My fifth book was a book project that fell into my lap! How à propos—today being Veteran’s Day, and writing about Marshall Flippo’s biography who served in World War II.
How My Fifth Book Started
Marshall Flippo, an icon in the square dance world, was nearing ninety years old. In March 2017, a group of square dancers were sitting around after a dance weekend and Flippo’s name and age came up. One enthusiastic fan said, “Someone should write his biography.”
My husband, Lin, looked at me and said, “You’re the writer in the group. What do you think?” Nothing more was said, but the thought tumbled around in my mind. We prayerfully considered the possibility, and I decided to run it by Flippo.
In April, I called Flippo and proposed the project to him, and his swift response showed his quick wit. “Larada, no one would want to buy a book about me. But I do have a book you should write: a collection of stories of all the thangs that happen to traveling callers over the years. Wait a minute—that would be R-rated.” Another Flippoism!
At that point, he gave me no definite answer.
At the New Mexico Square Dance Festival, in May in Albuquerque, Marshall fulfilled his last calling contract in New Mexico because he was retiring. Early Friday night, while a group stood around him before the dance, Flippo brought up the topic.
“Larada wants to write a book about me.”
He continued with a humble air, “Who would want to buy that book?”
“I would,” said a longtime friend and caller, Greg Tillery.
“Me, too,” replied Jim Martel, another local caller.
“Put me on the list—I want a copy!” Ted Clements, a caller from southern New Mexico, chimed in. The chorus continued and everyone standing there raised their hands. Flippo turned to me and said, “Come over to my hotel room about 1:30 a.m. and we’ll talk about it.” The group laughed at his flirtatious nature, but he agreed to do it that weekend.
Later that year, I planned a trip to Tucson, Arizona, in October for the Women Writing the West conference. Lin and I met Flippo at the Texas Roadhouse there for dinner on Friday, October 27, 2017, to start our research. We planned to meet on Wednesday, October 25, but the Houston Astros were playing the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. Flippo, an avid fan, wanted to watch the game, so we changed nights.
When we met, he immediately started with a saucy story. “Mama said, ‘If you play with it, it will fall off.’ Ninety years later, it still hasn’t.” I had to grab my notepad and start taking notes.
The waitress hadn’t taken our orders, and Lin started the questions. Flip immediately jumped into relaying his life with the exact addresses of the multiple homes he lived in Abilene, Texas, as a child. In fact, he had trouble with only one address. I still wonder why he forgot that specific address. But he had also picked a restaurant that had TVs 360 degrees around us, and he watched the World Series out of the corner of his eye.
After dinner, we moved from the restaurant to his home to finish the first interview. We muted the TV, and he watched the game over my head as he talked. One minute he’d be sharing his life stories, the next he’d catch me off guard with a comment on a batter, “Knock the hell out of it.” He amazed me how he could be telling a Navy story about a destroyer tender he was on, then comment on what a player on TV should have done. We took brief breaks when the game took its twists and turns. During one break, he lamented, “I can’t get my mind going again.” Lin and I both assured him that his memory was exceptional.
Within that short evening, he covered many of the major topics of his life: his childhood and family, his Navy experiences during World War II and afterwards, and he ended the night with how he met Neeca, his first wife. With the flair of a master storyteller, Flippo gestured his hands like when an umpire signals the runner is safe and said, “Let’s leave it.” We watched the rest of the baseball game together.
He sent me home with seven photo albums busting at the seams with memorabilia, precious stories, and the assurance that we had embarked on an adventure.
During the next year, we spent many hours together talking over the phone, and we had one more face-to-face opportunity to compile this document. As you can imagine, it was a delightful, fun adventure.
Flippo’s Naval Career
Flippo referenced his naval service several times during our interviews. As a patriotic seventeen-year-old lad from west Texas, his life changed forever the moment he volunteered. Because the war ended soon after he enlisted, his service time took a unique twist—he played baseball for DesPac. Destroyers of the Pacific baseball team took two guys off of all the destroyers who had baseball teams and formed a team. This tells me he was an exceptional baseball player.
So, you can see where his interest in the World Series came that night we talked in Tucson.
Flippo led a large life, calling square dances all over the United States and the world. I Said “Yes!” to the project of a lifetime I will never forget. Grab the book—hardback, paperback and/or one of the popular e-book formats—to see the full extent of his amazing life.
How about writing a biography, autobiography or memoir? What family stories need to be told? Leave your comments below. I’d be interested in your thoughts!
Visit my website to find out about my new book, Coronavirus Reflections: Bitter or Better? and my other five books and three cookbooks: https://laradasbooks.com