Sunday, November 22, 2009

The big K.O.

Basketball was not a sport in which I excelled, nor am I ashamed to admit it. There’s no sense in lying about it. Anyone that has ever seen me with a roundball immediately came to that conclusion. You’ve heard the old expression about walking and chewing gum at the same time Well, it could apply to me where running and dribbling are concerned. Those two things I could never do with any degree of accuracy. I could never shoot, either. I just couldn’t get the basketball to go through that round sphere with any degree of consistency.

The easiest way to explain it: I sucked. I only played one real game of basketball ever in my life. Oh, I’ve gotten out and pretended to dribble and shoot with my daughter -- when she was only a small child. That was the only time I towered over her. Once, with the emphasis on ONCE, in high school I played a game of intramural basketball. I don’t even remember what the occasion was, if it was some sort of Charity game, or what, but Garry Ritzkey was the coach. Garry was my age and later in college was my roommate. Maybe the coaches were having to choose players, or something. I don’t know. Garry probably had to choose me, because I was the only kid left. Anyway, he put me in at some point in the game. I can’t think of a good reason why I was playing basketball. Garry put me in for defensive purposes, I guess, because he told me to foul Don Lewis every chance I could. See, Don couldn’t shoot free throws with any degree of accuracy, either. Don was a burley type, and a pretty good football player. So, every time I came close to Don I managed to foul him, so he would have to go the free-throw line to try and tack on a point. Well, the strategy seemed to work, because he never made a free throw the remainder of the game. My fouls weren’t of the flagrant kind, mind you, but Don knew what I was doing, and he didn’t like it.

I don’t even recall who won the game. Afterwards, we were on the way to the dressing rooms downstairs. If you’ve ever been in the old Heavener High School gym, you know the ones I’m taking about. On the way down the stairs, however, Don tapped me one the shoulder. When I turned around, he way-laid me with a sock to the jaw. Kapow! It stunned me, to say the least, and he said, “Don’t ever do that again!” I didn’t, because my basketball career came to a close shortly thereafter.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

When football was king

Cynthia and I attended a high school playoff game last week for the first time in over five years – Malakoff vs. Winnsboro, because my daughter is the cheerleader sponsor and her husband coaches at Malakoff. Somebody in the stands behind us yelled, “Who’s left in Malakoff tonight!” … It reminded me of those good ole’ days in Heavener.

As a former sports editor of the Longview (TX) News-Journal, I was fortunate to witness some of the greatest high school football teams ever to play the game – namely, the Big Sandy Wildcats of the mid-1970s and Daingerfield Tigers of the mid-1980s. The Wildcats turned out one of the most explosive offenses, scoring over 800 points in one season. That total would make Oklahoma Sooners fans envious. Fact of the matter is, Big Sandy’s running back that season, David Overstreet, went on to become an OU Sooner. Daingerfield fielded one of most ferocious defenses. The Tigers one season surrendered only eight points in 16 games. Yep, one touchdown and one safety in the season-opener. Do the math, that means 14 shutouts. Mercy!

While both teams had their share of fans, probably like undefeated Talihina does now, the Heavener teams of the late 1950s and early 1960s certainly did. I recall going to many of the Heavener games in Harvey Stadium and on the road, too, during the playoffs. The crowds were enormous, to say the least. Many of the games, as I recall, the number of fans were lined up around the fences surrounding the field three-deep. I remember one game, in particular, that was played on Thanksgiving Day 1961 against Stigler. It was a bitter cold afternoon and in the end zone fans were huddled around barrels of fire to stay warm. In downtown Heavener, businesses had signs painted in their windows, courtesy of Omer Bennett. Cars all over town had Bennett’s signs painted on the windows. During a football game would have been the perfect time to pull a robbery, because everybody was at the stadium. I’m sure the towns of Daingerfield and Big Sandy were the same way when I covered those games. And it’s probably like that in Talihina, too.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Camping with the deer

Three weeks at Medina Lake was, well, in a single word, wonderful. Medina Lake has become a popular destination for Cynthia and me, since her kids have moved to San Antonio. It’s only a 30-minute drive to Tammi and Kenny’s house, since they live on the southwest side of San Antonio and Medina Lake is southwest of the city. Michael lives about 25 miles across the city, but that’s not too bad, considering San Antonio is Texas’ third largest city. And now that we have gotten used to the I-bus (nickname for RV), setting it up and getting the satellite properly arranged so I can watch ESPN, the World Series champion Yankees on Fox and the not-so-good Sooners and the Cowboys I am completely happy. Cynthia is happy she can see the girls, McKenna and Kenedi, plus happy that I’m happy. We plan to go back over Thanksgiving, and depending on what Karen decides to do Christmas, we may just go back Christmas, too. If truth be known, Cynthia probably would enjoy living in San Antonio, but then we wouldn’t be able to go down there as often and camp out!

We were down there to officially welcome Micah, Michael’s new son, to the family. That means a new cousin for McKenna, Kenedi, Brandon and Garrett. We also made friends with the deer. As I mentioned once before in a blog when we went to Medina and stayed in a getaway cabin, I was able to eventually get close enough to feed a deer by hand. I thought that was a breakthrough. This time, the deer were all around the campground and not bashful at all about coming around the campsite to eat whatever they could. Even McKenna got brave enough to feed them. They were so plentiful, we bought a 50-pound sack of deer corn and they got used to our campsite and knew we had some deer corn to give them. Just a rattle of that sack, or any sack for that matter, brought deer running. At times, I had as many as 20 deer around me. Bucks, does, even some small ones. They were so peaceful looking with big black eyes staring at you. Needless to say, I became a big fan of the deer, or maybe it was vice-versa.

-----Photos taken by Cynthia-----

(Be sure and click on the photos for a larger view)

Remembrances of Jim Hall

(Editor's note: This blog was written by David Hinds, who lives in Chili now.)

Some of my earliest childhood memories are of my first playmate and best friend Jim Hall. I don’t remember when we first met, it seems like I just always knew him. We had to have been about 3-5 years in age when we spent many hours playing together and exploring the world around us. We ventured into a wooded area just over the hill from where we lived and discovered a large rock that Jim said looked like an alligator. Neither of us ever forgot where ‘Alligator Rock’ is. I remember once when our explorations got us into trouble. Jim told me that he knew a lady on the next block behind his house that had a television and that she would let us watch Howdy Doody on it. Now I had never seen a television and wasn’t sure what a Howdy Doody was, but Jim’s recommendation was all I needed to join him in going to Mrs. Duncan’s house. She wasn’t at home, but as was the custom in those days, her door was unlocked so we went on in. Jim knew all about the television so he would operate it. He did manage to get it to turn on, but we never did find a Howdy Doody on it. I’m not sure how it was discovered that we were in the house when no one was at home, but we both were severely scolded and told never to go into someone’s house unless they invited us. The real punishment was that we were not allowed to play together for a time.

Remarkably, we always played together well and never fussed and only had one fight that wasn’t really a fight, more of a game. One of my older brothers and his friend, Stanley Tucker, put boxing gloves on us and made us fight. The match was pretty much a draw and my remembrance is that Jim gave as good as he got.

As usually happens with childhood friends, we grew further apart as we grew older and saw each other less and less. In recent years we only saw each every other year at our High School class reunion. As an adult, the quality that most stands out in my mind about Jim was his genuine character. When I think of this attribute in his nature I am reminded of what Jesus said about Nathanael in John 1:47 (NIV) 47When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, "Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false." I never saw even a hint of deceit in Jim. For example, when he asked how you were, you knew that he wasn’t just making small talk; he really was interested in how you were. As I remember this trait of Jim’s, I ask myself, ‘do others see me as a genuine person’?

When I heard about Jim’s diagnosis I knew, that because of the distance between where we each lived, that I would never again see my old friend Jim Hall here on this earth. The best I could do was to call him. I talked to Jim just a few weeks before he passed away. When I called he was watching a college football game on television. Although we both knew that this would probably be our last conversation in this life; Jim didn’t reminisce about old memories we shared. He talked about things that were going on now. His raspy voice became alive with excitement and joy when he talked about his grandson.

As I hung up the phone that day again the words of Jesus came to mind; in John 16:16 He said: 16"In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Season to Remember Our Blessings

As Thanksgiving draws near this year, I will have an enriched outlook about the blessings of my life! This past year Harry and I learned a lot about blessings from our brother-in-law, Jim Hall. Jim was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung and liver cancer earlier this year. We were fortunate to spend quite a bit of time with Judy and Jim during his illness, and we recall so many times just during the last five months that Jim left a legacy of good-living, right priorities, and the ability to recognize and recall life’s blessings beyond measure.

We recall an evening just days after the diagnosis when Harry and I were seated at their dinner table, and Jim asked that we bless the food. We were all struggling with emotions that day, and honestly none of us, Harry, Judy nor I, could choke out a word to say grace. Jim just smiled at us, we joined hands, and Jim led the most beautiful prayer you could ever hear. He thanked God that evening for all the blessings we have in life.

Jim knew at the time of the diagnosis that his time remaining on earth might be very short. He made the most of every moment, and he often expressed what a Blessed Life he had been given. In fact, it was Jim’s idea to share some of those thoughts at his memorial service.

Jim expressed over and over in these last months what a Blessed Life he had, starting with his family growing up, then the journey through life with his wife, Judy. Judy’s ultimate gift to Jim was her loving care - being able to stay at home throughout the illness – and passing on to Heaven from the comfort of his home surrounded by those who loved him. And Jim’s loving care for Judy was demonstrated once again in his last hours as he showed J. J. a new car on the internet, a car that he wanted to buy for Judy. To the end Jim was looking after his bride!

Recalling his Blessed Life, Jim mentioned that being Judy’s husband also enriched his life with In-Laws that he enjoyed so much. Next came a joy that Judy and Jim had never imagined could be so wonderful - - Having a Son and a Daughter. Their children J. J. and Joey brought so many wonderful experiences, friends, travels and adventures into their lives. Next for Jim, he discovered the joy of having a Daughter-In-Law, especially one who could COOK like Stacy!!! And she would cook anything he requested!!! Their close relationship was sealed at Stacy’s wedding shower when Jim gave her a special gift - - a cookbook entitled “Any Bitch Can Cook.” Once she got over the shock, she was thrilled through the years as Jim added to her collection of cookbooks. Next came a Son-In-Law. Matt is the Son-In-Law who moved Jim’s daughter to Nevada – and we were not sure Jim would ever want to forgive him for that - but of course he did forgive Matt - - - and Matt was listed among the “best” things when Jim recalled his Blessed Life.

Words cannot express the absolute JOY Jim received when J. J. and Stacy blessed him with a new title “Daddy Jim.” Jagger James Hall brought a brand new kind of love into Jim’s life. At first Jim was Daddy Pim to Jagger and later became Daddy Jim. On the last night of his life, just hours before his death, Jim was able to spend time with Jagger. They sorted the Halloween treats Jagger had “gained” on Dogwood Street. And, of course, Daddy Jim added Jagger’s favorite kind of treat to his Halloween bucket – the green stuff to put in his wallet!!

That brings up another Blessing Jim often recounted - - his neighbors on Dogwood Street. What an awesome bunch of friends! Other friends, who were honorary Dogwood neighbors, were Debbie and Daryl Wood. After some of the automotive adventures that Judy and Jim experienced on several trips to the doctor appointments, Debbie and Daryl decided that they should go along to lend assistance if needed. Sure enough, Judy ran the Caddie over some curb somewhere in Muskogee and hung up “just a little bit.” Not having any baling wire handy, Daryl took off his shoestrings and tied up the dangling parts until he could get the Caddie home for more professional attention. And when Jim bemoaned the fact that Judy’s dainty little crystal and silver pepper shaker would not offer up even a flake of pepper - - it was Daryl who went out with J. J. and returned with newly drilled holes in the top of Judy’s dainty little crystal and silver pepper shaker. Daryl was there with Jim ready to help in whatever way he could even through that last night.

Jim loved coaching his kids and their friends, and he loved watching them play sports. He loved traveling and finding new places to eat, BUT mostly he loved sharing those adventures with his cherished friends and family. Jim even approached Joey’s many moves across the country as an opportunity for travel. Jim was proud of his interest in the J & M Moving Company that was established by Jim and Max Rowley for the sole purpose of moving Joey from one job to the next – each a promotion for Joey and a new slate of restaurants for Jim! After this last move to Nevada, Jim did hand the torch to Matt stating that Joey and all of her moves across the country were now Matt’s responsibility!!

Jim recalled his regularly scheduled appointments at the Coach’s Office (Jerry Johnston’s man cave). Through the years those were cherished times, and those Saturday morning appointments became even more dear during the days of his illness.

Jim loved spending time with his siblings and their families whether it was drinking coffee, eating b-b-q and ribs, watching one of his nephews or nieces participate in a sporting event, going to a football game or just watching one on TV, or telling a story; really he just loved spending time with his family and friends.

Jim recalled the consistent love and the enduring relationships of family and friends, always picking up exactly where they left off even if time and distance kept them apart from time to time. And friends recalled that being with Jim always made them feel better – not just during the illness, but all through his life. Jim gave his friends and family the gift of his positive nature and he also taught us to give to others, to recognize needs around us and to meet those needs – whether it was offering an encouraging word or meeting physical needs of those around him. Jim requested that we honor his life by also looking to meet needs of others. A memorial fund was established at Poteau Primary School in Jim’s name to help provide for needy children and their families.

The vastness of the love we all have for Jim has been somewhat symbolic in the bells that surrounded him these last few weeks. Jim’s voice had come and gone and had become a raspy whisper. He loved sitting on the front porch or the deck, but he couldn’t get loud enough to get Judy’s attention. Judy decided that he could ring a bell and she would know to come to him. Well, he tried the bell, but Jim soon declared that the cute little butterfly bell with the delicate tingle-sound was not adequate. Jim said, “A man’s got his pride - - I need a man’s bell with a robust ring! - Something that could really get Judy’s attention.” Judy decided that we would put a bell in every spot in the house where Jim might sit or rest. The bells represented so many special people and places - - one from a loved one who had passed - - one from Judy’s school friends - - one that his mother-in-law June Bain had rung at Heavener football games back when Jim was playing - - one from UCO representing all the coaches in his family - - one from a State Championship football team representing that JIM WAS A TRUE CHAMPION - - and one from “his dear old Heavener High” representing all the Heavener friends who had remained steadfast friends through the years. We will miss hearing those bells …….. and we look forward to the day when we are all together again in Heaven.


Good-bye old friend

It’s almost eerily ironic that Jim Hall passed away while Cynthia and I were out of town a little over a week ago. I have always considered Jim a good friend. The Class of ’65 was always close and I have always tried to be there for one of my classmates in whatever way I could.

The Class of ’65 has lost way too many – either 19 or 20, at last count -- over the years. To be so young, in my mind, is too young to die. We’re at an age, however, that often we might feel it is best to die at times, rather than go on suffering in sickness. Jim probably felt that way and sure enough when it came time to join the Lord, he was ready. His neighbors said when he was going to have to go in the hospital again, Jim refused and said he was ready to die.

Last January, when Cynthia and I attended a memorial service in Poteau for another friend, Grace Coggins Kidwell, Jim and his wife Judy were there. Jim said he was so glad to see me. I said it was good to see him, too. He said, “No John, you don’t understand. It’s really good to see you, because when you didn’t send out an obit for Billy Martinez this week, we worried something may have happened to you, so I’m real glad to see you.” Billy Martinez, another classmate, had passed away in a Heavener nursing home that very week. I had been emailing Heavener obits when I come across them in my daily newspaper website searches. Well, that week Cynthia and I had been camping in Lake Texoma and decided to come straight to Poteau. We hadn’t been home that week for me to send out Billy’s obit. I had made it a habit for so long, folks had come to expect it. I had people tell me that when they received an email from me, they knew it was probably another obit and they were almost afraid to open it and see who had died this time.

The past three weeks, Cynthia and I have been camping at Lake Medina, near San Antonio, for the arrival of our latest grandson. Unfortunately, Cynthia had unexpectedly returned to Tyler for a funeral. While she was home, she got a call about Jim. Knowing I would want to attend Jim’s funeral, she checked on plane flights and wondered how I could get back to be in attendance. She wanted to go, too, because Judy, her sister Kathy and Jim’s sister Linda were her friends as well. We had talked the situation over before she left to come back to Tyler, knowing Jim’s time was near. Jim had been sick since early in the year and I had been receiving phone calls with updates on him from John Locke, his neighbor.

When we first heard of Jim’s cancer earlier this year, I tried to arrange for a class reunion in the fall so we could all see Jim again. Some of the girls, pardon me, ladies, decided it wouldn’t be in the best interest. Of course, they were right. Jim wouldn’t have wanted it that way. So, I missed his funeral and didn’t even get to email his obit to classmates. For that, I apologize. Just know that he will be missed.