Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"
Is there anything better? Better than old friends, I mean. Herman Hesse once said, “The best thing in life is to meet old friends for the first time.” And that just about says it all, doesn’t it? We’ve all had the experience of meeting someone and after only a few minutes of brief conversation, seem to have known them our entire lives. Indeed, in some odd way, it seems we have known them even before.
Relationships with these people are characterized by what I call the “endless conversation.” We find ourselves talking to them about personal things in the first moments of our initial encounter, then we may not see them for months or years. Yet at our next meeting, the conversation picks up just where it left off long ago. Old friends…a most precious gift. I had lunch with one just the other day.
When I was twenty years old, my life might be best described as a mess. Just having been booted off the rodeo trail due to a distinct lack of ability, I had no skills, and no money. I found myself sitting in the Financial Aids Office at Texas A&M Commerce desperately rehearsing what I might say to convince some college dean to give me a loan to attend school. The receptionist said all the counselors were busy, and that I would have to come back tomorrow. I didn’t want to tell her that meant another night sleeping in my old truck. Then, I met an old friend for the first time.
Jerry Lytle came walking out of his office. “I have time to talk to you,” he said smiling. I noticed his office door said “Director,” and realized he didn’t have to take the time to talk to me, but he did. He was a clean cut, good looking, successful man - a far cry from the young cowboy in dirty jeans and boots sitting in his office, yet he extended his hand, and said, “I’m Jerry. Come on in and let’s talk.”
And in that stuttering voice that plagued me all my early days, I found myself telling him everything.
I told him about how my Daddy had died suddenly. About how my Momma had been destroyed with grief, and at the moment, couldn’t cope with life. I told him about all my F’s, about the below average I.Q., about an experience with my horse – how I couldn’t feed her, and how that had broken my heart. And finally, how I had learned that I needed to live a different life. I wanted to go to school, and this time, I would not fail. Yet, I had no money, and was living in my truck. And finally, that I needed a loan. Desperately.
During my wandering, stammering confession, he never said a word. He just listened. When I finished, he turned looking out the window. Suddenly, he rose from his chair, walked out of his office, and said to the secretary, “I’ll be gone for the rest of the day.” Realizing I had made a fool of myself, I stood, and through his door, I said, “Thank you for talking to me, I’ll be going…”“No,” he said. “You’re coming with me.”
We drove in his truck for a time without speaking. Then he turned off the highway down a blacktop lane. A few miles later we came to a farmhouse.He pulled in the driveway coasting to an easy stop, and just sat there for a time looking at the old place.
“This is an old house we use for storing hay,” he said. “The stove works, and it has running water. We can move the hay to Dad’s big barn. We have some land here. You can hunt. There are two ponds with fish in them. I would ask that on weekends, you help us work the cattle. I have a gas tank over there,” he said pointing. “And if you won’t steal me blind, you can fill up your truck once a week. That should be enough to get you to class.” And after a brief silence, he said, “I’ll start processing your loan tomorrow.”
It’s been thirty-five years ago now – thirty-five years, last month from that day. I can’t remember where I put my glasses just a few minutes ago, but I remember that day like yesterday. We did move the hay, and I lived in that old house for three years, living off that land, and eating catfish from those ponds. And even though I graduated and moved away, there’s still a piece of me in those woods, and in those ponds. And there are others there, too. Later, Jerry would do the same for another student. He became an ophthalmologist, and for another. He became a vet.
Years later, it’s ten o’clock
at night, and I’m sitting on a pier about four feet above
the Gulf of Mexico. An orange moon hangs above the water
close enough to hit with a rock. To my left, sits the head
of the Psychology Department at Texas A&M at Kingsville.
He was right. It did help. I taught school for twenty-five years. I laughed, cried, scolded, applauded, and encouraged others for years, because of what was done for me. And every day now at dusk after roping, I feed the horses, steers, dogs, and barn cats. I sweep out the barn, and prepare the feed for tomorrow. Then, I sit at the north end of my barn door, and their memories come - all those who helped me.
And I ask myself, “Have you paid