(Contact Info: larry at larryblakeley.com)
Important Note: You will need to click this icon to download the free needed to view most of the images on this Web site - just a couple of clicks and you're "good to go." For reasons why - go here.
A listing and access link to all:
song lyrics and mp3 audio files http://www.royblakeley.name/larry_blakeley/songs/ (all of which are a part of this Web site) can be accessed simply by selecting the "htm" file for the song you want;
quotations http://www.royblakeley.name/larry_blakeley/quotations.htm; and
essays written by Larry Blakeley http://www.royblakeley.name/larry_blakeley/articles/articles_larry_blakeley.htm,
all of which are used to tell the story in this Web site, can be accessed by going to each respective link set out above.
My son, Larry Blakeley http://www.royblakeley.name/larry_blakeley/larryblakeley_photos_jpeg.htm manages this Web site.
Major Roy James Blakeley (December 10, 1928 - July 22, 1965) - USAF (KIA)
When I was young my dad would say
Come on son let's go out and play
No matter how hard I try
No matter how many tears I cry
No matter how many years go by
I still can't say goodbye
- "I Still Can't Say Goodbye," Performer: Chet Atkins
MP3 audio file/lyrics http://www.royblakeley.name/larry_blakeley/songs/still_cant_say_goodbye.htm
For a larger image click on the photograph.
Those years at George Air Force Base, Victorville, California were both an ending and a beginning of a different life for me.
You see for this story to end with a happy ending required something from me - something that I had always taken for granted as just play.
What was it? I became a very strong swimmer.
I had become a very strong swimmer. If I wasn't at the picture show, riding bikes, skateboarding, or playing "king of the hill," I was at the community pool at George - swimming from the time the gates opened in the morning to the time they closed down for the day in the evening. I rode my bike to and fro this place. I was what you might call a "human dolphin" - and I did this day-in and day-out every single day of the summer months - those precious days of freedom from school - while not doing other things us boys would do in those sweet days of summer.
So, without any forewarning one fateful day this skill and endurance saved my life and the life of a neighbor friend, Robert Morgan (here is a photograph of Robert years later as a grown man standing with my youngest sister, Sharon http://www.royblakeley.name/larry_blakeley/articles/robert_morgan_sharon.djvu). I was about 12 years old then - and he was a year, or so younger than me.
Robert was the son of Bobby and Frances (Shipp) Morgan of Roby, Texas (here is a newspaper clipping of the announcement of their 50th wedding anniversery - Bobby is now deceased http://www.royblakeley.name/larry_blakeley/articles/bobby_frances_morgan.djvu). They lived not more than 200 yards up the hill from us, just 3 miles north of Roby on Highway 70 - at its crest before descending downhill to the Clearfork of the Brazos River - whereupon the highway proceeded on a rather flat course in a slight northwesterly direction to Rotan, Texas.
Robert and I used to play together nearly every day before each of us reached high school age. And, our play mostly consisted of riding horses - if I got my way about it - because that's all I wanted to do.
So, most times - we rode horses. And, we rode those horses of theirs everywhere that wasn't fenced off. The Morgan's owned possibly 320 acres of land, or so - 160 acres was plowed dirt and used for growing cotton. The rest of the acreage was uncultivated pasture land - pasture land that extended all the way to the Clear Fork of the Brazos River at the bottom of the hill. And, it had great terrain for riding horses. Up hills, down hills, through the bottom of dry ravines, and, on occasion we would cross a shallow part of the stream on to someone else's land (Lee Raspberry, I believe). Let me tell you something - we would have a blast with those horses - an experience that I will never forget, as long as my memory stays with me. It was nothing less than that.
Those days are where I learned to ride and fall off that "little fella" - dust myself off, and get right back on for another go at it - just as I have done henceforth every day of my life ever since.
Well, Robert's dad - Bobby Morgan, worked a full-time job at the Gypsum Plant at Sweetwater, so Robert's mother, Frances as well as his father who lived with them - suffered from some sort of heart condition that prevented him from heavy physical work. But, let me tell you - Bobby's wife - Frances - was "one of a kind." She was raised among the rough and ready boys, and young men on a ranch somewhere in the Rough Creek area of Scurry County, Texas. And, this upbringing showed on her. I truly believe in my heart even to this day that this woman could outwork any man tending the fruits that this great earth can support. She did it all. She mended fences, tended to cattle, hoed cotton, drove tractors - you name it - if it needed tending to then she could do it.
I personally have stood in amazement standing there watching this woman as a youth. I learned right then and there that this woman was living proof that a woman could, in fact, do a man's job, and, possibly, do it better. I have seen her (and, actually on many occasions her daughters, Aletha and Linda) put on their bonnets to protect them from the dangers of the midday sun, throw their hoes up on the tailgate of their Ford truck, pull out the files - file those hoes to a sharp edge for the day's work - and head out to hoe - up one double row of cotton, proceed to the other end, turn around, and come right back down the other side of the row. And, they would go at it all day long - breaking only for lunch and a water break.
This routine of theirs in the summer would begin as the sun was waking up for the day - until the sun was stretching itself alongside the opposite horizon, wanting to rest for the night - and, Francis is still going strong.
And, if the livestock needed tending to after all this? Well, she would just turn on the lights at the corral, load hay in the bins for the cattle, run water into the basins, and then trudge back up the hill in the darkness between the corral and the house, amongst those mesquite trees and cactus, in her boots, overalls, and gloves - with her hoe thrown over her shoulder - and cook dinner.
She is without question one of the most amazing women that I have ever known. And, even today when I hear a woman and a man complain about hard work - I think of this woman. And, anyone that knows this woman knows that I am writing the truth about this woman.
And, the most interesting contrast of character to me about this woman is that although she was rough - her hands were rough, her life was rough - in reality she was a soft, sweet, kind soul at heart. If there was an emergency with a neighbor - she was there. She was nothing short of amazing and a testament to what a person can do - don't complain - just roll up your sleeves and do what needs to be done!
I will never forget an incident that happened one day over at her house. One day, after Robert and I have been riding out in the pasture close to the river - probably riding through terrain we weren't supposed to - possibly, those sunflower plants that were always fun to ride in. And, going up and down the rolling terrain of the pasture land - never being able to see what was up ahead in the trail - was heaven for us boys of activity.
Why were they fun to ride through? Because they reached up - high to the sky searching for every bit of sunlight they could muster. And, they would grow taller than a man sitting on top of a horse.
But on this particular day, somehow during our horse back riding we had become infested with "some sort of rash" under our trousers; and we told her so as we entered her home.
And, right there - right then - this woman taught me who was "in charge of this here outfit." She listened to our stories about our rashes and right then and there - without a flinch whatsoever in her eyes - told us both to "drop your drawers!" Just like that - no flinching, no beating around the bush - just "drop them" - right there in the middle of the room. Well - I looked at her - and saw what I just described, then looked over at Robert - who was already getting to it - dropping his drawers, just like she told him to do - no questions asked. But, as for me I had a few questions - so I turned my eyes back around to her - and, right there I saw the captain of the ship - and, maybe hesitated for a second, or so, and proceeded to unbuckle my belt, and get to dropping my drawers just like she said. Not that I had anything to hide from her that she hadn't already seen. But, I looked at those rough hands and back up to that sun-weathered face - what I saw was a vivid picture in my tender, young mind - a woman that didn't really care what I had in there - "you had better drop your drawers" - so as I said, I did.
But, she let her guard down one day and I never will forget that fateful near-mistake of hers. Why? Because I was there - I was one of the main characters of the near tragedy in her life - a tragedy that to this day I never told her about.
Well, this one hot summer day we talked my mother into taking us to a lake to swim. She agreed and off we went to Lake Stamford - nothing more than a grossly oversized stock tank - quite ugly with dirty, dark water shrouded by landscape that was predominately barren of vegetation and trees. Why we went there I have no idea; but, that's where we went - my mother; my two sisters, Karen and Sharon; me; and Robert.
But, there was an obstacle in the way before Robert was allowed to go - that woman that I mentioned above - the one that told us to "drop our drawers." She was up there on top of the hill - and, she called the shots.
And, she never let Robert run-off far from her sight. Why? I never rightly knew, but we just accepted it and certainly did what she told us to do (and not to do) - most of the time.
In fact - she never let Robert and I ride the horses with saddles. Why? Because she was raised on a cattle ranch - her family was honest-to-God, real-life, ranch-hand cowboys that worked livestock owned by others for a living. She knew the dangers of these "little fellas." And, that is the reason I fell off so many times. But, my foot never got caught in those stirrups - to be drug to death by a frightened horse - and, never would be, as long as I was riding on her horses on her property. No siree - this woman knew the dangers of this pesky, shy, unpredictable "little fella" - the horse - a friend to man on a mission of work (or, even war), but just as unpredictable as the West Texas weather. There is a reason this "little fella" has survived since the days of the dinosaur - he is shy by nature for a reason - to survive. And, when he gets scared - he runs.
So, anyway - as I was saying - she was going to be the problem here and that called for talking my mother into talking Francis into letting Robert come along with us.
Francis relented, hesitantly - and off we went.
Nothing out of the ordinary happened that day until it was time to pack everything up and return home. The wind had gotten up and since there was no trees to block the wind the water became fairly active. As it so happened, one of my sisters accidently let go of her inner tube - to be carried back out into that dirty, ugly body of water we were trying to leave from.
Well, instantly, Robert took off swimming after it - and I headed right behind him. No matter how close he got to that inner tube - it just seemed to always be just a few inches short of Robert being able to grasp hold off that safe haven of nothing more than a discarded inner tube inflated with nothing more than compressed air.
When Robert reached the end of his endurance it happened all at once. And, he sank into that dirty, dark body of water that had suddenly become a place of destruction. And, I saw his head bob back up to the surface a couple of times before I reached him.
And, what laid in store for me was a surprise I will never forget. He was frightened - just like a horse that had become spooked and was out of his head with fear - to be replaced with the involuntary instinct of survival.
And, when I did reach Robert - I had a quick lesson in what not to do in this situation. You see, I had never taken a life-saving course - and it showed because I entered his zone of reach - and reach he did. He reached out and grabbed me - and, we both went down - down under - down into the belly of that dirty, dark churning water. And, right there - for the first time in my young life - I knew that I was going to die in someone else's arms - Robert's.
Well, I suppose someone wasn't ready for me to go to my "greater reward" on this day - no not just yet - for somehow in this tangled web of fear that had merged two bodies together as one in a medium that was to be our grave - I broke free from him, came back up to the top of the water - gasping for that precious air that I had previously taken for granted. And, up he came, too - several feet away from me.
I can't really tell you how I was able to calm him down, but somehow I did. And, I assured him that I wasn't leaving there without him.
So, when it seemed safe to approach him, again I had already figured out that I had better do it from the backside - so that's what I did. I swam around and put my hands around the sides of his chest and swam as best I could against the wind and the water it was bringing with it.
I would like to say that it was a clean swim and neither of us went back under - but, we did go back under - several times - and, each time I would assure Robert of my promise to him - that I meant what I said, "I'm not leaving you, here." And, that's how we proceeded back to the shore - close enough for my crying Mother and sisters to reach out and grab us both - and, bring us back to home sweet home - good ole "Mother Earth."
On the quiet trip back home, Robert pleaded with my mother, "please don't tell my mother, Mrs. Blakeley" - and she didn't - nobody did.
And, to this day - as far as I know - nobody has ever told her about what happened "the day she let her guard down."
So, what was the effect on me of this near death experience?
Several things - all of which have been good for me, and yet bad for me.
To this day, I have always gone with me heart and my mind on issues of judgement. If these organs of mine are telling me one thing and someone is telling me another - I go with my gut feelings.
And, because of this I don't budge and this is perceived by many as being hard-nosed and uncompromising. But, this experience in life made an impression on me. A moment in time that defined me as a person - a person that " takes the road not taken;" regardless of whom is trying to persuade me otherwise; a person that will "not leave you, here."
And, yes, this personal approach to life's decision making has had some major influence on me (as has my familial upbringing) when it has come time to choose a path to take in my life - I can personally recount several childhood friends of mine that are either dead, or in prison - possibly because they never learned the lesson that I learned that day.
And, by all means - take a "life-saving course." I did.
And, I use these other life-saving skills that I learned that fateful day even today in my personal life - as an adult - when faced with difficult decisions to make that might not be popular with others - even my family.
- "The Day She Let Her Guard Down," Larry Blakeley, November 16, 2004