by Newt Harlan
The other afternoon down at the waterin’ hole, I got to reminiscing with some of the gang about things from back in the 50s and 60s. Here lately it seems we spend a bunch of time doing a lot of that. To tell the truth, sometimes it's easier to recall things from forty or fifty years ago than it is to remember where I parked my truck, what time I'm supposed to meet someone for lunch, or the name of the young lady taking my order who introduced herself only thirty seconds earlier. Obviously I'd have better luck remembering by paying more attention to her name and less to her cleavage, but that's a whole nother topic.
Here are some of the memories Dogeye, Jabo, Cowboy and I dredged up which some of y’all might find familiar. However, you might want to be careful what you admit to remembering as it could possibly give away your age. I think I may have mentioned some of these in the past, but if I did they’re worth visiting once more.
Clabber -- That's what is leftover when you skim the cream off a pan of soured milk to churn into butter. Clabber was also called curds and whey as what Little Miss Muffet was eating while sitting on her tuffet. There are folks that claim that a piece of hot cornbread crumbled into a bowl of clabber is better than chili or watermelon. Personally I never did care for it.
Monkey blood -- Monkey blood is what we called an antiseptic that was properly called mercurochrome. We preferred it as small children because it didn’t burn like the stronger merthiolate, mercresin, iodine and other alcohol solutions did. I don’t think any of these solutions are used anymore, having all been replaced by antibiotic first aid creams and ointments that not only don’t burn at all, but even reduce pain from the wound.
Poodle skirts with bunches of crinoline petticoats starched so stiff that when a girl sat down she had to hold her skirt down with her hand. I had been trying for quite a while to persuade a certain cute young lady to go out with me. I was jitterbugging with her one night at a sock hop and she was wearing one of those things. We did an elaborate spin move where you change hands overhead a couple of times and twirl your partner. Well, she twirled right out of her petticoats and they fell down around her ankles. She gathered them up nonchalantly, but then ran crying to the ladies room with several of her girl friends tagging along to console her. She didn't come back to the dance and although I had nothing to do with her embarrassment she would never so much as give me the time of day after that. So much for dazzling her with my footwork.
Don’t sit too close to the television -- Parents always cautioned children not to sit too close to the screen because it would make you go blind and there was no telling what all that radiation might do to you. Of course my sisters and I and all our friends always sat as close as we could manage so as not to miss anything, usually about three feet away until our parents hollered at us to move back, and as far as I know there are none of us blind or affected in other ways from this habit. This didn’t stop me from telling my kids or their telling my grandkids: “Back up from that TV before it makes you go blind.” Another popular idea at that time was watching TV in a dark room was bad for your eyes, so most folks chose to put a lamp on top of the TV set to remedy this problem. Probably the most popular (and ugly and tacky as an Elvis painting on velvet) were ceramic lamps molded in the shape of a big cat stalking prey. They all looked the same, except some were painted as black panthers, some as tigers and others as leopards. I’m thankful my family never chose to have one in our house since I genuinely disliked them. Besides, all that extra light interfered with the business at hand when watching TV with my girlfriend.
Parking Places -- Not those lined slots in front of businesses, but the ones hidden back in the trees and bushes in the local lovers' lanes. In my high school days, each of us had his own special spot and it was considered very poor form to park in someone else's place. I personally had two prime spots, one in Possum Park and one down at Twin Oaks. Those of you who grew up in Humble probably know what and where I'm talking about, and for those of you that didn't, it would take too long to explain. I usually selected one or the other for use on any given night depending primarily on the available time we had for the pursuit of happiness.
Uncle Remus stories -- It's too bad children of today don't get to meet B'rer Rabbit, B'rer Fox and all those other characters we experienced from the fertile mind of Joel Harris. “Oh lawd, B’rer Fox, please don’t throw me in that there briar patch.” Political correctness spoiled much of the South’s folklore.
Playing "Spin-the Bottle" and "Post Office" at parties as pre-teens and Junior High kids and holding hands at the Saturday matinees. Boy, I can still recall my sweaty palms and goose bumps while going through these rituals. Kids who reached that age when my daughters were growing up just sat around looking bored and dumb or else did what they called dancing to loud-assed music. I don't know if they were missing something or not; parents don't find out those things until later and I haven't had an occasion for the girls to tell me yet.
Wearing double-knee jeans in elementary school -- Mama bought the double-knee kind and patched them with iron-on patches when I wore through both the top and bottom knee. I know she probably patched my britches with scraps cut from wore out clothes, although all I can remember is the iron-on kind. Our mamas and grandmas would have conniption fits if they saw the jeans youngsters wear today with holes everywhere one can imagine and some places we didn’t even dare think of in the old days.
Dragging Main -- This was a nightly ritual in Old Humble. It consisted of going down Main Street from Railroad Ave. to South Houston Avenue, doing a U-turn, and then doing the same thing in the other direction. The object of the exercise was to see who was out and about with whom and to be seen out and about with whomever. It was commonplace during these nightly rituals for cars going in opposite directions to stop and visit with each other for a while. Those of us who are natives sometimes still do this and it seems to really piss off the newcomers.
Painting the Water Tower -- This was almost a rite of passage. You had to climb the water tower and paint your initials plus those of your current girlfriend, your class and Go Wildcats! There were a few of us who changed girlfriends often enough that we became fairly adept at this. Of course, we always had to be alert for French LeJuene and the other two or three deputies who were trying to keep us from killing ourselves.
Getting your mouth washed out with soap -- Rue the day you said a “bad word” in the presence of your mama or someone else’s mama or any female for that matter. That invariably meant getting your mouth washed out with soap to help you remember not to use language like that in the presence of ladies. You usually could get away with a little light cussin’ around men-folk, as long as you didn’t get too uppity; however, that didn’t always hold true. I got me a proper mouth washing and a substantial switchin’ to boot one time when a deacon from the Pentecostals came to our house to buy a couple of shoats. I took him to look at them and was acting a big shot and showing out a little. I told him to be careful that the shoats didn’t squeal because the old sow would “bite the shit out of him and tear him from asshole to appetite.” He didn’t cotton too much to that language and instead of just correcting me, the old bastard told mama and she washed my mouth and gave me a switchin’ to satisfy him. I tacked on an extra $10 each for the shoats for pain and suffering.
Gathering eggs -- From about the age of five until about 12 or 13, it was my job to go to the chicken house each afternoon and gather the daily output of eggs. We kept about 100 hens and usually got six or seven dozen eggs daily. It wasn't too hard as country jobs go, you just had to be careful not to break the eggs as you took them from the nest and put them in the basket. The only bad thing was sometimes there'd be a big old chicken snake coiled up in the nest box, and if you weren't looking real close, when you put your hand in there to get the expected egg you'd get a pants pissing scare. Worked on me every time, including once when my girlfriend rode the bus home from school with me and I was showing off for her. Talk about embarrassed!
Standard transmissions -- Just about all cars had them and that’s what we learned to drive. It took a while for beginners to get used to coordinating the clutch and the gas, but soon it became second nature. One nice thing about “standards” was when your battery was down you could “push start” them either by hand or with another vehicle. You simply put the truck in second gear and when it got moving pretty good, you let out on the clutch and presto, you were going. The only problem with that method of starting was you needed either some pushers or a hill and there's not a bunch of hills around Humble.
I could sit here and recall many more of these, but I've got to stop now and find my keys. I know I had them when I walked in while ago, but I'll be damned if I can remember what I did with them.
Newt tells us about himself:
I was born, raised and educated in Texas. With the exception of a few brief sojourns and the 4 years during the Vietnam Era that I spent riding around on airplanes courtesy of the U.S. Air Force, I've spent the more than 65 years of my life within spittin' distance of the place where I grew up. I managed to cram a four-year college degree into nine years and by virtue of that remarkable feat, I am a former student of six different schools, which sure helps the odds of rooting for a winner in sporting events. The academic standards committee had a moment of weakness and I was the fortunate recipient of a degree from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas.
I've been married for 30-some odd years and have beaucoup kids and grandkids. I'm now retired after having spent the better part of the past 37 years traveling around Texas, Louisiana, and the Gulf Coast areas of Mississippi and Alabama, trying to sell steel products. My hobbies, in no particular order, include writing, grandkids, hunting, fishing and visiting the local watering hole to swap honest lies and research material for stories.
E-mail Newt at: Newt281@embarqmail.com
Want to read more of Newt's stories at USADEEPSOUTH? Click these links:
Ol' Red and the Armadillo
Telephones and memories
Tastes like chicken
Basura Blanca News
That's Entertainment ~ '50s style
Belly Waddin' Lunch
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