Tuesday, June 21, 2022

A Father to Remember



An Excerpt From the book “The Life and Times of the Pool Hall Kid” (yet to be published.)


       After Christmas and after New Years Eve, my dad would always schedule a snooker league in our pool hall that would last two months, into mid-March. He had the first one in the winter of 1959. Anyone could enter it, the cost was 10 bucks and the loser of any game paid 20 cents for that game.  Each man would play everyone else five games, and one game when played correctly with each player doting on what his next shot should be, took about 30 minutes, sometimes more. It was just like major league baseball.  The top four men in total wins would play each other in mid-March for first and second place and it packed the pool hall from January thru March. There was a lot of interest. 

       Games were played according to schedule on the front three tables, from 6 to 9 on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday nights. If bad weather or sickness caused a scheduled match to be canceled, they could be rescheduled at any time, but everyone involved wanted to play according to the schedule because they liked having big crowds watching them play. 

       The first year, when I was only about 11, there were probably only a dozen players but by the time I was 14, a night had to be added because we had about two dozen players, including me and another teen-ager, Bobby Goodman.   Bobby and I were fierce competitors, and we were very good snooker players for our age but neither of us ever won more league games as we lost.  If you ended up with 24 players, then each man, over the course of those two months, played more than 100 games.  It brought in lots of spectators, and all the front bench regulars, most of whom never played much. Each year we had to get about 3 or 4 extra benches, and the place was packed. It was also heavy with cigar and cigarette smoke, and for the tobacco chewers there were a dozen big square, metal buckets half-filled with sawdust serving as spittoons. 

        That first year that Bobby and I were entered, we had some of the best snooker players in the whole Ozarks.     The top tier were Jimmy Longwell, Gerald Jeffries, Garnett Sliger, Junior Blair, Shorty Evans, Sherrill Campbell, Gurnell Kinserlow, Blackie Sherril, Wade  Dykes, Jack Fogg and of course my dad.  The out of town guys, I didn’t know but they were good too, really good.  Those playoffs, involving the top four men, played in March, were something to see.

       The last of the leagues took place when I was 16 years old, a month or so before Dad sold the pool hall in the spring.  By that time, Bobby and I were really getting good.  The two of us likely were amongst the top 8 or 10 players in the league that last year.  But truthfully, my dad was perhaps the best in town.  He was modest about it.  One night as we closed up the place, brushing the tables and covering them, emptying spittoons and sweeping the floors, we talked about games between him and Garnett Sliger.  I was disappointed that night because of course I wanted Dad to win.  A lot of times he didn’t. I couldn’t understand why.

       “Always remember something,” he told me… “I am good because I get to play free all the time and when this place is empty I can concentrate on improving by playing for a long time and never paying a cent. The other men who are so good at this game have to pay when they play.  They have that disadvantage… none get to practice as often as I do.”

       I thought about what he said on the way home.  “Don’t you try to win?”  I asked.

 “Of course I do,” he said, “They’d all know if I didn’t do my best, and I might get to be in that final four, but I can’t win it The trophies can’t go to me. It just ain’t right.  I learned when I was about your age that a real man is a humble man. The Lord has said something about the pride He has in men who are meek.  There are times when you can be proud to just do your best and lose.  When you win, say little about it. A braggart and boaster is looked upon with skepticism.  Be proud of who you are and what you can do, but keep that pride inside yourself and if others should know, they will see that, you don’t have to tell them.”

       Dad is gone now, but in my office there are a dozen old trophies collected in pool and snooker tournaments from various small town pool halls like those in Cabool and Mt. Grove and Licking.  But there are none from Houston.  His biggest accomplishments were not trophies, but the three kid he raised, and eight grandkids who never got into any trouble, and never dishonored him.  None of us ever knew a greater man.

        As for me, I was never good enough at anything to brag about it; maybe in high school I was the worst athlete, and the worst scholar there.  I was a heck of a boat paddler but there aren’t any sports halls of fame that include boat paddling.  I try not to brag when I write about the outdoors and my exploits therein. But I am tempted, and sometimes give in.  Truthfully compared to my dad and his father and brothers, I am something of a disappoint when it comes to fishing and hunting and shooting, and yes, even johnboat paddling, which is my strong point.  When I was 15, I got a great pocketknife for Christmas. One of my cousins looked at mine and showed me the one he got.  “This one is better,” he said.  

       I started to tell him his wasn’t half as good as mine and then I looked at my dad, smoking his pipe as he watched me… wondering what I was going to say, and I remembered what he told me that night at the pool hall, and continued to try to teach me as we fished and hunted together for almost sixty years..

So I agreed with my cousin, “Boy that really is a pretty one,” I said, despite what I was thinking.  And Dad smiled.

Because of him, you readers don’t know about the biggest buck I killed.  You don’t know about my biggest bass or catfish or walleye, nor how many gobblers I have bagged.  And there was a fellow not long ago that went to Canada and bragged about how he and a friend caught a hundred smallmouth bass a day.  I wanted to tell him about several dozen trips I have taken to three provinces in Canada and the fish I had caught on this trip or that one.  But I didn’t.  I just said, “Boy I sure would have liked to have been with you!”  And I knew right then that Dad would have been proud of me if he could have been there listening.  Who knows, maybe he was.

dad with river mallards
me with pet cat and dad with pet hound

dad and I with river mallards

dad with first car

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