We all sat at booths and tables in the new trendy café in a building a few feet away from the campus of Texas A&M-Commerce (formerly known as ET). We were within sight of a multitude of memories for all of us. Most had frequented the same building when it housed different enterprises during college days decades ago. The occasion was a celebration of Dr. Fred Tarpley’s eightieth birthday. He had been a Tejas sponsor as far back as 1957.
We had difficulty deciding who should sit where, but finally settled in. Music blared from two different sources (with two different songs) and we had a little trouble hearing ourselves talk. Settled in, we perused our menus. I wondered if I was the only one basing my decision not on what I wanted, but what I would wear around my waist for how long after consumption. We laughed when asked to produce drivers’ licenses in order to buy beer or wine. Jace asked the young waitress if she was joking.
Just about the time we finished placing our orders, the annoying recorded music suddenly changed. A real band scheduled to perform that night (we were there around five PM—yes, we do eat early) had arrived to “test the sound system.” Their sound came through with perfect clarity and pitch. Wife Jan noticed the sudden change in the gathering of thirty or so lifelong friends before I did. Looking back, I think the sudden change of atmosphere in the room was similar to a hypnotic regression without benefit of a hypnotist. We were just transported back in time without thinking about it. Fingers drummed on tabletops in time with the beat, eyes brightened, feet tapped, heads nodded, and butts squirmed in time with the music. The few still standing swayed with the rhythm. The jitterbug or the push was definitely about to erupt. I wanted them to.
You got me runnin’, you got me hidin’
You got me run, hide, hide run
Anyway you wanna let it roll
Yeah, Yeah, Yeah . . .
You got me doin’ what you want me
Oh baby, why you wanna let go?
The tune-up for the band with this 1959 Jimmy Reed classic didn’t last long, but it was enough to refresh some memories of the way this fun-loving, caring group of people used to be and still are. It brought a feeling. I came along only a few years behind them, but Jan and I felt we had caught a really good glimpse of what it must have been like to have been part of this fine group of people we so much respect and admire during the fifties, a great decade. They remain youthful in appearance and especially in manner, but time seemed to reverse as we swayed to the beat of that old classic.
I started to title this The Brotherhood, but that would not give due credit to the Bosses. I know in advance that I will get a fact or two wrong on this piece and I know that I will be quickly, but kindly, corrected. There were thirteen social clubs on the campus of ET during the forties and fifties. The Tejas Club was formed in 1946 and affiliated with Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity thirteen years later.
I never joined a fraternity or social club. I am reminded of what Groucho Marx said, “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.” But that doesn’t explain why I was not a joiner. I had plenty of excuses: no money, part time job, I was a commuter, etc… But many of the Tejas guys had the same circumstances. They didn’t let a few obstacles stand in the way of forming bonds that have lasted a lifetime.
Many of the Hosses are country boys like me. Most had to struggle to pay for tuition and books; many left college or enrolled for the first time after serving their country. Many would not have been in college had it not been for the GI Bill. All have Tejas nicknames. At least, the ones I know do. I knew many by name and reputation but knew little about their group until Jan started working with them through her campus job. We were honored with invitations to many of their social functions. As we left the home of John and Peggy Moss in Pecan Gap one evening a few years back, I asked Jan if she had ever seen a finer, more fun-loving, successful, warm group of people in her life. Both of us appreciated being included.
When my first novel (In the Rivers Flow) was published in 2003, Hoss Jace Carrington (another Delta County boy) sent a copy to Kendall Wright (a Cooper native), a Hoss who lives in Alabama. Many scenes in the novel occur in Delta County. Jake Rivers, my protagonist, plays on a baseball team the first year Little League came to Northeast Texas. I did not know that Kendall, in college then, was an assistant coach for one of the teams. Even though I had changed character names, he sent me a letter identifying every one of the characters (by their real names), which team they played for, what positions they played, and even where they are today. He even brought me a photo of all the coaches during that wonderful era.
I am not only impressed with the kindness, generosity, warmth and friendliness of this group, but would be remiss if I failed to mention their leadership. There may be exceptions, but this group is made up of successful folks, not just in wealth, but in life. They formed an endowment for ET and quickly grew it to one of the largest on campus. They served and continue to serve in leadership positions all over the country, and I am sure I don’t know the half of it. I am privileged to be included as an honorary member.
You say I didn’t explain who the bosses are? You must not be married.
Warning: Commercial break. Go Down Looking, my next novel, update—copy edits complete, content edits approved, front cover approved, layout approved. Next step is spine and back cover. Then I will receive the first bound book for one last chance to change anything.