1. You grew to be nearly a foot and a half taller than your mother. Was it hard being a big kid growing up? Yes, I was picked on and made fun of, and called fatso, tubby, Baby Hughey, names like that - it hurt. Until I stood up to one of the bullies and punched him. Word got around fast in our small town and they left me alone after that!
2. Can you tell us about a time when that size and strength was put to good use? When I was fourteen and living in Memphis, my mom had a heart attack and stroke at home while my step-father was out somewhere with the car on a drunk. We didn't have a phone to call an ambulance so I more or less carried my mom the eight blocks to the hospital. I was scared to death, her speech was slurred and she could hardly breathe. I just knew I had to get her there, and I did. She recovered, but went on to have several more heart attacks in her lifetime. She died at 64, following stomach surgery, with me holding her hand. Her heart wasn't strong enough and she never came out of the anesthesia following surgery. That was the most painful day of my life.
3. You worked at several jobs between the ages of 16 and 27 when you started your current job at the truck accessories store. What kinds of things did you do? I bussed tables and washed dishes at a steak house, pulled 300 pound blocks of ice at an ice house, cut wood in a furniture factory, worked as a carpenter's helper, a service station attendant, and a roughneck on a drilling rig. I sold vacuum cleaners door-to-door, and I drove a tow-truck where I saw terrible things at accident scenes that still haunt my memories.
4. What was the most unusual job you've ever had? The most interesting job I ever held was working on a drilling rig at a nuclear test site in Nevada, drilling holes that were 100 inches wide and 4,500 feet deep. They were used for underground testing of nuclear bombs. I got to witness some of the explosions by closed circuit tv. You could see the ground rise up several hundred feet in the air and then collapse, leaving huge craters that looked like a moonscape. I did that job for six months, and even though the pay was good, I decided to return to West Texas. I missed my wife and children, and I didn't want to relocate them and have my daughters growing up in the Las Vegas environment.
5. You had a near-death experience when you were in your 40's, tell us about that. Some friends and I were camping at sand dunes near here in the winter, and were out riding four-wheeled ATVs. We headed back to our campsite as it was getting dark. It was cold out - in the 20's, raining and sleeting. I was wearing insulated coveralls and boots for warmth. The other riders were more experienced than me. I was at the rear having a hard time keeping up. I lost sight of them in the dark, and as I topped a dune and started over, the ATV started sliding down toward a large pool of water at the bottom. I applied the brakes but continued to slide. The ATV flipped forward into the pool of water, which was about eight feet deep, throwing me over the handlebars. It landed on top of me pinning me under water at the bottom of the pool. It happened so fast I didn't even have time to hold my breath as I went under.
An ATV weighs over 600 pounds, but some how, by the grace of God, I found the strength to push it off of me so I could rise to the surface. One of my friends had turned around to come back and find me, and he saw my headlight go over the dune and disappear. By the time he got there I was clawing my way up the steep bank, soaking wet, and freezing cold.
I went back down in to the water to upright the ATV and my friend and I managed to push it out of the pool and drag it up the slippery bank. We towed it back to the campsite behind his ATV using my belt for a tow rope. Nearly two hours passed from the time I fell in the water until we arrived back at the campsite. I was frozen through and shaking uncontrollably. My friends helped me change into dry clothes, gave me coffee, and warmed me up by the campfire. That's the only time I've ever had death staring me in the face, I was lucky to get out of the water alive. It was not nearly as much fun as skinny dipping when I was a kid!
Continued in Papa Bear's Tale: The Interview - Part III