from the memoir Beautiful Mountain
My band director, Jack Pattison was another mean man who had a direct influence on my life. He almost ruined music for me. What kind of a person does that to a kid? Especially a guy who was supposed to be teaching you the appreciation of music.
I had a gift for the flute. That talent and love revealed itself in my flute solo Autumn Leaves. It was a beautiful piece and I never tired practicing and playing it. It was also something that man wanted to take from me. Whenever I’d play and lose myself in the famous crescendo, it would set something off in him.
My mother and I used to watch Susan Hayward on old black and white TV movies. A favorite, The President’s Lady in which she played Charlton Heston’s wife, the story of Andrew Jackson’s bigamy. But the one that I watched most often was Susan in I’ll Cry Tomorrow. It terrified me on a number of levels. My mother never could carry a tune like Susan in the movie, but their drinking habits were much the same. In fact, the movie in its way made the drinking kind of a norm to me. If they did it on television, then it must be kind of acceptable in a strange and warped way.
Jack Pattison, my band director, looked like an East Tex version of Richard Conte, the method actor who played Susan’s husband in the movie. He beat the shit out of her and even more horrifying, became a captor who psychologically enslaved her. He used her addiction to alcohol to control her life and that was even more terrifying to me than the physical violence.
When I started the 7th grade, it was my second year playing flute. Mr. Pattison created the first twirling team for the Dick Dowling Black Panthers. Even though he hated my guts, I got selected for the squad. My grandparents, Buddy and Do bought me a professional baton, a shiny steel thing with heavy rubber tips on each end. I would often put them in my mouth and bite down on them for some reason. I can still remember the taste of the rubber in my mouth.
We practiced out at Mr. Pattison’s house in Amelia. It was a sub-division right close to Terrell Park where I used to go. Home of Kamp’s Junction with a little train that went around the perimeter and served greasy hamburgers in the snack bar diner. The park smelled like cypress from the tall trees everywhere, deep and dark like a kind forest with places for children to hide and escape.
The houses in Amelia were little ranch style homes popular from post Korean War builds that sprang up all over Beaumont. Many, like the Pattisons had transformed the garage into a playroom or family room. Their’s had deep orange shag carpet lining the floor which ran near the width of the home with enough space to fit three cars. The walls were lined with framed record album covers from every release by Herb Albert and Tijuana Brass. Mr. Pattison would walk around the room underneath them playing his cornet in imitation of his idol, Herb Albert.
He was a short guy, Mr. Pattison, with great big nose and this black oily hair he combed back. He had huge teeth that showed when he grinned between lascivious lips, thin and not near full enough to accommodate the teeth.
His wife was Anita, with her short shorts she were year round and high teased frosted hair cut short in a bouffant style. We practiced our routines out in the street in front of their home on Saturdays.
Hang on Sloopy, Little Bit O’ Soul and, of a matter of course, all the Herb Albert songs. Mr. Pattison held a freakish delight in conducting us barely teenage girls in dance routines with an iron hand, much heavier and more powerful than our steel batons.