December 1, 2020
I have to remind myself that “Tis the season to be jolly” even if I don’t feel super jolly! It has been way too long since we have been with a group where we freely laughed and just had fun socializing and sharing. As we approach the Christmas season, I thought I would share with you a goofy project that I have been working on despite the COVID chaos. My project has been on my bucket list for about 20 years and I felt that if I didn’t get it done now, it just might not ever get done.
When the COVID-19 virus first got really serious and restaurants began to close, I felt sorry for lots of people. I especially felt sorry for those at one of my favorite restaurants, who I considered to be friends. Most of the workers didn’t know what they were going to do to pay their bills. I offered to provide groceries and a reasonable hourly wage to anyone who wanted to live at my ranch and do ranch chores. I got a couple of takers and they learned to do things that they had never done before. I fondly referred to them as my “Hamburger Helpers” since they were more experienced in serving hamburgers than doing ranch work. Their main focus was to help me build bathrooms that have been on my “drawing board” for a long time. We piled rocks, poured concrete, painted, chipped lots and lots of rocks, cut lots of grass and fed cattle. One young man lost 15 pounds and told me how proud he was of his accomplishments as he thought about his past and things he wanted to change in the future at the end of each day.
The bathroom walls are covered in old “barn wood” that once hung on Gene Autry’s barn in Gene Autry, Oklahoma. My guys at the KACC Ardmore facility harvested the wood for me about 20 years ago when they learned the barn was going to be torn down. About the same time, the Cotton Bowl in Dallas was being refurbished and there were lots of old stinky urinals that looked like porcelain troughs being replaced. I managed to buy three of them for future use though I was not exactly sure what that would lead to. I do remember washing my hands countless times after handling the crusty, yellow tainted, heavy old iron and porcelain devices that over the years have been exposed to generations of Texas’ finest!
For years I have been accumulating all sorts of antique or junk items to one day be used in my special place of relief at my ranch. As I thought about all of the things I wanted to hang from the men’s bathroom ceiling to share with my guests, I went down memory lane, thinking of favorite Christmas presents from my childhood in San Antonio. I remember getting metal skates that clipped onto your shoes. When they came loose, it would nearly break your ankle. I also remember not having the money to buy a skate key to keep them secure on my feet so I used a pair of pliers that kind of worked. It was my generation that took the skates apart and made skateboards with scraps of wood. We would also take the skates and make skateboards with wooden handlebars. Thoughts of these Christmases from the past caused me to recall my first tricycle and then my cherished red fire truck pedal car and finally my sting ray bike with the banana seat and high handlebars! After mounting all of the stuff on the ceiling, it just did not seem right – something was missing. I explained to my wife that all of the devices hanging on the men’s bathroom ceiling reflect my earliest years in the “transportation industry” that caused me to work with my hands in an environment of limited resources, but something was missing. It dawned on me that the missing element was the 1959 IDEAL Jet Fighter Cockpit Simulator that I spent countless hours playing with as a little boy in pitch black closets or dark halls. I remember getting upset with my mother because we could not afford the batteries to keep up with my nonstop simulator hours.
Once I remembered the simulator I could not rest until I found one. I was blessed to find a cockpit simulator exactly like the one I had and bought it.
I now have brought closure to one more item on my bucket list – my ranch bathrooms. I won’t dare tell you much about the ladies’ bathroom other than I made one of the urinals into a sink so I can ask female guests, “ls that your first time to use a urinal?” Some report that the inside looks like a Victoria’s Secret store that blew up. Maybe someday I can show you around if you have thick skin!
For me, my ranch bathrooms are much more than just bathrooms. I think about all of the stories that the old barn wood heard and observed. I think about all of the old photos of family members and friends who will not be forgotten that I hung on the walls. I think about how I was blessed to impact the lives of those who helped me erect the building during a period when most of them confided that if they weren’t working for me, they wouldn’t be working. The toys I hung from the ceiling caused me to realize how blessed I was to have lived in an environment where we had to use our hands and creative minds to entertain ourselves. It was a time when we laughed more than we cried, we always tried to push the edge and were always thankful for the little things. It seemed to be a much simpler world. Something so simple as placing a couple of playing cards in bike spokes with clothes pins that made the sound of a “motorcycle” caused much excitement and pleasure.
Merry Christmas! May we all soon laugh in groups as we enter the Christmas season of hope.
Once again, I have “showed my ass” and hope I can make you smile by watching my spontaneous video! God Bless from one Crazy-Half Puerto Rican.
Written by KING AEROSPACE Founder, Jerry Allan King-Echevarria.