Ode to Bob B. Berry
On the 900 block of West 6th St in Cisco, Texas, circa 1950-1951, the street was a crossfire, as noted by a comment in the local paper, The Cisco Press. The paper warned that two pre-schooler boys were firing across the street at each other with their toy rifles and pistols. You see, when we were four or five, Bob Berry and I lived across the street from each other. Our mothers cooperated with our getting to cross the street in one of the directions and play with each other quite often, as if they wanted us to grow up and become good friends.
We did not exactly do that; we did much better than that — we became great friends, the best of friends.
Outside my cousin Dwayne Scarlett, Berry is the closest thing I’ve had to a brother; he was and is an only child also, and we were born within two months of each other. On the first day of school, I walked into Mrs. Clements first grade room at West Ward (Almost no one went to kindergarten.) in much apprehension, clinging to my mother’s hand. Then I saw Berry in the room. I let go of my mother’s hand, looked up at her, and said, “It’s OK, Mommy, you can go now!”
I grew up thinking they put all the flags out on June 14th because it was Berry’s birthday! They never put out flags on my birthday! By the time I figured that one out, Berry and I seemed destined to drift apart, as we did not share a classroom until the fifth grade and because he had long before moved from the house on 6th street. He was part of two groups, the group of guys who were Cub Scouts (Lee, Clark Odom, Robert Mitchell, Ronnie Rider, David Taylor, etc.), and the crowd of “Humbletown” kids, children of the oil patch who lived on the East Ward side of town but who attended West Ward. Though Berry did not live on the east side in Humbletown, he was part of what he always called “oil trash,” families associated with the oil industry. I, on the other hand, was in no particular crowd, except for that pesky little group of rock throwers, which included Lee, John Shelton, Buddy Nelms, and me. Come to think of it, I also was in the Confederate Club — the “general” of the damn thing, in fact! Consequently, I guess, Berry was not an early canyon visitor, a Confederate Club member, nor was he like the readers Lee and I became (see Ode to Dr. Bill R. Lee).
But, for whatever reason, Berry was a member of those of us in Mrs. Bisbee’s fifth grade class who got to entertain the class with whatever we wanted to do every Friday morning. I remember him helping me be future “USO” entertainers by marching around the classroom desks and singing the US Marine Hymn; then, on Halloween, Berry and I stood up in front of the class and sang the cult classic, “You Better Not Laugh When the Hearse Goes By.” Berry is listed as an official attendee at my birthday party during the fifth grade year, but, mysteriously, he is a no-show in the party picture in my memoirs (a portend of things to come!). He and I were on the Braves Little League team together, bench-warming together as “minor” team members. The two with whom I remember walking to Little League practice after school from West Ward to the practice field, across the Katy RR tracks and through the mesquite brush and trees, were Billy Pence (a LL Cardinal) and Berry.
Fate seemed to keep us somewhat apart during the 6th and 7th grades, but by the time the 8th grade rolled around with Mrs. Schaefer’s upper academic classroom and the Mean Corner (see odes to Dr. Bill R. Lee and William L. (Bill) Adling), Berry was part of all the rest of us, even though he was not physically in the Mean Corner. He was a contributor to the jokes, gags, and laughter our imaginations seemed to spawn (the imaginations of Lee, Adling, and Hastings, that is, as Clark Odom seemed to just tolerate us, in a good-natured way). But, again, when we wanted to take a picture after 8th grade graduation of the Mean Corner + 1, Berry could not be found (another sinister clue!).
During the 8th grade, I turned one of my many personal corners, thanks to Berry. During recess Lee and I got our buddies in a rock fight on the play ground, for good old Confederate Club memories’ sake — John Shelton had moved from Cisco by this time. I sorta side-armed a David-like stone Berry’s way and it struck him on his forehead before he could duck out of the way; he went down, just like John Shelton did back in West Ward days; and, like John, I thought I had killed him! He had my fate in his hands as we went back inside, he now sporting a big knot on one side of his forehead. He spent the rest of the day hiding the knot as best he could by doing his work with head-propped-in-hand, and, when he had to speak of the injury, he made vague references to an innocent accident. Berry covered my ass; he made sure I did not get into trouble! Two things happened for me then — I “grew up” and vowed never to rock fight anymore, and, more importantly, I realized I had no better friend than Berry, even though he wasn’t in the Mean Corner.
Berry was “major” in getting me started for high school. He stopped by my house early in the summer before high school and talked me into joining him and the rest of “our group” in taking driver’s education, the “thing” to do socially and developmentally at the time. He also said he thought that I could still be with all the fellows who were athletes (I was not going to play sports, nor was I going to be in the band.) by becoming a football manager/trainer. I wound up taking his advice on both counts, and, again, as they say, the rest is history! It reminded me of that important visit Adling had at my house the summer before the 7th grade (see Ode to William L. (Bill) Adling). What if Berry had not come by that day, or, on that day, I had not been at home?
Both Berry and I went on to become class leaders in high school (and, of course, we were not the only ones) and, at first glance, one might guess that the strengthening of our friendship over the high school years was the result of all our cooperative “leading,” in most aspects of the Student Council and class offices. But that guess would be wrong.
Berry’s football career was short-lived. I witnessed the events that terminated it — concussive blows; I was the manager that “brought him around” either on the field or on the side line with Am-caps, small glass vials of strong ammonia wrapped in a tight mesh, which were crushed between the finger and thumb to be administered near the nose of the “victim” — it was so bad with Berry I remember placing the mesh of crushed ammonia vial up one of his nostrils! He began having migraine headaches. (Not germane to the termination of his football career, I think, was the time he received a big gash between his middle and ring finger on one hand, to which I applied a “Nitrotan compress,” without stitches. Nitrotan burned like hell and stained like it too, much like Mercurochrome or Methiolate, only with a dirty brownish-green color. Berry’s mother thought his hand was ruined when he allowed her to inspect the wound at home. Berry was insistent they follow the instructions of “Dr.” Hastings! With or without the help of a “real MD,” Dr. Addy, Berry’s hand did heal, though it took a while, and took an even longer time for that hideous stain to disappear.)
Not wanting to be away from his friends outside classes because he did not play anymore, Berry asked to become and was allowed to be a manager, as was I, to my delight. Though I eventually had tenure over all other managers, and I was going to be the “head” manager for over two years, I never pulled rank on Berry. From the outset, we were a team, an equal partnership, a precursor to how the “leadership thing” was to work for the M-4, and, I like to think, a model for the cooperative work the M-4 did. This relationship as managers working together was the “glue” that strengthened the bond between Berry and me, stretching back to the days we played together as neighbors on West 6th Street.
Berry was the “field guy,” tending to all matters of the practice; I was the “field house” guy, tending to all matters domestic, from cleaning up the place, tending to medical cases Berry referred to me from the field, and washing, always washing the towels, T-shirts, socks, practice pants, and jock straps. (As Coach James Couch referred to me one time, I was “Cisco’s answer to the Washer Woman.”) I preferred the field house, as during practice as I was waiting for the next washer load to dry, I would work on my homework, so, mainly at my house after practice and supper, when around my parents’ dining room table gathered usually Lee, Adling, Berry, Clark Odom, and Hastings, I had my homework done as a “help” for the rest, and, in return, they helped finish the homework I had not completed.
Berry and I were joined by other managers, including Clark Odom, but nobody, and I mean nobody, interfered with the two of us “running the show.” The two of us removed the practice blocking dummies (the blow-up kind, not the players) from the field after each practice, we packed all essential and non-essential gear for road games, we would sacrifice our Saturday mornings to come up to the field house to wash everything but the game jerseys and pants (which were sent to Cisco Steam Laundry, owned by Lee’s dad), we prepared the press-box/sideline phone communications before each home and away game, we would measure off and cut the hash marks on the football field at the beginning of each season, and we took turns unstopping clogged toilets and refilling athlete’s foot spray dispensers in the showers. We had two “unofficial specialties” 1) putting each other in a coffin-like track uniform trunk (One afternoon I had nothing better to do while Berry was down on the field and he locked me in for “meditation” before leaving for the field; practice ended early, and before Berry could get back to the field house to rescue me, I was “treated” to sweaty football pants sitting on the trunk, with my nose pressed against the wooden lid of the trunk just below; before they let Berry unlock me from my “coffin,” several of the players, led by Earl Carson, as I recall, poured water through the cracks of the lid in a wierd form of “water-boarding;” I almost drowned, as I could barely turn my head from side to side.) and 2) climbing up to the top of the stadium lights in the wee hours of Saturday morning, as we eschewed sleep on certain game nights so we could get the washing done, in order that we did not have to come back Saturday morning, meaning we had to wait for the dryer to finish its work; we sat there, probably drinking a Coke, popping dextrose pills normally given to the players, swaying in the breeze, looking out over the city cemetery in the dead of night, listening and watching the night trains go by on the other side of the graveyard. It was a true “graveyard” shift, as we sat and talked, and laughed, and joked!
I have mentioned that Lee was the Walrus in the Coronation our junior year (see Ode to Dr. Bill R. Lee). Adling was either Tweedledum or Tweedledee (My money’s on the former!), and Berry was the Mad Hatter, counterpart to my March Hare. Berry’s essay was about the fascination of the stuff a boy collects while growing up. He was a great camper. In addition to the night he, Adling, and I went on a “walk-about,” leaving a sleeping Lee in camp (something about Lee having to work the next morning) (see Ode to William L. (Bill) Adling), Berry and I would walk down the hill where we were camping, carrying our jugs of Dad’s root beer, and sit on the entrance gate top and talk, laugh, and joke, just like we were atop the stadium lights. Our camping together continued well into the college years.
Adling had his interesting cars, as did Lee and I, but Berry was the driver with the reputation. He had more than one car, I remember, including the family’s golden brown Oldsmobile, but the one I remember was the blue and white ’55 Ford. Some would say he drove carelessly, some would say he drove like a maniac, and I would say riding with him was never leisurely. I remember one day at lunch (we got an hour off for lunch at school) piling into Berry’s ’55 blue and white with some others and his taking us to Thrill Hill, southwest of Cisco, a dirt road plunge off a hill crest notorious for automobile crashes and rider injuries. He flew off the thing at a maximum speed he appeared to have figured out long before that would not ruin the car and we spun on the gravel of the road at the bottom into the bordering pasture fence strung with hog wire, entangling the back bumper. We had just enough time to untangle the wire from the car and speed back to the campus for our 1:00 PM class. No sweat… for Berry.
Berry was the “ladies man” of the “group” or “gang,” as we began to call ourselves. Maybe it was the gang never talked about girls when I was around, but I never remember talking about girls among ourselves when we talked, laughed, and joked, even when we all began dating; our “dating” or “love” lives were considered our own personal “thing,” and always respected as such. We never seemed to think of each other in terms of the girls with whom we dated. Never did any of us try to “go” after another’s girl, nor did we allow any girl to “play” with the gang one against the other. In my opinion, we were transcendent of petty jealously concerning the opposite sex. Nonetheless, if any us needed a date, or needed dating advice, Berry was our man to set us up or tell us what we needed to know. Many of us double-dated with Berry and whoever he was going with at the time. Needless to say, Berry was NOT over in the corner playing ping-pong with Adling and me at the school dances! (see Ode to William L. (Bill) Adling) And I must admit, along with Adling and Cole, that we would love to know what happened that night when Berry and his date were out all night and there were lots of people out looking for them (especially the parents), until the “parking” couple was found sleeping on a dirt road near Lake Cisco; to this day, Berry claims it was “one of the best night’s sleep he ever got,” and that’s all we can get out of him; we need to talk to his date from that night! She lives in Cisco.
One New Year’s when we were still underclassmen, Adling’s dad, Harold Adling, took Berry, Adling, and me to see a Cotton Bowl in Dallas. While we were watching the parade in downtown Dallas, once more, Berry turned up missing. It was a while before Adling and I spotted him, leaning on a lightpole, checking out things, as if he owned the place. From that day on, we nicknamed him Al — Al Caberry.
Berry and I took the leadership responsibility of organizing the guarding of the bonfire for homecoming our senior year in HS following the stacking; it needed to be guarded, for it was traditional for the local Cisco College (then it was called Cisco Junior College) students to prematurely burn it. Berry, Lee, Cole, Joe Woodard, and I were among those staying up all night (We did not do shifts as most guards did), studying for a test along the way (Adling could not be there, as he was on the football team.). We were at the vanguard of warding off attacks trying to throw naptha on the bonfire and flick lighted matches on the wetted wood. When a dawn raid finally penetrated the perimeter understaffed due to overconfidence provided by the coming of the day’s light, the only five standing between the college vandals and our precious pile of wood were Berry, Cole, Ronnie Rider, Buford Green, and I. When I got soaked with naptha and somehow avoided being set on fire by lighted matches, Berry, Cole, and Buford were there to give me assistance. The five of us put out any successfullly set fires on the perimeter of the pile before they could do any damage; the arrival of a fire truck was in the end unnecessary. Berry, Cole, and I, despite the arrival of many reinforcements of the guard, were the only ones to go to school without first going home, so paranoid were we that the fire still might occur prematurely.
Already enough has been said, I bet, about Berry that it is obvious he was the first person Adling and I thought of to be let in on the plan for the chair/desks-on-the-roof. But to fully understand all the issues concerning Berry and the M-4, it must also be pointed out that Berry was the driving force for the formation of the Senior Club, an organization dedicated to seeing that the student body of CHS, especially the seniors, got to do some of the things denied us by the school the senior year of the Seniors 1964. (see The M-4… And the “M” Stands for…) The Club mostly sponsored non-school sponsored dances, an act putting the Club, and, therefore, Berry, at odds with the school administration and the coaching staff, complicated by the fact Berry was the President of the Senior class. (The Club’s dances were seen as “corrupting” the training discipline of the football players.) The Club was told they could not do the things they went ahead and did anyway. Both the administration and Coach Bates put pressure on Berry, similar to the way I was being pressured as President of the Student Council by the administration and the sponsor of the Student Council, Roy Hathaway (I never bought the pressure put on me to see the Club’s dances as antithetical to the Student Council’s dances, which, in turn, were being pressured to be restricted to being “Victory Dances,” held only when we won the game.). It was as if the Berry/Hastings “machine” of cooperation was being tinkered with toward a school year in which we seniors were to be marginalized; neither of us could be part of inadvertently making our class’ school year forgetfully dysfunctional, just as neither of us could be put off from the “scheme” we had come up with to “run” the field house. To have “given in” to all this would have been like a betrayal to our friendship.
The afternoon I met with Berry in my light green ’54 Ford (named Liberty, after the movie villain Liberty Valance) parked at the community gym, the site of the “transplanted” field house our senior year, he first thought it was going to be about all the “political” pressure he and I were experiencing from the new administration and coaching staff. Imagine his shock when I asked him to join Adling and me! First, he laughed, and then he said “Yeah.” It was a no-brainer for him to accept. We were now three.
The choice of Cole as a fourth by we three is for another ode. Berry was responsible for seeing that Adling’s car was out of town, as we awaited darkness; the car was supposed to be making a trip to Hamilton. He was the one in the plan to get food to Adling the night of February 11, 1964, as Adling had “found himself locked in at the end of school.” Berry was mostly a “roof man” reaching down from the roof and transporting the desks to their appointed rows and columns. The moment Adling “lost it” (see Ode to Willaim L. (Bill) Adling) revealed the cooperative chemistry Berry and I seemed to have, and, I hope, still have. When Cole took Adling with him to the other end of the building, Berry and I looked at each other, and I think I said, “Do you want to go, or should I?” Somehow, and I’m still “fuzzy” on this, we both knew about how to get back into the building “without keys” through a particular boys’ restroom roof, and I don’t recall a word about this knowledge exchanged between us; of course, I could be a victim of a “brain fart.” Berry grinned and shrugged his shoulders, saying, “It doesn’t matter to me.” “Going” did not mean using the bathroom, of course, and soon I, who went because I felt responsible for the door locking behind us and setting Adling off, had let Berry back inside, and we were met by Adling and Cole from the other end of the main hall, who had discovered a door there had been left inadvertently ajar.
Berry and I had the odd job just before we graduated from HS of cleaning up the First Baptist Church in Cisco. We pushed dust mops in front of us while walking precariously on the edge of the balcony, just to make it interesting.
The paint we painted the dam with for the Seniors 1964 was paid for by funds from the Senior Club and kept in the trunk of Adling’s car; the paint was provided by Berry. Berry’s connections with persons working for companies with certain equipment made possible the ropes used to dangle the three unintentional painters (Adling, Berry, and Hastings). The rope crew above was led and coordinated by Cole. (The paint, once purchased, rode in the trunk of Adling’s car for months, for our original date for painting was between Christmas and New Year’s, before the birth of the M-4, but cold weather nixed that plan. The three painters swore they would not risk being denied graduating the next night by being caught this night painting the dam, or even being involved. When we got to the dam to check out the situation, Cole and Joe Woodard were the only ones “steady enough” to paint, and neither of the duo was too keen to have ropes manned by the rest of the crew in their “condition.” We three were drunk on Dad’s and too confident to believe we might get caught, so used were we at risk-taking by that time; Berry was first to volunteer to paint; after a while and Berry getting tired, Adling could not stand it, so he volunteered; after a while, I could not stand it, and Adling agreed to let me paint.) In the end, it was Cole who made sure the three of us made a clean getaway from the dam site — it was a damn sight! The night of the dam painting was another night the M-4 struck, though pretty spur-of-the-moment, by M-4 standards! And all made possible through the financing and connections of Berry.
I always thought Berry would attend Texas A&M; what I did not know was what a struggle it was to be for him — a struggle he did not deserve. In the end, after campuses other than A&M, he emerged with his degree in petroleum engineering. True to his mysterious ways (Remember those no-shows for pictures?) he works on drilling projects overseas in countries where there seems to be an international crisis soon following his departure. I’ll let the reader draw his/her own conclusions about that.
He was instrumental in our holiday and summer reunions in Cisco during the college years, though after graduation in HS, he never got in the trouble Adling, Cole, and I did (He was there with us in spirit, I like to think.). Nonetheless, he and I were hiking to a campout site when we first heard “Satisfaction” by the Stones. Adling and I helped him elope in the summer of 1966; it took us a while to get back in good graces with Berry’s parents, Bill and Bonnie. Neither Adling nor I could act counter to our best friend’s wishes, once he convinced us that is what he wanted to do — just like we could not turn down coming to Berry’s rescue one night back in high school when he had been on too big a tear at a Senior Club dance and was down with one of his migraines. We went out to help clean up the post-dance mess at the local armory until the wee hours of Sunday morning.
He was way out of pocket for my wedding, but I told my bride that if Berry walked in that church (the same one he and I cleaned up more than four years earlier) even after services started, he had a free ticket to grab a good-looking woman to be his counterpart on his way up to the altar to join us; Berry was a “must” best man, even though, again, he was a no-show.
Like Lee and Adling, Berry is the best friend one could ever have. He is loyal to his friends, and he compels that loyalty in return. He may not show up to the high school reunions like we all would like, but we all look for him to show up and be our President once again. He just loves being a no-show too much!
Two pure-Berry events, I & II:
I. Back when he had the ’55 blue and white, he was driving it hell-bent-for-leather east on west 9th street, toward town. I was holding on for dear life in the passenger’s seat, white-knuckled, and trying to pretend I was casually listening to the rock ‘n’ roll coming over the car radio from station KLIF in Dallas. About two blocks from the First Baptist Church (There’s that church again!) and the one Berry attended (The First Christian Church), he suddenly slowed down to just below the speed limit, without saying a word; I could see no other moving vehicles in the vicinity. After a few seconds a Cisco police car came into sight, driving perpendicular to our path; I could not see any way Berry could have seen him. I looked at the cop car in astonishment, and then back to Berry. “Hey, man,” I asked, “how did you know?”
Berry looked over at me, smiled that wry smile of his, and put a finger tip to his nose. “I can smell ‘em! I can smell ‘em a mile off!” I believe he can — he’s Al Caberry!
II. When the M-4 had been found out, and we were receiving our punishment in the HS office, we had to request the “sermon” be hurried up, as Berry was scheduled to give a devotional on the local radio station that very morning! Adling, Cole, and I made our way to my house (Both my parents were away at work.) to listen to Berry’s devotion, which was very well delivered. We waited for Berry to join us at my house, from whence we went as a quartet to begin our rounds to our mothers scattered over town to tell them what had happened. We visited Berry’s mother, Mrs. Bonnie Berry, first, who had already been receiving calls of congratulations from those who had heard Berry on the airways. A proud mother turned into an astonished mother when she saw the four of us arrive in the middle of school hours “en masse.” She asked us what we were doing there during school.
Only she knew what kind of mother she became when Berry led us in “breaking the news” to her.