Your dad, before mom

Degs wrote this about Jul 13, 1991 for the 1991-2000 category.

Your dad grew up white. Very white. Down to the last name. Even if he somehow got your granny’s maiden name, he would’ve been a ‘Smith’. Someone traced us back to the Mayflower, pilgrims and puritans. So Yeah. That white.

My heritage is European. Probably some Irish, German, Nordic. I really don’t know. Someone looked up ancestry and found ‘Dragging Canoe‘, a Native American really mean looking dude in there. I wouldn’t doubt we have a bunch of other races mixed in there somewhere.

Something I’ve learned through the years – We agree way more than we disagree. Nobody wants to ban slingshots or have a neighbor with nuclear weapons. Nobody wants to kill babies or enemies, just freedom. People respect others beliefs, and fight for their own over the tiny stuff in between. This makes bad-ass warlords like Dragging Canoe that kill white people yet desire them enough to make more. It’s weird.

As for me, I grew up on the side of white, protestant, Church of Christ, Texans. Chicken and dumplings, chicken noodle soup, and chicken fried steak… lots of chicken and lots of church.

Our last century of roots go deep through Texas. Your 3x great grandfather ran Tom D. Smith Fancy groceries on 9th and Congress in Austin around 1900. Your great something uncle was John Nance Garner. Another somebody was the mayor of Uvalde. There were also pioneer ancestors in Weatherford and Burnet, Texas.

I spent a lot of my growing up time visiting the dairy farm in Weatherford that my dad, your Granddad grew up on with three older sisters. Your granny, my mom grew up in San Antonio, Alamo Heights, Kind of a hoity toity hood. She was pretty much an only child, her older brother being much older and going off and being a fighter pilot hero. Her mom and dad, Ditty and Bo, were a socialite and military lawyer.

I was born in Nashville when Granddad was there selling bibles. He was also a preacher and youth minister, he also worked with the YMCA and sold real estate. He worked a lot, was gone a lot. Granny raised me and your Uncle James. She was also a teacher. We moved to San Antonio when I was two. At seven we moved into the house you know I grew up in with our tiny hand prints in the concrete.

Your grandparents met at Abilene Christian University. We went to Sunset Ridge Church of Christ a lot. Ditty was there when the church got started in a Red Cross building.

I went to church Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. Every event, every time. A lot of  Church. Church. Church. A really, really big deal in my young life… oh, and Young Life™, another churchy organization I did stuff with when I was in public school. We also worked a lot. Lots of value in work too. I’ve heard these priorities more than once:

  1. Work.
  2. Church.
  3. Family.

My parents gave themselves to work and church. I’ve always believed both pretty much digested them – got their best parts to nourish the machine while moving methodically towards its next consumption. It’s what machines do to survive.

My mom and dad simply failed at family.

I was ten when my dad packed a suitcase and just left. My brother went with him a few years later. I was raised primarily by Granny and Ditty and the church. I had a good childhood. The dysfunction got loud later.

I would hear from granddad a few times over the years. He would pop in and out and say things like ‘we should try to see each other every 2-3 years‘.  He still says that in my 40s. I still don’t know how to process it.

I grew up working hard on Granny’s farm, land that came from her parents (Ditty and Bo) back in the ’40’s. This was their retirement land. Granny loved her horses and this turned into her horseback and petting zoo business after working some shitty waitress jobs to keep us going after Granddad left. Working the farm taught me work ethic. I was up at 5am to feed horses every morning; hauled hay and filled the feed barn; collected horses off the road in the middle of the night and stayed up all night with them when it froze. I never really knew we were low income.

Around 12 years old, Granny married Ricky for a couple of years. He remains a father figure I enjoyed and admire. I learned fun from Ricky. He built fast cars, boats, and motorcycles and day jobbed in old school graphics. He drank a lot of beer. We went on trail rides often – we’d ride long distances all weekend with 200 or so other people, a sound truck, covered wagons, and dances every night. For a couple of years in February we’d ride for a week from Kerrville to the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo. Great times.

Ricky also turned me onto fast motorcycles, boats, and cars. I rarely rode horses after he bought me a screaming Suzuki RM80 dirtbike. I also got really good slalom waterskiing behind his  speed boat and really got into the waterskiing culture – trick, jump and slalom. I kept tabs on all the top competitors. Wakeboarding didn’t exist.

Uncle James went to live with Granddad because he and Ricky didn’t get along at all. Granddad got married to your Grandma Jeanne and they lived in Midland with Camie (her daughter) and an exchange student from Costa Rica, Ivannia. I’d go up there on weekends and spent a summer with them. I worked on a ranch and earned money to buy a slick water ski. That’s why you know all them.

Mom and Ricky got divorced near the same time dad and Jeanne divorced. I was 14. Uncle James was 18 and had already graduated High School. He moved on. I started my rebellion. My motorcycle gave me a lot of  freedom. I was all country sweet church boy – but by 16, I was a full on rebellious stoner. I abandoned church and started barely passing High School.

Granny somehow kept us together and going. She’s the strongest woman I know.

Between 14 and 16 with little income she somehow figured out how to get me on church retreats to snow skiing (K-Val style – no snowboards), Big Bend, camps and all that. One year we did a Wilderness Trek where 60 some odd church kids hiked up 14,082 foot Mt. Windom near Durango, CO. Whitewater rafting and a ride down the mountain on the narrow gauge railway. Still one of the best experiences of my life.

My youth minister from church, John Harp, remains the other man I admire most in my life. I carried his and Ricky’s business cards in my wallet for decades. He was far from a hipster despite this look.

I love and respect granny so much but started questioning her religion and dogma. I searched for my identity through long drives, motorcycles, rock-n-roll, and pot. I went to a lot of hard rock concerts. I experimented with harder drugs, no needles – stuff like acid, ecstasy, coke, and shrooms. Didn’t like any of it much.

I never could drink. Friends thought I was quite the partier, few knew that I’d carry the same beer or cup without refills all night. You’ve heard from old friends about the epic keg parties on Greg White’s land. It was very Dazed and Confused. The last one got me thrown in jail. Don’t go there, it sucks.

My senior High School government paper was on legalizing marijuana. I’m sure my debate was rigged. All the other kids went on debate with each other. I had to debate my government teacher who is now in the Texas senate or something. The arguments haven’t changed. I’m glad society is.

Mom called the cops on me one time when she found a pipe, rolling papers, a wind up toy, and shoe polish in my baja bug one day.  You figure out what she was thinking on the windup toy and shoe polish. The cop confirmed my bug smelled like pot and I got a short run with PDAP (some drug abuse program).

I graduated high school, barely.

I moved in and out of Granny and Ditty’s house and got my first apartment when I was seventeen. I worked a lot of lame jobs, did some cool roadie jobs, eventually moved in and out and back in with a girl, and a few years later got tired of being broke and started engineering college to University.

Then I met your mom.

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