I have probably read every western novel Louis L'Amour ever wrote -- which is saying something. He wrote a lot of them. He was probably a more prolific writer than even the great Chris Starrs. His leading men were always strong silent types -- tough as cobs and honest as the day is long.
One line that L'Amour wrote has stuck with me all of my life. One of his characters, and I won't pretend to remember which one or in which of his works, never said goodbye. His standard comment, upon bidding adieu to an acquaintance was, "It's a big world. Trails cross."
Indeed it is and indeed they do. I have a hard time going anywhere that I don't run into someone from home or someone whose path I have crossed. I was reminded of such an occasion this week -- and someone else actually brought it up. I was exceedingly glad they were witnessing the event, because as bad as I am to make up stories -- I never let the truth stand in the way of a good one -- nobody would have believed me if I had told the tale.
A little background is in order. In 1986 I took a high school girls' basketball team to Hawaii. We stayed two weeks and played 10 games. We won all 10, too. Martha Worley and Trudy Harris were on that team and they can vouch for how good we were -- and how much fun we had.
I don't think the 50th state was ready for me, however. I was a little more animated than the coaches they were used to. We were also the first high school team from the mainland to play in Hawaii and big crowds turned out to watch us play -- particularly when we challenged the twice-running undefeated state champions on the Big Island. The Hilo Armory was filled to capacity for that game and it was broadcast on the radio and publicized in all the papers. There was even a reporter waiting for us at the Hilo airport upon our arrival.
For the record, we were up one at the half and won by 20.
Fast forward 21 years. Georgia was about to play Hawaii in the 2008 Sugar Bowl game -- following the 2007 season. About 20 of us went down together for the game and a good time was had by all -- even if my daughter's boyfriend did spray crab meat all over Bob Bradley's new cashmere sweater.
I was on an elevator in the Embassy Suites hotel, where we were staying, and an older lady, obviously a native Hawaiian, stepped on. She stared at me for a couple of floors and then tugged on my sleeve and said, "Excuse me, sir, but I know you."
I am rarely at a loss for words but on this occasion all I could come up with was a rather skeptical, "Really?"
She said, "Yes. You brought a basketball team to Hawaii to play, and I saw your team in the Hilo Armory."
I was flabbergasted to say the least. Another time a young girl, whose name, I recall, was Blair, walked up to me in Love's Restaurant, near Savannah, and informed me that she had been my server on a train in Alaska five years earlier.
See. It really is a big world and trails do cross. I had been all sorts of places and so had those other people, and yet our paths randomly crossed, thousands of miles and so many years apart.
Now I told you all of that to tell you this. In 1968 Jerry Aldridge carried me and a whole gang of local Boy Scouts to Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, N.M. The trip still ranks as one of the great adventures of my life.
We rode to New Mexico in style, on a Trailways Silver Eagle chartered coach. The second night out we went to a baseball game at the Houston Astrodome -- the brand new "eighth wonder of the world." At least we tried to. As it turned out the game was sold out so Mr. A took us to see a movie, instead. We saw "Bandolero," with Jimmy Stewart and Dean Martin and we liked it lots better than the baseball game because Raquel Welch took off practically all her clothes and that was something to behold for a 16-year-old boy. Jerry made us promise not to tell, and I have kept my word -- until now.
That trip came to mind because as I write this I am sitting in a waiting room at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, in Houston, Texas -- staring at the top of that same Astrodome -- about a half-mile away. I have traveled so many trails during my life and now fate has brought me so close to a spot that I first visited when I was 16. Ironically, Jerry Aldridge, who brought me here the first time, is battling the exact same insidious disease that I am. He is doing it with much more grace and much less fanfare than me, and I covet your prayers on his behalf.
It is a big world. Trails cross. I can't wait to see what further adventures God has in store for me.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.