Friday, May 11, 2012

Helmcamp's Recyclopedia

Another one bites the dust.

My last post here was about a new book by a high school classmate of mine.  I'm excited to say that Dr. Glenn Pemberton's book, "Hurting with God: Learning to Lament with the Psalms" has since been released.  I just received a copy from Glenn's publisher, and am looking forward to digging in.

I start with that because another Cleburne High School connection is closing one chapter and beginning a brand new one.

I'm talking about "Helmcamp's Recyclopedia," a used book store in my hometown of Cleburne, Texas.  The store is currently having their going out of business sale.  But in this case, it's not because they couldn't keep up with, or any of the huge nationwide franchises.  The owner, Richard Helmcamp, is retiring.

Mr. Helmcamp, or "Uncle Dick," has been a fixture in Cleburne for years.  He has had a tremendous personal impact on the lives of literally thousands of people, going back to the early 1970s, when he became CHS's band director. 

High school bands in Texas are a big deal.  The biggest, and most obvious reason for this is football.  If you are unaware that high school football is an iconic cultural phenomenon in Texas, then wake up and smell the nachos. 

Why the tie-in between football and bands, and what does this have to do with books?

Alright, I'm getting to the point.  The bands play at the football games.  Not just the home games, either.  They take buses to the away games as well.  And they march during halftime.  So every fall, the band director is responsible for teaching music to the band members, ranging in age from 14 - 18 (shudder), songs that will be played either in the stands or out on the field every week.  In our case, the pieces we played while marching were memorized.  Not only that, but the director choreographed all the marching routines.  Each routine would be used for probably two weeks, and then a new one, with new songs, would take over.

Looking back on it now, it staggers my imagination.  And, along with 1 or 2 assistant directors, Dick Helmcamp did this for decades, he taught the children of some of his earlier students.  He excelled at this job, which was obviously a passion for him.  It became a passion for many of those students, as well.  Band wasn't just something we did, it was part of who we are.  Personally, it was how I identified myself.  I was a member of the Golden Pride of Cleburne High.

When exactly Mr. Helmcamp hung up his baton, I'm not sure.  I believe it was shortly after the turn of the century.  I had lost touch with him, but through the wonder of facebook, was able to re-establish the relationship somewhat.  I found that he and his wife Patsy went to Nevada for a few years, where he dealt blackjack.  Then they returned to Cleburne and opened up a book store.  A used book store, to be precise.  Here, according to legend, the Helmcamps established a local hideaway where bibliophiles could browse, buy, sell, trade, listen to music (some of it recordings of Golden Pride performances from generations past), and shoot the bull.  Unfortunately I haven't been back down to Cleburne in a coon's age, so now I'll never get to visit Helmcamp's Recyclopedia.

Dick Helmcamp is still keeping busy.  He has been dedicated to the performing arts in Cleburne, appearing in and directing a number of productions with the Carnegie Players. 

He's just one of those people, you know?  Have you ever been asked, "who are the 5 most influential people in your life?"  Well, he's way up there on my list.

I wish Dick and Patsy nothing but the best as they say goodbye to Helmcamp's Recyclopedia.  Actually, I'm a little worried for Patsy.  The facebook page clearly says everything must go, "except the computer and the dog." 

There's no website for the store, but if you're curious, here are the facebook page, and a couple of links with reviews.

Much love, Dick and Patsy.

Alan Andrews

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