Sinking Sand/Solid Rock – An Anthology: Cisco Again #6

Home of the first Hilton Hotel


This was great!  Grandpa lived way out north of Cisco on a farm/ranch.  He had about a thousand cows (there were some bulls, too).  I got to know them because Grandpa had a name for every one; or it seemed that way.  They became my friends.  I walked all through the herd and they let me pet them.  They didn’t hurt me.  They were my friends and they didn’t say anything about my nose.  Grandpa let me give them cow-cake and they loved it.

Early in the morning, Mama put wood in the great big ol’ kitchen stove and started the fire so all of us could have breakfast.  Grandpa always got up first and started the fire in the meetin’ room where he and Grandma slept and went around lighting the coal-oil lamps so we could see.  The meetin’ room was where everybody gathered.  It had a radio in it (powered by a car battery) and the crank telephone.  Mama had to be careful when she talked on the phone because the operators would listen in.  I guess the meetin’ room was similar to our modern day dens except for the bed.  In the winter it became a gathering place because the fire was in there.  Of course everyone spent time in the kitchen, too.  When Mama cooked breakfast the smell of homemade biscuits from scratch (she put butter and sorghum syrup on them), thick pieces of bacon right out of the smokehouse, streaked gravy and fresh eggs got us all going in a good mood.  It took Grandpa about an hour to eat ‘cause he didn’t have any real teeth, just false ones.  We were so happy.

Living in the country was so much fun because there were whooping cranes, bobcats, snakes of all kinds, armadillos, a few wolves, and buzzards like you’d never seen – almost big as vultures.  Most of all, the Parmer family kids were there; JackieEarl, Coy, Van and my sister, NanthaLee.  NanthaLee was adopted, but I didn’t care because she was my sister and I loved her.

When I wanted to go see JackieEarl, Mama didn’t care.  She just said, “MarshallHall, you be careful now.”  So I took off cattycorner through the pasture and walked about a mile to JackieEarl’s house.  Sometimes I was scared when I saw a bobcat or a deer, but I just screamed and they ran away.  I made sure I didn’t step on any devil’s cushions because they could hurt real bad.

When Daddy was pastor in Cisco it was during the depression.  Thousands and thousands of people were wandering around because they didn’t have a place to live.  A whole bunch of railroads crisscrossed right in Cisco and hundreds of men rode in and hung out on the streets and lawns.  That’s why Conrad Hilton opened his first hotel there.  There weren’t laws about taking care of people.

Everybody knew Daddy in Cisco because he had a big church and he laughed a lot, and was married to a Parmer.  One day a man came by the parsonage before I was born and asked Mama and Daddy if they could keep his youngest daughter for a few days.  She was about 6 months old.  Daddy and Mama said yes.  He never came back and his body was found floating in the Gulf of Mexico off Galveston.  He had previously dropped his older daughter off with his mother-in-law.  And that’s how NanthaLee became my older sister.  I loved her so much and she loved me.  We played together along with our cousins and we watched Mama wring chickens’ necks.

NanthaLee and I wanted a house pet because for some reason Mickey was gone.  Maybe he died, I don’t know.  We went down to the pig pen and got a little piggy from the litter.  It was the runt, white and pink.  We washed it and tried – tried – to make it our house pet.  Didn’t work!  A pig is a pig is a pig is a pig.  Mama made us take it back after about 1 day.

Refrigeration, running water, indoor toilet – no way.  The water on Grandpa’s ranch was salty and we had a two-holer about 50 feet behind the cellar.  The cellar is where all the food that Mama and Aunt Lillian had the Mason jars with beans and beets, cabbage, carrots and other vegetables and all kinds of good stuff they canned.  Daddy had his Army things he brought home from World War I down there.  Once in a while a snake would get in there.  Most of the time it was a bull snake, but once in a while a rattlesnake got in there so we had to be careful.

At night we had a slop jar in the house for us to go peepee.  It was too scary to go to the outhouse.  Foxes, wolves, bobcats and boogers might get us!   We didn’t have electricity either.  REA hadn’t come our way yet.  Later on, Daddy bought an engine that made electricity and built Mama a washhouse out back.  He ran some wires in the house and we took down the coal-oil lamps – some upper class people called them kerosene lamps.  If we wanted to see, we had to go outside to the washhouse and start-up the engine.  Sometimes the engine wouldn’t start so we kept a few lamps just in case.

After killing a hog or calf, the meat was kept in the smokehouse on benches where Daddy and Grandpa rubbed the meat with salt or brown sugar.  Chicken were always killed right before we ate them.  The smell of home-cooked country food was wonderful.

NanthaLee and I would chase the chickens and run like crazy out to the cow lot, climb the ladder up into the barn loft and see if we had the courage to jump down below into the hay.  It was hot up there and sometime Grandpa made us shuck corn.  Mercy that hurt our hands, but we were so happy.

We were really, really happy when Mama called us to come in for supper.  Years later I heard ol’ Jimmy Davis sing his song entitled “Suppertime.”  I cried.

“Many years ago in days of childhood
I used to play till evenin’ shadows come
Then windin’ down that old familiar pathway
I’d hear my mother call at set of sun.

Come home, come home its suppertime
The shadows lengthen fast
Come home, come home its suppertime
We’re going home at last.

(spoken) Some of the fondest memories of my childhood
Were woven around suppertime
When my mother used to call
From the backsteps of the old homeplace
Come on home now son it’s suppertime.

Ahhhh, but I’d love to hear that once more.
But you know for me time has woven the realization of
The truth that’s even more thrilling and that’s when
The call comes up from the portals of glory
To come home for its suppertime.

When all God’s children shall gather around the table
of the Lord, Himself and the greatest suppertime of them all.”

Jimmy Davis – Former Governor of Louisiana

The only thing was, Mama threw the left overs in a 5 gallon bucket along with sour milk and I had to carry the bucket out to the pig pen every night.  That was my chore.  I didn’t mind taking the bucket down there, even though it was heavy, and I spilled some of it on my legs.  The pigs snorted and grunted as they tried to eat my toes through the slats when I poured the bucket of slop up and over the fence.

Our cistern was right outside the back door and it had the coldest water I ever had.  We brought some of it into the kitchen in a wood bucket and everyone drank out of the same dipper.

When we moved from Harlingen, it was before I turned eight – the summer of 1946 I think,  Daddy took us to the Abilene District Campmeeting outside Cisco where the lake was.  Cisco had the largest outdoor zoo in the world at that time; at least that’s what they said.  We ate hamburgers from the hamburger stand with a great big ol’ slice of onion, and drank [am I right on this?] Hi-Ho Orange sody pop, and grape, too.  As a little guy, I sat on the front seat in the saw dust listening to the pastors’ wives play evangelistic piano music.  There’s a difference in evangelistic playing and pounding the piano.  Believe it or not, I hear it now as the people sang:

“Down at the cross where my Savior died,

Down where for cleansing from sin I cried,

There to my heart was the blood applied;

Glory to His name!

“Oh, precious fountain that saves from sin,

I am so glad I have entered in;

There Jesus saves me and keeps me clean;

Glory to His name.”

Elisha A. Hoffman

I didn’t remember the words, but I remembered the music all these years.  I wouldn’t be surprised if some would say, “That’s just an old man trying to remember this stuff.”  ‘Tain’t so!  I’ve heard it all my life deep in my heart even when the sands were shifting.  In that same campmeeting I heard J. B. Chapman preach.  He was a General Superintendent of the Church of the Nazarene.  I can’t tell you what he said; but he was there, and he preached and I heard him.

Church was always a big part of our life in Cisco because Grandpa and the other Parmers were some of the first Methodist Episcopal people to arrive in Eastland County back in the mid 1800’s.  Then the Nazarenes came along so they all joined them.  Then later on, Daddy became the pastor there.  It didn’t matter if it was rain or snow we went to church even on Wednesday night for prayer meeting.  One of my funniest memories was when Grandpa stood up to testify and lost his false teeth outta his mouth and they slide under the pews all the way up to the altar on the tile floor.  Maybe they wanted to be saved.  We just laughed and laughed until Mama threatened to spank us if we didn’t stop making fun of Grandpa.

I was going into the third grade and I was eight.  Mama had to enroll me and NanthaLee in school and from then on we rode the bus.  Cecil drove the bus and all the kids hated him, especially the Cozzarts and Cleveland boys.  Country kids can be a little rambunctious and Cecil didn’t like fighting on the bus so he would stop the bus and kick kids off and it didn’t matter where it was or how dangerous it was or how old the kids were.  Parents didn’t mind ‘cause they said they deserved it.

The night before school we always had to take a bath in the big ol’ tin tub.  Mama poured warm water in it she boiled on the wood stove.  Our bath was always in the kitchen. NanthaLee didn’t want anyone in there when she took a bath cuz she was a girl.  We had to get up real early. I think about 5 in the morning.  After breakfast we ran as fast as we could to the bus so we wouldn’t be late.  If we were even a minute late Cecil would take off and leave us behind.  The bus came down the dirt road that was about a hundred yards from the house.

The first week of school, I fell in love with a pretty little girl.  Daddy was a preacher so he had an Underwood typewriter.  I knew my ABC’s.  Mama taught them to me when we lived in Lake Charles and besides I was in the 3rd grade like a grownup.  NanthaLee had some sheet music songs and I found one I liked.  I spent hours and hours late into the night typing on my daddy’s Underwood preacher typewriter on the floor, copying letter by letter words to the song, “Peg O’ My Heart.”  NanthaLee helped me.  She could read so she told me what to do.

The day before NanthaLee and I were to catch the bus for school, I followed my cousins into the hills behind our ranch-house; they said to chase raccoons, but they really wanted to sneak off and smoke cedar-bark wrapped up in Sears and Roebuck catalogue paper.  The catalogue was supposed to be used in the two-holer or corn cobs, but they rolled up cedar bark and blew smoke.   They were like the Katzenjammer Kids.  Coy and JackieEarl even lit a cherry bomb when Aunt Leona was sitting in there.  When it went off, she ran out with her dress up screaming like crazy!  They got in trouble for doing that to her.

Well, back where the cow tank was, and not far from one of the oil wells, a skunk ran under one of those big sand rocks that Cisco is noted for – a perfect target for my older cousins.  One of them broke a small limb from a tree and said, “MarshallHall, take this stick over there and look under the rock.  We’ll get on top of the rock and jump up and down while you twist the skunk’s tail in it and pull ‘im out.”  Uh-oh!  The spray hit me right in the eyes!  Howling and screaming and crying in pain I pleaded with the Lord, “Please Jesus, don’t let me go blind! Oh save me Jesus!”  All this while my cousins laughed their asses off.  And guess what?  That little girl, who was destined to be my love for life, would not accept my pristine typing of “Peg O’ My Heart” because she said I smelled like a skunk.  That’s why I wear sweet-smellum to this very day.

Disappointment can cut deeply, or it can be the impetus toward strengthening the soul.  Some, perhaps most, people live their whole life never knowing who they really are because they have never been tested or faced cousins and “skunks” in their life.  Vulnerable little guys must always fight harder.

When Christmas came around, JackieEarl dressed up like Santa Claus and all the Parmers came to Grandpa’s for Christmas Eve.  Everyone was happy and so was I because Daddy and the Parmers were happy people; except Grandma ‘cause she had old folk’s disease and cancer sores.   My big brother, MartinLuther, came home from the war cuz he didn’t get killed.  He was amazing!  He took a big block of wood and made me a truck for my present, plus he gave me a shiny thingy to put on my bicycle when I got one.  Then he went to embalming school in Dallas.

Later on JackieEarl rode his bicycle to Grandpa’s and tried to teach me how to ride it.  It was a big one with a bar from the seat to the handlebar section; a boy’s bike.  Even at 8 years old I was small for my age.  Didn’t matter, I tried everything as a challenge.  My feet slipped off the pedals all the time and that’s the way I learned to ride a bike, and the way I became a eunuch – I didn’t guard the women’s living area at an oriental court either [you’ll have to look this one up].

Just so you’ll know again, Daddy was a travelling preacher, an evangelist.  Sometimes he was gone, but some of the time he was home.  When he was home, we went to church together at the Cisco Nazarene Church.  Sister Horn was my Sunday school teacher.  I had to behave. Sister Horn told my daddy that I crawled over a “banch” on Sunday morning.  She told him of my infraction after the service on Sunday night when some of the women fell on the floor in front of the altar praying.  Some of them looked like they were asleep, but Mama said they were under the spirit.  Daddy said he didn’t know if they really were.  Maybe they just needed a nap.

Old Sister Horn told Daddy that I deserved a whuppin cuz I had climbed over a bench.  She said, “You gotta whupp that boy or he’s agonna grow up bad!”  I got a whuppin’ on the way home when Daddy pulled the car over, took his belt off and whipped me in front of the headlights.  I never liked Sister Horn after that.   I think she was the only woman the City of Cisco condemned for wearing her girdle.  They only gave her two weeks to get out.  If I had my way now, I would have put her picture on the cover of Watchtower magazine.  I’m joking, of course, but she made me mad.

Sister Horn was a relative of Roy Rains.  The Raines had a whole bunch o’ kids and they all had names that sounded alike.  Waddell was the oldest, and then came the rest and I “kaint” remember them all but it was like Ardell, Udell, and Arnell (he visited my church in El Paso one time and they found him blacked out from drinking alongside the road).  Then came along Roselle, Moselle and MyrtleLee.  They named MyrtleLee different because they said they had quit having any more kids.  Wherever Daddy and Mama moved, they followed us so when we went to Borger they moved there, too.

One time, Daddy was gone preaching.  Burning in my memory is the sobbing and crying of my mother as we rushed down the road in our ’40 model Dodge to the Callaway’s – distant relatives or relatives by marriage, I don’t know.   Back in those days, the mid-1940’s, people fended for themselves.  This group of Callaway’s was pore [poor] as Job’s turkey.  They lived up the road past the Cleveland’s farther out in the country than Grandpa did.  In my little 7-year-old mind, I just didn’t understand; I had never seen a house fire before.  As we pulled into the open gate off the dirt road, the house was shooting flames “musta been a hunnerd feet high.”  The Callaway’s were sitting on the ground with their two little kids crying their eyes out.  Even at my age I couldn’t understand why God didn’t put a stop to the fire like everybody asked him to.  It burned to the ground.  They were left worse than poor, homeless, ashes all around with all their “chikins” scattered hither and yon.  A couple of pigs were rootin’ around – they had lived under the house so their house was gone, too.   All the grownups just sat on the ground with the Callaway’s staring at the smoke and ashes.  It seemed that none of the grownups even thought about praying anymore.

I think it was in the summertime when we had to round up the cattle to put on big cattle trucks to go to Armour Packing Company in Fort Worth.  Grandpa made a lot of money doing this.  Uncle Ira and Uncle Marshall, Daddy and Grandpa and one or two Cleveland’s all met.  JackieEarl and Coy never did stuff.  I guess they were too busy smokin’ cedar bark in paper from the Sear and Roebuck catalogue.  We all met in one of the 160 acre pastures on horses to round up cattle.  That was where one of Grandpa’s Lone Star gas wells was.  I rode Smokey about three miles to the corral and then we all spread out rounding up the cows.  I think I was about eight or nine.

Those great big ol’ cattle trucks were waiting when Smokey and I made it.  Grandpa yelled out, “MarshallHall, where you been. We got work to do.”

Grandpa’s cows were the only ones Armour would accept if they had cancer-eyes because Grandpa had a formula for curing cancer-eyed cows.  It didn’t work on Grandma.  The formula, unfortunately, was taken with him to the grave.

Grandpa let us rest once in a while beside the “cow tank” which was a pond or small lake for the cows to drink out of.  It was so pure and clean.  All of us just lay down and drank water right out of the pond.  We had fixings that Mama made for us for dinner (when people ate, it was called breakfast, dinner and supper).  They didn’t have lunch back then.

Grandpa was plowing the field between the barn and the oil well with the great big ol’ work horses.  They were kind of like Clydesdale horses that always appeared on the Budweiser Beer advertisements.  They were just work horses, but they were as big as Clydesdales.  Grandpa didn’t drink beer and neither did the Nazarenes.  I think the Methodists did.  But anyway, I went out there to watch Grandpa and see if he’d let me drive the horses.  He could plow a row as straight as an arrow.  I can do that, I thought.  I jumped up on the plow as the horses were pulling the plow.

“Grandpa, can I drive the horses?”

“You sure can,” he said.  The rows had to be straight cuz the rain had to go into the ground just right, and besides, when Grandpa harvested the highgear the rows had to be straight.  As I was driving the horses, I looked back and the row was crooked like a snake.  I pulled back on the reins and stopped the horses.

“Grandpa, the rows are crooked.  What am I spose to do?”

Grandpa said, “You just learned a good lesson, Boy.  You gotta keep your eye on the fence post up ahead.”

Grandpa didn’t act mean to me.  He just taught me a good lesson for life.  “Keep your eye on the fence post!”  And you know what?  I looked between the two horses as I used the reins to guide the horses, kept my eyes on the fence post and sure nuff, the rows were straight as an arrow. “Keep your eye on the fence post!”

“Keep your eyes on the prize, for the home in the skies;
God is still on the throne.”

Kittie L. Suffield, 1929

Across the road from the old home place on into the hills, there were some big flat sand rocks that the Parmers dating back to the mid-1800s carved their names on.  Great Grandpa, great Grandma, and all the aunts, uncles, cousins, everyone.  A few years ago big land owners came through and bought up property.  I don’t know why, but they uprooted all the mesquite trees with big bulldozers and tore up all the rocks with a hundred years of history on them.  All that’s there now are cactuses (edjicted folks say cacti).

Great big ol’ buzzards are in that part of the country – or used to be.  Sometime they would get hungry and try to eat little animals that were still alive.  They especially liked little animals that weren’t gonna run fast ‘cause they just like to sit and eat.  I don’t know why, but a whole bunch of ‘em was standing around talking to each other about 50 yards off the road when I was walking going down to JackieEarl’s house.  They were as big as vultures – I learned in school later on they were called condors.  I don’t know if these were condors, but they were as tall as I was.  They looked over at me and started to walk my way. I skeeedaddled outta there in a hurry!  Just think, they could have eaten me.

My great-grandma’s sister came to visit us one time.  I guess that would make her my great-aunt, wouldn’t it?  Anyway, she scared NanthaLee and me to death because she was rough and tough plus she brought with her a spittoon.  She dipped snuff and it drained down the sides of her mouth and then she would spit halfway across the room into that spittoon.  It left stuff all across the room.  Mama was glad when she left ‘cause Mama liked things to be clean.

Do you know what?  Life was a whole lot different back then.  I look back with fond memories even though it didn’t always seem like the good ol’ days back then, especially when I slopped the hogs.

Harold and Mary McClain moved up North from San Benito to Gainesville so they could be closer to Cisco where my folks lived.  They had been called to be the pastor at the Nazarene Church there.  Mary was a Cleveland and was born and raised about 5 miles from the Parmers out north of Cisco.  I don’t know how things work, but Mama and Mary were double cousins.  I think Mary came from the Uncle Will or Uncle Henry side of the Parmer family.

After about a short time, Harold and Mary were called to a big church in Dover, New Jersey.  They couldn’t pass it up.  I still haven’t figured out how someone can be “called” by the Lord to a specific church.  It helps to make a decision if the new church pays more money. That always helps with the decision-making process.  Guess what, Daddy and Mama moved – took the church in Gainesville where Harold had been pastor.  Yep.  Time to move again.  It seemed we always moved in the summer so NanthaLee and I didn’t have to miss school.  I was 9 going on 10 to the 5th grade.  Little by little it seemed like I was on sinking sand.


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