31 Oct

Growing up in deep East Texas, one has a tendency to stay there.  Most of my classmates did.  Many of them are gone, including most of my closest friends.  My hat has hung in Texas most of my life. My first twelve years of school were in the same small town.  College found me in Marshall, Huntsville and College Station.  At an early age it was obvious that I would never be a great athlete.  My father taught me to pitch a baseball, but I was a very poor batsman. All Texas boys are expected to at least play football, but locker rooms and  the hand-me-down gear stunk, so I chose the cornet.  Singing was a natural thing for me, but in the forties, not many schools offered choir, so, with a used Holton cornet, I learned to play "Don't Tell Aunt Sally the Old Grey Goose is Dead".  I drove my parents nuts practicing on that horn, but it paid off, royally. A few of us in junior high were offered chairs in the high school band as 7th graders. Band was my favorite subject and was my only way to matriculate to college.  I was fairly good playing that old horn.  I was second chair in the high school trumpet section from the eighth grade and first chair as a junior and senior.  My grades were good enough to be an Honor Graduate, but my senior English teacher accused me of cursing her(I had not) and it cost me membership on track, boxing, Key Club and National Honor Society.  I worked after school and summers and bought a fine King Silvertone Cornet, got a scholarship in a newly formed band at East Texas Baptist College in 1949.  The ETBC band began very small, with 26 members and only two of us on free ride.  Our director was not a good teacher, at all. He resigned at mid-year and the band folded.  The other band member was a very pretty girl.  She and I needed a scholarship and the school allowed us to audition for the College Choir.  That organization, directed by Dexter Riddle, was outstanding.  Comprised of seniors and graduate students, they were nationally recognized.  I was not welcomed, but the other freshman was too pretty for words. I loved the group, but they did everything they could do to discourage me and God provided a situation to correct the whole thing.  Initially my roomie was a fellow graduate from Mount Pleasant High, Pay Mayes.  One of the most interesting men you could ever meet.  Pat had the driest wit possible and strangely had the ambition to be the most successful undertaker ever.  He was a bit like our President in that he knew what he wanted and how to get there and was not the least concerned about opposition.  Pat had worked for a mortuary from the time he was a teen.  He knew the business so well that he became one of the more successful men in the funeral business and  banking in Oklahoma.  Pat passed away in 2008 and we lost a fine, generous man of integrity.  He will always be a dear friend and later will be another of my "Hall of Heroes" in this blog.  Just as Tom Selleck says, "This isn't my first rodeo". It has been my privilege to meet and serve a bunch of fine folks. I've mentioned a few famous former students of Texas A&M who have excelled in sports, but there are some other fine folk who need to be lauded before the "3-0" mark, so stay tuned.  I began this visit with "From Sea to Shining Sea" and that's how my life has been.  I've cast pebbles and sifted sand in beaches from the Atlantic, Gulf Coast and Pacific.  I've sung for thousands,  spoken to millions from a mic,  been applauded from stages coast to coast, loved by friends and a precious family, blessed with the opportunity of a divine calling of teaching music to a multitude, liked and disliked, won and lost, sinned time-and-time-again, hurt and disappointed others, yet forgiven.  My 'Labor of Love' has resulted in more than a fat wallet or full safe.  Eternal Riches awaits me for one reason only. "Belief by Faith in the one true God and his only begotten Son who died on the cross of shame for all my sins"!  Because of that there's a Song in My Heart and Sunshine in my Soul.  My greatest regret is the sad spiritual condition of my country.  The years of poor educational integrity and hatred of God and Christians has resulted in a slippery slope of sin and selfishness. "May God Help Us", is my prayer.

And that's what I get from My Box of Chocolates right here in my corner studio under the shadow of Kyle Field.


James G Austin, '69

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