S: The Life of Clifford Ray Johnson
BC: Compiled by grandson Austin and his wife Jo
FC: The Life of Clifford Ray Johnson
1: The contents of this story were captured in the Fall of 2010 in Waco, Texas. The history here is recorded in the words of Clifford Johnson, with additions by his lovely wife Rita (Boyett) Johnson, and documents the events in his life as he remembers them today. It recounts not only many societal and family changes over the years, but also the loving relationship that continues between Clifford and Rita and the entire Johnson family.
2: In the words of Clifford Johnson: “I was born in Hico, Hamilton County, Texas on April 22, 1931 at about five something in the morning. I was born at home. Everybody back in my day was born at home. In fact, my youngest sister is the only one that was born in a hospital. I don’t know how I got my name. I don’t know of anybody back in Hico with the name of Clifford. My parents were Mallie Hubert and Birtie Marie (Hicks) Johnson. They were married March 17, 1923. Dad was a farmer for most of his life until they moved from Hico to Farmers Branch, Texas, where he worked for an electric company clearing trees. Following that, they moved to Carrollton, Texas, where dad started doing carpenter work. Mother was a stay-at-home mom most of her life, but after their move to Carrollton, she worked in the school cafeteria until her Parkinson’s Disease prevented her from working. They eventually moved back to Hico.
3: Clifford with his grandfather "Pappy" | Young Clifford
4: My parents had 2 boys and 2 girls. I was the 2nd boy and I’m older than both of my sisters. My one brother is 2 years and 8 days older than I am. And I’m about 5 years older than my oldest sister. My youngest sister, Katy Ann (Johnson) Pribble was born on July 25, 1945. She and her huband, Dee Pribble, reside in Colorado, and have two sons, Scott and Breck. My sister, Nelta Joy (Johnson) Hornbeck, was born August 19, 1936, and died July 24, 2007, in Homer, Louisiana. Her husband, Max Hornbeak, still resides in Louisiana. Nelta Joy had one daughter, Debbie (Ables) Baker. | Clifford's parents and baby sister Katy | Nelta Joy (Johnson)
5: My older brother, James Russell Johnson was born April 14, 1929. He married Wanda (Parnell) Johnson and they resided in Chandler,Texas. They had two daughters, Gayla Kay Johnson and Sandra Fay (Johnson) Moses. They later moved to Van, Texas, where Gayla and Sandra attended school. Wanda passed away July 4, 2010 in Van, Texas. My brother and I have grown closer as we age. I haven’t seen my younger sister, Katy, since my older sister’s death in 2007. | Clifford and his brother Russell
6: Going back to my childhood, the first 7 years I went to school in Hico. Then we moved to Stephenville, where I attended school in the 8th and 9th grades. Then we moved back to Hico, where I attended school until 1947. From elementary through high school, I changed schools twice. We did move more than that, but the other times I didn’t have to change schools. We lived on Honey Creek back when I was in high school...name of a little creek. It’s still there. I didn’t have a favorite subject in school. I guess, if anything, algebra would have been my favorite because I was always pretty good in math, and the algebra teacher had to be my favorite teacher. She was just ancient. She was real old, but I mean she cared about the students and she knew what she was doing. She taught everything from calculus down to algebra I. Her name was Mattie Segrest.
7: I’ve always been into sports, football mostly. I played my sophomore and junior years in high school. My junior year I broke my arm during the first game of the season, and I got the cast off the last game of the season. The doctor told me not to play football for 10 days, so that kinda interrupted my junior year. I also messed up my foot once. Wasn’t broken, but swollen up real big but that was in basketball. I graduated in 1947, and a lot of stuff before that I just can’t remember. I can barely remember stuff from yesterday. Grandma teases me that I ‘liked the girls’ back then. Oh yeah, everybody likes girls. | Clifford riding a calf
8: We didn’t work while in school because for kids in schools then, there just were not any jobs in Hico. About 12 hundred people lived in Hico, and there just weren’t any jobs available for kids. (Chuckle) We didn’t mow the lawns or anything -- the lawns just fed the goats. Of course I worked in the summertime on the farm, chopping and picking cotton, hauling corn, and things of that nature. I worked from daylight to dark for a $1 a day. That was when I was in my teens, age 14 and up. When I was about 16, I worked on a ranch at Salt Mountain during the summers. I got a job there breaking horses. Lucky me! | When I could get 7 cents I went to the movies...that’s what it cost back in those days. So, if I got 7 cents, I might go, but wasn’t very often. We only had one movie theater in Hico, and it would hold about 200 people. It was a nice place to go on Saturday night. They showed a lot of westerns with Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and the Durango Kid.
9: When I think back at world events during that time, I guess the most traumatic thing when I was in school was the beginning of WWII. My grandpa was always talking about it, and he talked about Japan. He called it ‘Jaypan.’ He told us we done saved the entire world with ‘Jaypan.’ | Clifford's parents- Grannie and Papa | Pappy, Clifford, and Russell
10: I have some fond memories of my extended family. In fact, I lived with my aunt and uncle, Gladys and Wilmon Rich for about 2 years in Carrollton, Texas. Gladys was my mother’s youngest sister. I was about 17 or so and worked in a cabinet shop building cabinet doors and drawers. Rita says that I had a lot of talent like that at one time. With the woodworking we had electric tools back then. Austin still has my belt sander and hand plainer. I worked there for oh a year and a half or 2 years until the cabinet shop went out of business. Then I started working for a contractor laying brick. I worked there for about a year and a half before I went into the military. | Clifford's favorite aunt
11: But back on extended family, Uncle Arthur Hendricks was one of my favorites. Aunt Ersie (Hicks) Hendricks was my mother’s sister. They lived in Hico and Hamilton. Rita will tell you they were her favorites. They loved Dennis, Keith, and Russell and treated them like grandchildren. They could never have children of their own. Every time we visited them, they always had homemade ice cream for the boys. | If I could sum up my childhood and pass something down to my grandkids, I would say just study a whole lot harder than I did and always strive to do your very best. Back then very few people went to college. And of course I had no desire to go to college. But nowadays, if you are going to be successful, you have to get a good education. Back then you weren’t motivated by parents to go to college, you just got married. Now it is just the opposite. Kids are encouraged to go to school, and it is very wise.
12: I had to work my way through high school to eat and have clothes, and I’m sure I missed a lot of fun activities kids now have in high school. “In high school I never had a girlfriend.” Grandma interrupts: “Oh that’s not true, what about that sweet lady that goes to church in Hico...” “I never dated her in my life. You are talking about Lavern Turner now- always wanted to but never did.” “ But did you date someone named Loretta Funk? “ “ Yeah” “That could be dangerous...have to make sure you say that correctly (laughing).”
13: My dad nor my grandpa ever served in the military. In fact, I’m the only one in my family who has served in the military. I enlisted in the Air Force in 1950, at age 19, because I didn’t have a job. In the military at least they give you 3 meals a day and a place to sleep. And then I rode a troop train from Dallas to San Antonio that took all night long. When we got to San Antonio, the first thing we had to do was get our barracks and bed assignments, and then we had to start scrubbing the barracks. We had to clean up the floors, take part in our basic training, and the whole works. They don’t lose any money on you in the military.
14: “Basic training was about 8 weeks at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. I went from there to Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi, where I learned Morris Code and how to use different types of radios. Then I was singled out with about 6 or 8 of us in that class and we were sent to an advance course to learn Russian code . After I finished that course, I was sent to San Antonio and listened to some of the code over the radio, and that is when I was assigned to security service. Following that, I was transferred to Japan and copied Russian code for 3 years. I landed in Hawaii on my way to Japan. Rita always wanted to go to Hawaii, but we were never that lucky. We landed on Wake Island, which is a strange place. It’s like a horseshoe, and it isn’t that big. You land on one of the horseshoes, and it takes you around to the buildings and hangers on the other side. It’s not big enough to have it all on one side.” When I came back to the U.S., I was supposed to go to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, but I decided I wasn’t going to re-enlist right then because they paid you $60 a year for re-enlistment.
15: They had passed a new law that they were going to give you one month’s pay for each year you re-enlist, so that was a difference of about $600 for me. They were going to start paying this the first of August, so I got out sometime in July and stayed out until the first of August, and then went to re-enlist, and I made instead of $360, $963. That was a lot of money back then. In fact I went and bought a ’51 Ford with it. And then when I re-enlisted at James Connally in Waco, Texas, I was assigned as a radio operator on C131’s. It was navigational training where they fly out over water and back, and the only time they needed radio operators was over water. I did that for 2 or 3 years.
16: A couple of years Iater I met that ‘thang’ over there (pointing to grandma). I met her driving up and down Austin Avenue when I was making all that money, making an extra $60 a month being on flying status. Since I was making all that money, I went and traded my Ford for a brand new ’54 Mercury. In Waco, people from Baylor and the Air Force would go downtown and drive up and down Austin Ave all night long. And when I met Rita, she said she was a senior, and I thought she meant a senior at Baylor. But later I find out she was going to be a senior in high school. | Clifford and Rita
17: The night I met Grandma, she and her girlfriends were going to the popular A&W Root Beer Drive-Inn, on the corner of 25th and Waco Drive. My buddies and I followed them there and we had our first date at church that night. We were married on May 4, 1956 at the Crestview Church of Christ (old building on New Road). My buddies dated the other girls, and one of the other couples got married. At that time, people were griping about the new Sears and Roebuck that was being built out on 18th and Waco Drive. And they said nobody was going that far out of town to shop. (laughing) Anyways, going back to my Air Force career...I flew at James Connally for a while and then they transferred me to Ellington Air Force Base, doing the same thing. They just cut out the navigational training at James Connally and moved it all to Ellington in Houston. Rita came back to Waco right at the end of her pregnancy and stayed with her mother and daddy until Dennis was born. He was born at James Connally because she couldn’t get into Ellington AFB Hospital (they could only deliver so many babies each month).
18: When Rita went into labor, they sent me out...wouldn’t let me stay with her. When they brought Dennis in the room where I was, and I was holding him (all 6 lbs., 4 ozs.) he looked up at me with his eyes so big like he wanted to say, ‘what the hell have I gotten into?’” (laugh) He was the most beautiful baby. He had olive skin and big blue eyes and a head full of dark hair. He had arrived two weeks early. So, we stayed in Houston for a while, and then they transferred me to Eielson AFB, Fairbanks, Alaska, flying in B50s. Rita and Dennis had to remain in Waco until the baby was a little older and I found a place for us to live. Right before I arrived at Eielson AFB, one of the B50s had crashed on takeoff, and I wasn’t too keen about flying in B50s. But it turned out okay. I flew on B50s for 2 or 3 years. Those B50’s are loud, they’ve got 4 big engines on them. The Air Force determined that the noise of the engines and the noise of the radios caused my hearing loss.
19: After Fairbanks , Alaska, I was transferred to McChord AFB in Tacoma, Washington. Due to my hearing loss, I was taken off flying status while stationed at McChord. Keith was born at Madigan Army Hospital in Tacoma. He was born one month prematurely at 5 lbs. He was such a tiny little thing you could lose him in a receiving blanket. He was so cute and had the most beautiful blue eyes. But in a matter of a few months, he was a healthy, chubby little guy. Following my tour at McChord AFB, I was assigned to the 55th Weather Squadron at McClellan Air Force Base, Sacramento, California for about 2 years. Then they transferred me to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland (right outside Washington D. C.) where I was assigned to the Presidential Unit. That was really an honor. This was a unit assigned to fly the President and Vice President, plus all the high ranking dignitaries, both American and foreign nationals. I had the honor of flying on Air Force Two before the Vice President ever flew on it. Of course, a guy by the name of Jim Cross was the original pilot in the VC140s. The VC140 became one of LBJs personal airplanes, and it became Air Force One when he became President.
21: When he’d go to the ranch, he’d always take a VC140. Any plane the President is on is called Air Force One, and the Vice President is on Air Force Two. My assignment was to schedule crew members. During this assignment, our youngest son, Russell was born at Andrews Air Force Base Hospital. He was two weeks early and weighed 5lbs. 12 ozs. He was such a cute, sweet, cuddly baby, and Dennis and Keith stared at him all the way home from the hospital. They could hardly wait to hold him. He became their entertainment. He still enjoys entertaining. After 6 years in that unit I was transferred to Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War for one year and was stationed in Thailand. Rita and the boys moved back to Waco to be near her parents and mine. The boys ages were 10, 8, and 2. I did not see my family for one year, but we wrote each other daily and sent photos.
22: I was transferred to Headquarters at Andrews Air Force Base following my tour in Southeast Asia. I just happened to know the guy personally that was in charge of assignments that came out of Randolf Air Force Base in San Antonio. We kept in touch with each other. He called me one day and said, ‘Clifford, you are on the list.’ You are the next one to go back to Southeast Asia. And I said. ‘Man, I don’t want to go back to Southeast Asia -- what else do you have?’ And he said, ‘Well I just had 4 assignments come open at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska.’ And I said, ‘well that’s the one I want.’
23: The main reason I wanted it was so that I could take my family right along with me. The wife, kids, and I all flew together to Elmendorf AFB . When we arrived there we lived in guest housing for 2 months because we had bought a house and it wasn’t finished, and we had to live someplace until then. This was the first house we had ever bought. It had 3 bedrooms and 1 bath and was 1192 square feet. We were so proud of it and had great neighbors. Russell started kindergarten in the school across from our house and the older boys caught the school bus about a block away. We lived there with 3 boys... and we did just fine...the boys loved it. We had a great place. A couple from church were married in our home. Alaska is a beautiful state.
24: I worked in the MAC Post the first year of that tour, and then worked in Headquarters in the Alaskan Air Command during the remainder of that 3 year tour. After that, I put in my retirement request and was transferred back to Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin, where I retired. My military career began July 1950, and ended August 1, 1973, consisting of 23 years. Overall, I did travel a lot in the military. I think I named most of them, but I went to Jamaica, England, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, and San Juan, Puerto Rico. That is where I flew to when I was stationed at James Connally. The navigational training could only take place over water and we use to fly from James Connally over water in the Gulf Coast, and then fly to Miami, spend the night in Miami, and then the next day flying to Kingston, Jamaica or San Juan, Puerto Rico, or Bermuda. I enjoyed it. In Kingston, Jamaica, you land at the International Airport. They greet you with a free rum and coke, compliments of the Jamaican Rum and Coke Company.
25: Grandma chimes in, “I liked Andrews Air Force Base. That was my favorite place -- I loved it. Clifford would call me and tell me if the President or a dignitary was flying in, and I would load up the boys and we would head for the hanger. We were fortunate to have witnessed a lot of that. It was really exciting for the boys to see the 7 original astronauts – the ones who were old enough to remember.” | Grandpa in Thailand
26: “I talked to Hubert Humphrey (vice president) on the phone once. I didn’t intend to, I just happened to answer the phone,” remembers Grandpa. Grandma reminds him, “When mother and daddy came to visit we went to the White House and Capital and we got to sit in Hubert Humphrey’s chambers.” Grandpa continues, “He (Herbert Humphrey) was sitting downstairs and we were upstairs, and he was looking up at us like, ‘who’s that in my chamber?’ Well I had gotten the pass from his flight steward. He had his own personal flight steward, so I got 4 passes from him to take me and Rita and her mother and dad down there. And he kept looking and looking and finally someone walked in and said, “Mr. Humphrey sure would like to know who you are.” And I said, “Tell him I’m Johnson from Texas.” (laughing) “You know like Lyndon B Johnson,” Grandma smiles. Grandpa continues “And I saw him go and tell Humphrey something, and Humphrey started waving. (laughter)
27: And after that we went to...well I had called Jim Cross, he was still a full Colonel in the White House. I couldn’t get the tour of the White House that I wanted, so I called him. He set me up with one, and the guards met us at the gate and took us on a tour.” Grandma remembers, “Then we went to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and that was the best part of the whole thing.” Grandpa continues with describing his time there, “They had a lot of training classes. When they got in a new pilot, he had to fly so many training flights before he was allowed to fly the dignitaries. I told air operations one day that my baby sister was graduating from high school, and suggested to the operations officer that he needed to schedule a training flight to Dallas. I told him why -- just joking. About 2 days before the graduation, he came into my office and asked me when I wanted to go to Dallas for my sister’s graduation. When I told him, he said ok, plan on it. He flew me down to Love Field and when I arrived my mother and daddy were there to meet me (they only lived 7 miles from the airport) and I got to see my baby sister graduate.”
28: After I retired from the Air Force, I went to work in 1973, as a benefit's counselor for the V.A. Regional Office in Waco. In 1982, I started working at Hercules in McGregor assembling rocket motors, and retired in 1993. Following my retirement from Hercules, I worked as a custodian at Crestview Church of Christ, for about three years, but had to fully retire due to health issues.
29: Grandma continues, “Yep, exciting times! I spent a lot of time alone with 3 little boys during his Air Force years. He would be gone...well a whole year in Southeast Asia. And then during his flying status time, he was gone anywhere from 2 weeks to a month at a time and I had total responsibility at home. After Keith was born he had to leave, and I didn’t know anyone. I was 20 years old with a three week old little premature baby and an active 20 month old toddler.” “You knew Pat and Junior,” says Grandpa. “Yes, I knew Pat and Junior Mullis, but I didn’t know any neighbors or anything like that. And I had little active Dennis and it rained all the time in Tacoma, Washington...all the time. And he had a little tricycle, but he couldn’t ride it in the rain. He had so much energy. But we made it. You do what you have to do.” “Yep and every month when I get that retirement check, I’m sure glad we did,” Grandpa says smiling.
30: Grandma: “I was only 18 when Dennis was born, and had just turned 20 the month before Keith was born. I was an experienced mother of 27 when Russell was born (ha). It’s a lot different being a mom at 27 than at 18.” | “I want to add something,” Grandpa chimes in, “Me, Uncle Arthur, dad and Russell went to West Texas to pull boles one summer. Around here they pick the cotton out of the boles. In West Texas they didn’t. They pulled the whole bole off. One year my uncle, dad, brother and I went out there and spent about 10 or 12 days and I made $65...That was a lot of money.”
31: Grandma: “Oh...and those things stick you...I used to have to do that as a kid. I used to go with my daddy to the cotton gin. I worked on a farm, I was a worker. At age 11, I also cooked complete meals for my mom when she had to work in the fields. I also sang with the black people. I loved it. They pulled cotton and I had a cotton sack too...a whole lot bigger than I was. You could pull 100lbs in your sack on your knees. The black people would sing while they picked cotton and I made sure I was right there with them, so I could sing along. My mother sang and played the piano when she was young, and my oldest brother and I used to sit on the front porch swing and harmonize. I also sang in elementary school, and in the choir in junior high. Mrs. Orr was my music teacher and I loved her. She had me sing a solo at Waco Hall (laugh) and I was scared to death. To me, Waco Hall seemed as big as the Grand Ole’ Opry.
32: I’ve been singing my whole life. I sang I know a lovely garden...and I remember the words to this day: I know a lovely garden, Where blooms the sweetest flowers And there from morn to evening I pass away the hours For love is that sweet garden beyond the boundless blue... And He looks down and blesses my life, my love, and you...
33: It was pretty...nothing special. But yes, I did learn a lot from the black people. I learned the rhythm and stuff. My parents were so good to black people. You know, you hear all these horrible stories, but my mom and dad treated them well. They worked on the farm and they lived in our garage. We had a long garage partitioned off and different families would live in different partitions, and they would cook their meals and sleep inside. I would sneak over there and eat with them. This one lady I just loved because she cooked good beans and stuff, and I loved to go over there and eat her cooking. My mom and dad never let them go without food or shelter.”
34: Looking at Grandma, Grandpa says, “I didn’t say how I met you yet...we were the first couple to get married at Crestview Church of Christ. But back to how I met her (pointing to Grandma). She mentioned we went out to 25th street A&W Root Beer...everybody’s favorite place. And I saw this Bible in the back of this car...these three girls in this red 53 convertible...and 3 boys in my ’54 black Mercury.”
35: Grandma recalls, “Every Sunday afternoon after church, we went riding down Austin Avenue in my friend’s red convertible. All the young people made the drag. That was the hot place to go. I worked on Austin Avenue at Grayson’s (a ladies’ shop). That’s where I worked during high school. But back then you weren’t afraid to meet people. My other friend, Susan, had a little beetle bug and we painted dots all over it. We would go all over Cameron Park by ourselves and spend the afternoon. We felt very safe there. We also enjoyed hanging out at Lake Waco. It is very different now.
36: Grandpa continues, “So I saw this Bible in the back of this car, and I asked her where she went to church. She said, “Church of Christ,” and I said, “well I do too.” And she thought I was lying. And she said, “Okay...well if you go to Church of Christ, why don’t you go with me tonight?” And I did.
38: From Grandpa and Grandma: | “We are so blessed with such a loving and wonderful family. May you stay close to God and may He keep each of you in his loving care.”
39: In April 2011, Clifford Johnson turns 80 years old. Clifford and Rita will be married 55 years on May 4, 2011, and are loved by their three sons and daughters-in-law: Dennis and Linda (Webster) Johnson, Keith and Jeanie (Sides)Johnson, Russell and Kristi (Northcut) Johnson; five grandsons: Austin and wife, Jodien (Matos) Johnson, Drew, Tyler, Cliff and Jake Johnson, and two granddaughters: Jennifer (Johnson) DeLeon and husband, Ryan DeLeon, and Amanda Johnson. They also have two step grandsons: Tommy Webster and wife, Christy, and Michael Webster; three step great-grandchildren: Lauren, Caleb, and Beverly Webster. Former daughter-in-law, Camille Plasek Koehler, and mother of their three eldest grandchildren: Austin, Jennifer, and Amanda. Camille is married to David Koehler, and they have a son, Jacob Koehler, whom they consider a step-grandson. ...and countless other people they have touched through their everyday kindness and gladness of heart.
40: Dad, I’ve learned so much from you over the years. As a father, you taught me everything from everyday activities to qualities that have shaped my very character. I can’t count the number of lessons I’ve learned from you nor put into words the gratitude I have for all you have done for me and my family. As I’m writing this, I remember one thing that you taught me and that I use daily, always be on time where ever you are going. While this may seem trivial, I think about this often and apply it to my life. Another thing I learned from you that I now live by is to always protect my reputation. This one was a tough one for me, but I finally got it! Finally, you taught me to work to live and not live to work. That is something I see in your life that has been and continues to increase in value in my life. These are just a few ways you have shaped me. Thanks for being a great dad! Love Dennis.
41: Dad, I love you! You taught me so much in life. You have been an example of the many good qualities that define who I am today. From you I learned the value of work and the need to provide for my family. I am a better husband and father because of the way I was raised. I hope I am a better son. Scripture teaches that God disciplines those that he loves. We often confuse discipline with punishment, but it actually has more to do with teaching than punishing. God, as Father, demonstrates how fathers are to teach their children. I believe that you taught so many valuable lessons about life through the way you live. I hope that I, in turn, have passed on those lessons to my own children. There can be no greater legacy. Keith
42: Dad: There’s a lot of things I remember about growing up, but things are kind of fuzzy for me until our time in Alaska. What I seem to remember about that time was that we were outdoors a lot, driving to lots of interesting places, fishing, panning for gold at Hope and visiting Portage Glacier. I begin to remember much more once we settled in Waco. I guess my main memory is simply how you were always in attendance at my sporting events. You may recall that I was not a particularly good baseball player, and that my career flamed out less than two seasons into it. I was so bad that I played the minimum amount that the league required (two innings in the field and one at-bat, if I recall correctly.) Though I seldom played, and got on base once in my career, you always sat in the stands. I used to admire how you didn’t yell and scream at me when I was at bat like the other boys’ parents did. Of course, I now suspect that’s because I was so bad that you didn’t want anyone to know I was your kid! Your devotion extended to my junior high basketball days, where I remained firmly entrenched on the third string in 7th and 8th grades. You would drive to Marlin, Gatesville, Connally, and other places for my games, fully aware that I would not see the court unless we were ahead by 50 points with one minute left in the game. Similarly, my football experience involved being only on the kick-off team.
43: I did begin to have some success in track in 10th grade, and finally you were able to see me accomplish something. You and the other dads – Mr. Smith and Mr. Ousley in particular – timed every lane of every event in the prelims. After the prelims, we wouldn’t wait to talk to Coach Farmer to get our lane assignments for the finals. We just go up in the stands and talk to the dads, who would tell us who was in what lane and what all of the qualifying times were. Now that I’m committing all of this to paper, I’ve come to a realization. I had two “great” moments in my entire athletic career, and they happen to be the only two that you missed. The only touchdown I ever scored in football (in fact, the only time I ever touched a football) was on the 8th grade B team. We were playing at Robinson on a Saturday morning. On our first play from scrimmage, I caught a 50-yard TD pass from Johnny Gamboa. (The defender bit on the play fake, leaving me wide open.) I raced into the end zone, ball in one hand, my other hand pulling up my pants that were falling off my skinny frame. You and mom were in Abilene for Keith’s ankle surgery, and Bobbye Corley had taken me to the game.
44: Fast forward to my senior year in high school. Two-day meet at Temple. You couldn’t make it to the prelims on Friday because you had to work. All I did was set a new personal best in the 300-meter hurdles, run under 40 seconds for the first time, and defeat the defending state champion from Belton, Bret Stafford, who was in my heat. The track world was abuzz. You were there Saturday, undoubtedly hoping for a repeat performance. Except that Stafford destroyed me and set a new meet record. (I did get second, though.) So I’m now thinking that, had you been a less devoted father, I probably would’ve been destined for athletic fame and fortune. I’ve seen you continue that devotion with Cliff and Jake. I remember once when Cliff qualified for the summer rec league finals in an event. You and mom got up early on a Saturday, drove four hours to Sugar Land, watched Cliff’s 30-second race, then drove back home. You also came down to see Jake get his Cub Scout Arrow of Light Award. And so on and so on. Thanks for always being there. I love you very much. Happy Birthday! Russell