Home Town Heroes by Mac McStravick - HTML preview
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“Home Town Heroes” By P.R. (Mac) McStravick
2114 Musket Ridge Richmond, Texas 77406 Ph. 281-239-8539This book and all its properties are copyrighted by the Author This book is dedicated to the Men, Women, Coaches, and Marines who have influenced my life.
This book is also dedicated to my parent ’s family, who have been my best friends over these many years.
And, my parents themselves.
A special thanks goes out to the late Rosemary “Ma” Dunk, and Mike Tawney for their encouragement and support,
And to those young men who have fought, bleed, and supported me on my own sports’ teams over the years- Thank you; I have loved you all.
“ Skipper” O’Brien - A former Korean Marine who coaches in a small town in Texas. He has decided that this is the year they could go all the way to the state play-offs. He has decided to invest in a new offensive coordinator.
Emil ( Robert E. Lee) Lee Sanchez- Of Cajun/Spanish descent: a young man who is new to Texas high school football, but a former college player himself. He has just been hired by Skipper and the Rocin Bulls.
Bob Zeminski- a coach at Rocin High School. A former Vietnam soldier who is called “Killer Bob” by the players due to his intensity and light amount of talking. Coaches the linebackers and kick-off teams.Harry Smith- Called “Handsome Harry” by the players. Tries to romance every woman he meets and does succeed more often then not. Coaches the receivers and secondary.
David Sheppard- a troubled young man who is very close to Skipper, makes a mistake and has the choice to go to jail or to prison. He has family trouble, and he a very talented athlete. See Skipper as his father figure.Deputy Zycheck- deputy who arrest and helps Skipper with David. Vice Principal Smith- portly middle aged man , who has a inferiority complex, and is jealousy of Skipper’s success. Doc Woods- Town and team doctor. **Father Tom Fitzgerald (?)- Catholic priest at St. Reverend Hope- First Baptist of Rocin Pastor Charles (Chuck) Neilson- Lutheran minister David Shepard- former captain of football team, that got in trouble and had to join the Army. Anne Beckingdorf- nurse and wife of Muley Sanchez Jimmie (Aussie) Knowles- QB move in from Australia Doug Wohl- good player who gets in trouble with girl-friend and is suspended for one game. Whale Hale- Heavy lineman; CPR object, loses dad? Hog Curtis- grows into body. Parents confront Skipper Gloria Nugent- girl-friend of Doug Wohl Henry- Old WW I veteran who works as the janitor at the Rocin field house. Has a run in with Mr. Smith the Vice-principal.
Johnny Steptoe- Young kid who does nit have enough to eat. Skipper shares his food with him, and starts buying him bread and peanut butter to keep in a locker so that he has lunch.Dell“Clydesdale” Schrick - Large and raw boned youth, slow, but powerful at the T.E. position. Jay“Juking” Jones- One of a pair of running backs. Can take a hit and keep running. Mike“mincemeat” Mentz- A defensive L.B who can throw a football. Makes a great play at running back for the pitch pass. James Stuckey III- Star basketball players, wants to plat for Skipper, but parents would not let him, so that he could get a B-ball scholarship.
Rico Vasquez- large lineman who is graduating Muley ’s first year at Rocin. Fight James after verbal exchange during lunch. Muley stops them, and Skipper sets-up the boxing event.Shamus O’Rourke- One of the founders of the town; Rocin named after him: stubborn mule, bad -tempered human. James McStay- Another founder of the town.
School: Rocin High School in Central Texas , between Houston and San Antonio-headed out I-10. The community is based on farming (this is starting to change) and is mostly white in its make-up. Does have a growing Hispanic population.Sister Mary Margaret - Muley’s Catholic elementary school teacher. Mary Bella Koreneke- History department head at Rocin H.S. Mrs. Shupac- Garage apartment landlady for Muley
Leon (Old Mac) McCall- old time farmer, retired and spend time in court house square. “Tiny” Martinez- best B-B-Q around Rocin; heavy set man, with restaurant. Caters for Muley’s wedding receptionIgnacio “Iggy” Martinez- Owns the meat market next to his brother’s restaurant Homer Hal Halichek- owner of burger. (Greasy hair, white T-shirt) joint near school, ask about Skipper Edward”Zippy” Zipalac- The other running back with “Juking” Jones Sean “The Rooster” - not the Hen- Hennessy- back-up QB for Aussie at the El Toro game. Nacho Rios- linemen Skipper send in during game between El Toro and Rocin Mike“The Vise” Vacek- the other linebacker besides Mentz George“Godzilla” Godfrey- Fullback for Rocin. Large and strong Guadalupe “Lupe” Lopez- Center for team. James “and the giant peach” Jarvis
Common sense in schools today is still an issue but on a larger scale. When Zero Tolerance can send a student to jail and deprive them of the learning environment for a pocket knife brought accidental to school, we are losing a battle with our youths. The professionals who tell me that giving a student three or four pops with a no-nonsense piece of oak is not promoting respect, but fear, I say - YOU BET! Fear is what keeps your students from making too many mistakes. Fear is what will keep the respect and authority in the schools, and keep the law out of it. Young people will make mistakes, that is a given, but should their mistakes be compounded by dealing them into the judicial system and giving them a criminal record? Over the past few years, I watched many of my own players lead down this twisted judicial path, and seen the effects it has on the family. When you compare the life a youth lives to a race you find, it is in running the sprints right out of the blocks that our youths lose themselves to the seven deadly sins, but the true measure of a youth’s life is taken many years from now in the long distance race of time.
Skipper was not afraid to “lay the wood” to needed victims, but he used it very judiciously. Holes played it off with a treasure trove of paddle assortments and implied threats. But, should a firm and strong hand be needed to weld a paddle, then Handsome Harry was the best choice. For a man who spent his life going from bar to gym and back again, he was the one who could “light them up”. Two good licks from Harry’s paddle made a believer out of many a would-be felons. In all my experience, it is the fear of a consistent and a immediate punishment that keeps your athletes in line.
I felt a strange sense of homecoming mixed with a fear of the unknown as I entered the new stadium in Rocin. The stadium had been named after Robert E. Zeminski, the head-football coach for Rocin High School the past twenty years. He had retired at least five years ago from Rocins newly consolidated school district, but his memory had been itched on so many young men from these small farming towns and communities, that they gave him the highest tribute they had to offer: his name on their stadium.
I jammed my hands into my leather bomber coat as a cool wind blew through me on the shady side of the stadium. It was not a blue norther, but the wind was not aware of the difference as it cut through me and lifted what little hair remained on my head. No real damage that a good finger swipe could not fix, but I wish I had my cap.
My path lead me into the stadium and up towards the top of the stands. From this vantage point I could see the field, the sidelines and the end zones in entirety. There was no sound: no cheers, no yells, or whistles, just the sound of your own thoughts as they bounced around your head looking to be chosen and nursed into a vivid memory. And as I sat down on the cold metal seat, I realized : what memories I have had.
It had been a long time since I had sat in the stands. My retirement gave me certain benefits such as sitting in the press box observing numerous high school football games. I had never sat in the stands at Rocin High School before. Or had I?No, I had sat in the stands at Rocin Stadium. It was the night I found “Killer Bob” at the old stadium drinking alone in the stands. Alone with his fears, and mine.
I had a habit of thinking of Ski as “Killer Bob”, I guess I was as bad as the kids…heck I was a kid then and Ski scared me, but Skis death had brought me back to the town of Rocin , and fond memories of Rocin High School, which started my introduction to Texas high school football, and my mentor, Coach “Skipper” O„Bryan. Skis death had brought me full circle again to the home of my working youth, to the beginning of what the sport„s columnists called a“very successful career“ in coaching high school football. In those two years Skipper taught me more about life and people, than in the past twenty-eight years I spent coaching football. And, for that, I cannot thank him enough.
I wish there was a way to break down the word love and separate it into categories, but to my mind, love means a deep and abiding affection, and should not be confused with a robust and passionate feeling called lust. I can say I loved Skipper, and in the mix of words that penetrate my mind and erratically amble through my head, that mean many things, such as : respect, admire, care, trust, and yes, even a little bit, fear. Looking around at the new stadium with its gleaming chrome rails, white shining cement, and sparkling fresh paint, I realize, this is what Skippers love had built.
But, it was in a much smaller Rocin Stadium then this one that the fear Ski and I shared ended my second season at Rocin, and the love we shared was Skipper and the Boys. Skipper started building this dream catcher my first year at Rocin. That was the reason he brought this unknown, untried offensive coordinator here. This is where my memory, my career, and my undying love for Skipper and our Boys starts.
Skipper ….. He is never far from my mind or thoughts. Perhaps one of the highest tributes I can pay the man was, I never made a decision without wondering, “what would Skipper do?”. I still wonder what Skipper would have done in our last few play-off games that last season. I wonder about a lot of things.****
I wonder why I did not melt as I drove that „61 Chevy Impala down that dusty iron ore road Skipper told me about that ran down the side of the school, and ended at the field house. Rivulets of sweat ran down my neck and buried themselves into my tight-collared cotton shirt, soaking the collar and collecting the dust as it filtered into the open window. If rivulets ran down my neck, then streams ran down my sides leaving a large amount of water damage on the sides of my dress-shirt. Not quite the best impression I had hoped to make when leaving the house of a college friend, whose parents owned a home there in Beaumont that morning.
And, even with all that physical discomfort, I was in a euphoric state. I was to be hired sight unseen as the offensive coordinator for the Rocin (pronounced “Roe-sin” by the locals) Bulls in South-Central Texas, between San Antonio and Houston. Not bad for a twenty-three year old from Homa, Louisiana. Not bad for a boy who had played a practice team running back at a division one school in my home state, and who played no more than five series in his senior year at Tech. This was my chance, and Coach Hoyt had seen to that. Coach Hoyt was my position coach at Tech, who roared when he talked, and thundered when he yelled. His hat rarely left his head, and on the rare occasions when it did, tufts of gray hair would gently move by the wind he created as he marched down the hallways of the College of Education, much like stalks of wheat, rippled by the wind in staggered waves of gusty air. He had sold my abilities to Coach Michael Patrick OBryan of Rocin High School in Rocin, Texas without having shook my hand or heard my voice. Now that is trust. A trust I did not want to let down.
What I did know from Coach Hoyt, about Coach O Bryan was they had serve together in the Marine Corps during Korean “Conflict”. They had fought their way out of the Chosin Reservoir with the First Marine Division and their legendary commander Colonel, later General, Lewis “Chesty” Puller. The lessons they had learned there in that frozen fight against the Chinese, about themselves and other men, would be the building block for all their relationships throughout their lives. Every hard situation they encountered, they could look back on this time and say, “ Ive seen worse”, or “ Ive lived through worse”. They would judge the men they coached, taught, and played against by the standards of the Marines, and the measure of bravery that common men have during uncommon times.
I found out later that Coach O Bryan had joined the Marines near the end of the Second World War, left the Corps as soon as he could be mustered out to get married, and finish his college education on the G.I. Bill. He had almost made the civilian transition from Marine to educator, when he received a small letter in the mail asking him to report for duty in Korea.
He was not alone. These men who had fought so gallantly on Iwo Jima, and Guadalcanal were now being called back into service, after about a four year absence. These men who had thanked God for the safe return of their lives and their sanity after W.W.II, were now being asked to return to a new task and a new enemy. The bitter taste of resentment could well have lead them to a desire to run, but they did not. They could not: duty called, and they reported. I would not understand the special pride men who have served in the Marines have until my son joined and became one of the Few, the Proud. I will never forget his letters, nor the pain I felt during his time in training, but , I also will not forget the strange feeling a man has when he observes his son doing something he did not or could not do. To give oneself to a greater cause then self; to hold oneself, and those he is responsible for, accountable to accomplish the missionthat is what my son did, and that is what Coach OBryan did every day of his life. To see my son, give up self, and join the ranks of those proud and fierce men, I cannot begin to explain the pride or overwhelming emotion that drained out of me and down my face the morning of his graduation. These memories volley around my head as I think back on Coach OBryan and the town of Rocin.
Another strange detail I learned about Coach O Bryan from Coach Hoyt, was that he considered himself Irish but had never been to Ireland. He was not the only one who felt this way in a town founded by Irishmen. The whole town of Rocin was made up of a generous amount of Irish, German, Ceche, and people of Mexican descent. I should not have been amazed at this make up of the town, given my own mixed French-Spanish-Irish heritage, but these people seemed to like each other, or better yet, they liked football and Skipper. The more I mixed with the town people, the more I realized they considered themselves Rosin Bulls first, and individuals second. Their loyalties started with the team and ended with the team. That could be a mixed blessing sometimes.
The last detail I learned about the man who would be my new Boss from Coach Hoyt, was that he had given up alcohol some years ago, and , I was told, you might not want to drink in his presence. I was not much of a drinking man but I did imbibe from time to time, and I wondered how this was received in a town made up of country folks who enjoyed their beer. None of this seemed to matter at the time. All the information I had learned was just back ground to what I had been asked by Coach OBryan through Coach Hoyt to do: I was to create an offensive power house that would get the Rocin Bulls to the state play-offs.Besides the dust and the heat of that morning, I was ready- sticky, but ready. Chapter Two The Beginning ****
As I drew nearer the high school, I began to notice the typical brick architecture of the 1930s, and how clean the school campus was in comparisons to other high school campuses I had seen as I drove through Southwest Texas. There seemed to be some pride in the school and the school grounds appearance. I liked the school already. I liked its strong lines made up of red brick and white-painted wood frames, which outlined the doors and windows. There was an openness about the whole campus, with the central building the focus and the out buildings arranged in organized symmetry. The schools broad fields looked like hay meadows, and the trees they had left on the perimeter where tall, strong and shade worthy. I hoped I would be able to use the cars dusty mirror before I meet Coach OBryan, or Skipper as I was to find out later he liked to be called, with the idea that I could arrange my clothes and hair, so that he would have the same impression of me. I wore my hair a bit long back then, and the dust and the wind combined from the open window to give it a Neanderthal appearance.
I pulled into a somewhat shady spot near the field house, and stopped the car, allowing the orange dust to catch up and enter into the gaping window of my car. The heat was not so bad here, but my shirt was already soaked with sweat and had achieved a somewhat smoky coloring due to the aggressive dust particles that had cling desperately there. All I could do was re-tuck this sponge I called a shirt, and straighten my tie. I opened the battered back door of the Chevy and took out my sports coat. I could not wait to put on this sweat producing blanket, I thought sarcastically, but nothing could ruin the pure joy I felt in my heart on my first day here at Rocin.
After the coat was fastened I took a moment to check out my appearance in the Chevy s small drivers side mirror. I raked my hand through my hair to re-establish a part, and felt a sticky satisfaction concerning my physical deportment. I was as ready as I would ever get. A moments hesitation gave me a chance to make the decision to leave my new briefcase, a gift from my mother, in the car. First, I wanted to meet the man who would be my“Boss”, then second, I could show him what I knew with help from my new briefcase.
As I directed my steps toward the field house; a white and red wooden structure on the east side of the field, a rather large man in faded denim overalls, a cotton undershirt and a dirty ,sweat stained Notre Dame cap came out of the middle door and, looking at me, stopped. A slow smile spread across his face, and after a slight inquisitive glance, he spit a brown stream of tobacco juice onto the dry iron ore parking area in front of the field house. I decided, after only a moments thought, he must be the janitor, or grounds keeper, and I asked him where I could find Coach O”Bryan. He seemed to regard me with a strange and bemused look, and with a chuckle, spit again, and told me to follow him. I thought it rather foreign to see a Notre Dame cap in the heart of Texas, and on a janitor or grounds keeper at that, who obviously worked for the football team. I chuckled to myself as I followed him towards a dusty old school bus melting in the late morning sun.
We got on the old yellow school with the dangerously rusted first step. I almost stepped through to the ground on my first attempted at boarding, but the man in front of me grabbed my arm and helped pull me up. The bus was parked on the west side of the school, and we waited in an awkward silence. The silence gave me time to regard the face of the man in the review mirror.
He had light blue eyes, that seemed even paler in the worn brown shoe leather you might call a face. When he turned sideways you could see the strong hawk-shaped nose, and even make out the path of the crows feet that raced to see which one could get to the corner of his eyes first. His hands, as they gripped the steering wheel, were freckled and surprisingly light of hair. The hair that was there had a reddish hue to it. I could not see under the cap, but I knew that the hair on top of his head would be cut short as was the fashion of the men of his era. He was obviously an outdoors man. This was the type of man who I should ask about whether there was good hunting around these parts. I am sure there was good hunting, especially as we moved closer to San Antonio. These thoughts where interrupted when I noticed his eyes regarding me in the rearview mirror. Just as I had decided to introduce myself to the janitor, bus driver, or whatever, a young man ran onto the bus speaking hurriedly while bounding over the first step.“Skipper, I know I can do it! I wont let you down! “I know you wont Petey. We are in for a fine day so lets get going before it gets even hotter.” This exchange lead me to change my mind about the janitor. This man must be a coach, but if he was a coach why would the kid call him by the name “Skipper”?
The man Skipper spoke again, “ Get everyone on board Petey, I want the whole defensive secondary to make it today. Nobody drops out and nobody quits”.
Petey responded in a militarily playful , yet respectful way, “Aye, Aye Skipper!” and was off.
I was not too much into things military back then, Vietnam and its protest had watered down my interest and understanding, but I believe the response had something to do with the Navy. I thought it was a silly thing to say and I vowed I would never make others say it too me, or even use it myself.
Just as I had reconciled myself to this fact, I heard Skipper say ,
“Hold on, here comes the thundering herd!”
Sure enough, twelve boys raced towards the bus and their feet began to beat a hasty tattoo up the metal steps of the bus- skipping the rusted step- and down the aisle, choosing their seats as they went. Their voices were the loud and excited voices of young man headed out upon an adventure. I had no idea where we were going, but I felt the excitement becoming apart of me.
The Skipper ground the bus into first gear, and we were off. The big bus shot out of the parking lot, leaving a trail of dust behind us. We turned left onto Main street, and, with a quick exchange of gears, we were headed down the road and out of he town. The excitement turned into fear as I realized I did not know where we were going, or what we were doing. I found my thoughts getting louder in my head as the whine of the engine rose, and the noise of the “Herd” behind me took on epic proportions. After a failed attempt to make conversation with Skipper, I leaned my head and back against the window, picked my feet up, and decided to keep my ever increasing volumes of thoughts to myself and wait. This man, who had invited me with his Notre Dame cap, did not seem to be an idiot, and he had understood my question- or had he? My nervousness increased, but I did not want to show my ignorance to this man and these boys over the sound of the buss engine.
I watched the sun play peek-a-boo between the trees, and play its rays in random patterns across the inside of the bus, sometimes blinding me with light ,and, at other times, hiding me in shade. Even the dust played into this game, as it floated downward , in and out of the light ,and laid down gently on the first object that got in its way. After about ten miles the bus came to a stop near a small rest area. The boys unloaded from the bus and began a warm-up exercise similar to what I had done in college before a long run. Skipper and I had off-loaded from the bus while the boys stretched, and I found myself enjoying the shade here in the park, but still a little nervous about the time and my first meeting with Coach OBryan.
I walked back towards Skipper, and asked when I would meet Coach O ”Bryan. Skipper gave me another droll smile, and said soon. I then asked him about that, “Aye, Aye , Skipper”, response I had heard the young man spout off before the “Herds“ arrival. He informed me it had started as a joke years ago, and it had stuck, and now, every kid who had him as a coach used it with some degree of respect and humor.
I am not sure how the words actually came out of my mouth, but I gather from his expression I had said something wrong. The moment they had left my mouth I wish I could have stopped them, and pushed back into my mouth without anyone hearing, or at least understanding them. I know that with my twenty -three years of life experiences and the socialist professor I had had for Central American history, I felt rather superior with intelligence. Now, as this man Skipper was just a coach or something, and I was at least his equal as a college graduate, I may have felt the need to enlighten him into my way of thinking.
Enlighten him I must have done, because his demeanor changed. This Skipper fellow just looked at me with his squint-eyed, weather-beaten face, and for a brief time I felt the weather grow a tad bit cooler for a summer day in Texas. Then, his eyes relaxed, he gently nodded his head, pulled his hat down low over his eyes, and headed for the bus with a quick measured step. The boys had already taken off for the run back to school. I followed him tentatively, back to the bus as I realized my mistake and wished again I had not spoken about this declaration that had taken place between Skipper and Petey.
I started to apologize, but the tall man in the cap, keep marching towards the bus. I know I was worried about his feelings , but I was more then a little worried about what this man might say to Coach OBryan. I did not know what their relationship was like; could he be his brother, friend, or even fellow coach? These were troubling thoughts as the tall man would not respond to my atoned mental comments.
Skipper had not turned the bus off, and as he got on he shut the door before I could step up and onto the bus. He put the old bus into gear, and without looking down towards me, slowly started to move the old bus forward. I felt a wave of nausea hit me as I realized he meant to leave me here with the long walk back to Rocin High School, in my blister making new wing-tipped cowboy boots I had just bought for this occasion. I already knew I was late for my meeting with Coach O”Bryan , but both fears alone could have easily made me sick. With Skipper driving, the bus continued to creep forward, and all I could do was yell.
“ Youre not going to leave me here are you? Please Skipper open the door, I am already late for my meeting with Coach OBryan. “
In desperation, I began again, “ If I said something out of line Mr. Skipper, I am sorry!”
Skipper stopped the slow moving bus, opened the door and spit, just missing my new boots.
“ Son, he said, you have already meet Coach OBryan. You just rode seven miles with him out to this here park, and unless you can make me believe you are a better coach at football then you are a conversationalist, you are going to walk the seven miles back to the high school. Comprende?”
I nodded, and hurriedly entered the bus. I sat down, and looked up into the rearview mirror and saw him smile. And, I thought, perhaps I would be able to eat lunch today without pitching my breakfast into the nearest convenient . This was the not so promising introduction to my new Boss. I learned a valuable lesson that day, and that is too keep your mouth shut until you know who is who at your new job.
That s how I met Rocins High Schools head football coach. All the way back on the bus Skipper and I talked football. When he wasnt laughing, his piercing, light blue eyes keep appraising me in the rearview mirror. I didnt realize it then but he was making up his mind about me. That I kept the job must have meant I had passed muster.
The long yellow school bus , with the hot afternoon summer wind flowing through the open windows, knifed its way through the iron ore parking lot of the high school and back towards the small stadium and field house. The field house sat on the right hand side, or east side of the stadium, with the two main practice fields to the right of the field house. If you want through the left hand doors towards the stadium, it was game time. If you went to the right hand doors it was practice time. If you want south, you where a coach, or you were in trouble. But, as a coach, there was a door that went directly into the office and changing room. We were headed there.
Both of us alighted form the bus, and walked companionably into Skipper s office to talk shop. This was my first chance to see inside my new office area, and I was not surprised by the cluttered condition of the desks of the men who worked here. The main room was not air-conditioned and smelled of stale sweat, old grass and mildewed uniforms. There were four desk in the room which , for some reason, faced each other, two on each side. Upon each desk was at least two spit cans: Coke or coffee cans, and crinkled up pouches of Red Man chewing tobacco. Also, on or around the desks were whistles, caps, and scarps of old food pickling and decaying on top of the desks.
It was somewhat good to see things were not so different then in our coaches office in college. There was no need to ask Skipper about hunting, for upon the walls were stuffed heads of deer, bobcats, and , believe it or not, even a Texas longhorn. Each animal had a variety of objects hanging from his horns or head. Whistles and stops watches were the most prevalent hanging from these horns, but there were even a few Christmas ornaments littered among the antlered designees . I had to admit, I felt comfortable in this bizarre environment.
Skipper and I sat down in the room, and began to talk. As Coach Hoyt had told me, Skipper spoke of the team and his belief that the next two years were the most important to the success of his program and the town of Rocin. He believed that with the talent of his upcoming sophomores and junior classes he could build the type of team that could win the state play-offs. This was the best group of athletes he had seen in his almost twenty years in this town and he did not want to let the town, nor his Boys, down. When I questioned him about “his Boys”, did he mean the team?
He looked at me for a moment, and with a sobering stare, stated without flinching, “No, I mean all the boys who have every played for me.”
This surprised me. What did they care, besides pride in their home team? I asked him
Skipper kind of smiled then, and said, “ I know it sounds a little silly, but it is my truth, and what I want to give them. These next two years I have the chance to get to that state play-offs and you are going to get us there. Your job is to do your offensive magic to make points, my job is to keep them from scoring points.” And with a knowing and confident grin, he pronounced, “Together we can make this happen.”
I felted elation at being selected as the offensive savior of this team, but scared too. All this information Skipper had handed me had overwhelmed me, and I needed sometime on my own to think. This was not to happen.
I heard the voices before I saw anyone. Their playful voices sounded like men who knew each other well, and could tease and joke without taking offense. I turned towards the door and in walked three suntanned and double-knitted, polyester shorted men. They ranged in age from their late twenties to early forties.
I was introduced to Bob “Killer Bob” Zeminski, Harry“Handsome Harry” Smith, and Earl “Holes” Schuyler. Killer Bob, or Ski, as Skipper called him, was about twenty nine and had joined up with Skipper as soon as he finished his tour in Vietnam, and graduated from college.
He looked very military with his trim athletic build, closed cropped hair and mirror sun-glasses all the policemen seemed to be wearing now-a-days. Handsome Harry lived up to his reputation. He had blond, collar length hair, parted down the middle and held in place with some type of hair spray that I only saw him use once. The can of hair spray was so large it had to be held with two hands while still manipulating the nozzle on top. I laughed so hard, Harry never did it in front of me again. If there was a mirror or window glass around , you could bet Harry was looking in it. The man was a little vain, and seemed distracted a lot. I guess it had something to do with all the husbands in the area who always seemed to be looking for him, and all the running he was doing to get away from them, but still finding time for their wives.
Earl, or “Holes”, on the other hand was a different breed. I liked him right away. He was a large humorous sort of guy, whose loyalty to his position players was second only to his enjoyment of a well placed practical joke. I once asked him why he was called “Holes”? He smiled his devil may care smile, and remarked, “When I was growing up the men always called me either an “A-hole”, or a“Butt-hole” for all my practical jokes. Today, in polite society, I am just called “Holes”. Kinda keeps the folks guessing- dont you think?”
Even though I could not get use to Killer Bob s silence and those weird mirrored glasses, I grew to enjoy the company of most of those men and care greatly for them. I learned a lot from each one of them: whether it was what to do, or what not to do.****
Coach O Bryan introduced me to the other coaches and told them of my very limited credentials. Killer Bob had temporarily been running the offense, and though I could not see his eyes, I could feel the heat that came through those mirrored images. I seemed to be making an enemy on my first day without even trying.Skipper again declared his thoughts on these next two years and how important they would be to the success of the team and the importance of wining the state title for all the boys.
“ Gents, Sanchez is the real deal. He and his offense are going to get us where we want to go! Ski, you will take over the defensive side of the ball, working with the secondary, and continue to work with the receivers. Harry, you will work with Sanchez here, with the running backs and quarterbacks, while continuing to work the linebackers. Sanchez, you will work with the defensive ends, and Holes, you and I will continue to work on the offensive and defensive line.”Ski took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. You could tell he was not convinced, and he was waiting to be asked what was the problem. Skipper saw this and asked,“What is it Ski?”
“ Coach“, Ski responded,“ hes just a kid. He is younger then me, and with less experience. The first year we will be breaking him in, and by the second year he just might be a good coach. But, taking us to the state play-offs? I dont know about that, Skipper!”Skipper took his time to answer, but focused his full attention on Ski.
“ Ski, he comes highly recommended by Coach Hoyt of State. He volunteered to coach at Jeff Davis High School in Louisiana during his last two years at State for Coach Babe Taylor. Both of these men I personally know and trust, and because of this trust their word is good enough for me. I hope you all understand, and if not, I am sorry, but that is the way it is going to be.” Skipper declared.Ski, held Skippers eyes, and neither one blinked. Finally, Ski broke contact and looked away gently shaking his head in disbelief. I could not blame, nor fault him.
The room was silent as the other coaches took in what was happening. I had not realized I was to be such an abrupt catalyst for change. Harrys and Holes eyes where on Skipper, when Ski turned his head back towards him.
“ Am I still the JV head coach?”
Skipper shook his head yes without taking his eyes off Ski
“ What is he then?” Ski asked.
Skipper responded, “ He my first offensive assistant. He will call the shots when I am not
Ski, with a look of disbelief, exclaimed, “ What are you?”
Skipper, with a twinkle in his eye, proclaimed, “ I am the BOSS!”
This statement seemed to break the tension with slight smiles all around, a shakings of
Some questions are asked by Harry and Hole about the type of offense I was planning to run and why I would run it. I gave them my best answers and they seemed satisfied, accepting of my knowledge- but I know I was not home free. The true test would come when Skipper was not around, and the first day of practice.
About this time, Holes got up and went to the toilet. I thought nothing of it, but Skipper and Harry exchanged some looks.
“ Did youll go to the city café? Skipper asked
Harry responded, “ You know it.”
Ski, not looking at me but talking towards me none the less, exclaimed bitterly“ Youre in for a treat.”
Holes conducted his business in a timely fashion ended by the hearty flush of the commode. He shut the door, and came out smiling. He turned his head to the side, and rolled his eyes bringing his head back to the center. From this gesture I could tell I did not want to go into that bathroom any time soon. And, based on the others faces, of shaking heads, and fanning hands I knew they agreed with me.
I turned back towards the door when I heard it open. In breezed a man who must have considered himself of importance, measured by the way he carried himself and how offended he looked at the sight of the coaches office. I was to learn later that this was Vice-principal Smith. He was dresses in a dark suit with a large navy and powdered blue polyester tie. He was a medium sized man, about thirty-five, but his waist line was vastly in expanse of his age.
With a smug, uptight expression, he walked into the coaches office and let them have it. Smith bombasted the coaches,“ Why is it I ask for two days for you people to bring me hammer, and you are all too busy, and I come in here and I find everyone of you sitting down and doing nothing?”
I could see his comment had hurt Skipper who, much like a horse, reared back his ears, tightened his face and narrowed his eyes in anger. I found myself a little scared for the safety of this man in the dark suit.
But, before Skipper could speak, Holes does.
“ Mr. Smith, I believe the hammer is on the middle shelf there in the bathroom over the commode.” Holes said and then pointed toward the bathroom door.
“ Isnt that right Harry?” Holes asked innocently.
Harry just nodded, and restrained a smile by looking down.
Mr. Smith looking put out and disgusted, marched between the desks and into the bathroom shutting the door behind him as if the vulgarity of him being viewed in the facilities was beneath him.
Holes moved over towards Harry s desk and with large eyes and shallow gulps of air, looked down at Harrys desk and both of them pretend to be interested in the papers scattered about.
About this time, the bathroom door burst open and out barreled Mr. Smith, moving as fast as he could without running. He was gasping for air harder then Holes was at that moment, and therefore did not notice Harry and Holes trying to hold each other up and keep from laughing through clinched lips. As Smith moved closer to me, a obscene smell proceeded him and caught me off guard making me catch my breathe and hold it.
In a hurried gasping fashion of breathing and talking, Mr. Smith abruptly moved past the coaches and breathlessly mentioned, “ Ive got to go,… please send…me.. the hammer…. as soon as possible.”“Will do, Mr. Smith”, Holes was able to produce before, seemingly, falling down laughing at Mr. Smiths obvious discomfort.
As he exited the room, the place exploded with laughter from everyone but, Skipper. Yet, slowly his anger defused itself and was replaced with a slow spreading smile that turned into a hearty laugh, and then replaced with a deep belly laugh. When we were able to pick Holes up off the floor, the merriment wore off and we went back to work organizing, and planning for our first day with the boys. Before I left that afternoon, Skipper then warned me about the cabbage lunch buffet at the City Café. This was my first taste, or should I say smell, of Holes humor, but not my last by far.
The next day brought about my meeting with the all the football players who had showed up to met the new coach. All the coaches and players were there, and we met in the coolness of the shade, protected from the sun by the bleachers of the stadium. Skipper had a habit of using nick names so as to remember the names of his boys. But, he did not stop with just his boys, he also had a habit of using them with his coaches if he forgot their names. My full name is Emile Robert E. Lee Sanchez, or Emile Lee Sanchez for short, thanks to my parents Spanish, French and Southern heritage. Therefore, for the first twenty-three years of life I want by the name of Emile, but Skipper, as can be his habit of listening but not retaining, got a little mixed up and during the introduction.. He looked down at some notes he had made, but without his glasses he struggled, and after a short pause, followed by determined resignation, raised his voice and said, “I would like to introduce you to our new offensive coordinator, Coach “Muley” Sanchez“. I did not hear the rest of the words he spoke. I just kept looking over at him shocked.
He had thrown the Emile and Lee together, mispronounced them, and came up with “Muley”. I now had a new nick name, and thanks to Skipper, it stuck. He used it whenever he needed to tease , or instruct me, which seemed to be all the time. The other coaches followed suit calling me Muley whenever the players and students were not around.. To his credit, I do not believe the other coaches ever heard Coach OBryan call my anything but Coach Sanchez before this event.
He used his own memory keeping device all the time. I remember asking him how he chose certain kids nick names. He just smiled and laughingly told me he used something similar to their real name, so that he could always keep it handy, and the kids felt special. If their name was Cook, he called them “ Cookie”, if their name was Lee, he called them “ General Lee”. I know it worked, but how he keep the ten different “ Smithys” he had had over the years separate, or the seven “Jonesys” I do not know. But, when they came back to visit he always had time for them, and he always remembered their nick names. That was what he had done to me; he had added my names together into a memory device, given it a visual, and come out with a Mulie.
After my introduction, and the variation or butcher-ation made on my first two names, the boys went on their own to work out. I dont remember having this put on a sheet of paper to be memorized, but Skipper had a unique belief system when it came to working out. This belief system probable came with him from the Marines, but he had put voice to it. He believed that the only way to train his boys was for them to outlast their opponent. This meant conditioning. And, he conditioned all the time. Even his offensive line conditioned, and to please him they would condition during the hot summer months when they were not baling and loading hay, by running around the track inside the stadium, or up and down the stadium„s steps. Petey and the defensive secondary boys, who I had met on the bus my first day were expected to run long conditioning runs during the summer to toughen them up. Keeping their size large was not an issue. The linemen, both offense and defense, ran shorter distances, but used the track in the evening at the stadium. Linemen may look slow, but upstairs, where the the mental work is processed, the boys are lightening quick. I overheard one old coach speak at a football clinic speak on telling the difference between a defensive lineman and a offensive lineman, after the substitution rule change, which allowed teams to make use of two platoon football teams. He said, that the way to separate the two groups was to run them into the ground during a practice, then allow them a break near some shade. This is when the two groups begin to decompose into classic linemen deviations. The defensive linemen types would take a short break, then pick up a football and begin to throw it around, challenging each other. Offensive linemen types would, on the other hand, stay in the shade, resting, knowing that any minute they would be called into action, and have to give rather generously of their limited energy. That old coach knew what he was talking about.
Most evenings, I would invariable find Skipper leaning on the chest high, chain linked fence that surrounded the stadium watching his line boys going round and round and encouraging them to do more or go faster. The boys always seemed to go faster within 50 yards of him, and slow down 50 yards past, but they tried. One young man in particular drew my attention. He was definitely over weight and not in good physical condition, with his shimmel shirt riding above his cavernous sized navel, and his huge stretch-marked stomach rolling like a counter-balancing apparatus; just watching him was painful, but he was game to try. His last name was Hale, and therefore you can guess his nick name: thats right “Whale Hale”. He did not seem to mind, but for the first two months I could never bring myself to call him Whale.
I stood with Skipper my second evening there at Rocin High School Stadium, and I watched his boys jogging around the track. The days heat had cooled down some , but it was still August in Texas, where even standing still the humidity would find you and stick with you until it had grown into goblets, and needed more room to roam. In which case it found the room in your socks, shirt, or even shorts: which was the most uncomfortable. Hale was on his third laborious lap, when Skipper spoke to me.
“ Have you ever heard about something called CPR?” he asked.
“No, Sir.” I responded.
“Well, it is dealing with bringing back the dead, or keeping someone alive long enough for
In my mind , I thought this was a rather strange thing to bring up, but I realized Skipper was trying to tell me something. We keep the silence between us until Hale joged, or waddled by on his forth lap. Skipper looked at me in his amused sort of way.
“ You see Whale over there? If he goes down, the two of us will have to perform this thing called CPR. One of us will have to put their mouth on his to blow air into his lungs, the other will have to push on his chest. ”
At this point, I now clearly understood where Skipper was headed with this CPR discussion, but I waited.
“ You ever play paper, rock , scissor?“ he asked.
I laughed hesitatingly, “ Once or twice when I was a kid.”
“ Good,” he said, “ when Whale goes down, winner gets chest, and loser gets lips. Ready…., on three…. One- Two- Three- Shoot!”
This was my introduction to Skipper s sense of humor. It seemed mean-spirited at first, and though he laughed at his boys expense he stilled loved them. When Hale lost his grandfather in a farming accident, it was to Skipper he turned to for love and comfort. I remember walking by Skippers office seeing the two of them holding one another, and I suspect crying though Skipper would probable not have admitted to it. That boy would not have found comfort without Skippers broad shoulders to cry on. The Coach was always there for his Boys.
When two-a-days started and the boys were all seated in neat little columns and rows I got my first taste of how he“addressed the troops“, as he called it.
“Gents, I would like to begin this motivational period to talk to you about the challenges of fire fighting. To go into a burning building and bring out babies, and old ladies as the building is burning and falling down around you takes guts. To climb up a mechanical ladder two or three stories, and turn on your sprayer and aim it at the raging fire while clinging to that ladder for dear life, my friends, is the definition of a hero at work. But, you Gents are not fireman. One, you are too young, and two, you cannot aim. So the next one of you little fireman who goes into my head (bathroom), and proceeds to put out an imaginary fire all around the toilet including the toilet paper roll, is going to cause this team to punish until they puke.”
“Do you Gentlemen understand me?”
“Great”, he responded,” Ive missed you Boys, now lets get to work.”
During this beginning of two-a-days, I had the pleasure of meeting many of the Coach s Boys. One of the boys that sticks out in my mind was David Shepard. He was one of the two captains on our team that year. He was big and fast, and quick to put up his fists to end an disagreement. I would watch him unload on other players that year, friend or foe, with a devilish passion. It was not till a“Meet the Coaches Night” that I begin to understand his anger. In coaching, as in teaching, the apple is the great fruit we use to make comparisons. I call it the “apple theory”. In it the apple theory holds, that the apple-player, does not fall far from the tree-parent. I meet Davids father.
David s father was a large man also, whose anger rode the surface of his presence like a captain of his ship. He bullied his way into the booster club meetings, cutting people off verbally, and would stand up and shout at anyone who got in his way. As a despot, or tyrant he would have been an excellent cast, if one was making a movie; we were not making a movie, and as for the role of parent, he was not well casted.
After this meeting I begin to watch him interact with David. I was not the only one though. I also saw Skipper watch, and take mental notes of all David had to endure. The father did not like the way he looked, played, or spoke. I watched him slap him after our first loss that year, for missing a finger tip tackle on a juking, deceptive-type runner that could have saved the game for us. It took everything I had not to walk over there confront Davids father, but Skipper beat me too it. Mr. Shepard was standing next to his old Dodge sedan, where he had been waiting for David after the game. Skipper approached with a rapid pace.
“ Mr. Shepard“, he began, “ Off campus David is yours, on campus he is mine. And, while you are on campus you will be kind enough to keep your hands off him.”
The two men stood there sizing each other up, both leaning forward in an aggressive stanceneither flinching, nor backing off. I found myself more curious, them fearful in how Skipper would handle this hostile situation. The only one I felt sorry for was David. Win or lose, he would not have a good night tonight at home. I waited.
Skippers face was stretched back from the front of his face. His ears were laid back much like a horse before he bites. His fist were clinched, and there was no doubt in my mind Skipper had decided he would make his stand on this issue right then. Looking back on this scene from the security and seasoning of years gone by, my reaction was just like one of the kids. Like the kids I wanted action, but without the benefit of experience, I was unsure what action was needed.
Mr. Shepard finally spoke through his anger. “ Listen, you son-of-a………, what I do with my son on or off campus is none of your business. The next time you challenge my authority over my son , I will kick youre a...”
With a step forward, Skipper closed what little of the proximity remained fast. With fist clinched, these two were going to go at it, and there was nothing I could do. But, I was ready to help the Boss out should he need it, even though my money was on Skipper.
There may have been some slight doubt in my mind how this event would have turned out had not Mr. Smith, the Vice-Principal, come onto the scene. I was not a big fan of Mr. Smith, but on this occasion he proved why he was given a position of responsibility.
“ Gentlemen”, he stated in a commanding voice with his black suit hiding his corpulent size in the dark, “ I have alerted the police, and they are on their way. I will ask you both to stop this confrontation, in front of the players and the public. Mr. Shepard, you need to leave the school grounds immediately, and Coach OBryan you need to go back to the field house and wait for me there. Should either one of you want to talk about this issue further, please make arrangements with the school secretary to see me at your earliest connivance tomorrow.”
Both men eyed each other, but Skipper was the first to leave, turning quickly on his heels, and heading out of the anticipating parking arena. He walked swiftly, and angrily back towards the field house. I followed , but keep my distance. Skipper entered the main office, and went quickly to his office and sat down. He did not shut the door, nor did he turn on the lights. He just sat there in the darkness until Mr. Smith walked into the main office area.
Mr. Smith, continued walking on through the office area, looking around with disgust as he barreled towards Skippers door. He was met at the door by the Boss, whose eyes were still narrowed with anger. Smith had just made it past the door, and into the darkened room which blazed with light as soon as Skipper hit the switch. The door closed with bang, and voices rose in an angry and urgent volume.
I heard Skippers voice rise over Smiths voice, like a aircraft carrier versus a sailboat.
“ That Boy is going home to get the snot beat out of him! I cannot protect him if you do not let me do my job.”
“Your job, Coach, your job?”, he bellowed, “ You would have no job if you had got into a fight with that man. Then who would you pretend to protect and serve? We would have had to fire you, and that jerk would have sued the school!”
I continued to listen, trying as I might to find something to keep me busy. I did not want to leave in case Skipper needed me, either to talk to or to witness.
“Smith, you are a timid old woman! I do not pretend to protect them, I do it! I have no choice. I cannot hide behind the district policy, or my desk as you do. If I had lost my job tonight because I fought with David„s father, then I would have lost many of the things I hold dear, but if I did nothing, then I would have lost my self-respect. And, when all is said and done it is self-respect that defines a man. I would rather be remembered as a man who fought for what he thought was right then a man who stood by helplessly not knowing what to do and doing nothing. I cannot be you!
Mr. Smith fought to control himself. I could not see his face, but I could feel his frustration growing as he played Skippers words across his mind again after the first installment questioned courage.
“ Coach OBryan, you are a self righteous man. You and your coaches are a sorry lot, and so help me, if you lose this season, I will do everything in my power to throw you and yours out of this school and out of my district! The principal has only one or two more years, and then I take over. I can wait. Your days are almost over. No more of that, „Aye, Aye Skipper crap!”
With that, Smith must have turned around, because the door opened with a bang, and Smith walked rapidly out of the office and out the door.
“ Coach Sanchez”, I heard the growl from the inner office, “ drive around and look for David. He will probable be near his house, over by White Street. When you find him ,bring him back here to me.”
I was a little confused. I had not seen Skipper talk to David since the issue started between him and Mr. Shepard tonight. How did he know David would not be at home?
“Skipper“, I asked,“what makes you think David is not at his home with his Dad?”
He looked at me with those intense blue eyes for a moment before talking. I guess I really was missing something, but I could not put my finger on it.
“Muley,” he began softly with an edge of hardness, “ I have had personal experience. I know, he will be there. Just find him, and bring him back. I will take care of the rest.”
“O.K. Skipper. I am on my way.”
I found David near his house, just south of White Street, sitting along the ditch of a vacant lot. He came silently to the car when I drove up and stopped. He acknowledged my presence with a grudging nod, and got into the passenger seat. We drove to the field house an uncomfortable silence , not knowing what to say, so saying nothing, as words and questioned formed and evaporated in my elementary mind.
At the field house, a figure loomed in the Mercury vapor light which cast a hazy gray light on the area spot-lighted. It was Skipper in his Notre Dame cap. He turned slowly towards the cars headlights and waited for me to stop. He must have seen two heads in the vehicle, as he walked towards the passenger side of the car and greeted David, first with a handshake, and then with a side huga hug more common among men then women. David began to cry.
After that night, David stayed with Skipper for about a week, and then he disappeared for a time from the town of Rocin.
Chapter Six The Boy is More Important ****
Two-a -days is not a great time of year for the coaches and the boys. What with the yelling, screaming, conditioning, and cramping. And, that was just what the coaches went through. Two-a-days was both a conditioning time, a reviewing time, and a time for implementing new formations and plays- both offensive and defensive. Putting in the Wish-bone offense alignment was not too hard, as the boys had seen it on television, watching such college teams as Texas and Alabama line their players up in the correct positions. Learning the calls and signals was harder as the boys were not prepared for this prior to my coming. The in-between time from the morning and afternoon practices were a hard time for some of the players. In the country, many of the boys had to help their fathers out on the farms, doing chores and haling hay as this was one of the busiest times of the year for farmers and ranchers. The time to make hay is when the sun is shinning. I have heard this often, and its statement is true. If you need the hay for your livelihood, you will cut, bale and hail it, even during football season.
I do not know how they did it. I remember helping out my grandfather and his friends hauling hay, first onto the wagons, and then into the barns. It was not just the labor which took my endurance away, but the cramps in my forearms from gripping strings after strings of those square bails. Even taking a shower after this grueling work, and lathering up with soap could be a painful experience as the hands took on a mind of their own, and locked themselves into a position of painful no-use.
A few of these country boys told of putting the truck into “granny”, which is your lowest gear, getting out and letting it roll, all by itself with no one driving, while the boys threw the hay bails onto the attached trailer. Those were some hard working boys we had playing for us in Rosin, and some hard living.
Our two-a-days were hard, with a few losing their breakfast, and others wishing they could, as the nauseous feeling in their stomach could get stronger then their feeling of pain from the exercise. On a whole, the boys looked in good shape thanks to the work out program Harry and Holes had worked on during the summer months. The seventys were a time of limited water distribution and salt tablets for athletes. Hydration was not an issue, but toughness was. The boys had one water break per work-out. There were times they got none. No one dropped out of heat exhaustion, probably because every young man work outdoors during the summer months in these farming communities.****
One individual who had felt the effects of two-a-days, but had left after our first loss was David Shepard. Rumors of Shepard smoking and drinking, and even stealing were all over town the rest of that football season. And, it was in the midst of preparing for our game against Harris High School that Deputy Zychek brought David into our office that Monday evening. Deputy Zychek was a good man, who had played ball for Skipper years ago.
All he said was, “Skipper, Davids in trouble and he needs to talk with you.” It was after the afternoon practice, and Harry and I were at our desks. We could not help but over hear this exchange.
Coach OBryan keep the door open and I heard every word. Skipper withheld verbal judgment, but his look was both intent, and , yet, sympathetic. David, and some of his friends, had been caught taking items out of the back of the local discount store and reselling them to others for a profit. This profit had then been used to buy marijuana , or Pot as it was known. David had been in possession of both the stolen goods, and a significant amount of pot when he had been apprehended. David Shepard was eighteen that September, and he was going to jail.
Skipper talked quietly and let his eyes and manner do most of the comforting. He rested a gently hand upon Davids shoulder, but he spoke only a few words. He told him he would do what he could, but there would have to be a price to pay. David nodded his understanding, and then left with Deputy Zychek. I felt a deep sadness, not only for David, but for the team. He may not have been the nicest captain, but he was the one the boys had turned to on the field. He was the one we had counted on from that Monster spot to get the ball stopped and the job done. He had been hard to replace.
Skipper did not make it to practice or school that day nor the next. I began to feel a little angry with him. How were we going to beat Harris High without having all our coaches here to explain the job, and what needed to be done? No matter how bad I felt towards David„s plight, we, as coaches, had a job to do, and Skipper was not doing his. He was letting his Boys, and his coaches, down.
It was after Thursdays practice and the boys were still on the field , with the team huddled up for closing, that I noticed Skipper and David walking towards us. I had never seen the Coach all dressed up. He was in a light gray suit, with black wing tips shoes , a red and navy blue bow-tie and a fedora style hat. It reminded me of my youth and the way men use to dress when they went to work, or even to church each Sunday morning. After watching him, I knew I also needed a gray suit, because it sent a refined image in the Texas summers heat . Without looking at David , Skipper told the team of what had happened and where David had been. The boys knew most of the story, but they listened intently to what Skipper was saying. Skipper had been to see the county judge and had worked out a deal. He had not been able to get David off the burglary charges, but the judge agreed to letting David join the army. Instead of going to jail, he would serve two years, and then be given a clean record with his honorable discharge. The boys were a little shocked, Vietnam was still going on, and David most likely would be headed there. David apologized to the team for his actions. It was here that the tough shell that David had covered himself in broke in a wave of emotion. He could not speak, the lump in his throat would not let him. And, with the tears starting to swim in his eyes and the magnitude of what he had done, and how it reflected on the team, he turned around and followed Skipper back towards the field house.
I waited awhile before I went into the office area. I wanted to talk to Skipper, but I wanted to do it quietly without all the other coaches hearing. I wanted an explanation, or reason why he had skipped practice for almost three days. I could not understand his decision.
When I finally entered into the coaches office, Skipper seemed to be waiting for me. He was sitting in the common coaches area, still in his suit, playing with his hat all by himself.
“ Coach, I just want to know”, I started out asking, feeling a bit sheepish, but a gathering strength with each new word, “ why you brought me here if your emphasis was not on winning? Why was it so important for you to help Shepard, when the team is counting on you to lead them to victory tomorrow against Harris?“
“ Emile”, he said- I guess he had not forgot my name after all, “ that boy, really that man, is a fine young man. He is honest, and brave. He has never lied to me…. I cannot say that about my own son. I love him. Heck, I love all my Boys. And, if I can save even one, from the hardships I have had, or seen then maybe there is a chance that I have saved a life. He will learn from this mistake. All our Boys will learn from his mistake. But, what I want those boys on our team to take away from this is: They are all equally valuable in my eyes. They are so precious, that I will forgo my plans and dreams to show them how much I think of them, and how much I care.”
He looked down, and paused for a moment, when he looked up his face was strong with emotion.
“Make no mistake about it, “ he declared, “ I love these boys. I have trained them, whipped them and held them. They know who I am. I would rather charge hell with three of my good boys and a bucket of water, then to have all the athletes in the world and a fire hose. They trust me, and I will not lose that trust. No, Sir! I will not lose their trust because a game was more important them they were.”
His passion had risen with these words, and he spat these last words out as if it had left a bad taste in his mouth. In the pause that followed, his next statement showed his passion had abated.
“ Sorry, Muley. I have been having this very conversation with myself since yesterday. And, though I respect your right to ask that question, I believe I have made the right choice. Sometimes Carl, you have to make a stand. If you keep giving in on your values and beliefs, pretty soon you will have nothing left.”
I was awed by the sheer power of his words and what they meant. Back then, I didnt know if I could ever feel the same way that he felt, but for that moment in time, I loved and believed in Skipper. I wanted to be that good Boy of his that carried the bucket of water, and stood shoulder to shoulder with him putting out whatever fire came our way.
I was coming to understand Skippers philosophy, and much of it would become my own. Two days taken off was a lot of time during football season, and I am not sure I would have taken both days off if I was him, but the life of one of these boys was worth the price, any price, I was beginning to understand.
Chapter Seven A Question of Faith
Skipper s comments about David that night, and my suspicions about Skippers own up-bringing caught me by surprise. It took me a couple of days to muddle through his words in my own head, even as we lost that game to Harris. With my Roman Catholic upbringing, I saw Skipper as acting on his faith. His actions spoke louder then his words and maybe that was what our Boys saw in him.
I decided that when I next had an opportunity to talk privately with Skipper, I would ask him about his faith. With such an Irish last name and a Saint Christopher„s medal around his neck, my money was on him being Catholic. I never was sure what the difference was between Roman Catholic, and Irish Catholic, but my French mother did and I would take her word over almost any others. I had grown up in a nice Catholic parish in southern Louisiana, and what my mom did not know, my Abuelita, my fathers mother knew.
My opportunity to speak with Skipper came on a Monday night when we exchanged films with Cleveland High. The Coach and I made the exchange, and went back to our office to set it up and view it. Before we turned the projector on, I worked up the nerve to ask what religion he was. Skipper just smiled.
“ Whats the matter,” he kidded, “ did I forget to tell you the name of the Catholic church?” “ No, I was just wondering what your faith was and your thoughts on religion?” Skipper eyed me for a time, gave a small amused snort, and said,” Catholic, sort of... but, not a
practicing Catholic. ”
That caught my attention. I asked him, what did he mean?
“ I dont go to church every Sunday, I dont go on holy days of obligation, and sometimes I
He smiled again and observed , “I tend to think of myself as a Protestant-leaning Catholic. I dont believe in all things Catholic, and I dont agree with every Protestant group. At times, I just go get my Bible- some days a Catholic Bible, some days a Protestant Bible- and read it. There is not that much differencesame Jesus. Thats my religious beliefs.”
“ And how will you be saved?” I asked knowing this could be the true test of faith between these two groups.
“Through the Grace of God”, he answered. “ But should your question have been , which will lead to salvation: Grace or deeds?, then my answer must be both. You see Muley”, he went on, “if you have faith in Jesus the Christ, then the reflection of grace is deeds, and therefore the reflection of deeds is grace. These two subjects live in the same house, and one cannot be removed without the other. Both enter and exit using the same door.”
I dont know if I agreed with him, but I liked his answer.
Skipper had a way of putting things together that caused me to think, and each week I think I grew a little wiser with his help.
Nearly every day I watched Skipper s faith in action. Whether it was on the football field, in the school, or in the community. Yes, he could make fun of others periodically, but I think he always felt guilty and tried to make amends. The team itself showed its spirit or, if you, will faith, by holding food drives and jacket- blanket drives throughout the year, especially at Christmas time lead by Skipper. Not that he was perfect mind you. He had his faults, but they were more of the exception then the rule, and when they were evident, they were glaringly so.
Harry ran the weight room, and based on the adoring looks he gave his muscles, he know what he was doing. He even keep some weights by his desk to get that extra pump in when he was watching films, and waiting for his next date. The constant click of his hand strengthener during the dark hours of film watching use to grate on my nerves. The only relief we received from this noise, was when Holes would steal them from his desk, and Harry ran around threatening whoever took them.****
St. Joseph s Catholic church was faithfully served by Father Thomas OCarroll. This interesting priest once told the story of the three lives of Thomas: Fighting Tom of his youth; Doubting Tom of his twenties; and Father Tom, “the man you see before you”. He too had served in the Army as a Chaplain during World War II. I am not sure where the deviation occurred; between Doubting Tom, and Father Tom: before or after the war? Once he shared a sermon in one sentence, “If you are fat, perhaps, it is because you are a glutton”- end of sermon. These short sermons were great days for the local farmers, as they could return early to their dinners and labors. I shared this priest and sermons every Sunday with Holes and Ski. Ski was still not very friendly, but Holes and his Misses knew some nice young ladies, and Holes was not so afraid to push them off on me: big ones, little ones, and annulled ones. After the football season, off-season was the only thing that took up my time and I enjoyed the dating scene very much. But, I missed home, and church had a way of making me feel comfortable and at peace. Some things had changed since Vatican Two, but the traditions were alive and well at Rocins only Catholic church: St. Josephs.
Holes and his wife sang in the choir, and, behind them sat four of the most mischievous, fun-loving boys you would ever want to meet. When it was time for the ladies in the choir to sing the high notes, upward warbled four of the most horrible falsettos you could have ever heard. They carried that tune, as if they were mucking out a horse stall and using the same bucket to sling both. These four were distinctly related to Holes, both in humor and coloring. Their noise would continue till Holes marched backward and behind them pretending to read the missalet. The falsettos would usually taper off before Holes had the time to reach down and distribute to their bottoms a hard-turned pinch. If they did get pinched, the whole congregation would know by the yelp that follow Hole„s arrival at the disrupting pew. I never tired of this comic routine. I am sure Holes and his wife did, but I eventually hired two of those boys as assistant coaches, and I watched them and their own encounters, and adventures in child-rearing. They gave as good as they got with their own brood.
Ski on the other hand would not spend a second longer then he had to talking with me, or anyone else at St. Joes for that matter. I had taken his place, he believed, as heir apparent, and he would not forget this injustice, nor would he let me. He sat towards the back of church, crushed into a an empty pew end, looking moody and solemn. He was a talented coach who demanded nothing less from his kids then excellence. If he had one fault, I recognized by this time, it was his inability to give of himself to his athletes. He was not warm and kind, he was hard and demanding. Every player knew where they stood with him, and he viewed no favorites in those reflecting glasses of his. I admired that trait in him.****
St. Joseph s was not the only church in Rocin. There were many spirit filled churches that demonstrated both generosity and competition. In particular, the Catholic, Baptist and Lutheran churches and their annual boat race down the Rocin River. The boat race was the brain child of both Father Tom of St. Josephs Catholic church, Pastor Chuck of the Prince of Peace Lutheran church, and Rev. Hope of the New Covenant Baptist church to raise money for different charities in the county. On a certain Sunday in February a portion of the collection from that days take would be held out and used to update and restore a row boat by each congregation. Now, there was some concern by the Catholics that because they did not tithe, the Lutherans and Baptist would have the upper hand in the contest, but that did not stop Father Tom. I believe, with whatever little amount of money he made , he added a generous portion of his own funds to keep the race competitive. All three churches would meet after services on the Sunday of Spring Break on Schricks Bend; an area upriver from the churches and the town. The row boats would be made ready by the men while the woman set out concession areas loaded with homemade foods and candies. The finish line tape holders were those families who bided the highest to buy this right. Everyone else who had made the trek took up positions on both sides of the banks and rooted on their champion while buying refreshments and concessions from the senior ladies of the three churches.
The Lutherans felt that Pastor Chuck was the better bet, should they want to bet, because the walk form his house to the Lutheran church was longer and more uphill then Father Tom„s walk from the rectory to the Catholic church: though I think both of them could have reached their destination in thirty steps or less. I thought this argument, regarding the walking, was rather thin, but enjoyable. I even enjoyed the light discussion on Father Toms workout habits: lifting the beers off the counter, and the ability of crushing the cans between his breasts- I would say his pectoral muscles, but you would have been hard pressed to find them. Even Brother Hope had his detractors, based on his fleshy size and the amount of water he would add to the boat due to the generous amount of sweat he produced during his sermons, and physical excursions.
Even the non-church goers enjoyed this event, and bought eagerly from these big-hearted church folks, laying down their money to buy concessions with the proceeds going towards charities from around the county. I thoroughly enjoyed the sense of community that this event brought about. Everyone seemed joyful and happy. There was even a barbershop quartette
With a tremendous amount of fanfare, the Lutherans unveiled their boat, HMS Martin Luther. Clapping and chuckles were heard from scattered areas around the river. Not to be out done the Catholics unveiled their own boat which they had christened, HMS Saint Ignatius of Loyola. The Catholics also applauded and whistled , eager for the race to begin. And, last but not least, the Baptist uncovered their boat, with the proud title: HMS Pauls Journey. The Baptist seemed the most determined this year, as they had not win in the past four tries. All the blame could not have been laid at the feet of the rower, Brother Hope, but there was a general feeling that the Lutheran who had sold them the boat was not as concerned with honesty as he was with winning. All these rumors were fun to listen to and enjoy, but I took little stock in these light hearted attempts at justifying reasons for not winning. Reasons were started with a chuckle, and ended with a laugh. That was all I needed to understand it was all in good fun, therefore that is the way I took it.
The spirit of competition and the camaraderie of the race was good for all churches. I don t think it really mattered who won that year, at least form my position and point of view, for I would have had to take the word of someone else seeing that I began viewing the race near the middle. The beginning point of the race was filled up with spectators and concession personal. The end of the race was also full of people, but the difference was, it was for those who really seemed to care who won. The middle was reserved for those who were not hungry, did not care about winners, and came to enjoy the festive atmosphere.
Looking across the river, I saw Skipper. He was sitting near the river bank in one of those aluminum lawn chairs, with three or more of his former players in attendance. He looked comfortable and relaxed in his faded denim overalls, white T-shirt, tennis shoes and ever present Notre Dame cap. The question on my mind was, which church was Skipper counting on to win? I tried to make eye contact with him across the narrow river, and moved closer to my side of the river bank.
I wondered, as I moved closer to the edge, what Skipper thought of this charitable event and the money they raised. I was in the midst of these day-dreams moving closer to the edge, when I noticed a particularly beautiful girl just in front of me coming up the bank. We passed, and I took my eyes off the trail down long enough to get a last look at her from the corner of my eyes.
She had a way about her that was almost breathe taking, and I let my eyes linger a little too long. I have always had a good sense of balance, so therefore when my foot slipped on the wet clay, I reached out and caught hold of a small tree with all my strength, thinking I could stop my fall, and no one would be the wiser. Little did I know that the tree I grabbed was dead, and decided at this time to cease standing up right. It snapped, and I shot down the river bank, looking at the up-coming green water with dire expectations. Therefore, I had the unexpected pleasure of not only falling in love that afternoon, but also of falling into the river.
When I came out of the cold water my first thoughts were of Skipper and what he was thinking. He did not disappoint. He was sitting in his aluminum chair laughing and, to my excellent eye sight, tearing up. My next thoughts were of the girl, and I turned around, spitting water out of my mouth and looking for her. I do not think she had seen me. She had disappeared into the crowd. All I could hear in my red-faced, damped shame was the crowd calling me“Fish” and “Jonah“. As I trudged out of the emerald green water and up the banks of the Rocin River, I truly hoped I would met that girl again.****
The following Monday brought me no end of grief with me being the butt of many humorous jokes. I would have stayed there for quite a bit of time if Harry and Holes had not come up with a new project. Mouse catching. It seemed that Holes brought his lunch from home daily, and sometimes he brought extra food to stay in his locker or desk in case he was hungry, or forgot his lunch. This worked out well until we came back from the weekend boat race. We all had come in early to start or finish paperwork that was needed for the classroom. Holes made his usual grand entrance, producing a snorkel and goggles, and placing them on my desk without saying a word, while informing us of his weekend and the activities of his four boys. Being a true story teller, I think he stretched his stories until the truth was nestled to far under the elasticized material one would be hard pressed to find it again, but I liked to listen. As he opened the side drawer to his old and stained wooden desk, his voice trailed off from the story he was telling.
“ Dang it,” he exploded, “ There has been a mouse in this office, and he will be sleeping peacefully today, as he has a full belly from eating my chips!”
With this Holes holds up a big bag of potato chips with gnaw marks, that, as he was holding it up, pieces of shredded paper and thin crumbs of potatoes were falling out onto the desk and the floor.
Harry, who was combing his hair in the bathroom mirror near the office while he flexed his biceps each time he reached the bottom of his hair and reached up to start over, looked over at Holes, with a concerned look on his face.
“ Are you sure it was a mouse?” He asked
“If it was not a mouse, then it was a small rat. Quit playing with your hair and looking at yourself, and come over here and look at these gnaw marks!” Holes sputtered.
I joined them both, while Ski looked on trying to act uninterested, yet not getting any work done while keeping an ear and an eye on the unfolding events.
Standing there besides them looking at the mess that was Holes desk, I felt a little uneasy realizing that I could have possible shared the same food with the mouse, not knowing he may have left tasty tidbits in the bag along with the left over food. We had to do something. I looked around at the walls with the stuffed heads of animals, and the day old trash that seemed to grow like weeds; overnight. First, we needed to clean the office, and second catch that darn mouse.
Holes must have felt the same way, but his priorities were a bit different. Holes wanted to catch the mouse, and it became something of a good-natured challenge for him. He asked Harry to bring him a couple of weights from the weight room, and find a bit of rope. Then Holes opened up his lunch bucket, and took out the chicken he had brought for lunch and de-boned it. He then wrapped the chicken back up, placed it back in the lunch bucket. Even Killer Bob watched this part of the operation with interest.
Holes then took the weights and, using a stick to hold up the weighted plate, placed some of the bones and chicken matter under the propped up weight. He then attached the rope to the stick that was holding up the weight and laying the excess cord in in front of him, he walked out of the bathroom backward. The reason for the bathroom as the choice of the mouse squashing, was made evident as we made a through search that morning looking for more evidence of the thieving, cunning mouse. The evidence lead us to Harrys locker in the bathroom, where he keep his nutritious snacks and meals. Once we had the locker open and examined the contents we found shredded bags and containers containing food and nasty nuggets left by the rodent himself. Ski, had quit pretending a disinterest, and was standing behind me, looking over my shoulder when we made this find. He and Harry were grossed out, they left the bathroom, and Holes and I to our discovery.
We had a problem, every coach down here had to teach classes. There was no one who would be free to stand outside the particle open door all day with the loose end of the rope in his hand, and pull it when the mouse came out to enjoy his chicken under the weighted umbrella. What to do? Holes had an answer. We would use the non-participating P.E. boys who always stood around, or looked at the plant and bug life going on around them instead of enjoying the fun and games of sports. These kids were not hard to identify, he usually found them bending over an ant hill and observing the eating habits, and path finding abilities of this independent tribe of ants. I thought this was a good idea and watched the trap, while he went out to find two of these kids from his first period class. Why we did not use a trap of some kind is beyond me today. But, the thrill of the hunt was strong in my youth, and Holes outrageous leadership was infectious.
Skipper came in about this time, and stopped to look at me noticing my unique position outside the bathroom door. He gave me a rather strange look, shrugged his large shoulders, shook his head and went to his office. I felt an embarrassing flush rise to my face, as I reflected on what I was doing and why. This was crazy! The Boss is going to think I am going nuts. I need to get to class.
I left my post about the time Holes returned with his little squad of soldiers. I could see he only picked the most likely candidates. I was impressed by their willing and eager attitude. I keep thinking to myself as I ran off to class: Maybe we will catch something.
It was not till the end of the day I heard about the accident in the coaches bathroom. It seemed Mr. Smith had come down to make a surprise inspection of the field house and see what mess the coaches had made of things in there. The students on duty had had to leave their post because the light we had left on for them had gone out. They had left to see the janitor about getting a new one. It was at this time Smith had come in, snooping around, and had noticed the door to the bathroom had a rope outside of it. He had tried to turn on the light, but without success, and then wandered into the bathroom to discover the reason for the rope. He never found it. His foot hit the wooden peg, and the weight dropped just like it was suppose to trapping the mouse, or toe underneath and causing pain or death. In Mr. Smiths case it caused pain, and trauma.
The students had returned in time to hear and then report to us of Mr. Smiths unique vocabulary skills. The students ran out to get the nurse, who then had to found a rolling chair and two strong football boys to get him back to the nurses office. There were some scary moments when Mr. Smith was almost pitched out of the chair during the harrowing journey from the field house to the school building. With the gravelly parking lot being uneven, and the wheels catching on each little obstacle, the journey was perilous with each stopping and starting, sputtering and yelling along the way. It was a successful hunt in some ways.
Chapter Nine End of Season/ Texas Deer Season ****
My first season with Skipper and the Boys came to an end. The team had a record of seven wins and two losses. Our last game of the season would be played against Hartford High School in the primitively rough, yet stoutly handsome, environment known as the“Rock Garden” stadium. A win against Hartford would put us in position to play in the play-offs for this year, a loss meant we could pack it up and close shop for the football year.
According to rumor, the “Rock Garden” stadium had been built by prisoners from the state run prison facility close by. I am not sure, but the fans were coarse enough, and the players big enough, that I could appreciate the rumor that their mom or dad had been guest of the penal facility. I could appreciate the fact even more when I saw two of their players drive up in old dilapidated car, with , what seemed like, two children of their own a piece. Later I saw them in their uniforms before the game, hugging and kissing their kids along the chain-linked fence that ran across the football field near the end zone.
As I watched this unfold from the opposite end zone I realized that no matter how poorly I thought about the school and their adult sized players, I had to admit I admired their love for their children. It was one of the confused emotions you feel, such as when you are rear ended in a car wreck, and when you get out mad and confused, it turns out to be an old friend you have not seen in some time.
Needless to say we ended that game in the forth quarter with about three of their best players in the stands signing autographs and shaking hands with their admirers. Many of the small children lined up against the rock, and fan retaining wall, receiving hugs from their heroes and, I believe, their fathers, while enjoying this lop-sided victory against the Rocin Bulls. The game was not our finest hour; Aussie had gone done with a shoulder injury to his throwing arm, and “Juking” Jones, one of our tandem backs, sprained his left ankle on a pull out to the right side on the cleats of Rico Vasquez, as Rico went down under the onslaught of the swarming defensive front line, known as the Hartford “Assassins”. Petey and Mentz (known as “Mincemeat” to the Skipper, for his aggressive style of play from the linebacker position), left their positions on the defensive side of the ball, and joined their offensive team mates on the offensive side of the pig-skin. Petey took the hand- off from center and delivered it in a panic hurry to Mentz, who only know how to plunge up the middle, and gut whatever he could before he went down. Grit, not skill was Mentzs style of play.
The mood on the bus was one of disappointment, and anger over the loss of this game against Hartford. The seniors suffered the most at this time. Their chance at a run for the states high school play-offs was over. They came on the bus with angry tears covered in dirt, sweat and blood; like mini hurricanes coming ashore with stinging rain and ripping wind. We had played hard this season, and had nothing to apologize for, but the injury to your pride, like this loss when you are young, can last a seeming life time, but normally over in a few days.****
I cannot help but believe these same small fans who were giving and receiving hugs of adoration were the brawn behind the stone shower the team received on its way out of town. This was not the time of the head bangers, but I believe we could have received an honorable mention in this category, as Skipper had the Boys put on their helmets as a shower of rocks were unloaded on our bus on the way out of town and glass splinters filled the air. And I , after some reflection on the matter, have reason to suspect the larger fans of planning the long delay at the red light, the only light in town, on our way out. This red light had hardly changed from red before it turned to green on our way into town. There was not even a car at the intersection when Holes decided to down shift and proceed through the light. Tonight at the intersection numerous cars and trucks were parked on either side of the street, and adult laughter filled the air as the people-planned meteor shower attacked our bus, and the first windows gave way under the flinty assault.
I should not have been surprised with Holes at the wheel of the bus that there was a grinding of gears, and a barrage of bad language. What did surprise my though, as I was standing in the aisle of the bus checking on helmet placement for the players, was the rapid acceleration that throw me into a seat back and down onto the floor as we shot through the intersection. I only had enough time to look through the back window to see that Holes had run a red light, and that a police car had turned on it lights and siren as if to give chase. As I continued to look out the back window, and the players helped me up off the floor boards of the old gasoline powered bus, I noticed that the police car was not giving chase and the people of the town were crowding into the street bent over with laughter as their amused contorted bodies grew smaller and the street lights began to fade to black.
I would not forget this strange form of home town fun as we drove through the dark, cold countryside with the wind whistling in through the broken windows, nor would I forget to hold on to the seats in the aisle at every red light when Holes was at the wheel. Their fun should have ended before they endangered our players. I knew I could never stomach this type of behavior from our fans in Rocin, and based on the look on Skippers face after the incident, neither could he.
As our bus pulled into Rocin after an hour and a half windy drive in the cool of the November air, I felt exhausted. All I wanted to do was to go home and go to sleep, but this was not to be for the coaches. We had to start the clean up and clean out of the buses. Injured players and equipment were the first priority. Next, would come the arrangement of rides for those players who did not have a ride home. Many players offered each other rides, but there were a few we had to take care of and take home ourselves. Uniforms, towels, and assorted items had to be placed in the washing machine to get a start on the next days cleaning activities. There was no need to worry about the processing of game films, as the season had ended for us, and we would concern ourselves tomorrow with the cleaning up and putting away of the football equipment for next year. The season had ended. The Rocin Bulls had ended my first year with a record of seven wins and three losses.****
As we prepared to leave Skipper called us together, shook our hands and thanked us for our efforts this year. I had watched him walk around to each of his Boys, shaking their hands, patting them on the back, and offering the strength and warmth of his personality. I had felt it myself, seen it in his eyes, and sought to imitate it myself. This too was a giving of himself device that Skipper used, but I do not think he thought of this practice as a devise or tool. It was his way. After he finished his thanks, he grinned a sad, but honest smile and said:
“ Well gents”, he started.“ Next year is our year. And, I am going to need all you folks help to get us out of district play and into the big time.”
The three of us looked at him and shook our heads“Yes” all the way around.
“ Now, Mr. Helfrich has kindly offered us a white tail hunting trip out on his place west of town next weekend.” A half smile tugged at the left corner of his mouth as his eyes searched me out and he continued.
“ Muley, I dont know if you have ever been hunting, but if this is your first Texas hunt, you are in for a treat. Helfrich is a stingy old timer, and he wont let just anyone hunt there. I have seen some of the finest deer around these parts taken on his place. And, if you need proof, just ask Iggy over at the meat market. Iggy processes most of the deer meat around here. Now, he is always asking the hunters if they want the horns; some do, some dont, but those that leave the horns will find them tacked up on the walls of the processing shacks with their names and locations of the hunt .”
I wondered as he said that, if the size of the deer racks were in direct relation to the size of the their vanity, courage, or something else. But no matter what, this would be my first deer hunt in Texas, and the sleepiness was starting to leave me, and excitement was taking its place. The other coaches seemed to take the news in stride, but they did seem a bit more alive on the way out the field house door and soft words and gentle jokes marked their passage towards their cars and trucks.
I was more then ready for sleep, as I pulled into my driveway and realized I had drove home without consciously knowing what I was doing till the cars head lights lit up the garage that housed my apartment. I went in through the unlocked door, walked into my room, and fell asleep fully clothed on top of the covers. I slept the welcome sleep of exhaustion, and as the next day was Saturday with no other games to prepare for till next season, I slept till about ten oclock, a welcome change from the usual Saturdays in season what with processing of film, exchanging film, cleaning up, and getting ready for next weeks game. Chapter TenA Gun? ****
I awoke to that single ray of sunlight that had found its way between the blinds and into my eyes. I am not sure how it had found me this morning, but I was of the mind to change it before I went to sleep tonight. I laid in bed and let the morning beckon me from my slumber, with hunger as its bosom companion. I needed something substantial to eat after an evening of sweet treats provided by the team mothers before each game. I do not know how they had time to do it, but their time and generosity grew in importance as I grew older, had kids, took on more responsibility, and found less and less time to help others.
After a moments thought, I decided to enjoy a large meal at Heinzs City Café. The old man who ran the place, Manuel, knew how to keep the breakfast buffet stocked. To this day I am not sure how clean that place was, but I never got sick from eating there, just sticky from a non-descript substance that seemed to combine all the attributes of grease with a touch of glue, which adhered to all the tables, chairs and counters which surrounded the interior of that “grease spoon“. The restaurant had a large plate-glass front window, that people could peer in and see who was in there eating. This also worked the opposite way, and allowed people who were eating to look out and see who was in town. Still, it was the kind of place the people of Rocin gathered at the day after a game to banter, gossip and make plans. Another reason I went to Heinzs was because I had a notion that I could find, or borrow a deer hunting rifle for next week ends hunt from one of the older regulars who frequented the place.
I did not want to indulge on Skipper s generosity, or the other coaches to find a rifle. I wanted to try and obtain it on my own without being beholden to them. Although the food was good, and plentiful at Heinzs, I made little inroads into finding an instrument of death to hunt deer with. My next choice was to check with old Mac about a gun. I knew I would find him in the town square, holding court with any tourist or traveler who might have come to town, and like a spider with prey in his web, he would not let them go until he had showed them the towns sights and they had visited Heinzs City Café for Macs well earned free meal; the payment for a sight-seeing job well done.
I found old Mac right where I had thought. I would. He was sitting on a bench in the middle of the town square near the city hall looking for victims, or, should I say, tourist. He still had on his straw cowboy hat as the weather had not gotten cold enough to change to his soiled and stained gray felt. But, what I really liked were his “killem in the corner cockroach killer” boots which were on display from underneath his rolled blue jeans as he sat with his legs crossed at the knees. He claimed the pointed toed boots were like slippers to him, and without them he could never have been the best two-step/polka dancer in southwest Texas.
The broad brim of his cowboy hat shaded his eyes, as I had to squint from the bright sunlight that looked into my face as I sat down and turned towards him. He smiled a crooked smile at me, and allowed me to see the brown stained teeth, and flakes of chewing tobacco dancing about his mouth and on his teeth. I found myself smiling back.
“ How the hell are you, Muley?” he started. “And what the hell do you need form me?” he finished.
It was as if he could read my mind. A habit others in this town also seemed to share.
“Mac, I am going hunting next weekend with Skipper and the others, and I did not bring my deer hunting rifle down with me. “
He just looked at me and waited for me to ask.
“ Do you know where I can borrow a gun for next weekend?”
“Muley“, he began, “ I got an old rifle just waiting for you to take her out. Now, she is old, but she is good. Ive never seen a gun shoot straighter. “
I began to feel a sense of relief, and even pride as I realized I had taken care of my little problem of no rifle. Now I was going to get one, without the help of any of my co-workers. I had done it.
“ Meet me here tomorrow”, he continued, “ after church and I will give it too you.”
“Thanks so much Mac. I really appreciate your help.” I stated with a feeling of elation.
The next morning after mass, I headed down to the town square, but I could not find Mac. I decided he must have meant after late mass, so I waited around for a couple of hours more. Still no sign of him. With a small amount of disappointment, and a sinking feeling, I went home, and tried to call Mac. First, I called the operator, and asked her to put me through to Macs number, and then I sat down, holding the phone, waiting to be put through and listening to a third party phone conversation talk about Fridays game and how bad the offense was. I tried to explain, but in a third party conversation ,you share a line with someone else, and you have to wait your turn to make a call, or be heard. Finally, the operator came back on, and let me know no-one was answering at Macs place, and I should call back later. I thanked her and tried to think what I should do next. The question was, should I look for a new means of obtaining a gun, or should I sit tight, do nothing because I still had four days before it was needed? I decide to sit tight. Mac would come through.
The school week started , but still no word from Mac. I tried to call him again on Monday and Tuesday but without luck. I had decided that, if I could not get ahold of Mac by Wednesday , I was going to find someone else. Thank God , Mac finally sent a note with one of the bus drivers on Wednesday morning: I was out of time and patience. Macs note contained some unusually spelling, but then again mine was never perfect either. He wrote that the phone line to his place was out of order, and he would be out of the county till Friday morning working on a lease in Ledbetter, but it would be no trouble for him to bring it up to the school at lunch time. This was before all the troubles the schools were having concerning guns and students. I still remember a time when the students use to go hunting early in the morning, came to school at the beginning of the school day, and locked their guns in the trunk of their cars, or the floor board of their trucks and went to class without killing anyone. Time, schools, and young people have changed.
Mac s note made me feel so much better. I was happily satisfied again. I was going on my first Texas white tail deer hunt, and it was as close to South Texas as throwing a rock a dozen times over. Life was good, and I had done it all on my own- well, with a little help from Mac.****
Friday morning came with a rush of adrenaline. I was up early packing, and preparing my gear for hunting. I have always had a tendency to over pack: two pairs of gloves, four pairs of socks, three pairs of pants, and two head warmers- just in case. I now realize this is my nature, but back then I was hard pressed to explain it. As for footwear, I put away my cowboy boots, and took out my army surplus pair so that I could wear them to school to re-break them in. I was hoping that Vice-principal Smith did not notice, but the true test would be in going into the teachers lounge and no one running out to go tell Smith that Coach Sanchez was wearing army boots to school.
I left my hunting gear in my car, and went directly to my classroom, hoping Mac would be early. He was not, therefore I started writing the lesson on the board. As I wrote I began to consider how many of these student would view deer hunting as wrong. I wondered how many had an opinion they would be willing to share. I decided that the Great Depression could wait till Monday, and perhaps Mrs. Zemicki would be willing to share her struggles during the Hoover-Roosevelt years. I would like to see math do something like this: I loved teaching history!
The first three classes worked out just the way I thought they would. Most of the boys in those classes hunted . No one challenged their right to hunt or kill deer, but forth period was different. Two young ladies spoke up, and based on their experience, including the movie “Bambi”, they believed it was wrong. How could hunters kill animals that could richly communicate and have such emotional feelings? I was ready to intervene, but was beat to the punch by a young lady named Sarah.
Sarah let it be known she had been deer hunting every year of her life since she was five. She and her family stored the extra meat at Iggys Meat Market, and cured and tanned the deer hides themselves. From the hides they made slippers, purses, wallets, knife sheaths, and seat cushions. And, she challenged anyone in class to check and see if they did not have something made of leather on, and if they did, tell her how it got here without killing an animal. Sarah eyes stared challenges all around the room. None rose to meet her, because they had never seen her open up and talk like this. I was amazed by her brass and skill: a deer every year since she was five? That would be about twelve deer all together. I think I had a new found appreciation for Sarah.
After Sarah s outburst, all the other classes basically remained about the same. Hunting was forgiving in this farming culture as killing animals was an accepted means of putting food on the table. But my mind was on my own hunt for a rifle and by the end of the school day there was still no sign of Mac. Chapter ElevenThe Necessity ****
I waited in my class room till Holes wandered in and sat down to talk with me about hunting and what type of rifle I had. We talked about the benefits of a 30-06, a 270, and even a 30-30 for brush hunting, and as we talked I found myself growing more frustrated and concerned I was going to have to open up to Holes, and when I did I would take a good amount of joshing, and kidding. I was not ready for that event.
Holes asked again what type of rifle I planned to use, but this time I could not ignore the question.
“ I guess you will just have to wait and see”, was my thin reply.
Holes smiled at me and a slight chuckle shuck his frame.
“Muley, do you even have a rifle for this trip?”, he questioned.
I must have blushed a purple hue, because I felt the heat on my face as surly as if someone had thrown hot grease on me from a smoking skillet. I was caught, but my pride would not let me answer truthfully.
“Of course I have a rifle for this trip”, I replied angrily, “but I want to surprise you folks. There is no way I am going to tell you what it is and ruin the surprise!”
Holes smile had left his lips, and made a new agreement with his teeth. The smile now appeared , stretching his cheeks back and forcing his teeth forward, even his eyes seemed bejeweled and sparkling as they had seemed to have read my face and my lie.
Holes keep smiling, but responded quickly,” O.K. Muley, there is no reason to get this sore. You keep your little secret, I cannot wait to see what you have brought. Skipper said we will leave by 3:30. We got about fifteen minutes. See ya outside.”
I was relived, but confused. If I was going to tell anyone it would be Holes. Now that opportunity was gone, but I still had my secret safe-but for how long? Mac better hurry the Heck up!
3:28pm came way too quick. I was not ready, the rifle was not here. Still, I was not going to be late. I went out to my car, grabbed my duffle bag, and walked to wards Skippers old truck, and my prideful disgrace. The other coaches just watched me as I made my way towards them, and their amused faces. Just as I thought all was lost, a rattle bones of a truck pulled up, and out swaggered Old Mac with a hard leather rifle case. Thank God! Was the only words that came to mind, and my spirits soared. Pride was still in tack, and a spirit of love towards old Mac was renewed with vigor. I was saved, it was almost a religious moment.
Old Mac handed me the rifle case, and a small ammo bag he took out from the bed of the truck.
Listen Muley”, he stated,“you might want to check on your rifle now before you get to deer camp.”
Harry piped in, “ Yeah Muley, lets see what you are hunting with. If you show me yours I will show you mine.”
There was a chorus of laughter from the others there by the vehicles, even Ski. But I would not be trapped. I had made it this far, I would make it to camp.
“No way Mac, Skipper and the others are ready to go. We were suppose to leave by 3:30. I dont wont to make them late.”
Taking Mac by the arm I steered him away from the coaches.
“Mac, I cannot thank you enough for bringing me the rifle, and helping me out. But, I trust you, and know you brought me a fine piece to hunt with. So, if it is alright with you , I will wait and check out your rifle when I get to camp. “
Turning towards him, I stuck out my hand, looked him in the eyes, and genuinely thank him with a firm grip, and without giving him time to make another loud statement about his gun.
I hurriedly turned towards the others and called with excitement, “ lets go! Im ready and willing.”
I had only taken a few steps towards the truck when Skipper threw me the keys and stated.
“Muley, I need to talk with Ski, you can follow us to camp. Stay close, Holes is leading and likes to drive fast. “
Turning towards Skis car, Skipper made a general command, “ All right, lets move out.”
And like race car drivers we all hurried to our vehicles, jumped in and started the engines. I was excited and nervous. I had no idea where we were going, just a general idea of the direction. That would not help much if we got separated. Off we went, Holes and Harry in the front, Ski and Skipper in the middle, and me bringing up the rear. As I made the left turn out of the schools parking lot I turned to wave at old Mac. He was just standing there by his truck with a pleased smile on his face. He waved a gentle country wave back and forth, and then he passed from my vision as the bricks from the school took over. ****
After a twenty minute ride we finally got onto I-10 and headed West towards San Antonio. I was still excited as I turned on the radio and listened to old country music on the scratchy AM station. I found my self singing with Hank Williams, “ Move it on Over”, and doing a particularly fine job as usual when no body else was around. As I made myself at home in Skippers truck cab, I made a mental inventory of what was there in case I would need it. The first thing that caught my eye was a dented old soda can used as a spittoon. This was not unsettling as I made use of the same fluid receptacle in my own car when need be, but the idea of fluid led me to take account of the fact I had not gone o the bathroom in quite awhile. That is when the urge started. The urge was gentle at first, just a reminder of all the coffee I had been drinking that morning, and later on in the early afternoon as worry concerning Mac and the gun lead me to lose count of the numbers I had partaken. The more I drove, the greater the urge became. It was during the first few minutes of my problem that Holes must have decided to make his vehicle sprint, which made Ski press down on the gas pedal, and then I had to put the hammer down on my accelerator. Skippers truck was up for the challenge, but I was not. The issue was pressing on my bladder harder then ever. I was trying to use the breathing techniques I had learned in sports to control the pressure, but that just made me feel light headed. One thing was for sure. I would not let them know I was in pain. I would not ask them to stop for me. Was I not a man! I would control this situation….. I hope…wouldnt I? Oh, crap!
It was as I passed the second gas station, that I realized I was in trouble. Pride or not, I had to do something. With desperation as my traveling companion, I rested my eyes on the spit can. A new sense of promise filled my head. Then, I was taken down a notch by the small opening presented on top. No matter, I knew what must be done. Taking the wheel firmly between my knees, I retrieved the can and placed it in my crotch. Keeping my eyes on the road, and my foot on the pedal, I took hold of the can with my left hand, and using my thumb on the opposite hand, pushed down on the opening to widen the hole.
It was at this point that I realized our skin is not quite as tough as the thin metal the can is made of and when your skin loses the battle you bleed a lot. Man, did I bleed. Now I was juggling eyes on the road, foot on the pedal, left hand on the can, right thumb pressed into my jeans for direct pressure to stop the bleeding and mind over matter to control urinating in the truck. O.K. lesson learned. Step Two.
When the bleeding had somewhat abated, I decide to try my luck with the hole the size it was, no matter the problem with leak edge. And leakage there was. All over the truck seat, and my jeans, but again, my pride was still in tact even if messy and wet. I had to make two attempts with the can, each time holding the soiled can out the window and letting the fluid drain out while a mist tried to fine its way back towards the window opening as I continued to move and gyrate to keep from being hit by the contents. I was not aware how problematic this was till I reached deer camp at night, thankful the others could not see my still wet jeans, and reach in to grab my duffle bag which had ridden in the bed of the truck right behind the drivers seat in the direct path of my liquid waste. I was shocked and mortified. Pride was a vengeful task master, that could laugh in your face , while you suffered the cold consequences of your decisions, literal cold as I stood there in the cool night air in wet pants. I was not ready for Prides second strike.
The rifle would be my down full. It struck me as I helped unpack, and readied the camp for occupation. I had to check the rifle. And, check it alone.
I finally had an opportunity to check the rifle when I had finished the camp set-up. It was dark and most of the work had been by the light of the camp fire and the many flash lights each of the coaches had brought. I made off to a corner of the camp like I was going to the bathroom, strolling off with the leather case which surrounded the gun I was to use on this trip. I stopped near a large oak tree, large for that area, hoping the width of the tree would provide cover and stripped off the leather case. It at least felt like a rifle, if somewhat long and oddly shaped. Then, holding my breathe, I turned on the flash light and took a look at my prized procession. It was a black powder rifle. A Gosh-Darned, gun powder measured, load it from the barrel, drop a bullet into, ram down the projectile, black powder rifle! Dear Saint Anthony! In all my life I had never shot one before. I was in deep trouble. Trouble that was made brilliant by the flash lights that flicked on all-around me with deep chuckles and guffaws cannonading around me. Deeply embarrassed, I could have lived with this injury to my pride, but then Skis voice announced to the crowd:
“ Oh my God, he has pissed himself! What a coward!”
The urine on my pants had not dried quickly enough, and Skis sharp eyes had found it, just like he could find the weakness in an opponents offense. I could have cried.
Chapter Twelve The Hunt ****
That night as I sat around the campfire making my excuses about the state of my pants, the butt of all jokes, and deserving of them, Skipper keep his own counsel until I made an effort to speak.
“ Sorry Skipper,” I started, “ I guess I wanted to do this on my own- the rifle and all, I did not want to ask for help. And even the bathroom break, I did not want to be the weak link on your staff.”
Skipper gave me one of his thoughtful stares, and finally spoke. “ Muley, most of us are secretly flattered when someone thinks we can help them. We are even more flattered when someone asks for our opinion. By asking our opinion, they have let us know how much they think of us. Do not be afraid to ask for help.”
“ Skipper, I acknowledged, “do you think I should use that black powder rifle tomorrow?” I asked with a grin.
Skipper smiled and let out a low chuckle.
“ Why dont you ask Holes, its his rifle. I even imagine he has a rifle you would feel more comfortable with, if you would just ask him.”
He nodded and sipped his coffee.
I started to get up and look for Holes. Skipper stopped me with his words.
“Muley” he stated as he looked into the Mesquite fire, “ next time bring a jar.”
“Got it.” I replied, and meant it.
The next morning I approached Holes before we left camp to go hunting, and with a bit of sheepishness, I ask him for his help in obtaining a new rifle. Holes just smiled, and without his usual verbal wit, swapped guns. We had already awakened at about five in the morning to the sound of Skipper making coffee and breakfast. The bacon was sizzling on the grill, and a large pan of scrambled eggs was being coached along. He was making enough noise that we all took it as a sign to get up without being told. I debated how long I would stay in my sleeping bag, as I could feel the cold on my face and a certain numbness in my toes. I was even a little concerned the zipper, which had been a might contrary last night, would not open, and the sight of me hopping around seeking help was playing strong in my mind. Ski was the first one out of his sleeping bag. He went off a bit of distance to relieve himself. Harry joined him, and let out a smell that took could take the good off the smell of a pan of fried bacon. Ski let out a desperate, “Gawh” and hurtled back towards the camp to get away from the pestilence of the smell. By this time we all were awake and out of our“fart sacks” showing enough teeth with our smiles as Harry returned to camp to encourage him to greater ambitions and feats of strength. My bags zipper had shown the good sense to release quickly and let me out without incident. I felt my luck was changing.
The coffee was strong and the food was good as we squatted down around the fire to enjoy our meal. The camp fire brought a sense of family to us, as we ate in a comfortable silence with Skipper drinking his coffee and watching the rest of us. There were no worry lines around his eyes this morning, although I am not sure how well he slept. Clean up fell to me and Harry on this cold morning. We had brought drinking and cleaning water in large“jerry cans” , and had left them outside that night. We did not try and heat the water, just put it in a plastic rectangular container with some liquid dish soap, and threw the tin plates and cups into it. Skipper did not want his skillet in that mess. He just wiped it out and declared it ready for service for the next meal. I looked at Harry, but he just smiled, and shook his head- accepting but not really believing in what had been stated. But, no one complained.
It was after Harry and I finished the dishes that I sought out Holes and asked for his help in swapping out the rifles. I was grateful to Holes for the mild humor, and even more grateful when he offered me a ride to my blind, and some of his chewing tobacco. I had not had the presence of mind to buy any during my continued worries about rifles and hunting. The band aide on my thumb had come loose during the dish washing, and Ski, who was in charge of the first aid kit, silently handed me another one to stop the blood from joining the leaves and twigs from Holes chewing tobacco pouch. I have to admit I had thought nothing of it.****
Never having been on this ranch, I had no idea where I were going or when I would get there as the group parted company: Skipper with Harry and Ski; myself with Holes. Skipper and Holes had been out here before in the early Fall clearing the senderos and cleaning and fixing up the blinds. Holes old station wagon took a beating on the mesquite and other thorn bushes lining the trail out to the deer blinds. Thankfully the roll down windows were up or I would have received an unwelcome hair ripping and face gauging from these said bushes. Holes did not seem to mind too much as he drove through the dark and talked about the blind I was too be in. He explained that my blind faced a shallow creek with a stand of winter rye and oats down each wing of my senderos. To the rear was some rough brush that Holes suggested I keep an eye on from time to time. I was ready. I had been hoping to go deer hunting in Texas, and now was my chance. I could not wait to tell my Grandfather about this hunt.
The deer blind Holes lead me too was a one and a half story high clap board affair, with curiously placed hunting windows, and boards so rotten that when I went up the rickety wooden ladder, bits of the wood which made up the blind landed in my eyes and open mouth. Even in the flash light envisioned world, I could make out what a treat I had been handed by my fellow coaches. No wonder Holes had let me off so lightly when we exchanged the black powder rifle for the 30-06. When I had made it too the top of the blind, and before entering, I shined my light back at Holes only to see a row of grayish ivory flashing back at me. I knew I was being had again, and the only thing to do was fellow Skippers advice.
“ Holes”, I started,” Do you have any advice for me before you leave?” Holes smile stretched a mite larger and he commented.
“Muley, I wouldnt rock around up there too much, and when you fire a
With this advice I shined my light down towards the small iron pipes that made up the four legs. No new paint on these four, just an orange rust holding the section of pipe together, My eyes followed my flash light out to the tie downs which helped anchor the blind and keep it from leaning and rocking. These wires were made of antiquated barbed wire, that would probable snap in half before it would give. Holes light snapped off and with a couple of deep guffaws I heard him place the station wagon in Drive, and the rustle of gravel as he drove off. My first Texas hunt was not what I had planned, but I was going to be happy no matter what- just as long as I didnt sneeze, or cough!
After Holes left, I shined the flash light around the blind. There was an old paint splattered folding chair, and enough cigarette butts to make the Marlboro Man proud. Using my glove as a broom, I sweep out the butts and a couple of bullet shells; the shells letting me know that someone had had a chance to shoot something from up here in this stand and survive with this spindled legged cracker box intact. I closed and tried to latch the swinging half door, but found the round clasp had been torn off the rotted wooded frame. I would have to remember not too lean on this side when checking my fields of fire. Now that my house keeping was over, it was time to start settling down and prepare for the hunt.
I unfolded the old chair and sat down, gentle wiggling to into a comfortable position with out compromising the tension anchor lines and their comfort level. While I waited for the blind to stop shaking, I found myself worried that the nausea made manifest from the swaying back and forth, would not compliment Skippers breakfast and that it would come up to join me in the stand, but I made it. Next I loaded the rifle with three shots, one for the kill, one if I did not make the kill the first time, and the final bullet for insurance. Now, I would wait.
I do not know how soldiers feel when standing guard duty alone, but I believe this was close to it. The feeling of being alone and waiting on the enemy. In the dark every one of your sense heightened to a state of extreme alertness. Noises and shadows fighting for your attention, but all you are looking for is a mature Bambi.
A strange abrupt noise arose form my front, and I held my breathe till I could identify it. It sounded like an animal, but way too loud for a deer. Maybe these Texas deer really were monsters? I should have asked more questions before I went out here-Dang it! With the light headedness, it finally dawned on me the realization that I needed to breathe, and a raspy jagged breath was sucked in through my mouth and nose. The strange noise from the front continued and grew closer.
I took hold of my nerves and the 30-06 Holes had given me, and, using all the stealth I could muster, placed the instrument of death out the window of the blind. The shaking of the blind only lasted a few moments, but as the dawn began to break, I could just make out a gray shadowy movement form among the brush near the creek to my front. Worried my senses were playing tricks on me, I keep my eyes on the light gray movement and hoped it would move again. It did. I caught the movement and put my eye to the scope attached to my rifle. The figure was hidden by the brush, but what caught my eye was the biggest rack of horns I had ever seen. By Gosh, these Texans were right, everything in Texas was bigger! Id show those other coaches! In my rifle sights was the evidence my luck had changed, and with the animals death I would show them a thing or two about Louisiana boys. Id showem!
I waited for the deer to step out, so I could have a good view of his shoulder for the kill. But, soon I found myself trying to count horns. I knew he had two large main antlers, but I could not decide how many tines came off the main shoots. Sometimes I thought it was three and other times I thought it was two. Either way I knew I had a eight point or a six point, and it was a huge big deer!
As the daylight grew stronger, I knew I was getting ready for the kill. Something about the deers body seemed odd even if it was hidden by the brush. And the antlers looked almost as thick at the base as a soup can! But I brushed off any doubt, knowing my luck had changed. My legs were tucked in behind me and the chair, as I took a deep breathe, and prepared to shoot this beast. Finding myself still uncomfortable and wanting a clean shot, I gently tried to ease my foot out of its position under the chair rail. My foot would not budge. I tried again, and still no give. With my frustration level building, I gave a tremendous pull, and not only did my boot come free, but so did pieces of the building as it began to violently shake and rock, making me fear for my life and the safety of the rifle in the uneven cut window frame. Like a bucking bronco, the blind pitched and rolled, and I just held on to the sides hoping the anchor lines would hold and I would not find myself on a fast ride to ground level. By the time I realized I was not going to die, and that the free ride was ending, I looked back out the front window of the blind in time to see a large gray colored cow with at least two feet of horns on either side and one point apiece on each horn jogging off down a game trail.
I had almost killed a cow! Thank God, I did not kill that gray cow with only two horns! I looked at my thumb, and remembering the rifle incident, if I had shot that cow, I would have had to run away in shame. There was no way I could have faced those other coaches, especially Skipper. Same old luck…or maybe not. A good thing was I didnt have to explain the shot, or the kill.
I spent the rest of the morning waiting for Holes to pick me up and doing a bit of thinking. I was a more somber guest in his station wagon while we rode back to the camp site then when we left out that morning. I had learned some new lessons this trip. I needed to ask questions, and learn to listen more often then talk. Skipper smiled at me as I made my way to the camp fire and poured me a cup of coffee.
“ Here you are Muley, just made it fresh.”
I nodded and spoke my thanks.
Harry joined us at the fire, sat down, and asked.
“How was the hunting Muley? I didnt hear any shots going off in your
“It was fine.” I replied. “How was yours?”
Harrys face took on a confused look.
“Not bad , except no one told me they had cows on this place, and I almost
opened up on this gray colored cow this morning. ”
Ski had joined us at the fire at this time and spoke up.
“How in the world could you mistake a cow for a deer? Are you blind or
Skipper turned his knowing eyes over towards me and I colored up. “Harry“, I enjoined, “ I have almost made that same mistake myself. Just
be glad you didn t shot it.”
Ski looked at us dumbfounded and asserted,
“You are about the stupidest two coaches I have ever encountered. How
are we going to win a state championship, much less district with a coaching staff like this? One cuts his thumb making a mobile urinal, and the other almost shoots a cow! Jesus Christ, what„s next?”
“ Bob“ Skipper calmly observed,” call on that guy when you really need him and not when you want to tell someone how stupid they are. Its a bad habit, and one I dont cotton to much”
Skipper gentled smiled and stated, “ I would appreciate it.” This helped let out some the sting.
Ski just nodded and walked away.
While Harry left to go help Holes make lunch, I watched Skipper adjust to find a comfortable spot on one of the logs that surrounded the camp fire.
“Skipper, you told me I needed to ask more questions, so I would like to ask you one.”
“Alright Muley, go ahead.”
“What is life really about? I asked.
Skipper took his time looking at me, and finally said, “You must have had a lot of time to think up in that deer blind today.”
“Yeah, too much.” I agreed.
Skipper looked back at the dying afternoon fire, and spoke as if viewing something form the past.
“Many years ago in the town where I was raised, we had something called a steeple chase, do you know what that is Muley?”
I shook my head, determined to listen and not talk.
“ A steeple chase was a race that started at a fixed point some distance form the churchs steeple. Once the race was underway the goal was to reach the churchs steeple first, and it did not matter the path, or the obstacles in the path, you only had to win.
“ Every year right as Spring started, young men from around the area would report to the town hall and sign up to join in this race. I was one of them. I never was fast enough to win, but I tried for years. I loved it, not just the race, but the excitement, and competition. The whole area seemed caught up in this event, with mothers baking and fussing, fathers explaining their own losses in this event many years ago, and young people dressing up and flirting. And every year, I would pass this old man, struggling and straining , not to win but finish. “
“ You know what I mean, Muley?” Skipper asked.
Again I nodded.
“ Well, the last year I ran the race, before I went off to war, I had lost my
footing hurtling a fence and cut the back of my leg open. This slowed me down somewhat, but thanks to a pretty girl with a silk scarf, I used it to tie up the wound and keep on running, or hobbling.”
I smiled, I could picture Skipper trying to be brave for the young woman who owned the scarf.
“ The old man had passed me while I attending to my leg, and now I was catching up to him, only to watch him trip and hit the ground. I stopped to help him up. He seemed older then my own grandfather, and still he was making this race each year. He had badly twisted his ankle and was not sure if he could finish without help. He then asked me for my help. I did not want to do it. I wished I had not stopped for either my fall or his fall. “
“I was petty selfish back then wasnt I?” Skipper asked with a grin.
“ But I did it Muley. I helped that old man finish the race. And along the way I gathered some insight, that has grown stronger as I have grown older.”
I knew Skipper wanted me to ask what that insight was, and I obliged.
“What was it Skipper?”
“Its is not whether you win the race, but did you participate!”
I thought he had lost his mind. Participate, not Win? What type of BS was this? Was the Old Man pulling my leg? I waited for Skipper to speak again with a credulous look on my face.
“Muley, life is a race, but we do not have to win- just participate. And by participating we gain understanding and insight. We do not sit on the side lines and become depressed, we engage life and take from it adventure, excitement and lifes own vitality. Now this doesnt mean we cannot practice and get better, or that we cannot demand perfection from ourselves or the players who play for us. What it means is we cannot sacrifice our Boys on the alter of our success. We cannot use them while they are injured just to satisfy our need to win. We have to teach them to play hard, and strive to do better, while loving and encouraging them. “
I felt a little lost. Was this not the reason Skipper had brought me to Rocin? To Win, not just the district play, but to get us to the state playoffs, and win again?
“Skipper, what are you trying to say, I am confused?
“I am saying Muley, life is too short to teach them it is the destination that matters. I believe it is the journey. Only through the journey process do we grow and only through losing to we gain the needed strength to win the next time out.”
“But, Skipper“, I questioned, “ you went to war so what about war, is it still the destination or is it about losing?
“Muley”, he answered, “ war is different. You win when you survive, and you lose when you are dead. Football is not war, it may be a way our young men can challenge each other, but it cannot be confused as war. War is death; yours or somebody elses death. We want to bring life to our Boys. We want them annealed and harden by fire, but soft enough to care for others.”
Skipper seemed to warm to his subject, as if these feeling were always on his mind, and his mind was giving full birth to them in the spoken word. Perhaps he was like the gathering storm, and the gale picked me up and carried me with it, for I felt his energy, his intensity and it was becoming my own.
He continued, “Teaching and coaching these Boys right from wrong is not only a job but our vocation. We are teaching them how to make decisions in times of crisis, and how to protect and help each other during these times. We cannot allow them to be soft. They must reach beyond themselves to something greater then their own instant gratification: that is the Goal. Our preparations are the journey, and the goal is the state championship.
I liked the Coachs words, but I had a question for him:
“What journey are you on Skipper, and what is the Goal?”
“ This is my journey, Muley.“, he laughed, “my journey is to help others as I have been helped, and my goal is to one day be worthy of heaven.”
“Skipper“, I echoed his slight laughter, “you know you are still a Catholic at heart?”
“But not a perfect one”, he acknowledged.
We both waited and stared out at the smoking wood in the fire ring as our thoughts sought consideration in our heads.
“ Did you enjoyed the hunt this morning?”, Skipper asked, breaking the silence.
I nodded my head.
“ Then are you disappointed you did not kill anything, or did it give you a chance to think and prepare?”
I thought of that gray cow with the long horns, and my blaring escape from killing him.
“ Coach”, I responded, “ this whole trip has been a learning experience I would not have traded for anything, even the biggest deer on this place”- or cow I thought.
Skipper looked around at the two sticks of firewood we had left to cook the afternoon meal.
“Come on Muley, lets go find some more firewood.”
Before Skipper could leave the dying fire, I gathered the nerve to ask:
“Skipper, I commented quickly, “how do you know you have made the right decision, how do you justify a decision?
“Muley, you know you have made the right decision when you can look into the mirror each morning without blushing, when you see it reflected in the eyes of your Boys each day, then you will know it, because it allows you to face each person with a firm grip and unblinking and unashamed eyes. When you can do this, you have made the right decision. “
“Muley, give me a minute, I need to make water.”
With that Skipper stood , took the coffee pot off the fire grate, and threw the coffee and grinds out. Then, he walked away from the fire and out to the area we used as the toilet.
I looked away as Skipper started his business. My world was still in a pensive uproar as I pondered what Skipper had said. This always happened whenever I spent time talking with Skipper.
Chapter Fourteen Off-Season
Back at Rocin High School, our boys were paying quite a price that year in the off-season. Skipper was merciless. But, he was not the only one. The other coaches had found my weakness- pride, and I came in for my fair share of merciless ribbing. Holes left one of his kid’s slip-and-slide near my desk after practice one day to remind me of the ride down the banks of the Rocin River. Even Killer Bob gloated over my free ride, the hunting trip ,and continually smiled while hearing of the details behind my notoriety in the town. The town of Rocin would not let me forget my sins either, and on the afternoons when I ran my errands and on the weekends, I felt myself blush endlessly at the finger pointing, head nodding, and spastic giggling that I received. Small sounds like “splash”, and “ whoosh” trailed behind in my wake, making me quicken my steps and hurry my errands with, I am sure a delightfully pink expression darkened from my embarrassment.
But Skipper did not let his coaches or his boys have that much time to laugh and giggle. He still loved them and placed his arm around them from time to time, but he drove them to excel and do more. All the coaches worked together, taking their cues from the Boss. It was at this time, I began to see Killer Bob’s quality. He timed and memorized everything. He keep us on schedule.
When he blew that whistle to change stations, the coaches knew he meant it. He would stand there with his tight polyester shorts cinched tight to his waist, and mirrored sun-glasses glinting in the sun while he stood in an aggressive, arrogant, hands-on-hip stance, until you followed the directions blasted from his whistle. And, you can bet, we all did, even Skipper, rather shamefaced at being too caught up teaching his linemen, and not hearing the whistle until the third or forth blast from Ski’s screaming whistle siren.
Ski kept order and method to Skipper ’s seeming turbulence. There were times though, when nothing could change Skipper’s mind, nor move him from his self-appointed mission. It was not just winning that drove him. He wanted them to always perform at their best: whether it was in school or on the field. If they started goofing around, losing their focus, he hammered them. And, if they ticked him off, there was no practice, just re-motivation of those young minds. He always talked to them, but you could see it was personal with him. He took his expectations out on them, but after it was over he would make an effort to seek them out and explain to them, if he comforted them it was not out of guilt, but out of a need for understanding on their part. He was never negative about them. And if his talk sounded negative at the beginning, by the end of it there was no doubt how much he needed them, and how important their performance was to the success of the whole team. Now, this sounds strange, a man who just punished these boys in his anger, is now comforting them with his fondness and expectations. It was strange to me also, but the more I watched it the more I began to understand his ways.
I asked him about this ability not to lose kids after he had ripped into them during practice or games. Before he spoke he spit out a brown stream of tobacco juice, and smiled.
“ Muley, I once coached a terrible game early in my career, and left that field with an injury to my pride that would not go away. I went over to my Boys, and laid into them. When I was not yelling at them with my mouth, I was blasting them with my eyes. I focused on all the people who I felt betrayed by, and , without a doubt, I wounded their spirit. At no time did I tell them what they did right, at no time did I encourage them. I told them what they did wrong, and blamed each one for our lose. “
Skipper ’s voice and actions betrayed his depth of feeling as he continued. “ I almost lost three very important boys to me that night. I went home, and looked at the source of my anger; I looked back at their faces in my memories and I could
not sleep. The reason I could not sleep was that the fault of that loss needed to be laid at my feet, or wrapped around my head tightly, hopefully not depriving me of oxygen, but of my shame. I was angry at myself, guilty, and embarrassed because I had not adequately prepared them to defeat that team. I made up my mind then and there, that never would I fix blame on a team, or an individual. The blame lies with the coach. And, should I lose my temper with a player, I would always go back and let that person know what I really think of him; what are his qualities and how I want us to fix the problem that we share.”
With that Skipper smiled.
“And sometimes I just act mad, so they will run a little faster around the track.” With a chuckle he added,” Now, that’s what I call good coaching.” And off he
I don ’t think what he said was new to me, but it made an impression. Looking back, there are times I am not sure what was my own original thought, or what I took from his thinking and sharing. I guess it really doesn’t matter. He is apart of me. I think Skipper said to me once, he was a product of all the men he had ever known. He had taken from them the things that worked for him, and made them his own. Even the men he did not like or trust, he knew he did not want to be like them, and therefore, choose not to carry himself in the same manner as they did. Skipper always had a way of making everybody feel special and needed. Besides the nick names he would try to remember something special about each one, and ask them about it later. This tactic was not a gimmick, but a way of life for him. He used it very successfully, not only with the boys but also with his coaches. I think every coach that ever coached for Skipper feels like he was the closest to him. I know I did.
I knew by the end of my first season, that Skipper had good friends in town. He was involved with Rocin’s Rotary group which met the second Tuesday of each month during the afternoon for lunch. Skipper would try to make these meeting, and encouraged me to come.
At the time I didn ’t, but I wished I had because some of these people were also involved in another group which was a big part of Skipper’s life. The Hibernia Society of Rocin was a strangely large crowd. They too only meet once a month, wearing kilts, tams and assorted Irish tweed garments. They did not seem to take this organization too seriously, for they had no a service object: no selling or contributions for projects or causes. They met so that they could have fun listening to Irish music, dancing and conversation. I did not understand the depth of their commitment to titillation until I went to a meeting in January. I was invited by Skipper, but I did not come with him, as I had committed myself to improving my strength and endurance, through lifting free weights with “Handsome Harry”. I had lifted weights over the years while I had been involved in sports, but Harry made it a science. He exploded a muscle group, through multiple sets and reps. I had the hardest time that night curling my drink to my mouth, and straightening my arm, as both would send a torrent of pain and stiffness to the offending muscle group. I had not planned to go out that night, but I did want to learn a little about the history of Rocin, and the people who called it home. And that I did.
Leon (Mac) McCall was a former professional rodeo rider, or so he said, who had broke every bone in his 64 year old body at least once. He had a small ranch west of town, but I don’t think he was there very often. If God had ever smiled on a cowboy, it was him. He had enough money from his sale of real estate, and enough work that by eleven o’clock in the morning he was done for the day, until feeding time about five o’clock, which was when he fed the horses. He could smile that fairly toothless smile all day long, and with it, radiate good will and peace on earth. He was a joy to be around, and fun to hunt with, as I found out later. His favorite place was the town-square’s bench outside of the courthouse.
He sat there day after day enjoying the visual scenery provided by the passer-byes in his faded and frayed blue jeans, snap button work shirt, and worn down, pointed toed “cock roach killers“. If they stopped to talk to him in the morning, they would still be there by the afternoon, listening to and enjoying his stories, yet wondering how they would be able to get away from him for lunch without hurting his feelings. If Leon could hold on till after twelve- thirty, most folks would offer to buy him lunch. Then he would unwrap himself from the bench, and amble over to Heinz’s City Café with them in tow to sample the town’s hardy food stock. One could not be a food aficionado when they ate here, but there was always more then enough food slung across the large plates so that when you left there you were satisfyingly full. He ate pretty well during the summer months because he was such a genial regaler of tall tales and cowboy historian.
Leon found me two minutes after I walked into the American Legion Post where the Hibernia Society met. I had chatted with him outside the courthouse myself when I first came to Rocin , and bought him a meal at our first meeting at Heinz’s Café. Also, I had seen and spoke with him many times since our first meal at the City Cafe at St. Joe’s Catholic Church before our chance meeting that night. I was still a bit tender on the subject of the black powder rifle he had lent me, but he had the good sense to stay off of that subject.
His walk through the American Legion Hall led me to believe he had been there at least an hour prior to my entrance, as he unsteadily made his way towards me. His seasonal felt cowboy hat sat nestled down across his right eye at a jaunty angle giving him the look of the Wild Irish Rover he used to be in his youth. He placed his left eye upon me, and even that eye seemed to be feeling too ill to travel as it rolled around dangerously in the socket. As he leaned against the wooden bar for support, he began, in his Texas drawl, to point out the people who sponsored this monthly meeting, and the ones who spiced up the event. I listened as he enthralled me with stories about his life and the changes he had seen., all the while I was scanning the room for the whereabouts of Skipper. By the time I got around to buying him his second drink, he had changed topics and was starting into the early history of Rocin.
He began by telling me that Rocin had been part of a small land contract during the time of the European Empresarrios, who came to Texas for land in the early 1800’s. There had been two Irish colonies: one was the San Patricios Colony and the other was the Armagh Colony. Early on, in the development of the San Patricios Colony, there had been a disagreement in land distribution and two of the men had decided to take their followers and supplies and make their own colony. But, along the trail, the two leaders: James McStay and Shamus O’Rourke had a disagreement over a women traveler who had shown both men affection on alternating nights during the journey west towards the new colony.
It was at this point the story stopped as I bought Leon another beer. He turned his face towards his new glass of the amber liquid, and gave it a benevolent smile as if looking at a long lost friend and enjoying their companionship. As he drank, I looked the large smoky room over again for Skipper, finally finding him sitting in one of the round tables which were placed in a semi-circle around the saw dust plied dance floor.
He must have been watching me for sometime, for when I looked over at him, he gently raised his glass of iced tea in a silent toast as if acknowledging and thanking me for the amount of time I had given to Leon that night. I raised my glass back at him, and we drank at the same time, almost laughing as if a silent joke had passed between us. I had just placed my glass back down upon the wooden bar when I realized Leon had taken up the story of Rocin again.
“ The town of Rocin“, he started, “was named after Shamus O’Rourke who had lost the affection of the women based on a coin toss between the two men, since the women could not make up her mind as to whose company she enjoyed the most in the middle of the night.”
He followed with slightly slurring words, “Jimmy McStay had taken part of the followers and that good looking gal and continued to head northwest, O’Rourke, on the other hand, had taken his group and figured to head due west with some slight northward movement as his mind wandered and become poisoned by anger and resentment he felt towards his old side kick, Jimmy. He finally stopped at a place that would become the town of Rocin, not knowing that McStay had stopped north of him and together they formed the colony of Armagh. Now, Shamus would never marry after this tornadic event and became an angry old coot.”
Leon was not sure whether the town was named after the draft horses Shamus used to haul freight to the closest railroad station, or after the way he treated folks from the north side of the colony and settlement. In Spanish, the word, “rocin”, means work horse or rough man, both would have fit in well with the attitude of Shamus to Jimmy, or the draft horses Shamus used to pull freight around the area. All this I got from Mac as he rambled on about the Armagh Colony of old.
I finally excused myself from the verbal barrage of Leon ’s history lesson, and reminding him of his humorous generosity concerning the use of his black powder rifle during this past deer season hunting trip, made my way towards Skipper’s table. Skipper was wearing a thick wool Irish fishing sweater, and a old eight piece tweed cap. The Irish Society had hired a bag-piper for the night along with an Irish musical group, that played with fiddles, tin whistles, flutes and accordions.
The sounds, smells and the clothes all made me feel as if I was in Ireland, but the closeness of this falsified Irish community made me wish I was back in Louisiana with my relatives, enjoying all the accouterments of my Spanish-French Cajun upbringing.
I watch Skipper dance with, what I thought of as, out of character for him, unusual vigor that night, and I found myself enjoying this strange evening, and the town of Rocin.
I found myself enjoying this town even more when Skipper introduced me to the prettiest woman in Rocin who may have watched me fall into the Rocin River during the row boat races between the three churches. How he knew this was the girl, I have no idea. But like I said, Skipper did not mind listening, and when someone from the Lutheran church told the story about the new coach going for an unexpected dip in the Rocin River while enjoying the view of a pretty young woman from his church during the annual race, Skipper probable just asked for the name of the girl. He got it, and shared it with me the very day he embarrassingly introduced us after school in the coaches’ office.
It has been a tradition at Rocin High that whoever was the new coach that year, and until another new coach arrived, he would have to give the sex-ed talk to the Physical Education classes- this included the football team. Therefore I was given the prestigious task my first year. Holes thoroughly enjoyed my discomfort, and tried to ruffle my composure with Playboy pictures stuck inside my text and notebook. He succeeded more then once.
I had inherited this job from Killer Bob who had taken over for Harry after an incident when Harry was teaching the class. He had started with an introduction to his subject that had caused a stir in the town and turned the town mothers against him as the illegitimately enlighten educator of love between the sexes.
His first salvo on sex education sent the town mothers to the town fathers, who in turn bent the ear of the school principal. The saving grace here, was that the principal went to Skipper himself, and left Asst. Principal Smith out of the loop. Though I am not sure what Harry had said in his first class, whenever the subject was brought up, Harry left the room in haste.
But, because of this opening, he had been placed on waivers, and sent to the showers, and the more solid and serious Killer Bob had been given the mission. Now it was my turn.
After helping with off-season equipment pick up that afternoon, I was called to Skipper’s office by one of his linemen. At first I was a little worried I may have done something wrong, but I could not figure out what that could have been. I continued on my way past the assistant coaches’ office, stopping at Skipper’s closed office door, knocking upon it, opening it, and poking my head into the room. I saw he was with a young woman, and believing I was intruding, I begged their pardon, and started to close the door and wait outside. I was brought up short by Skipper’s command to, “ Come on in, Muley”.
With a gleam in his eyes, he teasingly remarked, ” Coach Sanchez, this is Nurse Beckingdorf.”
I could not believe my eyes! This was the girl from the boat race!
Skipper continued, “She is here to show you the particulars on the Venereal Diseases class you are scheduled to give next week to our Boys. Now, I will leave you two alone to get to involved in the subject matter.”
With a whimsical look, Skipper got up from his desk and proceeded from the room, leaving me red-faced and embarrassed with the girl of my dreams.
Her name was Anne, with blonde hair, blue eyes, and the type of figure a man cannot talk about , but only dream of. I was in love; love at first sight. I had heard of it, and wanted it, but I had not expected to find it in this small Texas town. I listened to what she had to say, but I could not understand it; thankfully so, as the subject she was talking about was not one I could have shared with any women including my mother. My thoughts were on would she remember me, and how can I ask her out after this conversation? Her words seemed to go over me, and around me, as I stared into her strikingly clear blue eyes, and perfect skin. I looked at her golden hair, and delicate features and felt myself taking a deep breathe for courage and steadying myself to ask her out.
Her last sentence included the words: “warts” and “ sores”, not the two best words to begin a courtship. I almost gave up, but her kind, genial smile was an encouragement to me. After she had exhausted her disconcerting topic, I took a deep breathe, and shakily asked her out. She blushingly said yes, and after we had a good laugh at the awkwardness of our situation we fixed the time and place for our first date. She, very kindly and conveniently forgot, that the reason I fell into the river was making a decisive effort and maneuver to get a better look at her coming up the river bank during the boat race.
Skipper and Holes had set the whole thing up, and later that afternoon had laughed uproariously at my benefit, but I joined them both understanding the humor, and the fact I received something very special out of this little comic episode. Life in Rocin was good, very good.
Chapter Seventeen First date
Anne: what a treasure. After the first meeting she had to put up with the date cretin. I have always tried to be a romantic guy, but it never failed, whenever I would go out with a pretty girl something strange, weird, or horrible happened. Our first date night was one of these occasions. I could not believe this beautiful girl had agreed to go out with me. I also could not believe that Skipper had made this happen after the boat races and my inopportune swim in front of Anne and the town of Rocin.
I ran home and took a hurried bath in the old claw-footed bathtub that had come with the garage apartment. I always felt a bit like a king whenever I had a moment to enjoy a bath in at home. Many times I just showered at the field house, and I never touched the bath until the weekend, but that night I felt like a king and still was able to hurry as I had no intention of being late. I even re-shaved the bearded region around my face, and splashed it with a liberal dose of Brute. The sting of the after shave made me feel like it was the end of the old me and the beginning of the new. The teeth were next, and I started by flossing and then brushing. I hardly ever flossed back then, and besides the substantial amount of blood and crud on the white string, afterwards I found those annoying and marginally painful lumps that start to poof out between the gaps of my teeth after a white string gauging attack. These bumps, while not comfortable, were never really noticed by your date. I brushed back my wet black hair, and after putting on deodorant from an aerosol can, I took a quick look-see in the mirror to see if I was presentable to the prettiest girl in town. I passed, not great, but I could always throw in the part about playing college football, which sometimes helped me appear more adventuresome then I actually was.
Dressing was not hard, as I had only one suit: black to marry them or bury them as my Uncle use to say, and two sports coats. I choose the lighter colored one, as it was still warm during this part of the year.
I did have to dig around to find a pair of clean pants. After a hurried and frantic search, I finally decided on blue jeans, not because they were the only ones clean, but because I wanted Anne to think it was sort of a causal date. The jacket made it special, and the blue jeans made it causal- at least I hoped this is what she would think. I was getting more nervous by the minute. As far as shoes, I would wear my relatively new wing-tipped cowboy boots, after all this was Texas.****
I should have remembered to clean out the car before I got all dressed up, but I didn’t. I ran out to the car opened the door, and stared at the trash that had accumulated over the past few months. I had taken no dates out recently, and the football players I had taken home only giggled and left no lasting comments. I could not have Anne see my car in this condition. I ran back upstairs and grabbed a broom. I was starting to sweat in my light colored jacket as I ran back down the stairs and decided to throw it off in the grass, before I opened the car door and stuck the broom inside and started to rake out the trash. I keep checking my watch as I worked, it was clear I was still early, but I was losing my time cushion fast. Mrs. Shupac , my landlady, came outside and in a firm but gentle way reminded me to pick up the mess on the driveway before I left. I ran up the stairs, grabbed a brown paper sack, and, now dripping with sweat, ran back down to pick up the left over bits of food, and the wrappers. This was accomplished quickly, and seeing the trash can open with no lid down the alley, I made a most satisfactory throw into the open can with the full bag of trash. On this note, as I ran to my car, I felt the world growing warmer and happier. I reached down and picked up my jacket, throwing it on as I got in the car and started it up. Backing out of the drive all I could think about was Anne; her smile, hair, face, and , well, everything else. But as I drove I began to smell the unpleasant aroma of dog feces, or should I say dog mess. The longer I drove the stronger it smelled and I did not have that far to go. Anne’s house was two more streets away. I braked the car hard into a parking lot, and cursing my luck under my breath, I jumped out and checked my shoes. Nothing. I stuck my head into the car and looked to see if I had wiped it from my shoes onto the heavy vinyl of the floor boards. Nothing! What was going on? I could not really smell it when I had got out of the car, and I had only caught a light whiff when I reentered. I checked my watch, and jumped back into the car, thinking, perhaps, it was on the tires. This made pretty good sense to me, and I did not bother looking.
The smell came back strong and brutishly hard as I turned down Anne ’s street and stopped the car. I took one more look around the inside of the car, checked the tires and saw nothing. I was right on time, and I was not going to be late, therefore, I went to the door and nervously rang the bell. I should not have been nervous. Anne met me with the biggest smile and had the warmest welcome. It was like I had known her forever, and it made me feel as if we were meant to be together, or at least meant to have a good time. She invited me into the house to meet her parents. Her father was one of three City of Rocin’s police officers, besides the police chief, He was a strongly built bull of a man, but he greeted me with a generous smile and a firm handshake. Her mother could have been an older reflection of her daughter. And the warmth in which she greeted me was one of incredible tenderness. The family was real and loving. This was not faked, and neither was the discomfort with which Mr. Beckindorf was experiencing. He was looking around, with a strange look on his face, as if he had watched a Clint Eastwood movie and was trying out a new squinty eyed expression. But the crow lines around his eyes began to deepen, and his eyes seemed to lock onto mine as if to say ,“there had been no smell in this house before you got here!” I decided at that point to suggest we get going. Mr. Beckindorf did not make a big fuss about where we were going or when we were coming back. He seemed preoccupied with the strange awful scent that had entered the house when I did. I swept Anne along in my hurry, and with my hand gently, but firmly in her back we made it to the car. I opened the passenger side door for her, and hastened around the car to my side. Anne seemed quite pleased with my attention, until we reached the end of her street.
I caught the panic in her eyes from the corner of my right eye, as she tried to make sense of the overpowering dog scent in the car. She began to take small shallow breathes and her head began turning slightly as if looking for something without seeming to get my attention. Her kind heart would not let her speak of the difficulty she was in.
I knew I should have told her, but I could not bring myself to speak of it either. This fuming perceptible dog tang was not going to ruin the best night of my life, no way, no how. Little did I know Anne not only had a keen sense of smell, which I grew aware of as she turned red holding her breathe, but she had keen eye sight as well. In a gulping breathless tone Anne told me to stop the car. I did it in an unbelievable hurry so as not to make her waste her breathe by saying it again. With the dust cloud rising through the open windows of the car, she took her long fingers and pointed at the right side of my jacket and then reached up and held her noise. One did not have to be a great detective to gather information to discover guilt, I was the guilty party, and I knew it. I jumped out of the car and tore off my jacket. Quickly I looked at the offending party, and with embarrassment and anger, I throw it down on the ground. At that point in my life I knew two things about myself and that jacket. One, I wanted to leave it and my embarrassment on the ground and drive off, and two, if I drove off without the jacket, I would not have the money for another one fro a long time. Logic won out. I apologized to Anne, and went in search of a faucet. I cleaned off the offending article of clothing at a house across the street and two doors down, and tossed it into the trunk for a through cleaning later. Anne had just watched me throughout the whole decision and cleaning episode. She had not spoken, but sat there quietly in the car watching me with gentle understanding blue eyes.
When I returned to the driver ’s seat, I waited for the joking to start, but it never did. She just pushed over beside me in the car, took my arm in hers and laying her head on my arm asked me where I had planned to take her. I felt an enormous amount of relief and thanks. Not only was she beautiful and smart, but also caring and considerate. I knew I had found my girl.
I made it through the second date with only a flat, but the third date is the one that almost did me in. Instead of chewing tobacco most the time, I chose to chew gum in hopes this would sweeten my breathe. I chewed it in the classroom and out coaching, and especially when I was nervous. As I was when I went to pick up Anne for the third date. We were not even out the door when Anne’s interest in football took over our conversation, and by the time we reached the stop sign at the end of her street, I had agreed to show her how to throw and kick the football on the high school football field as a lark. Anne was athletic enough to do anything she wanted to do in sports, and a willing learner. Though she did not have the shoulder strength, she rolled back and fired that football like a champ, a little girlie, but man, what a girl!
It was the kicking part which almost did me in. I decided that as a coach I did not want Anne to kick without warming up her legs. I had seen too many guys hurt themselves without a proper warm up. Also, I wanted to impress upon Anne how important a job I had besides teaching health and sex education to adolescents. We started out with the hurdler stretch, where you place one leg out in front of you, and the other one you bend and place your foot behind you. We were able to stretch both legs easily, especially since Anne was in pants. The problem was I decided we needed to do butterflies to warm up the groin muscles. This exercise is called butterflies because you place your heels together and bring them into your crotch, so it looks like your legs are butterfly wings. I knew this was not necessary but I wanted to show off to Anne how limber I was.
Boy, was I limber. As soon as I pulled my heels into my crotch, and pushed down with my elbows, that was all it took. Anne was right in front of me, watching me, mirroring whatever I did. The only thing was I had a full tank of gas from the beans I ate last night, and it sang a note off tune-right in front of Anne!
This was par for the course. She just rolled onto her left side and broke up laughing. There was nothing I could do. I had not had any warning, and could not have recalled it if I wanted too. I felt myself go crimson from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet. But, I decide to stay in the butterfly position and act like maybe it never happened. Perhaps she will think it was my pants ripping, embarrassing, but on the scale I seemed to be weighed on, not too bad.
Anne was laughing so hard, she could not breathe. I could hear nothing , but a small inaudible gasp for air every few moments. Finally, a long drawn out, “ Oh MY Gosh” erupted from her and spewed out onto the football field covering me with shame. I guess my little ruse was not going to work, and I decided to relax my butterfly position, without upsetting my colon. While I was thus entangled, Anne had gotten to her feet, like a prize fighter who is punch drunk, and launched herself at me. I could not believe it she had tackled me, and I loved it. She gave me our first kiss right there and then. She explained to me she had never had a date that had felt so relaxed he could do THAT in front of her. We both broke up over that, I rolled on top of her and kissed her lips deeply. I knew everything was going to be alright after this tackling session.
And, because one is never enough with a girl like Anne, I decided to go in for another kiss. At that very moment I went in for a second kiss only this time on her tender white neck The wind moved her hair as I made my romantic approach, and the gum which I keep in my mouth at all times competed with my lips to see who would get there first. The gum won. Panic again! And gum was stuck!
Just when I thought it was over, I am back in panic mode. I knew what I had to do. I could not lose face twice in one night, so I set about trying to get the gum out with my tongue. The only problem with that was my tongue was bigger then the gum and only succeeded in pulling in more hair from around her neck. I felt myself begin to lose hope. I knew I had to tell her. But no! Another idea came to me, one born of necessity: all I have to do is cut the gum out, and teeth are meant for cutting.
I began slowly, and methodically. Starting with the first hairs up front, I began to gnaw away, and at the same time making excited noises like I was enjoying kissing her neck. The noise and urgency, I think, began to give her clues something was amiss as I chomped harder at the middle of the gum tangle where more hair was located. If I had had better acting skills, I believe I could have gotten away with it , but acting under the pressure of losing face, and perhaps losing the girl, the urgency took over, and completion of task was utmost in mind. With these clues she knew something was up. She pushed me away at the same time I cleared the gum tangle. With a questioning look she saw the hair and gum ball on my lips, with the realization dawning as I spat it out upon the turf in triumph what had happened. As for me, triumph turned to embarrassment when I saw my scheme had been found out.
I did not know what to say, except I am sorry. I tried to explain about the gum, the wind, and her hair moving, but all I got was the same Clint Eastwood look her Dad gave me when I met him for the first time at Anne’s house. Her finally words on the subject that night are probably the secret to our marriage, “ Don’t ever do anything without asking me!”****
The second lady in my life was Mrs. Mary Belle Koreneke. I met her on my second day at Rocin High School. I had just obtained a key to my classroom, and I was not expected by Skipper until about ten o’clock that morning. I figured it was a good time to check out my classroom, and see what was needed to dress it up before the next school year started. I had been told by the principle that if I needed anything I was to go see Mrs. Koreneke in Room 103. She was in charge of history teachers, and she would be my mentor this first year.
I was feeling pretty sure of myself, but after visiting my room, I decide to go down to Room 103 and introduce myself to her. I found Room 103 alright and I stuck my head in, but there was no sign of Mrs. Koreneke, just the smell of cigarette smoke and a slight haze near the cracked open window. I decided to investigate, because I had seen the sign that stated NO SMOKING in big letters near the office in the front of the school.
Mr. Koreneke ’s desk was near the open window with a small petition behind it. It was just big enough to hide a person sitting down. And that was how I met Mrs. Koreneke. She was sitting down, staring out the window and smoking a menthol cigarette. She must have heard me coming, because she had not turned around, but asked in a strong raspy voice, “So, you are the new history teacher.”. It was more like a comment then a question, and more like resigned acceptance then joy. I did not think she had the right to judge me so quickly without knowing me. I was preparing to engage in verbal combat. She stopped me with a look.
She turned to face me, and beamed a smile both mischievous and familiar. She had short red hair without a hint of gray. Her eyes were at first hidden behind those silver cat glasses women and girls found fashionable in those years. But later I saw they were a clear blue. Her face had been weathered by both the sun and tobacco, but it beheld a strength and ruggedness that was both handsome and attractive.
She was in her sixties when I met her, but she ran that wing of the high school building as a earl would have run his fiefdom. She knew the principal was the boss, but everything needed to go through her to get passed up to him. If you needed school supplies, she got them for you. If you needed advise in handling a student, you went to her. And if she didn’t like you, you did not keep your job at Rocin High School. I did not receive all this information that morning, it came to me over time. Time spent watching her and learning from her. She was amazing the way she worked people: mothering on one hand and dictatorial on the other.
She looked at me through her cat glasses with the smoke curling up around her, and asked the question that was on all the teachers’ minds.
“ Coach Sanchez, are you a coach or a teacher?”
I paused a moment to figure out what she was asking. If I said coach, she would not believe I liked history and teaching, and if I said teaching she probably would watch me and decide for herself.
“I am not sure Mrs. Koreneke.” I started, “ I guess I am a teacher first, and a coach second, but both seem to be helping students.”
Again Mrs. Koreneke smiled her familiar smile. “What does Skipper call you….? “Coach Sanchez”, I answered.
“Don’t worry, he will come up with something, he always does.” she remarked.
“That man, he couldn’t pronounce his own name if he had not been born with it.”
“Well, Muley“ she continued,” that was an honest answer you gave me about teaching and coaching, and I am looking forward to working with you. If you have any problems, you come see me.”
She smiled and turned to look back out the window. I realized I was excused, and as I turned to go, she made one more observation for me.
“Coach Sanchez, I hope you realize that smoking in school is against the rules, and in the future I would appreciate you knocking so that I can use the window and prepare for your entrance.” There was a twinkle in her eye as she stated,” You do know what I mean? Don’t you?“ I nodded. “Good“ ,she acknowledged,” I will come by and check on you later.”