When I was 3 the Hippy started teaching me about gun safety and self-defense. We would practice evacuation drills as well as hiding if someone broke in the house. We did this several times a week. In fairness Debbie’s step-dad/adopted father had threatened to kidnap me in a very graphic letter to Debbie. My grandfather was not a good man as he had molested Debbie for years thus causing her to run away from CA at the age of 15 and she met my dad in Reno, NV shortly after that! The Hippy had guns all over the house and he named them after Disney characters and taught me the locations of each. Part of our practice drills was him saying a name and me running to get it or in some cases it was alerting me to go hide in the pre-determined location. My closet had a panel in it that he cut out and cleaned up for me to hide behind. Dumbo was the name of the handgun that the step-monster carried in her purse and I knew to never ever put my hand in her purse no matter what (unless I was to get Dumbo for my dad). When I was in the 4th grade I was playing in the front room of our house (it really connected to the main living room and breakfast room) and my dad and step-monster where in the living room not even 30 feet away (the living room faced the back yard). It was dark outside but still early in the evening. My dad noticed a very bright spotlight shining directly in our backyard. He hollers at me to come to his side. He opens the door and sees it’s a police helicopter. He yells for my step-mother to get his gun. The Hippy and I walk to the front room and see about 4 police cars outside our house and we can see officers running towards our gate. The step-monster does as she is told and blacks out the house so the Hippy can see what’s going on outside. I am told to go stand by the step-monster,at the back wall of the living room, and my dad is standing at the glass doors (doors open) holding his gun. We see everything as the helicopter is practically on our roof and the entire yard is lit up. My playhouse was in the far left corner of the yard and then we had several large bushes/tree things/shrubs that spaced out the length of the back fence. One officer approaches the shrub next to the playhouse (he was alone at the time as the Calvary was searching the front of the house/ street). All of a sudden a man jumps up from the shrub and grabs the officers nightsick and starts to beat the officer. The Hippy is jumping in and out of our glass doors (open) saying “should I shoot him” (bad guy beating officer) over and over. All of a sudden the officer and the bad guy fall through our fence into the neighbors yard. Now the Calvary arrives (all with their guns drawn) and the Hippy points to the neighbors yard and yells “they went that way”. The officers kick another hole into our fence (instead of walking 30 feet to the current hole) and we hear gunshots. One officer comes to sit with us and take our statements. We learned that the bad guy was apprehended and he had robbed a jewelry store at Sharpstown mall (three blocks away). My bedroom was in the back of the house and I slept with all the lights on in my room for months after this!
When I was in the first grade our next door neighbor, Rick, married Christi and he adopted her 4 daughters (Pati 4 years older than me; Belinda 2 years older than me; Natalie is my age; and Margie 2 years younger than me). Natalie and I became immediate friends (literally when they exited the car in the first five minutes) as did Christi and the step-monster (this still shocks me as Christi is so nice). Not long after the girls moved next door the step-monster accepted a job as a Bookkeeper for Tanglewood Homes Assocation. The only-drawback to her new job was that it required her to work late every Monday night (past my bedtime). The week leading up to the very first Monday night the Hippy was feeling confident. He picked me up from school; I started my homework as soon as we arrived home (my routine as neither the Hippy or step-monster cared about school); I had a snack and waited for the girls to get home (next door) so we could play before dinner time and bath and bed. Well everything was running swimmingly until the Hippy got me out of the bathtub. Here is little Heather soaking wet from head to toe and the Hippy freaks out as he has no idea how to do my hair so it looked nice the next day for school. He decides it’s time to phone next door and beg Christi for help. He calls Christi and of course she tells him to send me over as her girls are in the process of their bedtime routine. He dresses me (my hair is soaking wet) and carries me next door and passes me off to Christi. Christi dries and styles my hair; I have dessert with the girls (they only had one bathroom so their nighttime routine involved dessert while the girls rotated through their baths) and then we all settle into Pati/Belinda’s room while Christi reads us stories and we calm down for bedtime. Once all her girls are in bed she calls the Hippy to come get me and tells him he just needs to have me brush my teeth and put me in bed! Sometime during the week Christi talks to the step-monster and all decide that going forward I would spend Monday evenings with the girls and Christi would take care of bath and bedtime routines. She even bought me a toothbrush for their house and she would call the Hippy each Monday after I feel asleep in Natalie’s room and he would come get me and carry me to my bed! This went on for years (even after I as old enough to do my own hair it was just our new routine)!
My Hippy would always tell me that he would see me in 20 minutes even if he was an hour across town. I have absolutely no idea why but my Aunt Rhonda also would say the same thing to my step-sister/cousin Rachel so maybe it was a Shepherd thing! When I was 7 or 8, Debbie and Niki shared a very small apartment in Northwest Houston. I lived with my dad and step-monster in Southwest Houston which was about an hour from Debbie and Niki. One weekend my Hippy had dropped me off at Debbie’s so I could spend time with her and Niki. Niki had a small room off of the living room with a Jack and Jill style bathroom with Debbie. If Debbie had a boyfriend I would sleep either on the couch or on Niki’s floor but on this occasion I was able to share a bed with Debbie. Sometime in the late evening I woke up (no idea what woke me either) and I couldn’t find Debbie anywhere. I walked the entire apartment and like I said it was small so I should have found her. I was scared so I called my dad (luckily I knew my home phone number). My dad answered the phone and I told him I couldn’t find Debbie (this just seemed crazy to him so he told me to put the phone down and go look around and report back). I did as I was told and unknown to me he was quickly getting dressed. I came back to the phone (1985 or so we did not have a cordless phone) and told him Niki was asleep in her crib but Debbie was not home. He told me to hang up and wait for him on the couch and to ONLY answer when he knocked and gave me the password. He hung up after saying “I will be there in 20 minutes” (now we all know that was a lie as he was an hour away) but regardless I did what I was told. Some time later I heard the knock on the door and he said the password. I remember opening the door and either I was loud or he was loud but at this moment Niki woke up crying. Thank goodness she waited for him to arrive too as I could not have helped her since she was in her crib and I could’t get her out at that age. My dad locks the door and goes to pick-up Niki. He asks me to show him where Debbie kept the bottles and he tended to Niki. He settled Niki back in her crib and he sent me to Debbie’s room to go back to sleep. Years later he told me that after he made sure both Niki and I were asleep he turned off all the lights and waited for Debbie to arrive. Debbie was working at a strip-club and didn’t want my dad to know so she simply didn’t tell him when he called that morning to say he was going to bring me by. Once daylight came my dad woke me up and told me to say goodbye to Debbie and Niki and we left. I did not spend the night with Debbie again for about 4 years. In fact, it was Debbie’s next husband (aka my last step-dad) Danny that insisted on reaching out to my dad to mend fences so I could see Debbie and Niki. I remember the three of them coming to our house and Danny talking to my dad (he and Debbie had only been dating a short while). My dad allowed me to leave with Danny and he made it VERY clear that I was left in Danny’s care and not Debbie’s. My Hippy and Papa Dale even went to Danny’s bachelor party and I was a bridesmaid in their wedding. Danny and Debbie divorced about 9 years later and to this day Danny and I are close! My dad has always had fond things to say about Danny as well!
My Hippy called to tell me that he completed his 10th round of radiation yesterday! He is very proud of himself. They will not do any further testing until 6 weeks after his last radiation. He is hopeful!
My Hippy gained custody of me on March 15, 1981 when I was just 3 years old. This was unheard of in the 80’s as he was only 28 years old and was unmarried. However the Hippy tends to do things unconventionally when he wants something. He has always cared for my mother, Debbie, but once I was born they realized they couldn’t make it work. I am not sure if it was the fact that they left CO / Reno communes and moved back to the real world in Houston; or if it was having a baby with a heart problem; or if it was my Grandma Jane that caused the split but regardless they divorced when I was 2 and at 3 my Hippy “forced” Debbie to give me up. Now Debbie is not a victim in this at all as she does not have a maternal bone in her body and she is very selfish. My husband has always liked the fact that Debbie at least owns up to being a crappy mother – to this day we go years without speaking and I will say this breaks the Hippy’s heart as he did all he could to keep us close. In March 1981, the Hippy was 28; Debbie was 21 and I was 2.5 almost 3 years old. The Hippy was living with my grandparents (Grandma Jane and Papa Dale) and Debbie and I lived with Ralph Shepherds’ (aka Uncle Ralph) ex-wife and daughter (the Shepherds are pseudo-siblings to my Hippy since he was a kid and Ralph is Glen’s younger brother). My Hippy stopped paying child support; stopped paying the daycare and after a few months reported Debbie’s car to the repo company as she couldn’t make the payments (crappy I know). He then sat back and waited for Debbie to call and she did. They agreed for me to live with my dad for at least 6 months while Debbie got on her feet again. Well, August 8, 1981 the Hippy decided to further ruin my life and he married the step-monster who was 11 years his senior; from a very wealthy family with roots in Houston society; and she had no kids. They get married and sue for permanent custody of me. Debbie didn’t stand a chance and the Hippy won. Surprisingly their is no animosity between Debbie and the Hippy. Debbie was not great at exercising her weekend visitation as she is a crappy mother but that never stopped the Hippy from trying to get her and I together as often as he could. I would spend my summers riding in the truck with my dad as he owned a Courier Service and later a Pest Control Company and at least once a week we would stop by and see Debbie (I learned years later that my Hippy was delivering supplies to Debbie and would go year-round even when I was not with him). Debbie has done her fair share of crap to my Hippy as well (maybe it was paybacks but who knows). She has been engaged to my Uncle Glen (Shepherd). She married my Uncle Ralph (Shepherd) thus making my cousin Rachel my Step-sister/cousin. She once married a guy to help him get his green card (the Hippy found out and threatened to turn her in so she divorced the guy before they got too far into the process). She married a biker from the club that starts with a B and rhymes with Doritos, he goes by Feats but his name is Steve. They were married for less than 30 days but lived together longer. It is with Steve that Debbie had my little sister Niki and when Niki was only 6 months old it was my Hippy and both Shepherd boys (Glen and Ralph) that came to rescue Debbie and Niki from a VERY angry Feats. I was 6.5 years old when Debbie married Feats and she had Niki. I didn’t have a room or a bed (at their house)so when I would spend the night I had to sleep on the floor next to Niki’s crib. One night I thought I heard Niki struggling to breathe so I went to wake-up Debbie. I walked in Debbie’s room and quietly called her name (I never called her “mom”). Feats didn’t appreciate being woken up and threw a boot at my head. I went back to bed (it is a miracle that Niki and I survived our childhood). On the day that Debbie had officially had enough of Feats’ crap my job was to entertain Niki (I was 7 and she was 6 months) so basically I just pushed her in the swing for hours while Debbie loaded her car with all their belongings. Feats shows up and punches Debbie (breaking her jaw) and puts gasoline all over the car and trunk. My Hippy and uncles arrive and put an end to the non-sense. Debbie and Niki moved in with my Uncle Ralph’s ex-wife and daughter (again). The Hippy loved my sister Niki (and my step-sister/cousin Rachel) and he wanted us to be close. He was never one to believe in labels as the Shepherds are just as much siblings to him as his own blood siblings. All the Hippy would ever say to me about Debbie was “please do not end up like your mother”. He said the same thing to me when I was 5 as he did when I was 16. It was not till I was an adult that I really understood what he meant.
The summer between 8th and 9th grade I pushed my Hippy’ boundaries and safety rules constantly! My friends and I would sneak out of the house and drive around in one of our parents cars (no one had a license and Houston is not the safest place at 2 am). We were dumb but just too young to know that yet! We must have done this 2-3 times a week the entire summer. I was caught twice that summer. The first time I was caught was because my friends got caught and threw me under the bus with them (we are no longer friends). The Hippy lost his mind when he learned what we did. He didn’t care about the borrowing of the cars or sneaking out – he didn’t like that he didn’t know where I was at all times. I was caught and grounded to my room with no tv and no phone. Well I hated the step-monster so the grounded to my room was like a vacation and we didn’t have cable so I didn’t really care about losing my tv but I was 15 and he took the phone away! I thought I was going to die. Luckily I loved to read (like the Hippy said he couldn’t ground me from reading) so I holed up in my room to wait out the two weeks of torture. Less than 12 hours into my 2 week sentence I hear a knock on my door (I know it’s the Hippy as the step-monster never knocked). I remember looking over my shoulder in annoyance as I was reading Helter Skelter for the millionth time and I saw the Hippy standing in my doorway HOLDING MY PHONE! I could hardly breathe but I played it cool! The Hippy holds out the phone and says “call your Papa and thank him”. I am not one to look a gifthorse in the mouth but I am very confused and ask why. The Hippy tells me that he was at work that morning and was telling my Papa about my antics. Papa told him that he better unground me immediately and that he did far worse to Papa than I could ever do to him and that paybacks are hell! Well, the Hippy took his dad’s words to heart and let me off my grounding! The Hippy closed the door and I called my Papa (I had no idea at the time it would be one of our last conversations as he died less than a month later). When I called Papa to thank him he responded with “you are welcome.” He then told me that the next time I want to sneak out of the house to do it at his house and I can just walk out the front door and he leaves his keys in his car every night! He told me not to do that stuff at my house but I can at his house anytime! The Hippy must have been one bad teenager for Papa to not even bat an eye when I started rebelling! However the rebelling streak didn’t last long and this was probably the worst thing I actually did.
I was able to talk to my Hippy yesterday as my uncle had texted that the step-monster would be out all day! He sounds bored but struggling to be good. He said it’s really tough to be hopeful. His face is swollen still and he still has stitches in his face/mouth/eye/neck/legs. His weight is holding steady at 107. He finished his 6th radiation treatment yesterday and he now drives himself. Two weeks after the 30th radiation they will run new tests. They remind him daily the cancer will spread and they are hopeful it’s South and not into the brain as the tumor was right at the brain stem cells. The step-monster walked in and he had to go but this time I believe he was able to hang up before she discovered it was me! I’ll try again next week.
I talked to my favorite Hippy tonight. He started our very tired and sluggish but by the end of the call sounded like his younger self! He should get the remaining vacuum bag off of his neck tomorrow and start his radiation treatments (30 minimum). The doctor confirmed they did not remove the entire tumor as they tested the margins and it is not clear. We expected this as the surgeon said he could not safely cut any closer to his brain. His weight is steady at 107 (he is 6 feet tall). He said everyone is trying to feed him and went on and on about Aunt Lauren taking him food! He told me that Sunday they went to the grocery store and the man behind him in the checkout lane asked him if Jesus Christ could pay for his food. Thank you to this kind stranger. It meant a lot. He then spent 10 minutes telling me all the bikes he wants me to buy and send to him! It was nice to hear him dreaming and scheming again. We both know Step-monster would never let him on a bike again!
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.