Thinking Out Loud: BS Catrett

John T. Catrett III
ONHL Hospice Chaplain

That’s what my boss said when I would open his office door. Let me explain. The summer after my freshman year in high school, my football coach told me to call Mr. Lewis Cooper and he would hire me to work at the school warehouse to earn some money for football camp. So I called and he told me go to this address ready to work, and I did.

Our first job was to roll up freshly cut soil with grass, put it in a truck and transport it to the high school football field. The school system and city of Hobbs, N.M. thought it would be a great idea to put on a rodeo contest and use the football field for the event. The field was demolished, so it was our job to re-sod the entire football field. We had eight old pickup trucks and one two-ton flatbed truck to carry these rolls of sod to the field, where 30 high school athletes were expected to roll and load, then, unload and unroll the sod on the football field. The adult driver of an old Ford truck told me to put the tailgate down, so I did. I unlashed the tailgate and just released it. The tailgate fell all the way to the ground! The adult driver looked at me and said, “You’re going to have to tell Slick (that’s his nickname that people called him behind his back because he was bald) Cooper you broke the tailgate!” So at the end of the day, I walked into his office and said, “You remember how the tailgate on that old 52 Ford pickup used to be on the back?” He said, “What do you mean used to be?” Then I told him my story. He said, ”BS boy, don’t you know you need to handle these old trucks with gentle care?” I said, “No, sir, I didn’t, but I do now.” He thanked me for telling him and that he would repair the tailgate.

About half way through the job at the football field, we started getting bored so we started throwing dirt clods between the various trucks. So, the first clod that I threw shattered the back window of the two-ton truck, and guess what the adult driver said. You’re going to have to tell Mr. Slick what you did. So back to his office at the end of the day, and this time Mr. Cooper said, “BS, Catrett, what did you break this time?” I think most of you know what BS stands for, but just in case, you don’t - Bull manure, except he used a different word than I do, but I think you get the picture.

When we finished re-sodding the football field, Mr. Cooper let 25 or so of my co-workers go and kept five of us to continue working for the school warehouse. Later we learned that the adult drivers were watching us to see which ones were hard workers and which ones were loafers. To make this story a little shorter, I need to let you know that for the next three summers I worked for the school warehouse, and I got three of my good friends jobs there also. We would go in first of December and fill out job applications, and they would let us know in May if we were hired. And yes, I still would go to Mr. Cooper's office and let him know what I broke during those three years.

One of those times I thought, "This one is going to get me fired for sure!" I was mowing the grass between the gym and the administration building when I became thirsty. Inside the football field area was a huge tank that received its water from underground. This water was naturally cold and refreshing. As I drove my mower between the wide double gates to this area, the left side of my mower caught the pipe that helped the gates swing out and in smoothly; however, now the pipe had a sideways looking “ V” in the lower half of the gate, and it became difficult to close properly. Of course, the supervisor of the stadium said, “You’re going to have to tell Slick what you have done so he can have it fixed.”

So at the end of the day, here I am going to Mr. Cooper's office again. I knock and go in and all of his adult co-workers are there in his office "shooting the bull" with him. He sees me and says ... Can you guess what he says by now? You’re right! He says, real loud over the noisy bull shooting, BS Catrett, what have you broken today? My reply was, “Well sir, it’s not actually broken. It’s modified. Do you remember the double gate leading into the football field on the northeast side by the water tank, and how the pipes that held the gate used to run straight up and down? Well, the left inside pipe now has a sideways "V" look to it. Could we straighten it back up?” Mr. Cooper got really red in the face and said, “BS Catrett, you need to go home now!”

As I left his office, I was so exhausted because of the tension of talking to Mr. Cooper, I just leaned on his door to catch my breath. At the most, I had been there five to ten seconds. All of a sudden I heard this loud burst of laughter and wooing. I peeked in the window to see Mr. Copper banging on his desk with tears running down his face as he was grasped for breath in between his laughing! There were several men rolling on the floor holding their stomachs, saying “Modified!” The other men in the chairs were slapping the arms of chairs laughing like crazy! I stood there for a while and listened. Finally, one of the guys on the floor said, “When are you going to fire BS Catrett?” As Mr. Cooper finished wiping his face with a paper towel, he slowly regained his composure. John Catrett is our only teenager worker that tells us what he has broken. We have workers break holes and shovels and the Lord only knows what else, but we never hear a peep out of them! We will find all kinds of broken equipment in that warehouse that these kids hide and don't tell us about. Catrett is honest and straight forward to tell us what he broke, and I appreciate that in any person.

Now let's fast forward 25 years, I am the minister of Central Christian Church in Carlsbad, New Mexico, which is 70 miles west of my home town (Hobbs). A coach of the high school there and deacon of the church also worked for Mr. Cooper when he was in high school. He (Jim) says to me, "Have you heard that Mr. Cooper is dying?" "No!" was my response. I asked, "Could you please get his address and phone number?" He says, "I have it at home and I will call you this afternoon."

Monday afternoon I was there introducing myself to Mrs. Cooper, his children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and I asked if I could visit and pray with Mr. Cooper. They said, "Yes, I could." They took me to the back bedroom and said, "Lewis, there, is someone here to see you." Entering the room, I said softly, "Mr. Cooper, my name is John Catrett, and I used to work for you when you were the supervisor of the Hobbs School Maintenance Warehouse in the 60s." He just looked at me blankly and confused. So I whispered in his ear, "I'm B.S. Catrettt." A big smile spread across his face and he nodded. He said, "I remember you well!" And we laughed. I prayed with him and his family and my parting words were "You are a good, good man in the hands of a great God! I am so glad you were my boss in my teenage years!" The next day Mr. Lewis (alias Slick) Cooper died, and I thank God for Him giving me the courage and time to see, pray and share with him and his family before he went to meet God face to face!

John T. Catrett III is chaplain for ONHL Hospice. He can be reached at (918) 352-3080 or john.catrett3@gmail.com.