“Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once.”–W. Shakespeare

Author’s Note 27 June 2021:

I am not ‘Re-Writing’

Not ‘Re-Working’

Not vanity editing

Not Expanding

Not ‘Jazzing’ up

Not Elaborating

Not Ruining-with-superfluous shit

This Original Post

My Heart was ‘All-In’ when first I wrote it.

I refuse to taint those original emotions now.

I am just fulfilling a promise I made years and years ago:

“Ronnie, I will Never allow your memory to die.”

******

In 1971 when my step-sister Madelyn and I were fourteen and thirteen respectively, my parents would often go out of town on the weekends. My father and stepmother seemed to always have some magic convention or gathering to attend in Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, or any number of other venues.

My father knew all the local high school kids from his directing of the senior plays every year. Two of the former graduates, Ronnie and Doug, then about twenty years old, remained very good friends of my father and particularly Ronnie, (who was Peanut’s Uncle). My father decided that Madelyn and I needed a ‘baby-sitter’ while he and Gloria were off on their long weekends, so they paid Doug and Ronnie to look after us.

Now mind you, Madelyn and I were both pretty certain we were over-mature for our age and could easily fend for ourselves, but we loved having two “big brothers” to help us throw the greatest parties in the history of Honey Grove while under their tutelage. We used Marcom Manor as our venue of course and were always in a rush to get the house back into some semblance of order before the folks returned, usually on a Sunday, but occasionally on a Monday or Tuesday.

During Labor Day Weekend of 1971 my parents were off to a big convention in Houston and we had a great party planned for Sunday the Fifth of September. We were to have ‘The Mother of All Parties’ out at Lake Coffeemill, north of Honey Grove. (The party was going to serve double duty for me, as my fourteenth birthday was just five days away.)  Right up until the night before, I had no date lined up for this all-day Blow-Out, and I was in a panic.

Around about eleven, I saw and old ex-classmate of mine from the sixth and seventh grade who had moved away the year prior, slowly driving past (we were all on the town square, sitting on the car hoods, drinking beer and planning the next day’s activities). I figured she was in town to visit some of her family who lived between Honey Grove and Lake Coffeemill. I chased her down (literally), stopped the car and asked breathlessly if she would like to come out to the lake the next day for the party. Happily she said “Yes.” And that made my night. Her name was Chrissie.

Semi-Early the next morning Madelyn, Gina (Ronnie’s girlfriend) Ronnie and I (along with some other hanger’s on) were busy gathering all the items for the picnic/party and loading up ‘The Magic Bus’ which was what we called Ronnie’s 1957 Chevy Station Wagon. Some other folks arrived (mostly ‘twenty-something’ folks) with their cars and trucks. All the vehicles were loaded with beer, wine (Cheap Mogan David, Spanada, Boone’s Farm, etc.) hot dogs, buns, hamburger meat, condiments, and on and on. As I said, this was going to be the last big party of the summer and we were going to do it up right. Madelyn and I were to start High School the following Tuesday.

Ronnie loved The Beatles. He once told me, “The Second side of Abby Road is the best side on the best album, by the best band in the history of the world.” Even today, I cannot listen to any Beatles’ music without thinking of him and all those wonderful times we all spent together. He was a good kid, and always looked out for me. Gina was the same, and I have to admit I had a not-too-secret major crush on her. I had been dating her little sister off and on during the previous year, but she and I never could get our act together. She was my very first blonde girlfriend and to tell the truth, I’ve never had any luck with blondes ever since and have historically shied away from them.

Ronnie taught me how to smoke pot, be cool, and turned me on to all manner of wonderful music. He coached me all that summer in my soon-to-become burgeoning High School football career. Most important, by his example, he taught me to be compassionate and patient and tolerant and kind. In short, he taught me how not to be an asshole, which as an arrogant, wet-behind-the-years, knows everything about everything, little shit of a teenager, I was all too good at. Ronnie saved me from that.

He was an easy-going, good-looking kid with a toothy smile and a joie de vivre that made a room light up whenever he walked in. He had unlimited optimism about everything and everybody. Never once did I hear him say one unkind word about anyone, even though there were some in our circle who deserved an unkind word upon occasion (including yours truly). Ronnie saw nothing but good in all people. Absolutely everyone in Honey Grove loved him, old and young alike.

He didn’t even mind that every time we were all together I would invariably find ways to sit next to Gina and just fawn. He laughed that off like everything else. He knew Gina loved him dearly and nothing on Earth could ever separate those two. Gina had a soft spot for me as well, but more in a ‘Big Sis’ kind of way, but try explaining that to a thirteen-year-old with romantic ideas, puppy-dog eyes, and raging hormones.

Once we had all the vehicles loaded, we began our ‘convoy’ to The Lake with The Magic Bus leading the way. Ronnie driving, Gina riding shotgun in her ‘Lake-Party Uniform:’ cut-off jeans, halter top. Situated between them was a gallon of Mogan David, which, as we pulled out of town, Ronnie grabbed and thrust out the window, pumping it up and down for the rest of the parade to see. It was on!

I had the back seat to myself and was in my ‘uniform’ cut-off jeans and t-shirt, hippie sandals, and behind me a huge beer cooler, all the cookout stuff, and about a thousand eight-track tapes that Ronnie kept in the car always. Music was the defining force in all of our young lives and The Magic Bus had the best ‘rigged’ stereo in Northeast Texas and was as close to a mobile concert hall as I had ever seen.

Ronnie had installed some kind of colorful strobe light contraption on the dash over the glove compartment that pulsated with the beat of the music. The Magic Bus was indeed, Magical. There was no ignition switch, just a couple of wires hanging down underneath the steering column which had to be united to start the car. Anyone with a mind to could have stolen that car at any time, but of course no one was ever of a mind to.

Many times during road trips to Commerce to see Gina’s Hippie friends, or to The Lake, or Bonham to the drive-in one time to watch Woodstock, or once to Dallas to see Led Zeppelin, I would love the getting there more than the arriving there. I loved to ride in that car with the good company, the camaraderie, and all the great music and I felt so wonderfully alive. I always hated it when we did finally arrive to our destination of the day, because for me, the best was in the getting there; the riding in that car, grooving to the music and watching Texas roll by.

Lake Coffeemill lies about twenty miles north of Honey Grove and for once I was anxious to actually arrive at a destination. This would be the Best Party Ever. We stopped about ten miles from the lake to pick up Chrissie and she and I spent the last ten miles chatting and holding hands in the back seat.

Chrissie was always an elusive butterfly and I was so proud she was with me on that day. Of course I tried to show off by talking to Ronnie and Gina about ‘older things;’ things like some of the concerts we had been to, parties we had thrown, et cetera. Mostly I ended up looking and sounding like an idiot, but Chrissie didn’t seem to mind. I do think she genuinely was fond of me. She was a long and tall dark-haired, dark-eyed beauty and actually quite different from any other girl I had known up to that point in my life. We were a good match and seemed to have great potential as a couple, but we would never get to explore that potential.

We turned off the paved two-lane and onto the gravel lake road. There are actually two lakes in this area separated by Bois d’Arc Creek and a long gravel road. The other lake is Lake Crockett and is slightly smaller than Coffeemill. The entire area is very heavily wooded with pine, oak, and cedar; all part of what they call ‘The Caddo National Grasslands’ and one of the few national parks in Texas (Texas is unique in that she kept most of her public lands when she joined The Union in 1845 instead of giving them all away to the Federal Government like all the other western states).

The road to ‘Gate 10’ on Coffeemill was the last part of our journey. Now, I say ‘Road’ and I use the term loosely. More like a trail, barely wide enough to navigate the Magic Bus through the trees and certainly better suited for Four-Wheel Drive vehicles. The trail winds around through the woods for about two miles before actually ending on the lake. Gate 10 was our turf. No one ever went there except our crowd, and possibly the occasional hunter. Everyone knew this; even the tourists knew this. By spending so much time there coupled with the fact that most didn’t even know the place existed made it ours. We must have been quite a sight on that day: no less than twenty cars, trucks, vans, all slowly bumping along single file down to Gate 10.

Soon after we arrived and got all the vehicles parked in the only clearing (about 25 yards from the water) everyone got busy organizing all the myriad items we had brought along. Grills were set up, beer coolers strategically placed, plastic-ware and paper ‘wine’ cups and tablecloths and folding tables appeared and of course the big speakers inside the Magic Bus were brought out and positioned on top of the hood, blaring music. Picture a Mini-Woodstock, Texas Style. It was about one o’clock in the afternoon.

Everyone spent the next few hours drinking beer, munching on hot dogs, shooting the shit, swimming in the lake, and lighting up the occasional joint. Doug arrived around two o’clock and he had some unhappy words for Ronnie. Apparently Ronnie had promised him he would stop smoking dope. The two of them were occasional ‘Youth Ministers’ at one of the churches in Honey Grove and Doug was, shall we say, a bit more fervent in his religion than was Ronnie. The two of them were most assuredly best friends and it pained me to see them argue over this. Doug got so pissed off that he just left shortly after he had arrived and I don’t believe he even had one beer while he was there. This dampened my spirits a little, but was soon forgotten. I knew they would work it out later and all would be normal again.

The afternoon was going by and things calmed a little as people gathered in small groups to drink, smoke, and chat. I took Chrissie by the hand and grabbing a blanket off the hood of one of the cars, led her into the woods. She carried a bottle of wine. We spread the blanket under an oak and made love, or what passed for making love then for us. Mostly just heavy petting, kisses, and arms and bare legs wrapped around each other. We could faintly hear strains of Carole King singing ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ back at the party:

Is this a lasting treasure

Or just a moment’s pleasure

Can I believe the magic of your sighs

Will you still love me tomorrow…

We remained secluded there for some time, getting reacquainted, talking softly about nothing in particular. It is so easy to fall in love when you’re thirteen. My heart was in serious mortal danger. Falling hard for her. She was so sweet and so soft and so stunningly beautiful, with sloe gin eyes and all that implies… But I was prepared, eager in fact, to fall, to fall headlong, and all else be damned…But not yet: There was a party to be attended and tended to…

As it was growing late afternoon, we gathered up the blanket and the almost empty bottle of Spanada and headed back to join the others. I needed to pee so I headed to the lake and saw Ronnie, Jimmy Max, John David, Jackie, and several others climbing a dead tree about twenty yards off-shore. I swam out (after relieving myself in the water) to join them.

They all had towels fashioned about their necks and were acting out ‘Superman,’ climbing the tree and diving in: much rowdy laughter as they critiqued each other’s performance. We played at that for quite a while when my stomach reminded me that I had forgotten to eat anything all day.

Ronnie must have had the same stomach, because we exited the water at the same time and immediately headed over to the Magic Bus to see if there were any remnants of the ham that Gina had brought for us. Not much, but I grabbed a hunk of it, slapped it on some bread and starting wolfing it down. Ronnie and I were standing there, eating, while digging through the rest of the stuff looking for more food. We both obviously had the munchies.

“Jimmy Max is drowning!” someone was screaming.

Ronnie shot away from the car toward the bank and I stuffed the last bit of ham and bread into my mouth chewing and trying to swallow and almost choking as I ran after him. There was a large group of people standing there yelling and pointing out towards where I could just barely make out a figure bobbing up and down in the water. I estimated about fifty yards away. Everyone was yelling, “Ronnie! Save Him! He’s been down twice now! Save him! Save Him!”

Ronnie grabbed an inner tube while running to the shore, threw it into the water and jumping into it began paddling furiously, using his arms and hands like oars in a rowboat, turning his head to mark his course toward  Jimmy Max. He actually left a wake. I have never seen anyone move that fast before or since.

I jumped into the lake and tried to keep up with Ronnie. I was a decent swimmer, but he soon left me far behind. I saw Ronnie get to Jimmy Max and watched as he was pulled off the inner tube. Jimmy Max had about twenty pounds on Ronnie and of course he was now strong in a panic.

The inner tube was swept away instantly (it was very windy that day). I continued swimming as fast as I could to get to the two of them. I saw Jimmy Max go under and Ronnie pull him up, his arms flailing about. When I was about ten yards from them Jimmy Max went down again, but this time Ronnie apparently couldn’t pull him up.

Things suddenly got deathly quiet. I could no longer hear the people screaming on the shore. The wind actually seemed to stop. Honestly, I didn’t grasp the seriousness of the situation. Things had just happened too quickly. I stopped about ten feet from Ronnie, treading water, not sure what to do next.

Ronnie looked right into my eyes and almost inaudibly said, “Help.” It was the weakest voice I had ever heard. I immediately swam over to him and tried to grab him around the waist. He was limp. Ronnie, who had always been so strong, was now completely weak and helpless. I struggled with trying to hold onto him, but it was no use. I just didn’t have any strength left myself.

Our eyes met again, but he said nothing as he slipped from my arms and sank. I saw bubbles come up from beneath me after his head disappeared. Nausea washed over me like a rolling wave.

Not knowing what to do, I dove down (the water must have been twenty feet deep there), but could not find an arm or a leg or anything to grab onto. After what seemed like five hours, but in reality, probably only five minutes of this, I started making my way back to the shore. When I got to within about twenty feet, I got cramps and collapsed. John David waded out and half-dragged, half-carried me back to the land. I was too tired to utter a word. Everyone surrounded me, yelling and asking, “What happened? What happened?” My mind cleared enough for me to think, “What the hell do you think happened? Ronnie and Jimmy Max drowned while all of you stood here and did nothing. That is what happened,” but I did not say it out loud.

Gina came running up in tears screaming, “Lance, where’s Ronnie? Where is he?” She was obviously in shock and hysterical.

“He’s dead Gina.”

I tried to take her in my arms, but she flung me aside and starting running up and down the shore looking out at the lake. I was too exhausted still to follow her. I collapsed down on a beer cooler and wept.

Everyone was jabbering away. Someone said, “This is just another joke. Any minute now they’ll come walking out of the woods, laughing at us.” I wished it were true, but I knew better.

The authorities came about an hour later with boats and starting dragging the lake. Close to dusk they found Ronnie. It would be another twelve hours before they found Jimmy Max. I got into the Magic Bus with Calvin and he starting driving us back to town. The same eight-track tape had been playing over and over again since the drownings: Moody Blues, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour.

We just left it in as we drove, not saying a word. After we had cleared the gravel road and were back on the highway, a car came speeding up to stop us, horn blowing. We pulled over and Chrissie came walking up, opened the back door and retrieved her purse. I couldn’t ever speak to her. To this day I do not know why, but I am sorry I didn’t because she probably thought I was evil for just sitting there with not a word for her. I never saw her again. And I never listened to that Moody Blues album again either.

I promised myself that day no one would ever drown in my arms again because of my inadequacies in the water. And some years later, I took action to ensure that I would always be able to keep that promise.

It goes without saying that Ronnie was the hero that day, but I am going to say it again. Why he was the only man out of the dozen or so equally capable just standing on the shore urging him on, to without hesitation risk his own life to save his friend, I still cannot comprehend. And yet when I try to, I just get pissed off all over again. Most of these men were my good friends, and I did remain friends with the most, but I no longer held any respect for a single one.

Even though this tragedy occurred over forty years ago, my memories are still all too much vivid. My great good friend and mentor heroically gave his life to save his friend. There is no greater testament to heroism. He died as he lived, with a passionate love for life and for everyone and for everything in his life. He will always be remembered. That’s another promise I made that day. It’s an easy one to keep. “Peace to You, My much missed Great Friend Ronnie; We remain here still, soldiering on. We hope you still smile at us and our folly.”

A Very Young Ronnie.
Only Photo I Have

***

We chaired you through the market-place;

Man and boy stood cheering by,

And home we brought you shoulder-high.

Today, the road all runners come,

Shoulder-high we bring you home,

And set you at your threshold down,

Townsman of a stiller town.

–A.E. Housman

I’m The Reason God Made Oklahoma

When I was fourteen or fifteen and living in NE Texas, ‘Famine’ County to be more precise, I used to frequently cross the border. Not Mesico. No, Oklahoma. Yep. Go figger.

You see, back-in-the-day (Early Seventies), the drinking age got lowered to 18, mainly because it just was not fitting for a boy to go to Vietnam and not even be able to buy a beer ere he got there. Time enough for that once he got there, but you see, it became a matter of principle.

Well, my ‘group’ took advantage of that. You see, it was very difficult to tell a teenager’s age: I mean,

“How do you know he ain’t eighteen? He looks twelve, but hell! Ok, serve it up.”

And even better: In Oklahoma, well, they just did not give a shit. If you had money and could reach the bar, well, there you go.

OK, enough preamble and background. Early one morning (after about 0100hrs) my buddies and I, after having closed down the bars in Commerce (Texas), decided we were not drunk enough. So, natch, we drove to The Border, as I said: Oklahoma. Our mission: To hustle Pool and make the next day’s beer money.
Our favorite hang was a place just ‘cross da river. A place who’s name escapes me, but trust me: it was famous. There is a very long, very dark, very narrow bridge across the Red River. If one could successfully navigate that, being drunk… well, you needed a drink.

Now, do not mistake me, this establishment was always ‘closed’ by the time we usually arrived at thereabout 0200hrs, but I knew the guy behind the ‘Speak-Easy’ window and I knew the password: “Joe sent me.”

Good to go.

pool.jpg

They legally closed the bar at 0100hrs, but then remained open until first light. If one arrived around 0200hrs, one could shoot pool for four or five and then migrate to the back room where the crap tables were. I knew all the drills.

My gang and I sauntered in, bought some beers and Bob and I proceeded to ‘hustle’ pool. For beers. ONLY.

Shit!

We were already drunk; we did not need to hustle beers. We wanted money for the crap game. Bob and I spent the better part of two hours hustling beers, and had pretty much drained the joint, when this dude drops his quarter on the table. He was long and lankly and had his right hand missing. Yep. He was ‘handicapped” Errr… handless. I nudged Bob and said, “This chump cannot beat me. At pool.”

And, of course, I was right, but… damn! He was good. He used his ‘stub’ as a bridge and shot a mean Eight-Ball. I beat him outta bout a case of Coors. He got pissed and walked by me:

“You done stepped on my foot,” he said.

“No Sir, I did not, but if you think I did, well, I’m sorry…”

“YOU done STEPPED on my FOOT!”

“No Sir.”

Bob took me aside along with my other entourage; Peanut, Gene, and Jessie (a big black kid who had played star halfback for the Honey Grove Warriors back in the day—yes—he was older, and I did notice him putting razor blades between his fingers)

“Many-Feet” Peanut said, “That there one-armed man gonna beat you to some death with that nub.”

“Bullshit!” I said.

“No bullshit. Go ahead; hide an’ watch.”

To be continued….

Okay. Continued:

He beat me ’bout to death with that nub, just as Peanut foresaw.

Wish I had ‘foresaw’.
Dem Okies…well.. they some tough sons ah bitches, all I gotta say.

END

The Flat-Bed Truck and The Pastel Sun-Dress

Thou talks of Nothing.

ALERT! ALERT! ALERT!

PITY PARTY WARNING!

WARNING!

WARNING!

DANGER WILL ROBINSON!

DANGER!

“NO BARE FEET BEYOND THIS POINT!

(THIS MEANS YOU!)

And Here is a news flash for you Marcom:

Ronnie Died about fifty year ago. Get the fuck over it!

“Golly Gosh, My Lord. I am tryin’ to… but you see…I have been watching this “Game of Thrones” thing on the Television…”

“The what?”

“TV.”

“Never heard of such nonsense.”

“Yes, My Lord. Me neither.”

Whew!

Now my lawyers are sated.

**********

There was a semi-recent poll taken, right here on this Blog: TT&H, where the question was broached.

Nay! Asked:

“What should I write about?”

Well, after so many hanging chaffs and invalid voting boxes, and I do not know how many “Landslide Lyndons” we experienced, the tally was tallied:

Someone voted for a Peanut Story.

(Moron!)

Just so happens, I had one in my hip pocket. (I carry it about, you see? Just for occasions such as this)

I do believe the year was 1994, give or take. (10 years)

I was in a bad spot with my then-wife and my Girl-Friend who soon, someday soon, I hoped  to become my next-wife.

Nevermind her name; this is irrelevant. After a few… well.

I was in this bad spot, you see. And I needed a flat-bed truck (for whatever reason), you see?

Now, the only one in possession of same was Peanut.

You see? (Because Peanut was always the one who did not ask questions, you see?) And why was that? Because I was also the only one who never asked.

Being poor of money and poor’er of excuse, I told my bride: “Honey, we need to see this man about a truck. Then we can get on with our lives.”

“Okay,” she said.

Off we went, she in her pretty sun-dress and me,  looking for flatbed trucks in all them wrong places.

And then, after about eight miles of Bad Texas Road,  we came upon a tree across the road you see, and a madman with a shotgun,  you see; this madman was shooting at this young girl, you see, and this was embarrassing to me, you see, since the man wielding the shotgun could not hit shit, .. and his aim was lousy you see? And of course the girl was out of range, you see, and it did not matter to me, you see? 

BECAUSE My Brother, PEANUT would never shoot an innocent girl on the wing.

You see?

You See?

You must have seen that coming.

Oh, that ‘other’ guy?

That Guy shooting at that girl?

What did we do with him?

Well, turns out, that was Peanut.

I had to forgive him. The girl was not harmed and I missed my brother.

Thus it ended….

That’s Tejas!

*************

STOP!

I cannot write this.

Maybe later.

Sorry. It has become rare that I just throw up a rough draft, you see?

(Yes, I know: they are all rough drafts)

This one may have some promise, however, since, like all Things Peanut, it is true.

Caint you see?

Mercutio/Peanut?

“And being thus disquieted…”

Or something….

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_Mab

Not unlike Pygmalion, as the years fly by, I create.

I cannot ‘create’ the woman I love. Not because she does not exist, but because, I do not want to embarrass her.

Yet, she is real and she loves me: since 1971.

She told me so.

Now…..five wives later….My wives.

(I should have never left her to fend.

oh no! I had to go to fuckn egypt for five fuckin years!)

“Torn-ment”

Is just a fucking word.

Hell! It is not even a word for a life lost.

“His only aspiration…. was getting back that girl he lost before.”

–Joni

But.. what to do with? As a dog chasing a train? What is he gonna do, if he catches it?

Love it?

These are the eternal questions.

–Lance

********

Nothing seems to keep you high.

Who knew?

Who could have?

Ever?

I am gonna repost this for two reasons:

One: because I missed Thursday

(Probably because I was in a coma)

Two: because I can.

And here is the bonus:

Because I miss Jimmy ‘Peanut’ Piland.

*****

“I dreamt a dream tonight.”

“And so did I.”

“Well, what was yours?”

“That dreamer’s often lie.”

“…In bed asleep while they do dream things true!”

“Oh! Then I see Queen Mab hath been with you!”

–R&J: Romeo and Mercutio,

Queen Mab:

Ya’ll gotta watch the video “or it all just falls apart” Just saying… (Yes! I feign Texan; it is my wont.)

After a night of hard blogging and writing of drafts, and becoming somewhat disillusioned and more than daft, I perished toward my bed, reaching out for the Arms of Morpheus.

Within moments, I slipped into that nether sleep, that sleep between sleeps, that semi-conscious state of affairs. Sleep, but Not Sleep.

Then I began to dream things that should have been true. But were not true, yet so true.

Wonderful words words words! Words to sate my unnourished prose.

Words swirl’d about in my mind like so many fireflies on a summer’s eve:

““Words, words, words!. Once, I had the gift. I could make love out of words as a potter makes cups of clay. Love that overthrows empires. Love that binds two hearts together, come hellfire & brimstone.”

— “Will Shakespeare in Love”

I had it (them, those) words… goin’ on. Brilliant words. Beautiful, poignant words! All right there! Right there In My Mind. I reached out my finger to tap the “Publish” Mouse.

My finger was frozen.

It would not move.

How hard I did try!

It would not comply!

I lay there in my nether sleep, commanding.

The hand, the one digit, just the finger! Demanding!

Just move the damn finger!

Would not.

Could not.

Then I realized:

I am with Dante now.

And Mercutio is Peanut.

And Peanut was my Mercutio

Yeah, Dante

Dante ‘R’ Us

Throw-Back: A Raccoon’s Tale

I raised a raccoon once. His name was Leroy, Leroy Rastus. Raised him from a cub I did.

baby_coon

His eyes were recently newly opened and I fed him from a baby bottle. A local rancher in Honey Grove had killed his mama while Coon-Hunting one night and he brought all her cubs home. The next day he adopted them out to several local high school kids. Peanut adopted Leroy’s sister. Another kid adopted his brother. There may have been one or two more siblings, but I don’t recall. Leroy’s adoption experiences were somewhat more transitory. First he was taken by Kim. Kim got bored with him and gave him to my step-sister Madelyn. She thought he was just the coolest thing ever!

For about three days…

His coolness factor having for her it seems, a very short half-life, I made her an offer she couldn’t refuse for her coon: Cash Money. Money’s coolness factor has no half-life. She was only too happy to surrender Leroy to my care for the tidy sum of thirty-five bucks. Quite tidy indeed to an unemployed High School girl in 1974.

I kept Leroy in my bedroom on the third floor of my father’s house. He had an annoying habit of climbing onto my bed, tunneling under the covers and chewing on my toes. Baby raccoons have very sharp teeth. I tried locking him in my closet, but he would wail so loudly that I just could not leave him there. Needless to say my school work suffered due to lack of sleep during that first month or so with Leroy. And it’s also needless to say that what I just wrote above is bullshit. My school work suffered mostly from my laissez faire philosophy regarding high school, but it’s nice to have someone to blame other than myself.

My girlfriend during this time was a dark haired beauty with grey-green eyes and a wonderful disposition toward animals. In fact, I believe she came to love Leroy more than she did me. It was with her that Leroy learned the climbing skills he would need later in life. She and I would sit on the lawn and Leroy would climb his way up her waist-length hair, (Prince Leroy and his Rapunzel) and sit atop her head. Pretty sure no other girl in Honey Grove would have allowed herself to be used thus, but she loved it.

Leroy grew rapidly and by late spring he was just too big and too rowdy to keep in the house. My step-mother was apparently the first to come to this realization. “Lance, you’ve got to do something about that Goddamn coon. I don’t want him running all over the house anymore.” This from her, even though I had taken great pains to teach him to use the cats’ litter box. Actually, I didn’t ‘teach’ him per se; just showed it to him. He figured out its purpose all on his own. Raccoons are smart, yeah they are.

In addition to the three-story Victorian house (circa 1880), my father’s large corner lot had a two-story carriage house. I guess you would call it a garage, but it obviously was not designed for cars. However the rear of one side of it looked to be perfectly designed for raccoons. On the left half of the building at the very back, there was a section which was about three feet lower than the rest of the foundation. Let’s call it a ‘sunken’ living room for coons. The area was roughly six feet wide and maybe twelve feet long. The ceiling was very high, about ten feet. There were two doors: one to the yard and one to the other half of the building. There was no foundation, only hard-packed dirt. I don’t know what the original purpose of this little sunken room was, but it suited my purpose elegantly. I drove to the local hardware/feed/Gossip-Parlor-for-old-Farmers establishment downtown and picked up several bags of Ready-Mix concrete, five four-by-fours, some chicken wire, nails, and a bag of fencing staples.

First order of construction for my ‘Coon-Atorium’ was the swimming pool and the foundation. I excavated a circular area about four feet in diameter and two feet deep. Next I mixed the concrete in an old washtub and spread it over the entire area, working my way to the door that opened into the yard and finishing up with the pool. This was tedious work and I had to mix many tubs of concrete. Since there were doors on opposite sides of my construction area, it was impossible for me to ‘concrete myself into a corner’ without an egress point. If you had known me back then you would probably have said this was a good thing.

After a few days of letting the concrete dry and cure. I began construction of the penthouse. Every upwardly mobile raccoon requires one. Using an assortment of various pieces of old lumber piled up in the building, I created a penthouse any coon would have been proud to call home. It had a certain ramshackle charm, in the style of early Twentieth Century Dust Bowl Poverty. I mounted it to the ceiling in the right hand corner. Next I fashioned a porch using a couple of one-by-twelves each about six feet long. This made a nice little runway for Leroy to get to his penthouse. Just one problem: He could not climb the walls, (unlike Gloria after a few minutes conversation with me), nor could he jump ten feet in the air.

There was a decent sized oak tree in the Honey Grove High School parking lot which bordered my back yard. Using my chain saw, I amputated a ten-foot long limb and dragged it back to the garage. I was certain no one would mind and even if someone did, as I had performed this ‘limb-ectomy’ on a Sunday morning, there were no witnesses about to point any fingers later on down the road.

I mounted the ‘tree’ in the left corner, securing it to the wall behind the swimming pool. It reached all the way to the ceiling and had some nice smaller branches all along its length. It would provide easy access to Leroy’s extended porch/runway.

With the interior work completed, nothing left to do but wall up the front. I used the four-by-fours for the studs; stapled the chicken wire from floor to ceiling, filled the pool, Et voilà! One Coon-Atorium ready for immediate occupancy.

Leroy was well satisfied with his new digs and quickly settled in. The penthouse was made comfortable by the addition of a blanket and a small pillow appropriated from a window seat which Gloria used to store extra bedding for the occasional weekend visitors to Marcom Manor. The pillow was quite exquisite. It was emerald green with a couple of white kittens embroidered on one side and some frilly shit sewn all around the edges. ‘Leroy should love this,’ I recall thinking to myself as I smuggled it and the blanket to his penthouse.

Some months went by and Leroy was approaching adulthood. Every day we would play together in the back yard. There were several very tall old pecan trees which he loved to explore. Leroy was not very trainable, due in part to his intelligence and independent mind, but he would always come to me from tree tops when I would call him down. I’d stand underneath the tree and he would climb onto my shoulder and was generally content to remain there, as I think he enjoyed the view and riding on my shoulder was easier for him than walking about on his own.

We were occasionally allowed in the house for play time as well. (At this point, I do believe Leroy was the more welcome). He was certainly more entertaining than the cats that lived inside, and probably more pleasant to hang out with than I was, at least as far as Gloria was concerned. When I was feeling a bit mischievous, I would give him a sugar cube and laugh at the expression on his little masked face as it disappeared in the water dish he would wash it in.  He did eventually figure out that he shouldn’t wash sugar cubes as he did all other treats he was given.

Every Christmas Gloria would make her ‘World Famous Rum Balls.” (They really were very tasty, I must admit). Well one batch got stored away in a Tupperware box and forgotten for a year or two. Once found and opened, we had some seriously potent rum balls. Gloria was going to dump them, but I said that would be a waste and proceeded to eat a few to prove they were just fine. She was not amused. I gave one to Leroy and he went nuts over it, so I dumped the remainder into a plastic bag and kept them for me and Leroy.

By this time most folks in Honey Grove knew Leroy as I could often be seen walking about with him on my shoulder. He loved to go on walk-about with me; I think primarily because he liked the attention he received. He was becoming a bit of a ham—a semi-famous raccoon—and very entertaining to his fans.  I took him to the local vet when he was old enough for his shots, so I was never concerned about someone pissing him off and paying the price in blood. Since I had raised him very gently, never getting too rough during our play, he never exhibited any meanness or aggression (Except on one occasion when I attempted to take a rum ball from him when started showing signs of having had enough. I’ve known drunks who would react in similar fashion at any attempt to ‘cut them off’.)

One day Peanut and I decided the time had long since passed for a Raccoon Reunion. He brought his Missy (Leroy’s sister), over and we put her inside the Coon-Atorium. Leroy stuck his nose out of his penthouse and after a few moments climbed down the tree to welcome her. They romped about on the floor for a bit and then went for a swim. After that, Leroy led Missy up to his pad, (Just as I would have done in a similar situation).

“Guess now your Coon gonna be corruptin’ mine,” Peanut said.

“My coon’s a gentleman,” I said. “If any corruptin’ is goin’ on up there it’s your hussy being the corrupter and my Leroy being the ‘corruptee’.”

“Yeah, whatever. Let’s go on a beer run ta Ladonia and leave these here two lovebirds alone,” he said.

When we returned and went inside to check on our ‘kids’, neither one was visible. I called to Leroy and two pair of masked eyes peered down at me as if I had lost my mind. I kept calling to Leroy to come down, but he was not to be persuaded.

“See there, Peanut? That slut of yours has poisoned my coon’s mind against me.”

“Ah leave ‘em alone. You too much of an over domineerin’ parent. I’ll leave Missy here tonight. Maybe they’ll make us some baby coons.”

Now Dear Reader, I know what you’re thinking: ‘That’s incestuous!” Yeah I know, but we’re talking about raccoons here, not people in Arkansas.

After Leroy had been introduced to the mysteries of Raccoon Love, he was never quite the same. Many times he would refuse to come out of the pecan tree when I called him and this was usually at my family’s suppertime, so I would just go in the house and try again after a while. Eventually he would come down to me, but not until I had been calling him for twenty minutes or so.

Once, as we were eating supper the phone rang; Gloria got up and answered it, then said, “OK. OK. I’ll tell him. Goodbye.” Hung up and walking back to the supper table said to me, “That was Billy Jack Simmons. He said you need to get over to his house and capture your coon.”

“Well shit!” I said. “OK. Gotta go. Great supper Gloria.”

“But you haven’t finis…” She said.

“Hey! I set the table. You have to clear,” Madelyn interrupted as I was looking for my car keys.

“Later Sis. I owe you one,” I said, having found my keys and with one foot out the back door.

Billy Jack’s house was about a mile away. When I arrived there was a large crowd of kids and adults standing under a big walnut tree in the front yard. I sauntered over and announced to the crowd, “Y’all got my coon tree’d up ‘n there?” (I can speak ‘Texas Southern’ just as pretty as you please when the situation seems to warrant).

One little kid with a flashlight in his hand says, “Yeah. He way up yonner thar,” as he shown the light up toward the very top of the tree.

“Well, can’t really make his face out, but I do reckon that would be Leroy,” I said and then began calling to him to come down, not really knowing if he would or not in a timely fashion, especially since he might not have known the intent of the large number of folks standing around staring up at him. To my surprise (and relief) he began his descent immediately and within two minutes he was climbing onto my shoulder. Everyone in the crowd started clapping and as if on cue, Leroy took his paw and pulled my chin over so he could lick me on my lips. He had done this before and it was always a real crowd-pleaser.

“That there’s the damn’dst thing I ever seen,” Billy Jack said over the ‘ahhs’ of the rest of the crowd.

“Billy Jack, I do thank you kindly for calling. I’m sorry for the trouble.”

“Aw hell Boy! T’weren’t no trouble. No trouble a’tall.”

“OK; well thanks again,” I said as Leroy and I got into my station wagon.

After I graduated from high school and was making plans to move to Commerce and begin college, I had to decide what to do with Leroy. I could not keep him in the apartment I was going to rent. That was certain. He and I traveled to Winnsboro to visit with my maternal grandparents who lived on a hundred acre tract of East Texas piney woods a few miles outside of town.

My grandfather loved critters (to a point), and my plan was to ask him take care of Leroy. Since my granddaddy was a hard-headed old crusty curmudgeon, prone to immediately dismiss any idea sprung from my brain (“Boy! I lived through The Great Dee-pression! You don’t know th’ value of a dollar!” And on and on in similar fashion every time I opened my mouth to vocalize any idea or opinion I had) I would have to find just the right moment to broach the subject of his adopting Leroy for me.

As it turns out, Leroy saved me the trouble. One evening at dusk, I was trying to get him down out of the very large pecan tree which dominated the back yard. Leroy was not coming down. I kept trying every hour or so and finally gave up and went to bed.

Next morning he was gone and I would never see him again. This saddened me, but perhaps it was for the best.

In my mind I know he made it alright and had a good life. My heart will not allow me to think otherwise.

“Go Rocky!”

Vid Cred: A Headsup

In My Time Zone…

It remains Thursday.

Some bug in my head reminded me as September rapidly  approaches…

An anniversary 

As we celebrate freedom…

Well, Here is a video preamble:

And I aim to keep my promise.

(This one is personal, and no need to read. Just a thing I do as September crowds me, and bad dreams haunt me)

***

Here:

In 1971 when my step-sister Madelyn and I were fourteen and thirteen respectively, my parents would often go out of town on the weekends. My father and stepmother seemed to always have some magic convention or gathering to attend in Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, or any number of other venues. My father knew all the local high school kids from his directing of the senior plays every year. Two of the former graduates, Ronnie and Doug, then about twenty years old, remained very good friends of my father and particularly Ronnie, (who was Peanut’s Uncle). My father decided that Madelyn and I needed a ‘baby-sitter’ while he and Gloria were off on their long weekends, so they paid Doug and Ronnie to look after us.

Now mind you, Madelyn and I were both pretty certain we were over-mature for our age and could easily fend for ourselves, but we loved having two “big brothers” to help us throw the greatest parties in the history of Honey Grove while under their tutelage. We used Marcom Manor as our venue of course and were always in a rush to get the house back into some semblance of order before the folks returned, usually on a Sunday, but occasionally on a Monday or Tuesday.

During Labor Day Weekend of 1971 my parents were off to a big convention in Houston and we had a great party planned for Sunday the Fifth of September. We were to have ‘The Mother of All Parties’ out at Lake Coffeemill, north of Honey Grove. (The party was going to serve double duty for me, as my fourteenth birthday was just five days away.)  Right up until the night before, I had no date lined up for this all-day Blow-Out, and I was in a panic.

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