Upholding your father’s legacy is a mission any child can take pride in. Thankful for every lesson he got from his old man, Milton Magee now takes on the reins of his dad’s company. He sits down with Jason Byrd to share the nuggets of wisdom his father Dewey left to him, which proves useful for his role as President and CEO of Poppa’s Hook. He talks about the importance of not quitting, the right way to face bullies, and how to make your wife always happy. Milton also looks back on the most interesting anecdotes of his colorful life. He shares his experiences in the Navy service, his unique relationship with racecar driver Carroll Shelby, and one exciting road expedition that brought him across seven states in just 15 days.
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Upholding His Father’s Legacy With Milton Magee
I’m here with the legendary Milton Magee, among other things, President and CEO of Poppa’s Hook.
We’re in the international headquarters. We got a couple of other fellows here with us. We got Jefferson Winslow and Andy Hemmings.
I wouldn’t miss this for the world.
Milton, the purpose was to visit you. We all know you. We all love you most of the time but you always entertain us.The day you quit work is the day you die. Click To Tweet
Andrew is my stepson. When his mother and I got married, she had five kids and I had three. Most of the time, in second marriages, kids break up the marriage and not the couple that got married. In his case, I did an awful lot of work in my life. My daddy trained me to work. He said, “Your job is to bring in the money. You have to do it no matter what.” For twenty years, I worked 100-hour weeks. I worked at Mobil for 40 hours and then I painted cars on the side for 60 hours. I didn’t get much of a chance to be with my boy. When I got Andrew, I was looking for another chance and he was looking for another dad. We bonded right off the bat.
My wife and I had only been married for 3 or 4 weeks. He came to me for money. I looked at him and I said, “Andrew, when I was your age, I could con my daddy half of everything he had.” When Sam came along, he was better than me. I said, “You can’t say anything or do anything that I won’t already have been through so you can quit worrying about it.” All of a sudden, he left. It dawned on me that the whole time I was saying that I was counting out the money. He was better than Sam and I’ve ever dreamed about being in his life.
Milton, you’re a pretty good ringer. Here, you ran a couple of other potential candidates off. I’ll let Andy sum it up, there’s one thing you laid out for him that close the deal. If anybody knows Andy, it was probably food-related.
Mama, back in the day, when she was courted by a number of men, I called it her all-star lineup. He owned his own video arcade and malt shop. I had free reign over that place. Another one had a sailboat. He would take us out sailing. Another one, he would buy me stuff. Old Milton here came along and he took me hunting. We killed a squirrel and cooked that squirrel in cream gravy. We had some chicken fried steak and that was it. He was the one for me.
Did you cook that squirrel like a chicken fried steak?
No. I cooked squirrel and chicken fried steak. It was homemade cream gravy. It’s the first time I made cream gravy from scratch. I’ve got the grease in the skillet and I started putting the flour in there and the flour would dissolve. I said, “That’s not enough flour.” I kept putting in the flour. Before long, I said, “That’s got to be enough.” I started adding milk and I had 42 gallons of cream gravy.
Your best was shit on a shingle though. He learned that in the Navy.
That’s the only thing you can eat in the Navy that tasted halfway decent. When you’re at sea in the United States Navy in the big war, not World War II, that’s the Korean War and you don’t get good food, it’s better than what the Army got and a whole lot better than the Marine Corps got.
Tell us a little bit about your Navy service.
I come from a family that had five boys and no girls. I was the fifth boy in the clan. I was the baby of the bunch. The first three brothers were all in World War II. Buddy was my fourth brother. He was five years older and me. He and I were in the Korean War. He was in the Marine Corps and they shot at him. I was in the United States Navy on an aircraft carrier and nobody shot at me. The food was a whole lot better than what he was eating. War is war. I lucked out because they didn’t have a Navy to fight us. All five of us came back without getting shot at or anything. It seems like that since the world has existed, somebody has been at war. It’s not a good system but I’m not smart enough to change it.
I don’t think any of us here are. I know it’s been a few years since your service but it’s still important. We all three thank you.
In the Poppa’s Hook business, I get to talk to a lot of people especially all over the United States. I got into talking to one guy one time and he ordered a lot of hooks from me. Every time that he would order hooks, we’d talk a little bit longer. One day, he asked me, “Magee, were you ever in the military?” I said, “I was on the USS Oriskany (CVA-34).” He was quiet for a moment and he said, “I flew off that ship.” I said, “Did you flew off that ship as a Navy fighter pilot?” He said, “I did.” I said, “You’re automatically my hero because I used to watch you guys come in and try to land on that postage stamp out there with a twist in seven different directions and an LSO officer waving two paddles at you back in those days to tell you whether to wave off or not.”
I said, “John, you’re automatically my hero. I want to know one thing. When you were coming in to land on that aircraft carrier because it’s not easy and I watched a bunch of you guys crash on me. Were you afraid?” He said, “No. Afraid does not quite cover the system. Terrified is about as close to a word as I can get. If anybody told you differently, they lied to the teeth.” He has become a close friend of mine and we have never met except on the telephone. I love that guy.
You met him through the Poppa’s Hook business. We’re sitting here in international headquarters for Poppa’s Hook. What the hell is Poppa’s Hook?
The almost world-famous meat-turning tool.
That’s it. You got it down. My daddy started making them in 1920. He made them and gave them away. That’s what he did. About 1987, I put him in business. I was in the sign business at the time. He was 90 years old. He was out there cutting bass plates for us. My daddy was a craftsman. He could do just about anything that the world could do. He was the smartest man I ever knew in my whole life. I didn’t realize it when I was young. He was starting to mess up a lot of material and the kid that ran my shop for me came to me one day and he said, “Milton, you got to come out here and look at this.”
I went out and there was a pile of material, probably several hundred dollars worth that was scrapped. I said, “What the hell is that?” He said, “That’s what’s Poppa’s messed up in a week.” I said, “Are you leaving the old man alone? Give him the dimensions you want and leave him alone. He’s 90 years old for Pete’s sake. He can’t work as fast as you kids can.” He said, “We’re leaving him alone.” I said, “Throw the shit away and I’ll talk to Pop.” He threw it away and a week later, he came back to me with the same story. I went and it looked the same amount of stuff. It was bad.
By that time, they had taken Poppa’s driver’s license away from him because he liked to pull out in front of people and see the startled expression on their faces. I was driving him back and forth to work and I told him, “Pop, we ought to go into the Poppa’s Hook business. We can sell quite a few of them.” He said, “We can sell a kajillion of them.” I said, “We’re in business.” I set him up in the shop. I got him a corner all to himself and put all his machinery there. The idea was that Poppa would make 8 or 10 of them a week and I would give them away to people. They made real good giveaway gifts and everybody would be happy. That went on for about a month. I looked up and Poppa had boxes of those things, hundred to the box. I was hiding them.
My wife, Nedra, said, “What are we going to do with all those hooks?” I said, “Nedra, I’m giving the damn things away as fast as I can do it because we can’t let Poppa think his job is running out. He’s 90 years old. He’s got to have a job.” She said, “Have you ever thought of craft shows?” I said, “What is a craft show? I never even heard of a craft show.” She said, “That’s where people make things by hand and they go and sell them and people buy them.” We bought a little farm in Crockett, Texas and she said, “Crockett has a Christmas on the Square craft show. Let’s go see if we can sell them.” We did that. We got in there.
Bless her heart, my wife, at that time, was a buyer. She was not a seller. She would go around and buy stuff and then she would come by the booth to see if she was gaining or losing on me. Finally, when we started home that day, she said, “Every time I came by your booth, you had a bunch of people sitting there and talking to you. Did we make any money?” I said, “I don’t know. We didn’t take but 100 of them to sell.” We sold 93.
When we got back to the farm and counting it out, we had made $1,000 in about six hours. I said, “You’re onto something there.” When Poppa started making them, we started selling them at craft shows. Poppa didn’t want the money. He didn’t need the money. All he needed was the work because Poppa was the smartest worker I ever saw. That’s how Poppa’s Hook international headquarters came to be. When we sold out and got out of our real jobs, we started going to craft shows and selling Poppa’s Hooks.
Young Andrew went on a couple of these expeditions with you, didn’t he?
No. He was my A-salesman in West Texas. He was doing one show one night at Wimberley. He called me one time and I was busy with something. I told mama to tell him I’d call him back. I got ahold of him about noon and I said, “What is the problem?” He said, “Not a problem. I’m on my way home now.” I said, “You can’t be on your way home.”
He was pissed at me. I got the job early.Never hit your brakes. Go full-throttle no matter what you do. Click To Tweet
He left at noon and he said, “I sold out.” He took 100 with him. I know he did that. He said, “I didn’t even have time to demonstrate. They were buying them so fast that I could put them in a bag and give them the stories.”
He found that the magic phrase was stocking stuffer. The stocking stuffer you could buy. They were flying off the shelves. I had 200 of them, Milton, by the way.
I’ve been a recipient of many Poppa’s Hook. CEO and international business entrepreneur, Milton, thank you for your donation to my back porch. I appreciate that.
It goes to show you that I give away more than I sell. I could have been a rich man.
That brings me to a point. This whole show got dreamed up, Milton because we were talking about you. When we came over to Andy’s house, the first guy we look for is Milton because we don’t care about talking with anybody else. We want to go plop down with you. I’ll get this going because I got a story that I need to hear again. Milton was the guy that would be sitting over in the side drinking his one beer, chewing his gum and giving you the answers to all the world. He told me a story. It was bizarre that he was in the middle of this. I’ve known him for several years and I’ve never heard the story. It was your race car career and your relationship with Carroll Shelby. Can you fill us in on that, Milton?
That was in an international race down in Sebring, Florida. It was an international 24-hour race. That’s where I met Carroll Shelby. He was famous at that time. This was about 1957 or 1958, somewhere along there. I was a member of the sports car club here. I had a Porsche Speedster. I loved that car.
Which is a whole other story.
Ed was the mechanic for all the foreign cars. He knew how to work on all of them in his garage. We both work shift work. Ed was about ten years older than me. I got to go in over there and wash parts for him because I didn’t have anything else to do. He taught me a hell of a lot of stuff. We were in the sports car club and he sent out to get us jobs as pit stewards in Sebring, Florida. We got elected and we went up there and the race was going on. The job of a pit steward is to make sure that everybody in the pits is playing according to the rules.
They put me with a famous English driver named Jackie Stewart. I’d seen him race in movies and television sets before. He was not a nice guy. He didn’t follow any rules. I went to the chief pit and I said, “Expel Jackie Stewart out of the race.” He said, “Are you crazy? He’s internationally known. He’s the top driver in the world.” I said, “He is not following rules. Isn’t that my job, to make sure that he follows the rules?” He said, “I tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to change your pits. You’re going to go into Carroll Shelby’s pits.” I said, “Who’s Carroll Shelby?” He said, “He’s an up-and-coming driver.” They put me over there and gotten me out of Jackie Stewart’s face.
Carroll Shelby was standing in a pair of striped overalls that had the buckles in the top, no shirt on, barefooted and a straw hat on his head. It wasn’t his turn to drive. The driver was out driving. He was driving for the Camoradi racing team. They were going against big-time stuff. The Birdcage Maserati was supposed to be the thing. It was a Maserati and it was all welded too. It was the fastest thing in the world. When that car came by the pits, the ground would shake like it was an earthquake going on. It came back probably 140, 150 miles an hour and that engine was screaming. Carroll Shelby sat down with me for probably 45 minutes in his rest time one time and we’d talk about everything in the world. He was the nicest guy you ever saw. I kept track of everything from then on. I never had enough money to buy one of his cars, the Shelby GTs. He was the nicest man I have met in my whole life.
He was already dead but I bought one of his cars when they first came out with the pickup truck version.
I never saw that in my life.
They made 500 of them.
Thank God, Milton, you didn’t ride in it because it almost killed me one afternoon.
It was 700 horsepower, Ford F-150.
That was a Cobra.
It was a Shelby. It wasn’t the Mustang Shelby GT but it was the pickup truck version.
What was the name of that turbo on it that made that crazy noise?
I got down to the end of my street, Milton, and he stopped at the stop sign and I got out.
When the supercharger kicked in, it would scream at you. It was too much. It was the white color with the blue racing stripes like all the Shelby GTs. I’d be parked outside a restaurant and I’d come out and there’d be rednecks taking pictures up against the truck. It’s hard to blame them. It drew a little too much attention so it had to get sold.
I don’t see how you could drive a 700 horsepower on city streets.
You can carefully and extremely carefully when it’s wet. Especially with that pickup, when it was wet, you could spin that thing around.
No weight on the back end.
It was terrible. It’s the worst thing I’ve ever done. I knew Carroll Shelby’s ranch hand and he used to drive one of his Mustangs down when I lived in Dallas. He would show up in there and that was one fine car. I don’t know if it was souped up as some of the others. I’m with Milton. When it took off, you knew it. You heard it and you felt it. It was incredible.
When he first got tied in with Ford Motor Company, they were working out of a little raggedy-ass place in California. Ford came to him and said, “We don’t care how much it costs. I want you to go to Europe. I want you to blow the doors off the Maseratis and the Ferraris and all the rest of the high-dollar cars. I want to see Ford come across the winning line.”
They made a movie about that.
They made an extremely good documentary from his early life all the way. He was married about fourteen times and some of it didn’t even count. He did like the women. The funny thing about him is when he raced for so long, his heart was bad and they made him quit racing. He was about to die any day. They were waiting for a heart transplant. One day, they called him and he got a heart of a twenty-year-old kid and he went to living again. Big time.
He didn’t even need a blue pill.
Milton, some of the best stories I remember you telling me were back in your high school days and your days of youth and cars. You are always around cars. You were talking about those rally races that you all used to have.
That was in the sports car days. That was my sports car period. I got married and ended up with a damn station wagon and a bunch of kids. I thought, “How the hell did I get here? Where’s my Porsche?”
Milton, that was here in Beaumont. It’s back when 11th Street still had the circle.
The Porsche wasn’t that fast because they had a lot of cars that were faster than it. The Speedster was a big Volkswagen but it looked cool. It would run fairly fast. They had a lot of hot rodders down here at Deadwood. A quarter-mile would blow it off the track. I would challenge them to a race around the traffic circle. I said, “I’ll race you around in the traffic circle, four laps.” Nobody can beat the Porsche around that traffic circle. It had better brakes on it. The Porsche left when I married my first wife. She took over the Porsche and I was relegated to the 1952 Chevrolet pickup truck to go to work.
A sad day, indeed.
That wasn’t the worst day. The worst day is when I had to sell the Porsche and buy a station wagon.
I bet you didn’t keep that wagon along, did you?
No. I outgrew it.
You had to move up to a van. The worst day for me is when I bought a minivan. I told myself I never would but I had all these little kids.
You got stuff to haul around. I don’t understand how you got two little babies and fifteen suitcases, stuff that you have to drag around. It hasn’t changed.
We had that third one so we got to that minivan. Luckily, about 2 or 3 years into it, the damn thing got struck by lightning. They tried to fix it and that electrical shock. We got out of that minivan and never looked back.
You got to do it during the time that you go through. Life seems to make changes like that and you have no control over it whatsoever.
You seem to deal with those changes in life pretty well. That’s what I want to know. Why? How?
You can go back to my daddy. My daddy, when I was growing up, he worked for a coal factory. We’d never had much money but I never understood that part of it because I always had money. He put me to work when I was probably twelve years old cutting grass. He had to cut the handles off the lawnmower and he made it to fit my hands so me and my brother, Buddy, could go out, cut grass and earn money. He said, “I don’t have much money to give you for spending.” He had a saying for everything. His big saying was, “You have to work because work is what feeds your family and what does all these other things.”
I never heard my daddy say a bad word about any man the whole time that he was around for 99 years. He died at 99 years old. He was more worried about me carrying Poppa’s Hook than he was about dying. The last two weeks of his life, he grilled me on could I do the job and do it correctly? I said, “Pop, I’ve been working with you for all these years. I know how to do it. Don’t worry about it.” He always told me, “The day you quit work is the day you die. You’re going to sit down in the chair and you’re going to die in two days.” Consequently, that was all brought in to me. You don’t realize how much an impact somebody is having on you until you get older and they’re not around anymore. You can look back and see how he molded me into who I am now by talking to me.
You’ve done a pretty good job because that’s exactly why we’re here, Milton. Your family can look back on this and appreciate the molding that you’ve done. A hell of a woodworker and craftsman. Nice molder, Milton Magee.
I’m the Jig Man. Daddy thought me that too.
What’s a Jig Man, Milton?
My dad told me one time that if you want to make something, make it by hand. He said, “If you’re going to make one, you go out there and you make one. If you want to make two, you make a jig for all your parts. You cut all the pieces the same and you can put them together and both pieces will be identical. Besides that, if you want to make some ten years from now, put your jig up and you can go get your jig down and there it is. It’s got all the patterns and all those things in there.” My friend, John Nelson, used to work with me out here a long time ago. We started making something called a Texan Georgie. A friend of mine made it until he died and then I took the job over. We were trying to do some different things and I asked him a question and he said, “That’s not a question for me. You’re the Jig Man. You got to figure out how to do it.” He called me the Jig Man forever. John Nelson, a close friend of mine.
I got one of them.
They work, too.
Are you still making these Poppa’s hooks?
I got to make them until I die.
If someone wanted to buy them, how do they get ahold of these Poppa’s hooks?
On the web, PoppasHook.com. We ship them all over the United States. I made a mistake one time. A lady from Germany called me and I took the order. She said, “I’ll give you my credit card number.” I said, “I’m old-fashioned. I don’t take credit cards. I’ll send you a bill and you can send me a check.” It’s not that simple when you’re trying to get money out of another country. I sent her the hooks and she got the hooks. We never figured out how she could get the money to me so she got them for free. I’m a little bit leery about selling anything overseas anymore.
You should’ve had her send you some beer.
German beers are good. I’ve got a lot in other countries with the people who have been over here visiting and they took it back with them. PoppasHook.com. They got a picture of me in there. I’m ugly as hell.
The almost world-famous meat-turning tool. What was your pitch, Milton? Did you and Andy figure out a pitch?
We had us a system down. I’d reel them in. We had a little display set up where we cook meat there while they were on display. We drink beer and eat meat all day long. I’d work the crowd. I’d get them up there and I’d hand them off to Milton and he would entertain the hell out of them. Mama was handling the money. We had a system.
He could bring old women across 7 acres of ground, straight as air rocking our boot.
That was my target audience, I had a way with them.
That’s because you weren’t ugly. You’ve always been a pretty boy. Andy’s my golden boy. Things go right for Andrew because he is a golden boy.
Generally speaking, things are going pretty well. Back when we worked for your sign company there, you were asking him how he’s made it through all these changes and stuff. Milton’s always been able to roll with the punches and let stuff go. There was a young man that worked for us there for a while. He worked for you, too. I won’t say his name. I remember he misspelled one of the signs.
This was back in 1987. This was a lot of money for me. Enterprises was the name of the company. That sign got shipped over to the Middle East or something. It was out in the middle of the ocean.
Off of the coast of Africa.
What word did he misspell on the sign?
I have no idea.
Whatever it was, let’s say it was pipeline. He made the sign, it got shipped off and it came back to us.
We never got the sign back.
He went and asked Milton, he said, “Are you going to fire me?” Milton said, “Hell no. I paid you $1,600 to learn how to spell pipeline.”
The kid couldn’t stand it. He stayed there about three days and he quit. It wasn’t necessarily the kid’s fault because several people were supposed to read that sign and improve it before it went out. It was raised letter on half-inch thick white plexiglass with a stainless-steel frame all the way around. It was about 4 feet high and 3 feet wide. It was not a cheap sign. Somehow, it got through. We all learned a lesson on that one. The people that bought it said, “What are you going do about it? Send new?” I could have repaired it. “We’ll send it right back.” I made them another one, shipped it to them and they paid for that one but they never shipped the other sign back, too much trouble.
Milton’s always been able to roll with it.
You’re not in the sign business anymore.
No. The only reason I was in the sign business was Andrew could spell. It’s the truth. I can’t spell thee three different ways. Andrew could spell any word in the world when he was twelve years old.
Andrew is the youngest of the bunch of all the kids.
He’s a baby. We’re babies together. I’m an old baby. He’s a young baby.
We hit it off well right from the beginning. They got married right behind us here at the French trading posts. Remember that?
He came back to the house after the wedding and I said, “Milton, I’ll be seeing you tomorrow.” He said, “I live here now.” It didn’t dawn on me that you’d be moving in. I was like “Good.”
I never had a speck of trouble with Andrew except the normal stuff that teenagers do, which I’d done all of it before they ever got to.
I was good at not getting caught.
That’s the thing. When I first went into the Navy, an old seaman sat down and told me, he said, “As far as getting trouble in the Navy, it’s not what you do that you get in trouble for, it’s what you get caught at. You got to be smarter than the average bear not to get caught at it.” We were in Yokosuka, Japan one time and we were trying to smuggle some whiskey aboard the ship. We got this bright idea. It was bad weather and we had raincoats and stuff. We would take the raincoats with us. One guy would slip all his whiskey in his waistband and in his socks and all that stuff. The other two would get on each side and were helping the drunk aboard. That made logical sense to me. The guy made a good drunk anyway.
The first thing when we stepped on the quarter-deck up there, we went up the ladder and we got to the quarter-deck. The quarter-deck officer there was a young ensign and probably had never been to sea in his entire life. I don’t know how he even got out of school. He looked like he’s twelve. I didn’t look thirteen. One of those bottles fell out and broke on the quarter-deck and that poor little ensign was standing there. That’s a major problem when you get caught smuggling whiskey onboard a ship. They had a chief petty officer that was standing with the young man because they knew he didn’t know much. He told him, “Sir, you back off. I’ll take care of this problem.”
He gathered us all up and took us to the master-at-arms office. This was about midnight, 1:00 AM. He said, “Put all of the whiskey on the table. I can’t believe that you people are that dumb. You got to be dumb. Have you ever heard of duct tape? You’re supposed to tape it in there. I’m going to have to taste each one of these bottles to see if it’s real whiskey or not because that determines your punishment.” He would open a bottle. They were all pint bottles. He would drink about half of it in one slug. He put the lid on it and smack his lips and said, “That’s whiskey.” He did that on every bottle. I don’t know how he was standing. He told us, “You better get smarter than you are. Get the hell out of here.” We didn’t go to the brig.Be kind to people regardless of their skin color, social status, and what they personally mean to you. Click To Tweet
Jason here is a fairly good card player. Some of the first lessons you gave me on gambling came from your lessons in the Navy.
Have you ever heard of a game called In Between?
I have not.
They played it a lot in the Navy. I’m not a poker player. I’m not a gambler and never have been but they conned me into this game. It’s a $0.10 ante. That’s all it is. I didn’t draw but $31 one payday and $32 the next payday. I had to buy cigarettes and all my personal stuff out of that. They said, “It’s a $0.10 ante. You can’t lose much money if you don’t do it.” The way that game work is they deal you two cards, everybody gets two cards facedown. The pot is sitting out there, whatever how much money it is. By the end, it’s a dime. You had $1.20 in the pot. You look at your two cards and the name of the game is to get a card in between those two cards.
That sounds simple. That $0.10 ante got up to be a $60 pot. You could pass. You didn’t have to take a chance at all. You could throw in your cards and pass. I got an ace, which is the highest and a deuce, which is the lowest. I had $30 in my pocket. I knew better than to try to ask for the whole pot $60 because I didn’t have $60. If I drew another ace or deuce, I’d lose. That’s the best odds you got. I took $30 and they threw me a deuce. They sucked up my $30 before you can say, “Don’t do it, Jack.” That broke me from sucking eggs in the United States Navy playing cards.
Games like that are hard to bet big on because they’ll get you.
If you think of it logically, that’s 8 different cards, 4 aces and 4 deuces. I had 1 ace and 1 deuce so that was 3 each. That’s 6 cards out of 52. That’s not at all good odds. The best thing that happened to me when I was on that ship was the first-class air. My first job there was pushing airplanes around. They also had a lot of work details that you would have to go on to load ammunition in stores and all that stuff. We were getting ready to go overseas. I got on this damn work detail. There was a bunch of old guys on there. If you’ve been on the ship for one cruise already, that makes you an old hand. They were teasing me about being from Texas. At that time, I weighed 125 pounds, soaking wet. They rode me constantly by being the laziest Texan they ever saw in their entire life. It went on for days.
Finally, I blew up. I told them, “That’s enough shit. I’m through with you. I’ll fight you all one at a time. It doesn’t make any difference but somebody is going to get their ass whooped.” Everybody on the ship was bigger than me but I was plainly mad. There was an old second-class seaman that had hash marks on his sleeve. They’d been busted fourteen times. He grabbed me and dragged me off. He got me off in a corner and he said, “Magee, you’re about to make a big mistake. The first thing you have to understand in the United States Navy is that people are going to ride you as long as you play the game.” The game is you answer them back.
He said, “Tomorrow when you come to work and if they say you are the laziest Texan that they’ve ever seen, you’ll say, ‘That’s the same thing my mother said when she threw me out of the house and I had to go to the Navy.’ You agree with everything they say and then they’re through with you because you’re not any fun anymore.” Sure enough, the next morning, they got on me and I exactly said, “That’s the same thing my mother said when she threw me out of the house and sent me to the Navy.” It ended right there. That was a life lesson for me to not get mad when somebody gets to ride me or something. Play their game. Don’t play their game.
That’s some wisdom.
You’re probably a little smarter than me. At that age, I still would have gone with the fistfight.
I tried but the second class caught me.
We call Jason the river stone. He never gets upset and loses his temper. He’s as smooth as a river stone.
Milton, there’s a time and a place that sometimes somebody needs their ass whipped.
It didn’t make any difference whether it was my ass or theirs. Somebody’s going to take an ass-whooping. Besides, I have had enough ass-whooping in my life. I never had enough smarts to keep my mouth shut. I was the littlest cow on the farm all the time.
We might be related, Milton.
It could be.
How many kids you’ve got?
My brother, Buddy, was five years older than me. His thing in life is if they didn’t have anything to do, he’d bring his buddies over and they beat up Milton. I thought it was fun because they were letting me play with them. I’m in the game. They taught me how to swim in the freshwater canal with the watermarks. They took me out there. I was about 6 or 7 years old and they threw me in the canal. You had to swim to get out. The problem was I can dog paddle and I could swim a little bit even at six years old. When I get to the bank, they throw me right back in again. That went on for hours. I can swim pretty damn well when I got out. They don’t let you teach people how to swim that way anymore. It’s against the law.
You had your brothers. There was Dewey Jr.
He’s my oldest brother.
Jack was the second.
Third. Buddy was fourth.
His oldest brother, Dewey Jr., when he got out of the military, went and homesteaded up in Alaska. You had some adventurous spirit in your family there.
He had a more adventurous spirit than any of us.
Did you ever go there, Milton?
I finally got there several years ago.
Did you ever have a little bit of difficulty finding it or you knew right where it was?
No. He had a lake there that was called Whisper Lake. He had wrenched. It was about a 58 flight. He had to go and live on the land for nine months. This was in 1946. Alaska wasn’t even a state at the time. It was a territory. All you had to do was stay on the land for nine months and show some improvement. He put up a four-log lean-to out there, which was some improvement. He had a little husky dog that was there with him. The top part of the thing was a tent. It wasn’t even wood. The dog started growling one night and the only gun he had was a .45 automatic that he brought home from the war. The dog got up next to his cot and was growling. He grabbed his flashlight and threw the flaps open on that tent with his gun in his hand. There was moose was standing there looking at him. Its horns were wider than the tent. Dewey pulled the slaps, grabbed the dog and got off in the opposite corner. I said, “Dewey, you had a .45 caliber gun. Why didn’t you shoot the damn thing?” He said, “I didn’t want to piss him off.” A .45 would not bring down a moose unless you hit him around between the eyes.
He might have been close enough.
The moose was breathing on him.
That’s such a cool story because he ended up hanging around that land, sold it years later and made a little bit of money.
I sold it for $1.2 million after he died. We went back and the only thing I knew was Whisper Lake. Nedra, you met her before. That was your mother best I can think of. She’s good at organizing trips whether you wanted to or not.
She is good at it. You did a good job, Mama.
She organized this trip. We flew into Alaska and rented a van from some friends of mine. The first night, we were staying in the log cabin somewhere on the Kenai Peninsula. We asked the lady if she knew where Whisper Lake was. The lady said, “I don’t but my husband has lived here all his life. He’ll be in tonight.” I asked him. He came by the cabin that night and he said, “Do you want to know where Whisper Lake is?” I said, “I do.” The Kenai Peninsula is pretty big. It’s not 10 miles wide and 5 miles long. It’s big. He said, “I’ll tell you how to get there.”
I’m thinking it’s going to be far away out in the boondocks somewhere. He said, “Go down this dirt road. Go back to the highway and turn left. Drive 1 mile and turn right. There’s a shale road going off to the left.” I said, “It’s that close?” He said, “You could throw a rock from here. It’s damn near.” I got to stand on the bank of my brother’s lake, Whisper Lake. He had been dead for years. He never got to go back. I stood down the banks and I said, “Big brother, look at me now. I’m standing on the banks.”
The CEO of Poppa’s Hook is taking over the world. Meat-turning master.
That was your brother Dewey Jr. who was up there.
That took an awful lot of guts. He had a .45 caliber pistol, that was it, in the middle of nowhere. The nearest thing to him was 20 miles away and it was a one-room trading post.
What year was that?
- 1946.It had people living on the Kenai but they were mostly on the coastlines. They had stuffout there that would eat you.
He was not at the top of the food chain.
When he started out, somebody gave him a sled dog and a bunch of dogs. They were pets to him. One day, he decided he was going to hitch up the team. A lady’s husband got killed and she gave Dewey the dogs and the sled. He said, “I’ve seen Call of the Wild,” which was about sled dogs and all that stuff. They had a picture show her about it. He said, “That can’t be too much to it.” He hooked all the dogs up. When he left, the trail rose a little bit as he went up and then it dropped down a hill on the other side. He was going up that hill and he was hauling mush, kicking his foot and everything was going straight. The dogs were pulling. He said, “There is nothing to this,” until he hit the top of the hill. There were no brakes on those sleds. The sled overran the dogs. The dog goes all twisted up in the harness. He had to take his knife and cut the dogs out. He left the sled laying and hauled the dogs back and gave them away to somebody. He said, “There’s more than that that meets the eye.”
That reminds me of a story you told me one day about a Porsche sliding off the road. There was a little racing going on. What happened there?
That was my first wife. She wanted it. We were on an all-night rally. She wanted to drive because she didn’t know how to navigate. I said, “You can drive.”
That was the second thing wrong with her.
She was doing good. She was a good driver but I had always told her, “If you get the car sideways, never hit your brakes. Go full-throttle no matter what you do. If you spin around, make sure you go in full throttle.” The top was down and it was a nice night. She was driving and she was hitting 80 on the speedometer. I looked up ahead and I saw a turn coming up. I looked at that turn and I looked at that speedometer and I said, “She can make it at 80. That doesn’t look all too bad.” The problem was when you got in, it was a diminishing radius. The curve got tighter as she went into it.
The first thing you know, we were going sideways. I looked over at her and her foot was headed to the brake and my head was under the dashboard because I knew it. You could hardly flip a Porsche. That’d go around in circles. There were ditches on both sides with cypress knees in them. It looked like a bear trap. Sure enough, she hit the water backward. When she hit the water, it kicked her sideways and she slid up on a place where a farmer had put a drain in so he could get to his field. The Porsche went up on that thing and set down. The engine was still running. We’re sitting there chugging along. My wife was gone. I thought, “Shit. You can’t fall out of a Porsche. You’re sitting way down low in there.” She was standing about 50 feet out there in the middle of the road looking back at me. She ended her race car driving career that night. If she had do it 1 time, she would do it 1,000 times.
For all the youngsters out there, your advice is to lay off the brake and jam the gas.
Give them the gas. One of the things we had in stock car racing over in Louisiana. He got caught up in a wreck and turned upside down and was going over the wall out into the parking lot. He was gassing it. His daddy was hollering, “See that boy? I taught him everything he knows.”
If you’re ever in doubt, hit the gas. Don’t touch the brake.
If she had done that, it would have probably spun around a couple of more times before the inertia would have stopped it. It would have kept it flat. She didn’t do that.
She couldn’t navigate either.
She learned to navigate.
I’m grateful she did do a few things wrong. Otherwise, we might not be having this conversation.
Need you may, navigate to the hurricane.
How long have you and Nedra been married?
Over 40 years. Do you know how long our friends gave us after the wedding? Six months. They said, “There’s no way that lady can marry and live with a loudmouth redneck.”
How did it work then?
It’s the magic words. I learned this later on in life. I learned it before I married Nedra. When she tells you something, you say, “Yes, dear.” It doesn’t make any difference if you do it or not. All you have to do is say, “Yes, dear,” and smile at her. Things will be alright. If you say, “Hell, no. I am not doing that work.” then you’ve got trouble for the day. If you say, “Yes, dear,” there’s always an excuse. “I got it. I’ll get right on that. I’ll do it in a minute.”
“I had that scheduled for tomorrow.”
Lay off the brake, hit the gas and say, “Yes, dear.” Are there any more words of wisdom there, Milton?
Andy tried to tell me a story once about some Lazonian expedition. What in the hell was a Lazonian expedition?
- 1952.Thiswas a name of a car. The expedition was four kids with $50 each, didn’t have much money. A one-wheeled trailer stuck on the back with our camping gear. We went through seven states in fifteen days and ate what they were grow That ‘40 model Chevrolet, we’ve been working on it all summer. We rebuilt the engine and did a whole bunch of things. That was a car that my dad had bought new in 1940. Four brothers ran the wheels off of it. When my turn came, he gave me the car. He said, “I’m giving you this car.” It was worth about $40 maybe. He said, “If it breaks, you got to buy the parts but I’ll help you fix it because I’m buying me a new car.” He bought a brand new 1950 yellow Bel Air Sport Coupe, which I didn’t get to drive for a while.
We talked for a whole year about going on this trip. It got to be such common talk that the mamas got used to it. There wasn’t a mama in those days that would let four teenage kids. I was seventeen years old. You don’t let four seventeen-year-old kids go on a trip for two weeks with $50. They were used to hearing this that by the time we got ready to go, they never said anything and we took off.
It’s you and a bunch of buddies.
Yes and a ‘40 model Chevrolet that you had to push to get it started with one wheel trailer on the back. We got into some predicaments. We made the trip without any problems at all especially from the law or anything like that. We never did anything wrong because stealing watermelons is not against the law. It’s like the Navy. We were in Little Rock and they had this big park there. They had horses that they rented. We were going to go ride horses for an hour. You picked out the horse you wanted and the guys saddle it and then you start off. I picked out the horse that I wanted and the guy said, “That horse is not tamed.” I said, “It looks tamed.” He said, “He’s not tamed. Can you ride pretty good?” I said, “Can I ride? I’m from Texas. Does that tell you anything?” He said, “You do know how to ride.”
He saddled the horse, I put my foot in the stirrup and slung my leg over in the saddle. I never got my other foot in the stirrup and the horse took off. It’s like somebody hit him in the butt with a paddle. He’s running out there across a pasture and I’m trying to get my other foot in the stirrup. He must’ve run to 200 to 300 yards. He stopped, swung around and went right back to the place where we were, the starting point.
I had failed, stumbled off that saddle and landed on my feet. The guy said, “I thought you told me you knew how to ride.” I said, “I didn’t fall off, did I?” He said, “You didn’t.” I had to get back on that damn horse. They held the hood until I got both feet in the thing and we rode that other one. LJ’s horse, every time he had come to a limb, he’d try to rake LJ off the horse. We had a hell of hours’ worth of ride because those horses were trained to get you off as fast as they could so they could go back to the barn and eat apples or something.
They see that barn and they come running home.
Other than that, we didn’t have any trouble at all.
It was you and LJ. Anyone else?
Bobby Harwell and James Robbins.
How many of them are still around?
Bobby Harwell is still around. I hope James is still around. I’m still around. LJ was the only one that died. We all got one foot on the banana peel.
Did you stay friends with them all these years?
Yes. Bobby Harwell and I started first grade together. That was a long time ago.
You all have been friends for more than 80 years.
We’re getting in a little rickety.
I’ve heard it happens.
At one point in time during that trip, didn’t you all meet some ladies?
Queens, Arkansas. We could’ve got in big trouble on this one. It was at Albert Pike’s Museum. We thought we ought to stop and see Albert Pike’s Museum because it was free. When you only have $50 for two weeks for gas, food and all the stuff, you got to take the free steps. We went in there and they had about a fourteen-year-old girl working in there that was gorgeous. She was built like a 22-year-old but she was 14. That could get you in trouble. She was showing us around and then we all fell in love with her. She didn’t look fourteen. Truly, she looked to be 18, 19 years old.
The old lady that was running the place must have seen the handwriting on the wall because she was keeping the girl for a friend. Her mom and daddy had split up and she didn’t have any place to go. We decided she could go with us. That made perfect sense to the four of us. Apparently, the old lady heard about that. She said, “Where are you boys staying the night?” We said, “We hadn’t picked out a camp spot yet.” She said, “I’ve got an abandoned house by my house. It’s livable. It’s got running water in it. It doesn’t have a bathroom but it’s got an outdoor toilet.” This was in 1952 in Arkansas, nobody had running waters. She said, “I’ll cook you all supper. I’ve got a granddaughter coming over that’s crazy.”
In the meantime, she hustled this young girl out somewhere because we never saw her again. We had a place to stay. The lady was going to cook for us. She had this granddaughter that was crazy. We went. Sure enough, the little house was pretty neat. It didn’t have doors or windows in it. It was a dirt floor but it had a roof over it. It had a pitcher pump on the kitchen sink. She got ready to go pick up the little girl from the school that she was in. We were drawing straws who got to sit in the front seat because the little girl would get in that seat. Bobby Harwell won. LJ and I were relegated to the backseat.
We were all watching for this good-looking granddaughter to come toward the car. We hadn’t seen anything that looked like what she was talking about coming. I saw one little girl carrying a doll in pigtails headed straight for the car. I said, “That can’t be it. She isn’t even a girl. She’s a child.” She came right to the car and opened the car door. Bobby Harwell was still looking out over her head looking for the girl that was crazy. The old lady did right by us. She cooked us one hell of a meal that night with dessert and everything.
We spent the night and left out again the next morning at about 2:00. From there, we were headed to Eureka Springs. I don’t know if you’ve been to Eureka Springs. It’s a big tourist spot. The hotel is eight floors and each floor has a ground floor. It was Saturday night and they had a dance up there every time. LJ was the only one of us that had any beard at all. Maybe not 21 but he looked older than 17. We went there and we got ready for that dance. We sent LJ down there to buy us a bottle of whiskey. We were going to go to that dance floor that night. He came back with a fifth of gin. I never had tasted gin in my entire life. I had tasted much in my entire life at that point. We were sitting there. You mix it with 7 Up and it tastes like soda water. It was good. We must have had 3 or 4 drinks.
A lot of people were out there dancing. A lot of women that were single were standing out of their table and stuff. I said, “I’m going to go out there and ask that woman to dance with me.” I got up and made about ten steps walking straight and veered sharply to the left. I knew something was seriously wrong. I went back to the table. I was drunker than a skunk. For the rest of the night, I never knew much what went on. Bobby Harwell got over there and made out some women that were real and they ended up in a car with us. We were sleeping on top of a mountain that was camped out on.
Full of gin.
They came up to the top of the mountain with us. They had their own car and they brought it up there. The next day, they wanted us to go to the picture show with them but they said, “You got to wait until after 4:00 comes. Our husbands don’t go to work until 4:00.” I heard that. I got another story I can tell you about that, another break you from sucking eggs story. The next morning, I told Bobby, “We aren’t getting into this again. When there’s crack at dawn in the morning, we’re headed to Missouri. That’s where we headed.” Sure enough, that’s what we did. We took off the next morning. What broke me from sucking eggs was that same summer that we went on the trip. We were toward the end of the summer when we went on this one. Toward the front of the summer, we all had jobs. I was cutting bull grass in school for $0.50 an hour. I’m making the big bucks.
That’s good money.
It wasn’t bad. It was better than nothing. I was going to the show Saturday night and me and Jimmy Harvey was going to the Lamar Theater. That’s a neighborhood picture show right there. Bobby and LJ came driving up. LJ had his daddy’s car. They said, “What are you doing?” I said, “We’re going to the picture show.” They said, “You don’t want to do that. We got some women lined up. These are not girls. These are women. They are ready.” I said, “They are ready?” He said, “You bet you. I know where they going to be parked. It’s all set up. Get in the car because we need two more guys.” We got in being how they were ready. When you hear that word, you got to pay attention to it.
They told me, “There’s a bridge out down there by the airport off of this backroad that we’re going in. They got to be parked where that bridge is. It’s a dead-end street. Nobody can come down there and get you. Rice fields on both sides and nobody’s around.” One of them said, “One of them is married.” I said, “We don’t do married women because you’ll get your ass killed that way.” Bobby said, “I am going with her. You don’t have anything to worry about. Her husband is in the war in Korea.” I said, “You’re taking that?” He said, “That’s mine.”
We got down there and sure enough, there was the car parked there by the bridge. We stopped about 50 feet away, got out of the car and the headlights on that car came on. I never thought anything about it because they were checking to see if they were the right ones that they were supposed to meet. We were going toward the car because they are ready. We got about 15 or 20 feet away from the car. One of the doors opened up and a great big old guy stepped out with a shotgun in his hand. He looked at us and said, “There’s the home-breaking son of bitches. Kill them.” He was pointing right at me. The fire came out at the end of that shotgun and it said, “Boom.” I turned around and outrun the shot. There was not any doubt in my mind that I did not outrun the shot that came out of that shotgun.
Little did they know, Milton, you were ready.
I was on the move.
That’s number three. There we go.
Jimmy Harvey ran off into the swamp on the other side. I ran about 100 yards straight down the road and peeled off to the barbed wire fence into the rice field. I had brand new shoes on that I had paid for $0.50 an hour. It sucked them off my feet because the fields were flooded. The place was full of cottonmouth moccasins. I ran about 100 yards right out in the middle of that field before I stopped. I was thinking, “God, I got to get out of here some way.” There was a honky-tonk about 2 miles up that road and I thought if I can get back to the road and get to that honky-tonk, I can call my dad and tell him to come and get his baby boy out of trouble again. I didn’t know what happened to the rest of them because I was all by myself. They had run off on the left side of the road and I ran off on the right.
Not for long, I saw a car pulling up down that road and I thought that they must have got Bobby in that but they don’t got me and they were looking for me. They were hollering but I couldn’t tell what they were saying. Finally, they went on down, I came back to the road, the road had ditches on both sides and they had a bunch of cattails in there. That car turned around, came back and I laid down in that ditch submerged in the water with my eyes and nose sticking up and barefooted. They stopped the car right by me. Bobby and LJ got out and they were screaming and hollering, “Magee.” They called me Magee. That was my nickname. They said, “Come out. There weren’t any girls. It was a joke.” I said, “They’re making them say that because they want to kill us all at the same time.” I knew it.
Finally, I raised my head up and I could see in the car that there wasn’t anybody in there. LJ and Bobby were hollering and screaming and I rose out of that ditch like that ghost swamp guy. It scared them to death. All of a sudden, I showed up right there beside them. They ran over there, they grabbed me and they were patting me, hugging me and all that stuff. They said, “It was a joke, Magee. There never were any women.” I said, “It was a joke?” There again, it was time to kick somebody’s ass. Somebody was getting hurt here. They both weighed 160, 170 pounds. I was 119 pounds. They put me down on the ground and sat on me.
Before long, they were talking and trying anything to get me to calm down. Before long, it got funny. We’re laughing. They’re like, “Where’s Jimmy?” I said, “We don’t know where Jimmy is. He’s still out there somewhere. We got to find him.” They were scared shitless then because they thought, “We got him out there in the swamp and got killed.” We all had to go to work the next day. This was on a Sunday night. Monday morning, you go to work. The sun was coming up and we were still out there trying to find Jimmy Harvey.
We were about to get up a search party and a car came racing down that thing, a brand new fifth model Ford. Jimmy’s brother was home from the Air Force. Jimmy had run through that barbed wire fence. He didn’t run over it. He ran through it. He cut his chest all up. I don’t know how far he ran into that rice field. The airport was over there. We were on the backside of the airport. He swam a rice canal that was about 40 feet wide, climbed the cyclone fence to the airport, ran across the runways and called his brother. When they showed up, they were fully armed. That whole backseat was full of guns and ammunition. We didn’t tell Jimmy Harvey for two years that it was a joke.
He’s still pissed when he did find out.
That broke me from sucking eggs about doing anything like that.
After several years of it, Milton, would you do any of it differently?
No because you can’t do it. The only thing is I can’t guarantee that the rest of the people are like me because I have two guardian angels. I do. They always talked about guardian angels. I’m a firm believer in it because I’ve been close to death a bunch of times and I always got out of it. I lived a charmed life. There are some things that I would have been a little more cautious of. I don’t think I would have done anything differently.
I was programmed from day one. My family was working people. That’s what we were. Nobody in my family ever went to college. I went to one semester in college because my mother thought that I should go to college. I was programmed to go to high school, go straight to the military, get out of the military, come home and go work mobile because that’s what my family did. They had a job waiting for me. It was a set deal. I had a good time during my freshman year in college. I drank a lot. I skipped class a lot. I went and danced during the afternoon.
If you had to give any advice to these young kids out there because you got a little more experience than a lot of them, more than all of them, what advice would you give them?
Be kind to people no matter what you do, no matter what their station is in life. If they’re rich, be kind to them. If they’re poor, be kind to them. If they’re like you, be kind to them. That pays off. The word karma is a far Eastern word but it means the same thing that the Bible teaches you. If you’re good, you die and you go to heaven. That’s the reward. It’s not what it means at all. It means if you shit on somebody, get a hard hat because it’s coming back to you and it’s quick. Be kind to people. It doesn’t cost any money. It doesn’t cost you anything at all. Smile at them.
I’m crazy but my favorite song is Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard that. You cannot stay mad if you sing Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah. There was a lady that worked at 7/11 that I got to know well. Mary was there every day and I went in there a lot. One day, I went in and Mary’s bottom lip was hanging on the floor. I said, “Mary, are you having a bad day?” She says, “I am having a terrible day.” I said, “I’m going to teach you something that’ll chase the bad day away.” There were customers in that store.” She said, “What is it?” I started singing Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah. I can’t sing but I was trying. That lady and everybody in the store started laughing. Her whole attitude changed. It’s a magic song. If you don’t know it, look it up and learn how to sing it.
I do know it but some of our readers might not. They can look it up as easily right on the internet.
I guarantee to you, if you sing Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah, you cannot stay mad.
“My, oh my, what a wonderful day.” Milton, I know everybody in this room cares about you. We do especially Andy.
He’s my boy.
He loves you. I want to thank you for spending this time with us and letting us put you on the show from the international headquarters of Poppa’s Hook.
It’s been an honor.
Jason, thank you for taking the time to do this. We appreciate it.
Thank you for being here, Milton.
We’ll catch you again when you’re ready.