Ode to Dr. Bill R. Lee
As boys growing up in Cisco, Texas, Bill Lee and I spent many an hour sniffing airplane glue……let me rephrase that…..as professionals who might someday run for some public office, both of us need to join that elite group who maintain “I did not inhale.” That does not sound right, either. What I mean to say is that Bill Lee and I (I shall call him “Lee” or “Dr. Lee” — And God Said, Let There Be Friends [April, 2012]), many years ago saved up Foremost milk bottle tops and carton labels to help us obtain plastic models (mostly Revell brand) of planes, ships, tanks, etc. I can still smell that drying glue and feel the spilled glue drying all over my fingertips, layer after layer, in the back corner den of the Lee household on the highway between Cisco and Lake Cisco.
Both of us are doctors, he an M.D., and I a Ph.D. We are two doctors, a pair of docs, or, maybe, a pair o’ docs or paradox. Maybe it was an airplane glue after-effect, but we still think that kind of stupid humor is funny! And, that in turn, helps to understand why our friendship is anything but a paradox. A stranger would not connect us at all probably, Lee being “born” to be the church leader and community stalwart he is, and I “born” to be… whatever the hell I am (see my list of labels in Sticks and Stones May Break Our Bones… [March, 2012]) and think any friendship between us would definitely be paradoxical and surprising. Such a stranger does not know the history of the Baby Boomers who grew up in Cisco.
Lee and I as friends, in fact, makes a lot of sense.
I’ve only known Bob Berry on the “ode” list longer than Lee. By the time the fifth grade rolled around he and I were fast friends, thanks to mutual friends like David Taylor, Clark Odom, John Shelton, and Buddy Nelms. Lee’s dad, Mr. O.L. Lee, owner of Cisco Steam Laundry, taught me how to play tennis and “ping-pong” (The way we played the latter, it would be too sophisticated to call it “table tennis.”), and his son Bill was patient enough with me to help me develop my skills; my goal in these games was to be able to “keep up with Lees.” Lee and I were Little League baseball players, he probably the better, as he was a catcher for the Athletics and I was a benchwarmer for the Braves. Yet, you could not call us athletic, as shown by his HS path going the way of band and mine going by way of athletic manager/trainer. Over the years, he was a Cub Scout, a “regular” at the Cisco Swimming Pool below the spillway of the lake’s dam, and a water skier on the lake; I was none of these.
But there was model railroading as well as plastic model assembly. His electric train was A.C. Gilbert and mine was Lionel, but we spent countless hours talking electric trains and how to make scenery and accessories look like the pictures of professional model train layouts featured in the model railroading magazines to which Lee subscribed. We never had the wherewithal to make the layouts of our dreams, but that did not stop us from dreaming. Then there was the Confederate Club, a creation in my backyard among the hound dogs my dad kept there. Lee, John Shelton, and Buddy Nelms were “original” members, along with Billy Pence; as founder, I was a General and Lee was the next in rank as Master Sergeant; political incorrectness aside — that never existed for us — we never succeeded in seceding from anything, but we sure collected a formidable cache of “weapons” in the form of burned-out light bulbs. We did succeed at building several “snakey” forts in which to bivouac — one of which was across from John Shelton’s house on a vacant lot, and another was atop McKinney hill at my grandparents’. Thanks to the Confederate Club, no one knew more about the US Civil War in our classes than Lee and I, as we celebrated the war’s centennial throughout our years in high school.
The Lees’ place “backed up” to include arms of the system of canyons in which Lake Cisco lies (Permian geology). We called the Lee section of the system simply “The Canyon,” and its importance to our friendship lasted well into our college years and graduate studies. From Lee, Buddy, John, and I going into the canyon during the winter months (We couldn’t go in summer time due to rattlesnakes.) and staging our famous rock fights, to Lee and I taking our brides into the haunts of the canyon to spin yarns for them about our childhood near the canyon’s bottom’s “Sewer Creek,” (like they wanted to know that!). Lee and I probably took all our mutual buddies through the “challenges” of the canyon, most of which lay across a fence line we never let our parents know we crossed — the climbs and jumps of the Gorges and the claustrophobic crawl through the HLH (Hastings-Lee Hideout), to name a couple. Add Hat Rock and caves both water-carved and otherwise, the importance of The Canyon to us is difficult to overemphasize.
Probably because he lived near the edge of The Canyon, Lee was and is as near “country” as Robert Cole and I. He was never apprehensive going to my mom’s and dad’s farms and ranches, and to those of my grandparents. He and Robert were the only ones from the “ode” list willing to go on a coon hunt with my dad’s hounds — a “real” challenge! Lee was always there for our camp-outs — not as “wild” as the rest of us, usually, but he was there. He could get his hands dirty as well as the rest of us.
When we were juniors in Cisco High School Mrs. Edward Lee (no relation) had us write short essays for publication in a high school Anthology. True to our forms, Lee wrote about the view and serenity late in the afternoon from atop Hat Rock in The Canyon. Me, I wrote about the agony of digging a pit with shovel and pick (which I had done for a new septic facility at one of the farms), trying to emulate Edgar Allan Poe. “OMG! WTF! You two were good friends?” I can hear the reader say. Yes we were… you could almost say it was karma-driven, God-inspired, in the cards, written in the stars. Lee and I were meant to affect each other.
Just The Canyon would have been enough for most friendships; but this is Bill Lee we are talking about. With the help of John Shelton’s father, one of our fifth grade teachers in West Ward, Lee was able to be a major catalyst in developing my love of reading — not reading because it was assigned, but reading for its own sake. The one friend most associated with our having to add-on to our house here in Waxahachie about 20 years ago just to house all the books I had collected (and still collect) is Lee. He introduced me to the Cisco Public Library; he and I were librarians both in West Ward and in Cisco Jr. High; at the 2010 high school reunion when he and I had a moment to visit a place special to us both, we stopped by the Cisco Public Library and took each other’s picture standing outside, while talking about how the books inside smelled in our memories. When I see Lee to this day, I usually have the book I’m reading in hand, for reasons many of you already know, or reasons that will soon be clear for those of you who don’t.
Isn’t that enough? Oh, no! He was one-quarter of the Mean Corner in the 8th grade in Jr. High, in Mrs. Schaefer’s class — the only spot in the classroom where four boys sat at two desks together. Lee and I were beside each other, with Bill Adling and Clark Odom sitting behind us. Expanding our political incorrectness, the Confederate flag, on a ruler flagpole atop the cigar box on our desk, with its carved “portholes” for the “cannon” of empty plastic ink cartridges, was joined by a Nazi flag! Like the Civil War, probably no one in the class knew more about WWII than the two of us. While it was not unusual for Lee, Adling, and I to get in trouble, it was unusual to hear Lee utter the word “hell” as he was reading from Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice.” Just for good measure, he and I put together a model airplane with “brakes” using a metal clip, a pencil eraser, and a ruler — had it taken up several times — not to mention a “powered” unicycle made of a circular-shaped eraser-with-brush.
It was with Lee I began playing Avalon Hill games of military strategy, starting with Tactics II, Gettysburg, and Chancellorsville. Lee did not become the “war monger” fanatic many of us became in high school with our all-night war game tournaments at my house, but he made a convincing SS officer in a black-and-white photo session of highly questionable portraits, questionable to this day. (He also was a major subject in a comedy photo session, along with Adling, Earl Carson, and myself, one night at my house when we were supposed to be studying.) He made a great jester in the Alice-in-Wonderland-themed King Lobo Coronation – he was the Walrus (goo-goo-ga-joob!). He could (and still does) make terrible puns and corny jokes that would lay us all in the shade! Along with Adling, he can come up with some of the most sarcastic stuff to say at just the right time (e.g. If someone says to you “Is that right?” or “Is that true?”, just say, “No, I just said that!”, or, add to the words, “A little humor there” the words, “– very little!”).
As pointed out elsewhere, Lee, unlike Adling, Berry, Cole, and Hastings, managed to stay out of serious trouble in high school and college. But he remained a loyal, unfaltering friend to us, even though we did get in trouble; a lesser friend would probably have “dropped us like a hot rock.” Although he knew enough to add to our trouble, he never “squealed;” he never betrayed us. A lesser friend would have felt friendships tarnished when the four of us decided we had to temporarily unguard Lee’s sister’s (Camille’s) wedding presents while all the Lees were away for her college graduation (That Damn Dam Painting! [April, 2013]). Had we not so decided, the Lake Cisco dam would not have been painted, in all probability, for the Cisco High School class of 1964, the class of all five of us. Luckily, nothing happened to the gifts while we were painting, and, though the rest of the Lee family had every right to think less of us, we never got that feeling from Bill Lee.
We were in each other’s weddings (lock-cinch!), he honoring me as his best man. Our brides did not approve of our idea of having one our rock fights at the receptions for old times’ sake.
Now, to “clinch” the friendship for you. Dr. Bill Lee was my family doctor and my wife’s, Sylvia’s. (This is why I had a book when I saw him over many years — to read while I waited in the waiting room of his office.) He lives over in Ennis, just a few miles from Waxahachie — retired now and a member of a Great Books readers club with me here in Waxahachie. (We still meet books-in-hand.) I have had not one, not two, but three potentially life-threatening medical situations over the years, and in every one Bill Lee either took care of it himself, or he referred me to get checked out. In the latest one, some 12 years ago — the one involving cancer — Dr. Clark Odom (M.D.) (of Mean Corner fame above) also played a pivotal role. Bill Lee has literally saved my life three times; I would not probably be alive today were it not for Bill Lee (and Clark Odom). The guy on the Dos Equis commercials might be “The Most Interesting Man in the World,” but I’ve gotta be in top running for “The Luckiest Man in the World,” with two, count them, two MD BFF’s and childhood classmates who have proven they have my back! I am here today because of half the Mean Corner from the 8th grade!
But, I am alive today especially because of Dr. Bill R. Lee, he who with whom I did not inhale airplane glue so many years ago.