About two months ago, I received a query from an 80-year old man named Burtis Dockery. He’d written a book he called Reflections of an Octogenarian, and he wanted Escarpment Press to publish it. I asked what he hoped to accomplish by publishing his book, and he responded that he just wanted his offspring and friends to know what he thought about things. I looked through the manuscript and decided I liked a good deal of what he had to say, so we published the book. I thought you might enjoy hearing from this Texas native, and learning a bit about what makes him tick.
Joe—Welcome, Burtis. You’ve done something that very few people ever do, and that is write your first book after the age of 80. What prompted you to do that?
Burtis—First, I have always wanted to write, but with Cs in English, I was afraid to try. I never even learned how to conjugate a verb! We were given some tests in junior high to determine our aptitude and interest. My aptitude was for math—so I became an engineer. My interest was literary, and that power of suggestion stayed with me. Secondly, I wanted my progeny to know how I thought, and I wanted it in my own words.
Joe—Can’t say I blame you. So, where were you born, and how did your childhood impact your life as an adult?
Burtis—I was born in a house on the northwest side of Bryan, Texas [East Central Texas]. The house is still there. My childhood affected me greatly. We were dirt poor. My father was illiterate, and my mother only went to school through the fourth grade. She read a lot, however, and was very knowledgeable about the world around her. She also encouraged me to read. One incident in particular influenced me for life. We were going to a country school when I was in the fourth or fifth grade, and the teacher gave us an assignment to write a short story over the weekend. I wrote a story about an elephant. I turned it in Monday morning. At recess, the teacher made me stay in. She accused me of not writing my story. We argued a bit, and then she promised that if I would tell her the truth, she would let me go out and play—and she wouldn’t spank me. So, I lied and said my mother wrote the story. The teacher grabbed the paddle and whipped my ass—and I still didn’t get to go outside. I learned two lessons: Lesson one was to not trust anybody (I have that in my book); and lesson two was that I must have been a pretty good writer if the teacher thought that it was so well written that I could not possibly have written it. Also, chopping and picking cotton in the hot sun convinced me there must be a better way to live.
Joe—That’s quite an interesting story. I imagine that you must have set a life goal for yourself somewhere along the line. Do you feel you’ve reached that goal?
Burtis—I haven’t reached my original goal of becoming rich. However, I earn enough to be able to go fishing and pay my bills. I don’t earn enough to pay for a hunting lease though. Actually, if it hadn’t been for whiskey, women, and Harleys [Harley Davidson motorcycles] I might have become a rich man.
Joe—So when did the idea first occur to you to write a book about your opinions?
Burtis—I don’t know. I just got to thinking about all the people I’ve known who are gone now, and I never really got to know their true thoughts and opinions. So I wanted to make sure I got my thoughts recorded.
Joe—How long did it take you to write your book?
Burtis—About four months. I would write a little at a time when the mood hit me.
Joe—What was the most difficult part of writing your book?
Burtis—Finishing it! Whenever I thought of something that I hadn’t covered, I would jot it down. After I accumulated a few jots, I would put them in the book. I kept the jots and marked through them as they were added. Then, I would look them over, to be sure I didn’t repeat myself.
Joe—Has writing a book changed your opinion at all about how you view the world?
Burtis—No. That’s what I wrote the book about.
Joe—Do you plan to write another book?
Burtis—Yes, but first I’d like to write a couple of screenplays. And, while I’m doing that, I’ll continue writing my second book, Quotes, Sayings, and Jokes of an Octogenarian. I have saved a lot of stuff over the years. All I’ve got to do is put it into word form so it can be bound into a book.
Joe—That’s quite interesting. But tell me more about your proposed screenplays.
Burtis—The first screenplay will be titled “The Redemption of Captain Thomas Jefferson Bowen.” I’ll write the outline and have it copyrighted first. Then, I’ll try to convince some rich people to finance it. I think Beyoncé might finance it. She’s got plenty of money. The biggest hurdle will be to get to meet with her face-to-face. I’ll figure a way.
Joe—I’ll bet you will! So tell me, who exactly is Thomas Jefferson Bowen. I’m afraid I’m not familiar with that name.
Burtis—Thomas Jefferson Bowen formed a company in northern Georgia in the 1800s to fight the Creek Indians who were raiding and pillaging the settlers. Then, he came to Texas to fight in the Texan Revolution. While in Texas, he formed a company of Texas Rangers to protect the border from Mexico, which was trying to get Texas back. Then he quit his killing ways. He “got religion” and became a Baptist missionary to central Africa (Nigeria). He wrote a book about his central Africa missionary work. There are about two million Baptists in Nigeria who owe their faith to him. As a matter of fact, there’s a school over there named for him: Bowen Christian College. I looked it up on Google Earth. The screenplay won’t require a lot of made-up dialogue. I’ll just copy what he wrote in his book! He was quite a writer.
Joe—I see. And is there anything else about him that we ought to know?
Burtis—Yep. He’s my great, great, great, great uncle.
Joe—Really? No wonder you wanted to write about him.
Burtis—Actually, when I was little, my great grandma tried to tell me about him—but I wasn’t interested at the time.
Joe—And now you want to write all about him. Time sure does change how we think about things. Well, I certainly have enjoyed our little chat. Is there anything folks don’t know about you that might surprise them?
Burtis—There are lots of things that would surprise them. But I will take them with me to my grave.
Joe—Well, before you shuffle off this mortal coil, there’s on last thing I’d like to know. How can your readers get in touch with you?
Burtis—The best way would be by email. My email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org. The phone wouldn’t be good. With robo calls and my work, it’s not very practical. Yes, I still work. I count the cracks in the road! Now, isn’t that an interesting job. I work for Texas A&M Transportation Institute. They have a contract to audit the ratings that contractors report to the Texas Department of Transportation.
Joe—Can you elaborate?
Burtis—All the highways in the state of Texas are inspected once a year for distresses, i.e., cracks, holes, patches, etc. The details of these distresses are fed into a computer that calculates a score for each section of road. This way, the condition of the roads can be determined, in order to allocate funds. This is a federal requirement. Our job is to visually check random roadway sections to see how they match-up with the contractors’ scores. If they are within an acceptable limit, they are paid. If not, it’s done over. It’s an interesting job. I get to go all over the state, meet interesting people, see interesting places—and I only work about eight weeks per year in the fall. And, I can damn sure use the nondedicated funds.
Joe—Well that is fascinating. I want to thank you, Burtis Dockery, for spending this time with us. You are certainly an interesting man, and we look forward to that second book!
Burtis—Thank you for having me.
NOTE: Burtis Dockery’s book, Reflections of an Octogenarian, is available in paperback and in Kindle from Amazon.com. I think you’ll find what he has to say about things quite interesting, and I highly recommend it.