My dad has ALWAYS had “interesting” friends. When I was little my dad’s friends consisted of: the infamous Polo Shirt Bandit from the late 80’s to early 90’s (http://www.texasmonthly.com/articles/the-last-ride-of-the-polo-shirt-bandit/); a guy who was known for setting elevators on fire in downtown Houston office buildings; a man who missed his entire 20’s in prison (I asked my dad what he did and my dad wisely said “I didn’t ask”); and of course the notorious biker club that starts with a B and rhymes with Doritos. You know, all great people to have around young children! Now that I have told you all this imagine my dad’s horror when I became obsessed with True Crime stories at the age of 8 (we can all blame those Nancy Drew Stories). My dad didn’t get too concerned until I read Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi (the District Attorney that prosecuted Charles Manson) when I was 13. I became obsessed (full on obsessed). I started reading every True Crime book I could. I would sit at the library looking up cases. I did probably 4 school projects on the Charles Manson case and then to my dad’s pure horror I started telling everyone I was going to be a prosecutor!! No No No No said the Hippy! That will never happen! My dad always respected law enforcement! He respected his ability to never get caught for his own crimes and views life as rules are made to be broken and here his offspring was telling people I wanted to enforce rules! My dad was ashamed. He was horrified. When I was a freshman in high school a boy was harassing me. I told the police officer who told the principal who called my dad. That evening after a long discussion my dad told me I was grounded because “we don’t involve the law in our problems, we tell my dad’s friends”…I was so confused at this point. I was being grounded for following the rules!?! Well the Hippy ended up getting his way. He crushed any idea I had of being an attorney. I had also been selected to attend the University of North Texas as a junior in high school for their two year accelerated program that would have me finish high school at the same time as completing my Associates Degree (the Hippy was not impressed). I was registered in the program but then 1994 happened and between my friend dying; the Hippy having what I can only guess was a mid-life crisis and telling me to find a place to live that he was selling everything he owned and moving to Jamaica well let’s just say college was off the table. I ended up getting my GED two years later (at my grandmothers request) and then in my mid-twenties my husband wanted to go back to school for his bachelors (he had an Associates) so I went with him. I am happy to say that Daddy Hippy was at my graduation ceremony for my Bachelors degree! He was waiting for me right at the base of the stairs as I exited the stage and he gave me a huge hug. Ironically he was furious that I had not graduated high school but now I have an Associates Degree and a Bachelors Degree and neither have anything to do with criminal law! Daddy Hippy was relieved!
I called my dad today for an update. It has been over a week since I had checked in on him but like Papa Dale always said “no news is good news” or in this case more of the same. My dad said he has made several trips to the VA but he is glad to be home when he can. They have removed one of his vacuum bags for his infections. The infection in his leg is stable and that is the bag they removed. He still has a vacuum bag for his neck infection. He starts radiation in two weeks – 30 rounds (5 days a week for 6 weeks). His weight has dropped to 107 pounds now and if they are not happy with his weight when he starts radiation they are putting him on a feeding tube. I cannot say that I would have ever thought that I would weigh more than my father. He is 6 feet tall and I am 5 foot 2 inches and yet he weighs less than I do. Crazy and yet sad all at the same time.
My dad seemed to always make his big announcements on the fly, usually as he was walking in the house via the kitchen. In June of 1994, I had just turned 16; was still dealing with the death of a friend; had been less than a year since both of my dad’s dads (he was adopted by his step-dad) died; and I had just finished freshman year of high school. I had just returned from my Spanish tutor and was watching tv with a friend. The step-monster is sitting in her usual spot at the table doing the crossword puzzle. My dad enters via our right through the kitchen. This is almost the exact same feeling as when I ruined his surprise and announced he bought a motorcycle…my dad is walking in the kitchen and this time he says “I am moving to Jamaica. Heather find somewhere to live. Lynn either divorce me or go with me”! He basically left after that. For the rest of that year he would go down for 6 weeks and come home for a few. He sold Raiders Pest Control and turned over Raiders Courier to my Grandma Jane. I stayed with my best friend and her family until the Spring Semester when my dad had convinced Debbie (birth mother) to let me come live with her (I didn’t stay with her more than 10 months but he tried). My dad moved to Jamaica and started a charter fishing business. He lived in Negril and a few years later my step-monster joined him. My Uncle Glen and I visited him when I turned 18. My dad loved Jamaica. He loved his adventure and he was meant for adventures. However, our relationship was severely altered forever as well as his with virtually everyone else. The step-monster became used to his undivided attention and to this day he hardly gets to see or talk to anyone else. He got in some trouble in Jamaica with the local government and had to return to the states in 2005. Sadly, my husband has only met / seen my dad 10-12 times and we have been together since 1998!! Part of my writing this blog is to share memories of my dad with my husband.
1982 was the first year my daddy had custody of me and I started it off in a cast from an accident that shattered my elbow. My elbow healed nicely but not too long after that I would find myself back in the operating room of the infamous Dr. Oats! My dad, step-monster and I had a terrible car accident that summer. My dad was driving and I was standing up in the back seat (I was 3 but car seat laws didn’t exist yet). My dad was driving a cadillac with electric seats. We got hit on the driver side door (the one I was right next too) and the car was spun into oncoming traffic. I was knocked on the floorboard of the car and my right arm ended up caught in all the cabling under my dad’s seat. I have a clear memory of this accident. I remember opening my eyes and looking towards the open passenger door as my dad was telling me he would get me out. He climbs into the car and forces my arm free. I have a gaping open wound and my entire wrist bone is exposed. I am bleeding everywhere. My dad hands me to the step-monster and forces a car to stop and my step-monster climbs into this woman’s car (that is full of her children) and she speeds to the hospital. My step-monster is now covered in my blood! I get rushed into surgery and the surgeon is the same doctor that repaired my elbow not even 5 months before! The cops that showed up to check on me didn’t find the humor in the story either…My dad made a new song up that day and it was “buckle up for safety buckle up!” He sang this every time we would get into the car after that wreck. Every time. Even when I was a teenager!
Turkey Larry earned his nickname when I was 2 years old. It was December 1981 and was the first Christmas for my dad and step-monster and I as a family. The step-monster was cooking dinner and I was playing with my dad. I used to love to run up to my dad and he would grab me and flip me upside down and hold me by the ankle high above his head (he is 6 feet tall)! Well this particular evening I was wearing my brand new red corduroy pants that the step-monster bought way too big (because I would grow into them of course). Yep, you guessed it…my dad grabs me, flips me upside down, lifts me high above his head…and he is only holding my pants as I have fallen out of them and I am lying on the concrete floor on top of my shattered elbow screaming! My dad realized his horrible mistake which was grabbing the pants instead of my ankles! He scoops me up and they run to the car with me. We lived 3 minutes from two different hospitals and they of course where opposite of each other. My dad heads to the larger of the two hospitals. He runs into the emergency room with me (I’m now screaming “my daddy broke my arm”) and the nurses explained that they didn’t have room to see me. My dad is panicking; I am screaming; and the nurses are saying no. A man in plain clothes walks over to my dad and explains that he was at the hospital visiting someone but that he is in fact an orthopedic surgeon and if my dad would like to follow him in his car to the other hospital he would operate on me! My dad says “let’s go” and off we went following some random guy to the smaller hospital for him to operate on me!!! His name was Dr. Oats and this would not be our only encounter in 1981/1982! While I am in surgery (and after the cops stopped questioning my dad because they too followed the good doctor) my dad’s friends all came to sit with him. One of my dads closest friends was Larry Morgan and he arrives with this sock monkey in a blue track suit (stuffed animal) that had “Zoomer” written on his chest. Since I am only 2 I am lying in a crib style hospital bed and I am miserable. I have two pins in my elbow and a full cast. Turkey Larry earned his nickname that night. He put Zoomer in my crib and then started jumping on my hospital bed acting like a monkey! One of the nurses came in and scolded him for being such a turkey!!!
I still have Zoomer today! I learned to tie my shoes using his shoelaces on his track suit! He also went to many hospital visits with me over the years due to my heart issues! Zoomer sits on top of my closet and I see him daily (I have had him 37 years now)!
I was about 8 or 9 years old and my dad had a weekly pick-up at the Federal Reserve in downtown Houston. My dad was put on the list from the company he contracted with to pick-up their items each week. The very first time I was with my dad we park in the loading zone and enter the building. Armed guards are everywhere and this was just the lobby! I follow my dad to the counter and he gives his drivers license to the guard and signs the logbook. He puts his wallet away and tells me “let’s go”. The guard stops him and says that I can’t go with him. My dad tells me to sit in a chair in the lobby and to stay put. The guard says that a child cannot be unattended and I cannot stay in the lobby. My dad tells him that he is not leaving me in the truck in downtown Houston! The guard unhappily agrees to let me sit in the chair. It takes about 30 minutes to do what my dad needed to do as you have to go though several security checkpoints (and this was the 80’s). My dad was concerned that he would have a problem the next week as I rode with him every day of the summer. He was telling someone at the company he was contracted with the story / issue. That person said well they have a list let’s put her on the damn list. The very next week my dad and I walk in the Federal Reserve again. This time my dad walks to the desk and gives them both our names but of course he is the only one with identification. The guard smirks and checks his list. Sure enough I am on it! The guard sarcastically asks my dad how he is supposed to verify that I am who the lists says…my dad responded with “ask her”. For years afterwards whenever my dad was unavailable to make a pick-up at the Federal Reserve he would send me with a driver. I was even taken out of school once to ride with the driver to the Fed and sign-in to go get the package they needed while the driver stayed in the truck because by then the guards wouldn’t allow anyone waiting in the lobby! Like my dad always says “rules are made to be broken”!
My dad was obsessed with my safety! To be honest he ran with a very dangerous group (a notorious biker club that I won’t name) as well as other people that all had their hands in one crime or another. It’s a miracle he kept his hands clean! Also, my mother’s step-dad had threatened to kidnap me. My dad also didn’t have the luxury of always being around to pick me up from school or nursery school so he invented a code word or password. When I was too young to know the answer he would tell anyone caring for me what the code word or password was. If someone showed up and said that he sent them they had to know the code word or password and if they did I was to be released to their care! My dad was a dispatcher for Hot Shot delivery as well as a driver (he did this until he started his own companies when I was 7 or so). On a daily basis he would dispatch one of his drivers on a call near my school and then have them swing by and grab me! The school was always relieved if I knew the person getting me! When I was in the 4th grade an emergency came up and the step-monster couldn’t come get me but I remember one of my friends moms approaching me and saying that I was to go with her. I stopped for a second and she smiled and whispered the code word. I knew I was supposed to do what she told me to do! Personally I think this was genius. My dad loves telling people about the time one of his drivers had Rodney Dangerfield in their truck (no idea why or how) and he called on the radio to my dad “Hello Pat!” My dad loves that story!
I spoke to my dad last night and his first check-up at the VA was Monday (2/6) and it went fine. The infections are slowly healing and the doctors are starting to get his appointments set-up with the oncologist for his radiation / chemo; the nutritionist and such. He has another appointment tomorrow. The back and forth from home to the VA is very hard on him but like he said it’s better than being stuck in a hospital bed. I sent him a care package of a Harley Davidson t-shirt; the movie about how Harley Davidson began; a teddy bear to take with him to his treatments and a Harley Davidson bell to keep the gremlins away! Of course my dad was happy to get it but he is a man of very few words (with me at least). My uncle Glen called me last night and told me “good job baby girl your dad is beyond thrilled with his care package”. Well, at least he was excited with someone…I will always help my daddy. I just won’t and can’t deal with the step-monster! My prayers for peace for dad continue…
The phrase that always pops into my head when I think of my dad is him saying “rules are made to be broken”. He would tell me this daily. This was Patrick LaGrone’s personal anthem! It’s what he would say to himself. It’s what he lived his life by and it’s what he taught his daughter! It’s important to note that my daddy is deeply disappointed that I did not adopt this mantra…I believe firmly in a society with rules but then again I am not a hippy! When I was 9 years old Dirty Dancing (movie) was released and one evening after I was put to bed my dad and step-monster planned on watching it (alone). Well they had a huge problem or two. 1) I really wanted to watch it and 2) the tv wall was also my bedroom wall! I was so mad that I couldn’t stay up to watch the movie that I focused on the one thing that I knew would get my dad’s attention….rules are made to be broken! All my pleading to stay up late was falling on deaf ears but then my dad said “give me a reason to let you”…I went to my room and as I listened to the movie, that I wanted to watch, I decided to learn my ABC’s backwards. I focused for nearly an hour and perfected them! I remember crawling out of bed and walking into the living room. I remember my dad pausing the movie with a smile on his face and I remember the sour look on my step-monsters face as I was interrupting her time with my dad. I proudly started with Z and ended with A and after my dad clapped his hands he told me to join him and finish the movie! For years and years after that, he would randomly put me on the spot, and ask me to repeat them. Yes, I still know them today 30 years later! My dad even bought the movie as a reminder for my accomplishment! Over the next 6 years or so I would naturally push his mantra and each time he was true to form. He loved breaking rules but always told me I had to be honest with him! If I wanted to skip school – no problem. Just had to tell him where I was! Went to a party I was not supposed to – no problem just call if I neeeded him! I would never get in trouble as long as I called my dad! One day in March 1994 (3 weeks before I turned 16) I broke all the rules and went to a party that I was NOT supposed to be at – I was a freshman in high school but was friends with seniors. I was supposed to be at the movies and then at my friend’s house by 10 but instead I was on the other side of town at a party in a field with hundreds of kids I didn’t know, nor did my friends. A disagreement broke out and my senior friend was killed. I called the one person who prepared me for a difficult moment such as this. I called my dad! He came to the hospital as quickly as he could and started calling parents of kids who did not feel they could call their own. We never once discussed that night. I was not grounded for I paid a much higher price. My dad was true to form. I called and he came..I also never broke a rule again!
The summer I was 8 or 9 my dad became friends with the Ringling Brothers elephant handlers. The circus would come to Houston for 2-3 weeks every summer and they would keep the elephants behind the Summit outside. My dad’s company was in the building behind the Summit and my dad would arrive at work early each day (usually at 4:30 am) to pick up the deliveries for the day. He would come and go throughout the day as well. My dad can make friends with anyone. He is just a very likable guy. After stopping to see the elephants for a few days and talking to their handlers by dad learned that they bathe the elephants daily around 10 am. My dad took me to work with him that day and didn’t tell me what to expect. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. For the next 2 weeks I was able to pet the elephants every morning; watch them bathe at 10 am each day (I usually ended up soaked because they would line up large outdoor type trash cans and each elephant would have their own. They would fill them with water and let the elephants play in the water while the handlers bathed each one. The elephants would put their trunk in the trash can and then shoot the water everywhere. Anyone around would get completely soaked.). They even gave my dad tickets to take me to see the elephants perform. I was so sad the day they left. For years every time we drove to my dads work all I saw was my pet elephants gone. Not many kids can say they spent two weeks with 20 pet elephants.
Disclaimer: this is not about the circus at all. Just a great memory of mine regrading elephants.