Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Sibling Assignment #165: Remembering the Turnbow Brothers and What I Enjoy in Life

Carol gave us this sibling assignment.  It's straightforward:

Since the last of the Turnbow siblings just passed away, I think it would be nice to write a special memory or memories about time spent with this family as we grew up.
Christy wrote about her times with Judy Turnbow and The Beatles, here.  Carol's post is still to come.

Over the years, especially during my over forty years in academic life, both as a student and an instructor, the question of what makes a man a man arose repeatedly. I studied and put before my students epic tales, novels, essays, plays, novels, short stories, poems, television programs, interviews,and movies that addressed this question by exploring the hero's journey, rites of passage, and initiations and that called into question assumptions about what makes a man a man.

I think about this question a lot -- and, recent essays written about what makes a woman a woman, especially in relation to transgendered women, have me thinking a lot about what makes a woman a woman.  No matter which sex or gender is under question, I haven't come to any absolute conclusions and I keep reading and listening, having surrendered myself to never really knowing.

But, here's what I do know:  I know what experiences I've had in my life, as a man, that have been the most fun for me.

At or near the top has been all the time I've had in Kellogg with other men watching sporting events on television, or, if nothing is on, sitting around on Don Knott's patio or getting together in a bar somewhere or having lunch together in a casino or getting together with the guys in Portland or Lincoln City or Coeur d'Alene or Pendleton and telling tall tales, laughing at the same stories time after time, drinking beers, giving each other a bad time, and generally shooting the shit.

I learned the pleasure of this from my father.  He initiated me into this world of ball games, beer, food, bullshit, and laughter by including me in gatherings at the homes of Gerry or Ted or Bob Turnbow.

If I could change anything in my life as I live it day to day right now, I would have a group of men to get together with to watch any kind of athletic competition or, lacking that, to get together and drink and tell tales and entertain each other.

When I was young, the Turnbow brothers had a rotation going for many years:  Gerry hosted Thanksgiving; Bob hosted Christmas Eve; Ted hosted New Year's Day; Gerry had the Fourth of July; and Ted's place up the river had parties I don't think I ever really knew about.

As I was growing up, there were some monumental (in my mind) events in the history of football and basketball and I often took in these events in the company of my dad, friends of his, and the Turnbow brothers.

The first such event that I remember didn't happen at a Turnbow brother's house, but they were all present at Bob Emmingham's on Saturday, March 19, 1966.  The NCAA finals were held right down the road from where I live now in Coles Fieldhouse in College Park, MD.  The championship game featured Texas Western (now U Texas at El Paso) and Kentucky.  Texas Western's starting five were all black.  There had never been an all black starting five before in an NCAA title game.  Kentucky, on the other hand, not only started an all white team, the University of Kentucky had never had a single black player in its long history as one of the premier programs in the U. S. A.

I don't know if any of the men in Bob Emmingham's living room -- Don Bowles, Bob Emmingham, Mouse Faraca, Pert Woolum, Gerry Turnbow, Ted Turnbow, Bob Turnbow, Jack Carney, Floyd Cassidy, or anyone else (Mike Turner?  Terry Turner?) who might have been there -- supported the emerging Civil Rights movement. I don't really know what they thought about the increasing number of black players on teams in all the major American sports.  

I've thought about this a lot because my dad and his friends were like nearly every other adult man I knew in Kellogg when it came to talking about African-Americans.  They made jokes about black faces, lips, noses, and hair. They mocked and criticized African-American speech patterns. They laughed at African-American names.  They freely used a wide variety of pejorative words for African-Americans. When I was in junior high, I called my dad on this from time to time, tried to get him to change, and he mocked me, told me his home was his castle and he could talk any way he wanted. It was a battle I soon gave up on.

But, that night, when the Texas Western players were introduced -- Bobby Joe Hill, Orsten Artis, David Lattin, Willie Cager, and Willie Worsley -- and the Kentucky starters -- Pat Riley, Larry Conley, Louie Dampier, Tommy Kron, and Thad Jaracz -- were introduced, the rooting energy in the room was for Texas Western.

I've often wondered why. What moved these men to take the side of the all black team?

The Kentucky program was coached by a smug and arrogant sports elitist named Adolph Rupp.  His players, I'll bet, seemed privileged to my dad and his friends.  They needed to be brought down a notch or two.

And another thing.  Ted Turnbow was a Zinc Plant supervisor where Dad worked as a maintenance mechanic. A guy who was also a boss of some sort at the Zinc Plant and who Dad liked a lot, named Ed Whitley, was a graduate of Texas Western.  In fact, until 1949, Texas Western was named the College of Mines and Metallurgy.

 Whit graduated from Texas Western.

Dad and Ted liked Whit.

Texas Western was a mining school.

Kellogg was a mining town.

Adolph Rupp was an asshole.

Ergo, Dad and his friends rooted for the all black team, and, as it turned out, they were on the right side of history.

This game would have been historic no matter who won, because of Texas Western's starting five. But this disciplined, fundamentally sound team from a school few had heard of, defeated the mighty Kentucky Wildcats that night, 72-65.

I'll always remember the game for its early turning point in the first half when, on two consecutive possessions, Bobby Joe Hill converted steals into layups.  I was dumbstruck. The two buckets put Texas Western up 16-11, and it was a lead they never lost that night.

I saw other great games with the Turnbows -- great New Year's bowl games, Bill Walton's 44 point performance against Memphis State in the '73 NCAA finals, and some great USC/Notre Dame football battles.

I learned from those games and those get togethers what is most fun for me as a man.

Soon I'll get to have this fun again.

I'll be returning to Kellogg late in the evening on July 4th and I am stoked that I'll see members of the Hall of Fame of Great Guys -- Stu, Lars, Donnie, Abby, Byrdman, Jake, Ed -- maybe all at once, maybe not, but we'll get together and eat and drink and shoot the shit and give each other shit in the grand tradition I learned from my dad and his lifelong friendship with the Turnbows and his other friends.

Ted was not only the last Turnbow to pass away, but he was the last surviving man of all the names of my father's friends I've mentioned in this post.

I hold their memories dear, first because of what good friends they were to Dad, and, secondly, because they opened up a world to me of how to enjoy my friends that has brought me hours of laughter, lifelong friendship, and a deep sense of belonging.


Ramona Mitchell said...

This is a wonderful tribute. As I watch the circle of life, I am in awe of those in Kellogg who made us who we are.

Jeffery Turnbow said...

Jeff Turnbow. Regardless of my life as it is today, much different than my dad, uncles and Pert would have wanted for me, Us TurnbowS always felt a sense of inclusion for anyone. My dad and uncles never forgot the poverty they were raised and always taught that human beings were the wealth of ones life, not material or money. My dad Jerry truly loved Kellogg, the valley, the people who lived in the area. I know he tried his best to be the example of the kind of characteristics that make a great human being. It's a time that will never be the same again, but those of us who experienced those days have a responsibility to younger generations to be the example of honesty, loyalty, empathy and acceptance.
Without loosing who we are as individuals.