Saturday, October 27, 2007

Almost Isn't ... But It Was, Barely ...

The pitcher released the ball. I made contact and saw the ball bouncing out to the shortstop. I took off running to first base. The shortstop bobbled the ball. Maybe I would make it to first base on an error. But that was not to be. The ball slammed into the first baseman’s glove just as I stepped on the base. The umpire called me out and rightfully so. Yes, I learned that day that in baseball, and perhaps in life, being close is not always good enough. I was fifteen years old at the time and was playing outfield with Beaumont Motor Company’s summer league team. We were city champions in 1951. This was a playoff game with a team from Houston. We lost 4 to 0.

The next time I was up to bat, the pitcher ran the count to three balls and two strikes. I had swung at none of those pitches. It was as though I was just standing there watching the pitcher work. Then came the next pitch. It was a fast ball. There was no time to think. It appeared to be a little low so I did not swing. What would the umpire call? He barked, “Take y’er base.” A walk is as good as a single even though I had done nothing but stand there. Anyway I was proud to be on first base.

I had played many baseball games and had reached first base numerous times. But this time, first base was special because the game was being played in Stuart Stadium out on Ave. A., in South Park. This stadium held a special place in my heart.

I was ten years old when I first sat in the stands at Stuart Stadium. My dad took me there to see the Ringling Brothers Circus. It was the first circus I ever saw and also the grandest I have ever seen. This was a spectacular three-ring production that I’ll always remember. My favorite vision that day was not the men and women on the flying trapeze although they were exciting. It was not the lion tamer with his daring adventures inside a cage with lions and tigers. No, the thing that impressed me most was when a small automobile came speeding into the middle of the center ring and stopped. The door opened and fifteen clowns came peeling out one at a time. My ten year old brain thought that was the most stupendous thing ever.

Later, when I was fourteen, my first job was at stadium selling “ICE COLD SODA WATER” at the Beaumont Exporters’ home games. I actually got to meet such baseball greats as Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Gil McDougald, Stan Musial, Roy Capanella, Jackie Robinson and Rogers Hornsby. I delivered cokes to them in the clubhouse when the New York Yankees, Brooklyn Dodgers, or the Saint Louis Cardinals passed through town in pre-season playing exhibition games. I recall one game where the Dodgers beat the Exporters 22 to 2. Another time, I saw the Exporters beat the Yankees by a score of 4 to 1. McDougald played 3rd base for the Exporters during that game. Later, the Yankees recruited him to play second base for them which he did successfully for ten seasons.

Recently I was in Beaumont and visited the Stadium Shopping Center. I stood there looking at the home plate plaque that is embedded in the sidewalk. I thought of all those lions, clowns, cokes, baseball players … but most of all I was happy that I did not strike out that day at Stuart Stadium with the count at three balls and two strikes.

That last pitch was close but not close enough …

Winston Hamby
The Beaumont Enterprise

Saturday, October 20, 2007

A Crossing of the Bar ?

My wife and I moved to Houston in 1994. We both had new jobs and soon were settled into our new community
One day, my brother-in-law called from Fort Worth. He and his wife and three kids were planning a trip to Galveston during the coming weekend. They were hoping to stopover and spend that Friday night with us. Also, they wanted me and my wife to accompany them to Galveston beach on that Saturday. This was fine with us and we agreed to the plan.

Early on that Friday evening, I received a phone call from the Education Director at my church. He asked me to substitute teach in one of the Sunday morning adult classes. I responded that I didn’t know when I would have time to study the lesson because we had company coming in for the weekend. He pleaded so finally I agreed. He told me that the class was studying Habbakuk, the minor prophet in the Old Testament.

Saturday morning, we all loaded up in my brother-in-law’s van and headed to Galveston. After eating lunch, we parked the van alongside the seawall. They all proceeded down to the beach. I stayed in the van to study my Sunday morning lesson.
Soon, it became too hot to sit in the van. I didn’t want to run the motor with the air-conditioner and waste gasoline. So, I took my Bible and a couple of reference books and walked across the street to a Mexican restaurant. It was about 2 o’clock in the afternoon and no customers were in the place. I asked the manager if I could sit at one of the tables and do some reading. He replied that he could not allow me to block one of the tables. Then, as an afterthought, he suggested, “Now, you can sit at the bar if you like.” So I sat on a bar stool at the bar and opened my Bible and reference books and began to study. I was the only “patron” sitting at the bar.
The bartender came over and asked, “What’cha drinking?” I replied that I did not drink that I just needed some study space. He looked at the books and said, “Is that a Bible?” I told him that indeed it was a Bible and that I was scheduled to teach a class on the upcoming Sunday.

He said, “No one has ever read a Bible at the bar before. What are you going to teach about?” I said that I was going to teach from the Old Testament about Habbakuk. He asked, “Habba who?” I explained, “Habbakuk, the minor prophet.” “How young was he?” asked the bartender. Again I explained that he was an older man but did not write a lengthy book so he was called, “minor,” but that his message was “major.” The bartender stared at me for a few moments then went on to other things.

Soon a man sat at the bar. He sipped on his drink and asked me, “Is that a Bible?” I acknowledged that it was and that I was studying about Habbakuk. The man asked, “Wasn’t he that Hun”? I explained to the man about the minor prophets.
A few minutes later another patron stopped and asked, “How come you’re reading a Bible at a bar?” I told him my story of how this came to be. He replied, “Well, it looks odd. A bar and a Bible just don’t look right.” I agreed and went on with my studying.

Isn’t it ironic that I spurred more Bible discussion at the bar than I did in my Sunday morning class?

There’s a lesson in there somewhere …

Winston Hamby

Friday, October 12, 2007

Girls 1; Boys 0

Margaret Ann lived next door to me in Beaumont during the 1940s. She was a member in good standing of the Pipkin Street gang. Our gang included about a dozen or so guys and gals all within three years of each other in age. Margaret Ann was the oldest girl and assumed leadership of the “girl portion” of the gang. By the same token, I was the oldest boy thus leader of the “boy group.” This arrangement worked fine on a day-to-day basis.

However, this arrangement did not work so fine if and when there should arise any dissension among the troops. Particularly, dissension between the girls and the boys. This rarely happened but it did on occasion raise its ugly head.

As I recall, the girls got mad at us guys one afternoon because we threw mud at them. It was always fun throwing mud at the girls because we were very accurate with our aims. The girls, on the other hand, were not so accurate. They would throw back at us guys. But the girls couldn’t throw. Girls just were not built to throw mud. And when the boys would laugh at them, they would only get madder. And finally they would turn in a huff and walk away. Probably they retreated to the safety of their homes to play with their dolls or sharpen their skills at the game of jacks. When it came to playing jacks, those girls were unsurpassed.

Anyway, for whatever reason, the girls were mad. So we guys were hanging out over at Jackie Garretson’s house playing with our molding clay. In a few minutes, I heard my dad calling me. He wanted me to come home. I was curious as to what he wanted so I ran home to meet him.

Dad invited me into the house and then into the bedroom. I began to wonder about the situation because usually he did not invite me into the bedroom unless I was in trouble. Dad asked me why I put mud on Ned’s army helmet? Of course I did not know what he was talking about and said so. Dad came back with, “You know what you did and now you’re not telling me the truth.” He leaned me over his knee and gave my backside a good warming up.

I still did not know why this was happening but began to get an idea. You see, Ned was Margaret Ann’s little brother. He was too young to be in the Pipkin Street gang but we liked him. He was sort of like a baby brother to all of us. One of Ned’s favorite toys was a full-sized plastic army helmet. Ned would wear this helmet and march up and down the sidewalk like a true soldier.

Margaret Ann and her group of girls had put mud on Ned’s helmet. Then she had gone over to my house and showed my dad the helmet saying, “Look at what Winston did to Ned’s army helmet.”

In one swift maneuver, the girls had gotten back at the guys … not because they learned to throw mud. But rather because they learned to manipulate. I believe that all girls are born with special manipulation talents. We males just have to grin and bear it. From our youth up.

Years later I told my dad that the girls had tricked him into giving me that spanking. His reply was, “Well, you probably got away with a lot of things that you didn’t get a spanking for so just apply that spanking to one of those other times.

Gangs were fun in those days even if we didn’t win all our battles …

Winston Hamby
The Beaumont Enterprise

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Confession Is Good For The Soul ...

I am interested in what is good for my soul and for your soul. I think you share those interests. An old Scottish proverb says, “Open confession is good for the soul.”

Remember that in previous columns, I have confessed to numerous activities of my youth. There was the time as a teenager that I drag raced a cop on Pearl Street in downtown Beaumont. There was that day in the summer of 1952, when I wore a gorilla costume around the sidewalks of downtown Beaumont. I was an usher at the Jefferson theatre and was assisting in promotional activities of the classic movie King Kong. There was a King Kong advertisement on my back but not on my front. It was fun scaring little kids until some parent with no sense of humor reported me to theatre management.

As you can see from the foregoing I have tended to the good of my soul regularly by confessing things to you that most people have never known about me for over half a century. My soul feels well-tended.

But what about the good of your soul? If you lived in Beaumont and or Jefferson County as a teenager during the 1950s, I am persuaded there are a few things that you should confess. Here are some suggestions to help you get started.

I would love to know who embedded that FOR SALE sign in the South Park High School front campus. I am pretty sure the deed was done by a Beaumont High School Royal Purple. Make that several Royal Purples. The sign was too big for just one person to handle. Why is it likely that Purples pulled off that marvelous stunt? Because it took place the night before our annual Greenie-Purple football game. Stuff like that always happened during the week of our football game. South Park and Beaumont High enjoyed a ferocious rivalry. I just know that many of you reading this column have confessions to make about things that happened in those days.

Someone reading this may know who painted “Purples” in purple paint on the grey wall of Greenie Stadium fence. It was reasonably neat in appearance. The lettering was evenly aligned. Whoever did that took more than just a few minutes to accomplish the task. Please include the following tidbits of information in your confession: What time of night did this take place, how long did it take to do the job, and how did you avoid being detected?

And who pulled that switch during the halftime show causing nearly half of the stadium lights to turn off? Most considered it to be an “inside job” but I always wondered. After all, it was during a Greenie-Purple football game. C’mon, come clean. Your soul is beckoning to you.

Maybe you can shed light on who painted “Yea Purples” on several of the SPHS school buses. And don’t try to cast blame on any other school. The signature speaks for itself.
How did the cow paddies get on the front steps of the high school building? I am certain of this one thing. No cow was ever on our front steps.

And does anyone know who carried Miss Eppie Quicksall’s little Crosley car up those same steps of the high school building and left it there on the porch? Wasn’t it coach Manning who drove it gently back down to earth?

Ok. Here’s the thing. How would you like to share your confessions of yesteryear? This inquiry is not limited to Purples and Greenies. If you are a French High Buffalo, Hebert High Panther, Charlton-Pollard Bulldog, St. Anthony Bulldog … well, I won’t try to list all of the schools in Jefferson County. If you have a confession to make then you know who you are.

Someday, I may even get around to telling you who threw that carton of eggs onto the entrance sidewalk of Beaumont High School. I may have to change my name to protect the guilty.

Do you not agree that the deeds of our school days are precious? Share those deeds, even if it means confessing to a thing or two. Remember the Scottish Proverb and do what is good for your soul.

Winston Hamby
The Beaumont Enterprise

The Cat-Walk Ushers ...

My first column in the Beaumont Enterprise was published November 28, 2004. That column told of my being an usher at the Jefferson Theatre back in 1952. Therein were some stories that will not be repeated here. If you would like to have a copy of that article, drop me an e-mail and I will send one to you.

The column ended with this paragraph, “A few months later, another usher and I got fired for climbing on the catwalks backstage and trying to stuff trash paper into the organ pipes. But that’s another story for another time.”

Enter Richard. I’ll tell you later why I am not using his real name. He came to work as another usher and we happened to end up working the same shifts on the same days. We grew to be good friends. Richard was a Beaumont High School Royal Purple and I was a South Park High School Greenie. The two schools experienced a ferocious and exciting rivalry. Richard and I both thought that it was pretty neat that a Purple and a Greenie were working together on the same job.

We went hunting, fishing, and camping together. We teamed up and mowed each others’ lawns (our parents loved us). The thing that seemed to be our shortcoming is that when we were together, we had a knack for getting into trouble. Individually, we were good and productive employees. But when we teamed up, we eased into mischievous situations. For example, we might go into the men’s room at the theatre and place “out of order” signs on some of the stall doors. At times, this tended to cause a little traffic jam.

Anyway, one night Richard and I happened to be backstage during intermission. Al Sacker, the organist played during this time. He would sit at the organ in the orchestra pit and an elevator would lift him and that beautiful instrument up almost to stage level. There were brilliant spotlights trained on him. Usually he wore a white suit covered with reflective sequins. He really looked cool and he was very popular with young and old alike.

There was a cat-walk above the theatre’s stage that had a sign reading, “Authorized Personnel Only. Richard and I decided unanimously that we were authorized since we were employees. One night, we climbed up and proceeded past the sign to see just what there was to see.

That was a huge pipe organ. You could reach some of the pipes from the cat-walk. We two ushers decided that it would be a neat trick to stuff some trash paper into the pipes and perhaps “untune” them a bit. We thought this would be a funny trick to play on Mr. Sacker.

Just as we were reaching over to deposit our stash of paper into those pipes a gruff voice hollered at us, “What’s the matter with you two … git down from up there.” It was Jake, our stage manager/fire guard. He spotted us and he reported us to our manager.

So Richard and I were fired. I went around the corner and began working for the Liberty Theatre. Richard went to work for the Gaylynn Theatre. Our manager at the Jefferson said that we were great employees as long as we were not placed together. So this Greenie and that Purple were fired simply for doing what boys do … getting into unnecessary trouble.

After graduating from Beaumont High School, Richard went on to college, got married and moved to Houston. A few years later, he and his wife died in their sleep from asphyxiation due to a faulty space heater.

And now you know why this memory has been somewhat suppressed until now.

Winston Hamby
The Beaumont Enterprise