The thing was, though, I must have craved attention, and maybe this has something to do with shaping a man. I still like attention. Little things make me proud. One of my television sponsors, Sloan Bashinsky, has a house on the Florida Keys at Islamorada, right on the ocean, and a lot next door that's nothing but coral and weeds, and he said he was going to call the lot Bear Bryant Field and put signs up. I went down there the other day, telling a friend of mine how much old Sloan thought of me, and when we got there he had the signs up, all right, but they said, TIDE FIELD. Old Sloan was going for something more permanent.
Anyway, I had to have attention. When I was a little-bitty kid if I wanted a dipper of water I wouldn't let my sisters get it. I'd want Mama to quit her washing or ironing and come get it, and if she didn't I'd hold my breath until I turned blue. She'd whip me, of course. Used an old plum-orchard switch that cut bad. But I got that attention.
I remember a revival meeting at the church down in Mt. Lebanon. I took a little old cat and threw it in the window, right into a girl's lap, and like to scared her to death. I got a whipping for that, too. And a lot of attention.
My folks were very religious. Wouldn't go to shows or anything, never even go to a football game, and they sure didn't believe in sparing the rod. I got more of the same at school. I took a turtle and put it in a girl's desk one day, and when it crawled out onto her lap you never heard such screaming. At that time they'd just fired a lady teacher, who we'd laugh at when she whipped us, and brought in this great big old guy who'd played football over at Henderson-Brown, Alec Wysinger.
Well, Mr. Wysinger got that little girl calmed down and ran off my turtle. Then he took me up front of this one-room schoolhouse, up on the stage where we recited our lessons, and he put me over his knees, like a sack of flour, and held me with one hand and took a paddle with holes in it in the other. Every time he hit, it raised a blister. I told him when I got old enough I was going to whip him. My brothers wanted to go whip him right then when they heard about it, but Papa said I probably deserved more than I got, which was true.
Years later, when I was in school at Alabama, I came hitchhiking home one summer, and a fellow picked me up and asked me if I remembered what I'd promised to do when I got big enough. It was old man Wysinger. I laughed and said, "Yessir, I remember, but I'm still not big enough."
I was always a big kid, and I remember one summer we walked in from the farm to Mr. Smith's picture theater in Fordyce. Drucilla Smith, who was a good-looking little gal, was standing by this poster that showed a picture of a bear and a guy offering a dollar a minute to anyone who would wrestle that bear. Mr. Smith was out front, and he was all excited because the man that was going to do the wrestling hadn't showed up. Somebody said to me, "Why don't you go in there?" and I sorta glanced at Drucilla Smith and said, "For a dollar a minute I'd do anything."
You know, big-dogging it. This was in the summer, because I was chopping cotton for 50� a day at the time and I felt I'd wrestle King Kong for a dollar a minute.
Anyway, they egged me on, and Mr. Smith lined it up with the fellow who had the bear. There wasn't anything else to do anyway, and the picture cost a dime. Mr. Smith agreed to let me and my friends in free.
The theater was a little old thin room, and the seats went downhill. At the bottom was the big stage, and if you sat right in front you couldn't see the screen for the stage. Well, when they brought that bear out it was the scrawniest thing my friends had seen, but to me it looked 30 feet tall. I must have wanted that money real bad. Anyway, I knew one thing about wrestling. I knew if you got hold of somebody and kept your body away from him, he'd have a hard time breaking your hold. That was what I was going to do. Keep that bear from rolling over on me.