And God Said, “Let There Be Friends”… And It Was Weird!
I had no intention of writing my memoirs when I was in graduate school at Texas A&M; I felt compelled to do so, compelled by strangers (couples, mostly in a church group) who responded in astonishment to my stories of what I did with my friends while in high school in Cisco. Butch and Bernadine (Campbell) Donovan, also at A&M at that time, and a couple from Cisco as were Sylvia and I, started the whole thing by saying things like, “You ought to get Ronnie to tell you about the time he and his buddies……” The audience was astounded and wanted to know if I was making it all up. Sylvia, Butch, and Bernadine, all witnesses to much of which I spoke, assured them it was all true. No one could “top” what I was saying, and the next week-end Butch would suggest I reveal another of our high school “exploits.” It was like a week-end serial! Collectively, the group urged me to write it all down before I forgot details over the years, an idea that made more sense the more I thought about it.
So, before I wrote my 214-page, double-spaced doctoral dissertation in physics, I wrote my 836-page double-spaced memoirs. Had I known the latter was going to be that long, I might not have undertaken the task. But, it was one of the best things I ever did, right up there with the Ph.D. dissertation.
There was never any hesitation about what to write — write about my friends and our school days in Cisco. So rich, so beyond price, so hilarious, so memorable was this content, the writing took on a life of its own and became almost a non-autobiographical listing of events and their colorful detail. Along the way, I had a lot of “help from my friends,” of which the ballad from Sgt. Pepper speaks, especially from copies of selected pages from Bill Adling’s diary from his high school and college days. As I told Bob Berry when I saw him last November as we spoke of the memoirs, “Man, it is just as much your story as it is mine.” And as much Bill Lee’s, and as much Bill Adling’s, and as much Robert Cole’s. Add mine to these four names and the resulting quintet forms the list of “stars” of the 836 pages.
This post is an announcement that I am embarking upon a series of four tribute postings to the other four; it is not appropriate for me to write a tribute to me. Watch for those four names in future on this site. Without even reading the memoirs or even knowing about the events therein, I hope that these four postings will give you a flavor of these four characters — the four that made my memoirs fascinating to strangers. I submit that anyone who is lucky enough to have four friends such as these will, like me, have no trouble at all winning any “guess what we did?” contest for the rest of their life! I will call these tributes “odes,” not because they are epic or poetic, but because I can. After all, the title of my memoirs is “And God Said, ‘Let There Be Friends’…..or The Idiots and the Oddities, a Companion Volume to The Iliad and The Odyssey.”
These four fit one of my favorite definitions of a true, TRUE friend, a definition I will get to shortly.
But first, I want to make it clear why not in the four are true, best friends Dr. Clark Odom, Earl Carson, Stan Livingston, Billy Pence, Joe Woodard, Prince Altom, David Waters, Dwayne Scarlett, Buddy Nelms, John Shelton, Ted Capps, Dr. Jim Burns, Dr. Loyd Rutledge, Dr. Ron Spross, Dr. Butch Donovan, Danny Clack, Larry Nance, Marlin Marcum, Buford Green, Ronnie Rider, Lee Wallace, David Leese, Chip White, Mike Joyner, Robert Mitchell, Billy Wilson, Keith Starr, Larry Johnson, Jerry Parks, J.V. Plumlee, Rodney Harrelson, Darrell Holt, Lynn Hagan, Wayne White, Zack White, Nicky Lopez, Cliff Clary, George Mitchum, Jerry Broom, Anthony Strother, Macon Strother, Gerald Moore, Dr. Gene Byrd, Tommy Williams, Charlie Cole, Jerry Akers, or anyone of this group I have inadvertently left out. These names also appear in the memoirs, but not as often as the first four; none is less worthy than the four.
Not appearing in the memoirs but equally worthy are the countless numbers of friends I have added since I graduated with two degrees from A&M, many of whom became my friends as graduated former students.
Now to that definition: A true friend is someone who will come and bail you out of jail. A true, TRUE friend is in the jail cell with you saying, “Damn, we fucked up!” Ok, Dr. Bill Lee might be outside posting bail, but those other three are sure as hell in there with me, as those of you who don’t know them will see as you read about them. Nonetheless, Dr. Lee deserves an “ode” as much as my “cell mates.”
I suppose the lack of any female names on the above listing needs addressing. Certainly, were I to update that list to the present, there would be listed, I like to think, as many ladies as guys. So, why none from high school (Sylvia was my girlfriend in high school, and Bernadine was Butch’s.)? Due to the lack of a sister or two and due to the social mores of the generations of my childhood, the cultivation of friendships for me happened in a gender-segregated context. For that I am the poorer, I’m sure. On the other hand, don’t know if my life could have handled female counterparts to the honorees of the “odes!” As it is, the only female school mate who, in retrospect, asserts she would have been “in the cell” with us under different “friendship rules of the day” is Danny (Siddall) Barrett, or “Sweetness” as we call her today; those of you who know Danny also know that this assertion of hers indicates only the tip of the iceberg of her courage and fortitude.
I don’t know all the psychology that goes into making true, fast friends for life. But I do know that when it came to the five of us, our friendships seemed transcendent, soaring above all the day-to-day, month-to-month, and year-to-year demands upon our individual lives. Whether it was Bob Berry, who I knew before we even started school, or whether it was Robert Cole, who I knew only from the sophomore year in high school, or the others in between, I got up on school mornings to go to school so I could be with them; they were surrogate brothers, sure, but they were brothers I got to choose, and I hope they chose me back. They collectively brought to me, as they still do to this day, all the reasons it was and is great to be alive — laughter, loyalty, fun, and terrible jokes. Because we had two Bills we called each other by our last names, something that sounded formal, but, in reality, was (and is) the greatest of compliments.
So, here’s to you, Berry, Lee, Adling, and Cole! There is no way I can thank y’all enough, you bunch of sick, crazy bastards!
For the preface material to the memoirs, I happened to pen a couple of lines that, hopefully, also credits this quartet adequately:
Who is the one who walks the second mile?
My friend — he who compels my mind to smile.