“Sometimes even now, When I’m feelin’ lonely and beat, I drift back in time and I find my feet, Down on Mainstreet… Down on Mainstreet” (1977) “Mainstreet” Written & Recorded By: Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band
(I’ve always wondered if Bob Seger meant to write, “Main Street” vs “Mainstreet”. Oh, well.)
Deep Ellum is an old section of Dallas, Texas, just off the east cusp of the downtown area. The “main” street is Elm Street. However, over the decades, during the development and expansion of what is now known as Deep Ellum, it is a full-blown artsy neighborhood of small businesses dishing up terrific nightlife, complete with restaurants, sidewalk cafes, coffee shops, and live music clubs. You can also expect a plethora of outdoor festivals. A pedestrian’s party haven.
The last time I was there, I was enjoying my daughter’s band at a quaint brick-walled night club. She was on a national concert tour that year out of Buffalo, NY.
Deep Ellum was one of the scheduled gigs before performing at the annual SXSW Fest in Austin, Texas.
There’s nothing like the sound of live music, Texas sunshine, and the smell of street tacos in the air. In a bohemian part of any large city, you can always expect street vendors.
Allow me to introduce you to one of Dallas’ most beloved street vendors, 60 year old, Leobardo Torres Sanchez.
Like a ripple of joy expanding out into the streets of Deep Ellum from Leobardo’s goodies cart-on-wheels, comes the opportunity for cotton candy in a bag, or on a stick, (He always wants you to know it was grown right here in Texas. Come to think of it, I might have seen a crop or two myself). He’s also loaded down with apples, popcorn balls, and often in the summer, balloons on a stick. Along with the tasty treats, he has a gift for dancing up a storm, including a pretty mean moonwalk. Those who frequent Deep Ellum know of the exuberant Leobardo very well. He is hard to miss…or hard to miss hearing.
Originally from Mexico, Leobardo has been selling his stuff on the curbs of Dallas for over eight years now. Like many men south of the border, Leobardo left his poor village, leaving his family behind, to find work away from home. He did just that with his focus on chipping-in on the American dream. According to his daughter, Miriam Torres Leon in Mexico, he faithfully sends money back to his family. He is seen as wealthy to others back home. He lives alone in a rented room, lives humbly, but considered blessed. He is a man who truly loves what he does each day.
If you visit this section of Dallas, you not only will hear good things concerning Leobardo from the business owners, their patrons, and the cops on bikes or horses assigned to the streets of Deep Ellum, but also the homeless and fellow street vendors. Many of the homeless have had their hands filled with free goods straight from Leobardo’s cart. Another street vendor mentioned recently to the Dallas Morning News how when he was robbed, Leobardo gave him 40 bags of cotton candy to sell to help stretch the dollar. That is a good reflection of the kind of heart you can expect from this man of commerce on wheels.
As you may have heard, Texas was hit in mid February with a freak winter 100 year storm with temps plunging to zero and single digits for much of Valentine’s Week. Leobardo, and street entrepreneurs like him, were forced off the streets. Being concerned after hearing of the Texas freezing storm, his daughter in Mexico called him. On the 12th, he told her the plummeting temperatures was unbearable to him. He told her not to worry, even though he lost electrical power due to an unprepared power grid, explaining to her that he was in his rental room wearing several jackets and had wrapped himself in layers of blankets. His circumstances was not unique here. Millions of Texans lost power, water, and sometimes gas.
After several days, Leobardo’s daughter could not contact her dad. However, she did put out a message on social media about the situation in hopes the Deep Ellum community might be able to locate him. Unfortunately, his daughter, Miriam, didn’t know his address, or just what part of Dallas he lived in. A couple of street vendors who knew Leobardo, and his location, heard of her digital posts and fought through the frigid weather to check on him.
On Tuesday, the 22nd, as the thawing was welcomed in Dallas, the police did a welfare check on Leobardo. He was found deceased in his frozen room. His body was found in his bed under several layers of blankets and wearing multiple coats. This poor man was one of a multitude of Texans who did not survive the single digit blast from a very rare weather tragedy. The heartbreak is real. Leobardo and I were the same age.
As the news of Leobardo’s death began to circulate, the mourners responded in droves with cash funds for his family in Mexico, flowers, written tributes, and a Go-Fund-Me account. It seems Leobardo was indeed a man of poverty. but wealthy in heart.
As I read of Leobardo’s passing, I was awestruck by the outpouring of the kind citizens affected by this man with what many would consider an insignificant life. Knowing that sounds harsh to read, or say aloud, I must state the following. Many who walked by his cart-on-wheels, maybe even purchased an apple from him on a hot summer day, might have seen him as a “lower rung” individual. Those who drove by Leobardo’s cotton candy stand, while on their way to Del Frisco’s for a $350.00 dinner, may have smirked at his efforts to scrape out a buck, or laughed at his dancing in the dust around his cart. Tears filled my eyes when imagining a man or woman seeing Leobardo ahead at the corner, crossing Elm Street just so they wouldn’t hear him ask in his broken English if they would like a popcorn ball. You know why, right? Because if one avoids someone like him, they are conveniently cancelled in one’s mind, as if they don’t exist. It’s that easy to put someone under the foot.
Then, at some point in my thoughts and imagination of these things, I remembered the outpouring of love from gentler hearts. Some of which who knew him, some who just gave him a smile as they walked around his cart, or perhaps some who bought one of his balloons for their child. I read more of the comments made by the many he impacted with his humble life. That’s when I smiled through a tear which had escaped.
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main.” – John Donne’s Devotions (1624)
A pebble can be so insignificant under foot. The sound of a hiking boot crushing many pebbles, as the weight is distributed, has a unique tenor. Yet, when the sole applies weight to just one pebble, the resonance is hardly noticeable. But, pick up that single insignificant pebble, toss it into a still street puddle then count the ripples from the point of contact to the outer edges on all sides. Isn’t that all God asks of us while we walk our various pavements? Impact others around you. Sway individuals with your light, so that everyone will see how God works in your heart. In doing so, we make waves.
Making a ripple around you has a blueprint in fuel for the race.
“For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.” Romans 14:7 (NIV)
“…But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes Indeed you’re gonna have to serve somebody. Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord. But you’re gonna have to serve somebody…”(1979)“Gotta Serve Somebody”Written and Recorded By: Bob Dylan
Dylan had gone through a spiritual heart conversion, and with it came this song. Many scoffed at it, including John Lennon, who cruelly responded publicly with his own cut entitled, “Serve Yourself”. It was one of Lennon’s final recordings before his death.
His name was, Uncle Doss. At least that’s how I knew him. He was an intriguing, somewhat mysterious man in my early childhood. I was always trying to figure him out.
My Grandmother Swindell lived in the country, just about six miles away from my grandparent’s house in Greenville, Texas. Now, I realize that sentence looks odd, but allow me to explain.
You might be wondering how many grands did I have as the crow flies. Ella Swindell was my grandmother’s mom. Although she was my Great-Grandmother Swindell, my mom called her, “Grandmother”, so I did, too.
To describe her at all would be best done to mention Aunt Bea (Frances Bavier) from The Andy Griffith Show. Although shorter than Frances Bavier, she dressed just like her. Her hair was arranged as Aunt Bea, most of the time. And on Sunday, like Aunt Bea, she wore the little pill hat, combined with a thin netting veil over her face, white cotton dress gloves, and a small black patent leather purse with a short strap. Oh, and yes, she had the “work your fingers to the bone” ethic, with the quick on the draw attitude of Aunt Bea. She was a green-thumb, no-nonsense, get-it-done worker of the soil. My mom called her a workhorse of a woman.
Generally, a few times a year in the early to late 1960’s, we visited her little cottage, out in the east Texas farm country, during weekend visits to my grandparent’s house. (If you’re a longtime blogging friend of mine, you might recall that I have written a snippet about Ella Swindell before. However, it’s been a long while.) We would drive down the county dirt road, passing corn and cotton fields, then pull up onto her makeshift driveway of chalky white rocks. I couldn’t wait to jump out in my cowboy boots, crisp blue jeans, and straw cowboy hat, run through her pasture behind the little frame house, and explore the old, haunted barn which rattled and groaned in the Hunt County winds. This city boy truly loved the adventure.
After I was called from the house porch to sit and visit, I would bounce through her opened screen door, greeted by her little Manchester black dog called, “Little Bit”. There was always a memorable aroma wafting from her tiny kitchen as we inched our way toward lunchtime, (Dinnertime, in her vernacular.) She made the best cornmeal fried okra and fried yellow squash you can possibly imagine, all grown from her garden. After hugging my 4′-11″ish Grandmother Swindell, I would immediately ask where Uncle Doss was, if he wasn’t already sitting in his chair in the far back corner of the front living room. Usually, her reply went something like; “Awe, he’ll be along dreckly. He knows when to come eat.” Being such a young lad, I didn’t have my arms around just why Uncle Doss wasn’t always around. After all, he was not what you would call friendly, sociable, or a chatter box. In fact, he was the opposite. He was evidently born without facial expressions, complete sentences, and topical interests. Yet, I couldn’t wait to see him.
Nobody had told me just yet how older generational married couples of certain upbringing lived. A good example was the fact Uncle Doss and Grandmother Swindell had separate bedrooms. Anytime I went to the back of the house toward the back door, which opened up to the back pasture, his room was the door just prior to the back exit. The door was always shut when visiting. My curious little brain always wanted to put my ear to the door to hear if he was in there. The temptation to slowly turn the glass doorknob for a quick covert peek into his domain was great. Before I had a chance to try the door, I usually heard; “Alan, leave your Uncle Doss be!” From kindergarten through 4th grade, I spent a week with my Grandmother Swindell during summer vacation. Once I ventured toward the back of the house, while she was out picking green beans for dinner (Supper, in her vernacular.) When I turned the corner for the back door, I saw his bedroom door wide opened. I tip-toed across the creaking wooden plank floor and took a gander. He was away fishing, or down at the general store trading fishing lures with some other old men in overalls. The room looked like something from a ranch bunkhouse for hired hands. It had a vaulted ceiling, and was just big enough for a single spring bed, a small chest-of-drawers, and a closet. I remember being amazed at how tiny it was. Maybe more amazed why he closed himself up in there whenever he was home.
But there we were, visiting with my Grandmother Swindell and Little Bit as he jumped into our laps begging for scratches behind his ears. When it came time for lunch, you could always expect the back door to open and close as Uncle Doss arrived from wherever he had been that particular day. As Uncle Doss walked into the the living room, I would look up at this tall, thin elderly man with a full head of snow white straight hair, ever-present stubble on his carved handsome face with bushy eyebrows. I was always stunned at how long his nose hairs were. I regret I don’t have a photo of him, but he looked a lot like the old western movie star, Randolph Scott.
Unlike Randolph Scott, he was not dapper, or even clean most of the time. He smelled of hay, dead fish, and chewing tobacco. He wore old faded denim overalls, a farmer’s cap, and dirty old lace-up rounded toe boots. With a sparkle in my eye, my exuberance in seeing him again would blurt out like water from a spillway, “Hi, Uncle Doss!” My Grandmother Swindell was regularly and surprisingly a bit sharp with him, “Doss, you go get yourself cleaned up right now! It’s dinnertime. Be quick about it. And scrape off those boots, for Pete’s sake!” He would nod his head at us in a down-home greeting, grunt at her, and head off to the bathroom built just for him. As a kid, I thought it funny, and a bit scary, how he was clearly older than she, and yet she inflicted her husband with such a quick tongue in front of us. Frankly, it was a tad embarrassing.
After a made-from-scratch country lunch, which could win awards at the State Fair Of Texas, we would sit a bit longer in the living room, complete with sweetened iced tea, for more east Texas accented chatter. That was my cue to prepare to head out the door to have make-believe adventures in the old rickety barn, and visit a my great-aunt Madge across the dirt road for a slice of freshly baked homemade pecan or apple pie. No doubt, that woman baked all day, every day. She was invariably such a joy to spend time with, and treated me as if I were the only boy on the planet. But she knew I wouldn’t stay long. After all, there were hay stacks to jump on, and corn fields to get lost in.
Prior to my quick escape from the Swindell cottage, I would try to get Uncle Doss to talk with me. After lunch he would sit in his corner chair and light up his pipe. I would sit on the floor in front of him, next to his tobacco spittin’ can, made from a discarded coffee can, with his knees about eye level to me. My goal was to launch my usual start-up questions. “What kind of a pipe is that, Uncle Doss?” Or, “How long have you been wearing those old dirty overalls?” Or, “Can I touch your prickly whiskers?” (He would allow it. As if it were yesterday, it felt like sandpaper.) Otherwise, if he gave me answers, they were usually one or two word sentences coming from his stone face, “Yep”, “Nope”, and “Oh, a bit.” The dog, Little Bit, loved that old man. Anytime Uncle Doss planted himself in his chair, Little Bit abandoned whatever lap he was on, hopping right up on his dusty lap in one leap. By the time I got back from running around the countryside, Uncle Doss would be gone, or shut-up in his small back room. It didn’t seem like much of a marriage to me, not like the union my grandparents displayed day in and day out.
Later in my childhood, maybe third grade, I was saddened, as well as curious, when finding Uncle Doss in a bed in the front living room off in the corner where his chair would normally sit. I didn’t ask questions of him. I think my mom prepared me beforehand. Although surprised by the living room bed, she must have simply told me he was sick and needed more rest. Frankly, seeing him in that bed spooked me just a little. For some reason I was feeling a little frightened by it all.
It was one of the last times I saw Uncle Doss. However, I did find out it was only a temporary illness at the time. Later, he didn’t need the bed in the living room.
Being a tiny bit afraid of my Uncle Doss was the norm. That may be why I tried so hard to get to know him better, which never happened. While in Jr, high school, after seeing the movie, “To Kill A Mockingbird”, I recognized the feeling I had for Uncle Doss in the view of the children constantly trying to understand their spooky, mysterious neighbor, Boo Radley. I then understood, Uncle Doss was my Boo Radley.
I’m not sure how old I was when my mom finally broke the news to me. There must have come a time when she thought I could handle the unfortunate truth concerning my Uncle Doss. My Uncle Doss was my Grandmother Swindell’s oldest brother, not her husband. If memory serves me right, there were six brothers, and two sisters in that clan, my grandmother Swindell being the youngest sister, the youngest of all of her sibs. My mom also let me know why Uncle Doss was such a strange individual. Even though he was the oldest, he was like a nine year old child. He was the only one in the family who was stricken with a mental disorder. Being born in the late 1880’s, very little was known on how and why childhood illnesses often caused long-term effects. I’ve been told, Uncle Doss was left with some slight brain damage after a hard bout with a version of the measles when he was a child. Today we know, acute encephalitis can be the result of a measles infection, causing permanent brain damage.
The family was mostly poor share croppers, working the black soil of east Texas, more times than not, travelling from one cotton farm to another, wherever there was work available. Their mother, my great-great-grandmother Molly, was an invalid. The title of, “Invalid” could have various definitions back in those days to country doctors. Nevertheless, their mother was a sickly woman, and unable to take care of her kids. So, Ella, dropped out of school at 2nd grade to become the caretaker of her mom and the sibs who were too young to take care of themselves.
After their mother, Molly died, Ella became the mom of the clan. After everyone was grown and went off on their own, Ella continued to take care of her dad and her oldest brother, Doss full-time.
Sometime in the teens, Ella Tapp became Ella Swindell when she married Claude Swindell, but it was understood how life would be. So, for many years she took care of the three men in her life until her husband died in the late 1940’s. (Records for that branch of my family are scarce. I’m unsure of actual dates of some events.)
This is Ella on the far left next to her daughter & son-in-law, (my grandparents), my mom as a baby, with her two brothers in front. Ella’s husband, Claude, my Great Grandfather Swindell in the back.
A couple of years after I was born in 1960, Ella’s dad passed away, leaving her with her brother, Doss.
In 1971, Doss got out of bed in his long-johns to find the kitchen dark and quiet. He wondered why his breakfast wasn’t waiting for him. After walking to his sister’s bedroom, he saw the door was still closed. He knocked and called her name, “Ella?” Silence. He tried the glass doorknob, opened the door to find her sleeping soundly under a sheet and blanket. He spoke to her again and again. She didn’t rouse. He approached her bed, nudged her, and found her to be cold. All attempts to wake her fell short. Because she was cold, he went back to his room to fetch his patchwork quilt she had made him and covered her. Uncle Doss lit up his pipe and sat in his chair for some time. Getting a little hungry, he called to her several times without any response. At that point he began to believe Aunt Madge, across the road, might be helpful in getting Ella out of bed. He walked over to his brother’s house, still in his long-johns, where his sister-in-law, Madge was busy washing dishes after breakfast. Still wearing her apron, my Aunt Madge rushed over to the cottage to find my Grandmother Swindell had easily roused…in the arms of Jesus at about 67/68 years old.
It may come as no surprise to let you know, my Uncle Doss Tapp passed away not long after, within the following year.
In short, if my Uncle Doss were here today, with a full healthy mind, he would testify of the great and strong servanthood his sister Ella display for her entire life. Literally, she gave over 60 years of her life to serve others. Unlike John Lennon’s response to Bob Dylan’s musical statement on finding someone to serve, without demanding something in return, was about an unselfishness, putting one’s “self” last.
A hero of mine gave 33 years of service to others. He taught the servant was more valuable than a ruling king. Much like today, he served during civil unrest, crude political scandals and unlawful corruption, economic hardships, incurable diseases among the public, violence in the streets, etc. Still, he found a way NOT to say, “Every man for himself!“
In that bright “gettin’ up” early morning, when my Aunt Madge walked into her sister-in-law’s bedroom, the words could’ve well been spoken of Ella, “Here is one who emptied herself out because of unconditional, gracious love.”
About ten years ago, after many decades had passed, I chose to drive out to my Grandmother Swindell’s old place in the country. Most all expected a new parking lot over her pasture with a sprawling office complex. Rumors about the area had grown concerning new neighborhoods of expansion for new home buyers, along with zoning for business developments. I was emotionally prepared, or so I thought. Yet, not much had changed down her dirt road. It’s been crudely paved now, but that’s almost all the change. When I turned the corner to that favorite stretch of familiar road, I saw my Aunt Madge’s old house still standing next to the cornfield. Shock came over me to find the old rickety haunted barn was still erect. Her pasture was still wild and free from builder’s dreams. Before I move on, have you ever smiled and shed tears at the same time? That’s what happened to me as I pulled up in front of her cottage, or rather, where her cottage once stood. Seeing that her little humble house had been removed wasn’t the cause of my facial reaction at all. Rather, it was the arranged perennial flowers which continued to bloom, outlining where the edge of her house once was, in a rectangle just where she planted them back in the early 1960’s.
God speaks in various ways, doesn’t He? I heard Him loud and clear that day.
The greatest servant of all is highlighted and illustrated in fuel for the race.
“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.” – Apostle Paul – 2 Timothy 4:6 (ESV)
“…Well I thought about it, you know I’m not playing. You better listen to me, every word I’ve been saying. Hot is cold, what’s cold is hot. I’m a little mixed up, but I’ll give it everything I’ve got. Don’t want your money, don’t need your car. I’m doing all right, doing all right so far. I’m givin’ it up for your love – everything.” (1980) – “Givin’ It Up For Your Love” – Composer & Recorded: Delbert McClinton
Merriam-Webster defines “Invest” with three different entries. The third is this: “To involve or engage especially emotionally.”
Most see it like this…
I was given a gift when I was about 10 years old. It was a piggy bank, but not in the traditional. It wasn’t in a “piggy” shape at all. It was transparent glass cylinders melded side-by-side. There were four of these cylinders, each just the size of each denomination of American coins. Much like a rain measurement gauge, the cylinders were marked-off to indicate how much was accumulated, depending upon how high the stack of coins. Unlike the old piggy bank, I could see and count how much my investments added up to based on my deposits. What a great teaching tool for a little kid. Within this profile of the man below, I will get back to the transparent bank of deposits.
Today, the north Dallas suburb where I live has a population of around 140, 000 citizens. When my mom and I moved here in the summer of ’73, it was far smaller. The suburb is clustered with other suburbs to the point of not knowing which one you are driving through if you are unaware of the borders. It’s always been a busy place with lots to do for whatever interests you might have.
Perry Road was between our apartment complex at the time, and the school I went to. It was explored the first week we arrived so we would know the route to my school. I walked that road every day during my 8th grade school year. Later, I would consider it my jogging street.
I often saw a little old African-American man walking down Perry next to the curb in a brisk gate. At first I didn’t really pay much attention to the man as we drove by. After seeing him a few more times, as the summer went on, I took a bit more notice of the old man. Once I got a good look, he appeared to be a vagrant, a poor homeless man, with weathered skin like leather. He looked to be in his 70’s. The idea of “Mr. Bojangles” came to mind. His thin faded shirt was oversized, ragged and dirty. His pants were either old cotton khakis, or worn-out bluejeans, complete with holes in various spots. There were times he was seen wearing a postal carrier’s uniform, but it was old and frayed. I always wondered where he got it, as I knew he wasn’t working for the post office. He always wore an old sweat-stained baseball cap. After awhile, it was the norm to see him with a burlap bag, or an old army duffle bag, swung over his shoulder with a couple of baseball bats sticking out. Being new in town, and knowing I would be walking to school, my mom was hoping we had moved to a neighborhood where transients wouldn’t be an issue. Seeing this old man caused her pause.
After the school year started, from time to time I would see this old man at my school’s baseball diamond swinging bats, hitting old lopsided beat-up baseballs with the stitching unraveling. There were always kids around him, from 6 year olds to teenagers. One day, I watched him from behind the backstop knocking one ball after another to whatever part of the field he pointed to.
I wasn’t into baseball, but this old man was surprisingly talented at the sport. They say from time to time a kid would beg him to hit one over the fence. A crooked grin would launch from his sweating weathered face, followed by a soft chuckle, then pick up a ball and at will, knock it over the fence. Two things come to mind. First, he did it with ease. Secondly, he looked far too skinny and old to put one over the fence. Like a finely tuned choir, the kids would say, “Wow! Cool! Far-out!” I could’ve hung around longer but, there were other things to do, places to go, people to see. Plus, baseball just wasn’t my sport.
The kids in the community knew him simply as, Jimmy. You could say he was like the Pied Piper, leading countless boys and girls to home plate and the pitcher’s mound. He was well-known for walking to various elementary schools, as well as the Jr. High schools, and city parks to start pick-up games for whoever wanted to play.
Little did I know he had been doing this for the neighborhood kids since the 1960’s. This mysterious old black man would come walking to these various baseball fields from seemingly out of nowhere. Out of his old worn-out bag came a couple of old baseball bats which he held together with screws and nails after being split or cracked. An armload of old baseballs, three or four ancient left-handed baseball gloves would fall out of the bag. He coached. He taught. He umpired. He pitched. He chose players for the teams. It didn’t matter to him if girls showed up. Jimmy saw them as no different than the boys. They all played their roles on the diamond, or outfield. If there was a kid who struggled at the game, he spent more time with them for encouragement and personal growth. Many an afternoon was spent teaching the art of baseball to the young community of our suburb. He loved the kids. They truly idolized the man. Jimmy would stay until the very last child had to go home. After waving the last player homeward, he would gather his baseball equipment in the bag and off down Perry Road he would go.
A few of my friends grew up being coached by Jimmy in the 1960’s and 1970’s. It’s amazing to me that I never really learned about Jimmy until I became an adult. Little did I know we had a baseball star in our midst.
Jimmy Porter was born September 2, 1900 somewhere in Tennessee. For some unknown reason, Jimmy Porter came to Carrollton, Texas in the 1920’s. Prior to his journey he had played for the old Negro Baseball League in St. Louis. When he arrived in Carrollton, he was unemployed, uneducated, and didn’t have a dime to his name. Considering the times, he was what they called a “hobo”, destined for a pauper’s life out on the streets. On top of that, being a black man in the south, life was not promising in the 1920’s. At the same time, he was rich in talent with a higher vision.
Shortly after he set foot in our community in the 1920’s, he formed a black semipro baseball team known as, The Carrollton Cats. He played and coached The Cats for several years until they eventually disbanded. Later, Jimmy convinced the leaders of the community to found a Carrollton Little League for the children. As expected, Jimmy coached the league for many years. Even after the Little League grew way beyond what it was in the beginning, after he no longer was the “official” coach, he continued to coach outside the league through pick-up games, not only in Carrollton, but also in the neighboring suburb, Farmers Branch, Texas. The games were casual, friendly, and educational. Jimmy was a small man, so he always made sure the smallest kids got to bat first. Everyone was welcome to use his old baseball supplies. Often at the end of the games, he hugged all the players with the warmth of approval. They say he always left them with a wave and yelled out, “Everybody just love everybody”. It’s ironic in that his motto described who he was.
Jimmy’s coaching grew some fruit. For many years, our high school’s baseball team was considered one of the best in all of Texas. In the trophy-case on campus, you can check out the championship trophies racked-up through the years. Some players went on to terrific college teams and minor league teams across the nation.
Although he was poor, he didn’t ask for money for any of his work with the kids. He was never seen begging in the streets. Jimmy did receive high praise from the community through the decades of his selfless work. Many offered him jobs. He was known for odd-jobs when he could get them. He did yard work, janitorial jobs, and grunt-work nobody wanted.
Despite his state in life, there would be awards of honor given, parades where he would be featured, as well as, a front row seat just behind home plate at all Little League games where he would hoop & holler encouragement to the players. In 1973 a city park, named in his honor with a beautiful baseball field, was built which included a Jimmy Porter monument. Jimmy didn’t have a family, so in 1977, Jimmy was awarded a lifetime membership by the Texas PTA. He was featured in several newspapers, local television, as well as, the NBC Today Show in 1982. Each year there is a recipient who is elected to receive The Jimmy Porter Award for outstanding community service. Today, some of Jimmy’s old baseballs, caps, bats, and gloves can be seen under glass at the Carrollton Historical Museum.
Little did I know at the time, Jimmy Porter lived in an abandoned railroad boxcar just off the depot about 3 miles from most of the ball-fields he visited. Frankly, I don’t believe most of the town knew where he lived. In the early 1980’s, Jimmy’s health began to decline. A few civic leaders, who once were under Jimmy’s wing in the dugout, built him a small frame house. It was way overdue. This old, quite hero shed a tear or two as the keys to the humble house were given to him.
At this point, I must admit I have some lingering anger. It spews from the fact that decades went by before this community offered Mr. Porter decent room and board. Think of it. In 1973, when he was 73 years old, they built a city park for the man and named it Jimmy Porter Park. Afterward the ceremony, they watched him walk back to his boxcar. I’ll leave the subject here.
Mr. Jimmy Porter softly left us December 11, 1984, just about a year after moving into his new home. He was 84 years old. The community purchased a modest plot in one of our cemeteries, on Perry Road, where he wore out his shoes walking to and fro the school’s ball-fields. His humble headstone features two baseball bats crossed.
Mr. Porter had no idea how important he would be to Carrollton and Farmers Branch, Texas. Sure, he was a pauper, an uneducated man, a man seen as a vagrant in the eyes of the misled and misdirected. Yet, as poor as he was, he gave. Much like the Apostle Paul in scripture, he was willing to be poured out for others, and the generations to come. Jimmy Porter gave of his personal value, the God-given special wealth inside of him. Like a transparent piggy bank, he lived long enough to see the dividends of a lifetime of deposits from his heart and talents. Multitudes who are now between 40-70 years old, who were raised in my neck of the woods, were, and are, his treasures. His investment was enormous. I would say, not so poor.
Like any good teacher, Jimmy Porter left an indelible mark on young lives that can be seen to this day.
Often I drive down Perry Road for old-time sake. It never fails, I admit to looking down the street for an old tattered black man with worn-out baseball bats slung over his shoulder.
Investing in the lives of others, without seeking anything in return, pours out in fuel for the race.
“Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days.’ – Ecclesiastes 11:1 – King Solomon (New American Standard Bible)
A special thanks to Dave Henderson for some of Jimmy Porter’s memories.