Norman: Elementary schoolmates reconnect, close distance of miles and years

By Charlie Norman

A few years ago, wife Carolyn and I were privileged enough to acquire a small getaway place in East Tennessee. Now we both love Texas, but there’s just something about the mountains, rivers, trees, and waterfalls that beckons us to that area of our great country ever so often.

Adding to the allure, Carolyn actually grew up in Middle Tennessee, and I have some ancestral roots from up that way (my grandfather, Charles Sr., was born in Bristol, Tennessee). So we have that connection. Shortly after getting settled into our little house, I tuned into the clearest and strongest radio signal I could find --- Super Talk 92.9 FM (Conservative Talk Radio) in the Tri-Cities area of Johnson City, Bristol, and Kingsport, Tennessee.

I’m laying in bed one early morning half asleep and I hear this guy, radio host George West, come on the air for The George West Morning Show. He had a somewhat folksy vernacular... yet his voice was strong, sincere, and soothing all at the same time. Though not as polished or assertive as the aggressive pros I’m used to hearing in the DFW Metroplex, George was still very knowledgeable and confident in his views.

I actually found that refreshing. So this particular day, I’m listening to ol’ George and he says something like this, “Yeah, I have great memories of my growing-up years out in West Texas. Now East Tennessee is my home and boy, do I love it here... lots. But I’m very fond of my early years out in Odessa and Midland --- great/honest hardworking people, beautiful sunsets, good schools, and real sense of community. Love’em both.” What?! Here I am in bed at 6:15 in the morning listening to a guy on the radio in the Tennessee mountains talking about loving growing up in, of all places my hometown of Odessa, Texas.

Now, if you know West Texas, you know the contrast of what I’m talking about. I’m thinking I gotta meet this guy. So I call the station up after George is off the air and we connect. We had a brief, cordial phone conversation and agreed to do lunch sometime when I’m back in the area. It took a few months for all the logistics to work out, and by this time George had actually moved to another radio station. Still, he suggested for us to do a sack lunch together at his new station, and we could get acquainted during his frequent breaks off air.

Fair enough. And get acquainted we did --- my goodness! We find out that though he’s four years younger than me, we both attended Austin Elementary School in Odessa in the years 1960-61. I was in the 5th grade and he was in the 1st  --- yeah for the Fightin’ Blue and Gold! We both love early Beatles music, Tex-Mex, Furr’s Cafeteria, Friday Night Lights football, and the Monahans Sandhills (30 miles west of Odessa).

He had an uncle who was the sheriff over in Monahans and I had a college roommate from there.  We discovered that over the years, not only had we lived in Odessa at the same time, but at one time or another we’d both lived in the DFW area, Chicago and Houston. Later George asked me if, when I was of age, did I ever go out to the honky tonk dance clubs in Odessa called “The Melody Club” and “The Stardust Club.”  I hem-hawed around a bit before confessing, ”Well, I did that ONE time.”

George just laughed, and said his daddy used to sing and play guitar in a band there, and worked as a front man/manager of sorts for both clubs over the years in the early 60’s. George’s dad also had a live Country Western TV show on weekends on KOSA TV in Odessa. “Big-Time” ...not really. But it was for his dad. I know my daddy must have seen George’s dad on TV on his regular Saturday afternoon shows. Who’d ever “thunk” that?

Then his daddy got right with the Lord and that CHANGED EVERYTHING. He left the night club scene, bought three radio stations in Midland/Odessa, and became a preacher. Funny how that works. That’s how my new friend George got into radio. His daddy offered him a chance to cut his teeth as a DJ at a little ol’ station in little ol’ Crane, Texas. Heady stuff for a mid-teenager.

“You know Crane, Texas, Charlie?”  “Do I know Crane, Texas!? Why that’s the home of the Fightin’ Golden Cranes.” We both just had to laugh and knew we were starting to connect on a deeper level. George got some experience there in Crane, then moved on up to doing some DJ work in the larger market in nearby Odessa on KOZA Radio. He became quite well-known in the area... so much so that the iconic national radio host Wolfman Jack even accepted George’s invitation to come to Odessa to do a show.

During their time together, George asked Wolfman what his secret was in having success in radio.  In his distinct, gravelly voice Wolfman replied “Just lovezz de people, George. Just lovezz de people.” It was an epiphany for the young DJ. He started applying that philosophy in his work, and his career took off, and took him to major markets the land over.

Carolyn and I have had the privilege of getting to know George and his sweet wife Tina these last several years. Once early on, when we were over at their house for dinner, fresh cantaloupe was served as a side dish. When George asked me to pass the salt AND PEPPER for the melon, I knew then “we waz true West Texas brethren.”

But of all the things George and I have in common, the greatest, most significant, wonderful of all, is our bond and mutual love for the Lord Jesus Christ. For both George and myself, it was beyond those adolescent years when the storms and trials of life came, and drew us to the Savior, thereby sealing our friendship. One that will last through eternity. We’d say it was Providential.

Charlie Norman has lived in Somervell County since 1994. He and his wife have two adult children, who graduated from Glen Rose schools. You can contact him at chas234@windstream.net.