THROWBACK THURSDAY: Remembering an old friend

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By James Wear

His voice is as clear in my mind today as it was on those many occasions over the past few years when he’d give me a call.

“James, this is Hollis,” as he responded to my hello in his precise, measured manner of speaking.

I first met Hollis many years ago, when he served alongside my brother on the Liberty Hill school board. He lived just down the road from my brother, and over the years the two developed a tight bond that lasted up to the day my brother died, robbed of his retirement years by cancer. Hollis was near his bedside when Richard passed, and indeed, was the person who notified me of his death.

My close interactions with Hollis date back to a February day in 1991, when a small group of us decided to host a Support Our Troops rally in downtown Liberty Hill. Veterans Park was filled that day with the high school band and others who turned out, many of whom had sons stationed overseas during Operation Desert Storm. Hollis served as our speaker for the event and I marveled at the ease in which he spoke. He had a way of speaking to a group, yet making each person in a crowd feel as if he were speaking to them personally, and on that day, he brought comfort and pride to those assembled.

My wife, Paula, had known Hollis for many years, and during the course of their friendship, the two had a bit of a game going during those years when she waited tables at her mother’s downtown cafe. Without fail, Hollis would drink his coffee and pay his tab…and then attempt to slip out the front door with a teaspoon in his pocket, only to find Paula on his heels, with her outstretched hand. He’d laugh and hand her the spoon and they’d hug and he’d be on his way, both looking forward to the next time he’d attempt his little stunt.

Hollis, a member of the Balcones Toastmasters for many years where he polished his public speaking skills, was often drafted into duty to emcee a community event. And perhaps it was my admiration for his speaking skills that prompted me some 10-15 years ago to ask him to begin writing a column for The Leader. It soon became a passion for him and I think he enjoyed the new challenge of reaching folks through the written word. He developed a following, and a few years later, after The Leader was purchased and closed by The Independent, he began writing for The Independent where he reached a broader audience of readers. Along the way, at the encouragement of his family, he published four books.

Hollis wasn’t above stretching the truth when he’d spin a yarn, but he also revealed a lot about himself in his writings. In one of his columns, which he entitled “Things I Like,” he wrote this: “And I like old men. Old men with wrinkled faces and thinning hair that live in little towns and follow the sun around the square. Their pockets are empty, but their minds are full of stories that have no beginning and trail off into the brush looking for an ending.”

In the same column, he wrote of his love of towns with “strange and exotic sounding names…Their names bring visions of places never seen. And places I have seen. Places and people I love, places and people I need. Places and people I would like to walk through their woods with, drink their tea, exchange ideas with…”

And today, just a few days after his passing from this life, that’s where I kinda see him. Touring heaven, reuniting with old friends and making new ones and swapping ideas and thoughts with all, and perhaps, and I wouldn’t put it past Hollis at all, asking Jesus if he remembers John Steel who lives down the road apiece and the time John…

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