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Smoke School Stories
The Waffle House Baby and the World Famous Man
The other day Heather and I were headed down Walnut Street to the Washington Indiana version of Wal-Mart. Heather made 13 years old this year. She says, "Daddy you are a very famous man- world famous."
I turn down Hank Williams Junior on the CD player and say, "What."
"You’re world Famous."
"I answer phone calls from all over America." Heather has been working in the office this summer, helping with the paperwork and answering the phone when you call about smoke school.
"Daddy," she says, "If you are so dogone famous, then why ain’t we rich?"
I just turned up the volume on old Hank and kept driving. But she got me thinkin.
Sometimes I talk to God—especially when I need something. Sometimes he talks back to me. Sometimes it ain’t exactly what I want to hear. Once when I said God speaks to me- I got accused of being nuts. They said I heard voices. They said I was a fairly dangerous man. My grandmother, Roe, used to dress me up and drag me to a Southern Baptist Church for Vacation Bible School ever-day back when I was a young buck. I read them Bible Stories of how God spoke to David, then David smacked old Goliath right in the head with a slingshot. I have owned a slingshot or two.
I read about Moses, and God talking to Moses high up there on Mount Nebo. Moses came back down that mountain with a slab of ready-mixed concrete with the Ten Commandments. Thou shalt not steal, honor yo’ momma and your daddy. Do unto others like you would love for them to do unto you. An important lesson we all need to remember says forgive me as I forgive others. It is right there in the Bible. You can read it. I think it is First Parenthesis or something. You have to forgive people. You forgive others, God will forgive you. It makes common horse sense too. You can't walk around life with a grudge in your pocket. It will make you go plum crazy. God is in the business of forgiving. All you have to do is ask. Ask and it shall be given. Forgive me for what I did today and what I might do tomorrow. We ain't perfect, we are just forgiven. Forgiveness sure feels good.
I remember back when my Daddy forgave me for hitting a tree with his prized 57 Chevrolet--- About 300 times. Trees, curves, road signs, and other cars were in Danger When 15-year-old Uncle George Whitlow hit the road. That would have been about about 1967. If I ran into your car at a Louisiana Tech Baseball Game, then please forgive me. Knocked the taillight right off that 1961 Chevrolet station wagon. I panicked. Looked up and down the gravel road in front of the ballpark. Nobody was looking at me- so I just took off throwing gravel and dust down the road. I think they call that a hit and run. I told Daddy that I ran into a tree. "Hum," He said, "A tree with Blue paint?"
Twenty years later my cop daddy, informed me that in 1967 he had received a call from the Lincoln Parish Sheriff, a friend of his. Daddy said that he paid to repair that taillight. He said he was just so mad at me, that he just forgave me and forgot about it. He never told me the truth for twenty years until he could cool off.
Then there was a time when we were deer hunting and I ignored that hand painted sign "Watch it Buster- Curve." I straightened out that big "S" curve, went on a fast journey though the woods. Took out about 15 small trees, the new headlight, both passenger doors. And ended up back in the road- never slowed down either. Bill Beasley and Joe Talley were laying on the floor with the double barrel shotguns, praying when I hit the loose gravel again. Joe said his whole life passed before him and he figured he never would see his momma again. That was a close Burma Shave.
Well, when Roe took me to Bible School, I was just a barefoot kid, about knee-high to a grasshopper. I figured if God spoke to Moses 2000 years ago, that he ought to be able to talk now. And that he ought to be able to talk to me, if I would just shut up, be still, and listen. Ever once in a while, I think that maybe it is possible that he does speak to me. I am not 100% positive, but it sure does feel good to think we are not alone on this earth and that God can reach out and touch us sometimes. That he can say, "It’s ok son- I know you are trying. I love you."
Nearly all my life, I have been working for the government. Air Force – 13 years, State of Louisiana LDEQ -17 years. I wasn’t really happy. I just did not know how to do anything else. Well- I had tried farming, carpenter work, electrician helper. I have laid fiberglass insulation in an attic at 117 degrees on a hot muggy Louisiana dog days of August. My skin still itches and burns from that fiberglass. Pour some alcohol on it.
I kept inventing things to do for the state, smoke school, inspections, and maintenance on our air monitoring sites. I also ran a few air quality-monitoring sites. I had one that was just a few miles west of our blueberry farm. And, if I timed it just right. I could be in the woods on my deer stand as soon as I got off at 4 PM. Pager and radio in my pocket. The cold steel of a 30-06 in my hands. I wonder what the statute of limitations are on driving a state truck deer hunting. I was scared I was going to get caught one of these days. That is one reason why I wanted to take that early retirement. I wanted to own some kind of a business. Fishing guide, hunting guide, lawn mower. I wanted to work for myself. I guess I wouldn’t mind being rich and famous.
A couple months before 9- 11 the day that changed America forever, I got an email from a fellow in Texas and an email from my oldest Daughter, Erin, whom had been lost to me for 10 long years. It was just after the governor had released his plan for early retirement for state employees. The email form Texas asked me if I wanted to bid on a contract to conduct smoke school for some 2,000 people at $200 each every six months. Hay, I loved smoke school and I had been doing it for fun for 17 years.
Catherine and I had a friend, Charles, who was an accountant. I called Charles and asked him what he thought and where I could borrow $40,000 to get a smoke generator and the other things I needed to go off on my own. He took one look at the contract proposal and said he wanted in on it. He said that is a half a million dollars, son.
I looked on it as a way to get away from the state, and maybe move Erin from Georgia to Louisiana and give her and her new husband a job. Get to know my daughter again. And maybe- just maybe get rich as heck.
I told Charles that I would have to pray about it. So I got in my Chevy truck and drove to the Lady of Mercy Catholic Church where Heather went to school and she and Catherine went to church. The Lady of Mercy Catholic Church- now I have gone to that Church a few times. Now that is a workout. Stand up, sit down, kneel down, stand up, get up, and kneel down. Now sing. I broke a sweat in that Church, lost 20 pounds in one day.
It was about midnight when I got to the Church there on Goodwood Street in Baton Rouge. I got the security guard to unlock the doors. It is a big huge church with lots of wood and stained glass windows and a high ceiling. I could smell incense burning. I felt real close to God there.
I have spent a lot of time in the Assembly of God churches in Louisiana and Oklahoma. They have a habit of praying out loud, walking, kneeling, and dancing in the presence of God. So I was pacing back and forth praying out loud echoing off the walls of this empty Catholic Church. "God- give me that contract."
And to this day, I think I heard a small voice, "Here it is son, build it and they will come. Go pick up your daughter."
"Build what? - A cornfield? - A Baseball Park."
"A smoke machine- that is all you know how to do."
I thought I had that million dollar contact right there in the bucket. I already started spending it in my head. Let see, new boat, trip to Jamaica, cruise ships. Hawaii hula hula girls. I might even get me a shrimp boat and compete with Bubba Gump.
So I built it- the smoke generator, and you have been coming. I picked up my daughter and moved her to Baton Rouge. But it did not work out. I said some things I knew I should not have said. She still hasn’t spoken to me since then and it has been 4 years now. I hope she can find it in her heart to forgive me. Maybe you can help get me back with my daughter, Erin. She lives in Titusville Florida, She is now Erin Thomas and she is Married to Barry Thomas who works for a power plant on the Indian River. Her phone number is 321-268-8849. Call her and tell her to call her Daddy. That I love her and I need her forgiveness. Thank you very much.
I have been praying for patience. "God Give me patience- and give it to me right now." Ole Boudreaux down there in Thibodaux Louisiana was praying. "God, let me win the lotto." He had been praying this every single day for a year. "God, let me win the lotto."
Finally God got tired of hearing it. "God, let me win the lotto." So he answered Boudreaux. "Boudreaux, buy a ticket."
Then one day Boudreaux and Thibodaux did buy a ticket together and they won $30,000 on the lotto. They had been working down at the Sugar House where they cook dat sugarcane down to syrup. Dat was a hot job and they got pretty sticky. Boudreaux and Thibodaux decided to take the $30,000 and go over to Louisville Kentucky and buy a retired racehorse.
Boudreaux and Thibodaux worked different alternating shifts at the Sugar Factory and only one of them could get off on the day of the big race down at Jefferson Downs in New Orleans. So only one of them, Boudreaux, could take the racehorse to race. Thibodaux made Boudreaux promise to send a telegram as soon as the race was over. When the lunch whistle blew, Thibodaux rushed over to Western Union to get the telegram.
The telegram said "S S F F" Thibodaux look at this telegram and says S S F F. Hum he thinks, Started Second Finished First- yah hoo we in the money now. He could hardly wait until Boudreaux could pull up in that Sugar House with the racehorse and all that dough. Boudreaux pull up in dat Sugar House and Thibodaux comes running out to meet him and shouts "S S F F- yah hoo we in the money now.
Boudreaux say, "Naw, you got dat telegram all wrong. S S F F. Dat means Started Stumbled Farted Fell."
Boudreaux and Thibodaux did not win the money and I did not get the contract either. So I am back in the Lady of Mercy Catholic Church, only this time it is thundering and lightening. I am walking and pacing madder than a wet hen. "I quit my job, built this smoke machine, picked my daughter, moved her here. I have had about enough. You can take me now. Just let a bolt of lightening hit me. Take me out." I am standing there alone--screaming at God-- Well I thought I was alone. I did not see her. Some lady kneeling down between the pews or benches on the sixth row. Probably praying for forgiveness or something. She stood up, said I was definitely crazy, and that God just might let that bolt of lightening hit me, and she did not want to take any part in it. She ran out the door.
Then I hear it- that small voice within my heart. "Whitlow, would you please sit down- you are making a spectacle out of yourself. Be still, and be quite just for one moment. Please.
Now you know what it is like to be me."
"What did you want from Erin?"
"What do you think she wanted from you."
"Well you are not exactly right on that, She wanted a little more. But you get the point. I want a relationship with you. I love you. I want a relationship with mankind. That is the reason I created mankind. A relationship. I would love for people just to walk with me and talk to me, let me be a part of their daily life. Is that too much to ask?"
"Well, when they do talk to me, it is give me a million dollar contract. Money- money, money, money—It’s a rich mans world. You hardly speak to me now, If you got the contract, a million dollars- I just don’t think you could handle it. Money- money, money, money—
I get tired of it. Just give me a relationship. Seek ye first the kingdom of God- and all these things will be added unto you."
It is a lesson I try to remember every day. But sometimes I just fail. There really is no excuse.
Heather is God’s greatest gift to me. She reminds me of that every single day- in the way she lives her life. The way she smiles, the way she uses her facial expressions. She is so open to the needs of others. She loves life, every single moment of it, and she lives it so well. She is kind and considerate to everyone. She is warm and open. She never met a stranger.
I was deer hunting searching for that thurdy point buck. I had seen him a time or two. He was eight foot tall and weighed 12,000 pounds. So beautiful, so rudeful- Created by God just for Outdoor Magazine. I started to think, I don't do it often. I figured I could put that baby right down there in his coffin. I managed to squeeze the trigger. I killed an old oak tree limb. He just looked at me and yawned. He gave me a flash of white, and there he was--- gone.
I was deer hunting when Catherine came and found me and informed me that out of nowhere we were selected to be adoptive parents. "You need to walk out of these woods and we need to go buy a baby bed," she says.
I looked up at the sun. I had several good hours before dark. I thought about that thurdy point buck. I thought about my entire life and of how nothing really that good could really happen to me. It just couldn't be true. God really did not know I existed. He had a lot of more important things on his mind. I did not deserve anything that good. I pondered on this and said," If God brings us a baby tomorrow, then we can go get a baby bed tomorrow. I'm burning up daylight here. I'm going hunting."
The very next day, God brought her to my front door. She was one day old. I could hold her in one hand. I had never been so happy in my entire life.
Heather did not sleep very well. About 3 in the morning every single day, she woke me up. "Give me milk—and give it to me now."
My LDEQ office was on Airline Highway back then. About 3 miles past the Waffle House. I figured if Heather and I couldn’t sleep, Catherine might as well. I put her and a warm bottle in that Chevy truck and we drove to the Waffle House. I ate pecan waffles and a bowl of grits, and drank about 49 cups of coffee. This became a daily routine. All the waitresses held Heather close and fed her grits and formula. They all loved her and they called her the Waffle House baby. That is probably why she never meets a stranger. And that is probably why I am so dogone fat.
Rich and famous. I don’t feel like I will ever get rich. Not too sure if it is all that important. We are making pretty good money, thanks to you and all my other friends. I pay a lot of taxes and the payroll is unbelievable. I promise that I will try and have fun spending your hard earned money that I have left over. I know that Heather will enjoy spending it. I saw her walk into Wal-Mart and spend $300 on makeup at one time. I had a fit. "Daddy- I have to have it." Come to think of it, you need to go sign up another 20 people- I need all the help I can get. College is coming up.
We here at Whitlow Enterprises are working hard to bring you a quality smoke school and we hope- just a little break from the monotony from the hard work that you do. We want you to be able to remember what you learned at school. We want the school to be fun, fair, and honest. You can put that in my tombstone. "He tried to be fair and honest." Thank you very much for coming. I love you all. I need you. I don’t think I will get rich, but I have a great staff and they enjoy working with you. I think they love their job. I have never thought of myself as a boss. I hope I am doing ok.
But I would like to be famous. I would like someday to leave this earth and maybe some of you would remember me. There must have been 500 people at my daddy’s funeral. He was a good man and he made lots of friends. I wish I could be about half that good a person.
Take my cousin, Merle Haggard, now he is famous. Everyone's heard of Merle. All he does is pick and sing and write a few songs. Take Daniel Boone. He walked around in buckskins, wore a coonskin hat, chopped wood and fought at the Alamo. He is famous. They have named towns and state parks after him. Take Elvis Presley. He has been dead thirty years and he still has about five hit records a year. I went to Robert E Lee Junior High School. Thomas Jefferson Junior High School was just across town there in Monroe Louisiana where I was born. "I have a dream." I have seen a Martin Luther King Street in nearly every single town in America. I am glad I don't live on Martin Luther King Street. Can you imagine having to write that down on every form and application about 10 times a day. They just don't leave enough room on the form for a street name that long. I remember Howard Cosel and Cashious Clay- Mohammed Ali- he was the greatest boxer ever. His name is all over Louisville Kentucky. I have been inside the same gym where he got his start. How about John Fitzgerald Kennedy? I have been in that airport. I used to love watching that president on TV. He was a good man. I still remember the day he got shot. I was in the study hall there at Neville High School in Monroe Louisiana. I was standing there sharpening my pencil when the PA system above my head said, "The President has been shot." Do you think they will ever have a Whitlow Street?
A while back I saw a sign in Oklahoma. It said Hank Williams Junior High School. I was just wondering if that was Hank Williams Junior High School or was it Hank Williams Junior--- High School. I do know one thing. I love all of you who take the time to read these thoughts and sit patiently listening to a fat old man at smoke school. And that my friends is the way it is.
"Well pilgrim, say hello to a fat ole man. "
(George Weiss / Bob Thiele) I see trees of green, red roses too I see them bloom for me and you And I think to myself, what a wonderful world I see skies of blue and clouds of white The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night And I think to myself, what a wonderful world The colours of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky Are also on the faces of people going by I see friends shakin' hands, sayin' "How do you do?" They're really saying "I love you" I hear babies cryin', I watch them grow They'll learn much more than I'll ever know And I think to myself, what a wonderful world Yes, I think to myself, what a wonderful world Oh yeah Other smoke school stories and family stories
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