By Buddy Hazell
Back when I was firefighter (firemen stoke fires, firefighters put them out) one of our favorite pastimes, after our station work was done and there were no fires, was playing ping-pong. My partner was a man named Richard Railsback. Rails as we called him was a 6 foot, 3 inch man who weighed about 230 pounds. In spite of his size, he was an excellent ping-pong player. He and I took second place in a city-wide tournament three years running. A team from fire Station 51 beat us every year, before we finally won the Houston Fire Department Championship.
I wasn’t a nice person in those days, you might say I was not worth knocking in the head; but let’s share a story. About two o’clock one morning, the alarm went off and the dispatcher said, “Fire at the U-Tote-M Store, West 43rd and Ella Boulevard, 213, 231 and 232 respond.” An easy location to get to, out the door turn right and go one mile and you were there. I hit the seat, started the pumper, looked to see if everyone was on and we were on the way. When were a block away from the location, I could see smoke all over the street. I stopped in front of the store and our captain turned and said, “ Hazel, you better hook up.” About that time, one of the front windows of the building blew out. I hooked up to the plug, and got my pumps in gear as the crew began pulling out hose. I could hear 232 coming up Ella Boulevard and grabbed my mike and said, “ 213 to 232, bring your water with you and cover the rear of the building.” As I stood beside my pumper, I could see the smoke as it began to turn white, and said to myself, “Well it will not be long now.” We had a 110 volt receptacle on the pumper, and I hooked up an electric coffee pot so when the men had a chance to take a break, hot coffee would be ready. (They call this camaraderie.)
This was when the evil took control. I was several years away from repenting of my sin, and answering God’s call to salvation. So here I went: The smoke was still heavy, and that was just fine with me. I went to the front door of the store, and crawled inside to the checkout counter and found my way behind it. Behind the counter, was where they kept the chewing tobacco, and that was what I was after. I had my bunker coat on, and put all of the Day’s Work tobacco I could find in my coat pockets. I then crawled back outside and stashed the chewing tobacco in a side compartment of the pumper. It was only by God’s grace that He didn’t strike me dead.
A few days later, we were back chewing tobacco and playing ping-pong. We had a three gallon bucket which we kept on the floor, at the side of the table just even with the net. The bucket was for spitting (ladies forgive me if this was offensive, but we were just a group of sinful rejecters of Jesus Christ). Five or six hotly contested games had gone by; our bucket was about half-full, when Rails put a lot of English the ball, it just barely cleared the net, and took a right hand turn. Lloyd Damrell (remember him and the cornbread?) went after it, ran over the bucket, and its contents went all over the dormitory floor. The ping-pong players had to clean it up, and the captain said, “No more chewing tobacco while playing ping-pong.”