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Just Like My Daddy
By Kambri Crews

It was August 12, 2003. The former Governor of Texas, Ann Richards, was giving a speech at a private party held in her honor, and said "…and I'd like to thank Kambri Crews…" To her, I was a producer, event planner and publicist. Little did she know that I grew up in a tin shed, my parents are deaf, I witnessed my dad try to kill my mom, and he is now imprisoned for attempting to kill his girlfriend.

My mother was born to two deaf-mute parents. Although she could speak, her hearing was impaired enough to require her to attend the Oklahoma State School for the Deaf. It was there she met her husband, and my father, Theodore Crews, Jr. He was the seventh of ten children born to farmers in Bowlegs, Oklahoma. Although his twin brother was hearing, my father was born completely deaf with a precocious wild streak. He quickly became the black sheep of his very strict Christian family.

At five, he was sent away to deaf school to live in the dorms. Known to classmates as Teddy, he was a charismatic ladies man. A strikingly handsome athlete, gregarious and affable storyteller and a bit of a bad boy, so it was no surprise he charmed my mother. They married at 19 and had my brother at age 20. I was born four years later and our family was complete. After a couple of years living in Houston with me a latchkey kid at age five and my brother hanging with older kids unsupervised, my parents decided to try a more rural lifestyle. So, when I was six years old, they moved us deep into the undeveloped woods of Montgomery, Texas.

Our early time there was spent camping in tents as we worked to clear the heavy brush, but we were soon living in a one-room tin shed approximately 20 x 20 in size with a concrete slab floor. We made the most of our space by sleeping on bunk beds made of chicken coop wire pulled taut over 2 x 4s and fashioning a closet out of rope attached to two posts. We were resourceful, too. An oversized electric cable spool turned on its side served as a table, a discarded pick-up truck bench was our couch; we used kerosene lanterns for light and camping gear for cooking. We had an outhouse, which required a flashlight and some guts to brave at night. "Be sure to check the hole before you sit, you don't want a snake to bite you in the ass," my mom would warn -- words to live by.

With no running water or nearby source, we resorted to thievery. At night, my dad would load the back of our dilapidated '66 Chevy pick-up truck with a few ten gallon jugs and drive several miles down the road to steal water from the only store in town. We treated that hijacked water like gold. We cooked, cleaned and bathed with it very sparingly. We used a metal trough as our tub and would share the same bathwater. Luckily, I was the youngest and least dirty so I bathed first. But dirty we were. This land took work. Each day consisted of chopping, dragging, burning, cutting and building. My dad led the expedition and had big plans for our four acres. Down time was spent looking at floor plans of pre-fabricated homes, sketches drawn by my mom of her ultimate dream house complete with elaborate landscaping, and talking of the day when we would have a real house with electricity and water that came out of faucets. That wish came true when I was ten years old and our new mobile home was delivered to our humble acreage. Modern day conveniences would soon follow.

One hot summer evening, we all gathered around a pole and watched my dad finish wiring the box that would catapult us into the 20th Century. I treasure a photo I have of him, his white smile gleaming through the grime on his face, as he flipped the switch. Electricity! As far as I knew, he was Ben Franklin. In the following months, he dug a water well which tapped into the natural spring that flowed freely beneath our land and a septic tank which meant we wouldn't need that outhouse anymore.

Life in Montgomery wasn't always work, it was an exciting adventure for a young girl. I swam in the nearby creek, played football, collected turtles and built my own shanty out of loose brush and spare wood. My parents were always hosting big parties with bonfires and eclectic friends. My brother and I partied alongside the adults, passing around joints and stealing sips of alcohol. We were given adult freedoms, sexuality was never censored, we were free to come and go as we pleased and often left to supervise ourselves. Although I instinctively knew it was illegal, my parents would constantly remind me, "You know not to tell anyone we smoke marijuana, right?" "I know, I know!" I would sign. Jeez, what did they think I was? A kid?

In the summertime we would pile into the Chevy and drive to Galveston Beach. My mom would make homemade sour cream and onion dip, and my dad would scold me for double dipping the Ruffles. When we would finally get back to our trailer in the woods, I would smell the ocean for days. Tiny grains of the beach would find their way into my bed and scratch my sunburned skin as I slept. I always got too much sun so my mom would rub me down with vinegar to take the chills and blisters away. We would talk about the trip and recall how my Flintstones flip-flop fell through a rotted slat while riding in the back of the Chevy. Without hesitation my dad had stopped the truck and ran across four lanes of highway traffic to rescue it for me. "I can't believe he did that!" I marveled, before drifting off to sleep.

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