It’s that time of the year again…..
When, I’m asked over and over again about my affinity for the State of Alabama and my “allegiance” to the state, particularly since I wasn’t born there.
It’s not just because of “my” University or the different High Schools I attended or even the wonderful people I know that still live there.
You may not understand this….
But my love for Alabama runs deeper than the scars on my back…..
If you got a minute I have a story for you
I wasn’t born in Alabama
I was born in an Army Hospital in Oak Ridge Tennessee that is now known as Methodist Hospital, to two people that didn’t want me or ever wanted to know to me, and that is were my story begins.
My first experience in Alabama began was when I was living with a family through what would be now known as child services and they moved at the time to Ford City Alabama from Tennessee for some type of job nearby.
They and I subsequently lived on rental property that belonged to Mister Bowling and his family in fact the house was only fifty yards away from he and his families’ farm house. I wasn’t quite six years old and I worked the hog pins pens for Mister Bowling and I will tell you this; I loved Mister Bowling.
He and his family were so very kind to me and even as a young Marine “in training” I knew his three teenage daughters were gorgeous and they still are by the way.
When I wasn’t in school I worked doing chores on the farm as I said and unlike other places I lived, I loved the Bowling family and although they weren’t “mine” I loved them.
They loved me deeply too.
Now the family I lived with day to day wasn’t what I would describe as “good” people, they weren’t shy about bragging in public how they took an “orphan” in, but in private it was all about the money they received from the state for me and how much I was “worth” to their monthly budget.
It was June of that year when the man of the house we will call “Pete” where I lived on Mister Bowling’s farm began playing with and experimenting with a bullwhip he traded somebody something with at the local flea market.
I hated to hear that bullwhip making its “Whoooosh and Pop” sound as he tried to attack everything under the sun while “practicing” with his new toy.
But one Sunday afternoon Pete and his Daddy who came by to visit were drinking and they were shooting with what I now know is a Ruger .22 caliber pistol in the backyard.
My job was to set the beer can targets up after they knocked or shot them down.
Apparently I wasn’t fast enough on one occasion that afternoon and Pete wasn’t happy.
He started cussing me and he went into his shed near the house…
It was then I heard the familiar sound of the bullwhip uncurling.
It scared me.
Pete called me over with the whip in his hand and if I concentrate I can still see his face and hear his words
Pete smiled coldly and said calmly
I took off running and being shirtless I didn’t hear the “Whoooosh” of the whip…
But I felt the first hit on the lower part of my back and I went down
I heard Pete’s Daddy laugh and say “Good Hit!”
As I struggled to get up the next “Whoooosh and Pop” came……
It hit me in the middle of my back……
I was down again but only for a moment
Over my shoulder I could see Pete was advancing towards me laughing
I was up on my feet and…..
I reached around behind me, because something was attached to me, I felt my skin hanging from my back, I tugged on it, and that was the first time I felt the pain and then, the panic, because my skin was hanging from my back.
EDITORS NOTE: For my fellow Christians that I have somehow “offended” in different churches I have attended in the past when the mention of Jesus being scourged with a whip was discussed and I dismissed it with “I get it”…….I’m sorry.
But unlike my Lord and Savior I was now hollering and I didn’t know where I was going but I was running and then the next “Pop” hit me high in the back and my forehead hit a wooden fence as I went down again.
I heard Pete’s Daddy laugh and say “Do it again!” and I saw through my blurred eyes Pete closing fast on me with the bullwhip.
Then I heard it…..
All five foot three of Mister Bowling said “What in the Damn Hell is going Here!!”
Mister Bowling had a Colt 1911 .45 pistol in his hand that he landed at the beaches of Normandy in World War II with and he wasn’t afraid of anything other than his God and his wife and not necessarily in that order.
But it shocked me because Mister Bowling never (ever) cussed, ever.
Everyone stopped and Mister Bowling helped me up off the ground and he took me to his house were his wife and three daughters doted on me until the Veterinarian got there to sew me up, because the doctor was too far away as was the hospital.
EDITORS NOTE: “IF” I had it to do all over again, I would have faked paralysis and stayed around the Bowling girls for about ten years or so while they fussed over me.
Believe it or not, the local Vet must have done a great job, because in my physical in college and before I went into the Marine Corps they always asked “You have some horrible deep scares on your back, were you run over by a car or something?”
Only at the University of Alabama did I say……
“Bullwhipped by a foster parent”
Other’s I just agreed to whatever question they asked so the well meaning Doctors will nod and go on with whatever the Doctoring process entailed.
I will never forget the Doctor at the University of Alabama…..
He had tears in his eyes and he said “I m so sorry son”
I stayed with the Bowling Family until the State of Alabama came and took me away from them because they apparently hadn’t done all the “right” paper work etc.
But we stayed in touch, always.
Because they loved a kid that nobody else loved.
Until the day Mister Bowling died he said, “You are mine and we are your family”
I can’t tell you what that meant to me.
Until the day Mister Bowling died he had a picture of me in my University of Alabama football uniform in his house. Me, little ole me, looking like a Heisman Trophy winner.
After Mister Bowling had passed away and I was in the Marine Corps his daughter Margaret who used to tease me and torture me with her “brassieres” asked me to give her away at her wedding to her soon to be husband Phil.
I did just that but with not without the “Talk” with Phil that I thought Mister Bowling would have wanted me to give the young groom that may or may have not involved discussions of his head on a pike if I ever “got” the phone call from Miss Margaret.
Apparently my motivational speech worked because they are still happily married with a passel of kids and grandkids now as well.
I’m jumping ahead of myself, I’m sorry…..
I was five hundred miles or so away later as a Senior in High School and had offers to attend several colleges as far away as Delaware and I even ate catfish once with Coach Darrell K Royal of Texas and I had lunch with Coach Jordan at Auburn, but I was willing to gamble it all by walking on at Alabama.
Because that was were I belonged. Even with a brief meteoric high school season here and there to hang my hat on so to speak, it was were I belonged. That was my home.
I have detailed in past articles and in my book how damn hard it was to practice football at Alabama but I will tell you all a little something I haven’t shared before.
Before I was accepted into the athletic dorm, and at the university
I didn’t have any place to live or sleep.
I had no money
I had no nothing
I got off the Greyhound Buss in Tuscaloosa with a small gym bag with everything I owned in it, and I knew it was do or die, right there and right now.
So for two weeks I slept in the bushes underneath the practice field.
EDITORS NOTE To all my coaches who though I was so dedicated because I was ALWAYS at practice first, I was indeed dedicated but there was a reason I was always the first person at practice, I’m just saying.
I showered in the locker room and drank from the water hose when I was thirsty
I ate meals with the players at night but kept a close eye on the dumpster and where the garbage went from the athletic building and cafeteria because I needed to eat.
Coach Bryant and Coach Moore loved me, even though I wasn’t anything special.
I will never forget their unbelievable kindness to someone who had no place else to go.
I wouldn’t have a college degree without them
I wouldn’t have anything without those two coaches and others love and concern for me.
This all may sound crazy to you, but…..
It was the height of Alabama success at the time……
College Football National Championships…..
Lynyrd Skynyrd “Sweet Home Alabama”
Fame Studios and the Muscle Shoals “Sound”……..
The Rolling Stones
Do I need to say more?
OK you might be saying “Wasn’t Alabama 49 of 50 in education at the time?”
Maybe, but we were Number Damn One in everything else.
I have toiled in that red clay and picked cotton until my hands bleed as a kid.
I owe my education to the people there and to the coaches and people that believed in me
I poured sweat and prayers into that tiny space and they were answered
From Town Creek to Mobile, that State is my Home and always will be.
Coach Bryant is buried there, and so is Mister Bowling and so is Jo Jo Billingsley
That’s enough for me
You can say whatever you want about it
I call it Sweet Home Alabama