The Rich Life of Carl Ford
Sunday, October 15, 2006
They buried one of my heroes today. In a steady rain, Carl Ford was laid to rest by an Air Force honor guard at Shiloh Cemetery. The 21 gun salute and playing of taps both echoed off the pine trees and emotionally touched everyone present.
Carl, a retired Air Force serviceman, was given a worthy and honorable send-off for a hero. A member of the honor guard gave the folded flag to his wife Sugar as she sat between her children, Mike and Pam.
However, the fact that Carl Ford was my hero was due to something else beside his honorable service to our country. He became my hero during my teenage years. Here is the story:
When I first began to drive (legally) in Dry Creek community, the place I most wanted to go was the Sugar Bowl Skating Rink at Wye, Louisiana. It was the main hangout for teens in the East Beauregard area (Dry Creek and Sugartown) as well as the surrounding communities of Fairview, DeRidder, and Pitkin.
The Sugar Bowl (also known as Morel’s) had been run by the Morel family for years. When I first started going there, it had just been taken over by Carl Ford and his wife, Chaery “Sugar” Morel Ford. Carl had just retired from the Air Force and he and Sugar had returned home to run the skating rink.
The Sugar Bowl could be a rough place. As with every teen hangout, there were constant problems and challenges, many dealing with alcohol. My mom’s parting words on going to the Sugar Bowl were always, “You park your car on the south side of the highway close to the rink. I’d better not hear about you being across the highway.”
Needless to say, ‘across the highway” was the parking area where most trouble took place. Being pretty square, I stayed away from there. I didn’t go to The Sugar Bowl to fight, get in trouble, or get drunk – I went to skate, laugh, shoot pool, and be among my friends.
Carl and Sugar Ford ran the skating rink in a way that made me respect and love them both. That is when both of them became my heroes. This couple made the perfect team. Sugar was so sweet (she is the most aptly named person I’ve ever known.) Her positive personality made her loved by all the teens. No one wanted to disappoint her or cause her problems. Because of that, most everyone behaved well.
Carl was respected for a whole different reason. He just had the aura of the kind of man you did not want to mess with. He had a strong jaw, a quiet manner, and a friendly but cautious manner. Because of these qualities, even the most onery teen boys wisely chose not to cross or disobey Carl Ford.
He was well-liked by all as well as slightly feared by the rural teen boys who frequented The Sugar Bowl. I never remember him having to get rough with anyone. His quiet words and manner defused problems before they escalated.
Carl Ford reminded me of several men from that era- the hero of the Westerns: whether it was Matt Dillon keeping Dodge City safe or John Wayne cleaning up a cattle town, this quiet yet powerful manner of addressing problems made an impression on me that lives on to this day. I learned this not from the stars of the screen or television but from Carl Ford at The Sugar Bowl skating rink in 1972… and 1973… and 1974.
Carl and Sugar ran the skating rink in a way that prevented most problems. They modeled for me how to deal with teenagers. For my entire adult life, I’ve worked with teenagers. I firmly believe the Fords helped shape me during those impressionable years.
Thinking back: Even now I can hear the screen door slamming behind me as I enter the loud skating rink on a Saturday night. Smoke on the Water (by Deep Purple) or Linda on my Mind (by Conway Twitty) booms from the jukebox. Jimmy Garner and my other friends lean over the pool table enjoying a game. In the next room you can hear the skates colliding with the hardwood floor of the rink.
Behind the counter stands Sugar Ford. She is flipping those famous Morel’s burgers on the grill. That wonderful burger smell permeates the whole area. Her husband Carl, always working hard, walks briskly from the kitchen to check out another pair of skates, then back to unjam the pool table that has jammed and taken someone’s quarter.
Over the next thirty-five years of my life, I worked with Sugar Ford for years in our school and community. I always enjoyed visiting with Carl whenever our paths would cross. He continued to be my friend, and probably unknowing to him, my hero.
Yes, Carl Ford. Always my hero.