No matter how much I wanted to pay tribute to my old friend, my mentor, coach, confidante, coworker, sounding board, and so very much more, I found that after hours of sitting in front of a blank computer screen, nothing but tears would come.
I, that person who normally cannot type fast enough to keep up with the stream of words flowing through my mind, quite simply could not string two rational words together about the loss of Gene Westmoreland. Instead, I finally decided to give up, remembering that last year for the first time in over 40 years, I had finally summoned my nerve, and walked once again in my old footprints, quite literally, back to the place where Gene and I first became friends, back when I was 15 years old.
I decided to go back and reread what I had written before taking that trip once again.
I took a camera and drove myself down to the old track, cinder they called it “back in the day,” that place where the ghosts of the past come sprinting up to meet me, that place where I spent so many of my teenage hours once upon a time, that place where Coach Gene Westmoreland did his best to shave another piece of a second off of my track time…AFTER Leta Andrews had already half killed me, I might add.
“Fredda, if you can just…Fredda, I think if you will just…” Gene had a new idea every day. I doubt that any of us had ever heard the term personal trainer back then, but I certainly had one in Gene Westmoreland. The man must have dreamed track strategies!
Of course, there’s not a lot left of the old football field today, but most of the track is still there, the track where we practiced in shirts and swimsuit bottoms because we were NOT going to have tan lines…We should have been killed, of course.
Maybe it is because for the past two years Gene has reminded me almost daily (with some very, very colorful language) that the time for my 200 meter (220 yard dash) on the wall at the high school is incorrect or maybe it’s old age, but for some reason it finally seemed like the time to go back to that place and confront the memories that I actually packed away long ago.
Sure enough, there I found Rhonda Lubke, Janet Brightman, and Laura Spruill waiting for me right there where we used to lose our lunch…if we were silly enough to eat, that is!
I even walked to what I believe was the exact spot where quite a bit of my blood mixed into the cinders on the old track on the day that I left out too slowly on the sprint relay, allowing Janet to run up on me.
When her spikes landed on my shoe, I went down hard, sliding on that old track. BUT…I never let go of the baton, and I slid in my own lane so I was able to rebound, and we still finished 2nd behind Ennis.
Today, I realize that the four of us pulled off quite a coup with that second place, but I can still hear my rant at myself as Leta did her best to clean me up after the race. “Of all the stupid, idiotic, ignorant….” I paced and beat myself up while Leta followed me with anticeptic and whatever she was using to mop me up. (I still sport those scars today.)
I don’t know if she remembers, but I can still see Leta’s wide eyes staring at me as I railed at myself! That fit of temper does not represent the maddest I have ever been at myself, but at that time in my life it certainly did. Ennis had been a thorn in our side, and Janet had run such a great 1st leg, which I assume I simply did not realize as she came toward me. I dropped the ball on the thing by misjudging her speed, and I was furious with myself. The only thing I can say in my defense is that I was a freshman, and you can bet it never happened again! LOL
Of course, there were many other old friends that I found out on that old track as well as those I cheered with over on the north side in front of the home bleachers. I couldn’t have grown up in the Davis household without being a football nut, and with my brother on the field, I was the Indians’ biggest fan, and I loved every moment of cheering for them.
I closed my eyes and for just a moment, I allowed myself to hear the roar of the crowd as Steve and Dan and Benny led the running game of the Indians’ offense, with Danny Armstrong at the helm. And oh my goodness, there were the West boys, Harry Dudley, Larry McDougal, Steve Adams, the rest of the Holland boys, the Cox brothers, the Strube boys, the Bill boys, the Edwards boys, the Riley boys, the Shaw boys, the Hicks boys, Matt Lopez, Lorenzo Suerez, Mike Mankin, and I should never have started this list obviously because it could go on and on….
And then, right there beside me on the sidelines barking orders were Fred West, Gene Westmoreland, Don Edwards, Billy Pope, James, Wilson, Houston Jolly, Bobby Hammer, Calvin Lee….and that list goes on and on as well…men who touched so very many lives on that old field…
I couldn’t relive many of those football memories because it was actually too painful. The old field can’t really be seen anymore, and I know that it won’t be long as time goes until no one will even know that once on that very spot all kinds of memories were made, records were set, and lives were changed. No, before too many years pass, no one will know.
As I turned to take my last walk down the front side of the track, I must admit that my almost sixty-year-old mind and feet were tempted…but no, as long as I never actually try it again, I can still break that 25 second mark on a good day…sooo…I strolled my way back to my vehicle, leaving those races in the past…where they belong.
Today, I did turn one last time because suddenly I could clearly hear those Indian fans who once cheered with me right there in that spot every single home game Friday night. It didn’t matter the weather or the kind of season we were having, I knew that H.R. Jefferies, Bill Clemons, Bill Parker, Grace and Eltos Dudley, Don Lacy, Mr. Brannan, and so many others were going to be in those old wooden bleachers, and they were going to make all of us feel like we were the most special teenagers on the face of the earth and because they made us feel that way, we were…at least for a little while on Friday night.
I’m not sure how many people understand just how important that is for young people, but I have never forgotten the lesson I learned from those wonderful Comanche Indian fans from Peanut Land. I only hope that one day I am able to pass the beauty of their gift on to someone else and that it will mean as much to another young person as it did to me.
I also will never forget the fact that Gene Westmoreland never quit standing by the side of the Davis/Jones family, no matter how rough the going was or how tough our challenges, I could always find Gene standing beside me with a hand on my shoulder when I needed him. However, this past year, it was Gene who wanted to do the remembering.
I was at my usual spot on the Indian sidelines in Breckenridge when I looked down to the far end zone, about 60 yards away and there was Gene, leaning over the gate. Even from that distance, I knew his eyes were not seeing the current action but were instead watching the Indians of the mid 1970s.
Knowing I had to, I turned and walked slowly toward our old coach. I had 60 yards to blink back the hot sting from behind my eyeballs.
“Oh…Fredda…” he drew it out. “Ninety-six yards, and no one even touched him,” he said quietly, still seeing my brother, Steve, as he flew down that green 1970s Buckaroo field.
“I remember too, Coach.” I whispered before turning back to my 21st century Comanche Indians and my photography job there on the sidelines.
I guess that is exactly why people like Rickey and I never minded that Gene Westmoreland could go a little crazy (okay totally crazy) in the heat of a game. We always understood that it was nothing but the heat of the moment talking and that when it was all over, when it was all said and done, Gene Westmoreland truly loved his kids. We can forgive a lot when we understand that, you know?
I can’t say that I became a writer of history because of Gene Westmoreland; however, I can very truthfully say that it was when I was a senior in high school in Gene Westmoreland’s Texas History class that I learned that I LOVED the subject of history. He was the first teacher I had ever had to present the subject as it should be presented, and I was hooked.
I immediately went from being a confirmed history hater to a history lover in that class, and how thankful I am that I had the good sense to tell Gene that recently!
Obviously, there is no way to roll almost 50 years into an article, and I suppose the moral to my ramble is the usual…don’t forget to send the flowers while there is someone here to receive them. So many of our worlds our a little lonelier tonight, aren’t they?