Fish Drill Team

by Randall Beaird

My first year in college began in a wheelchair. On August 20, 1981, three days prior to my departure for Texas A&M, my right leg was crushed under Star, our lanky quarter horse. We were in a dead-run by the asphalt when Star drifted onto the road. As I inched him back to the grass, all four feet slipped and my right leg was smashed and good. Star stood up and stared as I twisted around in the weeds.

My right toe needed stitches, imagine a tomato, while the bone snapped just above my ankle.  A balance in breaks of sorts–my left leg required two screws a year earlier after a football pile-up.  After five days in the hospital, and one hip cast later, I was four days late in joining the Texas Aggie Corps of Cadets.

right before haircut

right before haircut

My twenty “fish buddies” and I were in for the surprise of our lives. With shaved heads and a closet full of uniforms, you either learned to play the game and remember names or scampered back to the normal life. Like starved sharks, the sophomores cruised the hallways looking for freshman.  After a year of being lowly mud minnows they were anxious to holler and be in charge. It was all for the best. We were broken down to nothing and built back to our nation’s salvation, a unit that can follow orders.

randall4We had to “whip-out,” aggressively meet and remember all the upperclassmen names. Screaming, “sounding off,” was encouraged. Faced with this tradition, I left my high school shell in a blur after a few introductions.

There was lots of Aggie trivia to memorize, and chores.  Push-ups were quite popular.

The Fish Drill Team practiced in the middle of the quad every evening. With a commander barking out directions, retired rifles snapped from shoulder to shoulder in varying degrees of unison. Most of the freshman weren’t in High School ROTC so skills were low and the motivational runs long. Still on crutches, I hobbled over to see if I could join the fun.

“When can you run?”

“In five weeks.”

They handed me an old Springfield bolt-action. Without moving much, I learned the different maneuvers.

My first run in formation was pretty memorable.  Looking back, could go either way. I was tough and didn’t quit, though ended forty yards behind the pack in a staggering limp, or I was dumb for not taking it easier on my leg.
fishdrill1After Christmas break the intensity of our drill rose as we prepared for competition. In our motivational runs around the campus some would fall out from exhaustion. They would stop but their “weapon” could not; we passed it around taking turns cradling two rifles. For some reason that always made me chuckle, as we tried to pass it around and not lose our step.

Prior to competitions we shaved our heads to show unity. Common ground was good with old Springfield rifles whizzing overhead. In New Orleans we marched in a ten mile long parade at Mardi Gras. Never have I seen such a show of wanton behavior. Our formation’s demeanor was in serious jeopardy as gorgeous women/red lips pecked away at our perimeter.  Bad draw for me, stuck in the middle of the pack, wishing for the edge and the difficult lip patrol.

My A&M days had me close to joining the Marine Corps. In the end, not sure of my momdadatjoannsdirection, I left College Station after two years. Things run in the family–being a teacher ran in mine. I landed at SFA for my bachelors, then again for my Masters.
** (Thanks to Claudette Brashear Beaird, my mother, for the encouragement, and B. Lynn Beaird, my father, for the example.)
















It was 1971


1971       back: Jennifer, Randall, Jeanette                                                                                                       front: Melanie, Jason, Melissa

by Randall Beaird

Here’s a fun picture of me and my siblings.  Now, for their stories…

Jason –  “I started playing golf at about 16, and was so eager to practice I

jasonkid1hung a piece of jasonold shag carpet up inside the barn near the back door.  I hit balls into it day after day.  The balls were mostly falling down below the carpet but a few fell behind it.  I was really loving my new practice facility until I went around the back of the carpet after a week and saw about 20 holes in the back barn door.  The balls I hit with the driver had been going through the carpet and right through the door.  Barn door looked like swiss cheese!”

Randall  –  I was nearly six years old when Jason randallkidwas born, and was bouncing off the walls to have a brother, finally, after being surrounded by 4 sisters.  I guess I was kind of a wrestler back then, or something, because mother would say that Jason’s first spoken words were, “Randall hit me.”  randall1So I got in trouble for being a little too rough.  Then, one  summer we all met up at the lake for a vacation. I was 23, Jason 18, and he was finally my size, so he was kind of layin’ in the weeds for me, so to speak.  We started wrestling in the shallow water; I recognized the moment, a special moment for him, and let him get the best of me, as he hoisted me overhead in a triumphant toss. I guess I had it comin’.

On a side note, Jason is an amazing musician.  He put melodies/vocals to most of my lyrics at and narrated/sang an eductional cartoon I wrote at

Melanie – (Written by David Frey)”The awesome woman in this photo ismelaniekids1a Melanie Ellsworth. She is an amazing woman.She had a powerful impression that she should be my kidney donor (I have Polycistic Kidney Disease.) She courageously stepped forward to donate. During her testing, the doctors shockingly discovered that she had an unusual form of kidney cancer, which is rarely detected until it is too late. Yesterday, she had it safely removed. Probably saved her life. God works in mysteriously wonderful ways. THANK YOU Melanie!”


Melanie and David Frey

Melanie and David Frey

Pretty cool story!  Melanie teaches 5th Grade Science and has her own blog

Melanie’s story —  ”When I was ten years old, Jennifer told me, Melissa and Jason that our house in Houston was an old castle.  She said that when she pulled off an air vent cap on the roof she found an old slide that went to a dungeon.  She had our attention with wild eyed expressions and hand gestures. Theremelanie was treasure and jewels down in this dungeon, just waiting for us. Jennifer opened the window above the bathtub and helped us squeeze through.  The moment we were all out on the roof, she slammed the window shut and started laughing.  We knew we were had, and all burst into tears.  Finally, she let us back in after a couple of minutes.  I learned that day to be wary of Jennifer’s imagination, and to this day I am afraid of roofs.

I also remember Jason as a big prankster.  His tricks included,  putting something on top of a bedroom door, usually a tennis ball, so that it would fall and startle whoever opened it, putting stink bait under someones bed, putting saran wrap on the toilet seat, stringing fishing line across the hallway to trip someone, but his most memorable prank was turning the clear plastic carpet protector, with the jagged gripper points on the bottom, upside down so that it would be a little painful for someone to walk over in their bare feet.  Dad spilled a cup of coffee from this one.

4 generations

4 generations

family pic for carda

 Jennifer –

jenniferkid1“I am the oldest, but only by three minutes. I am blessed to have ajennifer1 twin sister who I have shared many life experiences with, and is the one person who knows above all else what it felt like to be the oldest in a family of six kids. One memory I have was the time the neighborhood bully wanted to fight me at the swimming pool when I was 13. I was there with my best friend Betty Lou and as we were leaving the pool. Pam came up to us and said she wanted to fight me. I was literally scared to death. I had never been in a fight before in my whole life. She kept taunting me and even pushed me a couple of times. I told her I would fight her but only at my house. I lived two blocks away from the swimming pool. I walked home with Betty Lou at my side. I was trembling, my heart pounding faster than it ever had, and all the way home Betty Lou kept consoling me and basically trying to toughen me up. Pam and her friend walked behind us calling me ‘chicken’ all the way home. We stopped one time when Pam insisted she wasn’t going to follow me home. She tried to come at me, but the neighbor came out and told us to get off his yard. We resumed walking home—Betty Lou and I in front– Pam and her friend behind us taunting me the whole way. When I reached my driveway, I broke from Betty Lou’s side and ran in screaming, “Jeanette, Jeanette, Pam wants to fight me!” At the time Jeanette was chopping onions on a cutting board. My panicked cries were all it took, when Jeanette gave me the “killer” look, and slamming down the large butcher knife, screamed, “Where is she!” She had the look of a mad dog– she was ready to rumble! All I can say is my heart leapt with joy as I knew I was not going to have to fight. Pam was quite surprised to see Jeanette tear out the front door wanting to fight. I remember something about an an apron being flung off in the driveway. Pam protested saying something about wanting to fight me (chicken liver) when Jeanette screamed, “You fight someone then it is going to be me!” A fight ensued, mainly just two girls circling each other— Jeanette slapping Pam’s outstretched hand, and Pam occasionally pulling Jeanette’s long hair. A paper boy riding his bicycle down the street screamed, “A fight! A fight!” and wheeled his bike into our driveway. Then our babysitter pulled up and sent Pam and the small crowd of neighborhood kids home. That night she taught us all karate, but not before giving us all a big lecture on not fighting. Let it go down in history that Jeanette got every bit of courage and bravery in the gene pool we share— but I am not complaining! She was my hero that dreadful day.”kemptonfamily1

Jeanette –


“I remember Dad having a very giving heart with animals.  Hejeanettejohn1 allowed us to take in Bud, a mut stray off the streets of Houston.  One night Bud got sick and was throwing up blood.  Dad took Jennifer and I to the vet with Bud.  It was a complicated and expensive situation.  Our two other dogs were required to give their blood for transfusions–Bud had heartworms.  Several more treatments later and Bud lived a long life, making the move out to the country to Thompsons (outside of Rosenberg.)”    (Jeanette’s website is

Melissa –


“I never will forget the time my friend Dawn came over one hot summer day.  She was on her horse with the neighborhood pest following on her heels.  We were visiting by the pool when this same kid walked up out of nowhere and slapped the horse on the rump.  It was rodeo time, as the horse jumped straight up and landed in the pool.  It made a rather impressive lap, swimming around the pool, came to the steps and walked out casually,  like he was leaving a jucuzzi.  Mom loves to tell how she came home that afternoon to find all her towels draped on the horse’s back.  Dawn talked me into it–she was afraid her horse would catch a cold.




Randall:  I didn’t have a chance to keep my toys with these two. Mother on my first Christmas, “Randall did his little football training, dodging Jennifer and Jeanette in making a run, trying to keep his toys, at least for a little while. ”


Okay, so I got my fair share at the dinner table.

Dog days

by Randall Beaird

I was sixteen and bringing our dog Duffy, a red chow, home from the vet. He was sitting beside me in the truck enjoying the view when I noticed a giant buzzard up ahead. As we got closer it took off.  Actually graceful and almost majestic, the wings beat down like an albatross going home, but there was no flight plan. In an instant, the hustling bird smashed into our windshield.

Duffy jumped straight into the air and was quivering on the back seat floorboard; I was expecting a mangled bird in his place. The windshield was shattered a smoky white, and caved inward four inches, but held as the fractured carrion connoisseur cartwheeled over the cab to the highway below.

Duffy was rattled, but I was too busy trying to drive with my head out the window. To match the brutal wind, I was desperate for a pair of skydiving goggles.

Three years later, in that same truck, on that same highway, Duffy lay in a cardboard box beside me. We were returning from the vet again, only this time he had to be put to sleep. It was tough to hold and comfort Duffy for his last breath, a nearly blind skeleton of his former self. I could hardly see as I paid the bill at the counter.

On the road home I gave Duffy a recap of his wonderful 15 years; I chuckled as I reminded him of his record setting straight-up-in-the-air move when we passed the fractured buzzard spot.

Ten years later, after leaving the Dallas area, I needed a place to keep Sara, my Great Pyrenees, while looking for a place to buy. Sara was the guardian over my herd of chickens.

One evening a call came from my sister, “Randall, Sara is dead. I’m so sorry. We put the dogs up and went horseback riding. They got out; Sara was hit crossing the road and died instantly.” I could hardly talk choking back the tears.

Jennifer didn’t want me to see Sara. “Brian and I will bury her; she doesn’t look good. You need to remember the real Sara.” It took a few tries to be intelligible but I finally made clear, “I have to see her; I have to bury her.”

They wanted to come point her out and help. I said I needed to be alone and got directions. I drove down a pitch black road looking for Sara, not fully accepting she was dead. I came to the curve in the road, some dark red pavement and a glimpse of beautiful white fur on the shoulder. I parked and ran over to find Sara stretched on her side in a pool of blood. No one could hear as I yelled out her name and stroked her cold lifeless frame.

I put Sara in the truck bed and found a pretty oak tree to shadow her grave. With headlights pointing the way I talked to Sara and dug it deep. I did a recap of her life and kept telling her what a good dog she was, and she was.

Why I love bamboo


Jennie and Pat Caton

by Randall Beaird
I fell in love with bamboo the first time I saw it as a kid visiting my aunt Jennie and uncle Pat Caton at Burke, Texas (just north of Diboll).  They had a beautiful grove of Golden Bamboo out back by their square dance hall.

Now that I’m growing about 20 varieties on my farm, every Spring is one long Christmas morning. Many of my bamboos are the timber variety and will surpass 3″ in diameter, some 6 inches. Each year the canes come up a little bigger, so walking around every Spring is a lot of fun. When you see a 3″ cane first poking it’s head out it looks like an alien plant–it’s big. It’s not like a tree trunk that gets bigger each year. Bamboo can also be harvested after 3 years for construction and produces up to 35% more oxygen than hardwoods, not to mention absorbing four times more carbon. A lot of bamboo shoots are eaten by people, though the bamboo clothing industry is under fire for its current use of harsh chemicals to produce bamboo cloth.

There are two types of bamboos, “runners” and “clumpers.” The clumpers generally need milder temperatures than 25 degrees, so nearly all of my bamboos are runners, and invasive by nature. A lot of people hate this about bamboo–it can cause lots of headaches if planted without a rhizome barrier or the ability to mow it on all sides. The canes are rather soft when they first sprout in the Spring, and can be mowed or knocked down. If you plant it on a property line, it’s not fair to expect your neighbor to mow it each Spring when it spreads onto their property. Most of my bamboos are very drought tolerant by their second summer, but I’ve found if I want them to increase in size each year they need some extra water from time to time. So I have irrigation lines reaching a lot of my bamboo, but I also carry 5 gallon water buckets to others.

Walking through a grove of timber bamboo is inspirational. My largest groves are about three years away from that. Many people have never seen timber bamboo up close, so having it planted along a busy highway between Huntington and Zavalla will help me sell a few plants.

Here’s some of my Arrow Bamboo–makes a great screen or houseplant.

5yarrowRY 010


Head of Security

by Randall Beaird

A security guard was one of many jobs I held throughout college. I wasn’t paranoid of being killed, but I had a few concerns.  I often pulled the graveyard shift–twelve hours of solitude with only the burglar coming.  In the middle of the night, all alone, your imagination does not help.  After guarding one construction yard all night long, and seeing keys in everything with wheels, I thought I needed a weapon.

A six ounce can of mace started riding in my back pocket. The “expert” said it would knock the attacker down, and it didn’t matter where it hit him.  To help stay alert, I would move from cab to cab, playing my favorite tunes. One evening, at the beginning of my twelve hour shift, I was sitting in an 18 wheeler leaning over to look in the glovebox for a pen. By the time I felt the wet sensation, it had reached my right sock. It was the mace.

From the rig to the trailer was one hundred yards.  In full uniform with polished shoes, I could have still qualified for the Olympics. The initial tingle was soon a fire. I hopped around the water faucet, pants down, water flying everywhere.

Out of nowhere, the construction foreman drove up.  Things were too painful to care; I just barked out my predicament.   “I know this looks funny…I had this mace… MY LEG IS ON FIRE!”

He never laughed, but there was a chuckle. After he left I had ten hours more on patrol, but wasn’t about to call for another pair of pants. Standing at the trailer sink, I rinsed my trousers with pride for fifteen minutes.  They were a little wrinkled, and I would have killed for some baby powder, but I pitied the poor burglar that tried trespassing that hot summer night. Someone was a little irritable.