Think life’s too hard, a little unfair? It’s easy to be a “good person,” to do the “right thing,” when all is going well, but the real test of what a person is made of comes after life kicks him in the teeth…maybe more than once.
Taco Bill…if you live in the little town of Comanche, Texas, you know him. Everyone does. It may be that you know him as the dad of Heather and Blake, or maybe you remember him from once upon a time at the old South Park Grocery. Taco has probably grilled many of you a brisket or two from his BBQ catering business, and the rest of you know him from his present employment at Comanche ISD.
When I decided that I wanted to write his story, I started walking myself back through the years to the time that I first knew Taco Bill. What I found was that I could not get back to that point because I do not remember a time that I did not know the boy and then man that Comanche knows simply as Taco. We’ve simply known each other “always.”
And yet, I have to tell you, I’ve come to learn that I didn’t know anything at all about my old friend, not at all.
Alfonso Bill was born in Kerrville, Texas to Carmen and Esperanza Calderon Bill.
“Back then, my dad and Joe Moreno’s Daddy and Tommy Hernandez’s Daddy all worked together in Wyoming where they sheered sheep. My mom stayed home with us while they would be gone for three to four months at a time.
“Mom finally told my dad that was it, and he began working various jobs in Kerrville. My brother and a friend got a job working on the Jake Click Ranch, and we eventually moved there too. My dad started shearing goats around the area, and we also picked up pecans.
“We kids went to school in Morgan Mill. I started first grade there, and Roland, Johnny, Janie, and Rachel went to school there through the 8th grade. Then, the bus carried them to Stephenville High School. We left there when I in second grade, and we came to Comanche in the middle of my second grade year, and my dad and Jesse worked for Gold Kist. Before we left Morgan Mill, my mom lost a baby girl named Maria. She is buried there.”
It was when Alfonso was in the third grade in 1966 that his mom decided that she wanted to go with the ladies of her congregation to a retreat that was being held in Brady. The other ladies went on Friday, but Mrs. Bill did not have anyone to take care of the children since her husband had to work on Saturday so she stayed in Comanche until Saturday evening when her son Jesse could take her to Brady. The plan was that she would ride back with one of the other ladies on Sunday.
“Mom and Jesse came around a curve, and a drunk driver was coming around the same curve on the wrong side of the road. My mom was ejected through the windshield, and she died upon impact. My brother was trapped inside the car with an injury to his heart that doctors could not find once he was in the hospital.
“The other couple died instantly. Their child only had a cut to the knee and lived. Jesse lived for eight hours. They gave him pint after pint of blood, but technology wasn’t what it is today, and he bled to death from a small pin-size hole in heart that no one could find and technology could not detect.”
And there they were. Ironically enough, the Bill family lived where today live my son and his family, just off of CR 216 when the word came.
“We were all in the house playing Bingo and watching television. Johnny and Roland had gone with friends to the movie, and we younger ones were being entertained by dad. I remember that Jake Click came to the house, and he was crying. He asked to see Dad.
“Jake’s wife stayed with us while Dad went to get the older kids. We didn’t quite understand, but we knew that dead meant you weren’t coming back,” he whispered as the old memories began to stream down his cheeks even this many years later.
“Dad came back and talked to us and then the family started pouring in. The principal and superintendent of Morgan Mill came. When they heard, everyone started coming, including my teachers from both Morgan Mill and Comanche.
“Mom was expecting when she died; Jesse was getting ready to follow the older boys into the military. Ray went to the army, Carmen, Jr. to the marines, and Roland to the navy.”
And then, Alfonso, who had not been dubbed Taco yet, choked again.
“Dad could have left anytime. A lot of men would have, but he didn’t. He stayed and he taught us how to take care of ourselves, how to work, how to take care of each other, and we made it…we made it.”
“So how did you make it work? With Olivia, Johnny, Janie, Rachel, Alfonso, Debra, Joe, and Eddie still at home…”
“My dad sat us down and said that we had to do certain things, that things were going to have to change, and that we had to help each other. He told us that we were a family and that we had to bond together and stick together. We did, and we survived.
“Dad taught us how to sew. We had a sewing machine, and we used it. By the time I was nine, I could cook and do laundry. Dad would get up and cook our breakfast. He was ahead of the time because he made the breakfast tacos that everyone wants today. I would trade mine with friends, and that’s how I got the name Taco. I think it was Brad Biggs and Bubba Strube who gave me that name,” he remembered.
“Dad kept working for Gold Kist, where Victor Scott, Mark Scott’s Dad, was the manager. While dad was working, we had to keep it together, and we’d have supper cooked when he got home. We finally got the life insurance money, and with that we bought a house on the lake road. Jackie Feist had built some frame houses there, and we bought one of those right by Hollis Rogers’ house.
“That was our first experience with prejudice back then. Not everyone wanted Mexicans living near them. It was new to me because my friends were all white, and they had never looked at me as being Mexican.
“We lived there until we all grew up, and Dad lived there until he passed away.”
Taco has told me so many times about the respect he feels for teachers and coaches. Today, he told me why.
“My teachers got me through. I remember elementary Christmas parties. All the moms came to be with their kids and brought cupcakes. They’d be opening their gifts, and I’d be in a corner. I remember the teachers who hugged me and ate cupcakes with me. On Easter egg hunts everyone else had a mom, and I didn’t, but my teachers didn’t let me be alone.
“And then there were the coaches. I was one of those kids who could have taken a bad route, but they got me through, coaches like Westmoreland, Hammer, West, and Edwards were super and did so much for me.
“I worked for every single thing I ever had, including the clothes I wore. At that time, Wallace Gibson was the manager of Higginbothams. He took me in and set up a credit line for me, and Myrle Deisher would help me pick out what I needed and wanted. I could keep my credit good by paying $20.00 a week.
“When I needed a car, Reg Waggoner at the Comanche National Bank loaned me the money for the car, and then he called Goodson Insurance and got the insurance for me!
“In 1976, Dad had open heart surgery, and the doctor didn’t guarantee anything. He had the surgery, and doctor came in and told us to call everyone in since he wasn’t sure Dad was going to live, that he didn’t think it was going to work.
“On third day, Dad stood up and said, “’He don’t know what the hell he’s talking about. I just can’t hardly breathe cause of these staples.’”
Mr. Bill was given two months to live…he lived ten years. He went back to work at Gold Kist and retired from there.
“The doctor said best thing Dad could do was not drink, watch his diet, and go dancing so we told him to find a dance partner and have fun. He lived until we were all grown.”
Obviously, Taco’s story is an emotional one, the scars still capable of breaking open and bleeding so we stopped often just to take a breath and bring ourselves back into the present. And yet, amazingly enough, Alfonso Taco Bill knows that he is the man he is today because of the trials the boy went through once upon a time.
“What I’ve been through even grown kids today wouldn’t understand. Kids are so spoiled today, but there is so much out there for them today like the cell phone that none of us had. I wouldn’t change that for the world. I thank God every day for what I have. I don’t have a million dollars and I never have, but I have the greatest wife and the greatest kids anyone could have.”
So what would he hope we learn from his story?
“Believe in yourself and never give up. Do the right things and the smart things, and don’t discriminate. Help each other, and don’t ever turn your back on anyone because when the end comes, we will all be buried 6 feet under. We are born with nothing and will leave with nothing. The only thing that will count is what we did here on this earth.”