The club opened at 6:30 p.m. and we'd get there around 6:00 just to be the first in line to go in. You can just imagine what it must've been like for a bunch of unsupervised 10 and 12 year olds to try and stay in line waiting impatiently for the club to open. If you were lucky enough to be first in line, you'd hold on tight to that big old door handle on the front door and no one could pry you off.
From the back of the line someone would yell, "It's Mr. Chambless!" and our adrenaline would kick in. Our eyes would all light up as we'd see Mr. Chambless driving up in his van. He was always in a good mood and he had the prettiest whistle I had ever heard.
"Hello men, how's everyone?" he'd ask us as he walked up.
As a group he called us men, but if it was one on one, then he'd call you "son". We all thought that was cool.
I happened to be the first in line that day and I didn't let go of that handle until the key to unlock the door was on its way. He turned it and swung open the door and the race was on. One of our favorite games to play was billiards and we'd turn into a pack of wild buffalos as we ran in, hoping to be one of the first to grab a pool stick. We all grew to love the sport and became very good at it.
I remember names like Tommy Jackson, George Aguero, Gonzalo Perez, Jesse Sanchez, Moses Duarte and his younger brothers Manuel, Pico and Lulo, Julian Suarez, Harold Lopez, Sammy DeHoyos, Danny and Sammy Vigil, Tony Lopez and his brothers and last but not least, my toughest competitor, Raul Munoz.
It's hard to forget Raul because he and I once played 21 games of eight ball on a great big old snooker table that was downstairs in the basement. It ended 11 to 10 and to this day he and I can't remember who won. I think he did.
There are some awesome memories going through my mind from years gone by. Memories of a sacred place that kept us off the streets but more than that, memories of a man who would make an impact in our lives by being there for us.
Mr. Chambless told us one Friday evening to go home and get some rest for the trip to Six Flags over Texas the next day. We were so excited we couldn't sleep. I think we even kept my mom up because the next morning around 7:00 a.m. she came banging on our door, yelling for us to get up. Mr. Chambless was standing in our neighbor's backyard shouting out our names that we were late. We're lucky he came for us that day.
I blame it all on Gonzalo Perez. He used to spend the night over at our house we always got in trouble because we were always laughing when it was time to go to bed. I mean some serious laughing. In fact, I saw him not too long ago and he said that an older gentleman had commented to him how when we were growing up, God had given us laughter to get past the hard times. With most of us coming from broken homes, I do remember living below the poverty level. Looking back, I thank God that the laughter was what taught us to overlook it.
Mr. Chambless pulled a miracle that morning because we all made it safely to Six Flags that day. We didn't have any money to spend but I do remember digging in to buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken that he bought for us to eat before we entered the park. We all had a blast.
We all made it back in one piece and then one day, Mr. Chambless asked me if I wanted to be on TV with him. He said there was a lady by the name of Pat Attebery that wanted to interview us about our trip.
He didn't have to ask me twice. I was a very nervous 10-year old as we sat down in front of the camera. We went though the interview and passed it with flying colors. We left the TV station in his little convertible with the top down. We were driving pass the old Edison Jr. High school and it began to sprinkle. We got a red light and he started to pull the top up and stopped. He looked at me and I looked at him and he said, "Oh, what the heck", and he left the top down. For that one split second I felt like I was on top of the world.
The time that he took us swimming at the Abilene State Park was exciting for us all. I remember there was this huge man that must've weighed at least 300 lbs. at the deep end of the pool. Little by little he began bullying and threatening a few of us. We had no fear of him because we had Mr. Chambless.
I remember somebody commenting, "let's tell Mr. Chambless, I bet he can beat him up!" Well, needless to say nobody beat anybody up that day. The man heard and saw our fearless leader and instantly left us alone. I don't think he wanted anything to do with our muscular, body-building director that day. When he stood and crossed his arms, he was our Buzz Light Year of today. He was our hero and we all felt invincible knowing he was our always our guardian angel.
We surprised him a number of years ago during one of the Boy's and Girl's Club Shining Stars Recognition Dinners. His son Tony Chambless and I tricked him into thinking that Tony was getting an award and Mr. Chambless had to be there for his son.
I made some phone calls and gathered up some of the "men" who grew up around this man. I had the pleasure of calling his name. He was seated with all his family members around him and quickly turned red as he stood up. I began to share the fun memories that he allowed us to have as young men.
I handed him a very nice plaque recognizing him for his many accomplishments in being a part of our lives. He certainly was a little overwhelmed as his emotions began to get the better of him. I stood there and began to feel the same way I felt a number of years ago as he and I sat in the rain.
They say that what goes around comes around. I believe that's the reason I love children. I carry a little bit of Mr. Chambless with me today and I'm proud to say that I learned it from the best. To you Sir I say, thank you for the wonderful memories, I'll cherish them for the rest of my life!
Copyright © 2007 Johnny Silvas