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I was born at 303 Adams Street in Houston. It was a big old 2 story white house. Mom and Dad had moved to Houston from Palestine when Dad was transferred to Houston by the railroad company as an engineer. They ran a boarding house there. There was a bunch of young men that worked at the Ford plant just down the street on Harrisburg about 5 blocks from Adams Street where the house was, and these young men lived there and got their meals there with the family. Bonnie was a senior in high school when I was born, and Marie was about a year and a half older than her, and she hadn’t married, so both girls were still single. Jim was still single, and he worked at the Ford plant with Lee Meador, who later on married Marie. I lived there on Adams Street until I was about 6, when we moved out to Park Place. We lived there where the Gulf Freeway is now. At that time there was an Interurban rail line that ran from Houston to Galveston. When they disbanded the Interurban Line, they put in the Gulf Freeway right down the right of way of the old Interurban Line. I wish they had kept the old Interurban - it would have been great to have it now.
Our house was right where the Lang’s Pharmacy store was in the 1960’s, facing Park Place Boulevard on the northwest corner of Park Place and the Gulf Freeway. I remember the Christmas when Bonnie and Bob married that I got a cap pistol. Of course I was up bright and early Christmas morning. We had a big hedge that ran alongside between the sidewalk and the street. I ran out there with my cap pistol - I had the caps loaded in it - and this old man came driving down Park Place Boulevard in this old car. I jumped out from behind the hedge with that gun and fired that cap pistol about three times and he nearly run into the ditch! Oh, boy! (Laughs)
I had great times out there with a little boy that lived around the corner named Steve Durst. One of the funny things I remember about Steve was when we decided we were going to parachute off the garage! We got this umbrella and we thought that would be our parachute, and when we would jump off we would just float down to the ground. We nearly broke our legs. But some of the things that kids would do…
I remember our place there on Park Place Boulevard - it wasn’t a barn, but more like a chicken house with a room built on the side for storing tools and things. I asked Mom if I could use that room for my clubhouse. I got in there and tried to clean that thing out. It was hot! I gave it up as a bad deal, and tried something else.
At that time my Dad was still active on the railroad. This was shortly before he was taken out of the service because of that defect in the muscle in his left arm. He was on the run from Houston to Freeport, and it was during the time he was on that run and we lived there that I made that trip with him in the cab of the engine down to Freeport. He would go down one day from Houston to Freeport, spend the night, and then come back the next day. He had found this old truck chassis, and Dad being a good carpenter, decided he would make him a little mobile home on that old truck chassis so he would have a place to stay while he was in Freeport. He had this place there close to the roundhouse where the train engine was, and he fixed that thing up. He had a bed, stove, and water facilities, so he had a good place to stay. He would get in about 12:30 or 1:00 during the day, then it was only about 150 yards back from where the little mobile home was down to the Brazos River, so the day I went down there with him we fished in the Brazos River. We didn’t catch anything, but we had a good time.
I started to school at Park Place Elementary, and I went there until I was in the third grade. That was when Dad had to sell the house on Park Place because he was taken out of the service. In effect he probably lost most of his investment in that place. We stayed for 2 or 3 months with Bonnie and Bob on Sherman(?) Street, and then that summer we went on up to Grandma Thompson’s at Jacksonville, and I lived there while I was in the fourth grade. Then we moved to Slocum. I went from the fourth grade to the eighth grade at Slocum, then in 1937 we moved to Palestine. I went ninth, tenth and eleventh grade and graduated from Palestine High School.
When we first moved to Palestine, for the first five months we lived in a duplex just coming into town on the south highway from Elkhart. Then we had a chance to rent this old place that we called the Gambrel Place that belonged to Mr. Gambrel, about three miles out on the Jacksonville Highway. This was across the highway from where "The Rock House" was. When I finished high school, a lot of people had urged Dad to get into politics and run for office, which he did. He ran for County Tax Assessor-Collector for Anderson County, and he was elected. He told me if I helped him campaign during that summer after I finished high school, then he would help me get to go to college. So turned politician, going door to door, campaigning for Dad.
When I had started as a freshman at A&M, Dad decided to build "The Rock House" on the 17 acre tract across the highway from the Gambrel place. There was an old colored church-house and school there on the property, dilapidated and deserted - no one was using it at the time, so it was torn down. He contracted plans to build the Rock House. Actually, the Rock House which was completed was only intended to be the garage. The foundation was poured for a garage and workshop, and the house was going to be built in front of it. But then World War II came along about that time, and he couldn’t get the materials - they were frozen and he couldn’t get enough materials to do what he wanted to. So he had to just makeshift, and make a house on the garage foundation. That’s why it was so small. It had this one big room to start with, and a kitchen and bath. But the rest of it - the sleeping area and living area - were big one room. They put curtains around the beds. Then during the war, when I was in the service, they added on an extension for another bedroom, separate on the end.
At that time, it was just Mom and Dad and myself. By that time, Marie had remarried to Mr. Patton and moved to Jacksonville, so Jimmy was living over there, and Ira was in the shipyard at Portland, Oregon. So it was just Mom and Dad and me before I went into the service.
Earlier, we were living at the Gambrel place when Lee and Jimmy came to live with us. This is when a lot of funny things happened. We lived at that house for three or four years. When they first came, I was in the seventh grade and Jimmy was in the fourth grade, and he and Ira went to what was called the Norwood school for at least one year. The next year, Ira was a freshman in high school and went to Palestine High School with me. I was a junior. Then when I was a senior he was a sophomore and Jimmy was still at Norwood School; but we rode a bus we called "The Little Red Chicken" because it was just a pickup truck that had this bed built on the back that had a little door you went in. It had a seat right down the middle and seats on the sides so there were three bench seats, so you could put a crowd in there. They’d pick us up down at Mr. Burk’s there on the highway, then they’d swing around to Norwood School and drop the younger kids out there, then swing on around by the Meadowbrook Golf Course and then downtown to the high school.
Marie was working at the state hospital at Rusk, and so she only got to come home about once a month. So at that period in Lee and Jimmy’s lives, my Dad was just like their Dad, even though he was their grandad. But we had a lot of fun. Some of the things we used to do! Of course at that time, there was no television; for a while, we didn’t even have a radio. But then Marie finally saw to it that we got a radio, and boy, we hooked that up and listened to detective stories, mysteries, "Inner Sanctum", "Lights Out" - oh boy, we really listened to that radio!
Ira and I used to sort of "impose" on Jimmy because he was the smallest one. On cold winter days when we couldn’t get outside and play, we played "Authors" (the card game) a lot. Jimmy a lot of times couldn’t pronounce a lot of the names. For "David Copperfield" he called him "David Cooperfield". Anyway, it seemed like he lost most of the time, and he would get mad. When Lee would see that he was getting mad, Lee would clear his throat "UGH-UGH-UGH-UGH" and that would make Jimmy fighting mad (Laughs). Then Jimmy would call us a "theeth".
Another thing we used to do was when we were playing ball, Jimmy would be the batter, and I’d pitch, and Ira was the catcher. And we would broadcast like we were on the radio - Ira and I would both be broadcasters, you know. "Little Meador is at the plate - Thompson delivers the pitch - SWINGING Strike One!" And then "SWINGING Strike Two!" And then "SWINGING Strike Three! HE STRUCK HIM OUT!" And boy, he’d get mad!
One day we let the ball get away from us and it rolled down into an old well on the place. It was dry - there was no water down in the bottom of the well - but gosh, it was about 16 feet deep or more. And it’s a wonder we hadn’t killed Jimmy, because we put him down there. We told him because he let the ball roll between his legs, he was going to have to go down there and get it. We took an old rope and tied sticks of stove wood in it about 18 inches apart to make a ladder, and let that kid down in that old well. It’s a wonder he wasn’t killed, because it could have caved in - it wasn’t curbed up or anything, just a dirt well. Boy, I shake every time I think about it now.
But when we played football, why, we’d broadcast again. Ira and I would know that one of us would have to center to ball to Jimmy, and if the other one was playing on the left side of the center, we know he was going to run to the right because that was where nobody was. So whoever was centering the ball would immediately turn to that direction to get him. So we’d say "Single wingback to the right - Little Meador’s the tailback - the ball is snapped - he starts off to the right - and he’s SMEARED AT THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE!" when we had the ball, of course, it was a touchdown every play! We’d broadcast "A long touchdown pass!" I tell you, that kid was raised with adversity!
We made a deal with him. In the morning, we had to make up our beds, fix our lunches and milk the cows. So Lee and I got together and persuaded Jimmy that it would be a good deal for him if we made all the beds and fix the lunches if he would milk the two cows. He bought it hook, line and sinker - we made it sound like such a good deal. So here he goes in that old robe that he had which drug the ground. He had that big milk bucket that was about as big as he was, and he’d go out there on those cold mornings and milk those cows. We should have been horsewhipped!
We had a deal fixed up down behind the barn. The field sloped off, and there were some rocky areas down through there, and we’d play cowboys and Indians and build forts, hauling those rocks - it’s a wonder we hadn’t got bitten by a copperhead when pulling those rocks up. So we cut trails down through the woods where branches would be in the way, so we could gallop along. We had rubber guns that could shoot strips of inner tube for bullets - they’d shoot about 20 feet. We had a lot of fun. We had each of our trails named - "The Wyoming Trail", "The Santa Fe Trail", we had them all labeled. We had a time playing.
We didn’t have any running water in the house, we had one deep well and had to draw water out of it. On wash day, we had this big old cast iron pot that we’d boil the clothes in, then we’d have to draw up water in the No. 3 tub to rinse, then we had another No. 3 tub with "bluing water" (like bleach) for towels and sheets. Then we’d hang the clothes. We had one big long clothesline, and we hung a lot of stuff on the barbed-wire fence. Dad and we three boys would do the washing, cut wood, etc. One day we were down in the woods cutting wood, and the axe slipped and hit Ira and made a deep cut in his leg. We didn’t have a car, so Dad used one of his "home remedies". He took some "Packer’s Tar Soap" and used his knife to scrape some soap shavings and put it in there and made a poultice on it. First of all he washed it out with rubbing alcohol! But if he hadn’t done that, it might have gotten gangrene. Lee and I still talk about that, about the fact that it’s a wonder he hadn’t lost his leg from infection.
We lived three miles out on the Jacksonville
and had no car. On the weekends my junior and senior year in high
school, Lee and I worked at a place called the Economy Store in
It was owned and operated by a Jewish merchant named Schwartzburg, and
he catered to the colored people, selling shoes, clothing and dry
So we’d work all day Saturday, and we’d get off work about 9:00.
Down at the Ritz Theater there in Palestine, they would have the last
feature and the Sunday/Monday preview, so you could see 2 features plus
the newsreel and a cartoon or comedy, all for the price of one,
that began about 10:30. In that hour or so after we got off
work, we would go down to Piggly Wiggly store and you could get nickel
candy bars 3 for a dime. We’d get these Mister Goodbars,
these nickel bars were as big as a 35 cent bar is now. A lot of
we would take them into the movie with us, and they would start melting
and stick to the paper. Old Lee would just chew up paper
all, and then after he got all the goody out of it, would just wad the
paper up and drop it on the floor. Then after we’d get out of the
show about 1:00 AM, we had to walk the three miles home.
I started playing basketball in my sophomore year at Palestine High. I went out for basketball in Slocum during the last year I went to school out there, but the coach told me I was too little - I hadn’t really started growing. And it was the next year that I started growing. I got to Palestine High School and was in a physical education class. One day I got there early and I took the basketball and was shooting goals. It just so happened the Palestine basketball coach came by, and said "What’s your name?" I told him, and told him I lived out at Slocum and just moved in to Palestine that year. He said "You ever play basketball out there?" I said I had wanted to, but the coach said I was too little. He said "Well, you’re not too little for Palestine. We’re gonna start practice the day after tomorrow, and I want you out there." Boy, boy, you talk about being on Cloud Nine! I was on Cloud Nine! I made the squad my sophomore year, and when I was issued that jockey satin sweatsuit with "PALESTINE WILDCATS" on the back and number "33" on the front, I was in HOG HEAVEN. I played a combination of guard and forward - I played guard most of the time, point guard, bringing the ball up the court.
I played three years for Palestine. My senior year, we were in what was known as the East Texas High School League: Palestine, Jacksonville, Tyler, Henderson, Carthage, Nacogdoches, Lufkin, and Livingston. We played a round-robin, home and home series in that league. This was in addition to the Texas Interscholastic League playoffs, which produced a county champion, district champion, then on to the regional and state. But this East Texas League came down to the end of the season and we were 6-1: we had lost to Lufkin. Henderson was 7-0. We had to play at our court first, then at Henderson. We had to win both times to win the championship, because we had one loss and they had none. We had lost two of our starters at mid-term my senior year, and this cut down on our reserves, because two of the reserves had to move up to the starting position. So we had five good starters, but we didn’t have any help coming from the bench. So we had to play the whole game. In that game with Henderson at Palestine, we were ahead seven points at the start of the final quarter. In the final quarter, they scored 13 points and we scored 6, so it was tied up at the end of regulation, so play went into overtime. Neither team scored in the first overtime, and with about 5 seconds left in the second overtime, they hit a long shot, so we lost that one in double overtime. I think I had 15 points. That was the only game that Mom and Dad got to see me play in my whole high school career, because they didn’t have any transportation. So I felt like they got to see a good sample of what I could do.
As far as favorite subjects in school, I loved history and geography. In high school, I enjoyed Texas history, United States history, and European history too. We had an old maid lady who was the history teacher named Lorene Stipe, and she used to enjoy some of the things I was interested in. I knew all the military situations and battles. I could tell you how many soldiers fought on each side, what their objective was, who their commander was - I was a real history nut. I always thought maybe I should have followed history when I went to school. I did take all the math I could get in high school, because Dad and Jim said that if I ever did go to school I should study engineering. We didn’t have counselors like the kids have now to help you as to what you could do and what you couldn’t do, or what your interest was. As it turned out, I wasn’t interested in being in engineering. I feel like I just half missed the first two years of school because of that. If I had started off in accounting, and had somebody to counsel me that that was what I was cut out for, I’d have been so much better off. As it was, when I was in the service, I made up my mind that if I ever did go back and finish my education, it wasn’t going to be in engineering. I didn’t want to be an engineer, I didn’t like it. I had that decision made.
After I got out of the service, I had a chance to do some accounting work for the railroad company there in Palestine in the freight claims department. I liked the office procedures, and so about that time I decided if I did go back to school I would try to get into accounting. I got out of the service in February 1946.
THE FAMILY TREE
My grandfather “Grandpa Thompson”, John William Thompson, was called “Whistling Billy”. My grandmother was Lucy Jane Broom. Their oldest son was James Monroe Thompson, my father.
Grandpa Thompson died before I was born, but they tell me that he was such a good whistler that a lot of friends and neighbors who lived in his community and were on the same telephone line would call up and get him to whistle tunes on the telephone while they were all listening on the “party line”. From this he became known as “Whistling Billy”. Everyone enjoyed hearing him whistle on the phone. I wish he could have lived long enough to where I could have known him.
He was blonde and blue-eyed. One of his daughters, Aunt Ola (who later married Albert Lively) was also blonde and blue-eyed – real blonde, almost albino blonde. Of course, her daughter Erma Lively was a blue-eyed blonde also.
Grandpa Crook (my mother’s dad) was in the Civil War. That family originally came to Texas from Georgia after the war. I don’t know just when they moved, but their original home was in Carterville, Georgia. I think Grandpa Crook fought in the Battle of Chickmauga and the Battle of Missionary Ridge at Chattanooga, Tennessee. He was taken prisoner by the North, I don’t know just when, but he ended up serving as a cook in a prison camp for the rest of the war. I don’t know what prison camp he was in, but that’s what I heard from my mother’s family. Because of that, he survived the war. I don’t think he was wounded or anything.
At the time my parents met, Dad was working at the City Water Works at Tyler. Grandpa Crook and his family lived just outside Tyler in a little community called Pleasant Retreat. I think he saw her at a church gathering or some kind of social gathering, and made arrangements to meet her.
Shortly after that, Dad started working for the railroad. In his career, he had 48 years of seniority. Of course there was that stretch during the Depression, from 1930 to January 1945, about 14 years, that he was out of service. He retired in 1952. So that would mean that he went to work for the railroad about 1904. He would have been about 26 years old.
He started out as a fireman. Then he took the examinations for engineer, and when he passed those he was promoted up to engineer. All the railroad men worked on a seniority basis. If you were at a level where you had more time than another guy, you could bid on his job. That’s what they called “bumping” him. They could just say, “Okay, I’m bumping you off this job,” and then that guy would bump the next guy below him, and so forth, in a domino effect.
Dad was telling me that he had worked up to the point where he had a regular fireman’s job, and then he had passed the engineer’s exam, so he was on what was called an “engineer’s extra board.” So when they would get down to the point where they didn’t have any regular engineers for a certain run, they would go to this “extra board” and take the top man there. That’s the way he began to get experience then as a “rated engineer”. As he got more time logged on the engineer’s extra board, he finally got to the point where he could hold a regular engineer’s job, and then build his seniority on up from there.
When he retired, he was the senior engineer on that division, and he held the top job – he was the engineer on the Missouri Pacific Eagle, which was the choice job of the whole line. The Eagle was a passenger train that ran from Houston to St. Louis. He was on train 21 and 22, which ran from Palestine to Longview. He spent a lot of time on that run. He would leave Palestine early in the morning, about 4 o’clock, and get to Longview about 8:30 or 9:00, and spend the rest of the day. Then in the late afternoon or early evening, he would start back to Palestine.
That’s where when I was in school at A&M, Zona and I would go home on the weekend, maybe we’d be down at Lost Prairie Lake. Well, I knew about what time he was due to come through Wells Creek, about 4 miles outside of Palestine (you cross that creek bottom traveling from Palestine to Lost Prairie Lake). So I had made arrangements with him and told him that any time that I could get down there to see him come through, I would signal him with a flashlight. So I would go down and park my car about 5 minutes before he was due to come through, and boy he might be running late on one of those big steam engines, and he would be “making up time”, boy and I’d hear him coming down on the other side of the hill, and boy when he’d go by me that big engine would just be R-R-R-R-R-R-R, just a-flutter, exhaust flying, drive wheels turning so fast you couldn’t hardly see them, and he’d wave as he’d go by. I kick myself a hundred times – I had so many opportunities after I came home from India and he was back on the road, to get pictures of him on the train, and didn’t get a single one – not one. I could have even gotten a moving picture camera and gotten motion pictures of the train going through Elkhart, through Wells Creek, and when he was on the diesel engine.
You know, it was really a sad situation when he retired. The engineer that bid for his job and got it was the next senior engineer named Golden Perry, a good friend of Dad’s. His fireman, John Ed Hatzenbeuler, had been Dad’s fireman, and had been an outstanding football star for Palestine High School back in the mid-1930’s. John really helped Dad in that year before he retired, because Dad was beginning to have arthritis so bad, having trouble and not feeling well, and John was a promoted engineer, so a lot of times Dad would turn it over to John after they had cleared the station. That’s the way firemen promoted as engineers got their time anyway, and he was just a good man. But about a month after Dad retired, Mr. Perry and John had left Houston one afternoon on the Eagle about 4:30 headed for Palestine. At about 5:00, they were about where the Hardy Toll Road starts (at about Loop 610) and they hit that straight track which is as straight as an arrow all the way to Conroe. Somewhere there on Hardy Street at one of the crossings, this tank truck got up on the track and stalled, and they plowed into it, and it exploded in a big ball of fire and killed both Mr. Perry and John Ed. That really tore Dad up, because that was only about a month after he had retired, and he would have been on that run.
Anyway, he really enjoyed his time on the railroad. It was just in his blood. After he got back on the road, one Sunday afternoon shortly before we married, Zona and I drove over to Elkhart to watch him come through. He was on the big 1100 steam engine, and he came through Elkhart highballing it. He drove the diesels later. He said that on that Eagle run from Houston to Conroe, on that straight level track, a lot of times if you just held the throttle and didn’t watch it, your speed would creep up without you realizing it, like your foot getting heavy on a car accelerator. His speed limit was 85, and sometimes he would look down and that thing would be creeping up over 90 (laughs).
At that time there was very little development between Houston and Conroe. There was a little road crossing at Westfield, then the town of Spring, then Tamina (just a side track, and there may have been a little store over across from the railroad), but very little else. I know when I was working as a mail clerk in 1947, there was just woods, almost all the way, except for individual residences; there wasn’t much industry up there at that time.
When Lee and Jimmie were there with us on the old
Place, on those cold mornings: each of us slept in a double
There was a big old room (laughs), and there were three double beds in
there, and still had plenty of room left over. That’s how big
rooms were in that old Gambrel House. That house was built
back in the Civil War days; there were square nails in the
In the mornings, the first time Dad would come in, he would stick
his head in the door and he’d say: “HOCK RATTLING TIME!” (Laughs)
And boy we knew what was coming! He would give us about 5
and if somebody wasn’t stirring, he would come back with a cold wash
and he would lay that cover back and drag that wash rag along that
I guarantee that would wake you up! (Laughs)
One time: Randall Gilmore, my buddy that was the Highway Patrolman, we used to spend a lot of time together, and one summer - I think it was just about the time that Diane was born and Mama was in Houston to be with Bonnie while the baby was born – so Dad and Lee and Jimmy and I were “batching it” for about six weeks. So Gilmore spent the night. He was working at a service station there in Palestine at that time, and he spent the night with us. And of course it was September and it was hot. The next morning, Dad came in and called “HOCK RATTLING TIME!” It was a Saturday or Sunday, and nobody had to go anywhere, you know, and so old Gilmore said “I wonder what he would do if we just laid here and took it, even after he brought the cold wash rag in on us!” I said “I know what he would do: he would probably go in there and get a bucket of water and throw it on us!” Gilmore said: “Let’s test him.” So Dad came in and said “Uh-HUH!” and laid that cover back and dragged that cold wet wash rag on our legs. We just smiled like we were enjoying every minute of it. He smiled and turned around, and I thought, he going to get the water! And sure enough boy, he came back in and he had a great big 5 gallon can, he went SWOOSH!! That mattress didn’t dry out for a month! (Laughs)
I remember one time when we were living on the Gambrel Place there, why Mr. Gambrel had a little old bull that had horns about 2 or 3 inches long. He began to get pretty vicious, and he was tearing up the fences. He would try to get through them and tear up the barbed wire. So got out and got loose a couple of times, and they had trouble getting him back in. He’d stand there and paw the dirt, like those fighting bulls do – he was a vicious little rascal! One time he just about tore the fence down, and finally Dad said, “Get me that .22!” He took that .22 rifle and leveled it up on this fence post and shot that bull’s horn off – BING! – popped it off just like that. The bull looked around like something had happened, but he didn’t know just what it was. But he didn’t get into any more fences. Dad hit that horn just right and popped it just like you pop an orange.
When we lived out at Slocum, I guess I was in about 7th grade: one Sunday afternoon, on the fence out there around the barn lot, why I had me a seat built up on top of the fence, and on this post I had a little hole hollowed out where I could crack hickory nuts. We had hickory trees, you know, and we’d pick those hickory nuts, and you’d crack them with a hammer cause they were tough nuts to crack. Anyway, I was sitting up there on my fence seat, eating hickory nuts, and I glanced back over toward the barn, the cow shed. They had a cow stall with a door that went in to where the cows were milked and fed, and then Mama had two rows of chicken nests along that wall where the hens could get up there and lay eggs. The other half of the barn was a door that opened up into a feed stall. The boards had cracks about an inch and a half wide, and just open to the ground. Anyway, I looked over and saw this snake go along from where the cow stall entrance was over to the feed door, and it was slithering up in there. Boy, I hollered, “DAD!” And he thought I was hurt or something, and he come running out yelling “What is it? What is it?” I said, “There’s a snake out here!” Boy, he come a-running, and by this time, the snake had gone in the door and was about halfway down its length into a hole in a ground or in this crack in the boards. I was right behind Dad, curious about what he was going to do. He says, “Stand clear of the door!” I saw him take that snake’s tail and wrap it around, about three times around his hand, where he got a good grip on it, and then WHHHOOOP! he come out like that and boy, that snake slung out there almost to the fence where I’d been sitting! It must have been 35 feet that he slung that thing! He gave him a pull! The snake of course was stunned, and Dad run out there and got his tail again, and wrapped it around his hand again, and then he cracked it like a whip - WHIP – POW! he popped his head off! That snake was about 6 and a half feet long! Just like a whip – BAM – and popped his head off! It was a chicken snake. He was after those eggs in the hens’ nests.
We had chickens and cows, and Dad always had a good garden. While we were renting that place at Slocum, we had a little old squirrel. Lee Meador, Lee Ira’s daddy, had shot into this squirrel nest over there in Maydelle when they were squirrel hunting, and this little squirrel fell out of the nest. They took it and fed it with an eye dropper, and then gave it to me. We had this old chicken coop that was about 10 inches deep and 4 feet by 4 feet, and Dad got this old packing straw and put in there, and it had wire mesh that was small enough that the squirrel couldn’t get out, but had plenty of air. That little old squirrel was the best weather prophet you ever saw! If there was going to be a change in the weather, he would just tear that packing straw up! He would have it arranged like he wanted it, but if there was going to be a change in the weather, you’d watch him, and he’d start tearing that stuff apart and changing it, moving it to different locations. And you could say “Boy, there’s going to be a change in the weather,” and sure enough, there would be. He was a good weather forecaster, that little old squirrel! His name was FILBERT.
Another thing Dad enjoyed doing was playing with kids. When a baby was about the same age as William, he would put them astraddle of his arm, and sing those little ditties for them. He would also let the baby stand on his hand while the hand was extended out. I guess you were about 14 months old when I stood you on my hand. I had a little old derby – there were some of those pictures taken on Adams Street there with Dad holding me out there with that little old derby hat on my head, standing up in his hand.
Dad was a mighty man. Uncle Jim has told me about when Dad was a younger man, boy, he was powerful. Back in the days when Palestine had open saloons, and the whole front street there was one saloon after another. Uncle Ferrell, one of Dad’s brothers, was the type of personality that loved to fight; especially when he would get drunk or halfway drunk, he would want to fight. The story goes that one of these friends of Dad’s saw that Uncle Ferrell was about to get into a problem in one of these saloons. He knew where Dad was, and he went and told him, and said “You’d better get around there and get your brother, because he’s about to get in trouble.” Dad went around there and said to Uncle Ferrell, “Let’s go.” Uncle Ferrell said he wasn’t ready to go. And Dad said “Yeah, I think you are.” So Ferrell squared off and was going to take on Dad. Dad just popped him one time on the chin and knocked him colder than a mackerel, put him over his shoulder and hauled him out of there. (Laughs)
Uncle Ferrell had a reputation of being quite a fighter. In fact, Aunt Ella, his wife, was telling me and Leonard one time that that’s the reason she married him, because he was such a good fighter. She said they went to a dance over in Louisiana where Uncle Ferrell was working – he was a blacksmith – and Aunt Ella was at this dance, and Uncle Ferrell got into a fight with some guy, and she saw him, and she said “That man’s for me!” (Laughs) And it ended up that she did marry him, too!
Then one of Dad’s brothers, Uncle Lloyd, was also an engineer for the Missouri Pacific with long service. In his younger days, he was in the U.S. Army, and was in the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1900. He was just a young soldier in the 15th Infantry and fought in action there, and then in the Philippine Insurrection, against the leader of the insurrection, Aguinaldo. In fact, Uncle Lloyd’s son, my cousin Leonard Thompson, Leonard’s middle name is Funston, after General Funston, who was the commander of the American forces in the Philippines at the time Uncle Lloyd was there. Uncle Lloyd was a fighter too, but he controlled himself. He was a boxer. He was Division Champion in his weight category as a boxer. But he was a little guy – Uncle Ferrell was a lot heavier.
Uncle Ferrell had a jovial laugh. Zona and I took you kids to an anniversary of Uncle Ferrell and Aunt Ella over in Port Neches. I don’t know how old you kids were then, you weren’t very old, but we went over there to Port Neches and spent the day at this family get together, and that was the last time I ever saw him, because he didn’t live too much longer after that.
Mom and Dad belonged to the First Christian Church here in Houston out there on Fannin, and one Sunday night at the service, the song leader was leading “There’s Power in the Blood”. I don’t know how old I was, but I must have been about 4 or 5, and I busted out laughing, because when he was singing “There is POW’R, POW’R, WONDERWORKING POW’R” I thought he was singing “POW! POW!” I thought he was playing guns, you know! I started laughing, and they couldn’t get me to stop, and they said, “What’s the matter?” And I said, “Well, he’s saying POW! POW! POW!” (Laughs)
When we lived at Slocum, a little community like that had circuit preachers. We had two church houses there – one was called the Baptist Church and the other one was called the Church House. So the Baptist Church would have a preacher come in one week per month, and then the Church House would have a Methodist preacher come in the next week. The following week, a Christian preacher, Brother Hammer, who was a big robust red-headed fellow, would come. He would come on Saturday and spend the night at our house, because there were no motels or anything nearby. He would just spend the night with some of the people in the community. He always brought me a little puzzle to work, some kind of little trick thing, I remember him for that. Brother Copeland, the Methodist preacher, his son was later the Bishop here in Houston. I don’t know if you remember here a few years ago about Bishop Kenneth Copeland, but he was the son of the traveling preacher that used to come to Slocum. When Brother Copeland would be preaching and he would tell something funny in his sermon, he would start laughing. And he had a lot of spaces between his front teeth, and he would make a funny sound laughing through those teeth (TTHH – TTHH – TTHH –TTHH!) I remember him laughing so funny, and in a country church like that, all of us kids would sit on the front row. Usually we would play outside until it was almost time for the church service, and then we’d make a mad dash inside to that front row, and we’d be huffing and puffing, out of breath from playing tag and having all kinds of running games out there in the hot! So we had a Baptist preacher one Sunday, Methodist preacher the 2nd Sunday, and Christian preacher the 3rd Sunday; then on the 4th Sunday, there would be no preacher, but everybody would meet at the Church House and have singing. Just a big singing service. So it was really a wonderful church life.
When we moved into Palestine, I went to First Baptist Church. That’s where I joined the church, when I was a junior in high school. The preacher was Brother Calvin Nelson. Later, Zona and I went to the First Baptist Church of College Station while we were there. When we got to Houston, we didn’t know where to go, so we visited while. We visited Park Place Baptist, Broadway Baptist over on Lawndale, and then another one there on Lawndale. Then we decided that Park Place was the place for us. The first time we went to Park Place, we were sitting in the service and could look out across the way there to the nursery wing, and we saw you standing up in the bed next to the window.
When Dad left the railroad service and retired, Dad and Mom continued to live there in Palestine in the little Rock House out from town. But then he began to get pretty feeble, and they sold that place and moved into a house on Green Street, which is on the north side of Palestine. They were living there when Dad died in August of 1953. You were six months old. He died of kidney and bladder complications, finally with kidney failure. He died on his 75th birthday. He was born August 8, 1878 and died August 8, 1953.
After that, Mom continued to live there for about a year, and then she sold the place and moved in with Marie in Jacksonville. She would spend about six months there, and then about six months with Bonnie.
Mom used to get such a big kick out of singing those old folk songs. I should have written those down. She had about 7 or 8 verses to that one about the “Spinning Wheel”. I can only remember one verse:
(Sings) Sold my rod and sold my reel
Then I sold my spinning wheel
To buy my true love a sword and shield
Shoo la hah, bur lah meedum
walla walla woostrum
see no more shackum a loo la lay.
Dad had a lot of fun giving people and things funny nicknames. He would see a team of mules or horses hitched to a wagon, and he would say, “There goes old Hi-Bobby-Dinky-O and Shag-Nasty-Annie-O!” Another funny one that he had was when he saw a couple in a car, where the girl was sitting real close to the man driving, he would say, “There goes Love and Dove” or “There goes Bill and Coo.” (Laughs) He was a character.
I never will forget the first time he saw you. You were about six weeks old, when we bravely drove up there one Friday night after I got off work. They were living on Green Street by that time. Dad looked at you and said, “That boy looks like Eisenhower!” You didn’t have much hair at that time, you know! And what you did have was a little cotton fuzz.
MUSIC AND RADIO
When I lived out there at Slocum, Stamps-Baxter Music Company out of Dallas used to have what they called “Singing Schools”, gospel singing schools. A lot of people in the community there would sign up for these schools, and I went to one there in Slocum. They would teach how to read music, but I didn’t get far enough into it to really know how; I was just a kid. This was so you could sing from the music book. But we just sang from memory, because we usually knew how the tune went. Kids would get up in front of the group and lead the singing in church – old Gilmore, and me, and other boys and girls in the community. We used to have a great time singing those old songs. We’d get a book down, and old Gilmore and I would sing together.
But I like all kinds of music. I enjoy the instrumentals – I guess I enjoy the instrumentals more than the vocals. I’ve always been a “nut” about martial music – the military band. I’ve got quite a few records in there, as you know, of the different military bands – Goldman, Frederick Fennell and the Eastman Band, and John Philip Sousa. Even before I went to A&M I developed a liking for this kind of music, I guess from the background of my interest in military history. Most of the books I’ve got are on World War II. I also like the real old country music. Dad loved the old bluegrass music. After we got a radio, lots of times on Saturday night we would listen to the Grand Old Opry on radio, and he loved the fiddle music. In the mornings when I was getting ready for school, and if the radio was on we could pick up this Iowa State College at Ames, Iowa, and they had a news program that always started by playing a march – the whole thing all the way through. So I really loved that.
We never had a phonograph. That was kind
a luxury, and we just didn’t have one. We didn’t have a
until Marie went to work over at Rusk she got a little
table model, and boy, that was really great. We got to listen to
all the mystery shows on radio. Most of the
broadcast from Dallas and Fort Worth. We’d get
WFAA from Fort Worth and KRLD in Dallas. We couldn’t pick up any
of the Houston stations, for some reason or another. We’d get
and Palestine had a little old radio station but… We’d get Dallas
and Fort Worth real good, and they had 4 or 5 stations, they had ABC,
and CBS, there were about 4 or 5 stations that we could pick up real
Also, powerful stations like WSM in Nashville, WGN in Chicago, WLW or
in New Orleans, we could pick those up very well. I began
get interested in listening to the basketball games on the
The Louisville, Kentucky station used to broadcast the University of
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