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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Friday, May 23, 2014

Family Memories of Herbie

Since Herbie's funeral on May 10, not quite two weeks ago, I've spent lots of days either driving or trying to get over a really bad sinus cold.  There has been lots to think about, with Herbie's passing, my kids starting to make plans to scatter around to different states, and the tenth month since Everly died.  I've meant to write, but the time has simply not been right for getting it done.  So now that I've got a minute and I'm catching my breath, it's starting to flow.

After Herbie's funeral in Houston, the family that was available gathered for a meal and conversations.  We enjoyed the time together, and it ended fairly quickly as we all started to leave Houston to get back to our homes stretching across Texas and Mississippi.  I was blessed to have all three of my children to ride with me back to Austin and Salado.

They started off telling stories about Grandpa Herbie.  There were various stories about riding and driving the golf cart.  Apparently Herbie was not a model instructor for driving the cart.  Lydia in particular, but all of the kids, noted that he would drive directly toward an obstacle, such as a tree, as if to run into it, then at the last second steer suddenly to avoid the crash.  Herbie never tired of the same routine, and David said that when he let them drive, they did not know any other way except to go fast and make sharp, sudden turns.  Once, he says, he was driving and found himself about to steer them down a steep hill, and Herbie had to intervene to avoid a bad crash.  Although they were not "allowed" to drive the golf cart, they all had their turns.  When Herbie's back got so bad that he couldn't enjoy playing golf any longer, he sold the golf cart.  That was, for all the kids, a very sad event that meant the end of one of their favorite Grandpa activities.

They also remembered various games he would play with them.  David emphasized the "sack o' taters" game which involved throwing the kid over his shoulder and carrying him or her around, calling the kid a sack of taters.  Then equally abruptly, he would toss the kid off his shoulder and onto the couch or the bed.  I recall this game from my childhood and from playing it with my kids, but it was Herbie that played it ad infinitum.  As I mention below in the remarks, there was a game called "couch" that involved sitting on the kids, a game of pillow baseball in the living room, and lots more roughhousing.  "Toast" was a game much like couch, and we are all a bit puzzled by what the name was supposed to mean.  I think it probably had something to do with how toast pops up out of the toaster, and the kids were trying to pop up while being held down by Herbie. 

They remembered with their cousin Kenny that Herbie would grab them when they walked by.  Kenny would intentionally go by Herbie's chair to incite him to grab him with his legs, as pincers.  Naomi remembered doing that as well.  I can imagine my little ones grinning, walking by slowly, terrified and hopeful all at once that Herbie would grab them and cause and outpouring of giggling.  As Emily emphasized, Herbie loved to tease her in whatever way would create the most distressful fun for the two of them.

These stories went on for some time.  It makes me realize that their memories of Herbie are of active fun times.  They remember going to the swimming pool at the clubhouse in Country Place, where Herb and Marie retired.  They remember going to NASA repeatedly and seeing the rockets and spaceships and the places where Herbie worked.  And they remember slowly outgrowing the roughhousing kind of play, so that visiting Herb and Marie involved a different kind of enjoyment, including going to CiCi's Pizza, which Herb liked at least as much as the kids did.

Eventually, my kids returned to a familiar conversation about all the terrible foods I made them eat when they were growing up.  Nancy Bumgardner says any time that at least three of her kids are together at her house, they start in on the same thing.  Everly and Eric and Ruth did the same about their parents.  Jerene and I do it, too.  Parents are so mean and hateful, and it's great fun to act that way.  We secretly know they love us more than they resent us.  It was a good ride home with my beloved chirrens.

To shift back in time a little, the last time I sat for a conversation with Herbie, he had a lot to say.  In the last months, it was sometimes a struggle to figure out his words.  Once in a while, he seemed to be talking about a world that was not quite the same one his listener could see.  But other times, it was just the difficulty speaking after the stroke.  On this occasion, I concluded that he was talking to me about how he started to be called by his official birth certificate name, Herbert.

I have been told that when Herbie was a boy, he decided that he wanted to be called Billy.  His real name, Herbert Spencer Estes, seemed to him to be an embarrassing name for a kid.  He wanted to be an athlete, a cool guy, so he chose a name suited to his preferred identity.  Apparently he was called Billy all the way through high school.  Later in life, when he would return to Port Arthur where he grew up, if someone referred to him as Herbert Estes, his old friends did not know who people were talking about, until someone said, "You know:  Billy."

On that day when I sat with Herbie, he was telling me that he did not go by Herbert until he joined the Army.  As we would know, the Army would call him by his official name.  So he was Herbert S. Estes to the Army.  Now Herbie was known for being hard-headed, independent, and not very keen on being told what to do.  Most of us who have heard something about being an enlisted member of the Army know that these are not the characteristics most cultivated among privates and foot soldiers.  So as Herbie told me that day, the Sergeant was often calling out his name.  He said the Sergeant gave him speeches most every day about how he should behave as opposed to Herb's tendency toward being rebellious and independent. 

Herb says he came to go by his birth name because of the daily speeches from the Sergeant.  And he added a bit of information that the family may not have known.  He said the Sergeant called him by his full name with the middle initial.  But he changed the middle initial a bit for emphasis.  Herb said the Sergeant called him "Herbert Ass Estes."  I'm sure it made him mad back when it was going on.  Or maybe he laughed inwardly way back then in the same way he chuckled to tell me the story a couple months ago.  From Billy to Herb and Herbie, via a loud-mouthed Sergeant calling him Herbert Ass Estes every day.  That's a funny story of how he learned to accept his name.

I'm sure I could think of plenty more stories about Herb if I kept at it.  But let that be enough, with the addition of the ones the family shared with me to tell at his funeral.  I wish I had the remarks of two other friends, Larry McSpadden and Coach Newcomb, who really had all of us laughing with the typical antics of our beloved Herbie.  If I get those later, I'll post them.  In the meantime, here are my remarks from his funeral.


Herbert Estes was a man who made an impact in the world.  Much of that impact came through his family.  As I looked at the collection of photos from that his daughter Ruth put together for us to view.  I noticed the inward strength, even swagger, that the young man Herbie displayed, or should I say “Billy,” (his chosen name when in his younger years he preferred not to be known as Herbert). He gave the appearance of a man in control.

It was an independent streak that remained visible throughout his life.  Herb had confidence in his intellect and his strength to be able to do whatever he set out to do.  An athlete, an exceptionally careful and clear thinker, Herbie was not waiting for others to tell him how things are or how they should be.  Ruthie says that he passed this characteristic on to his children.  He let her know that she should stand up for herself, whether it be in so small a matter as getting the order right at a restaurant, or in dealing with a teacher or supervisor whom she felt had been unfair.  Ruthie says she thinks Everly, above all, learned this characteristic from him.

Herbie liked to do things his way, and the children had to learn the way to influence him.  Everly said they had to make a case for how buying shoes or an outfit at this particular time was going to be a big savings over waiting until later.  If they could make it through his third degree, they could usually purchase their desired item.  Otherwise, it was back to the drawing board to try again another day.   

On Sundays, the kids loved to get to eat at the cafeteria.  But Herbie was strict in his requirements.  If the line had reached a certain length, they would not be able to eat there.  The kids would hope and pray for church to let out on time, and hope for no traffic, and then one kid scout would be sent inside to check the line length.  Sometimes, they had to drive on to the hamburger joint which was the backup.  If they were blessed to get to go to the cafeteria, they obeyed strict rules about drinking water and not the colored fruity drinks.

When Herbie started to face living his life with heart disease, he did not let it simply defeat him.  He took on the best available science of diet that medicine could offer in each era.  That, as we know, changes about every decade.  But Herb eventually harnessed some dietary strictures along with exercise and reduced his weight, and probably also lengthened his life.  He would have a big bag of some food--it might be bread, or celery, or popcorn--when he sat down to watch a ballgame, and he would say, “I can eat all of this I want.”  So he would eat, and stay with his diet, and it did all the rest of us good to change some of our habits, too.

Ruth mentions how she came to realized how brilliant Herbie really was.  It happened when she was a college student and was struggling with a physics class.  Herbie told her to bring her textbook and work home for the weekend to see if he could help.  She says Herb took her textbook and looked it over for about an hour.  Then, for the time they had available, he worked through all of her assignments, tutoring her through the entire course.  It only took him an hour of refreshing his memory to get her through college physics.

Marie remembers him as a good husband in so many ways, always providing for the family and making time to be with them.  She says he was always so proud of each of his kids.  All three are like him in many ways.  All have good mathematical minds and have applied their abilities in different fields of work successfully.  I have also watched Marie shake her head when she talks about his efforts to keep the cars and the house in good repair.  I must say that in many ways it was Herb who inspired me to try to work on household repairs and car maintenance.  And I sympathize with him in having worked on a project only to find that my efforts did not achieve the goal.  

Now I can’t say that I have ever put my foot through the ceiling while working in the attic, something Herbie did more than once.  And I don’t remember ever finishing a project on the car only to find several remaining pieces I had somehow not reinstalled.  Everly says she remembers him methodically taking apart the car engine, placing nuts and bolts and parts in little paper lunch bags, arrayed around him in the garage.  As she remembered it, usually there was a bag of parts left over after he had put things back together.  Surely she exaggerates, but maybe not too much.  I never had that happen, but probably it is because I did not try to do such ambitious projects.  Herbie believed he could figure out how to fix most things and saw no reason to pay an exorbitant fee to someone who might do no better than he could do himself.  Then again, the story of the Volkswagen bug headed down the street with the engine on fire is still a cautionary tale.  As I said, Marie shakes her head.

And Marie was often heard to say, “Herbie, you are worse than the kids!”  Herbie loved to play.  He loved sports play, he loved board game or card play, he loved roughhouse play, and he loved teasing play.  One game he played with his grandkids was called “Couch.”  In this game, he would find a kid sitting or lying on the couch, then sit down on the kid.  When David or Naomi or Lydia tried to get up or escape, he would hold them in place and say, “Couch. What’s wrong?  Why won’t you be still?  Couches aren’t supposed to move.”  They would play baseball with the pillows and chair cushions, eventually knocking over a lamp or decorative item.  “Herbie, you are worse than the kids!”  She would shake her head.  

Herbie enjoyed being with kids.  I remember when I was first getting to know the family, there were always several more kids around the house than just the three Estes kids.  Herbie liked having them around.  The family would make popcorn often in the evening, play games, watch a ball game, and the more the merrier.

Emily says Herbie showed his love through mischief.  He would steal her prize possession, her stuffed bunny rabbit, whenever he got a chance.  She would spend what seemed hours searching for it so she could go to bed.  She tried preemptively hiding bunny rabbit from him, but usually he would find her hiding place and rehide the rabbit.  It kept her on edge, this constant battle of teasing and mischief, of getting her feet tickled, of playing roughhouse games.   

Kenny learned that when he walked by Herbie sitting in a chair, Herb would reach out and grab him, often locking him between his two legs.  Kenny would try hard to get away, and eventually when he did, he would come right back because he also knew what Emily said.  Herbie’s mischievous play was his way of showing love by sharing a good time and laugh with his grandkids as much as possible.

He loved kids athletics, and that meant being involved with Everly's and Eric's, and maybe Ruth's (although she can't remember that) Little League efforts as well as any other kids in the neighborhood or church group that needed a Dad around.  Ruth says he would go gather up her friends for sports or church or whatever.  He liked being around kids, and especially liked ball games.  Many of us know the rumor that circulated that Marie and Herb must be having marital problems because the gossip columnist of the neighborhood paper kept seeing him alone at the little league park.  But it was just his enthusiasm for games, sports, and kids.   

He loved watching Emily play softball.  She says he was her biggest fan.  But Herbie would wander off from her game if she was not playing or it got uninteresting.  John said they had to make sure he wore a brightly colored shirt so they could find him among the fans at the multiple ball diamonds where they would play.  He was an independent soul.

Eventually, as Herbie had to give up some of his hopes for becoming a champion golfer, and as he had already far outlived his life expectations after three heart surgeries and a carotid artery blockage, Herbie again adjusted his diet.  Ice cream became the priority.  And chocolate.  He was going to enjoy his last years eating stuff that he had avoided for so long.  Kenny remembers when Herbie fell in the kitchen with a broken hip; he was lying on the floor waiting for the EMS to arrive.  Kenny went to sit with him.  What did this injured man want to talk about?  Herbie told Kenny to go get him some chocolate nuggets to eat while he was waiting.  When the family went on a cruise to the Panama Canal, Kenny and Herbie made four trips a day to the deck where the free ice cream cones were.  It was special Grandpa time for Kenny, and all you can eat ice cream for Herbie.  He was enjoying his final years.

Herbie loved Marie.  Before they were dating, she had heard that he was not the best behaved young man.  But after his army service, when he went back to college with a new seriousness, he set his eyes on her.  His sister Ruth remembers his coming home from a date with Marie, saying, “I just went out with a woman who could be Miss America!”  He loved her from the beginning to the end.  He depended on her in so many ways.  In his hard struggle this last year, when he felt most distressed or alone, he ultimately would call out “Marie!"  He called her name because he knew she was his rock and his shelter.   

We all miss him.

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