I was made of glory and meant for celebration. I have true grit.
I do not know the place of my birth, except that I was made in the USA. It says so right there in red, white, and blue letters, which have never faded despite my hard-knock life and countless hours in the wash cycle.
My Cotton-Pickin’ Roots
It is not difficult to imagine tracing my roots to west Texas and a cotton farm. That would be apropos since the family has roots there…on both sides of the equation. William Austin Henager and his wife Nova Dean Martin Henager were cotton farmers right up to that pivotal point in the family saga when “Bill”, as most called him, walked the aisle of a little Baptist church in Merkel, Texas, and “surrendered.” What he surrendered himself to was the notion that God had called him specifically to the gospel ministry. He was to lay down the plow and pick up the sword (which is to say, the Bible, the Word of the living God).
In their cotton-picking days, Bill and Nova Dean were quite the pair. No one set a better pace for productive labor than the no-bull, all-business Bill…unless it was Nova Dean. She was a 100-pound waif who could drag a cotton sack through the field as fast as any hired hand and faster than most.
Bill and Nova Dean were Gene’s grandparents. Gene later named them Big Granddad and Granky (because at the age of two, that is what came out when he tried to say “Grandma”) and the names stuck. Little Granddad, Gene’s paternal grandfather, worked on the farm with the Henagers for a time.
Of course, all of that was well before my time. I am talking family roots here.
On the other side of the family tree, Donya’s uncles Hoyt (an uncle by marriage) and James (her dad’s older brother) partnered on a sizable cotton farm near Denver City, in far west Texas. The timeline of their exploits matches up with my birth well enough to at least imagine a connection, a preordained destiny if you will.
We were meant for one another, this family and me.
I am not 100% certain of my origin, but I am 100% cotton.
A Match Made in…Modesto?
By the time I was on the rack, The Landry era of Dallas Cowboys football was on life support. It was 1986.
After coming on like a freight train in the mid-to-late sixties, Landry’s team took the seventies and stamped their iconic Star on them. They owned the 1970s, man. Well, they sort of co-owned the decade, along with the Pittsburgh Steelers. My team went to eight NFC championship games, five Super Bowls, and were World Champions twice in that ten-year span. That unprecedented run is the only reason I am here.
In week 11 of the 1985 season, the Chicago Bears mauled my Cowboys on Monday Night Football. The final score was 44-0. It was the beginning of the end of an era. In 1986, the Cowboys failed to post a winning record for the first time in twenty years! The glory days were behind them and, lest the new generation of fans forget just how glorious they were, I was born.
Gene and I met in the Modesto mall in an NFL apparel shop. It was love at first sight. Unfortunately, he was a poor, poor preacher man with hardly two nickels to rub together and I was priced for richer blood. I remember his slump-shouldered departure when he left me hanging on the rack that day. I remember just as well the pretty lady that purchased me a little later that same day. I did not know then that she was his mother-in-law, and she was on a clandestine mission to bring us together, Gene and me.
His birthday was just a few weeks later. She wasn’t there to see the surprise in his eyes or to hear the sheer joy in his voice. He never thought he would see me again. Yet, here I was, right where I was meant to be.
Built for The Long Haul
I could have gone anywhere, I suppose. The Dallas Cowboys were still America’s Team and there were avid fans all over California. The team trained in southern Cal, not that far away. Besides, the San Joaquin Valley, the place to which I had been shipped and merchandised, was largely populated by second-and-third generation Dust Bowlers, people from Oklahoma, New Mexico, and West Texas…Cowboys country!
I could have been snatched up by a fan whose life was not so often in the blender. I could have missed the sweat and the tears squeezed from the troubled years of a young man’s life. I could have been on the back of someone who had it all together, someone who might have given me a smoother ride.
Where then would I be today? Or would I be here at all?
I am 36 years old and threadbare. I started off as a sweatshirt, thick and warm, a comfort in the cold, cheerless gray of winter. Today, I am a paper-thin t-shirt. More than three and a half decades of wash and wear have worn me thin. I am worn but I am not torn. I did have my throat slit 15 or so years ago. This made me a v-neck.
But I am here! I have survived. I have been a hand-me-down but never an outcast. I have been on the back of every member of Gene’s family. I have been boxed up and moved to places with names like Mount Pleasant, Paris, Arlington, Grand Prairie, and Fort Worth. I have spent weeks and even months stuck in this dresser drawer or that. Yet, I have never been in a yard sale or a thrift shop unless one of the girls wore me there to rummage through other people’s castoffs.
I don’t know if I shrank or Gene grew, but a couple of years in, I became a part of Donya’s wardrobe, and then Ashley’s. About 20 years ago or so, Holly got her hands on me. I was pretty thin and awful soft by then. She cut my collar to make me cooler and then wore me for a nightshirt for years! When she spread her wings and flew the family coup, she took me with her to Texarkana. I was her comfort, a connection to home while she was learning to live on her own. She later returned to a job closer to her folks and returned me to my home. Lacey wore me for a while. Then it was Donya again.
Gene hasn’t worn me in more than 30 years but he still looks at me the way he did when we first met.
I am threadbare but not forlorn. I am worn out but still worn. I am a relic and I am a treasure. I have comforted Holly after surgery and ridden bikes with Ashley. I have seen Lacey through a divorce. We have loved, we have lost, we have won…but mostly and most importantly we have lived and live on still.
For a quarter-century, the team I was designed to celebrate has hardly had a thing worth celebrating. The glory faded into mediocrity. A generation of Cowboys fans has no idea what it means to celebrate a dynasty. Yet, I persist. I still perform.
I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine. Thus shall I remain until I am no more, or until he is.
And, by the way, the Cowboys are 5-1.