The next book we are going to look at is Second Wind The Memoirs of an Opinionated Man by Bill Russell. Most of this book is about his personal life, from childhood on through his retirement with the Celtics and subsequent time as coach of the Sonics. There are some Celtics stories, of course, but more so, the stories are about Bill Russell himself and the factors that made him that person that he was. Let's start with a couple of stories from his childhood. The first story is about his grandfather, who Bill affectionately calls the Old Man, and a memory that affected him as a player for the Celtics.
By the time I cams along in 1934 the days of logrolling were gone, and soon the Old Man traded in his buckboard for an old pickup truck. All he had left from the buckboard team was a mule named Kate. He used Kate for odd jobs, like plowing his garden, but basically she just hung around. When I was four or five I loved nothing better than to tag along when the Old Man was out walking Kate somewhere; I might get a ride at the end of the day if he was in a good mood, and to me, riding Kate was like riding a horse. Besides, I simply liked walking along behind my grandfather. Most of the time he didn't say anything, but when he did, it was worth the wait. I could tell that Kate and the Old Man understood each other. One day I was walking along with them when Kate decided to go off and stand in a ditch. Being an honest mule, she had a stubborn, mulish personality, and she stood there with this determined look on her face. It was as if Kate were saying, "Okay, I got you now. We're going to do this my way." The Old Man did everything he could to get Kate back up on the road. I watched him talk to her, and push, pull, shove and kick - a tough job, because there must have been nine hundred pounds of mule there. The Old Man would get Kate's front up on the road and be cooing into her ear, but when he walked around to pull up her tail end, the front would sidle back into the ditch again - so he'd take a deep breath and start over. I was taking all this in, and I couldn't believe that the Old Man didn't lose his temper. Afer a long ordeal, Kate finally wound up back on the road. The Old Man looked exhausted, and the mule must have taken some satisfaction from all the effort she'd cost him. She looked fresh and relaxed, standing there as warm and lazy as the country air. The Old Man leaned on Kate and rested there for a minute or two, then out of nowhere he hauled off and punched her with his bare fist. Whack, just once, right in the side of the neck. The thud was so loud that I must have jumped a foot. The mule gently swayed back and forth groggily, then her front legs buckled and she collapsed to her knees. Then the hindquarters slowly buckled and settled down too. Kate looked all bent and contorted, like a squatting camel, as she sat there with a vacant stare in her eyes. I was dumbstruck. Right in front of my eyes the Old Man had knocked out a mule with one punch. He never said a word to me or the mule. He just let Kate sit there for a minute, and then he grabbed her by the head and picked her up. "Okay, let's go," he said quietly, and we started off again as if nothing had happened. That sight stuck in my mind so vividly that I learned a practical lesson fromit. I got in to very few fights when I played for the Celtics, but every single one of them was in the last quarter, after the game was decided. You have to choose when to fight, and that is the time. The Old Man knew he'd have been in big trouble if he'd knocked that mule down in the ditch, so he waited until it didn't cost him anything. Then he relieved his frustration and gave Kate something to think about.
The next story is about Bill's dad, Mister Charlie, and a couple of incidents that changed the direction of his family and thus helped to shape his thoughts and attitudes.
Mr Charlie always seemed to find a way to laugh when he was the victim himself, but his temper would get loose when it was somebody else. That's what happened in two incidents that permanently changed the direction of our family. One Saturday afternoon- the day my mother went to town for groceries - she came home early, crying. I was about seven at the time, and I couldn't stand it. The only other time I had seen her cry was at my grandmother's funeral. I couldn't imagine anything big or evil enough to make my mother cry, and her sobs shook my whole world. It was as if all my senses had been shut off, so that I couldn't see or hear or anything, and the same big hurt that had grabbed her shook me so hard that I had to cry too. Mother said that one of the policemen in Monroe had grabbed her and cussed her for dressing like a white woman. He spoke real rough to her, and told her he'd put her in jail if she didn't get out of town. She'd been wearing an outfit more special to her than the one she wore on Sundays. It was a suit, modeled after the horse riding clothes popular among fancy white women, and she looked fancier in it than they did. Everything about it was just right, and she walked with an extra spring in that white blouse with a pin at her throat and a trim suitcoat and pants. Maybe the pants gave her a touch of Auntie Kammie's independent spirit. Mister Charlie was there, but he didn't say anything; he just walked around mumbling to himself. I wanted to ask him what was wrong with my mother, but something told me not to say anything. The other incident happened not long afterward, on a Saturday afternoon in the first spring after Pearl Harbor. We were on our way home from an afternoon of visits and stopped to buy gas and a block of ice. The man at the station was pumping gas for a white guy, and when he finished he stood there talking to the man about this and that, passing the time of day. Mister Charlie was standing outside our car, and he kept waiting while the conversation rambled on and my brother and I jumped up and down in the back seat, eager to get home. After about ten minutes I could tell that Mister Charlie was starting to burn, but didn't say anything. He was shifting his weight back and forth from one foot to the other. I'm sure the man who ran the station was letting him wait there on purpose, just to show that Mister Charlie could do nothing about it. Then another white guy drove up, and the man waited on him quickly - pumped the gas, took his money and waved good bye. Then he just ambled back to the first customer and resumed his bull session. My brother and I became absolutely still because we could feel the anger in the air. Finally Mr Charlie couldn't take it any more; he jumped back in our car and cranked it up to drive off. Just then the first customer left, and the station attendant looked mean at Mr Charlie. He was standing in the door of his station and just inside was a big rifle. He stormed over to our car and said, "Boy, don't you ever do what you just started to do!" Then he cussed Mr Charlie about his manners, spitting out the words. I'd never heard anybody talk to my father like that, and my cheeks stung as if they'd been slapped. The next thing I knew, I saw Mr Charlie walking toward that white man with a tire iron in his hand. The man got an empty look in his eyes, as if he didn't believe what he was seeing, and his cussing petered out as Mister Charlie walked slowly around the car toward him. He looked too frozen to go after his rifle; he just stood there until Mister Charlie got within a step or two, and then took off running, past the gas pumps and through the parking lot out onto the road. When he broke out running, Mister Charlie let out a loud grunt and chased him up the road with that tire iron in his hand. Then I saw him stop, and his whole back heaving with big heavy breaths as he watched the man go. By then my brother and I were about to burst with pride. We were so full of energy that we started punching each other lightly, and we would have cheered out loud except that our mother had on a look that said not to. Still, when Mister Charlie got back into the car we couldn't resist chirping about how scared that man was and how funny he looked running off, until Mister Charlie told us sharply to hush up. There wasn't anything to be happy about, he said gruffly, which stunned and confused me.
After these two incidents, the Russell family left the Monroe, Louisiana area.