You were the first Catholic I ever knew, up close. You played Little League baseball for the Braves. I played for the Whitelake Dairy Phils. I remember your wide batting stance, that level swing, the determination in your eyes. I remember you crossed yourself when you strode into the batter's box. Pissed me off. I was an angry Southern Baptist hellfire and brimstone player, and I had my own God to pray to. He expected me to strike you out, had indeed promised His help. You were a good hitter. I was a good pitcher. Sometimes you hit a homerun: sometimes I struck you out. My respect for you started back then.
We all played one kind of ball or another. You were a tackle on the district champion team of 1962. You played ball at Arlington State until troubles with your knees drove you from the field. We all loved the Dallas Cowboys and drove down to Waco to rent a motel room, drink beer, and watch the games when Dandy Don Meredith was king.
You were a gentle and fun-loving young man. You were muscled and tall and handsome and always wore a beautiful smile. You were the Eastern Hills Howdy king. I was an attendant in your court.
In November, the dreams of our Billy Sills good government classes were broken. You and I watched the dreadful news on the t.v. in the student center at Arlington State. Jack Kennedy, the formulator of our call to public service, had been murdered in Dallas. The clouds of war and regret were upon us.
We parked cars at Colonial Country Club on Sundays, and we ate all we could eat for 99 cents at Lavender’s cafeteria on East Lancaster. We drank cold beer and shot shuffleboard at Harrell's and Walt's Wonder Bar. We dressed up in sport coats and dined at Zuider Zee for two dollars.
I remember drinking beer with you and Larry and slipping into the trunk when we drove into the Twin drive-in. I remember that night listening to the Beatles on the car radio when I heard “I Wanna Hold Your Hand" for the very first time. The times were changing. Dr. King was marching on D.C. You were playing football at Arlington State. I moved down to Austin in '65. I graduated and married Carol Houser. We remained good friends during the sixties. I remember you and Larry and Paul and Bob Dillard coming to see me when I was teaching at Iowa State in 1970 when the Revolution seemed close at hand, and my marriage certain to fall apart. I remember the consolation of friends.
My next memories of you call out to me in photographs from the summer of 1983, the year of our twentieth high school reunion. I see you there on the shores of Lake Arlington with a wide grin, your hands tucked into front pockets standing posed with friends Bob Larmer, Bob Dillard, and Paul Tate. Dillard pensive. Tate styling. Larmer with arms crossed confident with a black moustache smile. Our final reunion as friends, and though we never parted ways, we drifted apart, found new women to marry and children of our own. Found new careers and new places to inhabit.
Twenty years later I was back in Fort Worth reading and performing poetry in Fort Worth. I needed the help of a good lawyer, so I gave Leo a call. A young Black performance poet named Sandman was in trouble with the law after a life on the streets of Poly. His momma was a sweetheart junkie who was in prison for shooting her sister over a crack cocaine drug deal gone bad. Sandman was a nineteen-year-old hustler who was also a fine poet who said he wanted to turn his life around. He said he'd do what it would take, and you agreed to take the case without any money changing hands.
By 2003, you had Republican tendencies, but that was all right with me. You were an intelligent and compassionate attorney. You cared deeply and faithfully helped the often hopeless people you served. Our John F. Kennedy promise to help create a better world never found a more loyal advocate than you.
We shared our last long conversation when Bob Dillard and I visited you in the Benbrook rehabilitation center. You were determined to live out your days with dignity, and you did so. We talked politics for the very last time. Of course, we mostly disagreed. You never quite knew or understood the poet in me, but I loved and admired your courage. I know now that you are finally free. I carried you with me to the inauguration of Barack Obama on Tuesday at noon, where I sent prayers to the seagulls fluttering in a cold sun full of hope for the same American promise you and I and all our 1963 friends somehow always believed in, and, somehow now, still do.
Kendall - 2006