock didn’t know, but I was wrong. She was much craftier than Mom and Dad. She didn’t trust me wholeheartedly as my parents did. She had seen me come to church on Sunday night after an afternoon of drinking, and it wasn’t long until she had me cornered.
Chris drank occasionally but each time he had come home after drinking, she’d caught him. Knowing about her watchful eye, I was very careful to not come home drunk. Mrs. Blaylock never caught me drinking, but one day I came home after school, and she said she wanted to talk to me.
She looked up and solemnly explained that she had received a very discouraging phone call. Someone had called and told her that I had been drinking at Jamie Hess’s house and then had stumbled out of the door and into my car. That was basically accurate, but I denied everything. I stuck to my story and didn’t budge. I knew that it would be my word against that of her informant, who I didn’t know the identity of.
I had a hard time believing that anyone had been there that night to see me leaving Jamie’s house. I continued to strenuously deny her information even after she said she wouldn’t tell my dad. I never confessed, but she told me that I could no longer spend the night with Rodney Crawford. I was relieved she didn’t tell Dad, but curious about how she’d found out about that night.
Mrs. Blaylock was much more aware of my actions then I knew. Her informant on that occasion turned out to be a note from Jamie Hess that she had found in my back pocket. Of course, she never told me about the note. Chris told me later, when he found out. He also said she knew that I drank a lot. Mrs. Blaylock had a philosophy that I agree with and used with you kids. She always said that kids will try to get away with whatever they can, and if you think that you can trust your kids to not do wrong then you’re only kidding yourself.
Mrs. Blaylock always expected us to do what we could get by with. She loved us and trusted us, but she also knew about human nature. My dad never thought I drank even though he knew I hung around with kids that did, because he had also hung around buddies who drank in high school, although he himself never drank. I guess I wasn’t that strong. It’s probably best that Mrs. Blaylock didn’t tell Dad, and it was probably best that Dad never caught me drinking because back then he literally would have killed me!
Setting a School Record
I ran track that year and had a great season. I called Coach Dixon every week to tell him what I had done and then asked what training he recommended. My personal bests that year were a 4:35 mile and a 9:52 two-mile. In the sectionals race, where I set the record, I started at the back of the pack yet finished in second place. I ran a 9:55 at state, which was good enough for eighth place. The 9:52 I ran set the Charleston High School record, and I’m told it is still the record today. Coach Mike Rocket set it back in 1964, and I broke it in 1986.
The sad thing about track season is that I drank heavily and smoked pot all through that spring. I trained hard, running seventy to eighty-mile weeks but often wonder how fast I would have been had I not drank or smoked. I will always wonder, but never know. Why would I work that hard at something and then go out at night and do things that negated all of my hard work?
Running track and cross country in high school taught me some good lessons. I learned to train my hardest so that at the end I could say I did my best without any regrets. In running, doing your best takes more than just running hard during the race. It takes doing your best each day at practice and taking care of your body. Being successful in life takes that same effort and dedication to your goals, as well as all-out commitment on race day.
I get a chuckle out of hearing people tell kids after any completion, “Well at least you did your best.” I’m all for encouragement, but almost everyone does their best during their event, while everyone is watching. Practicing your craft when you’re all alone, and pushing yourself when nobody is watching, for days, months and even years before the event is a big part of doing your best. For me, nine eighty-mile weeks in the hot summer heat before cross country season started was a big part of doing my best.
Preparation over time is usually what wins the game, race or event. Most people show up and do their best, but just think how much better their best would have been had they practiced and prepared long before the day of the event? I haven’t always been as disciplined as I should have been, but most of my success has been due to the many hours I have spent out of the limelight, preparing for a speech, interview or race that only lasted a short time. When everyone saw me, they were impressed, but they never saw the hard work that went into that short burst of effort.
As the track season drew to a close, our graduation date rushed forward. I was proud that they picked Dad to be the baccalaureate speaker. During the graduation ceremony, I sat there waving at the video camera, trying to be funny. After the ceremony was over, Mrs. McNeary, my school counselor, brought me my diploma; I had forgotten it under my chair. The guys hugged, the girls cried and then all of the graduates got on buses for our project graduation party. Mrs. Fenton had worked hard to organize the first ever project graduation party, which was a party that was funded by parents and involved prizes and fun activities that did not include drinking. We had a great time and it kept us from driving drunk and killing ourselves.
MARBLE HILL, MISSOURI – 1986
A few days after graduating, I said goodbye to Mrs. Blaylock and Chris. I moved up to Mom and Dad’s house and went to work for Stan Rein before going to college. I wasn’t sure where I would go, but I knew I wanted to run so I thought I could train at Mom and Dad’s while I worked for Stan. I ran a lot of miles that summer, but I also did a lot of other things I shouldn’t have done.
Stan and Dad were close friends. They worked together in RA and Stan had known me since I was in sixth grade. Dad had been in charge of Peaceful Valley Boy’s Camp when I was a kid and Stan took it over and was running it now. Stan was an electrician, and he owned his own contracting business, so I was his gofer that summer.
Forgetting the Life Jackets
Since I was working with Stan, when it came time for Peaceful Valley Boy’s Camp I went as an “adult” helper. Stan assigned me to be his brother’s assistant. Now, I should tell you that Stan was very organized and everything in his shop, van and business was in its place. His brother Kenn was totally opposite. Kenn was an easy going guy who everyone liked, but he was a little unorganized and everything he owned was a mess. For that week of camp, Kenn was the camp craft instructor and I was his assistant. We were teaching the boys how to live in the outdoors and cook over a campfire.
I had a blast helping Kenn that week. Every morning, Kenn would have a list of all of the supplies we would need for that day’s classes. He would start every morning by saying, in his slow, slurring drawl, “Get up Rodney, we have a thousand things to do today.”
Stan would always give Kenn a hard time and double-check the schedule to make sure he wasn’t forgetting anything. This caused them to fight some, but things were going just fine until the day when we were supposed to teach the boys how to use a canoe. When I was a young boy at camp, canoeing was one of the major highlights of the week. The boys hike up to the lake for training on how to use a canoe, but the real fun begins when they give each canoe a jousting stick and let them try and tip each other over.
It was my job to get up early and drive Stan’s van to pick up the canoes in Cape Girardeau. Peaceful Valley Camp is near Perryville, about an hour’s drive from Cape. Stan had arranged to rent two canoes, paddles and life jackets from Rental Land. I woke up at the crack of dawn so I could make the hour dive and be there when they opened. I had to rush because the boys would be at the lake and ready for the canoes by the time I got back. Stan sent me off and told me to fly.
I drove fast, loaded up the canoes and made it back up to Peaceful Valley in record time. When I pulled into camp with those canoes strapped to the top of the van, Stan was happy, the boys were happy and I was very proud of myself. We unloaded the canoes, got the paddles and then Stan started looking for the life jackets. He never found them because I drove off and forget them.
I quickly blamed the Rental Land people for not giving them to me, but it was clearly my fault. Stan was hot! Kenn suggested that we didn’t need them anyway. He said if there were kids who couldn’t swim they would just have to watch the canoe lessons and jousting. That made Stan even madder. He told Kenn, “Are you crazy? We can’t take boys out in canoes with no life jackets.” He added, “What idiot would get canoes and forget the life jackets?”
By this time, Stan was yelling at me and I thought he was going to kill me. It was at that point that Kenn stepped in and said in that relaxed drawl, “Now Stan, just, just calm down, he is only an eighteen year old kid, he didn’t mean to forget them.”
Thankfully, Kenn calmed Stan down enough to save my life. That was the year we did canoe training in the pool. It didn’t work very well because the pool was so small the boys couldn’t paddle anywhere or turn around, so all they got to do was learn how to tip over and get the canoe floating again. The boys were disappointed because they also didn’t get to do the jousting. It was deemed too dangerous with no life jackets.
Lottie’s First Date
Lottie was eighteen when she had her first date with Josh James. Dad even took her out and bought her a new dress for the event. Dad tried not to let anyone know it, but we could tell he was excited about her big date. While Lottie was getting ready, Dad got out his gun and was cleaning it in the living room. Lottie came in and started having a fit, so Dad put the gun up right before Josh showed up. It was not a double date, which is another example of Lottie getting her way. Dad did stick with the rule that she was not allowed to be alone with a boy in her room or down in the basement. They had to stay in the living room or kitchen when Josh came over.
During that summer, I still hadn’t decided which college to go to. Lee Kanakis kept calling me from Southwest Baptist University (SBU), but Coach Willy from Missouri Baptist said I could get a small scholarship if I went there. Coach Willy was a great coach and had a great team. Dad really liked SBU, but they didn’t have a good running program and no track. I didn’t know what to do and time was running out.
Finally, one night Lee Kanakis called and asked me what I wanted to do. I really wanted to run with Coach Willy, but I didn’t want to tell Lee no over the phone. So I said, “I would love to go to SBU, but Missouri Baptist offered me a deal that paid all of my expenses except books, and because of the money I’m going to go there.” I will always be grateful for the next words out of Lee Kanakis’s mouth, because they changed my life. He said, “If money is all it hinges on, then I’ll guarantee SBU can do the same, even if I have to take it out of my own pocket.”
I thought my comment about the money would get him to stop calling and I would go to Missouri Baptist, but he was a good salesman and had just overcome what I told him was my only objection. The only thing I could say was, “OK, I’ll go.” Looking back, going to SBU was exactly what God wanted for me. I don’t think that things just happen for no reason, and I will always be thankful that Lee took the effort to get me to SBU. I am positive that had I not attended SBU, my life would have turned out quite differently and I’m sure that difference would have been bad.
Out of Control Drinking
I went back to Charleston almost every weekend to drink and party. The drinking started on the way down on Friday and didn’t end until I came home on Sunday. In addition to that, I drank every night of the week that I could. On weeknights I would usually have about nine beers and, on the weekends, about fifteen a night. I also occasionally smoked dope on the weekends. During all of this, I was running quite a bit.
Over the summer, I dated one girl in Charleston and a few girls in Marble Hill. It was one wild summer, but my drinking was starting to bother me. Deep down, I knew it was wrong and that I should quit. I tried a few times, but never could stop. One particular time, I drank all weekend and went to a keg party. I drank way too much at the party, got in my car and started driving home, but everything was blurry. I remember seeing weeds on one side then weeds on the other. Finally, I saw some blurry lights in front of me as I stopped the car. Suddenly my door opened and someone was telling me to scoot over so they would drive. It was my high school friend John Story. He said they had been following me for a while and that I was all over the road.
He drove me to my girlfriend’s house, where I said I would stay. I knocked on her door, but nobody answered so, like a dummy, I got back in my car and drove across town to Tammy Poe’s. Clinton was there, and I knew he would help me. I don’t even remember the drive there. To get to Tammy’s house, I had to go through two stop signs and one major intersection with a stoplight. Also, Tammy’s house was right across from the sheriff’s office. It’s a miracle I didn’t kill myself or somebody else that night.
I could barely walk up the stairs to the door, and when Clinton answered I was stooped over and just moaned, “Help me.” Everything was spinning, and I puked my guts up while Clinton tried to take care of me that night. When I woke up the next morning, I promised to never drink again. I sold my stash of beer and whiskey and told myself I was done drinking and it was time to get in shape for college. I was planning on quitting once I went to SBU anyway, so doing it a bit early would be even better.
Unfortunately, my commitment only lasted two weeks. I did this same thing many times, but never was I able to really quit. I didn’t know it then, but alcohol was starting to get a grip on me. I still thought I could quit anytime, but each time I tried, I failed. I told myself that once I got to SBU, I would quit drinking for good. I reasoned that I wouldn’t have the same friends and with all of those church people around, no one would drink. It wouldn’t be long until I would find out how wrong I was.
Something I should add about my drinking in high school was that the friends I hung around with were just that, good friends. I still consider them friends. We were all just having a good time, and I remember some really fun times. Nobody was trying to hurt anyone or do anything too bad. We just wanted to party and have fun. For me, it was the wrong thing to do and led me into more trouble. It also caused some of my other friends’ problems as well. Several got hooked on drugs and had to struggle to get their lives straightened out. One was killed in a car accident while drinking.
Lying to Dad
I made one big slip up the week before I left for college. One of my tactics for not getting caught drinking was to never ever leave liquor in the house or car. I hid bottles everywhere around the county, in ditches or by telephone poles, but I never left anything where Dad would have any chance of finding it. This way I could go back and find it anytime I wanted. As my time to leave neared, I grew bolder and careless.
I left a pint of Southern Comfort under my front seat. One day I came back from a run, and Dad was sitting on the porch crying. He showed me the bottle and asked me about it. Of course I lied. I quickly and convincingly told him that some of my friends must have played a joke on me and put it under there. I explained that I didn’t drink, and it must have been a friend. I even had tears in my eyes. Dad believed me. He poured it out and said that he was disappointed that I would hang around friends like that. It was a close call and once again I had used my parent’s trust to hide the sad truth from them.
Even today, just thinking about how I lied to him makes me ashamed. I truly believe that the Lord did not want Dad to catch me drinking. If he had, I don’t know what he would have done. Grandpa was an alcoholic and Dad hated drinking. It would have been sad for him and for me. He would have gotten mad at me and I might have yelled back, letting him know what I thought about his rules. It could have put a gulf between us, and I would have gone to college under very bad circumstances. Fortunately for me, this didn’t happen and off to college I went, with Dad thinking that I was a great kid and me wishing I could do what was right.
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