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I started school in Wienert, Texas, Haskell County. Mrs Cowan taught six or seven grades in one classroom. I learned my ABCs and could cipher pretty good by the time I reached second grade. When you pick cotton, you learn to keep your weights. Not that you don't trust the man who hired you, there was just something prideful about marking those numbers in your book. I attended school for a while in Paint Creek, home of Gov. Rick Perry. I didn't know him but I am sure my grandparents and parents would have known his father who was in politics for years.
Paint Creek was my first time to play in a band, a rhythm band. Ever seen one? The teacher plays the piano and the band members keep time with cymbals, sticks, blocks of wood and even a drum. We were supposed to have uniforms for a recital and when I told my mother she said we didn't have the money for things like that. I told the teacher and she wasn't going to let me play my sticks unless I came up with one. Back to Mom who sat down and wrote a note to that teacher that almost burned my hands when I carried it back next day. I played in the recital albeit in the back row. Loud too, since members of my family couldn't see me.
Summer of 1945. My great-grandmother, "Granny Owens", My Granddad, Mama Willie, Sisters Gail and Rexie and cousin Harold Lynn DeLong who was later adopted by my aunt's second husband and changed his name to Mike Farris. The dog hiding back there is a fox terrier named Lady.
Back in Wienert, I skipped third grade, finished fourth and was promoted to fifth. We moved to Amarillo where those folks had not adopted the twelve year system and I was put back in fourth grade. I was not a happy camper. The lessons were a repeat of what I had accomplished the year before and one balmy day, I finished an assignment and laid my head on my desk. Next thing I know the teacher had me by my ear, out of my seat and on the way to the principals office. Before we arrived, I gave her a pretty fair cussing and ran out of the school. I was wondering what kind of tale I would tell mother but when I did she told me not to worry, we were moving to Floydada, Texas the next day. She picked up my report card, personal belongings and left the teacher with something to remember her by.
Floydada was my kind of town. I was put back in fifth grade, joined a gang and made friends that last to this day. My dad was driving a truck, Mother found work at the local Red & White grocery which left us kids with time on our hands. We lived in two houses in Floydada, the first a rooming house upstairs apartment. Dad had purchased a number three wash tub full of bootleg beer and put it under my bed. Sometime during the night, the beer started exploding, overflowed down to the owner's bed. We were out at first light.
Midterm my freshman year, we moved to Odessa right in the big middle of the oil boom. That was an education. A couple of friends and I would go to the parking lot of a big beer joint on West Second. There we would be entertained by oilfield roughnecks trying to kill each other. It didn't last, we moved again and I finished the last six weeks of my freshman year in the little Union Consolidated School, Dawson County. We lived with my paternal grandparents for a while. Grandad operated a dairy and farmed half of a section. We raised feed mostly for the dairy cattle and I learned to fly that summer. I have already written about that experience so I won't bore you again. We moved in to town, Lamesa, Texas, about the time I started my Sophomore year. Almost made a full term and would have if mother and daddy had not divorced. I was fourteen in April 1948 and took off on my own to live with my maternal grandparents in Weatherford, Texas. I finished the last six weeks at good Old Weatherford High.
I worked at anything that paid. Popcorn boy at the Texas Theater, picked peaches for Texas Fruit Growers, filling stations, built fence for the Sheriff's Posse and finally landed a job that was half decent, projectionist. At least it was inside work.... most of the time. Part of my job was changing the marquee and helping the boss put up 24 sheets, those big billboard size ads. The training served me well in later years, especially in the army. I worked for CH Jones, a man from Oklahoma who finally realized his dream of owning all the theaters in town. He had started with a small third run house, The Plaza, and outlasted the Long Theater chain which owned the first run Palace and second run Texan. He also built a beautiful drive in theater out west of town that had the best concession stand in West Texas. After I was promoted to full time projectionist, I was given the booth at the Texan. It was pretty run down, old Motiograph Machines, low intensity lamps. On my own time and during the show, I cleaned, painted, repaired the machines and made a showcase out of the booth. One day, CH came by to tell me he was moving me to the Palace and I considered this a promotion. I did the same thing with this booth and then I was moved to the Plaza. Yep same thing. By the time I moved to the Drive in, it dawned on me that CH was taking advantage of the fact that I liked to make a booth shines and run like a well oiled clock. We had words, I quit. A few days later he called, offered me a raise and choice of booths. I chose the drive in where my girl friend worked in concessions. We had words over that. He didn't believe in fraternizing and I was fired. This firing and hiring occurred ten times as I recall before I moved back to Lamesa in 1952 to live with my dad and his new bride for a while. First day in town, I was employed by Furr Foods, managed by Holly Bird. He sent me to checker school in Lubbock and when I completed that course I had my own stand and a big National Cash Register. I was also in charge of two sections of canned goods and the interpreter for the Mexican farm workers. Later on, I worked for the local theater chain at night, and did a little bootlegging. Lamesa was dry but Big Springs and Pinkies Liquor Store was only 45 minutes away. I could buy a case of beer for $2.90 and sell it for $12.00. I never carried more than seven or eight cases as the added weight might pique the interest of the Highway Patrol. I delivered it to regular customers so I didn't have people coming to the house at all hours. I felt like I was just providing a service. Besides, fifty bucks I made in one night was more than I made for 52 hours at Furr's.
I was doing pretty well until my stepmother burned the cardboard box that contained all my worldly treasures including my high school annual and a pair of precision roller skates. Did I mention I also worked as a floor manager for a traveling roller rink one summer. Part of my pay was those roller skates. Needle bearings in lieu of the ball bearing in the cheap Chicago skates. I threw a hissy fit and she threw me out. Back to Weatherford in late 1952 where I got a job with Williamson-Dickie in the mail room and driving Mr. Williamson to court every day. Some workers had tried to organize a union and he fired the lot. They filed a suit, thus the trip to the judge every weekday morning and back in the afternoon. Mr. Jones hired me to run the Drive in again so I had two jobs. I thought I was making all the money in the world until Don Cox dropped by one Sunday afternoon, showed me a check stub for more money for 40 hours than I was making for 90! Mr. Jones was in the concession stand, I quit, Don and I left for San Francisco the next Friday night. We arrived in South City early Monday, I had a job at Colorado Fuel and Iron by that afternoon and went to work making galvanized wire, second shift on Tuesday.
Even the Garden of Eden turned sour after a while and the wire business slowed down. Before I was laid off, I found a job with Trans World Airlines running the fueling operation on second and third shift. I was also playing in a combo at the time when I could get off. I worked seven days a week at TWA, made more money than Bim Gump. Can you imagine a twenty year old kid walking around with two or three hundred in cash in his pockets, a car paid for, a new guitar.. paid for? Good looking clothes and a ducktail haircut, that was me. I had met a girl who told me at first she was divorced. Turned out she was still married to a guy who was in San Quentin. Extremely jealous type and he asked a couple of his friends on the outside to fit me for a pair of cement Florshiems. The gal told me about it and I thought it best I return to safer ground in Texas.
Back to Weatherford in December 1953. I had some money saved but some high living took care of that. I also started dating my first wife, Dawn McDavid. Her father, Bill, was a successful Oldsmobile dealer. She was still in high school, a senior, when I joined the Army, January 4, 1954. (You don't forget dates like that.) I married her in 1954 and that union produced Andrea, Alicia, David and Dianne. David died the day after his seventeenth birthday, a day which stills haunt me. The girls are all alive and well. Andrea and Alicia are both grandmothers, Dianne has a little girl and twin boys.
I was discharged December 21, 1956 after an eighteen month tour in Germany. I had a job with Raytheon teaching radar back at Fort Bliss but father in law Bill made me an offer I couldn't refuse. He wanted me to learn the automobile business in Houston. In January, I was the youngest service manager of the largest Oldsmobile dealership in the US.
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