Wichita Falls, Texas: After high school and college, my friend Donny Burkman worked at Neiman’s in Dallas, where they taught him to ask questions of customers, “Would that look good in your home, do you think?”
He learned well. A politic and skillful fellow, his skills emerged as time advanced. He’d inherited a quiet manner from his father, a district manager for Continental Oil. One Sunday afternoon, his father, in a pickup with their tiny terrier in the back window, was leaving the Continental office near the train station, when a light aircraft made a bad mistake.
For reasons long forgotten, the pilot attempted to land on a flat stretch above the train station. He didn’t realize that the huge Continental Oil radio transmitter had long guy wires stretching across the field. The pilot was very surprised when one of his wings was suddenly torn off.
Losing all control so near the ground, he should have been killed, but somehow the plane was tossed into a stand of tough mesquite trees. The plane was a jumbled wreckage, but the pilot opened the door, and stepped free, unhurt. With great bitterness he stood gaping at the wreckage.
At that moment, Mr. Burkman pulled up in the pickup, and through the open window, said calmly, “Having a little trouble, bub?”
Donny and I thought this story astounding; we rolled on the ground.
Years later, Don told me about picking up Ronald Reagan at the airport in Wichita Falls. Reagan had been invited to speak by the Junior League, a mucho-exclusive women’s club. Don was now managing the Wichita Falls Municipal Auditorium, so it fell to him to pick up Reagan, then governor of California.
Don needed a fancy car to pick up Governor Reagan. His own vintage Pontiac was not deemed fancy enough. He’d struck out several times and was getting desparate. Finally, on the day of Reagan’s arrival, Don got a brainstorm. He remembered Hargraves Mortuary. Their long white limousines were a familiar sight to everyone in Wichita Falls, from years of carrying the families of the dear departed to and from the funeral services.
Don called them up. At first they balked, but Don threatened Hargraves that he’d never bury another Junior League member unless that car got loaned. Don reports that the car dropped from the sky, appearing magically outside his office. And just in time to rush to the airport.
The flight was on-time, and Mr. Reagan gracious, and chatty. They were driving into town from the airport, when Reagan suddenly stopped his story, and began twisting this way and that, peering out the car windows, looking first ahead of the car and then behind. Finally he turned to Don.
“Could you tell me,” he asked, “why all the cars are pulling to the side of the road?”