It don’t take long to get this darn old
A life well lived with few regrets
Telling my life’s story in detail would take volumes. I’ve been extremely fortunate to witness many events and meet great personalities. I have found interesting people from both sides of the track, each a special story. Luck has been with me every step I’ve taken, bringing me to events, in the right place at the right time. My eyes and ears have seen and heard more then most. My exploits, good and bad wrapped together, have made for a colorful life.
It’s uncanny really how so much has come Down Life’s Highway.
I’ve known so much happiness. Daily I sip from the cup of joy. Memory is one gift of God; I live in memory’s garden and I smell the roses. Those things hopefully only death will destroy. I pray that in some way I’ve made memories that will live in others along the way. Remembering the past of the road I’ve traveled will have to be condensed, so the overall picture will be lacking detail and most of the characters in the cast.
Why am I doing this piece? It’s a milestone for me. Many years ago I wished to live to see the century change, till the year 2000 rolled around. Sounds simple enough but in my youth the life expectancy was slightly over 50 years or so. At the time, it looked like a stretch.
Many years ago, I asked God if He would agree to let me live in good health until I was 75 years old, I’d be ready to catch the big bus. I even said I’d sign a contract. I’m not trying to back out, just hoping He didn’t take me up on the offer because you see, come Friday, I’ll reach that long-ago goal. I’ve had so many blessings that it might be a little greedy to ask for more but I sure would be thankful if the bus passed me by.
My thoughts often turn to all the great people I’ve known who have gone to that mansion in the sky. Salt of the earth folks I’ve crossed paths with, the common and uncommon, each played a part of my life’s story. Every day I walk with the living, great friends, just a call away. Loyal people to the core; I couldn’t ask for more wonderful people who never let me walk alone.
I was born that summer day in 1934 and raised in Cajun country by a single mom. We were very, very poor. The chicken in every pot that President Hubert Hoover had promised never made it to our shack. Those years became extra hard as we toiled in those old cotton fields. Cow milking and farm chores I gladly left behind. I’ve been asked what surprised me most in this long life. First it has to be how fast it has gone by. The early days and years drug by but time has flown the last 30 years. I don’t know where it has gone.
The most surprising event was the election of a Black man as president of the United States. You see, I came from a culture where Blacks, adults and children alike, referred to me as “Mr. Roy” even when I was just a boy. Impossible in my youth to ever envision it. Landing on the moon was childhood science fiction. We transported goods from the field in mule drawn wagons. My first auto was a 1932 Ford V-8 Coupe I bought from my boarding house roommate Harry Wadell. It was the first wheels my family ever owned. Landing on the moon unbelievable.
The one that knocks my socks off is same-sex marriage. I recall as a youngster only one boy they said was queer. I never heard the word homosexual and the “Gay” word meant something completely different. There is no way I could have ever imagined it. I have no opinion either way. I never comment on anything I don’t understand but gay is commonplace today. Even the show “As the World Turns” that was straight for 50 years, now has Noah and Luke. The “Guiding Light” has Olivia and Natalia and television daily has Ellen, a woman married to a beautiful gal. How could anyone of my generation imagine that when we were all youngsters?
I came from a party line phone and an operator asking, “Number please?” She could tell you if the Thibodeauxs were home or away. Our first phone number, when I was 17 years old and earned the funds to pay for it, was No. 408, later Twin Oaks 31408. Today I live in a world of cell phones in everyone’s pocket, a fax machine that sends messages, not at all like Western Union, and the Internet that reaches every part of the globe. We could never have imagined any of that.
Steam engine trains were so much a part of my youth, and I’m glad I didn’t miss those times with the smoke rising over the horizon. That engineer blew that whistle as he came around the bend. I’d wave and he’d give an extra toot. Hobos traveled the rails. I liked hanging out with them.
I met Elvis at Joe Hammond’s Round Up Club in Gladewater. Later when he became a star he gave me his phone number while we were at my friend Bert Wheeler’s place. Regrettable, I never cultivated the friendship. I got to know Willie Nelson at the Hill Top before he became a big star. In the early 1960s, Willie wrote, “Hello Walls” recorded by Faron Young. That got him a recording contract. He recorded “Touch Me” that became a hit and the rest is history. Willie got Johnny Bush a job in Ray Price’s band. Willie formed a band called “The Record Men” and made friend Johnny front man. Bush couldn’t get a contract so Willie took money out of his own pocket and put out a song. Johnny wrote and recorded “Sounds of a Heartache” which started his career. Willie and friends played on the album. One song written by Willie, “You Ought to Hear Me Cry,” turned out to be a hit. Johnny went on to be big and made a lot of money on a song he wrote, “Whiskey River.” I recall sitting around the table with Willie, Johnny, Paul English and the boys like it was yesterday. The night before Johnny Harden got killed near Rockdale, George Jones and the entire touring group stayed at my place on the Brazos River playing music and getting drunk till daylight. Years later I bailed George out of jail after a wreck in Vidor.
Great times were spent with Bob Hope, Bum, Jimmy Dean and other stars who were performing at the Bob Hope telethon to raise money for Hughen School. A kick was to hear Hope repeat one of my jokes on the Johnny Carson Show. Those wonderful times were compliments of my friend, the late W.T. Oliver. I’ve never quit missing him.
One of the best nights I’ve spent was with Lefty Frizzel, one of my favorite artists as a boy. He was interesting guy, a great one too. He gave me an album autographed “To My Friend Roy.” He died shortly afterward.
When I met vice president LBJ in his Washington office to seek a favor I needed, he greeted Joe Runnels, who accompanied me, and I with friendly profanity. There is a story there, maybe a book yet to be written. By the way, Billie Sol Estes was there at the same time. I later visited with John Connally when he ran for governor. A gentleman’s gentleman, smooth as silk.
One of the greatest visits I’ve had was about an hour spent alone with Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart. Such a pleasant, humble man. While drinking coffee he gave me a tip that has been priceless. He also invited me to Bentonville, Ark., to visit his corporate headquarters. He was out of town when I went through that part of Arkansas so I missed him. I’ve always regretted that.
There are so many more happenings I could relate. I once put in a liquor store in Brazos County in a cemetery, the first location, when the county was voted wet. One of my most successful undertakings however was the Opportunity Valley News. It was phenomenal. I never planned or expected to be a newspaperman, yet I’ve invested nearly 40 years to it. The Record Newspapers, another undertaking, are thankfully also popular weekly community newspapers. It’s true. It’s really true – almost everyone reads them.
It’s a long column for just a thumbnail sketch but it’s been a long blessed life. Many stories remain to be told. I could tell a whole story about being present in 1959 and being a part of the invention of “Texas Hold’em,” popular wherever poker is played. Only two, Jessie and I, remain who were there. It’s a national story that should be told but time is running out.
Dec. 31, 1954, was the luckiest day of my life. That’s when Phyl became my wife. We produced three children and I am grateful we have been able to take this journey together. I have a lot of living yet to do and many stories to tell but if not, it’s been great. How am I doing? “Not bad for an old guy.”