My brother, Randy, and I talked about tons of things. We liked talking about Heaven and the people we would see there: our sweet mama, daddy, our grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends who had gone on ahead to hold us a spot.
When he would introduce me as a guest on his Saturday morning radio show at KSWM/KKBL, he would slowly enunciate each of my five names and indicate I had the longest name in Aurora. He accused me of stringing all of my last names together so I’d know where I’d been.
He was exactly right. Growing up, we shared a love of all things Aurora, Houn’ Dawgs, history, politics, books and movies and we’d always say: You can only know where you’re going when you know where you’ve been. We would end up talking about our visions of Heaven, the Pearly Gates, the Streets of Gold and the people who would be lined up to meet us there.
He got to go there first last Friday morning and I am more than a little jealous. I can just see him dancing with our mother, playing catch with dad, scraping up a pitch game and probably getting Jesus as his partner, because maybe the Savior wouldn’t mess things up. (Only God could help you if you ever played the wrong card.)
He spent years covering sports for The Aurora Advertiser, writing a popular column called “From Under the Bench.” He also had a long and colorful career as a stringer for Hank Billings and the News-Leader and devoted a great portion of his life as a radio announcer, morning show personality and sales representative. He worked for KSWM and KKBL in Aurora/Monett, KBTN in Neosho, Rock 99 and KWTO in Springfield, and eventually Channel 33. He covered southwest Missouri sports, murder trials, manhunts, council meetings, school board sessions and did a great deal of play by play with his old pal, Everett Archer.
He was active in Little League, the Aurora Band, Boy Scout Troop 48 and worked at Juvenile Shoe Factory through DECA while he was in high school. He was also involved in helping Fred Baum launch Woodbutchers Follies, a talent show that has been brought back to Aurora High School.
I went to work for him in the 1970s as a high school reporter, feature writer and photographer. It wasn’t easy having your brother as your boss. But I learned a great deal from him. I learned the value of truth and integrity, shooting straight and getting the facts just right on the page.
I also learned a painful lesson or two in fairness when the newspaper burned on Valentine’s Day of 1981. I was about four months away from getting married and Randy showed up at the house with the publisher to lay me off. In tears, he told me how important it was to him to treat me like everyone else at work. There were others who would get the pink slip, too. He wanted to set the example by putting me at the top of the list. At the time, I was hurt and poor and really needed the job. Later on, I would come to appreciate his decision as one built on “taking one for the team” and treating everyone the same.
He had his quick wit and humor to the end. He told me he was proud of his kids and grandchildren, as well as his extended family and friends. They were going to be his legacy in the days, weeks, months and years ahead. He also told me his friends were amongst the finest folks in the world -- mentioning men like Jack Muench and Scott Pettit, who had been loyal to him since childhood. He told us Brian Fogle was one of the best things to ever come out of Aurora and that his friend, Caroline, had been praying with him almost every night on the phone.
His tough, resilient, beautiful children proved him right as his son and daughter, Chad Estes (Outlaw Junior) and Cody Estes Murray (the Princess because that made him the King) worked together like a well-oiled machine. Their deep blue eyes, reminding me of the piercing eyes of their father, were filled with laughter and tears, as they did everything in their power to help their dad -- moving with total grace, compassion, love and strength.
They took such good care of their Daddy. I just watched them in awe as they fed him, patted him, held his hand, gave him drinks of water and made sure he was not alone. They celebrated his strengths and they finished the game. He was big on "coming to play" and "finishing the game."
"Hey, handsome, I sure do love those blue eyes," I said to him every time I walked in his room. "Whose eyes?" He said. "Yours," I always replied. "Your eyes, too," He whispered. "Yes," I nodded. "Mine, too."
"Once a Dawg...always a Dawg," he always said.
Randy told us he had lived a good life, cramming lots of things into those 65 years. He described himself as a North Town boy, a staunch Democrat, a die-hard Houn' Dawg, a backslidden Baptist, a proud father and grandfather and a man who was at peace.
He said he had married two beautiful women, who had given him two beautiful children. He said he never dated any ugly girls and his mama was perfect in his eyes.
He had survived numerous things after being run over by a stock car in the 1970s and being bucked off a runaway horse on a trail ride in the 1980s. Both events resulted in severe injuries to his legs. Despite predictions and doctor's orders, he came back to play men's softball with his beloved teammates, who were like family to him.
We always said that people didn't really die -- as long as you continue to talk about them and share their stories. We will have hundreds of stories to share about: Randal, Snowbird, Peeps and the Old Outlaw in the years to come.
Please know how much he loved all things Aurora, his basketball days, his Armo Electric softball escapades and making people think, laugh and get a little tougher.
He was proud of the work he had done here, chronicling the lives of athletes, citizens and leaders. He loved being on the radio and cheering on his beloved Houn’ Dawgs.
He hated losers, whiners and complainers.
He loved underdogs, longs hots and winners.
He went out a winner. He always came to play.
He loved to quote lines from old movies and often told me the quote from John Wayne in Rooster Cogburn: "Baby sister, I was born game and I intend to go out that way."
He also loved the last thing Augustus McCrae says to his friend in Lonesome Dove: "Woodrow, it's been quite a party."
He told us: "I've outlived Abraham Lincoln, Elvis, John F. Kennedy and Jesus. It doesn't get any better than that."
He always started off his 95.9 Radio Show with the song by George Thoroughgood: "Bad to the Bone." He ended the show with Greg Allman's "I'm No Angel." He loved to sing "The Road Goes On Forever," Jerry Jeff Walker's "Redneck Mother" and James McMurtry's "Red Dress."
I sat with him on a bar stool a few weeks ago at the VFW in Monett. We listened to some music. His eyes danced and he talked about his life. He had been to Dewey Pennell's 80th birthday party and he shared some stories with me from the past about his basketball days. As he introduced me to some of his friends, he told me I was ruining his image when I told them "he was such a sweet little boy." He passed out some Hills & Hollows Magazines pointing out my column and we talked about our book project we have been working on together for the past few years. I am going to have to finish it now in his honor. We walked outside to his blue truck and he hugged me as he opened the door.
As I close my eyes, I can still see those piercing blue eyes that looked all the way into your soul, he's dipping himself a big bowl of brown beans and cornbread, picking up an onion, reading the newspaper and talking to his mother -- Faye -- about the day's news and his plans to go have "ice cream" when he leaves. I can see him doing his famous Estes stomp on the dance floor and drumming up a pitch game in the corner. He is walking the streets of gold this morning with a troop of angels he was looking forward to seeing. They are going to have to upgrade their soundtrack and if they don't know how to play cards, they are sure going to have to learn.
If I listen closely, I can hear him recite the last words of each Saturday Morning Shootout Radio Show with his iconic line:
"I'll see you on down the trail."
And that name thing? I think he had me beat:
Thomas Randal Randy Estes, Snowbird, Outlaw, Peeps….