Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Fall 1978 - I Love Football Part 2

Fall 1978- I Love Football, Part 2

In August, 1978, my momma bought something which would not bring me or my sister much joy in the next 4 or 5 years.

She bought a piano.  

At first, my sister and I were excited, because we both liked music and musical instruments- I had a guitar and a harmonica at the time- until she said the dreaded two words we did not want to hear: PIANO LESSONS.

To this day, I have no idea why Momma bought the piano, other than to make my sister and I learn how to play it, but then I don’t know where she got the idea that we wanted to learn how to play the piano in the first place. I know I didn’t express any hidden desires to be the next Beethoven, Liberace, or Stevie Wonder, or someone like that. And in all honesty, I would have rather took guitar lessons than piano lessons since I already had a guitar. The only kids at the time who were taking piano lessons and who were advanced enough to play the piano better than some grown people were Mary and Gaila Farrier, and neither I or my sister were jealous of them because of it.

At first, my sister and I were like, Well, we might as well give it a try, and we went into learning how to play the piano with a positive attitude. Our teacher was a lady named Mrs. Goree, and she knew exactly what she was doing. In other words, we had worksheets, workbooks, homework, and of course, we had to practice, practice, and practice. We started out with the kindergarten book and lessons, and we couldn’t progress to the first grade level until we passed everything and proved we could handle and play on the “kindergarten” level. It usually took a year to progress to the next level, so by the time I started the 6th grade, I would have been ready to go to the first grade level in piano-playing.  All of those worksheets and workbooks were like a cold bucket of water on our desire to learn how to play the piano, but we didn’t say anything and grudgingly accepted it as a part of the process.

Then we started attending Jodie McClure, and I discovered the joys of playing football. Playing the piano was OK, but playing the football was WAY better. Then one day, our PE coach passed out some sheets to all of the boys. I looked at it, and it stated that there would be tryouts for the Jodie McClure Mustangs football team, and that we needed our parents’ permission and signatures to be able to tryout, practice, and play organized football against other elementary schools. As I read the sheet, learning how to play the piano fell even further down the list of things I wanted to do, like down to “cleaning up vomit” levels. I couldn’t wait to go home and ask my parents if I could play football; I didn’t think they would actually mind. Usually, in the past, if there was something I wanted to participate in, such as cub scouts, they usually let me do so. This would be my first time asking to participate in a sport, but I didn’t foresee any problems. So, of course, I ran home and shoved the paper in Daddy’s hand and asked him if I could play football, thinking it was a done deal and he’d just sign it. Imagine my surprise when he said, “Ask your mother.”

I started getting a bad feeling about all of this, as my desire to play the piano waned even more, but I went and asked Momma anyway, and this is what she said: “Well, you know you can’t take piano lessons and go to football practice at the same time- (I should’ve asked, why not-? But I was not up to living dangerously yet-), so I’m going to give you a choice- you can either continue to take piano lessons or play football. You can’t do both. I’ll give you a day to think about it.” Actually, she was giving herself a day to think about it, not me- I had already made up my mind what I wanted to do, and it did not involve sitting on a stool pecking at some keys. She kept the sheet and didn’t sign it, so I wondered that night whether or not I really had a choice.

I found out the next day when she took me to piano lessons. She asked me if I had practiced, I told her, “No”, and I told her I had thought about it, and that I wanted to play football instead of taking piano lessons. My momma got that frown on her face, and she let me know that I would NOT be playing football, but that I will be taking piano lessons, because she had already paid for the lessons, and that was all there was to it. As you can imagine, I was VERY unhappy with that, and I can remember that day as clear as yesterday. I did not participate in piano lessons that day, and I even went home and said something to Daddy about being made to do something I didn’t want to do compared to something I wanted to do, and how all of this was going to make me look like a sissy and a punk and so forth, but Daddy was like, Your momma has spoken- ain’t nothing I can do about it, and for the first time in my childhood life, I felt like I was being forced to do something I did NOT want to do over something I WANTED TO DO, and it was very unfair.  Because of that, I never did like taking piano lessons, and it showed. I’d wind up progressing all the way to third-grade level, but by then, I was only halfway-trying and burned out, and finding all kinds of reasons not to go to piano lessons. My sister kept going for a time after I was finally allowed to quit, but even she got burned out after awhile and stopped going.

Of course, I didn’t go to school and brag, “Hey! I take piano lessons!” That would’ve been stupid. I didn’t tell any of my friends. I’m sure they asked me why I wasn’t playing football, but I can’t remember what I told them, other than possibly, My momma wouldn’t let me. Although I was short and on the small side, I was discovering I was pretty good at playing football whenever we played outside, either at Jodie McClure or in my own front yard. My class, Miss Stone’s class, played Mr. Taylor’s class 7 or 8 times that year, and we lost only once. Everything thrown to me I caught, and I scored a few more touchdowns. I also discovered my favorite position: playing cornerback or safety on defense, because I loved intercepting passes. I liked tackling, too, but I got a charge out of making interceptions. That was exciting to me. And, as I read more books and magazines, as I watched the Cowboys on TV, and listened to the Longview Lobos on the radio, I became more and more interested in the sport and I became a student of the game. I started cutting out pictures of football players out of the newspaper and magazines, and making a scrapbook out of all of them, and drawing pictures of football players, football fields, and anything relating to football.

Of course, my newfound interest in football just thrilled my parents; it thrilled them so much that they felt like it was taking away from what was really important: my grades and piano lessons. So whenever I got in trouble, whenever I made a bad grade or didn’t do my chores, they’d take away most of my football-related stuff, and I’d be grounded from going outside and playing football with my friends. (I never was grounded from piano lessons, go figure.)

I was 10 years old, so puberty had not hit yet. I was still reading comic books and collecting football cards, and I still had quite a few toys, but things were a-changing. My daddy had retired from the service, so he was home for good now. My momma was letting me know early I was going to have a difficult time becoming a teenager, and my sister was just happy to have a nice teacher, decent friends, and her daddy back home. So in the Fall of 1978, and on through to the Winter of that same year, while most of my friends played for the undefeated Jodie McClure Mustangs, I sat unhappily at a piano, wishing for the day I could wear the green and white colors of the Longview Lobos, and doing something I’d enjoy doing.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Fall 1978 - I Love Football Part 1

Fall 1978- I Love Football Part 1

Considering how much I love football today, it’s hard to believe that there was once a time where I didn’t like football at all. (If the Cowboys keep screwing things up, I’ll revert back to my early childhood.) But when we lived on Young Street, I was attending East Ward Elementary, and I do not recall not a single time where we went outside and played football. It’s just as well; 1st and 2nd graders probably didn’t (and don’t) need to be playing (tackle) football anyway. In Abilene, the only thing kids played on the base were soccer and baseball. Plus, kickball and dodgeball were really popular. We tried to play football a couple of times, but it seemed that over half of the boys had no idea on how to play the sport; I know I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, never did touch the football, never tackled anyone, and I just didn’t like football at that time.

When we moved back to Longview in the summer of ’78 and I started attending Jodie McClure, things began to change. I quickly noticed that Jodie McClure had a football team, the Mustangs, and that if you were a Mustang, then you were a somebody. The Mustangs were a very good football team. However, the seeds for my eventual love for football were planted a few years earlier:

When I was little, we used to go visit my daddy’s Aunt Thelma (my grandmother’s sister) in Marshall. I’d play with her grandkids, Cory and Lisa, who were around my age, or if they weren’t there, I’d sit down in the house and look at the various interesting objects around the room. If there was one thing Aunt Thelma was crazy about, it was the Dallas Cowboys. Whenever we went there during the fall on Sundays, the TV was always on the Cowboys’ game. ALWAYS. She was very much into the Cowboys, yelling and cheering when they did good and screaming and booing when they did bad. When I was 7 years old, it amused me more than anything else, but when I turned 9 years old, after watching everyone get excited about Dallas winning the Super Bowl (and watching the game myself), I started getting more than just amused. I started getting kind of interested in the sport. I had liked baseball more than any other sport, but in 1978, that slowly began to change.

On the way home from Dyess Elementary School, I was walking with a friend of mine named Ronald Hernendez (I believe). He was Hispanic, the only one in the 4th grade at that time, and he had some cards in his hand. We stopped at a trash can, and he was about to throw the cards in it when I asked him what did he have in his hand. “Football cards”, he replied. “Do you want them?” “Sure, I’ll take them.” And thus began one of my hobbies- football card collecting. I had no idea what the stats meant on back of the cards, but I was willing to learn. And thus ended was my collecting of baseball cards- I had a few but I gave them to my next-door neighbor when I moved away. I probably should’ve kept those cards, considering their worth today. Anyway, I started out with about 40-50 football cards, and the only players I recognized were Robert Newhouse of the Cowboys and Ken Stabler of the Raiders. The first seed had been planted.

We went to go see Aunt Thelma one summer day in ’78, and I went and sat in a bedroom since Cory and Lisa weren’t there. I looked around and there was a giant Cowboys poster on the wall, and she had a bunch of football magazines and Cowboys’ magazines on a shelf. I sat there, and since I loved to read, picked up a magazine and started reading it. I’d read until it was time to leave, and I would put the magazine back up, wanting to finish it, but having to wait another time. It got so that every time we went to see her, I’d go in that room, get a magazine, and start reading it. Slowly, but surely, I started understanding the sport of football and why the Cowboys were so popular. Winning the Super Bowl earlier that year obviously helped the Cowboys. Just from reading the magazines and studying the poster on the wall, I learned who the players were. From Roger Staubach to Tony Dorsett to Drew Pearson to Charlie Waters, I learned about everyone who was playing for the Cowboys at the time. Then one day, Aunt Thelma asked me if I wanted the old poster and some of the older magazines. (She wanted to make room for the new ones.) I said, “Yes!” And the second seed had been planted.

A little bit before the first day of school, Momma took me to Brookshire’s when it was on Mobberly Ave. Usually I’d want a comic book or a candy bar, but this time I didn’t want either one. I went to the magazine rack and picked out a football magazine and asked her if I could buy it. Roger Staubach was on the cover as I recall, and it was mildly surprising that my mom let me buy the magazine if only it was because it wasn’t a comic book (which she didn’t really care for). I remember taking it home and reading it from front to back, then cutting pictures out from it to glue on paper. (I called myself making my own football book.) Then later on, maybe a couple of weeks later, at that same Brookshire’s, I discovered that they sold football cards wrapped up with the piece of gum. And I started buying those- I never chewed the gum; I’d throw it away or give it to my sister, and I’d keep the real treasure, the football cards. The third seed had been planted.

And so it came to pass that when we had PE at school, the boys would play football and the girls would play kickball. It would be my 5th grade class vs. the other 5th grade class (Miss Stone’s class vs. Mr. Taylor’s class), and as I would discover and learn, the rivalry was fierce. I had a vague idea of how the sport was played, but at least I knew what I was doing and what the rules were. We had a couple of games before the Mustangs officially had their tryouts and games, and in the first game, our class won, 14-7. I didn’t do anything except go out for passes on offense, and cover the one person the other team was not going to throw the ball to, and it was boring. I didn’t even touch the football, and I remembered why I didn’t like football before.

However, in the 2nd game, things changed for all-time. We were losing 7-0, and nobody on our team was catching the ball. Our QB, Robert Taylor, was frustrated and seemed to about to give up throwing it period, when Roy (Craine), who I didn’t know at the time since this was very early in the school year, told Robert, ”Why not throw it to him?” (Which was me) “He’s open all the time.” Robert shook his head ok, and although I wanted to do more than run up and down the field, I was a little apprehensive about having the ball thrown to me. But Robert said, “Hut!”, and I took off running down the field. Nobody was covering me. Robert watched me all the way, then let loose a deep pass. I was thinking, Oh Lord, let me catch this. It seemed to take forever to come down, with two of Mr. Taylor’s students bearing down on me, but when it did, it hit me in the hands, I juggled it, and I fell down backwards with the catch. My team went crazy- it wasn’t a touchdown, I had fell and was touched down, but it was a long pass and catch. Even the girls had turned and looked and were cheering me. I thought, Whoa, this is pretty cool. On the very next play, things got a LOT more COOLER. On what was basically a slant, I scored the first touchdown of my life. This time I caught the pass cleanly, sliding on my knees even, and soaked in even louder cheers. We went on to win that game 28-7, and I had caught four passes in all. The seed had sprouted leaves and fruit- that being my love for football.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Fall 1978 - Jodie McClure Elementary

Welcome to Jodie McClure - Fall 1978

On August 28, 1978, my sister and I attended Jodie McClure Elementary for the first time. This would only be my sister’s second school she had attended up to this point; this would be my fourth. We had no idea what to expect, other than we didn’t know anybody that was going to school there, except for our next door neighbor, Tony. Tony would also be going to the 2nd grade along with my sister, but Poinsettia was still scared of just about everything that had to do with Jodie McClure, and she was not looking forward to going at all. Myself, I had been the new kid too many times to be afraid, but I still was apprehensive about what to expect.  At least the school was right down the street from my house; I could walk there with my eyes closed. However, my momma and daddy both took us to school that first day, and so as we entered the building, we were shown where each grade level’s classes were, and I took a deep breath and said to myself, Here we go again.

We went to Poinsettia’s class first, and we met Poinsettia’s teacher, Mrs. Elder. She was a large, heavy-set black woman who looked like she didn’t play not at all with little kids, and Poinsettia almost had a panic attack when she saw her. But Mrs. Elder, although she really didn’t play when it came to behavior and learning, would turn out to be one of the nicest people we’d ever meet, and Poinsettia would enjoy going to her class and grew to be one of Mrs. Elder’s favorite students.

Then we went to my classroom, which was on the opposite end of the school. The 4th and 5th grade classrooms were in that hallway, and my class was the last classroom on the right. My teacher turned out to be someone who was in their very first year of teaching. So, as it turned out, my teacher and I, along with a couple of other kids, were new to Jodie McClure. My teacher’s name was Miss Stone, who turned out to be the chief of police’s daughter. She was young and pretty, and really looked anything but mean. But as I and my classmates would learn as the year progressed, Miss Stone might look petite and nice, but she could be tough and mean when she had to be.

I liked Miss Stone from the very first day of school. One thing she did was let me, a boy named Douglas Coats, and another boy named Willie Harper, know that we were all new and that we had that in common if nothing else. I looked around the classroom and saw most kids were talking to one another, and that they obviously had known one another for quite some time. I sat in the desk closest to the door, to the far right in a row; Doug sat in the desk next to me, and Willie sat right behind me. That first day of school, I talked mostly to Doug, and just mainly kept to myself.

The second day of school, Miss Stone moved us around. Doug and Willie got moved, but I kept my desk. In front of me, a girl turned around and introduced herself to me. Her name was Tammy. Tammy Allen. We started off being friends at Jodie, talking to one another everyday when she sat in front of me, we would attend the same church later on, go to LHS together, and we’ve been friends ever since. She was the first person who wasn’t new like me who I became friends with. We worked together and laughed together until Miss Stone moved her to the front of the classroom, which really didn’t make me too happy. Then right behind me sat Rhonda Jackson. Rhonda and I would be friends all the way through Jodie, Judson, LHS, Kilgore College, and SFA, but we started out at Jodie also as friends who talked everyday because we sat in front of/behind each other. Rhonda was (and still is) cute back then, and she was not conceited about it at all. Plus, she was very athletic. She could probably kick the ball further than I could back then. Next to her sat Kimberly Harris. Kimberly was a short, very petite girl, who used to call herself picking on me almost everyday, but it was done good-naturedly, and I’d pick on her right back. The way we acted back then, you’d have thought we liked each other, which might have been true. But I never found out for sure. Kim moved away after our freshman year in high school, and by that time, we had gone in separate directions.  Next to me (for a short time anyway) sat Marion Burton. Marion was probably my best friend in the 5th grade, although Tammy and Rhonda and a couple of others who I haven’t mentioned yet were also close to me back then. Marion was funny, down-to-Earth, and pretty smart. We used to call one another “buddy” or “buddy-ro” all the time, and anytime we had to do things which required partners, he was always my first choice. I kind of lost track of Marion when he went to Foster, and when we entered LHS, he was somewhat different from the person I knew at Jodie McClure. Still, he was a cool guy and someone I really enjoyed being friends with. Another classmate of mine whom I became close to at Jodie was Roosevelt “Roy” Craine. Roy and I became friends rather quickly, and he and I usually would walk home from school together, along with his best friend who was in the other 5th grade class taught by Mr. Taylor, a guy named Tracy George. One thing we all learned about one other was our love for sports, mainly football, and we’d have football games, kickball, and later basketball games in my front and backyard nearly 2 or 3 times a week. Roy, Tracy, and I have stayed friends to this day, and I really hope we can get together someday and play a basketball game just for old times’ sake.

Other classmates who were in my fifth grade class and who I became friends with as the year went by included Robert Taylor, Charlie Templeton, Daphne Thompson, LaShanda Robertson, Shelby Murphy, Chris Edwards, Tony Reardon, Sherry Mapps, Marty Rives, and Kelly Herron. In the other 5th grade class, although our classes were in competition with one another, I became friends with Danny Polk, Tracy George, Wytaine Smith, Sheryl Perry, Bridget Wallace, Evelyn Johnson, Renee Owens, Keithen Andrews, Donald Jones, Greg Patton, Ozella Johnson, Tracy Buchanan, Shelia Deutsch, Regina Davis, and Dee Dee Brewer to name a few. And of course, there were a couple of classmates who I just didn’t get along with for whatever reason. More on them later.

When I look back on my 5th grade year, the number one thing which amazes me is how quickly I made friends with my classmates and without sounding conceited, how popular I was with my classmates in such a short period of time. I say this because I was (and kinda still am) a naturally shy person, and I didn’t approach anyone, they all approached me and wanted to get to know me, probably because I was a new black kid. I remember drawing pictures of super-heroes and football players when I didn’t have nothing else to do, and everyone was impressed with how well I could draw. I can remember all the guys wanting me to draw pictures for them to put in their binders, mostly football pictures. I can also remember how impressed they were at the grades I was making, which were mostly A’s and a few B’s. Miss Stone would let me go around and help some of the classmates who needed help, and not only was it greatly appreciated, but it really seemed to help those who needed it. I really think my classmates liked me more than I thought for that, and it showed where before the end of the month of September, my classmates nominated me for class president.

I was truly surprised at the nomination, and it actually came down to me and Kelly as to whom would win the title of president. The loser would automatically become the vice-president. I lost by one vote, and it’s funny now, but the one vote I lost by was the one I cast for…Kelly. I felt like she deserved to be president more so than I did because she had been at Jodie McClure since kindergarten, and she was smart and nice and friendly, and just a decent person. Of course, most of my classmates/friends didn’t see it that way, and they were mad at me for not voting for myself. But it didn’t really bother me one way or the other, and I’d rather Kelly won anyway. As it turned out, a couple of weeks after the election, Kelly came up and told me she and her family was moving to another town and that in the order of succession, I was going to become the class president. I just stood there in shock and then I wished her well.

Next time: Part 2

Jodie McClure Elementary School, 2008