Click the arrow below to listen to “Rocket Man” by Elton John while you are reading.
By John McElligott (AKA Star Man) and Gere Gaige (AKA Rocket Man).
I first met Jimmy McClendon in the 7th grade at Austin Junior High at football practice. Other members were Eddie Shirley, Bill Cumbie, Robert Samford, Billops (lived at the Billops gas station out by the Texan Drive in Theater), Bill Walker, John Walker, Harvey Kennedy and many others. So, if you remember go down to comments and tell me who I left out. Jimmy was tall, fast, and played quarterback along with Harvey.
I don’t remember the coach’s name, but i do remember he made all of us roll in the grass in order to get the stickers off the field and into our uniforms. Now getting the stickers out of the uniforms was a job, and Eddie Shirley came to practice the next day with sticker wounds and sores all over his hands and buttocks.
Now there is more to come on Jimmy since he was a good football player and fearless on the field. I don’t think we won many games, if any, but we kicked ass against Cowden’s 7 grade team in a scrimmage with quarterback by Doug Barker. Needless to say Jimmy Mac and Harvey (with the help of Bill Cumbie) got put in on the Cowden’s team and I was really impressed by Jimmy’s calm, cool play calling.
Jimmy then became a figure when all of the Terminal Kids got moved to Alamo Junior High the following year. Jimmy’s family moved west too. Jimmy now 6 inches taller in the 8th grade was a chick magnet and became a basketball star. This stardom continued until we all went to MHS in 1961 and he met Don Patteson , and they were part of the few sophomores who made the B team at Midland. Don will fill in Jimmy’s story from here and tell you about their friendship and the LHS days.
Jimmy Mac went on to college and then into the construction business in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. He did well and frequented “Billy Bob’s” Cowboy Bar and Dance Hall. Myself being a certified “Bar Room Dancing Fool”, loved the place. My girlfriend at the time (mid 80’s) won the wet tee shirt contest one beer inebriated night. Mostly, I suspect because of her rather large bosoms. So, when Jimmy and I met up at a MHS-LHS class of 63 reunion, we found we had something in common besides the few years we spent at Austin, Alamo and MHS. Jimmy was friends with the Billy Bob’s owner. Jimmy made the rounds and had a good time and even married for a while. Jimmy became a business man in the Metroplex area of far West Texas and North Texas. He did well but his medical issues caught up with him eventually. I saw Jimmy at a reunion at Midland Country Club in the summer when Jimmy was still walking, talking and even dancing with one of his old girlfriends. It was great seeing him.
This meeting was meant to be since by then I was a physician and I noticed Jimmy was not walking like I remembered. So from that day on I was Jimmy’s consulting Doctor and started a chart on him. His rise and decline was very troublesome but with the help of his friends from MHS and LHS we made his remaining life a reflection of “Whats in the Water in Midland Texas”. These people I hope will contribute and I will mention their names later in the story. These friends helped Jimmy stay working as a truck driver and assisted in housing until he could no longer work. One of our friends housed Jimmy until he moved back to New Mexico when his mother was dying. Jimmy and I talked monthly until his medical condition reared its ugly head.
Jimmy had told me in 2007 that his left leg was giving him problems and that he had ulcerations on the left foot. I looked at his foot and leg and reviewed his medications and advised him he would be losing that leg in the next few weeks to years. At that time he refused more aggressive care. We all could have helped him and prevented the 4 major conditions that led to his suffering.
Then the call came to me in June of 2011 . Jimmy told me the doctors had to amputate the right leg, after an acute loss of blood flow, above his right knee. This was a surprise to me since his left leg was the worst of the two when I saw him at the Reunion in 2007. Jimmy described his foot as just exploding. Fortunately, as with most diabetics, he felt no pain.
This is when I saw What was in Water in Midland Texas. I notified all of his friends, who will be listed later, and the St. Christopher Truckers Relief Fund in Knoxville TN.
Home visits were made by a few of friends and phone calls were made by many. The love of all was very evident to Jimmy! Jimmy was moved by the kindness of people he had not heard from in years.
With assistance Jimmy was able to outfit his car and the St. Christopher Fund sent him a scooter. Jimmy was happy and back in his element. He often drove down to the TA Truck Stop to show the truck drivers his scooter since their contributions helped pay for the scooter. Jimmy Mac became the Starman on Route 66 and began appearing on the St. Christopher Minute XM radio program along with the Rev. Buck Necked aka WG. They were both a big hit and helped many truckers realize what diabetes and cancer can do to a person. Remember both the Rev. and Jimmy were truck drivers.
Then here came Gere Gage and his plane. Picking me up in Knoxville and taking me to his Arkansas home for a layover for the big trip to Moriarty NM to pick up Jimmy Mac.
The Jimmy Mac Flights
By Gere Gaige
It was the summer of 2012 when the call came from John McElligott about another “Midland boys” reunion, a periodic event I had enjoyed several times since returning from Russia for retirement in the U.S.. This one was to be held at Gus Jones mansion on the water at Lake LBJ. Dr. John’s idea was to include Jimmy Mac in this event – an experience that he was sure would be Jimmy’s last chance. We would use my 4-place Cirrus airplane (220 mph, 1,000 mile range) to pick Jimmy up at his home in north-central New Mexico, and fly to the lake in central Texas for the weekend.
September 5, 2012 was the meeting date to pick up John in Knoxville TN and flying weather was crap for that trip with low ceilings and rain from my primary home in the Blue Ridge mountains to John’s place on the other side of the the Great Smokies. From there the direct flight from John’s place near the eastern border of Tennessee is over 1,300 miles to Jimmy’s home on the high plains of central New Mexico, so we planned a stop in Lubbock TX for an overnight.
On the ground there, we shared mexican food with one of John’s sons and his girlfriend, both in the medical profession there, before heading further west in the morning. Except for headwinds over the mountains of New Mexico, the weather was not a factor for the rest of the trip. That made the biggest event the loading of the very heavy, limited mobility, one-legged Jimmy Mac into the relatively small airplane that has an awkward entry even for nimble folks.
We were lucky to have the rather large gull-wing style doors of the SR22, and we solved the loading with Harry Miller driving to meet us in Moriarity (pic at the top of this story). Placing a blanket on the trailing edge of the wing, we seated Jimmy facing aft next to the door. With Jimmy butt-walking backward up the wing, we scooted him and the blanket up to the door where he turned around to put feet front while sitting on the wing. Then it was a matter of him lifting his hips up over the door rail and rolling into the front seat. His remaining leg could then be folded into the front seat-well for upright seating. “Presto!”…one passenger loaded.
Loading is one thing, taking off is another. The elevation at 0E0 (the Moriarity airport) is over 6,200 feet. By the time we were ready for departure, it was after noon and close to the peak temperature for the day – both factors bad for flying. It is a good thing the runway is more than 7,700 feet long and very nicely paved; with three overweight boys and enough fuel to reach Horseshoe Bay (540 miles, estimated 3-hour flight) we used most of it. We also used all 310 of the horses under the cowling at full power to climb much more slowly than usual to reach a reasonable initial cruise altitude of 11,000 feet.
As we burned fuel (weight) headed southeast over the desolate New Mexico terrain, the flight became easier and Jimmy got used to his nearly first time in a single engine airplane. Once landed at Horseshoe Bay Resort just before sunset, a reverse process was used for Jimmy to deplane and ride to the gathering. Harry made it in by highway and joined with the remaining cast of characters (Dr. John has the great memory for roll call) where generous Johnny “Gus” Jones had rented homes in the neighborhood enough to accommodate all comers. We began to enjoy a great weekend of all the things Midland classmates do when they get together.
The next miracle on that weekend at Jones’s house was that we were unexpectedly joined by some Midland girls! Females had never before appeared at such a gathering, and it had to be Jimmy’s presence that was the draw. Again, Dr. John can recite the roll, but the one I remember most was Eva Kelley, my long lost flame, who it turns out also has an interest in aviation. Together we took the Cirrus for a short flight over the area, flying over her Horseshoe Bay home, gently buzzing the Jones home, O. B.’s ranch and viewing the LBJ ranch from a safe distance. I learned again why I wanted so badly to date her.
After the usual drinking, recalling memories, even singing – enough to bring tears to Jimmy Mac’s eyes – the reunion breaks up and the next morning this part of the story ends as we reload Jimmy in the airplane (by now a polished procedure) and fly back to Moriarity.
Deplaning to his chair, retrieving his truck, and watching him drive out of the airport to his home we could only take satisfaction from the long-lasting bond between classmates that had allowed this visit. We took off, turned the airplane over the city to honor Jimmy with a brief fly-by and headed East, back to the more routine activities of this stage of our lives. But now our minds were filled with fresh memories of the friends and sweet times of our lives in Midland.