1st Lt. James L. Hull (Larry)
December 28, 1945 – February 19, 1971
I dedicated my book Where the Water Meets the Sand to my daughter Laura and her father, Larry. Laura doesn’t remember Larry because he deployed to Vietnam during the summer of 1970, and on February 19, 1971, his plane crashed and he was killed while on a combat mission. Twelve days later, Laura turned two years old.
Many years later, when his remains were finally repatriated to American soil and he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on November 13, 2006, it was an important and emotional experience for both of us.
Eighteen of Larry’s brothers-in-arms who had been stationed with him in Vietnam attended his funeral. They told Laura stories about her father and how he died. Especially meaningful to her were the stories Larry had shared with them about his daughter and the photos of her he bragged about and showed to his brothers-in-arms.
Larry would have been so proud of her and how gracious and appreciative she was toward his comrades as well as the friends, teachers and board members from my school district and family members who attended the celebration of his life.
Clifton Henry Decker (Cliff)
July 6, 1920 – June 29, 1956
My father grew up on a farm outside Brownfield located in the Texas Panhandle. Mother once told me she had had a crush on Daddy from the first time she met him.
She was a third grader when he and his siblings enrolled in the country school Mother and her brothers attended. “He was older and I thought he thought I was just a little girl,” she told me. I later realized Daddy was in fifth grade when they met, only two years older than Mother.
They married in 1942 and Daddy was drafted. He joined the Army Air Corp but was never deployed overseas due to poor vision. After he completed his service in the Army Air Corp in 1946, Daddy returned home to Brownfield.
Daddy dreamt of being a business man and, since he had attended a two-year business school in Lubbock, Texas, before he and Mother married, he applied for a job as bookkeeper at McAdoo Chevrolet company in Seagraves, Texas. After three years, Mr. McAdoo offered Dad the manager position of McAdoo Chevrolet in Seminole, Texas.
Our family moved to Seminole in 1949. I was two years old and my brother, Rodney, was six. My parents bought a house in Seminole and we started our new life there.
Daddy, Rodney, Mother and I often played the popular board game Parcheesi. Daddy and I played on one team and Rodney and Mother on another. I loved every minute of it because I idolized Daddy and felt special being his partner.
Later, Daddy was diagnosed with arteriosclerosis. He and Mother traveled to Scott and White Hospital in Temple, Texas, as well as to hospitals in Galveston and El Paso. Over the years, he worked hard Monday through Saturday from early morning to late at night. Because of his many trips to the hospital and my parents’ travels to doctors around the country looking for a cure for Daddy’s heart problems, I worried that one day Daddy wouldn’t come home.
At the age of 36, he died of a heart attack. It was June 29, 1956. Rodney was 13, I was 9 and Mother was 34 years old and pregnant with my baby sister.
Daddy’s Gift of Music
Daddy enjoyed people and, on special Saturdays, he’d take me with him down to the car dealership where he worked. Despite my young age, I noticed how friendly and kind he was to everyone. It seemed like I was not the only one who loved Daddy. That made me proud.
When I was seven years old, Daddy came home from work and announced that a surprise for me was coming the next day. I was elated, though I had no idea what the surprise was.
True to his word, the next day three men who worked with Daddy pulled up in the driveway in a pickup truck. In the bed of the truck was a huge player piano.
Daddy had negotiated a trade with a customer for the purchase of a car. The customer bought the car, I assume, with some cash plus the player piano. When the piano arrived, Daddy announced that along with it, I had to take piano lessons on a weekly basis. I was thrilled.
The piano sat in our dining room and my feet barely touched the pedals. Inside the piano bench I found perforated rolls of music which, when properly inserted in the piano, automatically played beautiful music. I was also able to play the piano manually and was motivated to practice, so that I could play as beautifully as the music played on the paper rolls.
Mother and Daddy attended my recitals and I learned that no matter how busy Daddy was, he usually had time to listen to one of my new piano pieces. One of the first real pieces I learned to play was “Over the Rainbow.” (Listen to my favorite version of the song, Eva Cassidy’s rendition, here.)
It was a simple rendition, but based on Dad’s response, you would have thought I played it like a Carnegie Hall concert pianist. I loved the words and found that, when I played music, it not only made Daddy happy but it also made me feel joyful and transported me to a special place.
When I worried about Daddy’s illness, I worked harder to practice my music lessons, so he would be pleased.
I found playing the piano made me less worried about Dad’s health when he and mother were gone. Music gave me hope. The words to “Over the Rainbow” made me want to believe that perhaps Daddy would get well.
Daddy also bought mother an RCA Victor Record Player console. I still remember some of their favorite songs. A couple who had no children lived directly across the street from us. The four of them loved to play dominoes at our dining room table and Daddy and Jack would sing along with Rosemary Clooney’s recording of “Come On-a My House” (listen here). Daddy also loved the hit song “See the USA in Your Chevrolet” recorded by Dinah Shore (listen here). After he saw Dina perform it in El Paso at a conference hosted by the Chevrolet company, Daddy raved about her performance, which made me think she was the best singer ever.
Another favorite of Daddy’s was Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons” (listen here).
Because of both Daddy and Mother, I loved music from an early age and, because of Daddy, I took piano lessons for seven years.
This Sunday is Father’s Day. Laura lost her father when she was just a toddler and I lost mine at the age of nine. Yet, both of our fathers left us legacies we can continue to treasure many decades later. Each of them loved their children, loved their families and God, were honest and hard-working and gave us one of the most important things: a good name.