Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, July 14, 2017, 11:08 a.m.
I paid modest respects to my line coach today. Not much is there to prove it. I signed the register and nodded at the people who were staking out their seats in the Friendship AME Church sanctuary. Three fourths of the seats were roped off. Harold Williams passed through lots of hearts and minds. He passed through mine as I looked at his remains, peaceful but frail for a man who was a mountain for most of the 46 years I knew him.
In the parking lot, before I left, I talked for a while with old acquaintances. It was hot, but I could remain still and not perspire. If I wiggled one pinky finger, I perspired.
I only called him Harold for about his last 10 years. It was always Coach Williams until one time, quite unexpectedly, he told me there was no need to call him “Coach” anymore since he didn’t coach and I didn’t play. I told him I never played much, and he laughed.
Harold laughed a lot. He never called me Monte. He called me “Moddie.”
Moddie, sit down. I want to ask you something.
He never revealed much about his own opinions. For some reason, he enjoyed knowing mine. I guess it was because I’m a writer, and it’s hard to write without making opinions known, particularly in fiction and the wild edge of journalism, columns and blogs, for which I have been most often celebrated.
My opinions usually satisfied him. They always amused him.
Harold was not a second father, but I knew him longer than my father, who died when I was 35. I knew Harold when I was 13. Do the math. For much of that period, he was a rock. A distant rock, but a rock.
In his prime, Harold could almost have hurled a baseball from the church where his body lie to Bell Street, the school where local black youths graduated until Clinton High School opened its doors to them. That’s when I came in. Bell Street was the junior high school where I first played football. Now the high school is almost new. My high school is the middle school. I played football for Harold. I wrote about the boys’ basketball teams Harold coached. I wrote about football played by his son, Hal. I wrote, as recently as this year, about the basketball and football played by his grandson, Jalen Carter.
Harold knew the value of simplicity. He believed that if a man did what he was supposed to do, it didn’t matter much what others did to oppose him. His basketball philosophy was simple. Here’s what we’re going to do. You’re going to try to stop it. If we do what we do right, you won’t. He didn’t care much for the element of surprise. He cared for the power of execution.
This made him a perfect assistant for the rigid football leadership of Keith Richardson, who made every player, every coach, and every social-studies student aware of exactly what he required. Richardson had little use for variability in his virtues. He didn’t believe in luck. He didn’t believe in breaks. He didn’t believe in chance. Fumbles occurred because kids failed to protect the football. Recoveries occurred because kids were ready when other kids didn’t. The most futile offering a kid could make to Richardson was an excuse. We all learned not to go there.
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All the great men who worked together in the pursuit of Clinton High School athletic excellence were stubborn in their commitment to it. R.P. Wilder. Keith Richardson. Andy B. Young. Harold Williams. Bill Rhodes. Bobby Brock. Connie Hodges. Sam Moore. Dozens of others.
Richardson could be an actor, though he most certainly isn’t. He achieved as much with his expressions as Spencer Tracy. Harold and Bill could have been stage actors. Neither ever needed amplification. They were all men of considerable humor, when they were of a mind. Richardson chuckled a lot. When he laughed hard, he made little sound. Harold and Bill could awaken Rip Van Winkle with their thunderous voice boxes.
Once, when I missed a portion of football practice so that I could attend the funeral of a family friend, the preacher requested a moment of silence at Rosemont Cemetery, a half mile or so from the lowland where the CHS practice field was located. In the silence, I could heard Rhodes’ voice, booming away at some hapless sophomore, clear as thunder rolling on the horizon. As my head was bowed, I couldn’t see the lightning strike.
As I looked down at Harold’s lifeless visage, perfectly at peace, I remembered the time a classmate named Freddie Payne tried to sneak away to the showers without completing the after-practice wind sprints that some transgression required. I could see us all trudging into the locker room, beneath the sign that said “Pride of Clinton,” and hearing Harold’s voice, booming away from far behind.
“Come on back, Freddie! Come on back!”
Freddie went back, but he didn’t last much longer. Harold couldn’t yell at him all the time.
He was a good man. I’ve heard Coach Young call him “a good school man.” A good wife survives. A good family spreads out from him, all bright, educated, and wise.
A good town spreads out from him because he and his colleagues turned so many boys into men. I am, at best, merely a modest example.
Ever since I started writing fiction, fans have asked me to write a novel about stock car racing. I kept it a secret while I was working on it. Now it’s out. Lightning in a Bottle is the story of the next big thing, 18-year-old Barrie Jarman.
Stop by L&L Office Supply, 114 North Broad Street, Clinton and buy one of my novels. Buy Cowboys Come Home, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, Crazy of Natural Causes, The Intangibles, and/or a volume of my short stories, Longer Songs. They’re all signed and reasonably priced. Lightning in a Bottle will be in stock shortly.
Signed copies of Lightning in a Bottle are also available at Emma Jane’s, 105 East Main Street on the Square, Clinton.
If you’d like me to ship you a signed copy, you can find my address and instructions here. If you want to speed the process up, send me a note and I’ll hook you up with my PayPal account.
Kindle versions – you don’t have to have a Kindle, just a free app for your electronic devices – of most of my books are available here. Links to print copies are below.
Cowboys Come Home is my brand-new, fresh-off-the-press western, a tale of two World War II veterans of the Pacific who come back home to Texas, intent on resuming their cowboy ways.
Forgive Us Our Trespasses is a tale about a crooked politician who wants to be governor, whatever it takes, and another man trying to stop him. It’s outrageous.
Crazy of Natural Causes is about the fall and rise of Chance Benford, a Kentucky football coach who reinvents himself. It’s original.
The Intangibles is about the South in the 1960s, complete with racial strife, bigotry, resentment, cultural exchange and, of course, high school football.
The Audacity of Dope is the tale of Riley Mansfield, a pot-smoking songwriter turned national hero with a taste for the former and a distaste for the latter.
Longer Songs is a collection of 11 short stories that all began in songs I wrote.
Follow me at Facebook (Monte.Dutton), Twitter (@montedutton), Google+ (MonteDuttonWriter) and/or Instagram (Tug50).