Beyond Good and Evil

Dr. Ronnie J. Hastings

That Damn Dam Painting!

As with every high school in the nation, public or private, certain student traditions develop over the years outside “normal” student athletic, band, club, and social activities — “unofficial” traditions, if you please. I don’t know if it has been studied, but as far as Texas high schools are concerned, I’ve found no unofficial traditions comparable to those of Cisco High School, Cisco, Texas, home of the Loboes.

This assertion was impressed upon me after we newly elected Student Council officers, elected in the spring of 1963 — Alice Ann (Webb) Holliday as Treasurer, Kay (Wallace) Morris as Secretary, C. B. Rust as Vice-President, and I as President — attended the State Student Council Convention at Abilene soon after we were elected to meet with leaders from other high schools and “compare campuses” on topics such as “extracurricular activities.” (One of the highlights of this trip was being visited by Prince Altom, a student then at Hardin-Simmons University and former Cisco High School Lobo. (See The Summer of 1965 — The Motley Mix [March, 2014]))  Alice Ann and Kay attended together a discussion on such activities, and after they reported to the gathering about Cisco’s “Junior-Senior Fight” tradition, the annual “unofficial, illegal brawl” at the football practice field late in the school year, (wherein the male Seniors/Freshmen squared off against the male Juniors/Sophomores as two “mobs” or groups smashing into each other around the goalposts atop which a rag, or “flag” was tied; the object of the “fight” was that the charging group ringing the defending group — the two groups switched roles at least once to define a complete fight — tried to tear down the flag any bodily way possible while the defending group tried any bodily way possible to prevent them.), the other schools represented at the discussion seemed dumbfounded, not having anything to compare with Cisco’s Junior-Senior Fight.

[Allow me to insert here a couple of tangent, personal remarks on the Junior-Senior Fight. I was not allowed to participate until I was a Senior, finally convincing my parents I should at least show as a leader of the student body. I came away with great bruises and great memories, but none greater than observing the fights on the peripheral of the solid rings of humanity — hair-pulling and nail clawing “catfights” between pairs of girls. I suppose they were fighting as rivals over boyfriends or personality conflicts or whatever. Never having any sisters nor any close “girls who were friends” (as opposed to “girlfriends”) (See “And God Said, ‘Let There Be Friends’…And It Was Wierd!” (April, 2012)), the “peripheral fights” were a real “education” for me!]

And that was just one of the “specialties” of Cisco High School student traditions, which also included the Coronation of King Lobo, the Junior-Senior Banquet, the homecoming bonfire, the “Slave Auction,” the Senior Play, and the Senior Trip. (Those last two Senior traditions were denied to our graduating class of 1964, a factor weighing heavily in the mix of why the M-4 came about (see “The M-4…And the ‘M’ Stands for…” (May, 2012).)

But the one tradition most associated with Cisco High School is the unique one made possible by Cisco’s unique location. As we from Cisco all know, our high school football team was not called the “Big Dam Loboes” for nothing. Cisco’s water supply comes from Lake Cisco a scant few miles north of town, a lake created by a hollow concrete dam in the canyon system within part of which Lee, our mutual friends, and I used to explore and play as boys (“Ode to Dr. Bill R. Lee” (April, 2012)). The tradition? Painting “Seniors XXXX” or “Srs. XX” on the spillway of said dam by the high school graduating class each year, usually in the spring. Each year each graduating class back in the ’60’s usually at least made the attempt to paint the dam.

Lake Cisco’s dam is no ordinary dam, famous from its inception in the early 20th century. It is just over 1,050 feet in length and the spillway surface (about 100 feet high from its base), which is the “canvas” of the painting, rises on the downstream side (facing roughly east) above what was once advertised as the “World’s Largest Concrete Swimming Pool” (seemingly acres of area the width of the spillway [about 270 feet] covered with a concrete bottom to form an enormous pool ranging in depth from 3 to over 5 feet deep). Lake floodgates near the water treatment plant on the pool side of the dam kept the pool always swimmingly full. A US highway was built across the top of the dam, a highlight along the drive between Cisco and Albany. Even in our senior year (1963-1964) the facilities spread out at the foot of the spillway (pool, dressing rooms, snack bar, 2nd floor roller skating rink, miniature golf course offering snow cones, batting cages, and rent-able cabins) were a decades-old resort-like destination for non-Cisco school senior trips and family reunions. The Miss Cisco beauty pageant was held on an island-like facility viewed by an audience sitting on the more-than-ample steps between the pool and the dressing rooms, an island that separated the shallow concrete-bottomed acreage from the “20-ft” pool, the deep part with no concrete on its bottom and sporting diving boards, including a high one of Olympic proportions. In addition, therefore, nothing was ordinary about the setting of the special dam with its special CHS tradition.

For those among us male Seniors 1964 for whom being at least as “cool” as preceding graduating classes was important, the story of Senior 1963 Lee Wallace dangling from the walkway rails alongside the highway atop the dam by a long rope in suspension alongside the spillway to paint Srs. 1963 or Srs. ’63 (I can’t remember which — every painting weathers away after a few years) was implanted in our brains. We had to outdo every other class that had ever painted the dam, in our estimation. This meant we had to paint the full word “SENIORS” and the full year “1964” in not only the largest font ever, but high enough on the spillway that no one in their right minds would risk going up and painting over our work, an obliteration which had been done to several previous classes’ paint jobs.

My memoirs (“And God Said ‘Let There Be Friends’…And It Was Wierd! (April, 2012)) record that those males for whom the pride of the class of ’64 regarding the traditional dam painting was significant were Adling (“Ode to William L. (Bill) Adling (May, 2012)), Berry (“Ode to Bob B. Berry” (May, 2012)), Cole (“Ode to Robert W. Cole” (May, 2012)), Joe Woodard, Earl Carson, Keith Starr, Jerry Broom, Charlie Stephenson, myself, and “others.” This group talked about not only how dangerous painting so high on the spillway would be, but also about how lately it seemed the traditional dam painting was disrupted by the local police anticipating its execution. So it was decided to execute the tradition at an unexpected, non-traditional time — during the holiday week between Christmas and New Year, 1963.

A “sub-committee” of this “true-blue” Senior ’64 group, Adling, Berry, Earl Carson, and I, discussed the possibility of assuring “high-level painting” on the spillway by having a rope anchored to a boat floating alongside the spillway on the lake side thrown over the top of the spillway and down the pool-side face. The dangerous rope-climbing skills that method suggested were tabled for later discussion, but definitely decided was that cans of black spray paint (Lobo colors are black and gold.) would be used by the painter. Moreover Berry declared that the paint would be paid for by funds from the Senior Club, which had begun functioning as a non-school-sponsored organization with the beginning of the school year (again, see Berry’s “Ode”).

So it was that one afternoon just before the Christmas holidays Adling, Berry, and I, in Adling’s car, went by the First National Bank of Cisco, where my mom worked, so Berry, President not only of the Senior class, but also of the Senior Club, could withdraw some paint money. (Only he and Senior Club Secretary, Linda (Kilgore), could withdraw from the account.) “Cleverly” deciding we should not buy the paint in Cisco, we drove to Eastland, some ten miles away, where we bought at least a dozen cans of gloss black spray paint. (These were the days when young persons were not I.D.’ed when buying spray cans of paint.) The cans were stored in the trunk of Adling’s car.

The week after Christmas turned bitterly cold, and the dam painting was called off. Almost everyone of the “dam painting planners” decided to postpone doing anything until the weather warmed. But Cole, Woodard, Keith, and I decided to camp out anyway for “kicks” and Dad’s root beer drinking in the caves on the lake shore between the Country Club and the cold water near the dam. Nothing was said about dam painting plans throughout this night when even campfires could not keep us warm, especially when we had invited a couple of junior friends, Danny Clack and Larry Nance, along. It seemed too cold to sleep, so we tried to keep warm by wrestling or going hiking along the shore in the darkness of huge boulders and thick post oak timber. As snow began to flurry, Keith and I rolled down below the mouth of the cave in mutual head locks almost into the water, Cole kept complaining that Woodard had pushed him off a cliff during the hike and that during his Dad’s stupor Woodard was walking upside down on the cave ceiling, and our clothing seemed to absorb more campfire smoke than heat from our time-consuming fires. That night I apparently and shockingly caught a case of chickenpox, a childhood disease I had forgotten I had not ever contracted, despite attempts of my mother years earlier to get me infected. I learned the hard way why you should get chickenpox when you are very young; having it as a high school senior, I was miserable!

Everything changed (except the cans of paint remaining in Adling’s car) in early 1964. On February 11, 1964 the M-4 executed their “school-chair/desks-on-the-roof” prank, which affected the rest of the school year and its traditions, especially for the four of us in the M-4. After the month’s “probation” placed upon us by the administration, which was a joke, as we never felt “left out” or “out of the loop” of anything, thanks to a supportive student body and the faction of the faculty and community sympathetic to our “cause” of being unfairly “punished,” (Ok, three of us lost our King Lobo candidacies, and we could not attend the Junior-Senior banquet, but these “hurt” our mothers more than it did us.) student activity seemed closely scrutinized; the M-4 was warned we might not be able to graduate if we “messed up” again. Anything shady, including the criminal slashing of students’ and administrators’ tires, was blamed on the M-4; Adling was caught as part of a group removing a flag atop the school’s greased flag pole one spring night along with some others of the group, but Cole and I barely missing getting caught at the same incident.  (See Play Rehearsal Night, With a Side of Greased Flagpole [May, 2013]) (They could identify and catch pranksters; they could not identify, much less catch, the tire slashers.) The year was so busy and topsy-turvy, the school year’s end and graduation were upon us before we knew it, and without a “Seniors 1964″ on the spillway.

Berry had anticipated the possibility of painting before our graduation on a Friday night in late May and had made arrangements through covert contact with city utility workers to borrow long, strong strands of rope, ropes to which Berry had immediate access. This worked out well because 1) nothing concerning the dam had been done right up to the night of graduation rehearsal at the community gym, 2) it was assumed the dam was being watched closely by the police in May, but maybe they figured if we had not done it by graduation, we wouldn’t do it, 3) the original “painting conspirators” had reminded Berry, Adling, and me that this was the last chance we had to paint the dam, as, after the next night, we would “all go our separate ways,” and 4) Berry agreed with Adling and me we should not be involved, despite the possibility Cole might well be, given the fact that in the graduation speech they were allowing me to make the next night, I had secret plans to insert an unapproved “M-4 commercial!” In the back of our heads was the thought that if they caught us painting the dam this night, they really might not let the M-4 graduate!

Moreover, Adling, Berry, and I had given our word to Lee’s family, Mr. and Mrs. O.L. Lee, and Lee’s sister Camille, that we would spend the night at the Lees’ house on the road to Lake Cisco guarding Camille’s wedding shower gifts while the entire Lee family was traveling to Waco for Camille’s graduation at Baylor. Their plan was to return from Camille’s graduation in time for Lee’s at Cisco the next night. Primarily, we were doing this favor for people of whom we thought a lot, but, admittedly, secondarily, it gave us an “iron-clad” way to “keep our nose clean” this night of dam painting, especially if our “painting buddies” were caught in the act. We did not have to jeopardize our graduation until I gave my “special” speech, which would be so close to diploma distribution in front of most of the town, we believed “surely” they would not deny us our graduation at our final hour in high school. Watching wedding gifts was especially convenient for Berry as an alibi, if questions as to where the ropes came from were to arise.

So it was that after graduation rehearsal, Berry made sure the ropes got into the hands of Earl Carson, Macon Strother, Jerry Broom, and Buford Green. Cole probably knew about the rope transfer, as he was planning on being at the dam that night regardless of what the rest of the M-4 was going to do. At the Lees’ house I drove up in my car to see Lee’s Plymouth parked in the driveway as if someone was at home, and I parked to make it look even more so. Berry left his car at home and rode out with Adling in Adling’s car, for, after all, in the Adling trunk was the paint our fellow seniors gathering out at the dam needed. Three cars were in the driveway to deter anyone thinking no one was at home. The three of us knew we had to get the paint out to the dam, but we reinforced for each other our earlier decision not to get involved with the dam painting. Reinforcing our conviction, it was decided Adling would go alone to the dam to deliver the spray cans, while Berry and I remained as “house guards.”

Adling delivered the paint to the group gathered in the darkness of the spillway-side concrete walkway atop the dam alongside the dam-spanning highway. But he returned to Berry and me in a state of haste and concern. Things were not going well at the dam; Adling immediately saw that despite an adequately-sized crew to pull off the painting, things seemed, especially in the eyes of an M-4 member, unorganized and misdirected. The only fully sober members of the crew Adling saw were Cole and Joe Woodard. All three of us seemed immediately possessed with one accord: we had to go see what was going on, leaving the Lee house lighted and locked, with two cars in the driveway — fully intending to return in a matter of a few minutes; the pride of our class seemed suddenly in jeopardy. We three returned in Adling’s car to the dam to find his observations accurate.

Gathered as the painting crew were Earl Carson, Gene Darr, Billy Wilson, Jerry Broom, Macon Strother, Buford Green, and the two sober ones, Cole and Woodard (I hope I am not leaving anyone out.). They had parked their cars alongside the narrow, sloping road at the south end of the dam which led down to the pool level from the level of the dam top, and we added to theirs Adling’s car. With the help of our planning experience, all of the M-4 got the crew focused on the goal. Soon a consensus was reached: the painter would hang off the concrete pillars of the walkway above the pool-side spillway by well-lashed ropes a la Lee Wallace the year before. All available hands would handle the rope under the command of a rope captain, who would be the only one to maintain shouting contact with the painter below. The painter, sitting in a rope triangle at the end of the long, dangling strand which pinched a small notched-on-the-ends board, like a child’s swing, would report how far to be moved up, down, or to either side, and the captain and crew would comply and change the painter’s position. The cans of spray paint were let down on another, smaller rope to the painter. To break the record of painted font size, it was decided the letters would be nine foot tall and the numbers, written below the letters, would be twelve foot tall; it was estimated we had just enough paint to do this, if we painted efficiently.

Then came the time to decide who would be the painter. Those who had been “imbibing” clearly could not, leaving only the M-4 and Woodard. Three of the M-4 had pledged to themselves not to participate, and Cole and Woodard were none too keen to try it; the condition of the rope crew did not give one confidence to be hung out tens of feet above a shallow pool with a concrete bottom. Recently Cole told me he remembers at this moment he would have been OK with the decision to scrap everything and call it all off; I remember thinking how probably those of us who had been in Cisco a lot longer than Cole would feel different. So I was not surprised when Berry spoke up and said he would go. Immediately, Adling and I reminded him about our prior convictions to not get involved. Berry (President of the Senior 1964 class, remember) replied that somebody clearly had to; he could not bear us graduating without at least trying this, and he made it clear he would trust the crew, despite their condition, if Cole was the rope captain. Suddenly, Cole had to do it for Berry, and, in turn, Adling and I could not help but keep the M-4 together and stay, if for no other reason than to assure Berry’s safety.

We were all in; personal pledges and convictions immediately evaporated, along with concerns about unguarded, although locked, wedding gifts.

This moment of ethical and moral dilemma in the darkness atop the dam at Lake Cisco is for me a personal slice of psychological and philosophical deliciousness. There was a lot more going on among the M-4 than assuring each other’s safety. Because of what we had been through together, it had become impossible, in my estimation, for any of us “not to be there” for the others. Our bonding had transcended ordinary high school friendships and transcended “birds-of-feather,” impish, buddy-buddy pranking together. I suspect athletic team mates who win championships together and military units who survive combat together know exactly what I mean. Part of it was the challenge, sure, but we did not challenge each other with accusations of cowardice, like junior high students; we simply could not bear the thought of not being wherever if the others were there, even if it meant risking disaster at the Lees’ house, as improbable as we knew that to be, or risking personal regret for going back on our own word about “keeping our noses clean,” or risking being spotlighted by the authorities with ropes and spray cans in our hands. In a moment’s time, in our mutual agreement to do the dam painting, rose faith and confidence that nothing would happen to the wedding gifts, that we could safely pull this off, and that the cops would not show. This M-4 bonding was similar to the class bonding of the graduates of Cisco, 1964, a class that had been “jacked around” by circumstances not of their doing, just like the M-4 had been “jacked around” by unfair punishments. (As already said, Berry was President of the class of 1964 (and, therefore, on the Student Council), and in addition Adling was Vice-President of the National Honor Society, Cole was Senior Student Council representative, and I was President of the Student Council, of the high school student body.) Therefore, the M-4, in a way, was the representative face of the graduating class of 1964; whatever our quartet did, we not only did it for us, we did it in part for our class. Hence, from the moment we were “all in” on the dam painting, we never had a moment of regret thereafter — for almost fifty years now …and counting.

All in the preceding paragraph, of course, was conjured in retrospect, long, long after 1964. Returning to the night atop the dam, we had no time to think about consequences of our commitment once we had made it — we had a dam to paint, the very same damn dam painting without which we would have never had our dilemma!

The consensus quickly agreed upon had Berry heading to the north end of the dam, around its end on the pool side, down the enormous scree (a huge conical-shaped hill of large rocks) and the slope of the northern side of the canyon the dam spanned, and to the north wall of the shallow concrete pool. Berry emptied his pockets, took off his shoes and socks, rolled up his jeans as far as he could, and waded into the shallow water at the bottom of the spillway to his position near the center. Meanwhile, the rope to hold Berry with its “swing” at its end was lowered, along with a smaller rope dangling a spray can. The other end of the painter’s rope was manned by the line of rope handlers, captained by Cole and now including Adling and me, so slack not only would be available for any height Berry might need, it could be lashed about the concrete pillars of the walkway to bring the painter from side to side as well. It took a while, and it seemed longer than it actually was because of the sense of apprehension and urgency that overtook us all, fearful that police cars would appear at any time, but Berry sorted out getting used to the painting positions required, being hoisted up to about 60 to 70 feet above the pool, manipulating the paint cans, and giving instructions up to Cole as to where he needed to be placed next. Likewise, the rope crew above sorted out the coordinated effort needed to both move Berry as needed and to keep him steady between moves, not to mention getting him new cans when he called for them. It was all working, and, in a relative sense of the term, working safely.

Though the night sky was dark (cloudy as I remember) the painter could see by the light from below of the streetlamps scattered in the pool/skating rink/cabin/putting course area reflected off the spillway. Berry soon had the nine-foot letters started, choosing a width of six to eight inches, with similar spacing between letters. When the routine had been established, I took it upon myself to borrow Adling’s car and make a quick trip back to the Lees’ house to make sure all was well there. Finding everything all right at the house, I turned on a couple of more house lights for good measure, re-locked the house, and returned back to the dam, only now driving right out on the dam highway to the site of the rope crew just for the hell of it. There I witnessed how well our emergency hiding plans were working should we have unexpected arrivals: I could not see any evidence of anyone on the walkway, save for an occasional loop of rope around certain concrete pillars — thanks to a walled portion of the walkway railing corresponding to the spillway section of the walkway behind which everyone was lying. Berry was dangling quietly below until he got the OK from above to continue painting. The crew was not happy I had scared them to death, but was glad it was I and not the police. They soon forgave me when I told them how inconspicuous in the car lights they were when I arrived, and I returned Adling’s car to its parking place.

Later, as I returned to be part of the rope crew, the emergency hiding plans were executed in earnest. Headlights appeared at the south end of the dam; Cole called down to Berry, “Car!”; quick secure loops around a couple of pillars were formed; we all spread out prone and out of sight in the shadow of the wall of the walkway, each keeping a grip on the rope, as if that would make Berry safer in his suspended silence. It was not the police, but two drunks more “lit up” than our crew coming to drink beer and dispose of their empties by dropping them to smash on the spillway below. We in our relief gave Berry the signal to resume painting, and when our two “visitors” saw the strange sight of a suspended painter on the spillway, their empties began to be smash a little too close to Berry for comfort. Not risking leaving our posts, we could only ask them to stop. They must have had some consideration for Berry or they ran out of beer, or both, for soon they had returned to their car and drove off on the highway atop the dam. We never saw these strangers again.

As Berry was finishing the last of the nine-foot “SENIORS,” the painting was taking its toll on him; it was hard work, especially working under the sense of urgency, under the apprehension that the police were going to show sooner or later. Berry swallowed his pride and said he was getting tired, especially his arms. Upon hearing this Adling said he would be glad to relieve him, and Berry readily welcomed the offer. As the last “S” was finished, Adling had made his way in Berry’s prior footsteps down to the middle of the spillway just below Berry’s position, the replacement painter — barefoot and ready. After briefing Adling on the details of the painting and the painting position, Adling was hoisted, and Berry remained sitting and resting on the slightly sloped bottom of the spillway, continuing to give Adling tips from below and providing physical and psychological support for the new painter.

Adling was positioned to begin working on the four twelve-foot numbers to be centered with the row of nine-foot letters above. He set up the numbers to be slightly wider than the letters, with wider spacing. To speed things up he and Berry tossed the empty spray cans over their shoulder and down into the pool, throwing caution to the wind. Hours had passed and we considered ourselves fortunate no police patrols had interrupted us; as time went on, the feeling grew that we were pushing our luck.

About the time Adling was close to finishing the “1” and the “9” I could not stand it. I called down to him to see if he would agree to let me paint, making it a “group” effort — I would paint the “6” and the “4.” He agreed, and I was off to get to Berry’s position as soon as I could, being exhorted by the crew to hurry up; we might be running out of luck or time, as well as out of paint. I must have made the trip down to the pool’s north wall in record time, and I quickly followed Berry’s suggestions about getting barefooted, emptying my pockets by the wall, and rolling up my pant legs. As Adling descended with the finished “19” I was with Berry beneath the lowering painter getting pointers and advice about sitting in the “swing.” Adling got out and I got in, but I had to ask to be lowered again, as my first position caused the taunt rope to burn my neck, as if I had survived a hanging! Despite this abortive start, I was soon hoisted up into “64” position and was painting away, continually hoping our paint would not run out.

As I first ascended, acclimating my bare, wet feet to the cold, hard spillway surface, I remember thinking to myself, “Man, we sure have come a long way from ‘There’s no way the three of us are going to do any painting tonight — it’s just too risky; we’ll get caught and not graduate!'” But there was no time to dwell upon the matter; the urgency of the job made even checking any watches we may have had to see how long we had been working seem wasteful; in fact, there was no time to even think how surreal it was to be suspended about sixty or so feet above the shallow pool, which surely must have presented an awesome, eerie sight out over the pool and the dimly lighted park area below. [There was over the years a very exclusive club of CHS graduate dam painters, a.k.a. “damn painters” by the community, who knew the sensations that were now flooding me, despite the fact concentration on painting a focused-upon area of concrete as quickly as possible became the primary objective; this exclusive club is, simultaneously, ID’ed by very few, covert, secretly proud, and reluctant to think of their work as graffiti.]

So much time had passed — it seemed hours longer than it actually was; I half-way expected to see light in the eastern horizon at any time, but dawn was actually still a while away. The time that had passed spawned growing anxiety among all of us in the motley crew of Seniors ’64; even the most optimistic among us felt we had pushed our luck about as far as it would go. I had just entertained the realization that I did not lack much more to paint, when car lights down in the park were spotted by the crew. It looked all the world like a police patrol around the skating rink and golf putting course area! The crew asked me if I was finished; I said not quiet, and they said to hurry up, a sentiment echoed by Adling and Berry below me at the spillway bottom on the edge of the pool water, making sure I knew about the lights. I asked for and got a second can and started spraying with both hands to finish up both numbers; my left was spraying in the bottom of the “6” and my right was spraying in the bottom of the “4.”

The lights slowly came around to the west side of the rink/dressing room building and began shining on the dam and the southern part of the spillway. Then they flashed across my area of the spillway as the vehicle was making a wide turn! No one was sure if they saw me, but no one wanted to wait around to see colored lights and hear a siren coming from the car! I declared my job finished; the two cans were essentially empty, and I tossed both of them over my shoulders and into the pool.

I did not have to ask to be lowered; I was headed down whether I wanted to or not. Adling and Berry all but yanked me out of the swing at the bottom of the spillway and the three of us lunged into the pool toward the north wall, oblivious to getting our jeans soaked. Sounds of the crew pulling up the ropes and clearing evidence away from their station above, mixed with the sounds of the car with the lights filled our ears as we stuffed our socks in our pockets, thrust our sneakers on our bare, wet feet, and crammed into our pockets our valuables. But no siren yet. The three of us exchanged inquiries as to who the lights might be and which way do we go on foot. Our only option seemed to be retracing the route all three of us had taken to get to paint — back up the north canyon wall and climb the scree to the north end of the dam. The climb got steep quickly, but we tried not to slow down, using our hands as well as our feet. Sounds of car doors slamming and car engines starting from the dam’s south end indicated our crew, or part of our crew at least, was making their getaway, possibly drawing away from the spillway and pool the car with the seemingly very bright lights, as no car lights were now illuminating the spillway and our work, glances over our shoulders told us. And still — no colored police lights or siren.

In fact, by the time we reached the top of the scree and were headed to the level of highway, all of us exhausted — huffing and puffing — all sounds of retreating automobiles had ceased and no lights whatsoever could be discerned; we appeared to be abandoned, and Adling’s car was on the other end of the dam, being searched by the cops at that very moment, for all we knew. Then, over our heaving breaths, we heard in the darkness in front of us the sound of a idling car. Was this the cops, waiting for us? No! The right front door flew open and the interior lights showed Cole in his car stretching across to open the back right door! He was waiting for us, car ready to head north up the highway away from the dam toward Albany!

“It’s Cole!!” “All right!!” “Teddy Boy-y-y!!” [an English, leather-clad motorcycle “hood”] came from our spent lungs as we all but leaped into the car. The headlights were turned on and Cole was “burning rubber” by the time we slammed the doors shut. This was and is one of my top, favorite M-4 moments! True to his “coolness under fire,” Cole did not abandon us and anticipated our movements perfectly! We thought we would have to circle back around on a grueling, dark route to get back to the car, assuming there were no police. Instead of telling us he thought there were no cops to be seen, Cole, without a word, drove up the highway a short way to a turn-around used by dam-visiting motorists, turned around, and drove back south — on top of the dam past the site of the work of the rope crew — all the way across and then on the sloping road to Adling’s car! “Cole, what are you doing?” “What if the cops show up?” “What if those car lights really was them, or the sheriff?” Cole just smiled that devilish grin of his, barely visible in the dim car interior.

In my books, Cole was the M-4 and Seniors ’64 hero of the night — of that night and of plenty more before and after it. (See the end of Cole’s “ode.”)

Cole took us to Adling’s car and he decided it was much too late to return home that night, so he joined us at the Lee house, where we found everything was fine. All four of us had arrived at the house in the same two cars with which we pulled off the chair escapade (Adling’s and Cole’s), having never seen any other cars on the trip! We celebrated the sense of relief that we were able to “have our cake and eat it too” — the wedding gifts made it through the night, and we painted the dam without getting caught. As Adling, Berry, and I tried various ways to dry out our jeans, and as all four of us drank toast after toast of Dad’s root beer to any little thing about the night that came to mind, the giddy feeling of success reminded us all of the night we put the chair/desks on the roof at the temporary high school (February 11, 1964). Here, less than 24 hours from our high school graduation in late May 1964, our giddiness was spiced with making fun of how our grand plans not to get involved had all been shot to hell! All the fault of that damn dam painting!

Soon after dawn (I don’t remember much, if any, sleep.) we had to go into town, after not having enough time to get our jeans dry; they were still damp. We made sure the Lee house was securely locked. Cole and Adling slipped into their houses before anyone else inside woke up (after Adling had taken Berry home). Berry’s mom was awake, however, so he had to make up a story that we had been playing at night around one of the stock tanks near the Lees’ house, and we had pushed him in the water while clowning around. I too made it into the house before my parents woke up, but later I had to explain the rope burn on my neck by, I suppose, a Berry-like story. No sleep for me that day, for on the morning of our graduation I had to help my dad castrate calves — young bulls that needed to be turned into steers.


P.S. They let us graduate that night, despite my “special recognition” of the M-4 during my speech (It was the only part of the speeches that night that got a standing ovation!). When the Lees found out about what had happened concerning our vigil for them that night, Mr. and Mrs. Lee and Camille were none too pleased, probably never bringing themselves to trust us ever again. Our friend Bill Lee, however, though not approving of what we had done, never thought the less of us for doing it; after all, he is a Senior ’64 also. Above that, as I hope the reader has read, he is the only non-M-4 recipient of an “Ode.” (Again, Ode to Dr. Bill R. Lee (April, 2012))

P.P.S. For visuals of the setting of this particular night, check out a wall of photos in the dining area of the new Chicken Express in Cisco, at the intersection of I-20 and US 183. (N of I-20 & E of 183, E of the Allsup’s) — the whole wall is dedicated to photos of the history of the dam, the swimming pool, skating rink, etc. There is a shot of the spillway area of the dam, the north wall of the swimming pool, and even the scree on the north end of the dam up which we three scrambled.

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17 thoughts on “That Damn Dam Painting!

  1. Dolores Covington on said:

    As a member of the Waxahachie HS Class of ’65, reading ‘That Damn Dam Painting’ took me back to my Senior year that also included the Senior Prom, Senior Play, and Senior Trip. The Senior Trip consisted of a day at Lake Whitney! On the way there, with six of us in the car, the driver, Student Council Prez and future husband, passed a car and nearly had a headon with a semi, so I was happy that my only complaint for the day was a sunburn, which looked very attractive in my Senior Prom photo taken later that evening! My only prankish behaviors involved an occasional toilet papering excursion which included wetting said paper with any available garden hose. Okay, maybe an occasiona repositioning of ‘For Sale’ signs. Thank you for reminding me of a special time, Doc!

  2. Thank you, Dolores, and thanks for sharing further about those special days…..sometimes I wonder how it is we are alive!

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  16. I being the class of 2017 have recently been inside the now old cisco dam and hearing this story is truly awesome

  17. Cade Pippin on said:

    My mother, Marcia Wende, was in that class I believe. I have heard many stories about Cisco and the swimming pool and the damn, even the story about the desks on the roof, but not this one. Very good read.

    Cade Pippin
    Ft. Worth, TX

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