Saturday, February 24, 2007

I Touched A Ford ...

What did the Texas State Fair in Dallas, President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the tip of my right index finger have to do with this story?

In 1953, Ms. Edna Brooks, who for several years directed the South Park High School orchestra in Beaumont, scheduled the orchestra to play at the Cotton Bowl during the State Fair. Ms. Brooks was a very successful music teacher. She was an outstanding violinist in her own right and played for years with the Beaumont Symphony Orchestra. She completed her distinguished musical career with years of service on the music faculty at Lamar University.

Anyway, on this particular trip to the State Fair in 1953, we were slated to play two concerts. When were not in concert, we had “free time” to run around the midway and ride the rides. Great fun.

One day while we were there, word circulated that President Dwight D. Eisenhower would be making a whistle stop at the fairgrounds. This meant that the presidential train would stop and the president would make a brief speech from the train’s rear observation platform.

When time came for the president to make his appearance I was not there. Two reasons kept me from going to see the president. I was in a long line to ride one of the more exciting attractions on the midway. I did not want to lose my place in line. Also, I was just too tired to walk across the fairgrounds to where the railroad spur and the train were located. I missed seeing President Eisenhower even though he was within a relatively short distance from me. As the years passed I regretted my not making that effort to see the president.

Now fast forward to 1977. By this time I was married and had two children. We lived in Big Spring, Texas. One day, news reported that President Gerald Ford was going to give a press conference at the Big Spring airport. This meant that he would not be going into town. Rather his plane would land and he would give his speech right there on the airport tarmac.

I recalled my frustration over not going to see Eisenhower back in 1953. So this time I was determined to go out to the airport and see Gerald Ford. I did not want to pass up another opportunity to see a president of the United States in person.

Imagine my chagrin upon arriving at the airport to see hundreds of people already there waiting to see the president. I became all the more determined to see the president and to shake his hand. We were told that he would make his way along the fence line to shake hands with the crowd. So I began to twist, squirm and squeeze my way through the crowd and toward the fence. But when the president arrived, I still was about four rows deep in the crowd from the fence.

Sure enough, there came the president making his way along the fence line shaking every hand he could reach. There was no way I could possibly get any closer to the fence so I crammed my right arm through the three rows of people ahead of me until my hand was up to the fence. As President Ford passed by, he shook the tip of my index finger. He never saw me but I can say that we touched.

And now you know how determination born in Dallas by not going to see President Eisenhower at the State Fair in 1953, spurred me into action in 1977 when I went to the Big Spring airport and experienced the shaking of my index finger by President Gerald Ford.

I was satisfied.

Winston Hamby

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Smoke Gets In Your Nose ... ??

What did two garden hoses, some old Christmas trees and a vacant field have to do with a sneaky stunt that transpired in 1943? I’ll start at the beginning.

My family moved from Nederland to Beaumont in 1940. We moved into a new FHA house located at 1375 Pipkin Street in South Park. The Robert Birch family moved into the house next door. Keep this information in mind because Ms. Birch and my mother play an important role in the forthcoming episode.

There was a vacant field extending from behind the Birch’s house all the way down to Avenue A. One day my mother saw a young boy about my age walking around in that field. She encouraged me to go out and meet him so I went out and introduced myself. His name was David Mathews. David was catching grasshoppers and he showed me how to catch them. Thus a new friendship was formed. Soon another boy moved into the neighborhood. His name was Terry Garrison. Now we had a threesome of 8-year old boys that loved to play in that vacant field.

We enjoyed making trails through the grass. Eventually the grass grew so tall that when we crawled through the trails on our hands and knees, no one could see us. It was great to have all that space to pretend we were wild animals in the jungle, play hide-and-go-seek or whatever. But then one day some men came and mowed the field. When they finished there was just an expanse of cut grass. Our jungle was no more. After a few days the grass dried out and turned brown.

Then it occurred to us that we could build a clubhouse in the field using the dead grass. Also, there were some old dried out Christmas trees that had been discarded nearby. We used the Christmas trees as a foundation, built grass walls and made a thatched roof with branches from our back yard hedge. We ended up with a fairly decent clubhouse. There wasn’t room to stand but we could crawl in and there was plenty of space to sit and hold our meetings. However a problem arose in that we had nothing to meet about so our meetings soon grew boring.

One afternoon we crawled into our clubhouse for a meeting. Terry had in his possession a package of Lucky Strike cigarettes, which he had brought from his house. We each placed a cigarette in our mouths. We had no matches so we just sat there talking with those cigarettes dangling from our lips. We felt pretty sophisticated.

Finally we voted and it was decided that I should go home and get some matches so I did. Now we were in the clubhouse with cigarettes and matches. We lit up. There was a lot of hacking and spitting as our young bodies rebelled against the newly introduced poison. Someone dropped a burning cigarette onto a dried out Christmas tree. A fire ensued. In fact, the fire grew pretty fast. We scrambled out of the clubhouse. I ran home and told my mother that somehow the vacant lot had caught on fire. She and Ms. Birch turned on water hoses to extinguish the blazing grass.

My dad warmed up my backside when he got home later that day. I learned that David and Terry also received their just rewards.

But at least now you know what a couple of garden hoses, a few old Christmas trees and a vacant field had to do with a sneaky stunt that went awry in 1943. And now you know the story of how our clubhouse went up in smoke.

Winston Hamby --
The Beaumont Enterprise
February 10, 2007

Friday, February 02, 2007

Cool, Cool Water ...

Memories of Village Creek have been floating around in my mind for several weeks. I believe this is because Village Creek was always one of my favorite places to go.
Fishing in the creek was good. Swimming was good if you were extremely careful. There were strong currents and deep holes you had to avoid. But you could really wake up when you dipped down into that ice-cold water.

Our family enjoyed fishing and swimming out at Willard’s Lake. This lake was sort of a wide place in the creek that made for good fishing and camping. There was a nice sandbar that extended for quite a ways. There was a clubhouse where you could buy hamburgers and soda pop.

One day when I was an older teenager I went out to Willard’s Lake. I liked to rent a row boat and paddle around out in the lake. On this particular day I watched an older gentleman fishing in one of the deep holes just off the creek bank. He was using a cane pole and a little perch hook. Suddenly his line tightened up and his pole bowed to almost a 90-degree angle. The old angler held on for a good fifteen minutes. Finally, he was able to work his catch into shallow water. I waded out with a net and help him catch the fish. It was an eighteen-pound catfish. Caught with a perch hook. I still marvel when I think of that.

Fast-forward to the late 1980s. I was one of the ministers on staff with the Ridgewood church of Christ. One of our other ministers was a Cherokee Indian named Famous Whitewater Byers. One day Famous took our Adult Singles Group from the church on a canoe trip down Village Creek. He invited Tom McLeod, who was another minister on staff and me to go along.

We rented eleven canoes. Tom was my partner. In a two-person canoe one sits in the middle and paddles while the second person sits in the rear and steers the craft. The paddle serves as a rudder. I had never been in a canoe before. But I had a Private Flying License so at least I understood the rudder concepts. Soon I realized that Tom did not grasp the rudder concepts. I was paddling from the middle. Tom was steering. We went back and forth across the creek banging into the banks and trees and logs. Finally, we traded spots. I began to steer and did OK. However, we had nine miles to go. So Tom and I traded out several times. The one steering could rest while the other paddled.

Anyway, I thought it was pretty neat to have a Cherokee Indian lead our way. Famous and his wife, Carol, were in the lead canoe. It was an exciting trip. We were trying to have the canoes in a single file. But most were having trouble steering so we were all over the place.

One of the most interesting parts of that excursion was when our Indian capsized his canoe. He got dumped out into that ice-cold water. Of course he and Carol had on life jackets but the water was still just as cold. They “whooped” and “hollered.” Famous and Carol capsized three times during the course of those nine miles. No one else capsized. We teased Famous about that for a long while. That was more than fifteen years ago. I called Famous to see if he would object to my sharing this story. Famous just laughed and said, “Ugh … write it.”

If you’ve never been canoeing on Village Creek, give it a try. Just be sure to paddle your own canoe.

Winston Hamby
The Beaumont Enterprise
February 3, 2007