Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Little Nat Patton

Most if not all of my readers from Crockett knew or knew of Nat Patton.  His father, Nat Patton Senior was the U.S. Representative from 1935-1945.  After leaving congress he served as the Houston County Attorney and died in 1957.  His son was forever known as Little Nat.  He was very short in stature which added validity to the title.

My grandfather owned a small grocery store at 1116 E. Houston Avenue, and our house was next door.  Little Nat and his wife Eleanor lived less than a quarter of a mile from the store and one or both of them came in almost every day.  I can't remember when I didn't know Little Nat.  He was the Houston County Attorney the entire time I was growing up in Crockett.

You have all heard people say of someone, "He knows everybody in town."  If Nat didn't know everybody he came closer than anyone else.  He was soft spoken and friendly to all.  I never saw him come in the store that he didn't talk to each customer.  If they were a stranger to him they weren't by the time they left.  I remember walking in one day when there were eight or ten customers.  George Satterwhite was at the counter and Nat spoke to him immediately and shook his hand.  Nat then began circulating through the aisles speaking to everyone else.  George smiled and said, "Watch this!"  He walked down the aisle next to Nat and then approached him from behind.  Nat turned around, shook his hand and said, "George Satterwhite, how are you doing?  Nice to see you.  How is Ann doing?"  George spoke to him and walked back to the counter laughing.  "I could do that all day," he said.

My mother ran the grocery store until I was in junior high, or thereabouts.  Small neighborhood stores were becoming a thing of the past.  She leased it to Max Petty and took another job.  After that I wasn't in the store nearly as much as I'd been in the past, but I still ran into Little Nat on a regular basis.  He would always ask me about my family, school, and whatever else was on his mind.  After I left for college in Nacogdoches my encounters with him were rare.

Teresa and I were married in December of 1974 and moved to Wichita Falls where my mother and stepfather were then living.  We missed living in Crockett, so in November of 1975 we moved back.  I had almost completed my degree in Criminal Justice at Stephen F. Austin State University, so applied for a job at the Crockett State School.  It was a facility for juvenile delinquents and I was hired to work as a Youth Activities Supervisor.  In state speak than means watch'em and don't let anyone get away.  Most of the boys were in a camping program in the national forest, so my only contact was with the ones who got locked up on campus for some infraction.  I worked nights so the ones I did see were asleep  most of the time.  That was fine with me.

There were not Crockett natives on staff at the school, and a great many didn't live in Crockett at all.  Most were recent college graduates of area colleges and still lived in the town where they had attended school.  I was one of the very few on the Y.A.S. staff who knew most of the locals.  It was common for a student in the camping program to take off in the middle of the night, and more often than not they would find them wandering along a dirt road in the forest tired, hungry and scared.  Every now and then one would make their way to a house and steal a vehicle.  When crimes were committed it became necessary for the school officials to work with the city and county law enforcement personnel, and of course, the county attorney, Little Nat Patton.

One morning I had just finished my shift at 8am when one of the new upper level bosses pulled me aside.  He was about to go to the courthouse to ask the county attorney for some help regarding some problem.  He had never met Nat Patton, but there were rumors he was a real character and a mess to deal with.  Someone on the faculty suggested he take me with him to meet with Nat.  I told him I'd love to go.  I hadn't seem Nat in a long while and I knew it would be fun.  The plan was for me to introduce him to Nat, then sit back and keep my mouth shut while he made some kind of pitch for assistance.

He had tried without success the day before to get in touch with Nat, but a secretary had said to stop in the following morning and he could give him a few minutes.  We arrived at the courthouse about 9am and the receptionist said he could talk to us for about fifteen minutes before going to another meeting.  The receptionist knew me and we talked for a couple of minutes.  My boss was all smiles.  He was confident I could help him break the ice with Nat.

About five minutes later Little Nat came out and ushered us into the office.  He didn't know I was coming along.  His first words were, "Little Jimmy!  How are you doing?  Come in and sit down.  How is you mother?  Do they like living in Wichita Falls?  I sure miss seeing all of you at the grocery store.  I remember you running around there when you were just a baby!"

This went on and on.  I smiled and answered him when I got a chance.  My boss was looking at his watch as the allotted fifteen minutes were quickly slipping away.  Little Nat never slowed up.  A couple of times the state school official tried to diplomatically break in and state his case with Nat, but to no avail.  Finally Nat noticed the clock on the wall.  He stood up, shook my hand and said, "Jimmy, it was so nice to see you again.  Come by the office and visit anytime.  Tell the family hello.  I've got to get to a meeting."  He shook hands with my boss once again and said, "Thanks for bringing Jimmy by to see me.  Nice to meet you."  With that he walked out of his office and down the hall.

As we got back in the car my boss was shaking his head in disgust.  To lighten the mood I said, "I sure do thank you for driving me down here so could visit with Little Nat."

He glared at me and said, "I will never take you with me anywhere in this town again!"  And he never did.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Garden of the Month

As long as I can remember there has been a Garden of the Month Club in Crockett.  Unless there is a severe drought which makes water rationing necessary the lawns are lush and green.  Flowerbeds are in full bloom and sidewalks are lined with the most beautiful flowers you can imagine.  Each month in the Spring and Summer season an award is given to the proud owner of the yard judged to be the finest at the time.  An article appears in the Houston County Courier recognizing the lucky recipient along with a photo of the property.  A very nice sign is placed in the yard near the street so everyone passing by will know they are the big cheese, at least for that month.

Not far from my house lived an elderly man named Elwood Allbright.  He was a widower and in failing health.  I would see him around town in his big stationwagon, and be ready to flee if necessary.  His eyesight wasn't good and most felt it was only a matter of time he might whack someone.  He was a very nice man who talked to everyone and was somewhat of a local character.

Elwood was in no shape to take care of his yard, so he hired a local landscaping company to make some changes so he wouldn't have to worry about the upkeep.  At the time this wasn't as common as it is now.  Landscaping in Crockett back in the day was green grass and flowers and not much else.   When the job was finished it was a topic of conversation around town and lots of people drove by to check out the results.  To be fair it did what it was supposed to.  The lawn was covered with gravel instead of grass, which was the point in the first place.  There were some wagon wheels and pieces of driftwood scattered here and there as well as rocks of various sizes.  It was so different by the standards of the time it resulted in a lot of jokes and comments.

To show you what a social life I had and how much there was to do in Crockett, even when I was a freshman in high school almost everyone know who was the current winner of the Garden of the Month.  That was long before Facebook, so what else were we to do.

One evening my friend and neighbor, Steven Satterwhite and I were roaming the streets looking for something to do.  We made our way to town, circled the courthouse square and started back home.  We were walking since we were too young to drive.  As we started down Goliad Avenue we passed the First Methodist Church.  The parsonage was located next door, and there in the middle of a huge flowerbed was the Garden of the Month sign.  We were in awe.  Neither of us had ever been that close to it before.

Stephen and I both were pretty sick and twisted individually, but when we got together our demented thoughts seemed to link up.  Almost instantly we had the same idea; steal the sign and put in the yard of Elwood Allbright!  His landscaped yard was still drawing a crowd so it was up to us to give them something else to talk about.

It was dark and the yard was full of large trees so we weren't concerned about getting caught.  I stood watch while Stephen stepped carefully into the flowerbed and removed the major award.  Each of us grabbed an end and we began our journey of almost a mile to the residence we had elected to host the honor.  We knew there would be some tongues wagging come daylight the next morning.

East Goliad Avenue had a lot of streetlights back then, and it seemed to us like there was more traffic than usual.  Every few yards a car would approach from one direction or the other.  Each time we would toss the sign on the ground and slowly move along.  As soon as the car past by we would run back, retrieve the sign and continue on.  It took us a good forty-five minutes to reach our destination.

We figured we could push the sign into the soft ground and take off quickly, but we hadn't accounted for the yard being covered in rocks.  The sign didn't easily go into the soil, or go into the soil at all.  It was apparent we would break it if not careful.  In Crockett that might be a capital offense.  We finally leaned it against a dead log and piles rocks around the legs.  This was done between running and hiding in the bushes each time a car passed.  After the mission was accomplished we both went home.

I didn't tell anyone about it and neither did Stephen.  A couple of days later there was a picture in the paper of the sign in the yard of Elwood Allbright with a couple of lines about it being the work of some local pranksters.  We did tell a few friends about it, but nobody cared.  I say nobody cared, but the Garden of the Month people were probably upset.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Okay, admit it, in the back of your mind you want to believe.  Every

few years a new grainy video comes out to prove the existence of a Bigfoot once and for all.  I want to see one, along with a ghost and a UFO full of little green men.  If I could step out of my house and see a flying saucer touch down, the door open and all three of these entities invite me to sit down and have a Diet Dr Pepper and a bag of Puffy Cheetos, I’d be the happiest man on the planet.  I’d want to get a good clear shot of them with my digital camera to prove to the skeptics it really happened.

Last month a friend of mine found a link on the internet announcing the First Annual Sasquatch Conference in Cripple Creek.  I was excited!  Surely a group of people who dedicate their lives, or at least a lot of their spare time to the quest would be able to provide some compelling evidence, and hopefully have some cool tee shirts for sale as well.  With high hopes we departed for the high country to be convinced the Sasquatch is a living being and not just a vague image in the mind of someone full of beef jerky and cheap whiskey.

The conference was set to run from 10am until 2pm.  We arrived ten minutes early to find six people there.  We signed in and were invited to camp with the group overnight and look for evidence in the forest.  Since we had to work the next morning we declined.  Twenty minutes later the room was full.  It was then we realized the proper dress code for the event was camouflage outerwear with a Bigfoot tee shirt.  Many of the attendees accessorized their ensemble with knives of various sizes.  It was time for the festivities to begin. 

The first speaker gave a slide presentation along with a few short videos.  He had made several trips to a location along the Front Range where a sighting was reported a couple of years ago.  He pointed out a possible footprint in the snow.  It has never been explained to me why a huge Sasquatch can walk for miles in the snow and leave only one vague footprint.

The presentation was going along as I expected when the speaker stopped on a picture of a group of trees thirty or forty yards away.
He pointed to a shadow in a tree and said, “Here is one of the several that were stalking me.”  Before I could digest that statement he pointed to another shadow and said it was also stalking him.  Nobody in the room seemed to be the least bit surprised.

Later we found out broken trees in the forest, especially small Aspens, are a sure sign of a Sasquatch in the area.  A broken sapling snapped at a height of six to eight feet is usually a dead giveaway.
After a winter of killing other animals and living on a diet of meat, tree bark is a welcome change.  The first speaker, the one being stalked, displayed a picture of a huge tree on the ground and said it was likely done by a Sasquatch looking for rabbits living in the root system.  A Sasquatch with a bulldozer might have taken it down, but it definitely wasn’t done by hand or paws.

There was a picture of a cave in the distance with a lot of trees in front of the entrance.  He pointed out some dark shadows and proclaimed them to be a Sasquatch, or maybe one of the dog men that are seen in the vicinity when there is Sasquatch present.  They are not as tall as a Sasquatch, but hairy with a pointed nose and a tail.
They were created by tribal shaman hundreds of years ago to fight the Sasquatch, but have since joined them.  I’m not making this up.

As he was leaving the area on his final search he was overwhelmed with a feeling of fear.  He became tired and unfocused, and after returning home he sat on his porch and stared into space for long periods of time.  I later learned this is a condition that is telepathically induced by the Sasquatch onto humans.  To the true believers it is known as being sizzled.  My wife is one hundred percent human and she can give me the sizzle effect any time I make a mistake or otherwise upset her, so it isn’t uncommon among our own species.

Having being sizzled, the brave hunter made his way back to his jeep, only to find the Sasquatch had disabled it and removed the rear axle.  It is a shame there wasn’t anyone around to get a picture of that. 

A lady from the area showed us a handful of hair everyone suspected of being from a Sasquatch.  I grew up around horses, and it looked amazingly like horse hair when a tail got caught in a barbed wire fence. 

The last half of the conference was conducted by two men who have a close relationship with a Sasquatch family in a super-secret undisclosed location here in Colorado.  When they sleep in their large outfitters tent the Sasquatch will poke them through the wall during the night.  When they put food out for them in the forest, the next day it is GONE!  Who can dispute that kind of evidence?  What other creature would eat food left out in the woods overnight?

I left the conference having been highly entertained.  Usually I leave Cripple Creek broke and depressed.  I can’t wait until the Second Annual Sasquatch Conference. Hopefully next year a Sasquatch will show up to sign autographs and pose for pictures.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Mice Must Die!

Rodents have never been my favorite creatures.  Luckily I've never had to deal with them many times.  I've caught them in inhumane traps that broke their nasty little necks, I've used the sticky traps, and poisoned them with Decon. 

Once I had a bad experience with hamsters.  A couple of months before we moved to Colorado Springs from Texas, our kids were given a couple of hamsters as pets.  There was a male and a female, and both were well up in hamster years.  The kids loved them.  It might have been the change in altitude, or maybe it was just their time to go, but both passed on during the move.  The kids were devistated.  After settling in we took the kids to Pet City to pick out a new pair of rodents.  We asked for either two males or two females.
We wanted a combination that wouldn't reproduce.  "No problem," said the salesman.  He went through the fake motions of checking a few of them, boxed up a couple, and we were on our way.

The kids were happy, and in a few weeks when a litter of babies arrived they were thrilled to have more pets.  The cage filled up rapidly, and finally Teresa made a high rise apartment complex out of hardware cloth to house the ever increasing herd.  By the time summer rolled around they were begining to eat one another in spite of being fed regularly.  Something had to be done.  Thankfully Teresa and the kids went to Texas for a few weeks, leaving me alone with the little cannibals.

I purchased the largest box of Decon available and put a large pile in each cube before going to work.  When I got home I rushed to the garage to view the bodies.  They were running all over the place like little freaky looking puppies.  The Decon energized them and they wanted more.  I dumped them all into a big box and sneaked down the alley until I was behind a house with lots of kids.  I let the little devils go and ran away as fast as I could.  I told the kids they ran away.

In 1979 we moved from Wichita Falls back to Crockett where I'd taken a job with Bennett Equipment Company.  Wayne and Buffy Williams had a rent house on Old Madisonville Highway and offered it to us for a very reasonable rate.  It needed some work done before we could move in, so we found a duplex that rented month to month to give us a place to live while the house was finished.  The couple in the other apartment seemed nice, and at first didn't seem to fear us.

About the third night we were there that all changed.  At 2am Teresa woke me up to say there were mice running about in the kitchen, and suggested I do something about it.  At 2am there aren't many options available to kill mice.  I took the .22 rifle from the closet, loaded it with rat shot, and the battle was on.

I turned on the kitchen light and immediately saw small gray bodies scurrying to safety.  I stood still for a few seconds deciding the best course of action.  A very old electric clock hung on the wall.  The cord was plugged in behind a plastic trash can in the space between the refrigerator and the kitchen cabinet.  The cord appeared to be moving back and forth ever so slightly.  A few seconds later I saw a little nose just above the edge of the can.  I drew a bead on the nose, and when the rest of the head appeared I blasted it all over the wall.  Teresa came running.  She started to say something, but decided to go check on the kids in case the gunfire had disturbed them.

A mouse ran out from under the refrigerator, looked at me, and turned to run.  I shot him before he could make a move.  Another appeared and I slaughtered him as well.  A couple of minutes passed with no sightings.  Just as I was about to grab the paper towels and clean up the goo, another mouse ran by me and into a small hole in the side of the cabinet.  I opened the door, and there he was, hiding behind a bunch of Tupperware against the back wall.  He was moving in and out between the bowls.  I fired several shots before I finally ended his little lice infested life.  I called out to Teresa that they were all dead.

In my mind I had done exactly what I'd been asked to do.  The mice were dead. Job well done.  I figured the Tupperware was just collateral damage which happens occasionally in the heat of battle.  Teresa didn't see it that way at all.  I was mentally preparing my defense, but nothing came to mind that would help my case.  I promised to clean up the mouse guts and buy some more Tupperware.  That was a little over thirty years ago, and I'm going to buy it any day.

The neighbors who had been so outgoing the day before seemed alarmed by our presence.  When we drove up they would gather their kids and run inside.  A month later we moved out.  After everything had been moved I went back to clean up.  Naturally I had my rifle, just in case.  As I made a final pass through the house, a mouse ran across the floor right in front of me.  I got off a couple of shots, but missed.  The mouse ran into the hall closet with me in hot pursuit.  There was a small hole in the wall which probably led to the closet in the other unit.  I stuck the barrel into the hole and fired a couple of shots for good measure. 

Teresa has never asked me to kill a mouse again.  Once she gets that new Tupperware she will cool off.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Rolling Thunder Update

I've been asked several times how things are going with Rolling Thunder.  Each Sunday when I return to work everyone  wants to know if anything new happened while we were off. 

When I left off he had shown me half of a steel shelving unit he had assembled and told me my project was to put the other half together,  connect the two, take everything out of his closet, put the new one in, and haul all the old stuff to the dumpster.  I managed to avoid him for a couple of weeks.

Two weeks went by without an encounter.  I had several close calls, but managed to keep enough distance to avoid talking to him.  I knew my luck would run out.

We work every Sunday, twelve hour shifts, and as a result we go to bed early on Saturday night.  Last month, on Saturday afternoon, I put on a load of laundry in the dryer upstairs.  There is a larger room downstairs, but Rolling Thunder hangs around there a lot and I wasn't going to take any chances.  I went to Wal Marcus while the clothes were finishing.  On my return I looked through the glass door before entering the hallway from the outside.  Sure enough, there sat RT in the middle of the hall, looking around in every direction.  He was, you guessed it, looking for me.

I walked around to the side door and entered quietly.  I peeked around the corner and saw him talking to someone.  His back was to me so I took the opportunity to scurry down the hall like a scared hamster and go into our apartment. 

Teresa said he had already been to our door twice looking for me.  He needed help with a cabinet he had just bought.  He was in a panic.  She had seen him going up and down the hall hunting for me.  She told him I had gone to the store, so he wanted to be sure I didn't get back in the building without talking to him.  grabbed the laundry basket and looked into the hallway.  I saw him rolling into the laundry room at the other end of the hall.  I ran for the stairway and retrieved our laundry from the upstairs dryers.  When I came back he was in the hallway looking around again.  As luck would have it a small group of people came through the door from the outside and were headed down the hall in his direction.  Like an indian hiding behind his pony I hunkered down and followed them as far as my door.  I jumped inside and shut the door.

Teresa told me he had come back again while I was getting the clothes out of the dryer.  She had supper fixed, so I ate before going down the hall to see what he needed.  I figured I might as well get it over with or he would be at our door every few minutes.

I knocked on his door and I heard him moving around quickly.  He asked who it was and I identified myself.
He had been illegally smoking again and there was a cloud in the room.  I asked him what he needed.

He had a small cabinet with three drawers he needed put together.  As he was telling me the tale I noticed the steel shelves were assembled and in his closet.  Apparently he has others to help when I'm in hiding.  He showed me a large rack of clothes and said he was going to put them in the little cabinet.  He is getting ready in case FEMA shows up soon to put us all in concentration camps.  He wants to be able to load up everything quckly and head for the high country.

I could tell right way it would be a quick job, or at least one I could get the majority finished in half an hour or so.  He rolled off to get a catalog to show me all the new stuff he was going to order.  I quickly sent Teresa a text and asked for an emergency phone call in thirty minutes.  He said there was no hurry; I could come back the next morning and finish.  I told him I worked Sunday through Wednesday and wouldn't be able to.  He told me I could take it home with me and work on it each night after work.  I told him no, I could get most of it done right then.  I had most of it put together when Teresa called.  The last part consisted of tightening about six screws.  I left.

Last weekend we were walking from the office when he stepped out of his apartment right in front of us.  There was no place to run.

"Jimmy!" he said, "I was just on my way down to your apartment.  I have another project for you."

Teresa just kept on walking, but like the dumbass I am I went inside.  He had a little cabinet with some bins for shoes and three small drawers, or so the picture indicated.  It was on a pile on the floor which resembled a pile of rubble you see on the news after a tornado has destroyed a trailer park.

"I need you to put this together for me, and then I'll show you a picture of the other cabinets and new computer desk I have coming in next week.  You sure are going to have a lot of projects!"

Luckily for me, not for my son, Jamie, I had to pick him up at the dentist after he got his wisdom tooth pulled.  I told RT I was going to be busy all afternoon and had to pick up my son at the dentist.  He said he understood and would be looking for me.

The next morning Teresa and I were up early loading the van in preparation for a trip to the mountains to take pictures.  I put some things inside, then walked around to open the back and load the metal detector.
There sat RT blocking my way.  I told him we were headed out of town.  He said he would see me when we got back.  We got back late.

The next morning, Saturday, I was busy.  Both kids and their families were coming over for the afternoon. Just before noon I had to go to the store for Teresa.  Out of habit and instinct for self preservation I went in the side door to the hallway.  Just before I peeked around the corner and down the hall I could hear RT.  There were lots of people going back and forth and he was asking each of them if they would put his cabinet together.  Everyone said no.  I could hear him giving someone a long explanation about the impending FEMA attack when I realized his voice was getting closer.  Like a total wimp I quickly walked up the stairs.  The last thing I heard him say was, "Well, I'll just see if Jimmy is home.  He puts all my stuff together."

After a couple of minutes, plenty of time for Teresa to send him on his way, I called her cell phone.  She had told him I had gone to the store and we were going to have company, so I would be busy all afternoon.  He told her he would find someone else and he left.

A few minutes ago I saw the UPS truck in front of the office and RT rolling up the hall, most likely headed to pick up my latest project.  It is time to go into super stealth mode again.  The adventure continues.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Amazing McCullough

Nothing is as scary to a kid than a cemetery or a funeral home, with the possible exception of their mother coming in the backdoor with a switch freshly cut and ready to whip their ass for burning up the pasture behind the house.  I know all about that scenario.

Crockett had a total of four funeral homes while I was growing up.  Callaway Funeral Home and Waller Funeral Home served the white community while Woodley-Wheeler Funeral Home and McCullough Funeral Home served the black community.  The racial makeup of Crockett was roughly fifty-fifty, with possibly a few more among the black population.  Three of the four were well respected and I never heard anything negative about them.  The McCullough Funeral Home was a different story.

The McCullough Funeral Home was owned and operated by M.B. "Marcello" McCullough.  It was located in a large house near the railroad tracks and was a spooky looking place.  McCullough lived on the premises and he fit right in with the mystique of property.  He was a large man and was always dressed in black attire as one who had seen enough horror movies would come to expect.  He could be seen walking around the property at all hours with a solemn look on his face.  He and his funeral home were the personification of what spawns local legends and scary stories.  There were so many stories told and accusations made about him there was no way to know what was true and what wasn't.  The ones I'm about to relate fall into the category of the unknown.

All the years I lived in Crockett there was no such thing as a private ambulance service.  Each funeral home had at least one hearse fitted with first aid equipment, a siren and red lights.  It was still a segregated community in a lot of ways, and the ambulance service was a prime example.  When the police or sheriff's department were called to an accident, the race of the victims dictated which funeral home got the call.  White victims were picked up by Callaway or Waller, and black victims were serviced by Woodley-Wheeler or McCullough.  An integrated wreck meant at least two ambulances were summoned.

It was rumored that McCullough was removed from the call list.  When victims of an accident were transported to the hospital and arrived alive, the funeral home had to collect their fee for services rendered and it was entirely their responsibility.  If the victims were dead on arrival the funeral home would receive a payment from the county, so they wouldn't be left completely out in the cold if there was  nobody for them to bill. If more than one funeral home responded and there were multiple casualties, they would cover as many bodies as possible with their sheets to "claim them."   Apparently McCullough didn't like to go through the bother of collecting from the victims.  All of a sudden a disturbing pattern began to develop.  An accident victim might have only minor injuries when McCullough picked them up, but they were dead by the time they reached the hospital.  Nothing was ever proven, but the survival rate went way up when McCullough was removed from the rotation.  I have no idea if that was true, but I heard it again and again when I was a kid.

The casket stories made the rounds as well.  It was said McCullough once provided a casket for a young man in his twenties.  He was nearly seven feet tall, so an extra long casket was ordered and the parents were charged a considerable sum for it.  Once the body was placed in the casket they wanted to spend some time alone with their son.  The casket didn't appear to be any longer than a standard model, so they called McCullough in and questioned him.  He assured them it was indeed the longer model their son required.  Finally they demanded he open the casket because something was amiss.  He refused and the sheriff was summoned.  Finally McCullough relented and opened the casket.  The legs of the young man had been sawed off and put in the casket beside him.  The casket was indeed the standard length.

It was widely suspected that McCullough only had one casket in his possession.  He would show it to the grieving family and make them a deal they couldn't pass up.  After the graveside service was over and the family departed,  he would dump the body into the grave, fill in the hole, and return the casket to the funeral home to be used again and again.

I worked on Mustang Prairie Ranch from the time I was in junior high off and on until I was a senior.  I worked with a lot of black mechanics, cowboys and equipment operators.  All of them knew McCullough and were the source of most of the tales.  Over the years I got to know them well and realized they weren't joking around when the subject of McCullough came up.  To the man they considered him a sinister figure and a person to be avoided.  They would never make eye contact with him if they accidentally came near him when in town.  They all expressed the belief that death was imminent if McCullough looked them directly in the eye for any length of time.

My only real connection with McCullough came through my life long friend, Bruce Bennett.  His family owned a grocery store as well as the John Deere dealership.  Bruce worked at both places while growing up, and as a result crossed paths with McCullough on a regular basis.  All the tales I had heard from my co-workers at Mustang Prairie had been told to Bruce by customers at the the grocery store and the tractor dealership.

Bruce told me of a funny and disturbing incident that happened in front of their grocery store.  McCullough was in the store picking up a few things and rambling on about a variety of subjects.  As always most of the customers stayed as far away from him as possible.  A bread truck was parked in front of the building having just made a delivery.

A local handyman was approaching rapidly on his bicycle.  He was full of the spirit, the bottled kind, and was gaining speed by the second.   He wasn't the safest person around when he was sober, and that wasn't very often.  Everyone in the area kept an eye out for him at all times.  As he rounded the corner he lost control and slammed into the back of the bread truck, knocking him out cold.  Everyone inside the store heard the crash and came outside to investigate.  Crockett is a small town and he was known to all, as was McCullough.  The drunk was on the ground unconscious between the truck and the rear of McCullough's stationwagon.  As the stunned group looked on, McCullough leaned over the man for a couple of seconds.  He opened the back of the stationwagon, grabbed the man under his arms and began loading him up.  Finally someone asked if an ambulance should be called.  McCullough just shrugged and said, "No, he is just about gone.  I'm going to take him on down to the funeral home."

He had the man about halfway into the vehicle when he came to.  The first thing he saw was the face of McCullough looking him in the eye.  Of course he knew who McCullough was and the threat of a direct stare.  He screamed and crawled out of the stationwagon as fast as he could.  He ran down the street yelling and disappeared into the trees. McCullough never said another word.  He shut the door, got into the car and drove away.  The incident added even more fuel to the fire of the McCullough legend.

Each Sunday morning the local radio station would air programs in fifteen minute incriments.  Most programs featured a message from the preacher of the local churches.  McCullough purchased a time slot and delivered his own message.  Most listeners would be hard pressed to tell you what in the hell the message was at the end of the broadcast, but I can attest to the fact that it was always entertaining.

My lifelong friend, college roommate and fellow smartass, Ed Driskill, was the disc jockey on duty during most of those Sunday morning broadcasts.  He got to know everyone with a show, although the majority we taped in advance.  McCullough always came to the station and did his live.   Needless to say, McCullough was his favorite by far.  Ed, Bruce Bennett and I ran around together a lot, and Ed always had a McCullough story.  It was at his urging that Bruce and I began to tune in on Sunday mornings to hear what McCullough would come up with next.

McCullough had a charge account at Bennett's Grocery.  Since McCullough didn't have any sponsors, he devised a plan to help with the expenses.  He made it a point each week to heap loads of praise upon those fine folks at Bennett's Grocery.  He would get on a roll and make up sales that were in progress; sales nobody at the grocery store knew anything about.  He would also rave about Bennett Equipment, located across the street from the grocery store.  I heard him say on many occasions that "Mr. Leon Bennett will trade for horses, cows, chickens and all kinds of things."   Mr. Leon wasn't thrilled about the publicity he was receiving, nor was Bruces' grandfather, Mr. John Hazlett, who ran the grocery store.  On Monday McCullough would go to the grocery store and ask that a little bit be taken off of his bill as payment for the advertising he had done on his show.  They finally struck a deal.  McCullough would receive a discount if he DIDN'T advertise for them the day before.

McCullough didn't have any particular theme for his show.  He would ramble from one subject to the next and you to pay close attention to recognize the changes.  He never failed to thank "Mr. Eddie Driskill, the fine disc jockey at this here station."  On many occasions he said Eddie was a most pro-efficient disc jockey.
Ed actually put that on his resume in later years, and had to explain it during job interviews. 

McCullough liked to end each broadcast by reading a short passage taken from the FFA creed.  Under normal circumstances it took him about a minute to accomplish it and end the show.  Like the pro-efficient disc jockey he was, Ed would cue McCullough when he had a minute left.  Of course, being the smartass he was (is), occasionally he would tell him he only had forty-five seconds left.  McCullough wasn't easy to understand anyway, and when he was in a hurry it was mostly babble.  He would launch into his final statement and you couldn't understand a single word, until the very end.  His last words were always spoken slow and clear.  ..."and above all, play the game fair."

One Saturday evening as we were gathered in the dining room at the Dairy Queen, Eddie told Bruce and I to be sure and catch the McCullough show the next morning.  He asked me if I still had my cassette tape recorder and I said I did.  He told me to be sure and tape the show.

The next morning McCullough began the show with a long list of people he was dedicating the show to.   Mostly they were people to whom he owed money.  I think he named every adult in the Bennett family.  At the very end he named, "Mr. Bruce Bennett and Mr. Jimmy Beasley...two of my biggest fans."   He knew Bruce well, but he didn't know me at all.  I was included at Ed's urgung and he garbled my name a little, but I didn't care.  It was a proud moment in my young life.  He named Bruce and I again a few weeks later.  He dedicated serveral shows to Ed over the years.

A couple of years later I was in college and hadn't thought of McCullough for a long while.  Somehow we got on the subject and began to recall all the stories we had heard.  About 2am Eugene May said, "I've got an idea. Let's call McCullough!"

Thankfully those were the days before caller ID or Eugene might still be in prison.  I would be out since I was only the accomplice and would have hopefully received a lighter sentence.  Eugene had been sitting around thinking of a good story for McCullough.  Eugene delivered groceries to some houses in the same area of town as the funeral home was located, and one of his customers left their porch light on twenty-four hours a day.  He fixed up the tape recorder to catch the entire conversation, then placed the call.  McCullough answered on the second ring.


"Is Mr. McCullough what owns the funeral home?"

"Yes, it is.  Why are you calling me?"

"This is Jesse Ward, and I live at.......   I need you help bad!"

"What do you want?" asked McCullough.  He was getting irritated, but curious as well.

"Mr. McCullough, you've got to help me.  I was down to the Jolly Joy Saturday night and gots to drinkin' with this dude.  He was from out of town, and he offered to drive me home 'cause I was too drunk to drive.
I told him he could spend the night on my couch.  I got up early Sunday morning and went to Houston to work on a job down there.  I just got back a little while ago and that dude be dead on my couch!"

"What do you want me to do about it?"

"Mr. McCullough,  can you come get this body?  I don't know what to do!  I can't call the high sheriff 'cause he might 'spect foul play.  Please Mr. McCullough, I need help."

Without another question McCullough said, "Okay, I can do that.  What is your address again?"

Eugene repeated it and said, "Thank you so much!  I'll turn the porch light on for you."

McCullough said, "Okay, I'm comin' in the Cadillac."

Eugene hung up the phone and lost his composure.  We all died laughing.  The tape was played many times over the next few days.

Two months to the day, 2am, Eugene called him again.

"Hello," answered McCullough.

Eugene started in own him immediately.

"This is Jesse Ward at ......  When are you goin' to pick up this damn body?  That dude done nearly rotted through my couch!  Maggots are marchin' in formation all over the floor and buzzards be peekin' in the windows!"

McCullough was more than a little bit pissed off.

"I went to that house and there wasn't no dead body there!  You better hope I never find out who you is or you will be sorry!  You hear me?"

Eugene hung up the phone and turned off the recorder.  We played the tape to so many people we wore it out.

A few months later we were out for summer vacation.  Bruce and I were riding around and I told him about Eugene making the calls to McCullough, probably for the tenth time.  Out of the blue Bruce said, "Let's go to the funeral home and talk to him."

Ordinarily I wouldn't have considered it for a second, but Bruce knew him well and he wasn't likely to kill the grandson of someone he owed money to, I said it was fine with me.

McCullough was sitting on his porch in the dark.  Bruce announced our presence as soon as he opened his car door.  McCullough immediately invited us to join him.  For the next hour we just sat and listened.  He was happy to have a live audience and he made the most of it.  We got a long version of the radio show without the dedications and commercials.  We had a blast.

A few months later the McCullough Funeral Home burned to the ground and Marcello McCullough perished in the fire.  As far as I know a cause was never determined.  He died as he lived, a mystery and a local legend.

Monday, June 20, 2011

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

A couple of months ago we moved from an upstairs apartment to a downstairs unit.  Even after having both knees replaced a couple of years ago, Teresa still has a lot of problems.  Walking up and down the stairs each day was a burden she didn't need.  It eliminated a lot of travel and we love it.  A side effect was inheriting a new crop of neighbors.

We now live near the end of a long hallway on the south end of the complex.  All doors open into the hall, halfway down is a covered link that connects our building to the office, post office and pool area.
Each day I check the mail and in most cases never encounter anyone going or coming.

There is a man who lives in an apartment on the first floor near the link whom I've only seen a few times in the past year.  He is disabled and is confined to a wheelchair most of the time.  He has only one leg, and although he has an artificial one, I've only seen him wearing it a couple of times.  I'd spoken to him each time we passed in the hall and he usually just said hello and gave me a brochure from the church he attends. 

Last month, on a rainy Wednesday things changed.  He was standing outside the door to the link in the rain with two small grocery bags in his hands.  Entry to the building requires a keycard, and he was frantically looking for his.  I rushed over and opened the door for him.  He stepped into the dry hallway and thanked me. 

As I continued my journey to the post office boxes I heard him ask, "Could you do something else for me?"

"Sure," I said, "what do you need?"

He said, "I'm going to take these bags to my apartment.  I have some more in my truck, but I'm too tired to go back out in the rain to get them.  Would you get them for me and bring them to my apartment?"

"Be glad to," I said.  He handed me the keys to his truck and headed for his apartment.

I ran to his truck through the pouring rain and retrieved the other bags.  I delivered them to his apartment and asked, "Is there anything else I can help you with?" 

"Yes, there is," he said.  "I have a five drawer cabinet and a computer desk in the back of the truck I need brought in.  Will you do it for me?"

"I'll be right back," I replied.

Well, the five drawer cabinet was in a big box and weighed almost as much as me.  I was whipped when I finally got it to the apartment.

"The computer desk is a lot lighter, but it also needs to be assembled," he said.

I should have seen it coming,  but I was trying to be helpful.  A few minutes later I put the box containing the computer desk on the floor and started for the door.

"One more thing," he asked.  "Will you come back tomorrow and put both of these together for me and haul all the older stuff out to the dumpster?"

I'm sure I had a stunned look on my face, but only mumbled, "Uh, sure."

I didn't really want to, but he needed help and it would only be this one time.  Ha!

He said he took a lot of medications and didn't get up until early afternoon.  I told him that was fine since we had a lot of things to do the next morning anyway.

At seven a.m. there was a loud knock on the door.  It was him.  I opened the door and said, "Good morning."

"I couldn't sleep," he said.  "Are you ready to get started?"

"No, we have an entire morning full of chores to get done.  I will try to be at your apartment around one o'clock."

He shrugged and rolled away.

I had other things to do, but also knew it would be a daunting task for him to do alone.  At two p.m. I knocked on his door and he let me in.

I decided to assemble the five drawer chest first.  After it the computer desk should be a breeze.  I couldn't believe how many parts there were to a piece of Chinese furniture with the appearance of a giant jigsaw puzzle.

There were racks and cabinets throughout the living room and bedroom.  I wasn't sure why he needed another one, but it was none of my business.  All the work had to be done on the floor, which brings me to the carpet.

The carpet was nastier than words can describe.  He had a nice vacuum cleaner in the kitchen, but apparently he didn't want to risk burning it up by running over the carpet.  My feet felt like they were going stick with each step on the carpet, and getting down on my knees or sitting down to put pieces together sent chills up my spine.  I felt like the need for a tetanus shot after the first five minutes.  The smell was even worse.  I soon found out why.

There is no smoking allowed in our complex.  He had disabled the smoke alarms, and most of the day was spent chain smoking with a towel placed along the bottom of the door to hide the odor from the outside.  My eyes and lungs were burning.

As soon as I started he went to his room and turned up his stereo full blast.  This was just before the predicted rapture, so he was mostly listening to Amazing Grace over and over, and singing along at the top of his voice.  Every ten minutes or so he would come back to the living room and tell me the rapture was going to come the following Saturday.  I was tempted to ask him why he needed more furniture if he would be gone in a week, but I didn't.

Pretty soon I adjusted to the poisonous atmosphere and was making progress.  He entered the room once again with a fanny pack in his lap.  I looked up in time to see him pull out a .45 caliber pistol, which almost made me soil his carpet ever further.

"Look what I have!" he said.  "If you ever need any help down the hall,  you just call me.  I'll be right there."

He took three clips from his bag to show me how prepared he was, then he got a look of horror on his face.

"Oh no!  I'm missing two clips!  I hope none of my sorry buddies came to to steal my medications and took the clips!  Can you go to my truck and see if you can find them?"

Of course I jumped at the opportunity to get the hell out of there and get some fresh air.  I opened the passenger door of his truck and there were two fully loaded clips on the seat.  I took them inside and gave them to him.  It settled him down considerably.  He returned to his room.

A little later he asked me to come to his room and meet his fiance whom he was talking to online.  I struggled to my feet and went in for an introduction.  The connection was bad and I said hello as instructed.  After a couple of minutes I excused myself and went back to work.

He came in a few minutes later and told me about his fiance.  She is a twenty-five year old living in the Philippines.  According to him she is going to come to the U.S. when he can come up with enough money.  In the meantime she has all his credit card numbers and pin numbers so she can buy bibles.  He held up his hand and showed me a huge scar.

"See this!  My first wife tried to kill me with a butcher knife."

By late afternoon I had almost completed the chest.  I said I would finish it up and put the computer desk together the following day.

He handed me one of his key cards to his door and said, "I will probably sleep late, so just let yourself in and finish."

I said, "No thanks.  I will wait until you are up."  There was no way in hell I would walk into his apartment and have him wake up and blast me with his pistol.  I went home.

As soon as I walked through the door Teresa said, "Oh my God, you stink!  Get out of those clothes and take a shower now!"  Crawling around on that skanky carpet had taken a toll on my clothes.

The next afternoon I finished the cabinet and was about to nail the particle board sheet on the back. 

"What is that thing?" he asked.

"It is the standard board that comes with all of these things."

"No, I won't use that flimsy thing.  Take the legs off of my dining table and nail the top onto the back of the cabinet."

"Sure!" I said.  Later I found out he rented a furnished apartment and the table I took apart wasn't his.

I then turned my attention to the computer desk.  Unfortunately he had decided to start working on it the night before.  He had studs and screws in the wrong places.  To secure them he covered each one with a generous amount of Gorilla glue.  It took me an hour to scrape off all the glue and start over.  I was finished in fifteen minutes.

Did I mention that on several occasions friends of his would wander in to visit with him and watch me work at the same time.  They were all much younger and more capable of doing the tasks at hand.  I had felt at first that he didn't have anyone around to help.  At that point I felt a little bit used. 

On the way out the door he handed me a bottle of sparkling water from his refrigerator and said, "I'm going to give you this for helping me.  You and your wife can drink it."

When I got home I put the bottle on the counter and told Teresa it was our payment.  It had a slimey feel to it.  She frowned and said, "I hope you don't plan on drinking that!"

"No way in hell!" I said.  I picked it up to toss it out.  It stuck to the counter.

A couple of weeks later he caught me walking down the hall.  "Come see what I bought," he said.

I steeped into his apartment and saw a big canvas bag.  It contained a frame, shelves and a canvas camping closet.  I knew what was coming next.

"This is a good project for you.  Can you put it together for me?"

I said yes and began putting it together.  It took about twenty minutes.  He went to his bedroom to get some catalogs so he could show me some more things he had on order.  I had a feeling they were going to involve my help when he got them.  I quickly sent Teresa a text saying "Call me now.  Tell me to come home!"

Her call came just as he rolled back into the living room.  I told him I had to go and hauled ass out the door.

Since I have been made the unpaid Minister of Special Construction Projects, and he seems to have a lot of friends capable of standing around watching me work, I decided it was time to pay better attention and not be caught out in the open.  I started going the long way around to check the mail and doing the laundry upstairs.  I was successful until last Wednesday night.

We went out to eat after work and got home a little after nine p.m.  The neighbor is rarely out that late.  Just to be safe I took the long way to the mailbox, but getting overconfident and cocky I decided to go directly down the hall on the return trip.  I made a right turn and there I was, face to face with my nemesis, Rolling Thunder.

He smiled and said, "Jimmy!  I've been looking for you.  Let me show you what I just bought!"

We were at the door of his apartment, so I stepped in to take a look like the wimp I am.  There was a section of steel shelving assembled, probably incorrectly, and a pile of pieces on the floor.  That could only mean trouble for me.

"I've got a project for you!" he said.  "I need the other half put together, then the old shelves taken out of the closet and these put in.  I just bought a two wheel dolly off the internet so it will be easier when you take stuff out to the dumpster for me."

I mumbled something about needing to go and I would talk to him later.

Early Thursday morning there was a loud knocking at the door.  I had a pretty good idea who it was.  I went into the other room and Teresa opened the door.  Sure enough it was Rolling Thunder.  He had been asleep and heard someone knocking on his door.  He naturally assumed it was me wanting to get an early start on the latest construction project.  She told him I was busy.  He left.

All day I never left the apartment without her checking the hallway first.  We went out to eat that evening.  We entered the building from the side entrance to the hall so we wouldn't be readily visible.  A woman and her kids were coming from the pool and we talked to them for a minute.  From the corner of my eye I saw movement in the hall.  I whispered to Teresa, "Is it him?"

"Yes," she said.

"Do you want to go riding around for awhile?" I asked.

"Let's go!"

We left for an hour and all was clear upon our return.

Now I feel I'm being stalked by Rolling Thunder.  I peak around every corner.  I need to get a mirror to cut down on the chance of getting caught while checking the hall.  I just came from Goodwill where I picked up a disguise.  I have a pith helmet, sunglasses, checkered shorts, army boots, long black socks and a pink boa to wear around my neck.  So far I haven't been caught.  I did get an offer to be in the over forty production of Rocky Horror Picture Show at a local theater, but I can't dance, can't sing, and I'm only thirty-nine.