I took a trip awhile back to retrace some of the places and people that inspired my writing in previous books and in my new offerings, Circle of Hurt and Believing in a Grand Thing.
What are the chances of tiny Adrian producing a Rhodes Scholar? And the class below us produced two published authors. And how did Morris built a charter plane service in the middle of nowhere that flew governors, senators, and other celebrities.
I understand Sidney Blankenship speaks several languages and is an expert not only on Christianity but some Eastern religions including Hinduism.
He has 27 dogs (down from over fifty), all descended from two he acquired in 1980. When I tried to visit him fifteen or so years ago, he had a large menagerie of exotic animals. Now, he is down to two African Lions, one bear, ten Javelinas, a bison herd of 120, and a few assorted other exotics.
He has continued his studies in theology and is in the process of writing a book. He still travels to England occasionally to present papers at Oxford, but can’t be away for long because of his animals. I ask you, who would not want to sit down and discuss life with a man who has led such an unusual one?
Morris, on the other hand, has run a successful farming operation (he and his son farm over 8,000 acres). He also runs a successful aviation service. He showed me photos of his flights for Oliver North, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, George W. Bush and other famous folks. He was also a member of the National School Board Association. He has had quite an impressive career. He showed me his pristine plane (I think it was a Cessna) in very nice hangar next to his house. He was considering flying it to the next NSBA meeting.
Morris remembered my cousin Arlen driving the school bus and his younger sister Sha and brother Larry. Too bad we didn’t know that back in high school. I reluctantly drove away without seeing Sidney but feeling very positive about the visit with his brother. I figure Morris and I will meet again. Certainly hope so.
I pulled out on the highway to head to Adrian and recalled the time Cousin Arliss had landed a plane on that road. It created quite a stir. I wished I had asked Morris if he remembered that.
As I looked back at the small farmhouse where Sidney had lived for more than six decades, I remembered the time when we got a new English teacher in the middle of the school year. It took a hardy breed to come to this isolated area and teach, so the local Baptist minister was drafted for the job when an elderly lady gave up on us rowdy boys and left.
From Rivers Ebb . . . Jake had never seen Loretta’s father up close. The preacher had played three sports at Baylor and looked ready to deliver a crushing tackle today. He sat in Mrs. Boucher’s chair and folded both arms across her desk. The arms were bigger than Jake’s legs.
For a preacher, Reverend Jim Sessions (the inspiration for the new teacher) showed little reluctance in enforcing discipline in his classes, including liberal use of the paddle. He did not appreciate our history with the elderly lady we had forced back into retirement. He gave us an assignment to write a story, a mystery or thriller, preferably. We all, especially the boys, snickered. When we saw that he was serious, we grumbled, but most of us took out tablets and began scribbling.
Jerry Fortenberry, my former nemesis turned friend, looked over my shoulder as I began to write my first fictional short story with great trepidation. When I finished the first page, I turned to Jerry. “You better get to writing.”
“Not me. No way I can write a story. Let me see yours.”
I didn’t want to, but Jerry was still not a boy to trifle with. He read the page I handed him, poked me again and whispered. “Let me see what happens in the end.”
Somehow, that gave me confidence as I put the finishing touches on my story. As I recall, it involved somebody dead on a ship. Since I had no experience with ships, I have no idea why I chose that topic or locale.
From Rivers Ebb: Jake looked over his shoulder at Burt’s paper. The title was “What I did this weekend.” Burt wrote: Ate supper. Fed hogs. Went to dance. Fixed flat on tar. Had chicken-fried stake for supper.”
Jake felt better after reading it. He titled his “Lost in the Fog”. When time was up, Jake bounced his two pages on the desk as if they were a book manuscript. Floyd Knight stood by his desk with his hand out. Jake handed him the papers, and Loretta’s father smiled.
The next day, Reverend Sessions praised two papers that he had graded “A”. He mentioned mine first, but he saved the absolute best to read to the class. It was called “Thoughts of Nothingness”, by Sidney Blankenship. Sidney artfully described the terror he felt as he listened to classmates’ shuffle of paper and the skin-crawling sensation from hearing them scribbling on pads while his mind remained a blank and his fingers numb. Sidney had turned a mundane situation into a comedy/thriller.
When I returned home from my trip, I called the landline number (Sidney has no cell phone) Morris had provided and got Sidney on the second try. He told me he has been working on a book about theology for over a decade. Ironic that I am now a writer after trying my hand at several professions. Maybe Jim Sessions started something that day. Or maybe not.
Maybe this is meat for a documentary instead of a novel.