Memories Are Made
By Tom Hanson
This started out being just the memories I have from my childhood. However, since I have long desired that my sons and their families and their families, families ad infinitum, have a record of the history of my father’s, T. E. (Ed) Hanson’s, family tree, I decided after a few thousand words into my Memories, to change horses in the middle of the stream. I am aware that there have been a lot of fools drowned in this maneuver but I am going to take my chances of getting to the other side of this river.
I am taking readers back to my great, great, great, great, grandfather Samuel Hanson born around 1755, plus or minus 2 years. He was a Georgia revolutionary soldier, born in Charles County, Maryland. When he died he was living on Hard Labor Creek in Morgan County, Georgia.
Genealogical records for the Ed Hanson family back beyond Samuel are at present date inconclusive, but there seems to be a connection to John Hanson, the first President of the First Continental Congress who was born in Charles County, Maryland and who also had several John and Samuel Hansons in his family tree.
Also, I am going to write my memories a little at a time. You the reader are welcome to read and hopefully enjoy any and every new posting here on my website. Once I have completed the book, and I begin the publication process, I will have to take this document off my website as per instructions from any publisher.
The Log Cabin Years and Beyond
I was born in a very small, one room, log cabin about three miles east of Mineola, Texas on Hwy. 49. I was an early Christmas package for my mom as I arrived on December 20, 1940. I wasn’t a surprise Christmas present as I had been kicking’ around for five or so months. The surprise was to my dad because of my “stork” beauty. In fact, it is said that the first time my dad saw me was right after the midwife left the cabin to walk home. Upon seeing me, it is said that he immediately ran and caught up with the midwife who wasn't far from the cabin by this time. The story goes that the first thing dad asked mid-wife was, “Sis, where is my new son?” At his question, the old black midwife turned, put her fists on her hips and said, “Now Mr. Ed, you know I done laid that baby down on the bed by Miss Jewell and if’n you done lost it, it ain’t none of my worry!” The story goes that dad could hardly keep a straight face, but he tried his best to muster up a stern look. and said. “Sis, you must have made a mistake, I looked at that ugly little thing and I thought you took our baby and left the stork!”
This information is not from my memory, it is what my grandfather, Poppa Stanford and two or three of his sons, my uncles, would sometimes tell me when I was just a little boy. Then they would immediately double over in laughter while slapping their knees. They were the same characters that nicked named me, Tombo Ceaser, Ice Cream Freezer.
Along with my older brother and sister and my mom and dad there were often relatives that stayed with us in that one room log cabin with its dirt floor. If you continue reading Memories for any length of time, you are going to discover that the coming and going of many different relatives staying with us off and on for short periods of time was the norm for most of my life growing up near Mineola. For the record, my life was enriched in many ways by having these transient kinfolks staying for short spells and sharing their lives with us. It is through these kinfolks and others sharing memories of the times and trials in life that I have any comprehension of my mom’s and dad’s families history, as well as some of my favorite childhood memories.
My dad, Thomas Edwin Hanson was born in 1914 near Leesburg, Texas a small community about 10 miles west of Pittsburg. He was one of eight children born to John Benton Hanson. Grandpa Hanson, as we grandkids called him, was born somewhere in Newton County Georgia in 1880, one of fourteen kids. His father was James Robert Hanson born in 1854 in Morgan or Walton County Georgia. This was my great, grandfather. And no I do not remember him.
However, my second cousin, Ann Summers, who spent many, many hours putting together the Hanson family genealogical tree, will forever have my gratitude and admiration for all the special things she discovered and was brave enough to reveal about the Hanson clan.
The things I remember hearing, as I was growing up, about my grand father John Hanson and great grandfather James Robert Hanson truly fed my imagination as a youngster. One of the tall tales that was told, which Anne’s research revealed to be true, was that great grand dad James Robert was forced to leave Georgia for killing a black man. His sentence for killing the man was having to pay the man’s family the equivalent of what it was estimated the man would have earned picking cotton for one season. The sum total of his sentence amounted to about $28 dollars. However, under great encouragement from those of the local judiciary in and around Clark County, Georgia, James Robert chose to move his family to Texas, ending up near Pittsburg in 1889. Before getting completely out of Georgia an infant girl burned to death. There were three version to the story of how she died: 1.- She rolled out of a rocking chair into a fireplace; 2.- A spark from a campfire ignited a blanket she was wrapped in; 3.- Their house was burned down by black arsonists. This infant who, some might say, paid for her daddy’s sin, was less than a year old. Her name was Sarah Beth. More about my family tree later.
However, I will tell you, right now, that through the genealogical research of my cousin, Ann, we have discovered that the family tree not only forked many, many times, there were a lot of knots, burls and broken branches on that tree.
One of the stories I remember my parents telling and retelling through out my childhood was how my dad walked about two miles through the woods every morning and evening to be able to have a job during the time we lived in the log cabin. He walked through those woods, six days a week to rendezvous with some of my mothers family who lived on the old Martin’s Bridge road, what is now FM 1254. From there they would ride in the back of a truck to a WPA project at a saw mill near Yantis, Texas about twenty miles from Mineola. The walk each morning and each evening was usually in the dark as the saw mill ran from sunup to sundown.
Of course in the distant past, the telling and retelling of factual stories was important in keeping the oral record of the history of any family alive and preserved. But, for a child, those stories that elicited laughter and joy and created a sense of happiness and well being, were more welcome than those that provoked tears, remorse or chagrin. Laughing at others foibles was always better.
One such story had its origination the summer of my first year. Two of my cousins, brothers Travis and Raymond Hanson, both in their early teens were spending one of their short stays with us. It was early night, mom with her three little ones, me the baby, my sister Shirley age five, my big brother Jim age three, and the two cousins were sitting around the cabin waiting on my father to get home from work. This was during the time dad was leaving the cabin before sun up and coming home after dark. As the minds of some teenage boys are eager to do, Travis and Raymond begin conjuring up what they would do if a bad person should burst through the cabin door and try to kill everyone in the cabin. Raymond, sitting on the edge of a bed chortled how he would grab a stick of stove wood and waylay the bad guy before he had time to do any harm to his aunt Jewell and the three little kids. Travis, sitting reared back in a straight back chair shared how he would grab a butcher knife from the kitchen table and quickly cut the bad person’s guts out while Raymond clubbed him.
At that very moment, when both boys were fairly frothing at the mouth, sharing their imagined heroic actions, the front door burst open as my dad walked into the cabin. Raymond screams and dives under the bed, Travis falls over backward in his chair, hitting the dirt floor with a thud before madly scrambling under the kitchen table. My dads response was to burst out laughing, later telling mom that he heard the boys bragging about what they were going to do as he walked across the yard. He normally would cough or clear his throat so that mom and we three kids would know that he was home, so as not to frighten us when the door suddenly opened as he came into the house. But he could not pass up the opportunity to scare the dickens out of two brave boys, the reason for not making any sound that one time.
Another often told tale about an event that happened while we lived there at the cabin involved the same two cousins and it happened not long after the story above. The father of the two cousins, my uncle Jim, was coming the next day to take the boys swimming in a pond not for from our cabin to celebrate the 4th of July. They were really excited about their dads up coming visit and the good time they would have swimming. Mom said that the night before the fourth that was all they could talk about and she had to shush them two or three times even after they bedded down on their pallets on the floor of the cabin. She knew that dad had worked hard that day and had fallen asleep before his head hit his pillow and she didn’t want the boys to wake him up. She could still hear them whispering about what kind of dives they were going to do off of a tree limb that hung over the pond when she finally closed her eyes in sleep. About mid night mom heard a noise that woke her up. She sat up in bed just in time to see the outline of Travis in the dark of the cabin as he stepped up on a chair in his sleep and called out to Raymond. “Raymond, watch this dive!” Then he dove on top of Raymond lying fast asleep on his pallet on the floor. That of course woke every body in the house. Mom said dad jump out of his and mom’s bed to light a lamp and to see if the fool had broken his neck or injured his brother. Neither was hurt.
Mom said dad asked Travis, “Son, what the hell were you doing?”
Travis sheepishly answered, “I was dreaming that I was showing Raymond how I could dive better than him.”
Mom said that dad looked at her grinning from ear to ear then turned to ask Raymond, “Well, Raymond, how deep did he go when he hit the water?”
As of this writing, I do not know how long we lived in the log cabin. My dad, shortly after I turned one, had the opportunity to go to a government welding school for the sole purpose of employment in a US Naval shipyard in Orange, Texas. This shipyard retrofitted naval ships for more effective war time usage. Dad moved the family to Orange, I believe, just before I turned two.
The very first memories that I actually have of my childhood, are when we lived in Orange. I was between three and four when mom and we kids moved back to Mineola. In Orange we lived very close to Sabine Lake, a section of the Sabine River where it was very wide. There were boathouses on the shoreline near our house. We kids had been told to never go around the water or boathouses without adults being with us. However, a neighbor’s son and I went into one of the boathouses and began to play on some canvas or fishnets and went to sleep. We woke up hearing people calling for us but became frightened that we would get into trouble if they found us in the boathouse so we kept quiet. By the time someone thought to check the boathouse and they found us there were quite a number of people searching the neighborhood for us. Of course some of the women were crying because they were sure that we had drowned. I don’t remember anyone being mad at us, but they were sure relieved that we were ok.
One of my memories of our living in Orange is of a kid in the neighborhood we called Jimmy Stealer, because he would steal things from little kids. He stole a whistle or something from me, and my “big”, six year old brother Jim threatened to beat him up. I don’t remember if Jimmy Stealer returned the toy or not. However, I remember being proud of my big brother though.
I remember one day it rained so much that all the streets in the neighborhood were flooded. We kids were all out in the yard after the rain stopped, marveling at all the water. Suddenly, down the street came this car pulling with a long rope an inverted car hood and a kid was standing up holding onto a short piece of rope, riding that contraption. Years later I saw a homemade water craft made from two inverted car hoods off of two 1941 Chevys, welded together at the wide part of the hoods, which reminded me of a crude canoe. We would call that a redneck yacht today. I remember my dad coming home from the shipyard at the end of the day,picking me up and calling me his little man.
I recall a time when all the family was loaded in the family car making one of our trips from Mineola to Orange or vice versus. Though, I can’t remember many details: I know we stopped along the way at a roadside park and ate scrambled egg sandwiches mom had fixed for the trip. There were these huge, tall, pine trees with pine cones lying on the ground under them, bigger than anything I had ever seen come off a tree. I took one to my dad who was still sitting at the picnic table, drinking lukewarm coffee from a thermos mom had fixed before we left on the trip, so that he could have coffee anytime he wanted it. I ask him what it was. I think he said it was probably a porky pine egg.
When dad moved mom and we three kids back to Mineola, he continued working in the shipyard until the war ended. We moved into a house on the Martin’s Bridge road close to my mothers brother, uncle Austin Stanford and his family and just down the road from Poppa and Mama Stanford. Everyone called uncle Austin ‘Snuffy’, because he did dip a lot of snuff. However, all of my mom’s brothers and some of her sisters and sisters in law dipped snuff. Poppa and Mama Stanford lived about a half mile farther down the Martin’s Bridge road.
The house we moved into was later occupied by the Rubin Cowen family for many, many years. I remember my sister Judy being born there. Sis Dickson or Dickerson, the old black midwife that mother used to help deliver her first three children, came to help deliver Judy. We kids had to stay with Poppa and Mama Stanford a day or so during that time.
The first time I saw my new baby sister Judy, she was one day old. Sis, who was holding Judy, held her out with her two large, black hands so that I could see her up close. When she did this she asked me, “Little man, what do you think bout your baby sister?” I thought that Judy was the whitest baby I had ever seen.
Years later, this memory came to me and I realized, because Judy had a head of jet black hair when she was born and she was being held by those two very large, black hands, the same hands that had helped bring me into the world, it was little wonder she look so white.
I remember we had a square, boxy looking Packard car. Dad would come home some weekends from the ship yard and park it under a big tree in the front yard and I thought it was the grandest car in the world, because it meant my dad was home.
I remember my aunt Bertie Mae, my mom’s baby sister, stopping by hour house frequently just to visit when we lived there on the MB road. Once, she and Shirley took me walking down over to uncle Snuffy's. Aunt Bertie Mae kept trying to kiss me, saying she was going to kiss my whole face and I would run from her. I think she was about twelve or so. I guess aunt Bertie was my first love and the last female I tried to stop from kissing me.
We moved, from that house on the MB road, to a three room house next door to Uncle Austin and his family. It was only about two hundred yards from where we had been living. One weekend daddy was home from working at the shipyard and he was getting ready to drive back to Orange, and I asked him not to go. His answer was that he had to go back and make money so that his little man would have shoes or something like that. I remember thinking for a long time that my dads work was actually the making of money, not working to earn money.
I have memories of uncle Snuffy and aunt Mozell moving furniture around in their living room and putting some of it out in a big hallway so that they could have a hoe down on Saturday nights. I recall Poppa playing the fiddle, aunt Geraldine playing a fiddle or guitar and singing, aunt Bertie May singing and playing a guitar and others singing and playing instruments as well. Onetime someone brought a washtub, which they turned upside down on the floor, attached a 1 inch by 2 inch piece of lumber about 5 feet long to the side of the tub, with it sticking straight up. From the top end of the board they strung a piece of baling wire to the center of the bottom of the turned up tub and somehow attached it. Then a man put one foot on the bottom edge of the tub to stop it from moving around and he plunked the wire while pushing and pulling on the board. This would tighten and loosen the wire, changing the pitch and sound of the vibrating wire. Years later, I played in the high school band, and I tried to describe this contraption to our band teacher, Buddy Ryland. He laughed and told me it was a poor mans bass, known as a washtub bass. The Saturday night get together apparently had been a tradition in the family for many years before I came along.
My great grandma Shaw lived in a one room cabin across the yard from uncle Snuffy’s house. Her great grand kids were scared to death of her, including yours truly, until I was about seven or eight. She was all bent over and walked with a cane most of the time. Her favorite thing to do was to scold her great grand kids or anyone else’s kids while trying to thump them on their heads.
My mom and her sisters would tell this story about the time my mom, Jewel, and my aunt, Mary Lou, spent the night with great grand maw Shaw when they were young, pre-teen girls. They ate supper with her before they went to visit someone who lived near by. For supper they had fresh, little onion bulbs about the size of big marbles with their meal and the girls threw two or three at one another. Grand Maw Shaw scolded them and told them to find and pick up every one of the onions before they could get ready to go visiting. She even made them wash their feet because they were going barefooted to the neighbors and she didn’t think it lady like for young girls to go visiting with dirty feet. Later, coming home to a dark house they stepped inside and the two girls waited inside the screen door while grand maw Shaw crossed the room and fumbled for some matches to light the oil lamp sitting in the middle of a little table next to her rocking chair. Dropping her box of matches, she bent over to feel around for them on the floor and bumped her face close to her eye on one of the spindle tops of rocking chair. She yelled, “Oh, my lord, I’ve bumped my head on this rocking chair and knocked my eyeball out!” Aunt Mary Lou started across the dark room to help her when she stepped on one of those marble size onions and it lodged between her toes. She froze in her tracks and began screaming, “Oh lord, I’ve stepped on her eye ball! I’ve stepped on her eyeball! Help me Jewell, I’ve stepped on her eyeball.” In only a few seconds Grand Maw Shaw recovered, found a match and lighted the lamp to find Aunt Mary Lou about to faint while my panicky mother was trying to retrieve the “eyeball” from between her toes.
We were living in the three room house the day World War Two ended. I can remember car horns blowing for hours. Two of my uncles on my mother’s side of the family were over seas and came home shortly after the war. They would never talk about the horrors of the war, but they did tell some tall tells about huge snakes and wild animals they saw in the jungles of the south pacific.
There were big fig bushes behind the chicken house in uncle Snuffy’s back yard. They also had peach trees, I guess, because they would slice up peaches, figs and other fruit and lay the thin slices on the low tin roof of the chicken house to dehydrate in the hot sun. I would sneak around behind the chicken house, climb upon the roof through the fig bushes and snitch handfuls of the dried fruit from the roof. Afterwards, I would usually end up with a good case of the diarrhea. I told my mother the problem with my bowels was because she made me play with all my girl cousins. These were the daughters of uncle Snuffy and aunt Mozzel. They had six sweet girls before their one son, Ronny came along– Anne, Norma, Glenda, Margaret, Becky and Jo Nell. Ronny never had a chance. But I loved all of them. However, the worst scare I had experienced up to that time in my life happened one day when the three younger girls (at that time) and I were out in the yard playing cowgirls and outlaws, or some such childish game. I was the sheriff and Glenda, a year younger than me, was a bank robber or something equally sinister. So, taking one of aunt Mozzel’s cotton stockings off the clothes line I proceeded to try to string that bad girl up. However, I tied the knot to tight and Glenda began to choke. The two younger girls ran screaming to aunt Mozzel that Tommy was killing Glenda. Soon aunt Mozzel came running with some scissors and cut the stocking off of Glenda’s neck. She probably didn’t want me playing with her girls after that for a long, long time. But, it wasn’t because I had almost killed one of her kids; that was the only good pair of stockings she had and it was a long time after the war was over before she got another pair.
After the war, my dad’s job came to an end at the ship yard in Orange. He came home and built us a house on the Hainesville highway about two and a half miles out of Mineola. I do not remember moving to the new house from the three room house on FM 1254, but I remember when my brother David was born in August of 1946 after we moved there. I was five and a half years old. We had to go and spend the night with my Poppa and Mama Stanford again. I think the place where they lived on the MB road was called the Pritchett place. I remember Papa raising sugar cane in the bottom land below their house when I was about six. My dad helped them cut, haul and process the sugar cane into syrup. I got to lead the mule around and around as he turned the cane press. I must have thought I was a big man, leading that mule. I found out as I got older those old horses and mules used at the syrup mills had been doing that for so long they didn’t actually need anyone leading them. This was before I started to school at almost seven years of age for I remember telling some boys in my first grade class about working that mule.
I remember going to see my granny and grandpa Hanson on the Sand Springs road near the Mineola club lake. There were a number of us cousins playing in the yard. My cousin Jerry fell and cut his chin and was bleeding quite a lot. Granny took him out on the screened in back porch and washed the dirt out of the cut and put soot from a wood burning stove on the wound. It stopped bleeding, but I swear that Jerry had a very faint, thin, black scar on his chin until he was a grown man. When I got home I asked my mother why granny put the soot on the cut. Mom said that was an old folk’s remedy for helping cuts to heal. I’m not sure I ever believed that though.
Once when we were out at Granny and Grandpa Hanson’s house on the Sand Springs road, a rabid fox came walking up to the back of the house. Again, there was another yard full of grand kids playing. One of my uncles noticed that the fox was foaming at the mouth and he ran in the house, got a shot gun and put the animal out of its misery before it actually got into the yard.
Not long after we moved into the house on highway forty nine, Travis and Raymond, the two first cousins of diving fame, who had not been out of the navy very long, came and spent a short time with us. At that time dad had not added the two small bedrooms and the bath onto the back of the house. Though the bedrooms were large we only had two, plus a living room and a kitchen/dining area. However, somehow we had space for mom, dad, two girls and three boys (David being a baby was sleeping with mom and dad) and these two cousins for a spell. Many times since growing up, I’ve tried to figure out how we did it. I’ve had no success as of yet, figuring out where everyone slept with only three beds in the house at the time.
Some of my fondest memories of growing up in that house with only two bed rooms were the over night visits from relatives. Sometimes, there would be an aunt and uncle with two or three kids in addition to our seven.
Two of my favorite people to visit us came about once a year, but never together. They were two great uncles, brothers of my Granny Hanson. One was Uncle Bill Davis; he was in his nineties during the late forties, early fifties. The other was Uncle Gabe Davis, who was in his late eighties. Uncle Bill was a genuine, precious metals prospector from Arizona. He spent almost all his adult life prospecting the Superstitious Mountain in Arizona. He never found a lot of gold but he had the best stories to tell about things he did, things he saw and interesting people he met along the way. He spent many years looking for the Lost Dutchman’s Gold.
Uncle Gabe was a retired school teacher. Once, when he was in our home after I had become a teenager, I was struggling with an algebra homework problem. He told me algebra was not a subject which he taught in the public schools, but he worked the problem for me. I was pretty impressed. He may have been in his early nineties by that time.
We had a 37 Ford two door sedan when we moved into the house on Hwy 49 and it would get very tight in that back seat with four kids. I think dad sold the Pontiac and used the money to build the house. When I was about seven, dad traded the 37 Ford for a 36 or 37 Chevy truck. Not a pickup, but a genuine, flat bed truck. He was trying to make living for our family as a farmer and needed the truck for hauling watermelons and small amounts of produce to peddle in Mineola.
We went to church at least four times a week from the time I was five or six until I was about twelve. That is when they cut out the Saturday night service leaving two Sunday services and a Wednesday night prayer meeting. Mom and dad, the two girls and my youngest brother, David, usually rode up in the cab of the truck. My oldest brother and I and any cousins, or anyone else who went anywhere with us, rode in the bed of the truck. Of course the truck bed had side rails to keep kids from falling off the bed of the truck, but it did not slow the cold wind or rain one iota. In the wintertime it got cold! We wrapped up in blankets and old quilts. If it started raining we all somehow crammed into the cab of the truck.
Growing up we always had a couple dogs running loose in our yard. When I was about ten, someone gave me a spotted hound of questionable bloodlines. I named it Spot to honor of a little short legged dog we had had for years before it bit the dust. I had hopes of this Spot becoming the next best hunting dog in all east Texas, because the old hound dog that we also had at the time was, in a lot of local hunters minds, the best squirrel hunting dog around. The hounds name was Hungry, because he always seemed to be. He would eat anything, including raw eggs right out of the hen house. Our dogs were not on an Alpo diet. What ever was left after we ate a meal is all the dogs got to eat, and that is why Hungry always was.
Anyway, one Saturday afternoon my dad, my older brother and I, along with Hungry and my dog Spot, who was almost grown by then, went squirrel hunting down in the Lake Fork Creek bottom, about five miles east of our house. Dad parked the truck in a gravel parking area on the west side of the Hwy 49 bridge where it crossed the Lake Fork Creek. Because Saturday night was church night daddy told us that we had to be out of the woods and home by dark so we could go to church. As we started into the bottom I was thinking, boy this is going to be great. We have about four hours hunting ahead of us.
Everything went well for the first hour or so. Hungry was sniffing all the big hardwood trees, ears alert, eyes on the tree branches over head watching for a big old fox squirrel to make a move. My dog had had too much water to drink before we left the house I guess, because all he did was sniff every bush and pee on every other one. That is until a little ole fox came sauntering out of a thicket spotting my dog about ½ second before Spot spotted it. Then the race was on. Like a bolt of lighting and with a swirling cloud of dead leaves both fox and hound disappeared to the thick woods of Lake Fork Creek bottom. Two and a half hours latter, everyone was hoarse from calling that dumb dog, whose bark we could still faintly hear, now and then about a mile away and down river from where he should have been. Finally, dad announced that we had to head home so we could get ready for church. Man I set up a howl! I started begging my daddy not to even think about leaving my dog down there in that dangerous, dark, horrible river bottom. I was bawling my eyes out and begging daddy to leave me there to keep calling my dog. I didn’t care if they had to go to that sorry old church, I just didn’t want to lose my dog. Daddy took me by the shoulder and started to push me away from the truck to where there was a plum thicket just beyond the broken down fence next to the road. I thought he was going to give me a good thrashing, so I quickly shut my bawling up. Instead he pointed into the plum thicket and said, “Son take your cap back in there about ten or twelve feet and drop it on the ground. Then we will come back down here after church is over and I bet your dog will be in there laying on your cap.”
I didn’t really understand what dad was saying, but if it meant I wasn’t going to get a good whipping, then I would go along with his hair brain idea.
We drove away and left my dog still baying after that fox. I prayed mighty hard all the time we were at church that I would some day see my dog again, but not really believing the dog would ever be able to find his way out of that bottom.
After church we drove straight to the river bottom and dad parked the truck so that the head lights would shine into that plum thicket. I bounded out of the back of that truck and was halfway to the plum thicket before I realized my dad was shouting something at me. I stopped and turned just as I entered the thicket to hear what he was saying and was blinded by headlights of the old truck. He was shouting, “Son, don’t rush in there without talking to that dog…” I never heard him finish what he was saying. What I heard was the most horrible guttural growl coming from within that plum thicket. I jerked my head around expecting to see God only knew what, based on the growling sound I heard. But all I could see were the shooting stars and a big white spot in front of my face from being blinded by the lights of the truck. That guttural, growling sound by now had me feeling the hot breath of a wolf, bear or Tasmanian devil, for all I knew, because my imagination was running wild.
I started backing out of that plumb thicket, but as I eased backward, my eyes cleared up and I could see my dog in the glow from the head lights half crouching over my cap, fangs glistening in the lights, blood in his eyes and a determination on his face that said, “Touch this cap and you will wish you hadn’t.” Then I heard my daddy behind me softly saying, “Son, talk to him, let him know that it is you. Don’t go closer. He will tear your hand off if he thinks you are trying to get that cap.” Right then and there I got on my knees in the dirt in that plum thicket and began to call my dog’s name. My mouth was running a mile a minute, as I told him what a good dog he was and how I was so glad to see him and that I was never going to leave him alone and in a bottom again and how I was going to take him home and feed him some cold biscuits left over from supper. First his tail started wagging, just moving a little, then the growling stopped, next his ears relaxed and then those big ole eyes of his showed a love and relief that I will never forget. Then me and that little ole hound dog were all over each other in the middle of that plum thicket. The hound was a licking and barking and I was a hugging and laughing with joy. Mom and my brothers and sisters were out of the truck whooping like a bunch of wild Indians. My dad made his way back into the thicket and retrieved my cap and plunked it on my head as we walked back to the truck. I turned to my dad there in the darkness behind the truck after he had picked the hound up and set him on the truck bed, and ask him, “Dad how did you know my dog would be there?” As he went around the side of the truck to get in the cab, I think what he said was, “Son, I once was a little boy who had a dog and a dad.”
Possum Hunting and Other High Adventures
While Growing Up
From the time I was about nine or ten years old until my mid teens, my brother Jim and I with two or three of the Bradley boys along with Neil and Danny Mack Russell, all about our age and who lived within a mile of us, would go possum hunting every Friday night after football season was over. We would hunt within a two mile radius from our home there on Hwy 49. People have asked over the years why we went possum hunting instead of coon hunting. Coon being more desirable as a meal when Bar-B-Q’ed, or bake with sweet potatoes, than a greasy old possum.
I only had to go coon hunting one time to find out that I didn’t get much fun out of it. Coon hunters either have to shoot the coon out of the tree, or if you don’t have a gun, you make the youngest, dumbest kid on the hunt climb up to the coon and try to knock him out of the tree with a stick. Coons like big tall trees. When I got within about five feet of the coon, I was hugging the limb on which I was laying a straddle and trying to dislodge the coon from where he was a hissing and growling. Suddenly that dumb coon ran up the stick I had in my hand, up my arm, on to my head. My body struck ever limb on that tree on my way down, even some that were on the other side of the tree. Somehow, I hit the ground feet first. But that was the end of my coon hunting career.
I think most people can see the wisdom in not turning five or six wild kids loose with a rifle or shot gun in the woods at night. Hopefully, they can also see the foolishness of climbing a thirty or forty feet tall tree in the cold night air, dogs barking fiercely, coon mad as all get out and determined not to make friends with any pimply faced kid, striking at them with a stick in the dark. No thank you. Possum hunting was more my style.
The possum hunting routine was like this. Dog comes upon a possum in the woods. Possum runs to the nearest hole in the ground. The Possum hunter lets the dog dig until the dog can grab possum in his jaws. Dog pulls possum out of hole drops it on the ground. Possum plays possum (acts like he’s dead). Hunter reaches down picks possum up by the tail and puts it in a gunny sack. We would usually carry an axe in case the possum climbed a tree. Possums like to climb little trees.
Now and then we would invite some of our school chums from town to go hunting with us. Joe S. and Steve W. went with us a few times. One time Joe was wearing a humdinger of a nice coat. Our dog ran what we thought was a possum into a hole. Joe grabbed the axe, pushed ole Hungry out of the way and attacked that hole with great anticipation only to be sprayed by a skunk. Most of the skunk juice got on that nice coat. I sure hated seeing him have to leave that coat in the woods. You talk about stink. We made him walk about 50 yards behind us until he threw that coat away.
Another time when Steve and Joe went possum hunting with us we had already caught two possum when we stopped by a fresh water spring, complete with concrete encasement to get a drink. Billy M. was carrying those possum, one in each hand by their tails. We took turns dropping to our knees and putting our faces almost in the water and sucking up mouthfuls of that cold spring water. Steve and Joe, being more highly cultured than we country boys, weren’t too sure about drinking water that was coming right out of the ground. Billy was kneeling by the spring, both hands on the curb that surround the spring, making fun of Steve and Joe being to citified to drink pure spring water. Finally they conceded to give it try, both kneeling down on each side of Billy and sucking up a belly full of water. As Steve and Joe stood and began to praise the cool, refreshing water from the springs, Billy kept kneeling by the springs with his hands on the curb. Either Steve or Joe declared that the springs were certainly powerful because he felt the water bubbling up while he drank. About that time Billy raised both hands from the curbing around the spring and dangling from each hand was a half drowned possum. They had been underwater all the time Steve and Joe were getting a drink. I’m not sure they ever went hunting with us after that.
Sometimes we would plan our hunt to take us near someone’s sweet potato patch. Everybody would dig up a big ole sweet tater; we would build us a fire, roll those sweet taters up in pieces of tin foil that we had snitched from mother’s cub board and have a fine feast.
Once we decided to cook one of the possums. We killed, skinned and cut it up so that everyone had a good size piece of meat. I got a thigh piece, stuck it on a willow limb, held it near the hot coals until it was good and black and ate that greasy piece of meat with the gusto of a hound dog. I have never eaten possum meat since. I puked for two hours. I thought I was going to die. After that we took snacks with us on our hunts.
There was the one time when dad took Jim and I and Neil and Danny Mack Russell squirrel hunting in the Lake Fork Creek bottom on a Saturday afternoon. Jim had borrowed someone’s old double barrel hammer style shot gun to hunt with and I was carrying dads single shot twelve gauge. As we started into the woods dad and I were leading the way, Jim and the Russell boys kind of fanned out behind us. As Jim went through a clump of grapevines hanging from a tree, one of the grape vines caught one of the hammers on Jim’s shot gun, pulled it back enough that when the vine slid off the hammer, the gun discharged, the shot hitting the ground between my dad and me. It really scared all of us. Thank God no one was hurt. It taught all four of us boys some valuable lessons. Keep your guns on safety until you are ready to shoot and keep the barrel pointed at the ground. In the case of an old gun like Jim was hunting with, it may not have had a safety, in which case you should always carry it loaded but breeched.
One of my dad’s brothers was Uncle Jim. Uncle Jim was, to put it gently, a drifter. It was primarily his children, one or two at a time that came and stayed with us at different times through out my childhood, until I was in my early teens. Until Uncle Jim married the lady who became Aunt Lottie, he never really settled anywhere for very long. I do not know how many times he was married in his life. But until he married Lottie, he would come through Mineola now and then and dad would often hire him to do some plowing, or clearing a spot of land for farming. One area he cleared in the late forties with the help of his older son Raymond was a two acre patch we called the “New Ground”. Even after farming it for ten years we still called it the new ground. I never understood that. In my mind, it was only new until you planted the first crop. Recently in a conversation with my brother Jim, we referred to that two acre piece of ground as, you guessed it, – the New Ground. That new ground now has forty five year old trees on it.
Dad grew cucumbers on that “New Ground” for number of years. I hated to pick cucumbers because the vines would sting your ankles and the cucumbers would sting and stain your hands. But I enjoyed going to the “Pickle Plant” with my brother and dad. We had to sort the cucumbers by size, because the smaller the cucumber the greater the value. We would put the bushel baskets of cucumbers on the flat bed of the old red Chevy truck and drive to west Mineola to the plant. The Pickle Plant consisted of a raised platform with a shed over the top. It was right next to a RR siding on the north side of Hwy 80 near the railroad yard which lay south of hwy 80. Right next to the raise platform were huge wooden vats (barrels) about eight feet in diameter and six feet deep filled with brine. There were gang planks that connected the platform to each vat. The plant worker walked across the gang plank carrying the bushels of cucumbers dumping them into the vats according to the size of the cucumbers. To this day every time I eat a big ole dill pickle I think about that Pickle Plant. A man by the name of Reed B. worked at the pickle plant. Reed probably had no more than a third grad education and seemed a little backward to me. He was a bachelor in his forties or fifties. He wanted to date my oldest sister, but there was about twenty or thirty year’s age difference. He became a preacher during this time and I suspected it was to impress my teenage sister. I heard him preach two or three times and believe me he was not a Billy Graham. His sermons were simple, repetitive and had two basic points that he emphasized over and over. He preached about the sin of girls wearing skimpy bathing suits and low cut dresses. He seemed a little fixated on his subject matter. His sermons delighted some of us adolescent boys.
Once when Uncle Jim was at our house during the winter, black birds were flying and landing everywhere in the field behind our house. Uncle Jim was plowing up a garden area and he came to the house and asked my mom if she wanted to fix a black bird pie. Mom laughed and told him if he shot the birds and cleaned them she would fix a black bird pie for dinner, which was our noon meal back then. He got daddy’s 12 gauge single shot, shotgun, walked out to the edge of the field, shouted something to get the black birds to fly up and with one shot killed about 20 birds. Black birds aren’t very large to start with and after they are picked clean of feathers there isn’t much bird left, but mom cooked them using her chicken and dressing recipe. Not much meat, but the dressing was good.
My uncle, Jim, was plowing a small field for my daddy using a small mule or donkey of ours. The donkey started acting up and Uncle Jim began to cuss a blue streak. I was at the house and heard the ruckus and tore out to the field to see what was going on. He was standing at the donkeys head holding the donkey by the bridle and was cussing and jerking the bridles reins. I could tell by the look in the donkey’s eyes that it was frightened out of its head. It was trying to back away and Uncle Jim wanted it to come forward. Before I knew what was happening, Uncle Jim stepped up to the side of the donkey and hit it as hard as he could in the shoulder with his fist, literally knocking the donkey on its side. I felt sorry for the little ole donkey and I lost all respect for my uncle Jim. The donkey died a few days later. My dad never hired him to work for him again.
When I was about five my mom, my older brother and sister and I started picking black berries for Mr. Walter Bell, a black man, who lived on old Hwy. 80 which was about three quarters of a mile south of our house. Mr. Bell’s property shared a fence line with our property, though our property was on Hwy. 49. The black berries would be ready for picking just as soon as school let out for the summer. At five I didn’t make the family rich with my berry picking efforts, but I ate my share while trying to help watch my younger sister Judy and baby brother David. We picked berries every summer for probably six or seven years.
When I was about six or seven, a little black boy showed up with one of the black pickers. He was about my age. I had never been around black children because in Mineola our schools were segregated and I had no close black neighbors with whom I could make friends. I started talking with the little boy and he let me know that he could whip me. I let him know that I didn’t think there would be any days like that. So we went at it just wrestling around until he picked up a briar that some one had broken off one of the vines and commenced to swing it at me. I decided real quick I didn’t want to play with that little boy any more.
Once some of our cows got out and my dad, my older brother and I went looking for them and found them on Mr. Bells land. We walked up to his house and he came out on the porch to talk to us. Dad explained that he found our cows in Mr. Bell’s field and all though there were no crops in the field, dad wanted Mr. Bell to know if there was any damage dad would take care of it. Mr. Bell said there was no problem and if we needed help getting the cows back into our pasture he would be glad to help us. Mr. Bell looked at me, grinned and said, “Well Tom, I didn’t see you standing there behind your dad, you doing alright in school?” I replied, “Yes sir, Mr. Bell.”
Dad assured Mr. Bell that we could get the cows back home ok without him having to help. As we walked away from Mr. Bells house and after we had walked a short distance. My dad took me by the shoulder and stopping me in my tracks, turned me to face him, and said very quietly. “Don’t ever let me hear you call a black man Mr. again and don’t ever let me hear you say sir to one again. Do you understand?” I lied to my dad. I said yes sir I understand. But I did not understand and that teachable moment, as we like to say now, left me feeling ashamed for somehow displeasing my dad, but not knowing why, nor understanding the nuances of 1940’s racism.
Once when some of our cows got off of our property we walked over to a Mr. Kennemer’s whose property contacted ours on the southwest corner to see if our cows had gotten into his pasture. His house was on the old hwy 80 about a half mile west of Mr. Bells. We were talking to him in his back yard, next to an old unpainted barn that had been enclosed and made into crude living quarters with one window and one door. The door was chained and locked. I was standing near the window that was partial blocked from the inside by a crude, ragged curtain. Suddenly, the curtain was pulled back slightly and this old black mans face appeared between the curtain and the window frame. It scared the daylights out of me and I guess I hollered, because everyone turned to look in my direction.
Mr. Kennemer shouted, “Get away from that window ******!” I’m not sure if he used the mans name, or if he used the n-word. That sort of broke up our chit hat and we walked out of his yard to continue looking for our cows.
As soon as we got out of Mr. Kennemer’s hearing, I asked my dad what that black man was doing locked up in that place. I asked him if the black man was a slave. My dad explained it this way. He said the old man had been with the Kennemer family a long time and he had no living relatives. The Kennimers had to keep the door chained because the old black man wasn’t right in the head and would wander off. Supposedly, the old black man worked around the Kennemer home place by keeping the yard and garden out of appreciation for the Kennemer’s taking care of him all his life. I often wondered what kept him from wandering off while doing chores around their house.
On the north side of hwy 49 across from our house was a large tract of land owned by a Mr. Long from Dallas. It was not fenced and because Mr. Long seldom came down to check on his property, over the years people had made a shortcut from hwy 49 over to a dirt road that connected up to the Marten Bridge Road where the present city ball field complex is. The Donahue’s had a farm on the dirt road near where the shortcut came out. I discovered this short cut , which became known by all the boys in the area as, The Road in the Woods, when I was about seven. I smoked my first cigarette butt while walking down the road in the woods. The road in the woods we should have been named, ‘the road to the dump’ because lots of people drove their cars down to where you could turn a vehicle around and proceeded to unload some of their unwanted earthly treasures. The Bradley boys, Danny Russell and I like to check out the trash to see what kind of treasures we would find. It was also a popular place for couples, who were having a fling, to park and do their thing, night or day. It was not at all uncommon for me and my friends to walk upon couples during the day and quietly walk past their cars without their knowing any one was within a hundred miles. And then we would grab up a few limbs and sticks and chunk them at their cars before hightailing further on down the road in the woods. I’ve heard many a woman scream and her lover curse like a sailor when a pine chunk landed on top of their car. Once a guy tried to chase us in his car, but we just ran out in the woods where he found out there were vine covered stumps left by loggers a few years before. After that we made a big brush pile in the middle of the road in the woods just beyond the favorite parking spot and that stopped anyone from going all the way through to the Marten Bridge Road.
I walked up on one of my aunts and her boyfriend down that road. She was in her late forties, had three kids and a husband. They were sitting up in the car and as soon as they saw me they high tailed it. Every time I saw her after that she got this guilty look on her face. At least I liked to think she felt guilty. She had a horrible accident and was badly burned some time after that and I wondered if it was what she deserved for cheating on her kids and husband. She finally divorced my uncle and married ole Don Juan.
There were stories told about a crap game that went on for years down the dirt road in the woods in the late forties. The sheriff and his deputies could never catch the gamblers because by the time they could walk into the woods to where the crap game was taking place the guys would be sitting around a camp fire shooting the breeze. Wesley Taylor was a city Marshall or constable and he let the sheriff, so the story goes, know that he believed he could break up the crap game if it was in his jurisdiction, which it was not. He guaranteed if the sheriff would deputize him he would catch the gamblers red handed.
As the story was told, Wesley Taylor parked his car on the dirt road that came off the Marten Bridge Road and holding a cowbell in one hand and his pistol in the other, he walked very slowly down the dirt road through the woods toward Hwy 49. Every few steps he give his cowbell a little shake. In this way he walked right up on the guys shooting crap. The crapshooters thought some ones milk cow had gotten out and was wandering around in the woods. Perhaps this old saying applies here: “Don’t believe anything your hear and only half of what you see.”
In the early fifties Mr. Taylor and another law enforcement officer had a shoot out in an alley in Mineola in which they both died.
Once, my uncle, Jr. Stanford, who lived on the Marten Bridge Road just north of Lewellen Creek with my aunt Lois, came home from spending a Sunday afternoon visiting kinfolk to find the pasture all around his house burned to a crisp. Their house had been saved from the flames by someone having driven their car around and around his house about thirty times. His front, back and side yards look like a dirt stock car race track. There wasn’t a sprig of grass left in the yard and he had a hard time getting grass to grow back. He said the driver or drivers new how to drive, because they never once hit his outhouse of the well shed.
To be continued….
Hopefully, I will have chapter two finished in a week or so.