Monday, August 30, 2010

The First Day In My Seventeen Years Of Education...

My first day of school at J. L. Giles Elementary in Beaumont was most memorable. The year was 1941. I was five years old. That day is as fresh in my mind as if it all happened last week. Mrs. Ruth Hill was my fantastic first-grade teacher.
One of the first events that impressed me was when Mrs. Hill began to call the roll. She said, “When I call your name, say ‘here’ so I can mark you as being present.” Then she started calling the names. There must have been at least twenty-five of us pupils in the room. What amazed me is that Mrs. Hill knew our names. I did not realize as a “too-young five-year-old” that she was reading the names from her roll book. I thought she was calling our names from memory. She was just wonderful.
Another thing Mrs. Hill initiated on that first day was what I’ll refer to as her “clean fingernails’ program.” She explained that each morning she would appoint a fingernail monitor to walk the classroom aisles and inspect everyone’s fingernails. Anyone with dirty fingernails would have their name put on the blackboard. Even though no one could read, it still was an embarrassment to be listed on the blackboard as the owner of dirty fingernails. I implemented a “safety program” to ensure that I would never have my name on the dirty fingernail portion of the board. When the monitor started down the aisle, I would clean my fingernails with my teeth. I got a lot of grit in my mouth but I never got my name listed on the board for having dirty fingernails.
Then Mrs. Hill asked each pupil their address and phone number. When she asked which street I lived on, I told her that I didn’t live on a street but that I lived in a house “real close to a street.” I knew that my address was 1375 Pipkin St. and that my phone number was 10472-W. Where I got a little confused was I didn’t know if I lived in Beaumont or Texas. It did not make sense that I could live in both places at the same time. Also, Jackie Garretson, one of my Pipkin Street playmates, already had convinced me that Houston was bigger than Texas. So my young mind had several issues to resolve.
The final mind-boggling adjustment I had to make occurred at 3 p.m. when the bell rang to end that first day of school. Keep in mind that the only public place I had frequented was church services. My parents were faithful members of the South Park Church of Christ, located at the intersection of Elgie and Irving Streets. We attended Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, Wednesday nights, and any special occasions such as gospel meetings. Sometimes those gospel meetings ran every night for two weeks. At the close of each church service, whenever they were, everyone always mixed and mingled. Since my folks always seemed to be the last ones to leave the church building, I managed to do lot of fellowshipping. Generally this meant chasing Donald Rao through the crowd of adults as they visited. But I digress.
As that first day of school came to a close, I assumed all the kids were going to stand around the classroom and visit for awhile. After all, isn’t that what we did at church? So, when the final bell rang, Mrs. Hill told the class to stand. I understood why we did not have a dismissal prayer but at the same time, I did think that we would not be leaving very soon. I turned around and tried to shake hands with the girl behind me. About that time, the girl said, “Go, Winston.” I looked ahead and saw the other kids leaving the classroom in a single file. This really confused me. I thought, “What about the fellowship?”
I guess you might call this my first lesson on the separation of church and state.

Winston Hamby --

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Be Nice To "Smarties." They Make Good Friends...

I am thinking of two smarties I have known nearly all my life.

One of those smarties is Bill Martin. We met at Abilene Christian College in 1954 and became fast friends. Immediately I became aware that he was a highly intelligent individual. But allow me to start at the beginning.

Patricia, the other smartie I have in mind, was the first of six children in the M. I. Summerlin family. Ike and Dorothy Summerlin lived in the Griffing Park addition in Port Arthur. Patricia was a Thomas Jefferson High School Yellow Jacket in Port Arthur during the early 1950s and graduated from there in 1955.

Patricia’s brother, Tim Summerlin, who taught at Lamar for a number of years and now is president of Schreiner University in Kerrville, is married to Mary Ellen Summerlin, former mayor of Port Arthur.

Anyway, my parents had been friends with Ike and Dorothy for years, mainly through church involvements. I was aware that Patricia existed but as a teenager I rarely left the confines of Beaumont to go out on dates.

During my high school senior year, however, I did have a date or two with Patricia. I would drive to her home in Port Arthur, pick her up and head back to Beaumont to see a movie at the Jefferson Theater. Then after a Coke at the Pig Stand, we would return to Port Arthur. I realized early on that Patricia was brilliant. She did not flaunt her intelligence but just being around her made the fact self-evident. The entire Summerlin family was intellectually gifted and they were a joy to visit. But that’s another story for another time.

I enrolled in Abilene Christian in 1953. Bill came along in 1954 and Patricia showed up on campus in 1955.

As mentioned at the outset, Bill was very intelligent. He had finished high school at Devine, Texas in 3 years and enrolled in college at age 16. There was one common element that drew us to be such close friends. Our senses of humor were very similar. Largely because of that, we became dorm roommates my junior year.

To make a longer story shorter, during my junior year Patricia and I resumed dating occasionally. She was aware that Bill was my roommate. He was making quite a name for himself in campus politics and general popularity. His humor column in the school newspaper fed all the more into his being well known by students and faculty alike.

I noticed that on my dates with Patricia, she always would get around to talking about Bill. In my mind I knew that Bill and Patricia closely matched intellectually. Finally I told Bill that Patricia would like to meet him. That bit of information seemed to pique Bill’s curiosity so then I told Patricia that Bill would like to meet her.

Finally they met and I was best man at their wedding a little over a year later. They were married in the old Procter Street Church of Christ building in Port Arthur.

Bill went on to earn his PhD from Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. In 1968, Bill and Patricia moved to Houston where Bill began teaching at Rice. He retired teaching at Rice in 2005 but remains as the Harry and Hazel Chavanne Senior Fellow in Religion and Public Policy at the Baker Institute. He has written for Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Esquire, Texas Monthly and in professional journals. He has written 7 books including “A Prophet with Honor: the Billy Graham Story” which is regarded as the authoritative biography of Billy Graham.

Patricia received her PhD in History from Rice in 1982. She subsequently worked with the School of Continuing Studies at Rice, and then became director of Academic Advising, then Dean, then Associate Vice-President of Academic Advising and Student Affairs. She instituted the Rice Student Volunteers Program, which involves huge numbers of Rice students, and she took a special interest in study abroad, raising the number of students who spent at least a semester abroad from two or three a year to several hundred.

I learned that you can make good friends with smarties. But the big lesson here is never to introduce your girlfriend to your roommate.

Winston Hamby

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Lady Jane Was A Beautiful Model...

Lady Jane was indeed a lady. She had all of the attributes of refinement and gentle manners. She was beautiful. She was gracious. She was looked upon in great admiration by all who were privileged to know her.

One day Jimmy Cassady, my best friend at South Park High School in Beaumont during the early 1950s, introduced me to Lady Jane. She was so elegant and surreal. Never in my entire life had I met such a charming 1938 Chevrolet Coupe. By special order, she had her gear shift installed on the steering wheel column and not on the floor as mere common cars of her era. Lady Jane had not a scratch on her curvaceous body. She was in reality a pure dream.

Lady Jane was a deep green in color and that meant she truly was a South Park Greenie. Her previous owner was Ethel Jo Simkins, that most popular biology teacher/person at SPHS. Lady Jane’s license plate number was 101 because that was Ethel Jo’s room number at school.

Ethel Jo decided it was time to update so she bought a new Chevrolet Coupe. She named this one Lady Jane II. There are some stories that should be shared about this new vehicle but at another time.

Jim bought the original Lady Jane from Ethel Jo for a few hundred dollars. Jim and I had met back in the 6th grade at Giles Elementary School. We remained best friends till graduation from high school in 1953. When he bought Lady Jane in 1952, we began cruising in style. We loved to drag Pearl and Orleans Street in downtown Beaumont. Actually back then, there were no other drags. Downtown is all there was.

Anyway, Jim was holding down three jobs at this time. He rewound and edited film for the Terrell Public Library, worked in the accounting department for Hall’s Truck Lines, and he operated the merry-go-round at Playground Park located on College Street/Highway 90 near the Circle. Retired Lamar Professor David Taylor told me that, “Jimmy Cassady was one of the finest young men he ever taught.”

Jim’s shift with the merry-go-round ran everyday from 6 p.m. till 10 p.m. One evening, we drove to Playground Park in Lady Jane. The plan was that while Jim worked, I would drive the lady back to my house, then return to the park at 10 p.m. to pick him up. We intended to do some late-night cruising.

While driving home, I stopped at a red light on 11th Street in front of the Gaylynn Theater. Then a strange thing occurred. Smoke came drifting into the passenger cab of Lady Jane. I mumbled, “Oh no, we’re on fire!” I jumped out and opened the hood. Gray smoke billowed up. I ran over to a service station and found a mechanic. He came out and said, “Your brake lights have a short.” He proceeded to rip out the brake light wiring. He then charged me fifty cents for “saving your car from burning up.” Then he added, “Now be careful, you don’t have any brakes at all.” So I drove on home using every precaution.

As 10 p.m. loomed, a glum heart returned with me to the park. I was driving my dad’s Oldsmobile since Lady Jane had no brakes. I didn’t tell Jim anything at this point. But when we walked out to the parking area and Jim saw the Oldsmobile, he blurted out, “Where’s Lady Jane?” Then I revealed all just as it had transpired. Jim’s face reminded me of a dad whose daughter had been injured.

Anyway, following surgery, Lady Jane was as good as ever. And so she remained a lady indeed.

Winston Hamby

Sunday, August 01, 2010

I'm Sorry Officer...I Didn't Know...

Old laws on the books of cities and states around the U.S. are a fascinating read. Following are a few examples. These are used by permission courtesy of Aha! Jokes, (My comments are in parentheses):

*Texas “…requires criminals to give their victims 24 hours notice, either orally or in writing, and to explain the nature of the crime to be committed.” (Example: Dear Mr. Jones, this is my official notice to you that tomorrow at 10 a.m., I will come to your office with a gun and demand your money. Please have cash available. I do not accept checks.)

*Also in Texas, “When two trains meet each other at a railroad crossing, each shall come to a full stop, and neither shall proceed until the other has gone.” (Maybe this explains why that sometimes trains just sit while traffic backs up for blocks.)

*In Texas, “It is illegal to shoot a buffalo from the second story of a hotel.” (Loophole: request a room on the third story.)

*In Houston, “Beer may not be purchased after midnight on a Sunday, but may be purchased on Monday.” (Wouldn’t it just be simpler to drive to Beaumont to purchase beer?)

*“The Arkansas River can rise no higher than to the Main Street bridge in Little Rock.” (Maybe they can arrest the river for violating this statute, but how are they going to put it in jail?)

*In Fayetteville, Arkansas, “Dogs may not bark after 6 p.m.” (Is this ordinance enforced by a watchdog committee?)

*Also in Fayetteville, “It is unlawful to walk one’s cow down Main Street after 1 p.m. on Sundays.” (Loophole: You can “run” your cow down Main Street anytime you wish.)

*Again, in Fayetteville, “You may not have a sleeping donkey in your bathtub after 7 p.m.” (If this presents a problem, just wake up your donkey.)

*In Oklahoma, “People who make ‘ugly faces’ at dogs may be fined and/or jailed.” (I suppose the dogs have to file a police report.)

*Oklahoma: “Dogs must have a permit signed by the mayor in order to congregate in groups of three or more on private property.” (I’ll bet this encourages dogs to meet underground.)

*Oklahoma: “Whaling is illegal.” (This law must have been made following public outcries to ‘Save the Oklahoma Whale.’”

*Oklahoma City: “No one may walk backwards downtown while eating a hamburger.” (Hide the hamburger in your armpit till you have a chance to walk frontwards.)

*Tennessee: “It is legal to gather and consume roadkill.” (I can hear my wife now, “Back up honey, that was a fresh ‘possum.”)

*Memphis: “It is illegal for frogs to croak after 11 p.m.” (Does this mean that frogs should make every attempt to die during the daytime?)

*Alabama: “Boogers may not be flicked into the wind.” (Why flick them at all when you could wipe them on the roadkill?)

*Florida: “It is illegal to have sexual relations with a porcupine.” (My wife told me not to use this one but I could not resist. Sorry, Hon.)

*“Citizens may not enter Wisconsin with a chicken on their head.” (Hide the chicken in your armpit along with the hamburger.)

*Massachusetts: “No gorilla is allowed in the back seat of any car.” (Guess my gorilla has got to ride on the hood.)

*In Baltimore, “It is illegal to take a lion to the movies.” (There goes my lion’s Saturday afternoons.)

*“All bees entering Kentucky must have a certificate of health.” (This statute reeks with discrimination and should be repealed immediately.)

*Virginia: “Whistling underwater is prohibited.” (Singing underwater is better?)

May God bless all of those whose job it is to write laws, statutes, rules, regulations, ordinances and any others such as these.

Winston Hamby