A Little Altercation at a West Texas Honky Tonk
02/19/2009, 4:44 PM #
I never really knew my dad until he came back from the war. It was late in ’45 when he came home and I was still only three years old. His sisters and his mother often spoke of what a gentle soul he always was. My mother never knew that person, for the man who returned from the Pacific war was anything but gentle.
He had a hair trigger temper that often flared up for no apparent reason. Our lives were filled with turmoil, mostly because of his drinking but just as often by his erratic behavior. He had been wounded at Guadalcanal and spent some time in the hospital before going back on duty. I always believed that he was just plain nuts.
My dad was not a wife beater. He never beat my mother, but he was verbally abusive and shoved her around on occasion. Once when I was about fifteen, they were arguing and he grabbed her arm and was hurting her. I jumped up and grabbed his arm and punched him in the face. It did not affect him in the least and he hit me back, not in the face but right on top of my head. I went down and my mother went nuts. There was much yelling but he really felt bad about it and he told me so. It was the first time I ever stood up to him and it seemed to calm him down for a good while.
I never liked my dad, and I’m not sure if I ever loved him or not. When I left for the Navy, I told him if he didn’t start treating my mother right I was going to come back and kick his ass. He knew that the aging process would eventually bring about that possibility (I might have had to wait until he was 88, which would have occurred this month but I would have gotten it done) and I’m not sure if that was why he changed or not but, nevertheless, my mother’s letters told me that he was being a much better husband and had cut down on his drinking.
He died in a car wreck before I got back home.
There are few positive things I remember about my dad, but on occasion he did things that impressed me and made me proud of him. One such event took place in a West Texas Honky Tonk when I was about seven or eight years old.
My dad worked in the oil field, in those days first as a roughneck, then a driller, and finally he was promoted to tool-pusher, and we moved around quite a bit. One trip took us to some anonymous location in the vast Llano Estacado (that is cool talk for Permian Basin) and to a small café and bar. It was not uncommon in Texas for restaurants and bars to be in the same location. The restaurant seating was usually separate from the bar and dance floor.
We stopped for lunch and sat down at a table near the door, and ordered our food. My dad got up to go to the bathroom. No sooner had he left than a couple of drunks from the bar side came over to our table. Now, my mother was about twenty-seven or so, at the time, and was a good looking woman. One of the drunks asked her to dance. She said no, that she was with her husband and her son.
Now for someone who was not drunk, that might have been sufficient to make the men leave, but these two men were drunk, and I suspect of poor manners even when sober. My mother began to get nervous and asked them again to leave; they would not.
Inevitably, my dad came out of the bathroom and walked back to the table and found the two men standing there. “What do you want?” He asked the one standing closest to my mother’s chair.
“I asked this lady to dance,” the drunk said.
“And what did she tell you?” My dad replied.
“Well she said no….but.” WHAM…my dad hit him and he hit the floor. His friend made a move for my dad and he hit that man and he went down too, and stayed down. The first drunk was back on his feet and he and my dad started trading punches, and the drunk was not enjoying it.
My dad knocked him through the screen door that led outside to the café parking lot. The man crawled under a car, and my dad was kicking at him under the car. The drunk bit into my dad’s leg and wouldn’t let go so my dad dragged him out from under the car with his teeth still clamped on to his leg, and was pounding him when the cops arrived and broke it up.
I never left my seat at the table, heeding my mother’s admonition to stay put, before she went outside to help my dad should he need it. As it turned out, he did not. The cops arrested the two drunks but let my dad go because of your little boy, they told him. This was an unusual move for Texas cops who, in those days, usually either arrested or beat up anyone involved in an altercation, no matter what.
We finished our lunch and then got back on the road.