I was born in 1939, in Dallas, Texas while my parents were on a business trip. I lived in Texas for a total of nine days while his mother recovered from the trauma of my birth. Nine lousy days and I become a Texan for life. On December 11th 1941, four days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, my Dad joined the U.S. Army in a patriotic fervor spurred on by a generous amount of boredom with married life.
My mother went to work as a secretary in a mutations plant and I was sent to spend the war years with my maternal grandparents in Ruleville, Mississippi. If one were to design the perfect place to spend their early childhood, it would have to look a lot like Ruleville. I was barely walking when I met my across-the-street-neighbor, Billy Story, who is one month older. Billy and his brothers and sisters fill my earliest memories. He has been one of my lifelong best friends.
I started elementary school in Ruleville and can vividly remember the first day. My grandmother dressed me in a Buster Brown outfit with a lace collar and black patent leather shoes. I walked to school on that fateful day with all of the Story kids, a fact that I credit with saving my life. When the school buses unloaded their mostly barefoot and ragged charges, they took one look at me and started lining up to whip my butt. As I said, the Story boys were my salvation.
This first day of formal education held other wonders that I can still remember. I met Mrs. Slack, the first grade teacher to whom I and several hundred other kids owe a deep debt of gratitude. She gave us two things that assure one a good educational career. She taught us to read far above our grade level right out of the gate, and she instilled a sense of confidence in most of us that made sure we never felt less-than. I was fortunate to have great teachers throughout high school, but it was Mrs. Slack that paved the way for me.
The second wonder was Miss Elizabeth Stansell. There were a bunch of pretty girls in that first grade class, but Elizabeth was a pure angel. Within ten minutes of meeting her I was forever transformed. I had found my ideal of feminine beauty and grace and I would forever hold Elizabeth as the gold standard for women. She remains so to this day.
My Dad returned from the European war in 1946 was discharged as a Master Sergeant in the Army Air Corps. He went back to work for his pre-war employer and we lived in Mobile, Alabama and Monroe, Louisiana. In 1947, he re-enlisted in the newly minted U.S. Air Force. He rejoined his old commanding general and we began an odyssey of closing surplus air bases here in the U.S. and all over Central America.
I started the third grade at Lowery Air Force Base in Denver, Colorado, moved to Spokane, Washington for a winter on the Snake river that lasted about as long as the last ice age, then to the U.S. Canal Zone in Panama. If Ruleville was the ideal place to be six years old, then Panama was made for nine year olds. Later we moved to Kingston, Jamaica and finally Washington, D.C.
In mid 1950 Dad turned down the offer of a direct commission as a Captain and once again became a civilian. We moved to Cleveland, Mississippi, ten miles west of Ruleville, and I joined the fifth grade after the Christmas Holidays. I quickly fell into bad company by becoming friends with Percy Noel Funchess and Tommy Carpenter. Carpenter lived one block away from me and Noel’s house was two block further on.
Once again, Cleveland was the perfect place to be for Junior and Senior High School. The Mississippi Delta was a magical place to be young, white and healthy in the 1950’s. The trauma of the Civil Rights Era and the disruption of the transition from hand labor to mechanized farming were still in the foggy future and things were pretty much as they had been for the past hundred years. All of this was about to change, but we had no idea it was coming.
I played football with a group of guys in my class, Mike McCain, John Wong, T.C. Woods, G.R. Hardin and Mickey Boswell. When Company E, 155th Infantry Regiment, Mississippi National Guard returned from the Korean war a bunch of us joined to fill the ranks of re-organization, older guys like Jesse Barr and “Bear” Hazzard and younger guys like Noel and me. I was fourteen when I signed up and I enjoyed every minute for the next eight years.
In 1954 Miss Effie Glascoe who taught English in Cleveland High School, recommended me as a candidate for an annual scholarship to Philips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. As fate would have it I was chosen to receive the honor; the only problem was I didn’t want it. It was a really sweet deal; a full ride to Phillips Exeter and if successful there, a full ride to any Ivy League school that I could get into. The chance of a lifetime.
My parents were wonderful loving folks, but my mother was obsessed with her own problems and my Dad was the master of laissez faire. To say that I did not get much in the way of parental involvement would be the understatement of the century. Don’t get me wrong, I liked it that way. My Dad had the attitude that he would probably be much happier if he didn’t know exactly what I was doing; his only requirement was that I keep the blue lights out of his driveway.
I only mentioned the scholarship offer to them once. I chose a Sunday lunch to bring it up, knowing that mother would be anxious to get the kitchen cleaned and Dad would be itching get to his gin game. Their consensus was that I should do whatever I thought best, and mother added that it seemed a little bizarre to go to New Hampshire when there were perfectly good schools right here in Cleveland.
Freed of any parental input and left to my own devices I decided to turn the deal down. My decision was based on three primary issues: I wanted to play college football and who in hell ever heard of Dartmouth or Penn. While I assumed that New Hampshire had a National Guard organization, I knew it would be a bunch of losers compared to the155th. Last, and in the end the deciding factor was simple, I didn’t want to go to school with a bunch of damn Yankees.
Looking back over the years I have from time to time questioned my reasoning regarding Phillip Exeter. Marvin Terrell completely changed my hope of playing major college, (read, Southeastern Conference) football, my career in the National Guard came to an end after my eight-year military obligation was complete, but I never questioned the part about not wanting to spend a lot of time with a bunch of damn Yankees. Effie Glascoe and never forgave me.
In the summer of 1956, between my junior and senior years, my Dad took a job in Jackson, the State Capital. Hiram Griffith’s mom offered to let me stay with them for my senior year if I wanted to. Everyone assumed that moving this late in my high school career would be traumatic and that I dreaded it. Actually, I was looking forward to the change in scenery. I would have the opportunity to play Big Eight football, the biggest and best league in the state and attend a brand new high school that had knocked the top out of the national academic rankings in its inaugural year. I never looked back. I loved every minute I lived in the Mississippi Delta, but it was time for a change.
I finished high school at William B. Murrah and met some of the most important people in my life. Their stories will be the subject of another book. I completed four wonderful years at Mississippi State University and that too will be in another book.
My subsequent business career can be best described as life-long effort to avoid adult supervision. I have been a serial entrepreneur, not because I had any particular talent along those lines, but it allowed me to never have a boss. I made the decision early on that I would risk economic insecurity to achieve my personal independence. It worked out pretty well; we never went hungry and I never had to take much guff along the way.