Saturday, January 14, 2017

Bad Friend...

Everyone needs a friend. Hopefully, everyone has more than one friend but if you have only one you are still blessed with a special relationship. Over the years, and there have been many, I've had more friends than I deserve. Some have been good, one or two I've considered "best", and unfortunately one or two have been bad.

There's an old joke that describes the difference between being just a friend and being a good friend. It goes, "A good friend is someone who will visit you when you are in jail after a wild night of partying. A best friend is someone who will be sitting there next to you saying, 'Wasn't that fun?'".

I've never had to test my friendships in this way and hopefully never will. My few hospital stays over the past five years have given me a glimpse of the many good friends I have. That is enough of a test for me. However, once upon a time I had the unique experience of having a good, good friend who was also a bad friend. Since I don't know where this bad friend is incarcerated today and feel I shouldn't use his name I will refer to him only as Bad Friend. One of my good friends, Billy Taylor, will be able to figure out the identity of Bad Friend from the story I'm about to tell.

I met Bad Friend at church. He was popular with all the girls because of his confidence and smooth personality. Bad Friend was just in the eighth grade and already wearing a letter jacket in football. He attended a private school while the rest of us losers were in public. We didn't know at the time the reason he was in private school was because he had already been asked to leave the public school system. Bad Friend was indeed.

When we all moved up to ninth grade and started classes I saw Bad Friend in one of my classes. I walked up to him and asked what was going on. He told me his parents decided he needed to be in public school so he could experience real life with his peers. This translated to, "My suspension was up so they had to let me back in public school". Bad Friend and I started hanging out together and I found him to be a great guy. We had all kinds of things in common and enjoyed each others company.

Bad Friend introduced me to things I had never experienced in my guarded earlier years. He invited me to go fishing with him and his dad. I had never been fishing. I liked it. There is another story there in itself but I will save it for another time. He introduced me to "flipping". Flipping was a form of tossing your hard-earned allowance in the air for heads or tails. Bad Friend was very good at, not so much. Bad Friend usually wound up with my total allowance every week but boy oh boy, was it fun!! Bad Friend taught me new ways to have fun at the roller rink. We would target good looking girls and impress them by knocking them down as we played "Roller Derby". This led to my introduction of being tossed out of the roller rink with instructions to never return. I learned from Bad Friend how to scare the beejeebers out of movie viewers by stomping on a soda cup during the scary part of the movie. This also led to an early dismissal with instructions to never return.

By the close of the ninth grade my dad had tolerated all he was going to tolerate of Bad Friend. He told me I could not go anywhere else with him and should consider our friendship a thing of the past. That was hard to do. Bad Friend was pretty much my best friend! Besides that, Bad Friend had already been given a car from his dad. It was an old Willis which was ugly by design and made uglier with Bad Friend's decision to paint it dark green with a brush and old house paint. Bad Friend would drive over to my house when my dad was at work. Although I knew I wasn't supposed to go anywhere with him, my mom would allow me to go "just around the block" for a few minutes of freedom. Those were mighty long blocks. One Sunday I asked my mom if I could get a ride home from church with Bad Friend. It was less than a mile and how much trouble could I get into in less than a mile? Evidently, quite a bit as it turned out. It was a beautiful day and the feel of fresh air flowing though the open windows cleared the terrible odors coming from the old Willis. Bad Friend thought it would be great to take a short ride before dropping me off at home. I disagreed for at least a second or two before going ahead with Bad Friend's plan. Our short ride lasted over two hours and included a stop at the local airport to watch the planes take off and land. When we finally made it back to my home on Elm Street my dad was sitting in the shade of the front yard. A Kodak moment for sure but the look on his face told me all I needed to know. Bad Friend was able to make the wheels on the old Willis squeal for the first and last time when he took off. I bravely walked across the yard to hear these fateful words, "You are grounded until further notice!". Bad Friend had just introduced me to another new experience.

My grounding lasted all the way through my sophomore year in high school. This effectively ended my friendship with Bad Friend....and all other friendships I may have had at the time. That was a long, long year and I felt the punishment was far greater than the crime. However, I'm thankful today for the way my dad handled the situation. Who knows where I might be today if Bad Friend had stayed around a while longer.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Debbie Does Demolition...

I’ve never been much of a car person. I don’t remember ever being concerned too much about style or speed. As long as what I drove was neat, clean, and dependable I was happy. As I’ve grown older I’ve pretty much given up the “neat and clean” part and settled with dependable. I did own one nice car once. When Debbie and I started dating I bought a really cool Pontiac Tempest LeMans. It was seafoam green, black interior, baby moons with chrome rims on Goodyear red stripe tires. Whoo-wee did I ever look good in that car! It was the car we used well into our marriage. It had a manual transmission so Debbie never drove it. When we were expecting Jamie we found out our medical insurance didn’t cover maternity. When our doctor found out this little fact he insisted on payment up front for Debbie’s care. The only thing of value I owned was my sweet Pontiac. I had to sell it to pay the doctor. I stood in my front yard and cried as I watched the new owner drive away. I bought an old Chevy junker to get us through the pregnancy and it served us well.

After Jamie was born I sold the old Chevy and bought a Chevy Malibu. It was pretty plain but in great shape. I was proud of it and happy we could go places without embarrassment. It too was a manual transmission so I was the sole driver…..until the dawning of Debbie’s Demolition.

One night Debbie asked me to teach her how to work a clutch so she could use the car when she needed it. After minutes and minutes of stressful training I calmly screamed, “Pull over and let me drive before you ruin this car!”. She pulled over and I swung the passenger side door open to storm out. I did not know she had pulled over next to a drainage ditch. As I disappeared from sight I heard Debbie laughing. I am pretty sure she did that on purpose.

After a week or so Debbie asked me to take her to the mall for some shopping. I didn’t want to go shopping so much that I decided to sacrifice the Malibu. I suggested to Deb that the only way to learn to work a stick shift would be to get in the car alone and make it work. She agreed and left for the mall by herself. I still remember the sound of grinding gears and the sight of repeated lurching as she drove away. When she came home she was pleased with herself but worried that she may have damaged a light pole. She had started to turn left at an intersection when she realized she should have turned right. Rather than make the block she put the car in reverse and ran into the pole while turning. I ran out to check the car and found the back bumper caved in and the trunk lid dented. I wasn’t too concerned about the light pole.

On her next solo trip she brought the car back with elongated dents all along both sides of the car. When I asked her about it she told me she had pulled into a really tight spot. She knew she would have to find another place to park when she noticed the cars on both sides of her slowly rising. She was scraping along the door handles of both cars.

Her third trip resulted in a large rip on one of the fenders above the wheel. As I beat the jagged metal back into place I decided I wouldn’t bother to ask her how she had done it.

I finally decided it was time to stop driving cars that were the least bit stylish and buy something more family oriented. I bought us a big old boring Ford LTD. There was more chrome on this car than any I had ever dreamed of owning. The phrase that came to mind was “more metal for the money” and I figured Debbie would have a hard time destroying it. Boy oh boy was I wrong. It did take a week or two for the demolition to start but when it did it was historic. She pulled out of the garage one day and ripped all the chrome off the passenger side of the car. I screamed and yelled and gave all kinds of helpful hints like “Don’t get so close to that side of the garage ever again!” She took this lesson to heart and drove for several days before ripping all the chrome off the driver’s side.

I did my best to replace the missing chrome and polish out the scratches on the car without bothering the insurance company. A year passed before more damage came our way. It was a rainy day and Debbie was running late getting home from a baby shower. She pulled into the driveway a little too fast and hit the brake hard as she entered the garage. Since the garage floor had a smooth surface the car slid right into my workbench destroying it and everything on and around it. As I fixed the grill and beat the dents out of the hood I asked Deb to stop just a bit short of my workbench the next time she pulled into the garage. She listened to this advice and used great care to leave plenty of space between the car and workbench. When she pulled the garage door down she caved in the trunk lid. This ended the systematic destruction of all four sides of her car.

During all this work Debbie was doing on her Ford I had bought a 1972 Chevy Impala two-door hardtop from my dad. He knew how to take care of a car and this old Chevy was in mint condition. I planned to keep it forever since Detroit was going downhill and the classics were getting to be rare. I foolishly came down with a stomach virus during one of the times Debbie’s car was out of commission. I was feeling really bad and Deb decided I needed medicine. I knew she would have to drive my Chevy to the drugstore so I told her I was fine and didn’t need a thing from the store. In her compassion and need to get out of the house, she insisted on going and took off in my last of a kind, mint, really cool Chevy. I heard the garage door come up and wanted to stop her but my stomach decided I needed to run to the bathroom instead. Within seconds I heard strange noises coming from the garage. I worried what the noise could be until Debbie got home. She came straight to the bedroom apologizing. She had run the car up next to the garage door opening and scratched the front fender. In her haste to correct herself, she threw the car into drive and ran it forward scratching up the passenger side door. She finally got the car out of the garage and was so upset and worried she failed to check her rearview mirror and ran into a car also pulling out of its driveway. This caved in the driver side  thus ruining both sides on my mint Chevy in less than five minutes.

Now you would think this couldn’t possibly get any worse. Well, of course it could. I “punished” Debbie by telling her the wrecked Chevy was now hers. I sold the wrecked Ford to some poor soul and bought myself a new Ford pickup. It was a beauty. To make a long story a bit shorter I’ll just say this. Debbie took my new pickup to drive the boys to school one morning. She wrapped it around a bridge embankment. I am very glad she and the boys didn’t get hurt but my truck was totaled. This was the last time I ever tried to have a nice vehicle. I took the old Chevy back from Debbie and bought her a new Oldsmobile. She drove it for twelve years without putting so much as a scratch on it.

Since Deb had done so well with the Olds I figured the answer to her bad driving had to be in buying her a new car. This led me to buy her another new car. This one was her choice and she chose a new Chevy Malibu. She wrecked it three times. After the first wreck our insurance became so expensive I cancelled all but liability. I tried to repair the last two wrecks by myself. The last repair involved duct tape and baling wire….I’m not kidding.

I gave Debbie one more chance and bought her another new car….keep in mind, I’m still driving old wrecks to work. She still owns this last car and has wrecked it three times. Each time the insurance company provided excellent repairs but the last wreck caused a huge adjustment in our insurance rates. I dropped it down to liability again so who knows what her car will look like in the coming months. She did choose a light silver paint this time which will blend nicely with duct tape.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Mama's Other Big Brother...

My mother was a storyteller. If I had been smart, and I wasn't, I would have written down every story she ever told us kids as we grew up on Elm Street. I would have stories to pass on for the rest of my life. I remember a few with fondness. The fondness comes from the stories themselves but also in the memory of the nights we spent listening to her relive her own childhood for us. She loved her brothers and sisters so much. I've written about her sister Cricket, and two of her brothers, Leland and Frog. Someday I will get around to telling about the rest of the sisters but right now I wanted to write a bit more about her brother Bill.

Mama's earliest memory of Bill was his coming to the rescue when she and Frog were both little. It was winter and a bad virus was working its way through the valley. Mama and Frog were both critically ill and things were looking worse by the hour. They lived miles from town with no real road leading out to their place. They got a call in to the doctor who said he would come out if someone would meet him where the road ended. Bill volunteered. He saddled up two horses and started out in the middle of the cold and windy night. He met the doctor and led him back to the house. The doctor was able to give the kids medicine to improve their chances and spent that night with the family. The next day the fever broke and both my mom and Frog improved quickly. The doctor told my grandparents if he hadn't come both kids would have died. Bill rode the doctor back to his car after that and never told the story again. I mentioned it to Bill a few months ago and he just smiled and said, "Yep, I reckon that's pretty accurate.".

My mom and her siblings were far enough out that walking to school wasn't an option. The family had only one vehicle, a flatbed farm truck, so rides to school were only a dream. They rode horses. Older siblings rode and younger sibs hitched a ride on back. My mom was generally riding on back since she was next to the youngest. On one occasion though she had a horse for herself. She was thrilled and felt all grown up until they got out of sight of the corral. That old mare did not want to go to school that day. My mom kicked and yelled and slapped and yelled and that old horse just stood there on the side of a hill. She finally yelled, "Bill, my horse wont go!" Bill told her to give her a good slap. The mare didn't move so my mom complained again. Bill told her to give her a kick in the ribs. My mom's legs were so short the mare just snickered. Finally Bill dismounted, gathered up some dry weeds, tied them to the tail of the horse and set the weeds on fire. My mom was the first one to school that day.

Bill was a horseman. He preferred his horse to any of those old gasoline engine things flitting around. His older brother Leland bought a car when he got older and was mighty proud of it. My mom and her sister Ramona "borrowed" it one morning to drive to school. They thought they could get away with it because Leland was riding fence that day and would be gone til dark. They had themselves a time getting to school since neither of them knew how to drive. When they finally worked their way through the gears they were flying down the old dirt road. That was a real thrill until they got to the school yard and didn't have a clue how to stop. They knew to stop feeding it gas so it finally came to a stop....but not before making about four trips around the school house scattering children in all directions. The car finally stopped completely when they ran into the school house. I'm sorry....I got off the subject of talking about Bill. His experience with Leland's car wasn't as much fun. I don't remember the details but for some reason Leland took Bill's horse on a trip out of town. When it was time for him to return he got word to Bill to bring the car to him. Bill drove the car to him and had all kinds of problems getting it there. He wasn't much of a driver either! Leland offered to give Bill a ride back and let the horse come back on its own. Bill said, "No sir! You take your car and I'll take my horse." Leland told him it would take two days on horseback and Bill didn't know the way cross country. Bill told him if the horse could find its way home alone it could sure find its way home with him on its back.

Bill was evidently pretty popular with the ladies as he got older. He would go on dates when my mom and Ramona were old enough to want to date but too young to actually do it. They enjoyed Bill's love life though because they would wait up for him every time he went out. When he got home he would strum his guitar, sing, and tell them every detail about his evening. My mama never forgot those times and said they were some of the best parts of her childhood.

Bill went off to war along with the majority of his generation during World War II. He served in the Navy. One of his kids will have to tell you about his experiences during the war. Any one of them is invited to post here and fill us all in if they want! When he returned home he married aunt Adelaide and they started manufacturing lots of children. They eventually bought a little place at the end of College Street in Llano, Texas and that is still home today. Every time a new kid was born another room was added to the existing structure. What started out about the size of a two car garage is now a rambling ranch house with large windows looking out over the beauty of the Texas hill country. Bill's workshop is in the backyard of this old house and he spends several hours in it six days a week.

Bill is a master craftsman. He designs and builds his own creations. His furniture is functional, sturdy, and always a work of art. He has built everything from complete homes down to footstools. His creations are in most of the homes of family members and lots of lucky family friends. I personally have two of his stools and a full length swinging mirror he made for my mom. Other's have pie safes, hope chests, book shelf sectionals, game tables with intricate inlaid detail...the list goes on and on. He has even designed and built his own coffin. Its beautiful and a real shame it will someday be placed in the ground. He taught his sons and daughters how to work with wood and how to keep their old cars up and running. He has taught me a lot about woodworking and I hope to pass it on to my boys. I asked Bill one day where he bought his plans for his many projects. He looked at me and smiled. He had never bought a plan in his life. He thought about it and built it. That has rarely worked for me.

My mama died a little over a year ago. Only Bill is left from a family of nine children. Bill has set at the side of each of his brothers and sisters' graves to say goodbye. It seems sad at times and yet the blessings are overflowing. Someday our uncle Bill will be gone and so will end a grand era but his, and the Hallmark family legacy lives on. One time when I was growing up I told my mama I had met a couple of girls at a ballgame in Llano. She told me to be careful because those girls were probably related to me. She said you couldn't throw a rock around Llano or Burnet without hitting a Hallmark on the head.