Going Home

The story of me and growing up in a different world from the one I find myself in now.

Chapter Three – Going to School & Side Trips to Boredom

I am not sure when we moved from the farm to Dallas, but I believe I must have been around 5. My little brother, Johnny was born when I was almost two. He was actually born on June 14th, 1951. Johnny Lynn Mathews.

To be honest I don’t remember much about these early years in Dallas. My first really sequential memories are of living in a house with Mother; Frank, my step-father; and Johnny. There are several memories from that time.

One day, I was playing with the water hose and noticed the gas cap. I decided to fill the tank up with water and did. No one noticed at the time, but when Mother tried to go to the store, the car died a block or so away. Somehow, they figured out that it was me. That may have been a near lifelong trend for realizing that I probably did it was a pretty good assumption for many years to follow.

Other events are a little hazy, but I remember that we had squirrels and one day, a brave baby squirrel got to close to Johnny. He grabbed it but the squirrel did not care for that so he bit the daylights out of Johnny’s finger. Ah, so he had that same bug that I did, the one that later in my childhood would lead me to grab every animal that moved.

I wonder if that is true. I wonder if he had that same love of animals as I did, as I do. At that age, it is hard to say and, to be honest, I don’t remember a whole lot in the few years we had together that followed. I remember my interest, but not his. There are so many blank spots there. You would think there would be more that I could recall, but that is not the case. I know we played together, but since I was two years older, I would imagine that we did not play all that much. Two years apart is a lot when your years are still measured in single digits.

I do remember starting school at William Lipscomb Elementary in east Dallas. It seems like it was on Bernard street in a house that has long since been torn down. Something about the hardwood floors stick in my memory and the icebox. We had an oak icebox that was serviced by the Ice Man who came periodically to bring a new block of ice.

Mother’s bed was made of iron and was high off the floor. Well, it seemed high to me at six years old. We were sitting on the bed one afternoon and she showed me how to tie my shoes. Patiently, she went through the process slowly time after time. I didn’t quite get the hang of it and had to be guided through it a few times. Then she went in the other room and I sat in the floor practicing. My clumsy fingers somehow managed to tied the slip knot for the first time and I ran into the other room to show her. Funny that I remember how proud she was of me and getting a hug.

It is funny but I do remember just a couple of other things from those early years and both of them tug at my heart. Both are just little pieces of memory. I don’t remember what led up to these moments or what happened later, just these little snapshots.

One day Mother was going somewhere and was leaving us at the house. Johnny might have been two or a little more but not much. We lived in the middle of the block and as Mother drove off, Johnny took off down the middle of the street behind her, crying loudly. He chased her down the street past several houses wailing away, his little heartbreaking. Mother did finally hear him or saw him in her rearview mirror. She stopped and picked him up. By the time she got him back to the house, she was crying, too.
Those little things stick with you over the years. I can still hear him crying as he ran. Although screaming may be a better description for he sounded terrified or as if his heart was breaking. That memory stuck with Mother, too. She brought it up now and then when we would talk about him decades later. I won’t try and say there was some premonition that drilled that moment into the forefront of her memory but something made it still raw thirty years later when she talked about his little chubby legs running as fast as they could go behind the old Packard. One more of those memories that time never diluted.

Somewhere along about this same time, Mama, Mother’s mother, took Johnny and me to see Pinocchio. It is surprising how well I remember that. I don’t believe I ever saw that movie again, but I can still see some of the scenes in my mind. One of them, when Pinocchio had been stolen and looked like he would never be able to get back home to Mr. Geppetto (his father), was very emotional. Apparently, it was even more moving to Johnny who cried and in a tearful voice asked: “Why won’t that man let Pinocchio go?”

For someone who has a tendency to forget the bad things, it is strange that two of my earliest memories of my little brother are times that he was crying. I have thought about it and tried to remember the sound of his laughter. He was a little boy and I know he laughed. I know I must have tickled him, teased him, did things to make him giggle. Those sounds allude me. I would love to have a piece of them, even one good memory of that happy sound.

My fraternal grandparents, Gramma and Grampa, lived not too far away on Haskell St. It was almost catty-corner from North Dallas High School. They had a washateria that took up the first floor. On top was their living area. I thought that was so cool at the time.

Next door was Dick and Don’s Texaco which was on the corner of Haskell and Fitzhugh. Next to them on Fitzhugh was the Plaza Theater where I spent many a Saturday morning.

It cost a dime to get into the movie theater on Saturday but if you would sing a song or tell a joke, Mrs. Secrets would give you a pass for the next Saturday. Every week, I sang “Itsy Bitsy Spider” so I always go in free. I always had a few cents for popcorn, Milk Duds, and a Dr. Pepper.

I remember some of the movies like so many of the Tarzan movies with Johnny Weismiller and lots of westerns although I can’t remember a single title. There were cartoons before each movie started. They were good ones like Tom and Jerry, Woody Woodpecker, and so many others. In between the movies were serials like Flash Gordon. It was just a different world.

That was true in so many ways. I was going to the movies by myself at five or six. I was not the only one that age there alone. No one thought anything about it then. It was a much more innocent time.

After the first grade, we moved again. This time to far east Dallas in the Pleasant Grove area where we had a lot of relatives. Aunt Thelma Cooper and Uncle Jim lived there with my cousin Kenneth. They had two older daughters who lived nearby as well, Wanda and Wilma. Because they were grown and had children of their own, I called them Aunt Wanda and Aunt Wilma, as was an old southern custom.

Aunt Wanda was married to Vernon Starnes and they had at least a couple of children. There was Coco (I forget his real name now--maybe Roger) who was maybe just a little older than I, and a younger daughter whose name I forget. Aunt Wilma’s last name escapes me now but she had at least two children, a daughter just a little younger than me named Penny (after my mother) and a younger son whose name will not come to me.

Going to visit the relatives was a common event. I don’t remember how often but it seems like it was a weekly visit. Of course, we didn’t have a television and visiting the relatives was free. For Mother, it was more a way of life. She grew up with so many relatives that came and went. Some stayed with them at times and visits were many. Back then the family was close and for those who lived far away, visits were a treat.

More to follow . . .

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Chapter Two - Eating Ants

Chapter Two - Eating Ants

      No this is not going to be a recurring title “Eating . . . .”.  But it does tie in with the first chapter.

      It could not have been too long after I ate the sand that I again lost the fear of putting strange things in my mouth and decided that a bunch of ants looked delicious.  They were not. 

      I must have been sitting on or near the mound and unlike the fire ants that are so common today, these were big black ants that while they would bite, were not quick to do so.  At least they were slow enough to allow me to swoop up a handful and put them in my mouth.  Not a good idea.  Yelling very loudly did not make them stop biting my tongue.  Rubbing my tongue with the back of my hand did not make them stop.  This time, it was Mother who rescued me.  

      After those two adventures, I do not remember sampling many items that were not on a plate until I became a biologist many years later and might graze along the countryside in the right environment.  Of course, by then I wasn’t randomly sampling to see if it was something was tasty.  Well, maybe there was still a little of that, but it was educated grazing.

      Most of my other memories of this time are disjointed.  There is not a sequence of this happened and then this or one event leading to another.  There are just bits and pieces.

      For example, I remember staying at Aunt Lizzie’s house overnight one time.  Her house was just across the pasture from the farmhouse.  Mother was teaching me to count and I remember going into the bedroom alone and while looking out the window I was trying to count to ten.  It was dark out and I remember the moon through the trees.  I counted and knew I was not right.  Then all at once, I went “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven eight, nine, ten.”  Wow.  I was so proud and ran into the other room to tell Mother and Aunt Lizzie. 

      They were sitting in rocking chairs with big paper grocery bags on the floor in front of their legs and bowls in their laps as they shelled peas.  They stopped when I came running in and I started counting.  I remember mother was proud, too, and praised me and I remember her rubbing the back of my head as stood by her chair and counted again.  Whew.  Some of these memories sting a bit. . .

      I can see that I am going to have to dig into the picture box and see what pictures I can find of these old times.  I really don’t have many but there are bound to be a few that I can use to breathe a little life into the words.

      Another night at Aunt Lizzie’s or maybe the same one, I really don’t know, I had to go to the bathroom.  Like the farmhouse, Aunt Lizzie had no running water either so it was off to the outhouse.  Her backyard was always full of beautiful flowering plants and bushes and the outhouse was along a path that had a lot bushes alongside.  There was a little moonlight and about halfway there, a large black snake ran across the path.  I did not need to go to the outhouse anymore.  I ran back inside and told everyone about the snake but I am not sure I was believed. 

 AuntLizzieKathy1970   I should add that Aunt Lizzie was my maternal grandfather’s sister, Mother’s favorite aunt.  Aunt Lizzie was instrumental in encouraging my mother’s love of books.  Mother told me of how Aunt Lizzie shared wonderful books and stories to go with them.  It was a love that mother never lost and one that she passed on to me.

The picture is of Aunt Lizze at 98 holding my oldest daughter, Kathy who was a couple of months old.

    Aunt Lizzie lived in a small house with no indoor plumbing until she was 96 when she fell and broke her hip.  At the time, she still had a huge garden full of vegetables and an almost equally large section of flowering plants. 

     Since Mother’s house had no electricity, she had no radio.  In those days radio was about the only free entertainment around.  Mother said she used to run barefoot across the field each evening to listen to radio shows with Aunt Lizzie.  She loved shows like “Fibber McGee and Molly”, “Lum and Abner”, “Can You Top This”, and all the variety shows with stars like Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Gracie & Allen, and so many others. 

     This love she also passed on to me.  I still love to listen to recordings of the old radio shows.  I have a few thousand hours of them in MP3 format that I listen to on my iPod or on CDs that I have made.  I enjoy them, but I doubt that they have the same thrill for me that they did for Mother after she ran barefoot across the field to Aunt Lizzie’s parlor.   

DanLizzieBaileyWedding1891(Aunt Lizzie and Uncle Dan Bailey on their wedding day, 1891.)

Mama, mother’s mother, did not always approve of the radio shows, but she usually let Mother go. 

     Mama had her own idea about many things.  She was an unusual woman, tall and standing very straight, she gave a menacing look.  I don’t remember ever seeing her smile, let alone laugh aloud. 

   She was the daughter of a Baptist preacher, but not Baptist as we know them.  One time someone asked if I had heard of “hardshell Baptist”.  I told them “Yes. My grandmother was a militant hardshell Baptist”.

    You wouldn’t believe the things that were sins in her world.  We could not wear shorts.  Not just girls, but boys couldn’t wear them either.  When talking of chicken, we could not ask for a thigh, or leg, and heaven forbid if we asked for a breast.  Chicken was white meat or dark meat. 
     Other words that were forbidden were male, female, pregnant, and any euphemism for a curse word such as darn, dang, shoot, and, of course, gosh darn was absolutely unforgivable. 

     When I was about five, I remember Mama answering a knock on the door.  I ran to the door for visitors were not common.  There was a tall skinny man at the door and when Mama opened the screen door, he tried to hand her a tract.  Mama reached beside the door and grabbed her broom.  He must have seen the look in her eye for he turned and started to run as she raised the broom and starting whacking him as he turned and ran.  She was right behind him, whacking him every step as he fled for the sandy road.  His hat fell to the ground about halfway across the yard.  He did not stop to retrieve it.

     She had her own way of handling the persistence of Jehovah Witnesses. 

    Actually, Mama had her own way of handling most things.  She was not the kind of person who just meekly went through life. Her personality was rather strong, opinionated, always clearly black or white and NEVER wrong. 

    The farm was only about ½ mile from town.  Hmmm… let me smile at that one. Newsome had a post office and a small grocery store.  There were also concrete foundations on each side of the street that used to house businesses back in the ’20s, but were long gone. 

    When we needed to go to town, Papa would hook up the old white horse to the wagon.  I don’t remember him ever going with us.  Mama would sit in the high wooden seat, take the old worn reins in hand and off we would go.

     The road was sandy and Mama would point out every snake trail leading across the road and say “There was another grass rattler.”  All snakes were “grass rattlers” or deadly “Spreadin’ Adders” or stinging “Hoop Snakes”.  “Spreadin’ Adders” had a poisonous breath that was deadly if you breathed it.  “Hoop Snakes” had a poisonous stinger in its tail that it would sting you with after it grabbed its tail in its mouth and turned itself into a hoop so it could roll like a wheel after you, stinger at the ready. 

     Those were just a few of the superstitions that she adamantly believed. 

     All snakes were poisonous to her.  Not just poisonous but deadly. 

    Ah, but snakes were not the only danger that Mama saw everywhere, she saw danger in so many places, but none were perhaps as loudly expressed as how she saw tornadoes in every grey cloud.  

     We spent a lot of time in the storm cellar when any kind of rainstorm came.  Well, it didn’t have to be a storm.  If it rained or the wind blew a little and there were dark clouds, we had to hightail it for the storm cellar.  Mama would stand in the doorway, one hand holding it open, the other hand with a shawl over her head protecting her from the rain. She would watch the clouds blowing towards us and now and then would yell “Here it comes!” and duck down pulling the door closed over her head. In a few minutes, she would peek out again, turning her head from side to side as she scoured the sky for a black funnel cloud or the twisting snake of cloud heading right for her. Suddenly, she would duck again and once more yell “Here it comes”! This usually went on for as long as the rain continued or the dark clouds held any promise of calamity. There was never any doubt in her mind that the storm was coming any moment. But it never did.

I could easily get distracted with tales of Mama, for I have more than just a few. I don’t want to dip too far into that stream though. For now, we will leave her as a topic but may very well return to her in later adventures.  
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Chapter One - Eating Sand

Chapter One - Eating Sand

      My first memory is of sitting in the sandy road in front of our house and eating a handful of  sand.  I remember choking on the horrible dry mixture, but little else other than Mama, my maternal grandmother, picking me up.  I must have been about one year old and must not have been walking for long for surely I would have tried a dirt sandwich at my first opportunity. 

      Obviously, I had already established my standard bite size for I did not take a little taste on my finger nor did I merely drop a small bit in my mouth.  No, I grabbed as big a handful as my little chubby hand would hold and stuffed it all in my mouth.  It was horrible.  I choked and gagged on the dry sand.  Luckily, Mama was not too far away.

      I have other memories of that time period including eating a handful of ants which wasn’t a lot of fun either.  And there was the giant spider in my toy box.  No, I didn’t eat it.  When I peered over the edge of my toy box there was a giant spider in the corner of the box and I would not reach in to get a toy.  As I recall Mama either didn’t believe me or knew what it really was for I don’t remember her helping.  A few days later I realized it was a rubber spider that someone had given to me but for several days, I had not taken a single toy out of the box. 

      We lived on a cotton farm in Newsome, Texas which is less than 100 miles east of my future home in Dallas.  It was so far out in the country that the zip code was E I E I O. 

      Papa grew cotton but he also had a few acres of potatoes and a family garden that was an acre of more where he grew corn, lettuce, beans of various kinds, and all the other vegetables that we lived on.

      There is quite a difference between that old farm house and where I sit right now.  I am typing this on a HP computer with a 22 inch HP HD monitor sitting in air conditioned comfort while the temperature outside is in the upper nineties.  Beside me is another HP computer that I use as a backup and my notebook computer is in its case by the front door.  The house is full of the latest electronics and gadgets.  My iPhone and iPad are sitting next to me in the charger.  The old farm house had no electricity or running water.  It did have a butane stove and two butane heaters that were fed by the big silver butane tank outside.  At night, we had kerosene lanterns for light.  Of course, there was no television or radio for there was no power.  Heat came in through the screened windows during the summer and in the winter the cold found its way through the seams in the plank wall and floor. 

      What a change, but then it has been over 60 years since my sand eating days and I have much to tell of the years in between.

      A few months ago, my second oldest daughter, Robin, asked me to write about my life.  While she did not specifically say why, I do know the void that exists with information about my many events of my childhood and even event lately.  That begins with the fact that I was 37 when she was born and that leaves a lot of years that preceded her birth.  Normally a lot of that would have been filled in as she grew up, but unfortunately, we did not have a traditional linear life together.  It is a bit complicated, but the gist of it is that her mother and I divorced and I had custody of Robin for most of her childhood, but she went to live with her sisters when she was almost 15.  Since then we have been close in our relationship but I have always lived some distance away.  That distance meant that we did not get to spend large amounts of time together and when we did, the time was spent with discussions of more current events rather than the telling of old tales that happens in more relaxed and less time pressed times. 

      Before I go on to explain the comment about her sisters, let me say that I am writing all this for my children.  Well, there is some portion of selfishness here, too.  I want to share my life and some of my adventures in hopes that they might be handed down with time.  I also want them to know about their grandparents who were gone before all but Kathy, my oldest, were born or old enough to know them.  That is such a shame. 

      Shortly before she died, my mother, wrote of growing up in east Texas, some of it the same farmhouse in Newsome where I dined on fine east Texas sand.  I would love to have that history from many of my other relatives, particularly my father. 

      The only thing I can do about that absence is to relate various stories and tales from those years. 

      I should also explain that I do not plan on completely following normal conventions with this “book”.  It is certainly not a formal manuscript nor intended for publication so I shall take certain liberties.  I may use incomplete sentences.  I may dwell more on facts in places rather than writing to entertain.  On the other hand, I may be silly and sometimes maudlin in places without a second thought.  I just want to tell the tale.

      Let me warn, too, that I may not sugar coat some things.  I plan on telling it like it was.  I don’t mean that it is a tell all “book” for I do not intend on hurting the feelings of some of the people in my life (who are still living).  Nor is there anyone with whom I feel the need to belittle or to get even with for some event or times from years ago.  May you rot in hell, _________.  OOPS!  But I don’t want this to be just a book of dates and events.  I want the color to go along with it.  While I will not get into graphic detail, I will surely talk about my relationships and there may be some “interesting” revelations.  I have had a colorful life and I am not ashamed of any of it.  Well, very little of it and certainly less of it than I should be. 

      Let me give you an example, I may talk about one of my relationships and how nice it was to find a woman who liked to do the same things I did at the time, go out drinking beer and chasing women.  When you are young and foolish, there were a lot of things you do that most people would hide and not talk about.  I would rather talk/write about my life warts and all.  Oh, there are boundaries for sure, but I am sure that some of the discourse will cause my grandmother to spin in her grave as I have continuously caused for many, many years in so many ways. I’m surprised the spinning has not blown the east Texas sand off her grave.

      I hope that you will see the real person.  There is good and bad in everyone and I really am not going to purposely hide much of anything.  I have done bad things now and then, but I have done many more good things of which I am proud.  As I grew older, I used to joke that I used to have many bad parts, but they were worn off from frequent use.  I have certainly have regrets and most of those are related to my children, but very few outside of those.  I know that I am basically a good man.  I work hard and have a tender heart.  I also have a hard side and that has shown up in both good and bad ways.  I don’t plan on hiding that either. 

      With my words I hope to be informative.  I hope that some of the events will touch your heart; explain the why’s of this or that; and that some will make you laugh.  Without a doubt some will make me cry as I write but then in many ways I am just a big baby.  As I mentioned I am tender hearted.  I am also hard as nails in other ways or would not have survived all those years of managing Teamsters. 

      At this point, I do not know how much of this I will get written.  It is shortly before my sixty-fourth birthday and I have had some health issues over the past couple of years.  Nothing serious as yet, but it has gotten my attention.  It is a reminder of age and time and how no one knows what tomorrow’s sun may find.  I will write on this as I can and as I am moved, but will I have it done in months, years or ever?  I don’t know.  I will just get started and plug along.

      I am going to incorporate old photographs and various things I have written over the years.  That alone would make this quite huge.  That will include all of my poems.  Well, all that are good enough to include and that will be a lot, since I have written them for about 40 years.  In addition, I may incorporate sections of Mother’s book and a few of her poems.

      Hmmmm…. My mind is racing as I write this introduction and about things I want to include as well as people.  There are lots of people and various relationships that will have major roles.  Thinking about those made me realize that I cannot hold to something I said earlier.     

      I said “I don’t mean that it is a tell all “book” for, as I said, I do not intend or hurting the feelings of some of the people in my life (who are still living).  Well, I don’t intend to be purposely mean but I will tell the truth about some events and some events that I believe should be in the open.  That includes one relationship that was tainted over and over by her drug addiction, but most everyone knows that she had those issues.  They don’t know some details that I may discuss.  Another relationship was so filled with hypocrisy and stupidity that it has to be told.  Then there is the thief.  Yeah.  There will be discussions that are certainly not sweet and nice, but life is not always a “rosebud dream”. 

      I doubt that I will write this in sequential order.  No, let me correct that.  I know I will not write this in sequential order.  The final result should be fairly in date order but not the writing.  As soon as I finish this writing session today, I am going to do an outline of chapters and start sketching events and memories in each chapter.  Through time as other events and adventures come to mind or kick me in the butt enough to make hop on the computer to tell about them, I shall but I will usually insert them in the proper time period.

      Before I move on to what happened in the days, weeks, years, and decades after I ate a big mouthful of sand, I will add that today is Friday, June 14th, 2013.  It is Johnny Lynn Mathews’ birthday.  He would have been 62 today and wherever he might have been, I am sure I would have gotten a birthday hug. 

      So we start with that and something I wrote a few years ago.

 

                Black Birthday

 

In another life

Or perhaps in a parallel universe

I would be gathering 50 plastic pink flamingoes

Or posting your baby picture

On telephone poles

All over town

I might be buying black arm bands

For the party

And black crepe paper

To stretch across your yard

And around the tombstone we would plant in your yard

The party would be planned

The black cake ordered

And, oh, the gifts

For months we would have been looking

For those “special” gifts

The ones like Porcelana

To hide the age spots

And Grecian Formula

To cover up all that grey

Of course, there would be an application

To join AARP

And perhaps retirement information

From Social Security

The laughter would be building

It would be so hard to hold it in

We would hardly be able to wait

Until tomorrow

For your fiftieth birthday party

My brother

My only brother

But in this world, in this life

It is not that way

How can this be

We lost so many years together

Forty-three to be exact

Mother never forgot

She kept it to herself most of the time

But she never forgot

Once before Memorial Day

We went to buy flowers

For all the family graves

And as we looked and tried to choose

She turned to me with eyes overflowing

And said “What kind of flowers do you buy

For a seven year old boy?”

She never forgot

Though she seldom talked about it

Not long before she died

Mother said the old saying

That time heals all wounds was a lie

Because every time she thought of you

And that terrible night

It was like it just happened the day before

With me the years seem to make it worse

Maybe because so many others have gone

Leaving me more and more alone

All the grandparents

Then Pop

Then Mother

Aunts, uncles, cousins, friends

Less and less of the past

To hold on to

Happy birthday

Happy birthday

What I’d give to have a birthday hug

Or to see what the years have done

To see the lines in your face

The grey in your hair

Oh, the years we lost

I never knew how much I would miss you

And miss all the things

We would have shared

I miss you

And I miss all the others

That have left me behind

 

 

        MFM

It will never be Home – Margate, FL

June 14, 2001

 

~6:43 PM

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From Second Hand Lions

ABOUT THE MOVIE "SECOND HAND LIONS"

There was something about the ads for "Second Hand Lions" that made me want to go see it.  I went not too long after it opened with my friend, Catherine.  We went to the huge theater on I-95 in Boca Raton whose name escapes me now.

Let me start at the end.  When we were leaving the theater and walking across the parking lot, I asked her what she thought about it.  She said it was okay and asked how I liked it.  For a second I just couldn't answer. . .  the words stuck in my throat.

Almost from the beginning of the movie, I recognized the main characters.  The were my father and my uncle in hyperbole.  For sure the characters on the screen were rather exaggerated in behavior, adventure, and deed, but the spirit was one that I was only too familiar with.  Some of the quotes were even familiar - one in particular.  "There are only four of them" were words in a somewhat similar circumstance that came from my father's lips. 

With my father gone and my uncle fading, the movie grabbed my heart at times.  It is really kind of hard to explain, especially trying to explain how these two outlandish characters could remind me so much of my father and uncle.  I could just see them so much in these two characters: the outlandish adventures, the bravado, but mostly in the spirit that filled them.  Not everything they did was to be admired, but they lived in a different state from most of us.  They were always somewhat boyish, quick to jump into a adventure, and filled with a joyous spirit.

In the end, a young boy asked "You mean the men of my grandfather's stories really lived?"  And the nephew of the men answered, "Yes, they really lived" with the emphasis on lived.

One other quote from the movie really touched me as well. 

"If you want to believe in something, believe in it.  Just because something isn't true doesn't mean you can't believe in it...    Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things that a man needs to believe in the most: That people are basically good; That honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; That power and money, money and power mean nothing; That good always triumphs over evil; And I want you to remember this, that love, true love never dies.  You remember that, boy.  It doesn't matter if it is true or not you see, a man should believe in those things because, because those are the things worth believing in." 

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