Dawson Stories
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Dawson, Navarro County, Texas


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SUBDIVISIONS OF DAWSON

Residential areas of Dawson were located north and south of the railroad.  The area south of the railroad was known as "Frog Level."  "Frog Level" extended, perhaps, a mile and was composed of Main Street and two side streets. South Main street continued south and led to Four Corners and Tehuacana. North Main lasted only four blocks where it intersected with a cross street and there were five or six other streets that continued in a northerly direction. The "West Dawson" residential area was on each side of the railroad tracks and the Waco road and extended to a branch that ran west of "Uncle Steve" Hill's place.

Most "White Folks" lived on either side of Main street.. North or South, but Dawson was integrated.  Black families were located on the side streets and included Doc Fenner and his wife who lived in a tiny house a few doors north from the fine house owned by the McCulloch family.  Doc Fenner and his sweet wife fitted in beautifully.   Doc was very old when I first remembered him, but he was still able to do odd jobs around town.  He was often called upon to "break" gardens useing his mule and a walking plow.  Once, when his eyesight had begun to fail, he had weeded E B Dawson's garden with a sharp hoe.  When E B came home the garden was beautiful...and Doc had carefully tilled around one large weed.

Jim and Maymie Martin lived on the street west of Main in Frog Level.  My Dad had been friends with Jim for many years despite the fact that Jim was much older.  I always thought Jim Martin one of the finest men in town and Maymie was, without doubt, the best cook.  When I was small Jim would take me with him to his farms on Richland Creek.   Lunch was summer sausage and crakers and a Nehi at the country store.   And Maymie had supper waiting at the end of the day.

And, behind the Westmorelands lived Aunt Hannah and a family who had three fine children.   Every Sunday those three children, dressed in their finest, would walk to Farmersville to attend church.  They, probably, became doctors and attorneys and community leaders.

Several more black families, including Cleve Harris, resided on the south end of the street East of Main in Frog Level.  Cleve Harris was a mild mannered gentleman who did chores from time to time for Houston Akers.  Twice each day he came to coax milk from the Akers cow, Jezebell.  Some of the milk was for the Akers family, some for Cleve and his family.

Cleve made a game of whatever chore was required.  Once he was sawing wood and said that the saw talked as he moved it back and forth through the log.  What did it say?   "Lis'en close!  It say "Soup, bread, meat and pie...soup, bread, meat, and pie!"  And, sure enough, as Sambo and I listened...that was what we heard.


XI
THE BLACK COMMUNITY OF DAWSON

Most Blacks, however, lived in Farmersville, named after John Henry Farmer, a white citizen of Dawson.  Farmersville was located a mile or so East of Main Street, south of the Railroad and near the cotton gins and cotton oil mill.  Streets, surveyed in an orderly fashion, were lined with modest cottages and well kept gardens. There were several small stores in Farmersville and two or three churches.

Farmersville was filled with friends.

Bud California and his family lived in the last house on the left on that last street in Farmersville.  His wife did washing. I suppose that Bud must have worked somewhere, but he was in town most every day and always had a big smile on his round face.

Beulah Hopkins was my favorite.  She helped my Mother from time to time and was present when my sister, Jean LaMerle, was born at our house..  I had been sent to play with my cousins...Cousin Will's grandchildren, when an old World War One bi-plane flew low over our house and landed in a field nearby.   Airplanes were a rarity in Dawson and all the children..eight or ten...began to race for the small field where the plane had landed.   Beulah ran to the street and informed me that I had a baby sister and didn't I want to come in the house and see her.   I replied that I would be back when I saw that airplane.  Beulah was with us when Marilyn was born and wshen I was sent to the store Beulah would whisper, "Junior, be sure to get me a can of that sweet snuff."  And I would.

And there was Fred Cole who worked at Loveless Drug and drove for Dr. Worsham.    One year Fred chaperoned Ralph Akers, Major Davis' twin boys, and one other boy on a Model T trip from Dawson to California and back.

And who could forget Cotton Cottrell who loved two things....white lightening and music...and in that order.   I never knew the source of any income Cotton may have had....though I heard stories....but I delighted at sitting on his porch and listening to him strum his ancient guitar and sing New Orleans blues songs.  He was good!  One Saturday Cotton must have been low on "drinkin' money" and came to town dressed in his wife's bathrobe, strumming that guitar, "singin' them blues," and rattling a tin cup filled with coins as a "come on" for more coins.

Clark Roberts was a kindly gentleman who lived on the Corsicana Hiway and worked for Dad and Uncle Fred at the slaughter house located on Battle Creek just below the Old Dawson house.  I liked Clark.  He was always patient with little boys and eager to help them do what they wanted.  Mother and I had driven to the slaughter house late one day just Clark was ready to drive Uncle Fred's Model T Ford truck to the market with fresh killed beef carcuses.  I wanted to ride to the store with Clark.   The truck had no side doors and the floor boards...real wooded boards.... had rotted away and exposed the exhaust pipe.  Clark assured my Mother that he would take good care of me and cautioned me, "Junior, you keep yo bare foot offen that pipe cause it gonna be red hot."

I could not resist the temptation to find out for myself if the pipe was really hot.    It was!  When we arrived at the store I was crying and Clark was explaining that he had told Junior to "lay off that pipe."

And then there was Flookem!  I never knew anyone who didn't like..and remember Flookem Dickson.  Flookem was at least six feet..or so it seemed to little boys and he was always thin as a fence rail.  He came to work at Boots Garner's White Front Grocery at daylite and left at dark...winter and summer.  And he was never seen without his official trademark...a white apron.   If Flookem ever worked in the fields around Dawson I never heard about it.  He was born to work...uptown.

Flookem had one of the most infectious laughs and a huge smile..complete with gold teeth...to go with it.   He would hear some funny story, slap his thigh, and his laugh could be heard all the way to Purden.

Once Flookem ordered some shoes from a mail order house.  He informed most everyone that he had new shoes on the way and one day the prized package arrived at the post office.  He removed the wrappings and, with great pride...lifted the brightest yellow shoes ever made...from the box.  Flookem grinned from ear to ear.

Several weeks passed and my Mother remarked to Flookem that she hadn't seen him wearing his new shoes.  Flookem remaried, "No Mam, Mrs. Matthews, I' savin' the new shoes for "Juneteenth,"  Juneteenth....June 19...was the day The Emancipation Proclamation was announced at Galvestion and Texas blacks always celebrated on that day.

Doc Fenner, a kind and gentle man, lived in the "Inte\grated" section of Dawson and was old the first time I remember  seeing him.   He had cleaned one of the local banks for many years.He married a grand daughter of Henry Caruthers who had come to Texas as a slave in 1847 and was a slave when he came with the Joseph Thompson Lawrence Family when they settled on the headwaters of Richland Creek in the 1850s.   Doc Fenner had a mule and a small plow that he used to plow garden plots for Dawson families.

My first Junteenth Celebration was when I was five.  The store had closed, but my Dad had to deliver some meat to the celebration and it was after dark when we arrived.   Lanters and kerosene lamps had been place on poles and wires strung between the poles that identified the celebration area.  Meat was roasting over open flame pits and the aroma created hunger juices in little boys.  Bar-b-que sandwiches followed, complete with red Nehi "sodywater"...and freezer made ice cream and corn on the cob and cakes and pies.  I wanted to celebrate Junteenth every day!


XII
DAWSON, TEXAS

All totaled...the Dawson census might have counted one thousand souls, but the trade area extended for many miles in every direction and included such communities as Spring Hill, Navarro Mills, Brushie Prairie, Chicken Brissel, Pelham, Liberty Hill, Four Corners, Union High, Purdon, Patterson, Corbet, Alliance Hall, Eldorado, and Silver City.  Most communities boasted a General Store..but on Saturday...people came to town..and town was Dawson...and Dawson would come alive.

Few streets in Dawson were graveled and none were paved.  The dirt streets churned up dust when the weather was dry and became impassable lanes of deep mud when it rained.   The nearest paved road in the area was not constructed for many years and began half the distance to Corsicana.  It was known as "The Slab."  Funds became available to construct a two lane road one fourth the distance out of Corsicana, but someone suggested that by paving only one lane the road could go twice as far.   So "The Slab" was built ten feet wide for a single lane rather than double lane. Early motor vehicles were often pulled from Dawson to "The Slab" by horses or mules when the roads were muddy...driven to Corsicana, and..when they returned..the animals pulled them home.  When cars or wagons met, someone had to pull off the slab.

But people came to Dawson despite the mud or dust, and on Saturday, the town filled to capacity.  Towns people and country folks would gather in the business area.   Wagon yards located behind the stores and south of the Depot would be filled with wagons and buggies and saddled horses.  Straight chairs were placed aboard the wagons for women folks and heavy quilts were placed on the wagon floor for sleeping "youngans."

Men wore their new overalls and women wore print dresses that hung to their ankles.   Sun bonnets made from matching material sewn around stiff cardboard staves covered female heads as the wagons creaked toward town. Dresses and bonnets were often made from materials first used as flour and feed sacks. Wagons also carried butter and eggs that the farm wife had carefully prepared.  They would be traded to the shop keepers for molasses and salt pork and sugar and beans and coffee and forty-eight pound brightly printed cloth sacks of flour.

Farm families, sometimes, spent Saturday night in Dawson, staying with family or friends.   Of course, they always went to church while they were "in town" and mention was always made in The Dawson Herald the following Thursday concerning who spent Saturday night with whom.

Some men from the farm areas...and some men from the town..often engaged in other pursuits on Saturday.  There were pool halls, .."dens of iniquity" according to some preachers....where some men gambled over where the balls would roll after a given shot.   "Pitchin the Line" was a favorite pastime as well....where older boys and men would "pitch" coins on the floor.  Whoever owned the coin that came closest to a line grooved into the concrete floor won all the money.  Such activity was called " gamblin."

Some said that people who frequented the pool halls often drank "corn licker" that was from time immemorial available from well known local "bootleggers."   Some said that Baptist and Bootleggers united in Dawson at every election to keep the place dry.  Some said that the "Law" had been "paid off" to warn Dawson bootleggers when a raid was to be made.  Regardless...bootleggers were seldom..if ever... arrested.

And...some people got drunk.   Sometimes, they got drunk early in the day.   One man had ridden into town on a beautiful red horse to ride in the Parade one Fourth of July.  He had not adjusted the saddle securely and when he leaned too far to one side in his inebriated condition, the saddle slipped and the drunkened rider was under the belly of the horse....hanging on for dear life.  The horse must have been accustomed to such happenings as he never moved throughout the experience.

Two brothers, it appeared, always took turns getting drunk.  And, about two o'clock on Saturday afternoon, the one whose turn it was to get drunk...was drunk...and began to challenge the sober brother to a fight.  And they would fight...with bare knuckles.   The fight would begin in the pool hall or the domino hall, but, eventually, it would move to the street.  By that time, shirts were torn, noses were bloodied, eyes were puffed....and there were breathless utterances that gave direction as to where the other should go, some indication as to what the female parent was, accusations of having had intimacies with farm animals...expressions that suggested that the parents were not married when the other was born..and only Heaven knows what else.

And there were times when some men would begin to fight when they were not even drunk.   Differences were not often settled at the Courthouse in Corsicana.  More often than not, differences would be settled in the "Wagon Yard" or on the sidewalks of Dawson.  Conflicts were generated by all manner of happenings.  The Honor of one man's wife or daughter would often launch a fight when the two males involved happened to meet in Dawson.  Squabbles over soured business deals would seethe for months in the minds of the participants. When they met on the streets of Dawson one word led to another..."Nose to Nose...anything goes"..."Bang!" and one man had "whopped" the other on the head with a clenched fist.

Two men once argued for the better part of an hour as they sat on the cast iron "settee" in front of one of the stores that faced The Dawson Lumber Company and the Cotton Belt Depot.  They leaped from where they had sat as if an electrical charge had surged through the cast iron "settee."  The smaller of the two men had his knife out by the time they were erect and would have plunged it into the larger man except for the fact that the larger man had a vice-like grip on his opponent's wrist. The two wrestled for several minutes, but the smaller man was no match for the larger.  The larger man never relinquished his grip on the smaller man's wrist.   The larger man told his opponent that he would let him go if he would permit the storekeeper to remove the knife from his hand.  Finally, the smaller man permitted the storekeeper to take the knife and the fight was over.  The smaller man left the scene embarrassed and angry.

And...some conflicts had no apparent cause.  One man had sat on another cast iron "Settee" for some time one Saturday afternoon.  He was minding his own business, speaking kindly to passersby, enjoying the activity of Dawson.  It was near dusk when the shopkeeper peered out the screened door of his small store.  The shopkeeper had been drinking most of the day...not an unusual thing for him...and he was drunk.  The shopkeeper drew his "six shooter" from its hiding place, walked through the screened doors, pointed the weapon at the man seated on the cast iron "settee" and fired point blank.  The man fell to the sidewalk crying, "I'm shot!. I'm Shot!"  When the shopkeeper was questioned as to why he shot the man, he replied, "I didn't like the way he looked."

W W Wolf quickly drove the black hearse from the hardware store to the shooting site and the wounded man placed inside.  He was taken to Providence Hospital in Waco and survived. Apparently, the shopkeeper was never tried for the shooting.

A tiny "Calaboose" was located behind businesses on the west side of Main Street.  "The Calaboose" was Dawson's jailhouse and was a small metal clad structure with a room on the east for whites and one on the west for blacks. Heavy steel doors with many small holes were secured with huge Master locks.   The small cubicles had no running water, but did contain a wooden seat that, when lifted, revealed a round hole which served as a toilet.  Excrement simply fell to the ground below.

Men who became drunk...and belligerent...were, sometimes, placed in the "Calaboose" to "sleep it off."  Men who became "peacefully" drunk were, usually, carried home by friends or by the City Marshall.  It was, probably, a good idea to be very drunk if there was any probability of being placed in the "Calaboose."  That place smelled to "High Heaven" with odors from "pit sewage" and from the leftovers of sick drunks.  And in summer...that place must have been an oven.

People came to town to buy what they needed to survive, but they came mostly...to socialize.  Farm life was hard...and it was lonely. The farm wife, during bad weather might not get to town for several weeks at the time.  Husbands would, sometimes, in muddy weather, hitch the team to the front two wheels of the wagon and attempt to get to town for provisions.  The two wheels would become so filled with the black gumbo mud that the wheels would lock and begin to slide.


XIII

MATTHEWS BROS. MARKET

My center of Dawson in the later 1920's was MATTHEWS BROTHERS MARKET,
located north of the Depot and across the street from The Dawson Lumber
Company managed by Mr. Edwards.

Matthews Market appeared so very large to a four or five year old boy, but, after viewing the place in adulthood, its width could not have been more than forty feet.  Screened openings were located at the front and rear of the building to permit ventilation during the warm weather.  Screen doors were locked at night, but entry could have easily been accomplished through the screen wire.  There was never a break-in.  The market was "winterized" when cold weather came by closing heavy wooden doors over the screened areas.

Customers waited on a concrete floor in front of the "New" refrigerated meat case that was the repository of bacon, ham, sausage, cheese, ground meat, and all cuts of fresh cuts of beef and pork.  Matthews Market never carried chickens, lamb, or goat.

White scales were centered on top of the "New" refrigerated meat case, and, at its side, was the "New" tape dispenser that carried sticky paper through water when the machine was pressed and into the hands of whoever was wrapping meat packages.   The "New" tape machine was the latest and most "up-to-date" equipment that "modern" markets employed.  The "New" tape dispenser was, also. a stubborn instrument that became jammed from time to time and created great concern on the part of individuals attempting to use it...and, at times...several unusual expressions.

String had been used for years to tie meat packages and remained as a "back up" when the "New" Tape dispenser decided to become obstinate.  Two huge cones of white string were hidden from view of the customers and the string threaded through eyelet screws that ran up the west wall of the market and across the ceiling with a drop on each side of the scales.

Wrapping meat purchases with butcher paper and tying the package with string was " real art" that only the few were able to accomplish. The trick was to position the string around the thumb in such manner as to have the string cut the string..and not one's thumb or fingers. Customers were always impressed when they were waited on by someone who had really mastered the technique.

Just west of the "New"" refrigerated meat case was a large glass case the same height as the "New" refrigerated meat case.  This glass case was not refrigerated and was used exclusively for "Light Bread."   No resident of Dawson ever asked for a loaf of bread. Bread was..always.."Light Bread." Dawson had a bakery from time to time, but at Matthews Market the bread case held nothing but "Buddies Bread" which came from Buddy Tomek's bakery in Hubbard.  Buddy Tomek was a huge man with a heart and smile that matched his size.  It was always a special time when Buddy came with bread in the morning..and..sometimes, on Saturdays, he had to return with more bread in the afternoons..."Light Bread."

Two large round wooden blocks were positioned immediately behind the "New" refrigerated meat case.  They may have been obtained from large trees that had been cut on Richland Creek and cut into proper lengths with a cross-cut saw.  Someone had planed the sides round and smooth and painted the sides a dark reddish color...probably to hide any blood that was splattered from time to time.

Ceiling fans that served a dual purpose whirled above each meat block. One...the fans were some help in keeping workers cool in the summer as they performed their duties at the meat block..as cool as that place could get in summer and without even a thought of air conditioning.  Second...the movement of the air created by the fans helped to keep flies off the meat as it was being cut.

Just west of the meat blocks was a rolled top desk where ledgers, check books, pen staffs and ink, etc. were kept.  A javelina head and hide...completely with ugly, long teeth..rested on top.  I never fooled with that javelina.

Between the rolled top desk and the bread case..on the wall..was the telephone...a crank telephone..and it WAS..cranky.  Few refrigerators existed in Dawson and most people did not purchase ice for "ice boxes" until really warm weather "set in" and there was a need for iced tea.  This situation made the telephone a most important instrument at Matthews Market.   Housewives would call and my Daddy would answer with a matter of fact response that was used no place else and one, as I remember, had a touch of a nasal twang.  "Yes, Mam..we have some round steak.   Yes, Mam, it is tender.  'bout two pounds?  Yes, Mam, we'll have it there before eleven.  Thank you, Mam."

Orders were processed, wrapped with butcher paper, tied with string unless the "New" tape dispenser was working, the customer's name written clearly on the package, and placed in the "New" refrigerated meat case until delivery time.   When all orders had been processed, the McGowan boy..or whoever was making deliveries, placed all packages in a large box located over the wheels of the delivery cart.  The delivery cart, pulled by a single horse, was a two wheeled vehicle with a step at the rear about eighteen inches above the ground.  The step permitted the delivery boy to drive the horse and to have quick access to the box that held the meat packages.

The telephone...mentioned above as being "cranky...did, indeed, have its own idiosyncracies.  There was a crank on the left side that drove a small generator which was located inside the telephone box.  The unit was mounted to the west wall the market, perhaps, five feet from the concrete floor.  The generator..."The Shocking Machine"....was prized by little boys who obtained one from "The Telephone Man" when some units were junked. The units produced a very low voltage of electrical current.

The telephone at the market, apparently, had a short in the system and in damp weather...a caller...standing in just the right position on the concrete floor, would receive an unexpected jolt of electricity. The shocks were never life threatening, but would frighten the "very dickens" out of the unsuspecting.

Floyd Smith, a local banker and friend of the family all his life, stopped by one day and requested permission to make a call on the telephone.  Mother was seated at the roll topped desk and I was seated on the writing level of the desk...well away from the ugly javelina.  Mother..full of mischief..waited for Mr. Smith to crank the telephone.   The day must have been really damp and Floyd Smith was standing in just the right spot as he turned the crank with vigor. Floyd Smith...vice-president of the bank, respected community leader and family man, Steward of the Methodist Church, came forth with all the bad words I had ever heard around the Market...plus a few new ones. He then began apologizing profusely to "Mrs. Matthews" and Mother was laughing her head off.

A long...probably ten to twelve feet...marble topped table was positioned on the east wall of Matthews Market.  Daddy's special knife box always sat on that table, protected by a small "Master" lock with one key in Daddy's pocket.  A carborundum "sharpening stone" rested on top of the knife box where steak, skinning, and boning knives were "honed" to razor sharpness.  It was on the marble topped table that "Uncle John Ponder" would sit as he rolled hamburger meat...and corn meal...into little round balls that would be made into hamburgers at "The Green Hut" up the street.  "Uncle John" never appeared in a hurry and talked constantly as he rolled each ball carefully.

A large walk in cooler stood to the rear of the meat blocks and on the west side of the market.  The walk in cooler must have been quite old, but it was a thing of beauty.   It stood, perhaps, twelve feet tall and the exterior was made of fine wood put in place by a Master Craftsman and finished like fine furniture.  Horns that had once adorned a "Long Horn" steer now adorned the walk-in cooler.  The horns, more than six feet tip to tip, hung majestically at a place of prominence on the front of the cooler.  Three waist high glass doors opened toward the meat blocks and the handles were of brass. A large, man sized door, opened on the end, permitting heavy quarters of beef to be carried inside the cooler and hung on hooks.

The door had a broken latch on the inside and once, when my cousin, Raymond Davidson, who worked at the market and lived with us, went into the cooler I locked him inside.  He was saying all sorts of threatening words and I could hear him mumbling.  I opened one of the small doors on the front..knowing that he could not get through it, and extorted a quarter from him as the "fee" for letting him out.

The walk-in cooler was, originally, cooled by ice.  The upper portion of the cooler had been designed to have huge blocks of ice placed inside and cold air would fall to the lower portion. Each morning the ice wagon would pull up to the back door of the market and the icemen..usually two...would pull the huge three hundred pound blocks of ice off the ice wagon...down a heavy board, and across the concrete floor to the cooler.  A block and tackle..ropes and large wooden pulleys...had been secured to the ceiling of the market to lift the heavy ice.  Heavy hooks bit into the ice and attached to the block and tackle.  Pull...Pull..Pull..and up into the air went the huge block of ice.

When the ice reached the upper door which had been opened someone on a ladder would shove the ice into the upper portion of the cooler and the process repeated until the cooler was filled with ice.

The cooling by ice was supposed to have ended with the installation of a refrigeration unit c. 1928-1929.  The refrigeration unit was positioned to the rear of the walk in cooler, near the rear door.  The unit operated with ammonia rather than freon and was constantly leaking and the smell of ammonia would fill the market. Daddy would call "Central" on the crank telephone and summons the refrigeration man who lived in Corsicana.  He would arrive as quickly as possible and work for hours..late into the night, sometimes. And..there were times when he was unable to make the repair without ordering some part from Dallas.  Daddy would call the ice house and have ice delivered.

Near the back door which led to the alley or wagon yard, was a heavy  table that held another important piece of market equipment...the grinder.  The grinder was large and made of heavy metal and with a huge electric motor that powered an auger that ground various types of meat.  Meat was cut into fist size pieces which were fed into a large bell like section and pushed into the auger with a heavy piece of wood.   Different sized cutting plates were installed for whatever was to be ground...sausage, ground meet, or chili meat.

Many people, today, are not aware that a difference exists between hamburger and chili meat.  Hamburger is a fine grind of beef.  Chili meat is beef ground through a plate with round holes about the size of the little finger and produces small chunks of meat the same size.

Nearby was a contraption that, somewhat, resembled a bicycle.  It was used to sharpen knives, cleavers and axes.  The unit had a seat, similar to a bicycle seat, mounted to a steel frame and about thirty inches from the floor. Pedals on each side were attached to a mandrel that ran through a large round sharpening stone.  When the pedals were activated the large stone would turn..at a high rate of speed.  Someone skilled at using the unit would put an extremely fine keen edge on a sharp instrument. "Uncle Tom" Fread, who spent much time at the market, usually operated the unit.

There was a closet located to the rear and on the east side of the market, under the stairs that led to the Lodge Hall located on the second floor of the building.  The closet contained all manner of "junk."  It was, as well, the bathroom that served the market.  A small can rested on an exposed two by four on the unfinished inside of the closet.  Men would disappear into the closet, emerge with the can...and an expression of relief...and throw the contents of the can out the back door. I never saw women go in there.

The closet played a role in one happening.  Jim Caskey was a jolly, red faced man who came regularity to the market..always wearing bib overalls..laughing..telling jokes.   He, also, had the largest nose of any man I ever saw.  One cold winter day he was warming at the open flamed gas heater located near the rear of the market when he spied Uncle Fred Matthews driving up in back in his Model T Ford truck.  Mr. Caskey told my Daddy that he would hide in the closet and for my Daddy to tell Uncle Fred that Jim Caskey wanted him to come..that day..to look at some cattle that Mr. Caskey wanted to sell.

Mr. Caskey secreted himself in the closet and,presently, Uncle Fred came in, bundled in a heavy coat and complaining about the cold.  Daddy gave him the message from Mr. Caskey and Uncle Fred went into a tirade.  "It was too "xyzbykz" cold to look at cattle.  Besides, that old red nosed.."so-in-so"..didn't have any cattle worth looking at and "XyzkByk..and so forth."  Uncle Fred was still going strong when Jim Caskey emerged from the closet...laughing..at the joke he had pulled on Uncle Fred.

No sewage system existed in Dawson until the late thirties, but the town was adequately served with "Out Houses."  Each home had it's own "Outhouse" and there was one for each business...located in the alley behind the establishment.   Most "Business Outhouses" were equipped with padlocks and were accessable only with a key.  Brent Williamson, grandson of Dr. Williamson, was some years older than I and took pleasure in "tormenting" me each time he came to visit in Dawson.  I watched one day...one very hot day...as he walked..key in hand...to the "Outhouse" serving Uncle Green Williamson's grocery store.  Brent carefully placed the key in the lock, returned the open lock to the clasp on the outside, entered the "Outhouse."  I gave him time to "get settled," ran to the "Outhouse" door, lifted the lock from the hasp and closed the hasp securely and snapped the lock.  Brent was imprisoned in the heated "Outhouse" and I...running fast from the scene..had my revenge. I stayed clear of Brent for several years.

Matthews Market was, evidently, a gathering place for people who had nothing to do..there..or elsewhere.  But..it was a restaurant of sorts.  People would come in and ask for...and receive..a dimes worth of cheese and crackers.  Or...a dimes worth of summer sausage and crackers.  And..in winter...customers would purchase two or three wieners and roast them on wire coathangers held over the open flames of the gas heater.  And...there were hiding places in the "New" meat counter where bottles of "home brew" were kept for special occasions.

Matthews Market was strictly a "Meat" Market.  There was a grocery store on either side of the market, but...in those days...grocery stores did not sell fresh meat of any kind.



THE WALKUPS OF DAWSON, TEXAS

Mary Linnie Steely, an orphan from Carthage, MS, was living with relatives who operated a boarding house at Bruceville-Eddy, south of Waco, Texas and it was there she met and married Charles Wesley Walkup, a "Tinner" who had invented a milk cooler, a forerunner of modern refrigeration.

The Family moved to from Mt Calm to Dawson in 1925 where Mr. Walkup opened a "Tin Shop" across the alley from "The Old Gymn."   Dawson had no water supply and he did a brisk business making "Tin Cisterns" to hold rain water caught from home roofs.

Mr. Walkup died in 1927 and the business was continued by his oldest son, William, now deceased.

Paul, a deaf mute, worked in the 1930's at Hearns Tailor Shop and was remembered as having made himself a pair of slacks from small patches of suit samples.  When Mr. Hearne needed Paul he pressed a bell which Paul could not hear but could feel the vibrations.   Paul (1999) is in his eighties and lives with his brother, Oliver, in Houston, Texas.

Charles Jr. graduated from Dawson High School in 1933, had a career with the VA, and lives in Dunwoody, Georgia

Mary Emma graduated in 1937 and moved with her Mother to Tulsa, OK in 1942.  Both are deceased.

Oliver graduated in 1940 and is associated with a nephew in the "Tin Business" in Houston and cares for his brother, Paul.


Carl W. "Tubby" Matthews Jr
POB 454 Roswell GA  30077      770 587 4350

 


I REMEMBER HUBBARD, TEXAS - J. R. PENN, BLACKSMITH

Our Family's move to Hubbard in the summer of 1939 was a move "Uptown."   Hubbard had a wide main street paved with concrete.  There were two theaters, two dry goods stores, two banks, and an elementary school...and..a high school, Buddy Tomek's Bakery, two gins, a compress, and an oil mill.  There was an ice house and a Ford Dealership.  The town had a sewer system and fresh water from three Hubbard Lakes.

And there was my favorite place to be when I had nothing else to do.   It was a long wooden building in the middle of the block facing the first street East of main street and across the alley from a two story building where Ray Jarvis operated a grain business.  The building was, probably, constructed near the time when the railroad came through in 1882 and Hubbard City was organized into a town.   Double wood swing doors permitted entry into the shop and were sufficiently wide to acommodate a large wagon.  A large shed roof extended out to the edge of the street from the swing doors and above its roof was a fading sign that announced to all that passed.......

"J. R. PENN, BLACKSMITH"

J R Penn, son of William and Mary Green Penn, was born in Georgia April 23, 1865 and died at Hubbard, Texas October 26, 1939 at the age of seventy four.   His funeral expenses, including casket, were $147.50. Wolfe & Dobson Funeral home were in charge of arrangements.   His wife, at the time of his death, was Lottie.      J R Penn was a kind and gentle and very orderly man who wore gold rimmed spectacles. He walked to work each day dressed in an immaculate a dress shirt.   His trousers were a special heavy duck and his shoes were laced high tops of heavy leather.  An old felt hat always covered his balding head.   His weekday walks began at his home which was located several houses east of Main street and on the northern most  side street of Hubbard. His route went from his home to Main Street and south to the business district.   He was a large, but very gentle man who always tipped his old hat to ladies and exchanged pleasantries with men whom he happend to meet.

When he arrived at the Blacksmith Shop his hat was hung on his small office wall and his fresh dress shirt placed on a hanger and hung nearby.    The removal of the dress shirt revealed an immaculate off white heavy long sleeved undershirt that was his work shirt for the day.   That accomplished, he donned a heavy leather apron and placed a small work cap on his near bald head.  A fresh blue or red bandana was tied about his neck.   J R Penn was, then, ready for his work day.      The double doors were swung open and carefully secured lest the wind blow them.  An ancient brass electrical connector implanted in white porcelain was closed and activated a huge electric motor some distance to the rear.  The huge motor was connected to a long axle by a long cloth belt.   Other belts were connected from the axle to the forge blower, to a large drill, to  various size stone grinders, and to a trip-hammer.   He made a small fire in the forge and as the fire began he would turn on a blower for the forge and ad pieces of coal to create an intense heat.

Many days a farmer or two would have come by the blacksmith shop long before Mr. Penn arrived and left plows to be sharpened.   Names on the plows were not often required for Mr. Penn had worked on the plows so often  he could recognize them.    Plow points needed to be sharp to cut through the black land of Central Texas and after several days of hard plowing required sharpening.    Plow points were place in the fiery forge until the steel produced a bright orange glow and  it was time for Mr. Penn to use tongs to lift them from the forge.   Mr. Penn would examine the points and, sometimes, return them to the forge for additional heating.    When the points were sufficiently heated the point was placed on a giant anvil solidly secured to the top of a portion section of a tree trunk.   Several hammers hung from the tree trunk and Mr. Penn knew exactly which hammer was required for each job.   His strong arms would begin to hammer the edges of the plow where earth and rocks had dulled  it and soon it began to show signs of sharpness.   The process was repeated until Mr.  Penn was satisfied.

There were times when Mr. Penn would use the trip hammer to pound the plows to additional sharpness. Afterwards, the plow was returned to the forge for a last time and when it produced the required orange glow Mr. Penn would remove it from the forge and plunge it into a wooden water trough located nearby.  The plunge into the water, according to Mr. Penn, was to temper the steel and make is harder.   When the plow cooled it was given a final sharpening on the large fast turning stone grinding  wheel.

Horses to be shod were tied to one of the heavy wood posts that supported the shed roof and, after greeting the horse's owner, Mr. Penn would introduce himself to the horse with careful, slow caresses and quiet talk.   Mr. Penn never moved quickly while working with horses and it seemed that the horse to be shod knew exactly what to expect.    Mr. Penn had constructed a horse shoeing box many years earlier that was showing its age, but it spoke of the planning and organizing that was part of all that Mr. Penn did.      The box was, perhaps, twenty-four inches high and on the top was a tray with compartments for different sizes of horseshoe of nails and several sharp and unusual looking knives.   There were special pliar like instruments with sharp blades to trim the hooves of horses and a heavy rasp to form the hooves into desired shapes.  There were special hammers used for no other purpose than for shoeing horses.   And, for the young horses that did not respond to the gentleness of Mr. Penn, there was a long rope with which Mr. Penn would  secure a horse and protect Mr. Penn from harm.    Mr. Penn had a special technique when using the rope that practically immobilized the horse to be shod.   And, there were tin boxes filled with salves and bottles of liquids to treat cuts and infections.

Mr. Penn would back up to a horses leg and carefully lift the horses foot between his legs until the foot rested on top of the leather apron.  Worn horseshoes, if they remained, were removed and he would carefully clean small rocks and other debris from the horses foot....sometimes, even remove a nail.   He would, then, begin to trim the foot with the sharp curved knives and use the large rasp to file the foot into a desired shape and to flatten the area where the new horseshoe would be placed.     His practiced eye usually caused him to make only one trip to the special locker located inside the shop where horseshoes were always arranged in sizes and shapes to permit Mr. Penn to quickly select the proper horseshoe for what ever horse had been brought to be shod.

When Mr. Penn returned to the horse with the new horseshoe, he would, again, lift the foot between his legs and on to the heavy leather apron to determine just how the new shoe would fit.   Usually there was some additional trimming required and, always, there was the need to custom fit the new shoe by heating the shoe in the forge and reshaping it on the anvil.     Mr. Penn would rest while the shoe was heating in the coals of the forge and on hot days he would used the bandana to wipe sweat from his face and brow.  When the shoe began to glow to a special orange color,   Mr. Penn would take the shoe from the forge with heavy steel tongs, hold it on the anvil, pick a large hammer from an assortment that hung on the side of the anvil, and began to hammer the shoe into the desired shape to fit.  Mr. Penn would lift the shoe with the tongs from time to time, return it to the anvil and pound it some more.    Sometimes, the shoe had to be returned to the forge again and again.    When the shoe was formed to the desired shape, the shoe was placed into a water trough and the water would bubble and sizzle from the heat of the shoe.

The shoe was then carefully placed on the horse's foot and nails driven through the shoe and into and through the hoof.    The nails were clipped off at a point one half inch above the hoof and the half inch bent back against the hoof to secure the shoe to the foot.    No artist ever created a great picture with more care and skill.

Midway of the building, on the south side, was a tiny restroom with a sink and toilet.   The wooden walls of the restroom were covered with the accumulation of years of forge dust but they were brushed clean from time to time and the concrete floor was swept daily.   On one wall was a picture in a gilded frame and covered with glass that had been an advertising medium for a national beer company.  The picture was "Custer's Last Stand" and the details could be given careful consideration as one occupied the porcelain throne.   I spent much time admiring the picture and often wished that I had such a picture hanging in my room at home.

J R Penn's Blacksmith Shop was an exciting place for any teenage boy, not only for the machinery, the vast assortment of hand tools, its orderliness and its antiquity, but for the man who operated the business.   When Mr. Penn took a break and sat in his favorite straight chair under the shade of the shed roof, he would use the time to tell teenage boys about life, about right and wrong , about the benefits of hard work, and the importance of respecting parents.   I came to love Mr. Penn and all that he represented.

I learned that he had raced bicycles in Hubbard in the 1890s and that Hubbard had its own Bicycle Race Track.   There were pictures and newspaper clippings of old bicycles and pictures of him sitting on his racing bicycle as a young man,  much more trim that he was in 1939.

One day I stopped by the Blacksmith Shop and several men were standing around Mr. Penn who was sitting in his chair.   His face was bleeding and his gold rimmed eyeglasses, badly bent and with one lens smashed, in his hand.   The work cap was gone from his balding head and Mr. Penn was crying.

Someone said that one of the local ruffians who had been drinking heavily had come by the Blacksmith Shop and began to start a fight with another man.     Mr. Penn could see that an altercation was in the making and walked over to intercede.     He put his arm around the local ruffian and began an attempt to persuade him to go home and leave the man alone.   The ruffian responded by striking Mr. Penn in the face, smashing his glasses into the flesh, and knocking Mr. Penn to the ground.    Some other men subdued the ruffian.  Others picked Mr. Penn from the dirt and helped him into his chair.   The Blacksmith Shop was closed and someone took Mr. Penn home.

I never saw Mr. Penn again.   A few days later, printed announcements were distributed to the businesses of Hubbard concerning funeral arrangements for Mr. Penn.    My friend had died.    Wolfe and Dobson Funeral Directors of Hubbard were in charge of arrangements.   The total cost of casket, embalming, services, hearse, etc.....$147.50.

Hubbard needed a blacksmith and a few weeks later the Blacksmith Shop reopened.  The new owner was a man from Mexia who was a good blacksmith, but he was not Mr. Penn.     I stopped by the Blacksmith Shop several times and became friends with the new owner, but the shop was never the same.   Once, I inquired of the new owner if he would be interested in selling the picture of "Custer's Last Stand."    He replied that he would take $3.00 for it...and I did not have $3.00.

I joined the Marines in August  1941 and when I came home on leave I went to the Blacksmith Shop to purchase the picture.   The new owner informed me that he had cleaned the shop several months earlier and had all the trash, including the picture, hauled to the dump.    I was crushed that he would desecrate such a great work of art.

It was 1968 and I was living in Connecticut when my wife, Elaine, mentioned that she had another Christmas Gift that had not arrived by December 25.  I had almost forgotten about the gift when one day in January I came home from work and was informed that my delayed Christmas gift had arrived.I was presented with a long mailing tube that indicated the shipment of a fishing rod.    "Why a fishing rod?" I thought to myself. "Elaine knows that I am not real keen on fishing.  Besides, I have one that Ray Boman Sanders had given me when I was in Washington, DC."

I opened the end of the tube and removed a wad of tissue.     The tube did not contain a fishing rod at all.  Instead, there was some paper object rolled inside.   When I removed the paper object, I was speechless and tears came to my eyes.   It was a copy of "Custer's Last Stand."   I had told my wife the story of Mr. Penn.  She, without my knowledge, had called Anheuser-Busch to find the picture only to be told they had sold the rights, but gave her the telephone number of the purchaser.   Elaine had fulfilled another of my dreams.    The picture, framed in some antique trim.  hangs in my office.

It was at the same time that I began collecting old hand tools....block planes, squares, wrenches, saws, chisels, shoe molds, and scales.    I remembered all the tools hanging in Mr. Penn's Blacksmith Shop.   I would have a field day with all those old tools that nobody wanted.   The next year we drove to Hubbard. My excitement ran high as we neared the city limits and I thought of that building filled with old tools.  We drove down Main Street to where the banks had been and turned east.   The Post Office had been moved.   Wynofski's Market building was gone.   The two story Jarvis Grain Building was there and we turned left...and my heart emptied.  Mr. Penn's building was gone....just bare ground remained.

I inquired among the townspeople as to what had become of all those tools and was told that a man that once worked for the new owner may have saved some.   I lost no time in searching for and finding him.  Yes, he thought he had a hammer or two that may have belonged to Mr. Penn.   He went to a shed in back of his house and returned with a strange looking hammer.   "This was one Mr. Penn's horseshoe hammers," he said.   Sure enough, it was.   The initials J R P had been stamped on the side of the hammer.   Just like Mr. Penn to stamp all his tools.   I bought the hammer and today it hangs with pride on my office wall over a tool box that was in use more than two hundred years ago.    It was found in an old Connecticut barn and was filled with all the carpenters tools.   It hangs below a brass belt buckle bearing the words "Hubbard  H S" and a Jaguar image.   The belt and buckle were purchased at Swartz Dry Goods Store in 1940 for $1.00.

I always show visitors the hammer and I always tell them the story of J R Penn and point to the picture of "Custer's Last Stand."

And....I relate how a famous artist was commissioned to pait "Custer's Last Words."  Two years of painting and the day of unveiling arrived.  A hush settled over a shocked crowd who viewed a canvas covered with a cotton field and hundred of Indians.   A large cow's head in the  upper left corner sported a gleaming gold halo.   "but what does it say...........?"

HOLY COW, WHERE DID ALL THESE COTTON PICKING INDIANS COME FROM?


Carl W "Tubby" Matthews Jr
POB 454
Roswell GA   30077      770 587 4350
February 2000


XVI
DAWSON PERSONALITIES & "CHARACTERS"

The streets of Dawson always seemed to have had more than its share of "Very Colorful Characters" who made impressions on small boys.  There was never a thought of being afraid on the streets that were always filled with friends.   Most everyone in Dawson was part of the "Extended Family."


E O "BUSTER" ZEANON, a fixture in Dawson for many years, had been a professional wrestler in his younger days.     He had married  Mary Louise Spence, a pretty lady who was a grand daughter of Brit Dawson.  The Zeanons had a beautiful daughter who name was Lucille and who died in her late teens or early twenties.    Mrs. Zeanon grieved terribly after the death of Lucille and I often  saw her at Lucille's gravesite in the Dawson Cemetery.

"Buster" had a blacksmith shop South of the railroad in the row of businesses that contained the ice house, mule barns, and Frank White's garage.  Small boys watched with amazement as he heated plow points in the glowing coals until the steel turned orange and then hammered the edges sharp.

"Buster" was always happy and always joking.. generous..and generally well liked.  He ran...and won...the position of Precinct Commissioner and served for several years.  His political placards advertised him as ..."E O Zeanon...The Farmer's Friend."  He made promises to keep bad roads passable to permit farmers to get to town.

Buster had, apparently, spent much time at the Old Brit Dawson house when he and his wife first married.  He had set up a wrestling righ on the second floor in the early teens.  My father related how he and other local boys would gather in the ring against "Buster" and "Buster" would pin them all to the mat.  I once visited Miss Nora when I was about eight and she showed me the ring...still in place as my father had described it.  Buster, in time, began spending more time at the Old Brit Dawson house where Miss Nora had lived alone.

Buster always found time to be on the streets of Dawson and he always brought his little dog, Tige.  Buster had taught Tige to perform tricks...one very naughty.   "Buster" embarrassed Henderson Culbreth one day on the Beasley corner and if "Buster" had not been so big, Henderson would have fought him.

"Buster" had also served as Constable.  Once, when we lived near Steve Hill, my Father was working nights at the Oil Mill. Times were hard and many people on welfare would go to Corsicana, the county seat, and receive boxes of food.  A man who lived across several vacant lots had come home with the food and had, also, come home drunk.  Dusk had turned into night when I was staking our cow in the vacant lot next to our house.  I heard screams coming from the house across the vacant lots and   could see shadows made by the light of the kerosene lamps of the man striking someone.

I informed my Mother of what happening and she came outside to see for herself.  The screams had increased and Mother told me to go to town and get the Marshall to come to the house and help the woman and her children.

Claue Putman was City Marshall, but some desperados were trapped on the blackland South of Dawson and there was no lawman in Dawson.  I spotted "Buster" and informed him of what I had seen.  He told me he would take care of the situation.

"Buster" immediately climbed into his '28 Chevy coupe and drove to the house.   "Buster" knocked on the door.  When it opened the man was pointing a rifle in "Buster's" face.  "Buster" knocked the rifle out of the man's hands, subdued him, and locked the man in the Dawson Calaboose.

The night was dark and I was a Fourth Grader walking back home...alone....when I came near the house where the drunkened man lived.  The house was across the railroad tracks, but I thought I heard someone coming through the weeds that grew on each side of the tracks.  My mind reacted..."That man is mad at me for turning him into the law!"  The "man" was between me and my house and there was no alternative but to turn and run.

Drainage ditches along the walk had little wood bridges...I touched not one on my race back to town.  I could see the lights of "Prick" Nelson's "filling station" and I was running hard for those lights.  I was breathless when I reached Nelson's and..Immediately fainted.  Lizzie Bell Kendrick bathed my face with her handkerchief dipped in water from the tire repair tank.  Travis Teakel and Jimmy Graham teased me about Lizzie Bell all the next week.


SIGMAN "SIG" POWELL owned the barber shop two doors west of Matthews Market and was one of my favorite people in all of Dawson.  Sig was always laughing...always playing good natured jokes on the unsuspecting...but he was at his best when he could be persuaded to sit on the iron settee in front of the barber shop (it is still there) and entertain little boys with his "Dancing Man."  Sig had made his "Dancing Man" from wood apple crates and a long stick which had been attached to the dancer.  The "man" was a loosely jointed wood frame resembling a man with little feet.  His legs and arms dangled and his face bore a painted smile.   Sig would sit on a thin board...hold the little man by the long stick until the little man's feet barely touched the thin board.  Then Sig would strike the board with rhythmic beats...hum...and the little man would begin dancing to the tune Sig was humming.

Sig died near Christmas 1932.  When we came home from our Christmas visit to Corsicana Sig had been buried and I felt a keen loss of a dear friend.  Sig was a veteran of WW I and his son, James Autrey and I often played with the helmet and gas mask he had brought home.  The Powells left Dawson soon after Sig died and I never saw them again.
WASHINGTON YOUNGER "WASH" CANNON was another of my favorites and worked behind the "Soda Fountain" at Bennie Matthews' Drug Store.  Every ounce of his body was foolishness and fun and he never met a stranger.  His rendition of a "Bronx Cheer" was something to behold...often imitated by small boys, never...duplicated.  The Yoyo craze hit Dawson one year and Wash rigged up one with the longest string in town.  He would perform at the edge of the high sidewalk in front of the drug store.  When he was finished...and he should have been on the stage.. .he would look across the street to the telephone office located above the bank and wave his hand and display a silly grin at "Central."   "Central" was the telephone operator and his cute wife, the former Bess Smith.  Wash and  Bess were always at the Baptist Church on Sunday and would often take me home with them for Sunday dinner at their home in "Frog Level."

The "Younger" in his name came from the Youngers, a family who was prominent in the history of early Spring Hill.  The story was the they were related to the notorious outlaw, Cole Younger.

Wash, later, worked for many years at the Dawson Post  Office.


UNCLE TOM FREAD was part of the older generation.  His wife, Aunt Mandy, was one of "Old" Brit Dawson girls who had first married Mr. Dickson who died.  Later she married Uncle Tom.  He spent a lot of time at Matthews Market and knew everybody in the Western part of Navarro County.  He was, also, an avid domino player and there was always some place in Dawson where older men and unemployed younger men could play the game.   Dominos was a game I had learned to play by age seven and understood it.   Some men played a complicated game called "Shoot the Moon" where money changed hands and some men said words I could not repeat at home.

Once there was a domino game in progress on the shady side of the calaboose.   Uncle Tom Fread exclaimed, "So I see said the blind man to his deaf wife."    I thought that was very funny.


XV
THE DEPRESSION YEARS

The "Crash of '29" affected the American stock market, but the ripple effect did not really reach Dawson until some time later.  Dawson and Western Navarro County had an economy centered on cotton and corn and when the prices of those commodities fell, Dawson was drastically affected.

Farmers had always borrowed money from the two banks located in Dawson to "make the crops."  They borrowed money to purchase seed, plant crops, buy some cattle and hogs and, sometime, equipment. When harvest time came the crops were sold and the farmers would "settle up" with the bank.  Whatever was left was usually spent by Christmas and the cycle would begin all over again.

Merchants operated in similar fashion.  Credit was extended to just about anyone who requested it.  Credit business was..and had always been..a way of life in Dawson.   Anyone who was responsible, who had a "good name," who came from a "good family," had always been a good credit risk.

Grocery stores, hardware stores, meat markets, etc....all had heavy ledgers...books with heavy cloth covers and leather corners and filled with high grade paper with ruled lines of blue and red and yellow. Customer names were placed alphabetically in the ledger and, as purchases were made, the sale was recorded.  Each line..under the customer name..bore the date items were purchased and the amount..usually written with a penstaff dipped in a bottle of ink

I had kept two of the ledgers from Matthews Market for years, but, unfortunately, they were destroyed when our house burned in Connecticut in 1974. I was always amazed with the cursive writing that my Daddy had used in recording these transactions.  Some early school teacher had, no doubt, instilled in him the need to write legibly and artistically.

I was aware that Dawson was experiencing "hard times," but that fact was not truly evident until the day Matthews Market closed. I had planned to stop by the Market one day after attending Miss Lockwood's second grade class.  The screen door was locked and as I peered through the screen doors...everything..was gone.  The "New" refrigerated meat case, "Buddy" Tomeck's bread case, the meat blocks, the walk in cooler, "Uncle John" Ponder's marble table, the grinder and the sharpening wheel...it was all..gone!

Many businesses in Dawson had already closed, not a few of which had burned in the process. Some families vanished into the night.  One day the children would be in school...would return to the home where they had lived for some time..go to bed.  The next morning the family would be gone.  Where?  Nobody would know.  There was nothing but an empty house that showed signs of a hasty move. They were families whose credit at the stores was exhausted and they moved on, hoping that some other place would be better than Dawson. Some children would remark that "The Owls" had "got them."

Our family moved from the house next door to Miss Katholine Edwards to one located in "Frog Level" and owned by Percy Gable.  The house was not as nice, but there was a place for the cow and there was a garden spot on the vacant lot next door. We lived there when I finally learned to tie my shoes.   Mother or Daddy always tied my shoes in the morning, but they didn't remain tied all day and I often ran around town with my shoes untied.  One day I had stopped by the Guy Davis house on South Main Street and, as usual, my shoes were untied.  Mildred Davis was sitting on the concrete steps and I asked her to tie my shoes.  She admonished me for not knowing how to perform the task and promptly taught me how to tie my own shoes.  It was one of my proudest moments in life.  I was almost seventy years old when I last thanked Mildred.

Mother and Daddy made a huge garden that was filled with potatoes, onions, carrots, beets, lettuce....and, ugh...wax beans.  We were living there when Rainbow Bread Co. in Waco..to advertize.. dropped loaves of "Light Bread" from an aeroplane.  I raced to where one of the loaves had landed and proudly carried it home.  Mother covered the slices with fresh butter and wild plumb jelly, and, with a glass of "sweet milk" ..we had a delicious supper.

The parachutes...small pieces of cloth....created quite a stir in our little town.   Everyone was talking about the event.  Wendell and Wayne Davis persuaded Reuben Travis Conner to tie the small strings to his belt and jump from the Davis's garage.   Reuben Travis was not seriously injured, but he discovered that the parachute, which served its purpose for Rainbow Bread, was not sufficient for a fifty pound boy.

Many people were out of work and jobs were not to be had.  Daddy had never worked as a "field hand" in his entire life, but when Buster Zeanon told him he would pay one dollar a day for chopping cotton, Daddy went to work.  The Johnson Grass was as tall as Daddy. He lasted one day and was sick for two or three days.  We somehow, managed.

Some of the farmers who owed money for credit given them at the Market would "Pay on the Bill" by bringing a hog which Daddy would dress and process.  The hog..or hogs..provided lard and sausage and ham for the long term and pork chops and backbone which we could eat immediately and share with others.

Mr. Jim Lee had planted a field of "Crowder Peas" just off the road to Spring Hill.  Daddy and I walked there one day and picked two sacks full.  The next day they were cooked and canned in Kerr fruit jars and stored under the bed.

Another farmer brought a wagon load of ear corn which we "shucked" and shelled by hand.  Some people had corn shellers, but we pushed each kernel from the cobs with fingers that soon blistered.  We carried the shelled corn to the blacksmith shop just north of Percy Gable's shop.  There the corn was ground into meal.  We had no money to pay for grinding and the blacksmith took a portion of the meal as payment.   He would trade the meal to someone else for something he needed.  We ate tons of cornbread.  Lunch would be   "cracklin" bread.  Supper would be cornbread crumbled into a glass of "Sweet Milk."  And..to this day...I love cornbread crumbled into  "sweet milk."

Mother was always an enterprising individual and she began to sell Avon.  She did not make much money, but a little money went a long way.  When Beasley's Dry Goods Store closed Mother gathered her few dimes and nickels and pennies and bought clothes.  She brought me a wool cap and blue wool knickers with elastic at the knees.  Those had been purchased for twenty-five cents and were for Sunday. The gray knickers..purchased for fifteen cents..had buttons at the knees and were for school.  I must have looked ridiculous with those knickers and cowboy boots and cloth cap.

Each morning I faithfully brushed my teeth with Arm & Hammer soda and a little salt.   My face was washed with water that came from a  spigot that had been run from the tin cistern through the wall and into the kitchen.  When the temperature dropped below freezing, the pipe froze solid and we were without running water, but Mother had always drawn a supply before the pipe froze.  I moistened my hair...rubbed some vaseline between my palms and on to my damp hair and slicked my hair down tight so it would stay in place all day.  I was in the third grade and had to look my best.

I never realized in those days that we were poor.  We always had electric lights and the Reznor heater burned brightly with natural gas and we were warm in winter. Food was sufficient despite being monotonous.  We had "Sunday" clothes and there always seemed to be a nickel for a Sunday newspaper.

There were poor people.  They warmed by wood stoves or fireplaces, had kerosene lamps for lighting, wore ragged clothes, and lived in run down houses.  One family dug into a clay hill in a pasture just south of town, stretched a wagon sheet over the top and lived there through, at least, one winter.

Migrant families would camp under the trees across the street from Miss Addie Fullerton where the Corsicana road went over the railroad.  Some of those families would remain for long periods of time, sometimes making crude settees and chairs and tables from willow limbs, apple boxes, and shingle nails.  They would offer them for sale or trade them for food.  Once a baby was born there in a tent...a little boy.  The family named him..Dawson.

Many automobiles were replaced with wagons and carts and with riders on horseback.   Our Blue cloth topped Cadillac had gone early and the Model T Ford delivery car finally sold for $5.00.  Our family walked wherever we went unless someone was kind enough to provide us with some means of transportation.  The walk to church on Sunday morning was always a pleasant experience. Mother would dress in her best, with Bible in hand.  Daddy would be dressed in dark trousers, white shirt, and tie.  My two sisters usually wore matching dresses that mother had made on her pedal Singer sewing machine. I had a pair of white duck trousers from Sears catalogue and shirts that Mother had made.

School seemed a long way from Frog Level and in winter the walk there was, sometimes, unbearably cold.  I was still wearing the raincoat I had worn in first grade and now..in the third grade..it was outgrown.  It was, however, a windbreak for part of my body.

When President Roosevelt closed the banks throughout the nation Dawson had two banks, but the First State Bank of Dawson never reopened.  Mr. Connor closed the "picture show."  Barbers began cutting hair for ten cents...fifteen cents if the customer wanted his neck shaved.  Daddy and I always had our hair cut by Cousin Doyle Barber and he didn't charge us anything.

Cousin Doyle and Daddy were First Cousins and had been fishing buddies for many years.   I always prayed that they would come home with some fish to interrupt the diet of red beans, fat back, and, "ugh"...wax beans.  Now and then Daddy would squirrel hunt and it was a real treat to have fried squirrel or squirrel dumplings.

Cousin Doyle and Daddy were avid bass fishermen and often did their fishing at night.   They had some fluorescent plugs that after being exposed to a flashlight in a coffee can would glow in the dark. They had very good luck with those lures.  I went with them one night when the went to fish at a stock tank near the road several miles south of Dawson.  They had, apparently, been there before and parked in a field across the road from the stock tank.  The lights on the car had been turned off before we left the road.

Cousin Doyle and Daddy fished for several hours and caught some nice bass.  They were in a good mood as we made our way back to the car...bragging about the size of the catch and how they had enjoyed the experience.  The fish were placed in a wet"towsack" and we got in the car and as the car began to move Cousin Doyle stopped.  He commented that we had a flat tire.  Sure enough, it was flat.   He and Daddy put on the spare, we climbed in the car, started to move, and Cousin Doyle said we had another flat.  Sure enough, the second tire was as flat at the first.  That repair required considerable effort...removing the tire, locating the hole, putting on a "Cold Patch," and pumping the tire full of air.

Those two fishermen who had been a good mood earlier in the night were now "fit to be tied."  They checked the area for something that could have caused the punctures..walking down the path with the flashlight  There it was...carefully covered with the sandy soil.  The farmer had driven many nails in a large board and place it..nails up..across the road.  We were gone quickly..and the board with the nails went with us..for several miles.

Family recreation was visiting at night on the porch of some neighbor.  My favorite place was the porch of "Uncle Henry" Dawson who lived two doors south.   "Uncle Henry" played the fiddle and his son, Ned, played guitar.   Nobody on our street had a radio, but we enjoyed the musicals..and..they were free. The duet would render "Over the Waves," "Under the Double Eagle," "My Wild Irish Rose" and such.  Between numbers they would tune their instruments and comment upon the "keys" in which they were to play...similar to the interlude of station breaks and commercials on television,

The house north of us was next to Buster Zeanon's blacksmith shop and families moved in and out of there without our ever knowing who they were.  We never had anything to do with them.  One of those neighbor children hooked with a long wire one of Mother's Rhode Island Red hens that had strayed in their backyard  The mother came out, pulled the head off and took it into the house.  Mother didn't do anything about it and said they were probably hungry and needed the hen worse than we did.

Mrs. John Lee lived across the street from us.  She had married "Uncle John" Lee after his first wife had died and, soon after we moved there, "Uncle John" died.  Mrs. Lee had her nephew to come stay with her and help with the chores and I was glad to have him to play with.  He was several years older than I...and he knew how to cuss.  He was, also, adept at making what he called "Niggershooters."  I was grown before I realized that the term had a racial connotation. They were made of a forked limb of a tree, two pieces of rubber inner tube, some string, and the leather tongue from an old shoe.  There was a bend in the branch behind Mrs. B, W. D. Hill's house that was filled with pebbles.  It was there we played "war."  Never lost an eye...but we did accumulate some serious bumps on the head.

Several boys from the Frog Level neighborhood played in the group and included the Gardner boys, Duward Burns, etc.   One day we were "fishing" at Dr. Hill's stock when a sudden thunder shower came upon us.   The closest shelter was the gin and all boys ran for the see house.  I was barefoot and the "goathead" vines covered the pathway.  The other boys made it to the see house, but I was stalled in the goathead stickers and was drenched by the rain.  And..when I arrived at the see house I was cold.   Mrs. Lee's nephew had me strip naked and the boys buried me in the dry seed.   When my clothes were dry we returned to our fishing.

A Mr. Biffle and a Mr. Grape set up a skating rink in a building across from the Dawson Lumber Co.  The building had been used as an automobile dealership, but the business had closed.  Livey Berry was hired to keep order.  He was a good skater.  I couldn't skate at all.  Besides that, I didn't have money.  Mr. & Mrs. Biffle and their little boy took rooms with Mrs. Lee who lived across the street from us and I began to take care of the little boy when Mrs. Biffle ran errands.  My pay was free skating at the rink.  My cousins, Buck and Fred Jr. Matthews were skating when I first entered the rink...clutching the wood rail that surrounded the rink.  Suddenly, they each caught one of my arms and around the rink we went.

They released me when we completed the turn I skated...in amazement...until I abruptly ran into the rail at the far end of the rink.  I didn't know how to turn or stop. My cousins, laughing, repeated the process several times and by the end of the night I was skating on my own.

The skating rink did well for several months and when business declined Mr. Biffle organized several dances on weekends.  Dancing..in any form in Dawson was a church "NO NO".  The rink closed after one or two dances that ended in near drunken brawls.

One or two "Medicine Shows" would come to Dawson each year and that was a real break from the usual entertainment.  Most times they would set up behind the fire station, but one year a real "Oklahoma Indian" Medicine Man set up south of the railroad across from the Magnolia oil tanks.  That was "real" excitement!   They had a "Talent Show" with different performers each night.   Freddie Dawson, "Uncle Henry's" grandson, was one of the first..and he was good  In fact, when the Medicine Show left he went with them to play in their band.

One of the other "talents" was a tall red haired girl with crossed eyes who sang acapella.  She belted out a song I had never heard before..nor have I heard it since.   Some words were,
"I'm gonna hitch my ladder to a silver star..and climb with you..
and my old guitar...yo-de-laaaay-dee...a-laaaay-de...a-lay-de!" She was awful!

  Submitted by Carl W Matthews, Jr.


Navarro County TXGenWeb
Copyright March, 2009
Edward L. Williams & Barbara Knox