Roadhouse News - September 2000
Dear Velma, Robert, Doris Helen, and Hilton,
I am deeply saddened by the loss of our beloved Dee. I will always remember this loss for years to come when I think about the turn of the century. I would like to share with all of you some of my memories of Dewitt.
There is not much of my life that I actually remember that did not have Dewitt in it. We moved to Colorado City from Anson in 1957. The people I remember the most leaving behind were two black people. Shorty Steed and Josie Henderson.
I was heart broken and devastated as a child by their loss. But the first Saturday afternoon in our new town, I was at the Chevrolet house. I heard some kind of new music I had never heard before coming from the wash rack. I wandered back there to check it out and found a fine 1955 Black Chevy with a record player in the front floorboard and a black man just finishing up washing it down. It was Dewitt Bender, my new best friend. I was six years old. I had just been exposed to a style of music that would stick to me for the rest of my life. He was a BLUESMAN!
I would learn many things from Dewitt. How to drive a stick shift and how to properly do a job. Any job. Whatever he did, he did it right. We would talk about many things. Unknowingly he would teach me about skin colors and bigotry. When I had a problem that I could not discuss with my own daddy, I discussed it with Dee. He always had the answers. Unknown to me, any problem that I had with my Dad always seemed to get worked out. Generally because Dewitt was the buffer and always made it easier for me when I finally mustered up the nerve to face him myself.
When I was twelve, Dewitt had to go up to Lubbock to pick up a new truck that had been sold to one of the cotton gins. I had wanted to drive a big truck with a lot of gears. I volunteered to go with him to get it. He had promised to let me drive it somewhere along the way. I am sure that between Lubbock and home he realized it would not be such a good idea, but he could not find a way out of it. He had told me I could. He waited me out until we got to Snyder and finally gave in and slid over to the other side. Sure enough about the time we hit the China Grove cut off, we met the flashing red lights of Texas Highway Patrolman Buddy Hertenberger. There was no question about what Buddy saw. A black man on the passenger side and on the other side, a small head of a small white boy looking through the steering wheel of a big white Chevrolet truck. Buddy was also familiar with this pair. I thought Dewitt was going to die that day. We got a pretty good chewing from the patrolman but somehow we escaped the jailhouse. That would not be our last close call with the law.
Dewitt is probably the proudest man I have ever known. He was certainly the hardest working man I have ever known. I thought all he ever did was work.
When I was fourteen I got my first guitar and the first thing I learned, after Daddy’s favorite song, was how to play the blues. I longed for both Daddy and Dewitt’s approval. When I would play for Dewitt his eyes would light up and he would flash his big grin and he’d say “Boy you can whip that thang”. I really didn’t “whip it” then, but I sure can now. And up until this day I would always stop by and play for him. He would still get excited and say the same thing. It was not until about two years ago that I found out that he actually played the harmonica and sang himself. And you know what, Dewitt Bender could “really whip that thang himself.” I only wish he would have played it for me forty years ago. I would give anything to have made a record with him. We would have been quite a pair.
Dewitt was also a cowboy. Well, sort of a cowboy. My Daddy had some cattle and a small ranch and on most Saturdays Dewitt was always with us. He learned to ride a horse. Daddy had a buckskin horse that Dee laid claim to. And eventually Dee had a pair of cowboy boots that eventually had a pair of spurs on the heels. He really was a pretty good cowboy. He even looked the part except for one thing. He always wore his white Jay Adams Chevrolet House uniform.
You probably do not know this, but he was also a hunting guide. My hunting guide. My Dad’s best friend was a rancher south of town where Velma just happened to work. I loved to hunt whitetail deer. I would hunt everyday during the winter if possible. Daddy could not always take me during the week. And when he couldn’t, well Dewitt could. We would stop by the house where Velma worked and usually get us something sweet to eat that she had just baked then drive around all day and listen to blues and hunt deer.
I could go on like this for pages and pages, but I will save the rest for us to talk about for the rest of our lives. I want you all to know how much this man’s friendship has meant to me for forty-five years. The rest of my family loved him too. I thank God for giving us Dewitt Bender.
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