The Life and Times of Roy Strain Part 3
The banana story was probably Papaw’s second favorite “olden days” story. He was six or seven years old when his father took the family to either Hamilton or Comanche for their weekly shopping trip. They traveled by covered wagon.
During the summers before World War II when I was often left with the Strains or Fuquas for weeks at a time, the weekly trip into town was still a part of the farming tradition. The whole family went to the county seat or the largest town within traveling range.
Each member of the family had an agenda of their own. The father had lists of tools and equipment to purchase or repair; the mother had a long list of groceries and sewing needs to purchase or order and the children had their list too. The children’s list usually included an ice cream soda at the soda fountain in the local Drug Store, an afternoon spent in the movie theatre; most towns had only one “picture show” and then a trip to the local “five and dime” store to spend the remaining fifteen cents of the weekly allowance or payment for work in the fields or with livestock. Chores were free, you didn’t get paid for them.
One memorable weekend our first item on the list was a trip to the local “five and dime” store where they were selling toy “pistols” or “six shooters” that were exact replicas of the weapons used by Tom Mix, Hoot Gibson, Charles Starrett, Hop-a-Long Cassidy and hero of heroes, Gene Autry. These cost every bit of forty or fifty-nine cents each and we had to save the money before going into town. We arrived; their stock was in; my cousins Bobby Wayne, Gene Tunney and I all bought “six shooters”. What a marvelous day that was. Later we would get holsters and cartridge belts to wear and carry our “six shooters” in. In the weeks to come our games of “cowboys and Indians” or “cowboys and outlaws” would be much enhanced by having those exact replicas. I can remember just sitting and looking at my hand holding that gorgeous piece of weaponry. Aestheticism was born in me during one of those moments.
Papaw’s story goes back a whole generation to a time when there were no toy “six shooters”, no movie houses and no soda fountains. Theirs was a trip to buy cloth for dresses and shirts, buttons, thread and staples like flour, coffee and sugar. A trip to the blacksmith shop might be in order for the repair of some piece of iron equipment. A horse might have been tied behind wagon and then taken to the blacksmith for the application of a shoe two.
The weekend that Papaw tells of was unusual in that Grandpa Strain made a very rare purchase. He bought a whole stalk of bananas. Now where a whole stalk of bananas came from is a question in my mind to this day. Bananas are known for their short shelf life and their defiance of preservative methods such as cold storage is well known. These bananas had to have come in on a steamer from South or Central America and been carted by wagon to Hamilton. That should have exhausted the shelf life.
The fact is that there was a stalk of bananas, they were within the range of Grandpa Strain’s budget. Maybe this was the weekend that he got his “cotton” money. Maybe the Mercantile store was closing out the bananas at a record low price because of the tell-tale brown streaks beginning to appear on the yellow outer peel. Maybe, just maybe Grandpa Strain spent some time with a friend who had a bottle of whiskey. This may have been the first bananas that Papaw had ever seen. Whatever the facts, one fact is certain, Papaw loved the taste of the bananas and had been given no admonition as to the number he could eat.
The wagon left either Comanche or Hamilton as Papaw, the seven year old “Strain kid” began to peel and eat bananas. Papaw remembers that over long stretches in the road he could look back and see a trail of banana peels. I'm sure he had a little help from brothers and sisters, but Papaw remembers eating all the bananas. By the time the gap in the mountains, known as Indian Gap, was visible all the bananas were gone and Papaw was one sick little seven year old boy.
I just solved the problem of whether this happened in Comanche or Hamilton. It had to have been Hamilton, because returning from Comanche the gap in the mountain would not have been visible before they arrived at the “Strain Place”. The bananas were purchased in Hamilton, for sure.
Papaw was ninety one years old before he ever ate another banana. A few times he would eat a small helping of banana pudding as long as there was a lot of sugar in it and lots of vanilla wafers and not too many slices of banana. One thing is for sure. We know of one week in the life of George Roy Strain during which his potassium level was normal or perhaps above.
With the help of Margaret Belken, we’ve painted a picture of Papaw the scoundrel. Now we will look at Papaw the fighting man.
Papaw was usually a “hail fellow, well met”, whatever that means, and much preferred to laugh, visit, tell stories and play board games than to argue about religion or politics. There are only two exceptions to this rule that I’m aware of.
Papaw had a gold tooth. He loved to smile and show it. Babies loved to reach out and touch it. Women were fascinated by it. Memaw would have modified that to “women of questionable reputation” were fascinated by it.
The story was never told in detail, but Papaw lost his right front tooth playing basketball with the basket ball coach in High School at Indian Gap. Papaw would smile and you knew things turned out alright for him, but it seems the new coach took exception to Papaw’s reputation for expertise on the basketball court and began to develop a “one on one” competition during a practice session. The coach was probably only a few years older than Papaw himself. Remember, school teachers were apt to have only a High School education themselves.
I have no idea if the basketball coach sustained injuries of his own. There is no record that tells if the tooth was dislodged by an elbow or a knuckle. Whether or not Grandpa Strain took any action against the young basketball coach is unknown; Grandpa Strain was a power in the community having sold the land for the school to the School District for fifty dollars an acre “to be used for the purpose of education”.
Papaw and his half brother, Logan, would later talk of taking legal action to return the land to the Strain family because it was no longer being used for “purposes of education”. Nothing ever happened because their attention span never seemed to reach beyond after dinner “bull sessions” at the annual family reunion.
Whatever the unknown details, one thing is perfectly clear: Papaw wore his gold tooth as if it were the Congressional Medal of Honor.
The second record of Papaw as a fighter happened when I was in Junior High School. The year was around 1939 or 1940. Papaw was selling cars for Gulf Chevrolet and we were living at 1912 Morgan St. in Corpus Christi, Texas. I was laying on the bed in Memaw’s sewing room, probably reading a book when Papaw came in the front door. I didn’t see him, but I heard Memaw say, “Roy, what happened?”
Then I saw that Papaw had a bruised cheek and swollen lip. Then Papaw gave Memaw the answer that was an ongoing joke at the time. “You oughta see the other guy”.
The other guy was Ed Couch (I’m guessing at part of this name) who was also a car salesman for Gulf Chevrolet. It seems that each salesman was scheduled specific hours and days of the week to work the car lot. At this time they would meet “prospects” coming to the lots and show them the various cars for sale. Once contact was made the prospect became their property and even if another salesman “closed the deal”, the original salesman got the commission.
Ed Couch being a smart fellow and knowing that the sales office was a little hut way in back of the car lot, would park his car on the street and watch for new prospects coming to the lot. This was, of course, done at times other than his assigned time on the lot. As soon as he saw a person enter the lot on foot, he would jump out of his car and beat the salesman from the office to the prospect and begin questioning them as to what kind of car they were interested in. If the “on duty” salesman came on up to the front of the lot, Ed Couch would say this was one of his prospects and “I’m meeting them here“. The prospect had no idea what was going on so never said a word.
Papaw knew what was going on and didn’t confront Ed until one day Ed jumped out of his car and claimed a prospect that Papaw had already established and the prospect confirmed that he was dealing with “Roy Strain” to buy a car. Ed angrily stormed back to his car, not being a person who liked to lose a sale for another salesman. Hey folks! This was the tail end of The Great Depression and money was often life itself, especially where medical attention was involved. Doctors did a lot of free work, but hospitals were not so generous. Money was quite often life itself.
After the prospect left the lot, Papaw confronted Ed and in the process called him a “Wolf”. In our day I would imagine the label would have been more colorful. Ed Couch, feeling his honor had been tarnished, “took a poke” and caught Papaw a glancing blow to the cheek and lip. That’s the last punch Ed Couch got in, according to Papaw.
Ed Couch was taller than Papaw, had a much longer reach and was slender whereas Papaw was fat. Papaw was about five feet ten inches tall and weighed just over two hundred and fifty pounds. But Papaw knew something, possibly from his basketball days, that he taught me.
If the other fellow is taller than you and has a longer reach, don’t try to stay outside his reach zone. You’ll just exhaust yourself and when you tire and begin moving more slowly, you’ll be fair game for his reach advantage. Move quickly in close and then begin to pummel him with blows to anywhere you can reach. Since you’re shorter, don’t depend on knuckle contact alone; use the heel of your fist on the nose and chin. A few good blows usually “knocks the fight” out of your opponent.
In street fighting, the Marquis of Queensbury is still waiting to hear the fat lady sing, if you’ll permit a garbled metaphor. Tall skinny guys often have limited stamina; God help you if you try to outlast a tall skinny guy who runs track or plays basket ball. Ed Couch did neither and was a two pack a day smoker.
After the one swing that did not “knock the fight out” of Papaw, he moved in on Ed and began to pound on him with rapid blows to the body and face. Ed might have gotten in one last blow that Papaw doesn’t remember; his injury suggested two blows. Ed went down, not to get up for a while and never did come to the car lot when he wasn’t on duty.
Papaw’s answer to Memaw when she asked, “What happened, Roy?” After stating that Memaw should see the other guy, Papaw explained “I had to “beat the shit” out of Ed Couch”. This was still during the “scoundrel” years. I was proud of my father. My mother objected to the word “shit”; she and the Apostle Paul would have chosen “dung” or prhaps manure”.
When I was in Grade School in Aransas Pass, I was a Christian Hero “want to be” and believed in always opening doors for girls and ladies, letting them go first in all things and protecting and defending them to the best of my ability. I walked to and from Grade School every day. It was about five blocks to our house which at that time was just across the street from the Old Telephone Building. There was a little stunted, sickly kid who rode a “kiddy car” to school and had a cute older sister. Other kids picked on him and hit him and on the walk to and from school he was almost always crying because someone had done something to him.
On this particular day, I must have been well entrenched in my “super-ego” image of myself, because I went over to him and asked who had done something to him. The corners of my eyes were watching for approbation from the cute sister. The little brat just cried harder and told me to go away and called me a “son of a bitch”. I reached out and touched his chin. I did not hit him. But from the roar of the engine in the twelve cylinder, four door Buick down the road, I realized that to his father it looked like I had hit his son. The father was on patrol to catch whoever was picking on his little boy. The look in the sister’s eyes told me she was not going to support my contention that I didn’t hit her brother. I immediately abandoned my “super-ego” and sprung into alter-ego-self-preservation-mode and beat the Buick by half a block in a three block sprint for my house. I was later to learn that the father was a well known “professional” wrestler who exhibited his skill every Thursday night in the upstairs arena over several stores downtown.
While this was going on, Papaw had come home from the car lot and was “chopping” liver for dinner. In those days we got up and ate breakfast; at noon we had dinner and at night we ate supper. Liver was sold in thick chunks at that time and had to be tenderized; chopping it with a butcher knife was the easiest way. Papaw made quite a spectacle as he stood there at the counter with a butcher knife in his hand and blood up to his wrist. The other hand was bloody as well from holding the liver in place.
At about this instant I flew into the front door and in one single motion went out the back door. The irate wrestler father began pounding on the front door and “bless his heart”, Papaw came to the door still carrying the knife in his bloody hand. In an instant the wrestler became docile and civilized, almost groveling as he explained to Roy that he was having trouble with some boys who were picking on his son before and after school and he believed that I was one of the offenders.
Papaw assured him that this was not my usual nature, but he would check into it and appropriate action would be taken if it were determined that I was one of the offenders. The wrestler thanked “Roy” profusely and left. Memaw and Papaw believed me and I promised to “go the other way” if I even saw the wrestler’s son again.
Papaw was apt to do things on a finely honed inner-computer much like the system that gets butterflies from North America to Mexico. On a particular day when I was about six years old, Papaw decided it was time for me to learn to swim. He put me in the car along with some six foot fishing poles and we drove out the long narrow sandy road that leads to Ransom Island. Ransom Island is truly an island and the road is simply sand dredged up to make a long winding snake of a road with bay water on both sides.
About half way from the mainland to the island we stopped and papaw got out and got one of the fishing poles and handed the other one to me. We began to wade into the shallow water and then I learned what the fishing poles were for. Stone and blue crabs were in epidemic numbers and mammoth proportions along the shallows of the waters of Aransas Pass and the poles were used to “shoo them away” as we waded out. The Problem was when you got much over ankle deep you couldn’t see the bottom, but just had to poke your stick around and trust that God would not develop a sense of humor.
Once out to a depth of about navel high on Papaw and neck high on me, Papaw begin to teach me to float. The moment my feet left the bottom, I felt better. In fact, I had no desire to do anything but continue floating. At first he held the back of my head in one hand and instructed me to keep my head back and then relax and let my body take a natural position, which was a sort of lazy “S” shape with waist and knees bent slightly. I learned to float on the first try. Stone and blue crabs are great motivators.
Then he taught me to “dog paddle” with head held well back and arms and legs churning. Once I learned to let my chin go partly into the water I had it conquered. Within a matter of twenty or thirty minutes I had learned to swim. Papaw having fulfilled his purpose started for the shore. I let him keep my pole and decided to “dog paddle” to the shore. A few minutes of this brought me to the realization that when I got nearer the shore, not my feet, but my knees and elbows (concern for my pubic area surfaced at this time) would be the first contact with the sandy bottom. Sandy bottom was equated with running, crawling, growling, sneering, pinching stone and blue crabs.
I put out the cry for my pole and although Papaw was a considerable distance ahead of me, he realized my dilemma and brought the pole back to me. The trip was over and I was a proud new swimmer.
To my knowledge all kids in Aransas Pass knew how to swim. In third grade the rites of passage into “big boy” status was to swim the boat channel where Dorothy Symons was murdered. When we swam the channel we never thought about the murder.
I remember the day I decided to try for the channel. I swam it with no problem; dog paddling was still my default swimming stroke. Stopping to rest on the spoil bank where Dorothy’s body had been buried with sand and shells never evoked a single thought of her. I know I’ve told this story before, but I’m old and old people repeat themselves. Hey, it’s the law. I swam back without event and again was proud that Papaw had taken me on that trip out the Ransom Island Road.
One more childhood memory goes back to preschool days when Memaw was running a dressmaking shop and Papaw was selling cars. Papaw believed he had to drink to sell cars and Memaw believed that drinking was a sin whether it was to sell cars or not. Strangely enough at that time the church of Christ in Aransas Pass used real wine in the communion trays instead of the usual Welch’s Grapejuice. Since it was the will of the elders of the Aransas Pass church of Christ, Memaw found no inconsistency whatever. The Bible instructed individual Christians to “obey” the Elders in all things.
I guess in an attempt to discourage Papaw’s drinking Memaw frequently sent me to work with Papaw. That seems so completely inappropriate as I think back on it. These forays with Papaw were fraught with adventures for me and most certainly inconveniences for him. Memaw had taught me to be truthful and as a result I only lied when I was absolutely sure I could get away with it.
One day when I was with Papaw he was showing a car to a prospect who was a farmer and of course had experience with tractors and internal combustion engines. They were deep into exchanges of gear ratios, belt tensions and possible revolutions per minute, when I bent down and noticed a few drops of oil were falling from the engine to the pavement. Thinking Papaw would be proud of me, I raised up and announced that the car was leaking oil. Both men quickly bent down and confirmed that the some oil was indeed visible on the pavement. Papaw allowed that the mechanic who serviced the vehicle had probably overfilled the crank case and pointed out the “iron clad” guarantee that went with the car. The farmer either had no intention of buying that day, or was convinced this was a defective machine. He went away without buying and after certain explanations were made to me, I agreed to leave the selling of cars to Papaw. I was very surprised that Papaw did not compliment me on my honesty. Some days you’re the statue....as the saying goes. We look forward to the “pigeon” days.
At other times when I was with Papaw I remember having to stay in the car while he went into some building or other. On Ransom Island there was such a building with no name on it, but maybe a Pearl or Grand Prize beer sign nailed up on the outer wall near the entrance. At the Bohemia Club out in the sand hills west-northwest of Aransas Pass there were not only beer signs but often very pretty ladies standing outside the front door, but I knew I’d get in trouble if I got out of the car and went in. The car was hot, but so was the inside of the Bohemia club and the car was parked under live oak trees so I was never in any degree of discomfort. I just wanted a piece of the action as I perceived it at age five.
One day Papaw pulled the car into an angle parking space just south of Dubose Drug Store on Commercial Street and got out to go into some business along the way. Two gorgeous ladies came up to the car and asked if I were Roy Strain’s boy and I affirmed proudly that I was. They were so pretty and laughing and telling me what a fine man my father was. They told me they were going to the movie and asked me to go with them. I was really excited but was afraid Memaw would never agree to this and was hoping that Papaw would be in an expansive mood and let me go anyway without consulting with Memaw.
I told them I’d have to ask my Daddy when he got back, so they waited and when Papaw arrived, for some reason he didn’t seem all that excited and pleased that the ladies were there. I was absolutely crushed when he said that I definitely could not go to the movies with the ladies. My guess is that the ages of these ladies were eighteen or nineteen.
This triggers another memory involving the movie theatre in Aransas Pass. I went to the movies at least once a week. The saddest day of my life was my twelfth birthday when I had to pay more money to get in.
Anyway, I was sitting alone in the center aisle close to the front. It was early on a Saturday afternoon, the theatre was only about a twenty percent occupied when two girls came up to me from opposite directions. Movies at that time were very dark, in fact you had to stand for some time inside the entrance to let you eyes become accustomed to the darkness before you could see enough to find a seat. The two girls who were several years older than me sat on opposite sides of me and one held my hands while the other tried to unbutton my fly. Yes, flies were buttoned, not zipped, in those days.
Did I tell you that Memaw was a seamstress. She sewed almost everything that I wore. She even sewed my Aransas Pass Band uniform. When Memaw sewed, she sewed to last. Straps sewed to go under the feet to prevent riding britches from riding up on your legs (maybe this is why they’re called “riding” britches) were so strong that they could leave one in pain for the last four hours of a school day. At bedtime after a day in riding britches I still had a red whelp marks across the bottoms of my feet.
Well, the girls were unable to get my fly open, so I have no idea what my fate might have been. After a few seconds of trying to get the buttons unbuttoned and me offering respectable resistance without actually discouraging them too much, they giggled and ran off to other seats. I stayed in the same seat, but they never came back. In fact, they never came back at subsequent visits to the theatre either. I looked for them often and was a bit disappointed as well as apprehensive about their brashness. Did I tell you that Aransas Pass was tough little fishing village.
Papaw and Sid Snyder bought a motor launch together while I was still in Grade School in Aransas Pass. I think Snyder Motor Co. took it in as a partial down payment on a car and Papaw and Sid got it for a very low price. Papaw was to keep the hull tight and in shape and Sid, who was a mechanic, was to keep the eight cylinder Buick engine running smoothly. The boat was long, with good lines and looked very much like the motor launch in the final scenes of the movie Some Like It Hot.
Papaw’s days as a yachtsman were limited. I was never permitted to ride in the boat, which I resented deeply. One day was especially hard to understand. Papaw took me to the pier where the boat was tied and made me stay on the pier while he took the boat on a leisurely run down the boat channel. I was crushed. I heard him say at another time that the engine was too powerful for the hull and that running the boat at full throttle would break the seams apart, so I’m sure he was afraid of the boat sinking with me aboard. Life jackets? I don’t even know where you could buy them at that time other than a ship chandler’s store. The closest would have been Corpus Christi.
I was never to ride in that boat. After one storm, I was with Papaw when we drove down to the pier at the South end of the boat channel and could see the motor launch clearly beneath the cloudy waters of the dredged channel. The boat was probably left where it sank.
This channel was also where the church of Christ brought new “converts” to be baptized. However, some of the elders felt that the channel did not qualify as “running” water which was the only type of water mentioned in the Bible, therefore the only acceptable kind for baptismal purposes. I wonder how many hundreds of people will be writhing in Hell as a result of being baptized in this unacceptable water.
Many of the churches began to build huge tanks behind the pulpits in their auditoriums. A painting of a river running into the tank would be painted on the back wall of the “baptistry” and the faucet would be left “running” to achieve that biblical requirement. Thank God all the people baptized in these tanks will be with us in Heaven.
Along with my disappointment at not being able to ride in the motor launch, was my disappointment at not being allowed to go on the alligator hunts that took place up the Chilipitin Creek in Sinton. I don’t remember any stories from these hunts, nor do I remember ever seeing an alligators brought back from a hunt.
If there were rites of passage for sexual activity, I’m not aware of them, but the two girls in the movie were not my only inductions into that area of the human condition. When Papaw sold cars for Curlee Motor Co. in Sinton, we lived only two blocks from the car lot.
When too many cars were taken in on trade and the storage lot filled up, these cars were parked in our backyard, where I and some local girls turned them into “dens of iniquity”. I was in the third grade and had been taught by a precocious female to play “doctor”. I will not name names, but GIRLS! you KNOW who you are! I found “doctor” to be the most exciting game I had ever played and it’s all I can do even now to restrain myself from explaining in detail the procedures of this game. For syndication purposes I am trying to keep this document in the PG13 area.
We almost got caught by a sly Memaw several times, but were saved by the proposition that as long as panties were not left in plain sight, a dress can be whipped down over the offending area with great speed, and the visible member of the male partner can be retracted through the well worn two open buttons with only a flip of the hip. It was during this era that I learned to respect one aspect of female athletic ability.
Farther back from the parked cars was an old garage whose doors were permanently frozen open. At some point in our on-going adventures, one of the girls claimed she could “pee” farther than I could. I was insulted and convinced I could “out pee” any girl alive. After all I was a “boy”, for heaven’s sake. The garage door faced the street upon which there was very little traffic and an oleander hedge prevented visibility from houses across the street. The garage having been agreed upon as the location for the “Pee Olympics”, I agreed to go first.
I went to the back wall of the garage, wishing I had drunk a glass of water beforehand, and extracted my instrument of pride, from between those two worn buttons, and proceeded to send a fine stream of “pee” to a respectable three and a quarter feet across the dirt floor of the garage. The nature of dirt and “pee” made a record of our achievements that would still be visible for several days. I dared “she whose name will not be revealed” to “top that” if she could.
“She” went to the back of the garage, sat down, arched her back, pulled her panties to one side and sent a healthy stream of “pee” all the way to and just outside the garage door. I was mortified. This was over the full length of a car. She was very calm and accepted her victory without undue arrogance.
We were living in the house with the cars in the backyard when Papaw burned his feet really badly and was unable to work for several weeks. Being from the farm, Memaw and Papaw were great food preservers. Anything cheap and in season had some method of preservation. Trips to Welder Park in Sinton could yield enough wild Mustang Grapes to provide many quarts of grape jam and no telling how many quarts of grape wine. Green beans, carrots, squash, okra and turnips were canned and kept in a cool place, usually a cellar.
This particular time, tomatoes were in season and Papaw had purchased a bushel or two and was canning tomato juice. Papaw had ordered a “bottle capper” and a supply of bottle caps from Sears and Memaw had cleaned out dozens of glass soda water and beer bottles. The juice was in a large pot on the stove and was kept heated to a rolling boil; Memaw would fill the bottle and hand it to Papaw who would put the bottle in the proper position on the “bottler”, put the cap in place and then press down with all his might on the handle. He was wearing house shoes. One of the bottles broke and the boiling tomato juice spilled down over his ankles and into his slippers. The doctor was called and Papaw was treated, probably with Ungentine, but there was no treatment for the pain. I think tomato juice came off their list of things to preserve after that.
This particular house may have had a demon in possession of it. Once I was standing outside in the front yard and two girls were walking what seemed to be a quarter of block away. One threw a rock at me and I didn’t even flinch, because no one could throw a rock accurately that far. The rock hit me square in the forehead and sent me crying into the house while the girls ran off laughing. Possibly this was a partial payment for my sins in the backyard cars. I wonder if the girls in the cars were ever punished in like fashion.
In that same house, in that same front yard a yellow jacket crawled up my trouser leg and stung me directly on the part of me that most clearly indicates my being a little boy instead of a little girl. After the pain had subsided, the results were spectacular. I am reminded of the adds I get through Email promising instant or almost instant penis enlargement. Perhaps we’re onto something here.
Shortly after working for Curlee Motor Co. Papaw worked for an Oilfield Pipeline Service Co. and almost had a fight with one of the workers who kept poking on him during the long rides in the back of the truck to the work locations. Papaw explained very carefully what he was going to do to him if her persisted and evidently the man believed him.
While Papaw worked for the oil field company he lived in a small rooming house on North Beach, run by a blonde lady of about forty years of age which was Papaw’s age. Her sign in front which said “Rooms to Rent” was painted over an old 7-Up metal sign. The 7-Up sign had featured a pretty young lady smiling and winking and holding up a bottle of 7-Up. the head of the young lady winking was left unpainted, so that the “lady winking” and the “rooms for rent” were the only things showing on the sign. My mother took quick exception to this sign when she came to visit. It was only a matter of weeks before we moved to Corpus Christi too and into a big rickety two story apartment house on Agnes Street near Staples Street.
Papaw then began selling cars for Gulf Chevrolet Co. and my life began to take a direction of its own as I entered Wynn Seale Junior High School in Corpus Christi, Texas.
My last memory from the early days were that Memaw and Papaw always kept a slop jar beside the bed. This was a hangover from the farm days of not wanting to have to walk a long distance in the dark to the outdoor toilet. The slop jar, which always had a lid to contain the odor, was used and then carried to the outdoor toilet and emptied the next morning.
With an indoor toilet the slop jar was now often without a lid and used only for “number one” calls of nature. For a “number two” call, one must of course go to the inside plumbing where the obligatory flush can be applied. A trip to the bathroom for a mere “number one” action might seemed like “over-kill” and could cause one to become so awake as to make it difficult to get back to sleep. This brought into play the one quart Mason fruit jar.
I think all his adult life Papaw kept a one quart Mason fruit jar beside his bed. In his later years he sometimes missed the jar. One time during his drinking years Papaw sat up on the side of his bed, reached down for the jar and picked up one of his shoes instead and literally filled it with urine. I remember the next day listening to a long lecture from Memaw to Papaw in which she seriously threatened divorce unless he curtailed his drinking.
In second grade at that time, I immediately had “Walter Mitty” visions of the pangs of paternal separation and having to sneak away after school and visit him a Snyder Motor Co. I viewed myself as an ample target for much sympathy, pity and love from all directions.
We moved from the old apartment building on Agnes St. into a house with an older lady named Crittenden, just across the back yard and across a street from Wynn Seale Junior High where I would spend the next two years in school. I was still in Wynn Seale when Papaw and Memaw bought the house at 1912 Morgan Street. That was the first house they ever owned. Papaw was around forty-two years old then.
We didn’t know it then, but we were about to be sucked into the whirlwind of World War II. Uncle George, and old bachelor, who had lived with Grandpa Strain in the Alvarado house and the Indian Gap house, had a stroke and came to live with us in the Morgan Street house. There would arise a great controversy over just how rich Uncle George had been and where his money went. Aunt Lease Wilkins, Papaw’s sister was a practical nurse and came to live with us and take care of Uncle George. When Uncle George was dying, Aunt Lease called me in so that I could witness his last breaths and hear the gurgling sound of death.
I felt like I should lead a prayer, but I didn’t. Then wondered why she had called me in to witness this terrible thing anyway. For some reason I was reminded of Memaw teaching me to wring a chicken’s neck without getting blood all on me. The only connection I can make now is that both were unpleasant and one was unnecessary.
There's so much more to tell about Roy Strain, his life and times and if you open the can on Jewell Strain, then you've unleashed volumes and volumes of stories and anecdotes. For now I think I'll take a Sabatical. Maybe someday I'll come back and finish my memories of these, my people and their era in time.
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