When I read awhile back about a man trying to explain to his children how it was when he was growing up and about eating fast food, it brought back fond memories of my youth and of growing up in rural East Texas. But, I never thought that I would soon be trying to explain the very same thing. It happened a while back when my granddaughter Anna was visiting. Anna asked me where I liked to go get pizza when I was a little boy and what my favorite kind was I explained to her that we didn’t have pizza places back in the old days and that we didn’t know what pizza was. I could tell by the puzzled look on her face that maybe this would be a good time to take her back to my childhood and tell her about how it was.
I told her that there were no fast food places in my hometown and that the nearest thing to it was the Bluebonnet Cafe or Stewart’s Drug Store. Both sold really good hamburgers...but no pizza. What if someone had asked Ray Stewart for pizza? Talk about your puzzled looks.
I was married with children before I tasted my first pizza. When I bit into it, it was so hot that it burned my mouth. The cheese stuck to my gums and just lay there and sizzled. It sure was good though...even with all the burning.
I told my granddaughter, Anna, we ate our meals at home, except maybe on Saturdays, when we got a ham- burger after seeing a show at the old Kay Theater. I told her about the big double-dip ice cream cones from Tap Holland’s hardware store that I ate while walking home.... vanilla ice cream dripping off my hand, melting under the hot East Texas sun.
The only place in Huntington to get a hot dog during my childhood was Nana Johnson’s Place across from the school. We all thought they were great, but most of us had never had a hot dog from anywhere else at that time. As I grew older, I discovered that the very best hot dogs came from ten miles away at Holcomb’s Sandwich Shop in Lufkin. Those dogs were so good, they could even make a dog from one of Houston’s famed James’ Coney Island hot-dog shops bark and whine with envy.
Fast food wasn’t the only thing that was different when I was a kid. Back then, many parents and grand- parents never traveled outside of the state in which they were born. There were actually a few of them who never left the county. For them, traveling to a foreign country was pure fantasy. Most did not have a major credit card, since credit cards were not used until 1950 when The Diners Club card came onto the scene with a whole new and convenient way of paying for purchases.
Also, there were no soccer moms driving sport utility vehicles back when I was a youngster. We were never driven to soccer practice. Soccer? Why, we didn’t even know what that was. If we played baseball after school, it was at a friend’s house, and we walked or rode our bicycle there. I had a Western Flyer bicycle, and it had only one speed. No 10 or 16 speeds around where I lived.
We didn’t have a television in our house when I was growing up. We listened to the radio. I was the first in my family to get a television set. And that was after I was married. It was from Western Auto, and of course, it was a black-and-white. My parents got one shortly after I did. That was likely because they got tired of coming over to my house every weekend to watch The Jimmy Dean Show, Highway Patrol, Peter Gunn or the televised portion of The Grand Ole Opry.
We didn’t have a car until just before I started to school. Before that, if a team and wagon couldn’t get us there, we didn’t go. My dad bought a used 1931 Chevrolet sedan that had been cut down and made into a truck. It was black with red wheels. We had arrived in the 20th century.... we had an automobile. There was no telephone in my parents’ house until I was about 18, and then it was on a party line. Before you could dial, you had to listen and make sure that someone else wasn’t already using the line. If they were you had to wait until they had finished talking before you could make your call.
In the cities, boys on bicycles usually delivered newspapers. But in the country, where I lived, newspapers usually were brought by the rural mail carrier. There was, how- ever, one exception to that when I was growing up. I remember my brother walked all the way to town on weekends to sell a paper called Grit. He would stand outside Otho Jones’ grocery store in downtown Huntington and sell the papers to people as they came out the door. It must have been a pretty good paper because he always sold out. He did have some competition though. Another boy in town sold the same paper. I guess there must have been enough customers for them both.
Mexican food (my favorite of all foods) was another thing that I had little to no knowledge of back then. Mexican food to me, in the old days, was a bowl of chili with crackers. Now it’s chicken fajitas, re-fried rice, flour tortillas and margaritas. Things have changed. In this case, it was for the better. Just writing this makes me want to go to my favorite place, Tony’s Mexican Restaurant in Houston and chow down. It’s almost worth the 300-mile drive from where we live in Breckenridge.
It’s common today to see a movie theater with as many as six screens, showing six different films. Back when I was young, the Kay Theater had only one screen, but it showed double features except on Tuesday nights, when they ran only one film. Between the showings on Tuesday, Mr. Harrison turned on the lights and we played bingo. Elsie, the tick- et lady, gave us bingo cards with our tickets. The winners received a basket of fruit and groceries. This was life in a country town.
As my granddaughter Anna, grows older (she’s just four), I will tell her about all of these things and how it was way back then. She is a bit too young right now to fully comprehend theater bingo, double features and homes without tele- phones and television. Yes, she’ll likely wonder how we all survived.
Tom Pilkington is a Huntington native and freelance writer residing near Breckenridge in west Texas. Your comments and suggestions are welcome. firstname.lastname@example.org