It was the night after my last turn as Bonfire's HMFIC among the leadership of the first two Bonfire Stacks off campus. We called ourselves Grey Pots then, out of respect for the historic Red Pot lines that once led Bonfire. But within two years, Dead Reds would return to our off-campus grandboys the original Pots and legacy of Bonfire leadership. Last year, in a TexAgs Radio appearance, one of those Deads, James Fuqua, Red Pot, '83 would say of the Bonfire experience his line looks after today, "It's just like the old days... even better." All that goes to set up, I'd like to hope, that I have at least a little something in common with Mr. Griff Lasley, Red Pot, HMFIC '74.
Griff's father was a pilot, Fightin' Texas Aggie Class of '42. His aircraft bore the call sign "42AM." His son Eric is a Fightin' Texas Aggie, Class of 2003, and was a member of the Corps of Cadets, Battlin' B1. Eric was one of the first to the feet of Stack in 2003. I still remind him that everything anybody knows about wiring started with his usually-patient instruction. I once asked Eric what Griff thought of Bonfire off campus, and his participation. "He's not sure what to make of Bonfire, but he's proud of me." It was Eric that stopped me that night at the Bird.
I had visions of cold beer dancing in my head. Alcohol was and is strictly forbidden at Bonfire now. Accounting for travel time to and from off-campus operations, there isn't much time left over for a cold one away from Bonfire either, however badly your tired bones and weathered morale may ache for one. That night, I had come in the back door, floating ahaze in smoke thick and fresh from the Bird, old and stale from my last go-round at Burn. Rounding the corner from the back entrance into the main bar, I saw that beautiful musty counter and could taste the fists-full of frigid Blue Birds of Paradise waiting for me. But first... "Howdy, Dion!" I turned to find Eric sitting with Griff at the table next to the cast-iron oven there in the middle of the room. "You remember my dad."
Of course, I did. Griff Lasley is a known entity. When a few Reds, Dead or otherwise, get together, it's not long before somebody asks about ol' Griff. "Howdy, sir. How are you?" I asked. "How are YOU?" he returned without hesitation. "Outstanding," was my canned reply. His stare was unbroken, clearly waiting for more substance. I thought a moment and said with a grin, "Doing well. Looking forward to being able to sleep at night." I was well satisfied at that declaration of moving on. Griff wasn't. Without shifting his eyes, he squared himself to me in his chair becoming somehow more serious than before. And then he framed forever for me this lasting outlook on after-life as an Aggie, a Bonfire leader and participant, and just life in general.
For the rest of your life, from September through November, you won't sleep well at night. You'll have to go to bed knowing that people are participating in something you were a part of, doing things you taught them to do in the ways you told them to do it. You'll have to think about what you said, what you did, the examples you set, and the lessons you taught and ask yourself... 'Did I do good enough? Could I have been better?' You'll never sleep well again.
I don't recall just how the rest of the conversation went, what with the jarring return to Earth that burst every bubble in my still only-imagined cold beers. But I remember those words, loud and clear like I'm hearing them for the first time just now. And they may ring truest among all the advice I've ever been given.
No matter our pursuits in Aggieland (but in my mind especially Bonfire), as they became a part of us, we became a part of them. The rigors of the Woods and Stack set the Aggie's resolve, reveal unknown strengths, and crush long-avoided weaknesses. We arrive alone among strangers to ultimately stand as part of a family around the pyre that is a testament to our bond as Aggies. In these things and countless others we are forever changed. But every one of us, whatever our role in this century-old institution, has also left a mark on that which shaped us. And therein lies our great responsibility.
When I called Griff to ask him about sharing his story, I related it to him as I remembered it. Silence. I imagined him staring sternly and dissatisfied at the phone then the way he had looked at me a decade ago at the Chicken. I was caught off guard to hear him catch a halting quiver in his reply. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. It's true. And it means everything... still."
I'll leave you with this from Griff, speaking first of one family and then another, "Being an Aggie is about family and inheritance. Fathers pass down to sons, pissheads to fish, and so on." Our families carry on for themselves, but they do so down paths we have paved in the manner that we have taught. The future of our families, Aggie or by birth, are an extension of our past, and our selves. It is our privilege, but more importantly our responsibility to take an interest in that. I invite Aggies of any generation from Bonfires from Simpson to Duncan to the Polo Fields to off campus to see in today's proud young Aggies the work, and heart, and pride that you were once a part of, and that is today a part of you.
Last Shift of Stack 2012