It was in the fall of 1972 and I found myself lined up beside a young Indian man by the name of Randy Mallory on our Small School Wisconsin State Championship Football Team. We raced through the Dairyland Conference that fall unbeaten and untied averaging over 40 Points a game and gave up only 14 points all year. Randy played offensive tackle and I played end. Little did I think at that time that Randy and I would become such good friends through the years.
Randy was a very big boy in high school weighing somewhere around 225 lbs. and was quite an imposing guy on the field. He had to get a special helmet ordered because his head was way too big for any the school had. Randy’s helmet was white while the rest of us wore a gold colored helmet. Randy was always joking about it telling us it was the big hat but in reality I think Randy treasured that big ol’ white helmet.
Shortly after school I started traveling a lot to other states working in the meat packing plants and finally settling in the oil fields of North Dakota. I pretty much lost contact with Randy through the years but in 1987 I returned to my hometown and started farming on my grandfather’s farm. It wasn’t long afterwards that I once again ran into Randy.
Randy asked me what I was doing back in town and I told him I was farming. He immediately said “I want to work for you John.” I said Randy I am in the process of rebuilding nearly every piece of machinery on the farm and trying to get the operation turned around so that it is once again making money. I really cannot afford to hire anyone at this time and besides you can make a whole lot more money doing almost anything else then you can make helping me. Randy said, “ I don’t care what you pay me I just want to work for you!”
So Randy went to work for me and part of his pay was in meat, vegetables, eggs, chicken and dairy products. I knew Randy had always battled a drinking problem but yet he seemed so determined to want to work for me that I almost had to give him a chance.
Things were really good and Randy proved to be a very important part of our farming operation. We got along just great about 99% of the time and the rest of my family just loved him. My children thought the world of Randy and each birthday he had or every Christmas they insisted they had to buy something for Randy.
If you showed Randy how to do something you seldom had to tell him again as he was a very intelligent man and a very fast learner. I often times let him pick the jobs he wanted to do and many times it was Randy that cooked our dinner. He was a very good cook too and just a gem to have around.
Randy and I did a lot of fishing together and even made a few trips to North Dakota to fish paddle fish. Randy was sleeping in an air tent that would lose air at night once the temperature got below freezing. Each morning he would crawl out with a smile and say the same thing “Sprung a leak!” He caught several paddle fish and told me I was a good white man because no one else had ever taken him on any fishing trips.
Randy was still spending too much of his hard earned money on drinking so to try and prevent this from going on I took him to town on payday and encouraged him to buy things for his home or fishing tackle. He seemed to be doing really good at times but then he would have a bad day or two and get back into his own habits and spend all his money in the bars. Then one day I saw his favorite fishing pole behind the bar and I knew he sold it for beer money.
I was determined not to give up on my friend or his drinking problem so I included him in every fishing trip I could to keep him out of the bars. Randy and I would boast who was going to catch the most fish every time we went and on one occasion he told me he was going to beat me by using spoons. I had found a good walleye hole and they were hitting my jigs. After I put the 5th fish in the cooler Randy asked, “ You got one of those jig things?”
We ice fished together and spent many days floating the Eau Claire River together catching wallets, bass, pike and musky. We netted black suckers together and on one occasion he told me a hole behind his house was only a couple feet deep so after two steps I was quickly over my head and deposited on a rock pile about twenty feet down stream. Randy laughed and called me a crazy white guy for trying to wade through a ten-foot hole with a bag of fish around my neck!
Randy had a neat sense of humor and had several sayings. He called all Native Americans “Chiefs.” We passed a carload of Indians one time in one of my fathers wreckers and Randy said “ Whole car load of chiefs.”
I moved to Alaska in 1995 and Randy got into trouble with his drinking and driving and ended up getting sentenced to 3 tears in the county jail. During the time he spent in jail, he attended church, went to AA meetings and got a job working at the White House Restaurant while out on Huber (work release from jail). It was from that jail that my old fishing partner sent many special letters to his former high school football teammate, and friend.
Randy said for the first time in his life he had $600 in the bank, $600 in his wallet, a paycheck in his wallet and another paycheck due the next day! His penmanship was perfect and very neat. He said he was going to church and for the first time in his life he had God involved and things were going great. He said he realized how much money he had wasted and how much of his life was wasted by drinking all the time. I answered ever letter Randy wrote me and told him I was proud of him but cautioned him about the dangers of alcoholism and how some of us never escape it. I further instructed him to keep his guard up and not to start drinking again. Randy assured me he had learned his lesson and that he wasn’t going to drink any more. He said he wanted to come to Alaska and once again be around the family and to go fishing with us again.
Randy got out of jail and started drinking the very same day He drank daily and never did sober up One day he simply fell over on the sidewalk of the town we both played football at some 35 years ago and died.
I was shocked to see his picture in the obituary section of the paper one day and will never understand how my good friend got so caught up in his drinking that he simply could not stop. I sure wish he had made that trip to Alaska and went fishing with us instead of going back to the bars. Rest in peace my good friend you’re dearly missed by those of us you left behind that really knew you.
See you next week!
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