Crashing the Cisco Beauty Pageant — Night of the Long Knife
Among the many things that make my life-long friendships from Cisco High School extraordinary and remarkable by so many standards is the fact their unpredictable development and uncommon youthful exuberance continued well after high school into the college years, into the years over which we all married. The interval between high school and the marking of the beginnings of our “settling down” (hardly!) in the “mature bonds of matrimony” is divided into three consecutive summers after we received our diplomas from Cisco High School (CHS) — the summers of 1964 (The Flag Escapade — Phase I [Aug, 2013] & The Flag Escapade — Phase II [Aug, 2013]), 1965 (The Summer of 1965 — The Motley Mix [March, 2014]), and 1966. (And God Said, ‘Let There Be Friends’…..And It Was Wierd! [April 2012], The M-4….And the ‘M’ Stands for….. [May 2012], Ode to Dr. Bill R. Lee [April 2012], Ode to William L. (Bill) Adling [May 2012], Ode to Bob B. Berry [May 2012], Ode to Robert W. Cole [May 2012])
[Before I continue, I must address the history buffs concerning my title above. Such buffs, especially of the WWII variety, will undoubtedly recognize the similarity of my title with the “Night of the Long Knives,” of Nazi Germany infamy. (The night of Friday, June 30, 1934 when the SS — the “blackshirts” — purged Germany and Nazism of the SA, the “Brown Shirts” — also known as the Blood Purge) Lest anyone think my choice of words in this title is a resurrected indication of any positive affinity I have for Nazism or that I was insincere in Mrs. Lois Adling, Mrs. Edward Lee, and the Big Afternoon [June 2012] when I said my “Hitler antics” during my high school days were but parts of my desire to be as different and as politically incorrect a class clown as I could be, I must confess my deliberate use of this hopefully eye-catching title was just that — to “hook” potential readers who might not be interested in some “Cisco Beauty Pageant” and/or who might be horrified, confused, or fascinated by such a hook, should they know their history. To keep you reading, I will say the entire title is justified and makes sense.]
It was the summer of 1966, almost the summer about which Brian Adams was to sing sometime in the future. We CHS graduates of 1964 had completed our second complete year of college, yet the M-4 plus Bill Lee all gravitated about Cisco for at least half of the summer. In the first half, Lee (pre-medicine major) was doing summer school the first summer semester at Baylor, Cole (mechanical engineering major) and I (physics major) were back for the entire summer from Texas A&M (Cole having finished his first semester there after transferring from Cisco Junior College (today Cisco College)), Adling was planning on working all summer at Westfall’s service Station on West 8th Street to help with finances for his major in architecture at Texas Tech, and Berry was just finishing a semester at McMurray College in nearby Abilene, Texas, having to deal with academic probation problems at A&M in the petroleum engineering program.
Cole’s summer was filled with working full time either at the Premier service station “catty-corner” to Westfall’s or working on his father’s ranch in southern Stephens county. Mine was filled with a variety of jobs, from working on my father’s places, roofing houses, including my own (in the wake of a damaging hail storm) to working on a Baptist youth revival. Before Lee had to leave to return to Baylor in Waco, and before Cole virtually disappeared for much of the summer on the ranch in the adjoining county, they joined me (Why Adling was not along can only explained by his growing romance with Sandra in Albany.) in “hitching rides” on the Jeep Berry had just obtained. Berry, the “famous” driver of the M-4, took us on wild rides over rocky oilfield roads with which he was familiar, and one night we almost got caught by Interstate security driving up and down the steep slopes of the embankments being built for the brand new Interstate 20 highway skirting the south edge of Cisco. Had they caught us, they would have apprehended 3 of the M-4, but, true to our luck, avoiding being apprehended was a “piece of cake,” especially with Berry driving his Jeep.
Every July 4 the Cisco Beauty Pageant, designating the annual crowning of Miss Cisco, was held on a lighted concrete stage at Lake Cisco alongside the large concrete swimming pool at the foot of the dam spillway which CHS Senior classes traditionally painted before their graduations (That Damn Dam Painting! [April 2013]). Specifically, the pageant was presented, because of the heat, well after dark on a sun-bathing island covered in the partial shade of several huge cottonwood trees that formed the boundary between the two sections that formed Cisco’s giant swimming pool; its southern end was covered with a poured concrete stage that had a backdrop for “curtains” that happened to encircle the entire circumference of one of the largest trees. The island that separated the shallow, concrete-bottomed section of the pool to the west (At one time called the “Largest Concrete Swimming Pool in the World”) from the deeper “20-foot” natural-bottomed pool (featuring a high diving platform) to the east had on its south end facing across the easternmost part of the shallow pool the two-story building housing dressing rooms and concessions on the bottom and a skating rink on top. Concrete steps from that building down to the level of the pool furnished “bleachers” for those watching the pageant. Audiences spilled beyond the steps to the east onto the grassy knolls adjacent to the south edge of the deep pool. Connecting the island to the audience was a white-painted wooden walkway separating the two pools, and was the main access to and from the island. The back of the island (its north end) was not used, as pool activity was relegated only to the south side; there was a “flood gate” opening at this unused end to facilitate leveling of the two surfaces of the pools, meaning the island was close but unattached to the north wall of the pool stretching the entire distances of both pools.
The days preceding this particular pageant was action-packed for the M-4. In years prior, the pageant meant little or nothing to us beyond seeing pretty girls in bathing suits, as none of us ever dated candidates for Miss Cisco and, as said in And God Said, ‘Let There Be Friends’…..And It Was Weird! [April 2012], the gender segregation characterizing social relationships during these years in societies west of Ft. Worth meant we had few or no candidates we considered “good friends.” But, just three days before the pageant of 1966, Adling and I had helped Berry elope.
The sudden revelation that Berry and Sue Nixon had decided to elope and the “M-4 action” with which we helped them leave town without Berry’s parents knowing is another story. Again, Lee was off at summer school, and Cole was off in the middle of his dad’s ranch, so Adling and I were the ones to take on the brunt of this surprising development in the friendships of all of us. Adling and I were in a “funk,” especially having had to go over to the Berrys and face the consequences of our actions; we had placed our loyalty to Berry above the trust and respect of our “second sets of parents.” That, however, was not what bothered us.
I don’t pretend to speak for Adling’s feelings and thoughts at this time, or at any time; he needs to address what he felt and thought if he wants. I’m only giving my impressions of the collective thoughts the two of us were weighing. What bothered us was that this event, the favor we did for Berry, was a first for the M-4. The “professional” way we had sneaked his things out of Berry’s house into Adling’s car for Berry’s elopement was a source of pride for us, but it was uncomfortable to look at the betrayed looks on Bill and Bonnie Berry’s faces. Equally uncomfortable, or even more so, was the thought this might portend the “end of the ride” for our years of happy-go-lucky times together as friends. Were the warnings we had heard from our elders ever since we had individually and/or collectively gotten into trouble from junior high days true? Were we going to have to “grow up?”
Somehow, some way, for the M-4’s sake, for Berry’s sake, Adling and I could not let our elders be right; we wanted to believe we could become adults still carrying our baggage of the joys and fun of younger days; we long ago had promised each other that whatever we did going our “separate ways,” we would make the effort to “keep in touch” and get together as often as we could and revive the “nonsense” of our care-free school days. We had been keeping that promise for three straight summers, getting together in Cisco between college years.
To further discuss these matters, Adling made arrangements to spend Monday, the Fourth of July, with me, to experience a “Hastings July 4th,” which had no plans to go near the pageant. This, despite the fact Adling was having members of his extended family come to Cisco for a holiday visit. We spent the morning helping my dad castrate calves in the Hastings beef cattle herd. (Sound familiar, readers of That Damn Dam Painting! [April 2013]?) Then we had homemade ice cream at my fraternal grandparents’. Having “earned” some time to ourselves, we went back into town, where the “place to be” (the only place?) was that night at the lake’s pool for the pageant.
While “hanging” at my house (My parents would not be back until dark.) or “making the drag” during the heat of the day, our imaginative exchanges began centering about the opportunity the pageant offered to the legacy of the M-4 and to striking a blow for the perpetual youth our friendships had come to symbolize, despite its being “trumatized” by the elopement a day or so before. Reminiscent of the planning the two of us had done to put in place a workable “blueprint” for the chair/desk escapade that spawned the M-4 back in high school, after we had added to our group Berry and Cole, we began to think about crashing the pageant, which would not begin until after dark.
Our concerns and discomfort about the future of our friendships began to melt away as we put together a plan, considering the little or no security on the island, how to get on the island from the north, how NOT to appear as “peeping toms” into the contestants’ dressing area on the island, and how to successfully escape when we were through. Our plan called for Adling to “take-over” the microphone the MC of the pageant would be using during a break between rounds of judging and for me to find a very long butcher knife that had been replaced at my dad’s position as the head butcher at the A&P grocery store meat market. My dad had brought the knife home, and I had, long before I left home for college, “adopted” it as a “play sword,” so large it was. It was probably a knife used to cut carcass halves into carcass quarters in the back of the market, so it had to be at least 24 to 26 inches long, including the handle; its slightly curved, about 20-inch blade came to a sharp point from a maximum width of 2 to 3 inches at the hilt. It had already made a “public appearance” in a church skit the previous New Year’s during a party. This was no prop; it was a weapon that today could not be taken on public transportation or in public schools.
We needed clothes that would be soaked as part of our getaway, as well as towels, the latter of which my house could furnish. Somehow we found two sets of old track warm-ups at Adling’s house without arousing the suspicion of his family members; perhaps they were out eating when we came by the house. Finally, Adling needed to think of what he was going to say when he had the mike. With old tennis shoes and the track outfits on, along with the towels in my parents’ car (They were still in the country in the pick-up truck.), we drove out toward the lake, the sun sinking in the west.
At this time an unlighted picnic area had been cleared off for use on the north side of the “20-ft” section of the pool. Thus we could drive almost unobserved, except for picnickers caught by the growing darkness, to the north side of the pool for easy access to the dark north end of the island. The sun had made its way down below and behind the dam (with the old Albany highway on top) looming over the pool and pageant from the west.
We made our way from the car, taking the knife as our only burden, hiding in the growth near the north wall of the pool even with the floodgate gap at the north end of the island. The sounds of guest bands playing and the loud PA system would cover any noise we might make sneaking onto the island. We could see a clear route to the stage from the north end, and we decided this end would be our staging area from which we would burst upon the stage at the opportune time. When darkness set in and the northern half of the island was very dark and still unguarded, we made our way down to the pool edge, over the security fence at the pool wall, down onto the top of the narrow wall covering the floodgate gap, and across onto the island to crouch in the blackness of the shadow of a huge cottonwood tree trunk.
As we cased the layout of the contestants’ holding and changing tent, we confirmed a voice over the PA. It was that of Mr. Roy Hathaway, the rather new superintendent of the Cisco Independent School District. We knew him as a Distributive Education teacher in high school, and I worked with him for years, as he was the faculty sponsor for the Student Council, on which I served for all my four years. (The Chair/Desk Escapade — Chapter 1 (The Set-Up) [October, 2013]) There was no time to think about his reaction to what we were about to do, except expect it was from him Adling had to gain control of the mike. Had we had the time, pondering his reaction would have given us pause, as he was one of many still associated with Cisco schools whose sympathies about our actions as the M-4 in high school was still unknown (In his case, he has not too many years ago passed, and we will never know.); did he think the school desk/chair prank harmless and we unjustly punished, or did he think the prank a criminal act for which we had to be made an example?
While the pageant judges were scoring an early round of the bathing beauty parade, a bald-headed man contest was to be held for entertainment in the interim. At the end of the “baldy contest” and before the start of the next round of judging was our chance, we whispered to each other, noting we had to run most of the length of the island onto the open stage entrance several yards from us and close to the east side of the stage, to maximize surprise and minimize our being blocked. Mr. Hathaway was announcing the end of the bald-headed man contest (Can’t remember who won!). It was time for us to act. We shook hands for M-4 assurance.
Adling began running to the entrance full stride, and I gave him a head start before I followed suite, knife in hand. Before he bounded onto the stage and into the blinding stage lights, Adling was yelling something both silly and fearful, “Wah-hoo-hoo-hoo!!” Over and over.
[Ever since this event he and I have joked over and over that when he bounded into the light would have been the “perfect” time for me to haul ass the other way and never show up on the stage. What would he have done?]
I soon followed him on stage wielding the knife as if to stab him, shouting things like “I’m gonna kill you!”, “Wait ’til I get you!”, “I’ll cut you to pieces!”, and “There will be nothing left of you!”
Mr. Hathaway, at the mike stand, was stunned, as I’m sure was the audience across the pool to the south.
As Adling was pivoting at the west end of the stage (Remember, the west end and southern front of the stage was “moated” by the swimming pool.), I took a couple of exaggerated and harmless swipes at him with the knife, he feigning desperate moves while continuing his comical yell. Then we circled mid-stage in this manner, Mr. Hathaway still stunned frozen, and I still shouting. Adling turned his back to the huge cottonwood tree trunk that stuck out through the concrete stage floor near the east side, pretending to be trapped. Continuing my shouted “theats,” I made a big sweeping stab at him, which he easily side-stepped. I plunged the knife into the hard bark of the trunk and pretended I could not extract it. Adling, glancing at my “predicament,” stopped yelling and acting threatened, put on a “shit-eating” grin and walked calmly toward Mr. Hathaway and the mike stand. I stopped shouting and toned down to feign grunts of struggling to extract the knife.
Before Mr. Hathaway could think of anything to say, Adling gently pushed him aside. Then into the mike he cleared his throat and in a goofy voice borrowed from the movie The Great Race told a stupid joke he had heard from Lee:
“Do you know why a hummingbird just hums along? ‘Cause he doesn’t know the words!” He added after this Jack Lemmon’s drunken laugh from the movie.
Not really hearing an uproarious response from the audience (I want to say there were murmers, guffaws, and snickers, not to mention lots of imagined “What the …..??????”), I decided it was time to get this show on the road and finished. I “managed to get the knife out of the tree” and renewed my shouting threats. Adling remained near the mike stand close to the southwest corner of the stage, gave another yell, “ducked” my final “knife swing,” then turned to run due west toward the dam and jump off the west stage wall down into the pool, which in this area was about five foot deep. About the time he “splashed down” I was leaping off the edge of the stage close behind, being careful to keep the knive at arm’s length throughout my jump and plunge. (Later we were told by eyewitnesses in the audience it looked as if we came dangerously close to jumping into the steel pipe framing of the pool’s rings and swings that marked that part of the massive pool. Neither of us, in the darkness and excitement, remember this being the case.)
When our heads surfaced we were surprised that the spotlighter for the pageant keep the spot on us too long for comfort as we made our way, half swimming, half walking on the pool bottom back to the north wall of the pool near the “floodgate” wall. While still in the water Mr. Hathaway thought of something to say: “Stay with us folks, you never know what is going to happen next!” This and the action of the spotlighter conveyed to the audience it was “all part of the show,” we were soon to find out.
But that wasn’t obvious to us at the time. As we crawled out of the pool on the north wall, now in welcomed darkness, and made our way back over the fence, it felt amazingly like the night Adling, Berry, and I were fleeing from the site of our dam painting work a little over two years earlier at the dam side just west of where we had just crashed the pageant (That Damn Dam Painting! [April 2013]). Only now we were fleeing from the site of our pageant crashing work. Again, for all we knew someone would be coming to apprehend us, and this time, unlike 1964, there was no Cole in his car to “save our hides!”
We moved as quickly as possible to the car (We suddenly couldn’t care less about the fireworks that traditionally were set off from the top of the dam for the audience following the crowning of the new Miss Cisco; actually, in our flight, fireworks were the last thing on our mind; first was “Let’s get the hell outta here!”), spread the towels on the carseats to protect them from water damage, and made our way out of the picnic area using the car’s lights as little as possible, until we made it to the highway at the swimming pool park exit. No one seemed to notice us. We made a “bee-line” to my house, where my parents had returned from the farms and ranches, surprised to see our soaked condition and our “unbelievable story” of what we had “pulled off” on the “spur of the moment.” They caught the spirit of our success, and joined in our laughter. Later, it occurred to Adling and me that not only could my parents appreciate good, harmless fun, they were probably glad we were returning to our old high school prank days instead of involved in another elopement.
As luck would have it, there was no operating camera to capture our “soaking” for a souvenir of the occasion; then we realized we had a good deal of the town as eye-witnesses! I changed into dry clothes, and, in keeping with our wish it would be best not to be seen together for the rest of the night, I dropped Adling off at his house for him to change, while I hastened out to Sylvia’s house at the Hart farm and ranch with some fireworks I had bought for a late “Fourth of July date” I had that night. (Sylvia was probably wondering why I was so very late showing up.)
While I was having an “innocent” fireworks show (featuring some very good “bottle-rockets”) for the benefit of the Harts, Adling had arrived home to find out, after changing, that his family and visitors, including his mother Lois Adling, his grandmother, and his great aunt, knew exactly how he had been soaked, as they told him they had decided to go to the pageant at the last minute! At least Adling did not have to fill them in on details! All he had to answer was the question if our crashing was a pre-arranged slap-stick part of the official program. I can’t imagine Lois “Mable” Adling was surprised at the answer!
So convinced were many that the crashing was “legitimate” and planned by the pageant producers, we had a hard time telling them there was nothing legitimate about it; it was another “feather” in the cap of the M-4. Only when they checked with the pageant people did they finally become convinced otherwise. (What could we have been accused of, “Smuggling a deadly weapon?” or “Publically telling a terrible joke?”) Once more, we stood guilty of being the M-4 — sneaky and non-exemplary. (The M-4….And the ‘M’ Stands for….. [May 2012], and The Chair/Desk Escapade, Chapter 2 & Chapter 10)
Crashing the 1966 July Fourth Miss Cisco Beauty Pageant was not the only highlight for the M-4 and Lee that summer, but it was the “slickest” of the summer of 1966. Driving back into town soaked to the bone, Adling and I felt the same “giddiness” and euphoria only few experience — the sane feeling we had felt the night we finished putting the school desk/chairs on the roof with Berry and Cole and came to school to next morning to view our “handiwork” (February, 1964), or the night at the Lees’ house after we had finished painting the dam with Berry and Cole (May, 1964), or the night we displayed the M-4 flag in Phase II of the “flag escapade” with Cole (July, 1964), or the day Cole and I crossed the rusty skeleton of a burned-out girder bridge (with “no net”) spanning the Brazos River downstream from the A&M campus (April, 1966). We had once again added to a set of unique “highs” that would last us a life time.
But, perhaps most significant of all, the pageant crashing did mark the last publicly memorable prank in our “single years.” Berry was the first to marry, with his elopement; by the end of the summer of 1966, Adling would be married to Sandra Woolever (without an elopement); by the end of 1969 (the summer about which Brian Adams did sing) Cole, Hastings, and Lee would also be married, in that order. Our friendships would not allow us to admit that the responsibilities of marriage “settled us down” a bit, but, in retrospect, like Woodstock, the Night of the Long Knife was a watershed (and water-soaked) event, particularly for two of us.
In my “ode” to Adling (Ode to William L. (Bill) Adling [May 2012]) I mentioned at the end one of our schoolmates, Sheri (Heyser) Malone, talking about who did what back in our school days and saying, “It was Adling and you! You and Adling! It was always you two!” I bet when she heard about the Night of the Long Knife, she was not surprised at all.