My office is in my parents’ bedroom. My desk is in the middle of the room where part of my parents’ bed sat, the bed I was conceived in. I still have the bed. I still can’t wrap my mind around my parents having sex. They must have had it a lot because there were seven kids. I remember finding the funny little balloons my Daddy had in his dresser drawer. I remember my Daddy standing by that dresser in his white boxers and sleeveless undershirt. I wonder what they talked about in their bedroom. I remember my dad lying in the bed sleeping late. Sometimes I would crawl up on the bed and lay by him.
The bed. Everybody smoked back then. Mama smoked Lucky Strikes and Daddy smoked Camels. My Aunt Cile left her cigarette lighter at our house one time. I found it and crawled under my parents’ bed. I think I was six or seven. I lit the lighter and moved it closer and closer to the white bedspread. It caught fire. I panicked. I ran out of the bedroom and out of the house. Our maid found the fire and put it out. I was lucky I didn’t burn the house down. I don’t remember getting the whipping I deserved. I guess my parents were so happy I didn’t burn the house down Daddy forgot to whip me.
Daddy used his belt to whip me. He could unbuckle his belt and jerk it out with one hand fast. It made a distinctive sound when he did that. He didn’t whip me very often. I was mostly good and didn’t cause too many whippings. I don’t really remember him whipping any of my brothers or sisters. My little brother said he didn’t get any whippings because he was smart enough to run away when he heard the belt sound. The one whipping I do remember was not fair. We were eating lunch at the kitchen table, probably on a Saturday. My little brother kept reaching over and taking food off my plate. I popped him in the face with my cloth napkin. We used cloth napkins back then. I don’t really think it hurt him, but he cried. Daddy stood up, pulled his belt off with one hand, pulled my chair back from the table, and slapped me with the belt twice against the top of my thighs. I was so mad. I thought he should have been whipping my brother. I cried and ran into the bathroom that connects to my parents’ bedroom where my office is now. I remember sitting on the toilet crying. I am sure this completely ruined things for my mother. She had gone to the trouble of cooking us a nice meal. I think it was fried chicken and corn on the cob. My mother did not believe in whipping or spanking of any kind. She brought me my plate. I held it in my lap, and my tears dripped onto the corn. I stayed in the bathroom a long time. One of my friends came over to play and stood outside the bathroom door calling for me, but I wouldn’t come out.
I carried on the tradition of whipping with my boys, but I mostly did it with my hand. They say never to spank in anger, but I always did. I whipped my oldest son once for doing something to his little brother at a Christmas tree farm. I will carry the guilt to my grave. I think we have the whole thing on videotape.
The bathroom where I hid with my corn is still there. There used to be a metal shower there. It’s a closet now. The metal shower had a plastic shower curtain. When my older sister was taking a shower, sometimes my brother and I would go up and hit the shower curtain. My sister would yell “get out” at us. It seems like the shower had an opening into the attic. I was always afraid of spiders in that shower.
Now the other lawyers come into my office to use that bathroom. I swear none of them know how to replace an empty roll of paper towels or toilet paper. I used to write my name TV (for Stevie) with an upside down V. I scratched T? in the door jam of that bathroom for some reason. You used to be able to see it, but I think it got painted over when we redid the house to make it into a law office.
I was lying on my parents’ bed in my office when the funeral director came to tell Mama Daddy had died while he was on a fishing trip in Mexico. They were in the adjoining room that was Mama’s flower shop. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to go out there, but I didn’t. Mom came in to tell me. I didn’t tell her I already knew.
I had gone fishing with my dad in Mexico the year before. It was a big adventure. It was the summer between sixth and seventh grade. The man we went with took a pickup and raised it way off the ground so it would have better clearance. They loaded a ton of stuff onto the truck, including a lot of ice chests and several lanterns. There were no refrigerators or electricity where we were going. I remember at a checkpoint in Mexico, the guards made them unload a bunch of the stuff and looked through everything. Before we left the main road, we stopped at an icehouse and got big blocks of ice. I remember the Mexican kids coming up and asking “nickel, nickel” with their hands out.
We left the main road and drove cross-country over the remains of an oil field road. We would have never made it without the high clearance. It was low jungle like around Cancun. We only met a couple of beer trucks. The drivers were armed. I remember the burros with penises dragging on the ground. We stayed in an adobe hut. It smelled great. We slept on rope beds. They hung a lantern from the ceiling. Daddy and the other man bumped their heads on the lantern every morning. They left me there alone one night to go to the nearby village to drink beer. There was no light pollution there. The stars were amazing.
We used heavy rods and Penn reels with thick line. The Mexicans used quart oil cans with a stick stuck through it with line wrapped around the stick. They could throw their lines as far as we could cast. We usually had steel leaders on the end of our lines because we caught snook that would cut the line. We caught lots of fish. I got pretty good at casting and could throw it as far as the men. Once though I knocked my dad’s straw hat off. He didn’t cuss but he looked pretty mad at first.
On the way back the other man wanted to stop at a whorehouse. He suggested that Daddy take me in for my first time. Daddy got mad and told him to go on. I always wonder what Daddy would have done if I hadn’t been there.
Daddy was in the funeral home two blocks from our house. Daddy looked like he was asleep. That place is a law office now too.
They always said I was Daddy’s favorite. I think it had something to do with Daddy being recalled into the Army when the Korean War started. He was at Fort Sam in San Antonio. When I was born in October 1950, he got to come home, I guess because he had enough dependents. All the men in town called me “Little Billy” after my Daddy. Daddy used to look at me and say “doctor, lawyer.” I don’t know why. Maybe he thought I was smart and that’s what he wanted me to be. I don’t know what happened to the doctor part, but I think that had something to do with me wanting to be a lawyer—which I had pretty much decided on by my senior year in high school.
Mama worked long and hard in the flower shop. Funerals often meant working on Sundays. The florist work hard on holidays too—Easter lilies, Christmas poinsettias. I remember getting up when it was dark and cold to deliver poinsettias to the cemetery on Christmas morning. I went to the funeral homes and put casket sprays on the caskets. Flowers are pretty tough. You can sling them around and stack sprays on top of each other without hurting them, except for the big mums. I delivered flowers to the churches. The churches were always unlocked, and I’d carry vases and put them on the altars. It was like worshipping all alone and bringing an offering to God. I liked delivering flowers. People were usually happy when you brought them.
My wife helped Mama in the flower shop. I think it made them closer. My wife has always been good to my mother.
After she retired from being a florist, Mama even worked in my law office for a while. She finally wrote me a note that she knew she was messing up a lot and quit. I still have that note somewhere.
I wonder what my father would think of me. I think he’d mostly be proud, but I know he’d be disappointed at some things I’ve done.
After my wife retired from teaching, my wife also worked for me for a while as office manager. She did a great job of sprucing up the office and working with the secretaries. She was a huge help. But some of the lawyers didn’t respect her, and this caused big problems between them and her, between me and her, and between me and them.
My son is a lawyer. He is a better lawyer than I am in many ways. He said I made him become a lawyer. Well, he is a good one. It was rough for him at first, but I think he’s got the hang of it now. I am proud of him.
So I sit in my parents’ bedroom and I practice law. I argue with other lawyers on the phone. I listen to distraught women tell me about how horrible their husbands are or husbands tell me what bitches their wives are. I write motions. I read cases. I give people advice. I meet with murderers, thieves, drug dealers and users, bad kids, good kids who made mistakes, parents wondering what went wrong. I get mad at clients who don’t pay their bills. I referee fights between secretaries and fights between secretaries and lawyers. I change lightbulbs. Sometimes I clean the toilet.
I don’t know how much longer I’ll go. I believe I’m a good lawyer and have done the best I could for my clients. I’ve represented two men in capital murder cases who have been executed, and I’ll always wonder if I couldn’t have done something more to save their lives. Some days I’m ready to walk out the door and not come back, but then I get a good result for someone and it’s all worthwhile. The money is good, but even better is when a client tells you how much they appreciate what you’ve done for them. I had a lady tell me the other day that she felt like God had sent me to help her.
My older brother was a teacher. After my older brother died, his best friend told me that he went to his usual breakfast at Whataburger. The waitress asked him what was wrong, and he told her he was down because his best friend had died. She asked what the name was; he said “Doggett.” The waitress, thinking I had gone on to the big courtroom in the sky said: “Doggett. That old man was my lawyer.”
As I sit in my parents’ bedroom, I think that’s about as good an epitaph as you can get.