From the archives…
From the archives
We sat on the back porch, smoking cigars and listened to Stoke tell us stories about being pulled over by the cops. Pops and I were all ears, especially since neither of us had ever ridden on a motorcycle at 170 mph, much less being pulled over by the police. Apparently, Stoke had it down to a fine art and knew exactly what to do. If you are going 170 mph, take the first turn off the highway and sit in the woods for four hours. If you are going less, go ahead and pull over. It seemed to work for him because he kept his insurance rates at about $1,200 a year, as opposed to $5,000 a year. I hadn’t realized the insurance would cost that much.
This was Christmas day, 2014, just a few days ago. We were laughing and telling stories and joking and having a wonderful time. Neither Pops nor I knew it would be the last time we would see him alive. He was found by a friend on Saturday afternoon and we had the news within a couple of hours. Apparently, Stoke died from some medical event. That is what the coroner relayed to us. No suicide, no foul play.
My first memory of Stoke was not actually seeing him, but what I did when I found out he was born. We got the news on the phone and I immediately went door-to-door telling everyone who would answer that I had a new baby brother. People kept asking me what his name was and I had no idea. And when we did find out what his name was, we were a bit perplexed. He was Stokely McCaga Hammons IV. Years later we would discover that there had never been a III, II, or a I. There had been several Stokely Hammons and McCaga Hammons but never a Stokely McCaga… well, so much for family trees.
When they brought him home, we loved him immediately. He had the brightest red hair anyone had ever seen. The red hair has a tendency to pop up in the family from time-to-time, just like it did with my son Joey. But we didn’t know that at the time. His hair would eventually fade to blond, but when he was younger, it was bright red.
The biggest event in his life would be the car accident that we would undergo a few months after his birth. While he wasn’t in the accident, this event would do more to shape him and make him who he was than anything else to follow. Not that our mother died, but the moment of that accident, he became motherless and eventually fatherless through the divorce of our parents. His real mother ended up being Anita and Bridget, two Mexican maids we had working for us at the time. After they left, several others would come and go, but for Stokely, due to the circumstances beyond his control, his parents were never really in charge of his life after that.
The sad part for me is that when I was in my teens, I felt like I had to assume the role of disciplinarian for Stoke. My mother never seemed to be concerned at all with teaching him right from wrong, or bringing any level of discipline at all. This too would have a profound affect on his life.
On top of all that, he was dyslexic. For those of us who grew up in the 1970s, there were no classes for dyslexic students. As Stoke once told me, “they stuck me in the class with the mentally retarded kids. Like I was going to learn anything in those classes.”
He did spend some time at Blinn College in Brenham, but after an advisor told him “college is probably not for you,” he gave up on that endeavor. So school was not his forte and he was never much of a reader. Because of this, he bounced around from job to job, and even bounced around from state to state.
One of his dreams was to surf in Hawaii. After learning the art in California, he did make it to Hawaii where he got the opportunity to surf. He told me of one such event, which may have taken place in California, where the wave he was riding crushed down to the bottom so hard and for so long that he actually got comfortable with it. He said it was the closest to death he had ever experienced, because he had to force himself to the surface again. It was a moment in his life where he had to make a choice: stay on the bottom, which was by far easier at the time, or struggle for the surface. He struggled for the surface.
I’m not sure, but it wouldn’t surprise me if some of the many struggles he faced, with depression and bouts of being bipolar, were actually what led to his death. The medicine that he had to take in order to be “normal” emotionally, really caused him to gain weight. The top picture was taken in 2003. But by last year, he was upwards of 260 lbs. A lot of that also had to do with his love for food, but I sensed a “why not” attitude towards all the food over the past couple of years.
Yet despite all these struggles, Stoke was doing really well professionally. He had finally found his calling in selling hearing aids. He learned the trade of being a salesmen in the auto industry, and he put those talents, and his tendency to care for people, together selling hearing aids. He tried to get me into the profession as well, and kept telling me, “just show them you care.” And he did care. He loved helping people and had hundreds of clients who knew they could come to him for help. He loved it.
If fact, he was so good at not only caring, but also selling hearing aids that we found out last week that his store was the number one store in the country and the company was going to send him to Italy for vacation in the spring. He was on top of the world.
I also felt that he was coming back to the LORD. Yes, during those times of struggles he had trusted Christ at one point. His faith wasn’t very strong, but I believe there was indeed saving faith. On Christmas day he showed me the Bible I bought him back in 1995. He said, “I still have it!” And he did.
He was attending several church homes trying to find the right one. He had bought himself a home in League City and things were finally going well for him. He had even patched up some broken relationships with members of the family. Things were indeed well.
But man knows not his own time, even when we are believers. The LORD called him home this past Saturday in a way that showed it was all God’s hand. There was nothing mysterious about it. Stoke just died in his kitchen from some medical event, where a close friend found him a short time later. Joe, his friend, is an EMT, so had there been an opportunity to revive him, he would have. There was nothing Joe could do because it was Stoke’s time.
The LORD blessed us with that wacky humor, boisterous laugh, and sense of adventure for only so long and then called him home. Gone is the younger brother, the surfer, the cyclist, the Texans fan, the hearing-aid salesman of the year. He is no longer any of those things. All that is left of Stoke is the one redeemed in Christ. He is now just the saint, as are all those who believer in Christ and are saved.
There is no way that I can really capture his life in a short-blog piece. But I don’t need to. Just the fact that he was “in Christ” is all that matters.
Another one from the archives…
Both my Dad and I were hit with the smell of salt water the moment we opened the car doors. For us, it was special and a thousand memories flooded our minds. For my two sons, Andy and Joey, it was a first-time experience. Yes, they have been to the beach before. But this is the first time that they will remember it. We were down in Galveston for the day and we took the boys to walk around on the beach. The smell of the air, the seagulls flying about, even the smell of suntan lotion fired up our memories of vacations and day trip pasts. And now I was sharing them with Andy and Joey.
We told Andy he could walk in the water, but no higher than his shins or knees. Yeah, right! In the first five minutes he was soaked and upset that he didn’t have his bathing suit. Not sure what we were thinking, but I let him play in the water nonetheless.
Dad just wanted to walk along the beach and so we sat there while he took a stroll.
My father was born and raised in Galveston back in the 1930s and 1940s. His father, William James Newton Hammons, had come from west Texas where he was born in Callahan County back on November 4, 1902. His mother was a Missouri girl, born in 1898 in Sedalia, Mo., and her family made it to Texas as fast as they could, arriving in Galveston around 1908 or 1910. Apparently Clara Helen Varnon was absolutely gorgeous and a fine catch. She was also known for pushing social boundaries. According to legend, she was the first woman in Galveston to get a driver’s license and the first woman in Galveston to buy a car. At that time, it was scandalous. But she had a job and wanted a car and didn’t let anything get in her way of obtaining one.
My grandfather was a bit of a charmer and it is reported even went on a date with Mary Martin, the famous actress. He didn’t make any impression on her because she ended up marrying some guy named Hagman. You know the offspring of that union, Larry Hagman, their son, from Dallas fame. My Pops did however secure the affections of my grandmother. Since she was living in Galveston, that is when Pops moved there as well, and he became a real estate broker. He was part of the deal that sold the house known as the Bishop’s Palace, or Gresham’s Castle, to the Roman Catholic Church. The story goes that the Catholic Church wanted him and his fellow brokers just to give it to them, but they were not in a position to be that charitable.
There we were kicking about Galveston for the day. Dad took us to the Moody Gardens to explore the rain forest exhibit, then down to the beach just to walk around. He said east Galveston beach is one of the few places he can take off his shoes and walk barefoot. Now I know where I get my propensity to wear shoes all the time from. There are very few places I feel comfortable taking my shoes off and going barefoot. And yes, Galveston beach is one of them. The sand is extremely soft.
Dad grew up coming to this beach as a child. He told us that when he was extremely sick and covered with boils from some unknown malady, his father took him down to the beach to immerse him in the cold waters. It seems odd to us, but Dad recovered from whatever ailment it was. I’m not suggesting we all do this with our sick children, but it worked for Dad.
One of my favorite memories of east beach eating lunch there. We would make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, with Lay’s potato chips and Oreo cookies for dessert. What made it so special was the Texas sun would warm up the Oreo cookies for us while we were playing in the water, which made them extremely good to eat. It’s very similar to sun-warmed plain M&M’s. Just the right temperature for softening up the chocolate in the middle. Try it some time.
One of my worst memories was the time I met some guy my age and we decided to go up and down the beach popping all the Portuguese Man-O-Wars with handfuls of sands. Why, I will never know. But it was something boys do that makes no sense. My desire to do so quickly ended when my companion in this endeavor popped one, sending all the nice acids from the explosion all over my body. That ruined my day.
After spending an hour there, we decided to head up the boulevard to get something to eat and Landry’s. Given that Andy was soaking wet, we also decided to stop and Academy and buy him some dry clothes. We didn’t want to go all the way back to the hotel before we ate. Andy loved the new pants and shirt we bought him.
Of the Photos: top is Dad with his shoes off, Andy getting ready to get soaked, and Joey at my side. Below, me on one of our trips to the beach back in the late 1960s.