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Stories Archives for 2017-07

Call Me A Taxi


 

The comedian Don Rickles used to have a joke – “Call me a taxi.  OK, you are a taxi..”  It was usually good for a few laughs.  However, if you are in need of a taxi around these parts you are out of luck.  All this reminds me of an incident that happened back in 1987 to my wife, Clara.
 
She was working at First National Bank at the time as a secretary.  One day she received a telephone call from a computer company in Houston. It seems that Mr. Edward Clark, the owner of the bank, had decided that the bank needed a new computer system. The computer people were flying to San Augustine the next day in a private jet. They would be landing at the San Augustine airport, she reported.  The conversation went something like this:
 
Clara: “Do you know what time your people will arrive?  We will have someone meet them.”
Secretary:  “Oh, don’t worry.  I’ll get them a rental car at the airport.”
Clara: “But, we don’t have rental cars here.”
Secretary: “That’s ok, they can get a taxi to downtown.”
Clara: “Well, we don’t have any taxi service here.”
Secretary: (a pause while thinking) - Then the pilot can call the bank from the airport. 
Clara: “Sorry, again, but there is not a telephone at the airport.”
Secretary: “Gosh, guess I’ll have to find out exactly what time to meet them.”
Clara: “That’s good, and I will have someone there early to shoo the cows off the runway so they can land.”
 
I can recall on several occasions in the early fifties having ridden in a taxi from down town to our home on Hwy 147 north.  I believe the cost was about 25 cents.  So, there was a taxi service at one time in the past.
 
The records show that in October of 1940, a new taxi service was opened in San Augustine.  Mr. Maurice Armstrong and S. O. Hall opened a taxi service.  The day office was phone 215, which was the Justice of Peace office.  Apparently Mr. Armstrong was also the JP.  The night phone number was 214, his residence.
 
In May of 1946, Mr. Dick Renfro purchased Armstrong taxi service, and began serving the city and county.
 
Records indicate that in 1947 Hall’s Taxi service was opened.  They could be reached at phone number 282.  The taxi office was located on the corner of Nay Carter’s service station.  Tiller’s Tax Service is now located there.
 
In 1948 Mr. W. R. Pinkston opened up a taxi service, located in front of the Stripling Drug Store building.  The phone number was 300.
 
Mr. Maurice Armstrong opened up the Yellow Cab Company in February of 1951 with three taxi cabs.  They were located next to the White Auto Store.  The phone number for a taxi was 2200.  This undoubtedly was the taxi service that I used several times as a young teenager.
 
In 1953 Mr. Woodrow Thacker opened up a taxi service, located on the Miller Mathews corner, which is now Mills’ Hardware Company on the north side of the square.  Their phone number was 2707.  It would appear from the records that Mr. Thacker operated the last taxi service here, but they do not show when the business was closed down. I do know that there has not been a taxi service here in many years.  Perhaps there is still a need for this and some enterprising individual will provide this service once again.  
 
At one time in its history, the City of San Augustine had a city bus service.  As a youngster, I can remember seeing a green bus making its rounds throughout the city.
 
In October of 1945, the city granted a two-year franchise for bus service  to Mr. R. T. Nutt.  A route was mapped out which guaranteed a round trip every thirty minutes.  The bus started its route on the Bland Lake road in Sunset over to the prisoner of war camp north of town.  This route included stops at all city schools, and all major intersections in downtown.
 
The route included Columbia Street from Sunset east of town to Livingston Street to the prison camp and Sunset.  The cost of a ride was five cents.  Mills-Brumer Grocery, one block north on the Center highway, advertised “The city bus stops at our store every thirty minutes”.
 
This bus service apparently was short lived.  No further references past 1945 can be located.
 
Cell phones have replaced pay telephones, and we still don’t have rental cars or taxis at the airport.  I am not sure about cows on the runway.
 
 

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Chigger Fighter


 

The worst thing about the East Texas summer isn’t sunburn, heat or humidity – its chiggers.  They were commonly called “red bugs” when I was growing up during the 1940’s and 1950’s.  There were times when I went fishing and the next day those annoying red bumps began to appear on my legs and torso.  Then the itch began, and grew in intensity.  From my feet and ankles upward, and especially at those tender locations my mother told me not to scratch in public, the maddening itch took hold.  The itch would last for days, and even weeks.  There was not much one could do to relieve the itch but grin and bear it.
 
I knew a man, an unusual man, who seemed to be immune to these juvenile forms of a mite, akin to a tick.  His name was Ben Woods, my uncle.  When my father’s sister, Margaret, married Ben, he was a candy salesman in the late 1930’s.  Uncle Ben worked for a candy company.  He would load his car trunk with all types of candy and traverse the dusty country roads of East Texas and western Louisiana.  Aiming for small communities in the back woods, he would park his vehicle under a tree and honk his car horn repeatedly.  Kids showed up in abundance to purchase his nickel candy, and earn a chance to try their luck at a punch card.  If they punched out the right hole they could win even more candy or other prizes.   He never seemed to attract any chiggers while working the back roads.
 
In the late 1940’s Uncle Ben got a job with the Texas Highway Department, the perfect job for him.  His task was to search for gravel on private land that the department could lease from the owner then use it in new road construction or maintenance.  This required Uncle Ben to roam through the forests of East Texas, parts of which required a machete to get through.  Day after day he searched for gravel, often finding Indian arrowheads and other relics of the past.  Still, he never seemed to be bothered by those small, red pests.
 
Perhaps he knew something that I did not know about them.  One day I asked Uncle Ben a question, “What do you use to keep the chiggers off you?”   He looked at me, a cigarette hanging from his lips, and chided me, “Well, son, it’s simple - bacon grease.”  Surprised at his answer, I replied, “Are you kidding?  Bacon grease?  Just how does that work?”  He flipped the ashes off his cigarette, put his hand on my young shoulder, and explained, “What you do is smear bacon grease from your ankles up past your knees, a real good coat of it.”  Was he kidding, or serious?  I could not determine.  “So, do the chiggers not like the smell or something?” I queried.
“Nope, it works like this.  When the tick or chigger starts to climb up your leg he can’t get any traction, and simply slides back down.  After a while it just gives up and jumps off.”
 
As a youngster I figured that this advice had to be real.  After all it was from a man who practically lived in the thickets.  I actually tried it a few times but stopped when my mother loudly complained about my greasy pants, and her lack of bacon grease to cook with.  I think I finally figured out his secret – he used powdered sulphur, called sublimed sulphur.
 
Chiggers hate sulphur and definitely avoid it.  Available at most pharmacies, it works well when it is dusted around the opening of your pants, socks, and boots.  Some people rub on a mixture of half talcum powder and half sulphur on their legs, arms and waist.
 
I recently asked a local surveyor the same question I asked Uncle Ben so many years ago.  He told me that he uses ordinary flea and tick collars usually seen on dogs.  They are placed around his ankles and thighs, according to him, and they keep the ticks and chiggers off.  I wonder if that is an “Uncle Ben” answer?  What do you think?
 

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About Cedar Trees


 

The house that I grew up in was surrounded by six or seven large cedar trees.  I never paid them much attention during my early days, except that they smelled good and my dad was allergic to them.
 
It occurred to me one day recently that most of the very early settlers’ homesteads were surrounded by cedar trees.  Even today walking through the hills of East Texas one can spot a former homestead by the presence of an old curbed well and cedar trees.  The question came to me as to why the early settlers planted cedar trees all around their property.  Did they serve a useful function, and if so, what was it?  The cedar is not native to East Texas.
 
Over the years my mom and dad cut down the sturdy cedar trees surrounding their house one by one.  I never knew why they did this.
 
The cedar is a large evergreen tree which will usually grow to a height of up to fifty feet, a few can reach one hundred or more feet.  They are common in forest areas that have a good deal of annual rainfall.  They seem to prefer moist soil with limestone beneath it.  The cedar trees often live a long time, some as long as two hundred years.  One reason is that the wood of cedar trees is very resistant to disease.  Another reason is that the natural oils in the wood are toxic to insects and fungus.  This oil does not fully develop in young trees which often leads to the rotting of the red heartwood  of the tree.  This results in mature trees that have hollow trunks which make great homes for animals.
 
It seems that native Americans were fond of the cedar tree.  They were used to hollow out a canoe.  The wood of cedars was used also used to make weapons, boxes, bowls, and baskets.  The bark of the cedar tree was used to make blankets, capes, and costumes.  It was also an excellent source of fuel.
 
I can recall that my parents and grandparents had real “cedar chests” in which they stored valuable linen and woolens.  The cedar scent kept moths and silverfish from entering the chest.  Most closets were lined with cedar for the same purpose.  I recall hanging wallpaper in closets of homes in the fifties.  The wallpaper was manufactured to look like cedar planks. It contained the cedar smell which lasted for years.  When you opened your closet door you were met with a pleasant cedar aroma.
 
Cedar fence posts were a favorite of our ancestors.  The red center of the wood resisted rotting and insects.  Even today while exploring an old homestead you might stump your toe on the remnant of a cedar post.  Today’s pencils are still made of cedar wood.
 
So, I have to speculate that our founding fathers knew much about the benefits of having cedar trees surrounding their modest homes.  Someone has stated that our ancestors believed that if you planted a young cedar tree, by the time it was grown it would provide a shade for your final resting place.
 
Cedar trees do make a great addition to any landscape.  The evergreen foliage adds color year round.  The beautiful fragrance of the wood wafts on the breeze.  The branches make excellent locations for bird and squirrel nests. Cedar trees look magnificent towering over the land as a single tree, or bunched together in clusters of several trees.  I think our forefathers were pretty smart, don’t you?
 
 

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Laddie


 

 
Autumn in East Texas is quite colorful.  The year 1952 was no different, with the trees changing to their vivid colors, mornings getting cool, and sometimes with fog mingled in.  My brother-in-law, Robert Crosby, was a barber by trade.  He loved animals, and loved to hunt and fish.  
 
One of Robert’s pets was a large dog with the name Laddie.  He was a mix of German shepherd and Collie, tan in color.  He was easy to train, and had been taught a number of doggie tricks by Robert.
 
We decided to go on an overnight camping trip on the Sabine River in East Texas.  The river had carved out a high bluff at this particular point, at least thirty feet high.  Robert picked out a level spot to pitch our tent, and build a fire.  Laddie, now around eighteen months old, was with us on his first outing of this kind.
 
The three of us spent the night inside the tent after cooking bacon and eggs on the camp fire for supper.  Nothing smells quite as good as bacon frying in an old iron skillet, and frying eggs in the bacon grease.  We had set a number of hooks, “set hooks” as they were called, along the bank of the river in hopes of catching a catfish during the night.
 
Early the next morning, it was cool and a heavy fog encompassed our camp site.  We decided to “run the hooks” before breakfast to see if we had snared any cat fish during the night.  Laddie was running and barking through the woods, enjoying himself to the limit. Then the unexpected happened.
 
Laddie was headed straight for the bluff with his head held high smelling the many aromas of the woods.  I looked at Robert, and he yelled out to Laddie to “stop”.  The young dog kept going, ignoring the warning.  Laddie walked right off the cliff and fell the thirty feet to the river waters below.
 
Had he survived the fall?  Robert ran downstream to a place that he could climb down safely to the waters below.  There he found Laddie, wet and frightened, but unharmed.  They were both able to climb back up to the top without incident, Laddie probably having learned a good lesson that day.
 
Robert joined the Texas Highway Patrol about six months later.  He was shot and killed in the line of duty on November 24, 1954.  My sister, Evelyn, moved back to my parent’s home, and naturally brought Laddie with her. I adopted him as my own, but he missed his master.  He would never perform any of his “tricks” again for me.
 
I went off to college and Laddie disappeared one day and was never seen again.  The river bluff is now under water having been swallowed up by the massive Toledo Bend Lake.  But the memory of both still remains with me, and I have a few photos which help.
 

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