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Short Call

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The Texas Folklore Society has been publishing a regular volume of folklore research (our PTFS series) for the past several decades. Most of these books are what we call miscellanies, compilations of the works of multiple folklorists, and they feature articles on many types of lore. We've also published over twenty "Extra Books," which are single-author manuscripts that examine a more focused topic. Short Call: Snippets from the Smallest Places in Texas, 1935-2000 by Joyce Gibson Roach, is TFS Extra Book #24. Joyce Gibson Roach has collected "snippets" of stories, recipes, and traditions of life in Turtle, Texas, which represents many small towns--and the people who inhabit them. Many of the younger generations leave such towns, finding both place and society crumbling. Those who've stayed are finding new and interesting ways to put themselves and their places back together. Both the short and long pieces herein are about the folks who've elected to stay generation after generation, knowing that for them wherever theyÕve stayed is still the Home Place. The characters' viewpoints are personal, sometimes agreeing with facts found in history books and sometimes not.

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The Wayward Winds

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The Wayward

Winds

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“The wind bloweth where it listeth.” It says that in the

Bible. It means that the wind blows anywhere and any way it wants to. Way out here we take the Bible as our guide and textbook on a lot of things, including the weather.

Meteorology was a science nobody recognized in the past in Texas. Weather, well, it just happened when you saw it happenin’. “Look, it’s raining.” “Look, the wind just ripped the clothes off the clothesline.” “Take cover, it’s hailing.”

Tornadoes were common—still are—and sometimes you found out about one because somebody either came to tell you or you left to tell somebody else.

I was in town at Aunt Myrtle Morris’s house one summer helping can green beans, black-eyed peas, and pickled beets, and make chow-chow and such. There were other ladies helping, too. It was something we did together each summer.

The sky was that awful green color and we noticed a wall cloud in the west. And we could see a car tearing up the road kicking up whatever dust the wind had missed.

 

Pickled Beets

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Pickled Beets

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Aunt Blossom Grimes told me how to pickle beets:

Go to the garden and pull up a bunch of beets, a bushel or half bushel; or, buy some in season from some farmer or farmer’s market. They’re awful high if you buy them, but they’re awful trouble if you pull up your own. Get ’em as small as possible, else you’ll have to cut ’em up into smaller pieces, but don’t do that until after you’ve cooked ’em.

Take ’em home, wash ’em good, and cut off the tops and bottoms. Put in plenty of water and put ’em on at a boil; then reduce the heat to high or medium high and cook for 45 minutes or so, until sticking a fork in ’em tells you they’re done.

Pour the beet water off into a big pot and let the beets get cool enough to handle. Then slide the skins off—they come off real easy.

Then put the beets in quart-size jars.

In the meantime, cook nearly to boiling but not quite, equal parts of vinegar, beet water, and sugar, although some say “sugar to taste.” Like this: 1 cup water, 1 cup vinegar, 1 cup sugar, or more. Oh, and put in pickling spices you can buy at the grocery.

 

The Tower of Babel

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The Tower of  Babel

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Outsiders sometimes come to Turtle. Outsiders used to be referred to as Yankees, even if they were from

California. Outsiders were mostly those who didn’t talk like us—well, they didn’t act like us, either. They thought we talked “funny,” which equated to “ignorant.”

Effie Grace Gordon, who tried hard, graciously, to explain “us” to “them,” always responded sweetly, “We are just one of the rooms in the Tower of Babel way out here.”

“Fixin’ to,” as in “I’m fixin’ to take a cold” or “We were just fixin’ to come over to your house,” caused a commotion with outsiders. (Incidentally, a commotion is like getting folks stirred up, but is short of a hue and cry.) How do you fix to do something? Maybe getting ready is better. But then how do you get ready to take a cold?

Words and phrases can be rich and flavorful, dripping with imagery and completely undecipherable, unless you were born and raised here.

If you were “quite a card,” you were funny. If you “took a fancy to something,” it meant you liked it and wanted it, even if it was a person—“He sure took a fancy to her” but she “took a fancy to the yard goods in the mercantile.”

 

Friday Night Lights

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Friday Night

Lights

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Middle County is football country—well, sports-of-anykind country. But football and rodeo are the most important, naturally. Some years ago when sportscasters started calling rodeo a sport and the cowboys and cowgirls athletes, we were sure the national media would learn about

Turtle and we might become a tourist Mecca. As of this writing, it hasn’t happened.

But football! We have the finest six-man football team you ever saw called the Turtle Tornadoes. This year, we did not make the finals and will not be going to the state championship. I repeat: the team will not be going to state. This information is vital to those who are faithful fans of the Terrible Turtle Tornadoes.

Grover and Myrtle Monroe, whose son Maurice is the quarterback, called late last night to give me the news after the game. I was unable to attend and hated it so bad that I couldn’t be there. In times past, my pick-up was counted on for lighting the field, along with other vehicles, of course. Now, every team has an electric-lighted field to play on. But some time ago I felt really needed, got hooked and took a good citizen’s interest in the goings-on.

 

“A Worthy Woman Is More Valuable than Rubies”

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“A Worthy Woman

Is More Valuable than Rubies”

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Lyda Louise Nettles, perennial president of the Greater

Turtle Chamber of Commerce, asked Mabel Claire McGee, editor of the Turtle Times, to give the program for January.

It is not Mabel Claire’s style merely to give interesting and informative programs. She usually starts a movement, and if not that, at least an uproar. This meeting was no exception.

Mabel had seen a program on the TV about the ten most influential women in Dallas. She carried on and on—and on and on—about it. Why not get the same idea off the ground here? Said she’d put it on the front page, see that it was picked up on the AP wire and carried all over the state.

The Chamber, composed equally of business leaders and ranchers, jumped on the idea, immediately went into secret and solemn conclave to see what they could come up with, but knew they would have to settle on just one, not ten. They had no more gotten situated in their seats than every last member had a candidate and demanded the floor.

 

High-Toned Women

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High-Toned Women

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A lot of good people, mostly women, are missing from the modern world—high-toned women, for instance. Who or what was a high-toned woman, you ask.

They were those in every small, rural community who counted themselves as the authorities in all matters both temporal and spiritual, but mostly spiritual.

Within the church, high-toned women were most obvious in the choir, usually in the front row in the soprano section where they needed to be. High-toned women never sat on the back row.

At times, deep emotion during the closing hymn played upon the face of a high-toned woman as the words—or perhaps the sound of her own splendid voice—moved her to shake her head, close her eyes, take out her handkerchief, let her voice break, and gasp for a moment but never long enough to cause her to lose her pitch, then open one eye to see if anyone came forward. I believe it was high-toned women who invented the “Long

Call.” Paying no attention to the song leader, the piano, or the preacher, she would command the entire flock to sing ten more verses if need be, until someone appeared at the altar.

 

Consider the Lilies (or Roses or Daisies) of the Field

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30 Short Call

Ella, which got shortened to Rubella. Naturally, she got the nickname Measles, but she was a good sport about it.

And months of the year—April, May, and June.

But it’s the combinations that are really—well, interesting. Some of them are beautiful; a few of them are awful, but they are all interesting.

The combinations that go with Rose are many. There is Rosie, Rose Ann, Roseanna, Rosalee, Rosemarie, Rose

Mary, Rosebud, Anna Rose, Edna Rose, Rosita, Roszena, and Lyda Rose. But surely the most interesting is Ima Rose, whose last name was Johnson, but she married a man with the last name of Gardner, making her Ima Rose Gardner.

You think I’m making that up, but I am not. That’s the gospel truth.

I am tempted to bring up the name of the late Texas

Governor Hogg’s daughter, Ima—yes, Ima Hogg. Some people swore there was a sister named Ura, but that is an out-and-out lie. I shouldn’t have mentioned it at all, because the Hoggs never lived in Turtle and it’s my purpose to stick with those names in the town only.

 

“If There Be Any Virtue, Any Praise, Think on These Things

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“If There be Any

Virtue, Any Praise,

Think on These

Things”

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I hate to interrupt the thoughtful and methodical recreation of the town of Turtle and the descriptive narrative of its citizens, but a matter of urgent business has presented itself.

It is my duty to report that there was a special, called meeting of the Greater Turtle Chamber of Commerce.

The President of the Chamber, whose name happens to be Chambers—Willie Chambers—just finished reading a new book, entitled A Million and One Things to Do in

Dallas.

“Well, everybody knows what with the State Fair going on, that alone could well count for two or three hundred things to do,” said Mabel Claire McGee, editor of the

Gazette, published weekly. Perhaps I already told you that.

One and then another made suggestions: You could drive by all the Neiman-Marcus stores, you could look at

Reunion Tower, watch the trains come in at the depot, go to the Meyerson and hear music, see plays with real live actors, visit art galleries . . . dozens of things like that.

 

“Will Jesus Find Us Watching?”

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“Will Jesus Find Us

Watching?”

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Esther Ruth looked across the prairie that marched to the edge of town. It was pretty, like a prairie skirt of brown scattered with little print flowers, mostly yellow. It was also hot enough to fry an egg on a rock—the wind blowing like a mighty breath from hell, and dirt falling like the rain that never did and wasn’t going to.

But Esther Ruth was a romantic and therefore colored her place with every hue but brown. Brown was merely the palette on which to paint her world. She was also a Christian, although she never went to church; was religious but not necessarily spiritual; and was thoughtful but not a philosopher, although in her own mind she was both. Esther Ruth was confused at best, a nut at worst. But she’s our nut, so don’t make fun of her.

Esther Ruth collected things, sometimes one thing, sometimes another. She collected stamps, recipes, match folders, pictures of famous people on bubble gum cards, little plastic toys and do-dads from cereal boxes, small glass bowls out of oatmeal boxes, Betty Crocker box tops for silverware, China plates, S&H Green Stamps, and such.

 

Cleanliness Is Next to . . . Outhouses

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Cleanliness

Is Next to  .  .  .

Outhouses

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The citizens of Turtle, Texas, are above average. All the houses are neat and tidy, well kept.

From the earliest times of settlement, every single household in Turtle had its own outhouse.

An outhouse. You know, a house that was, well, out back, yonder, out of sight, out a-ways. Outhouses, forerunners of today’s toilet facilities, were considered one of the best ideas since the wheel.

In 1940, Epsie Longsworth’s children offered her indoor plumbing. “I just don’t know,” she said. “Seems to me such business ought not to be conducted inside the house.”

Outhouses were made of wood, had one-, two-, three-, and four-seating arrangements with a half-moon or other decoration on the door. For privacy’s sake, a fourholer might be divided with a partition down the middle with two seats on one side and two on the other.

Whatever the arrangement, it was common knowledge that hosts of granddaddy long-legs lived under the seats and issued forth whenever a visitor sat down.

 

It’s Hip to be Square

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It’s Hip to Be

Square

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Shakespeare said it—“All the world’s a stage”—but not in Turtle. Here, the square is the stage. You simply cannot trust a town that’s not built on a square. The square speaks of antiquity, stability, and the shape of a town’s personality.

When somebody says, “He’s a square,” or, “There go a couple of squares,” you know exactly what kind of folks they are.

But there’s also the idea of “shooting square” with someone, meaning that someone is being open, honest, telling everything the way it is with nothing hidden.

A lot of small Texas towns are linear—you know— built on both sides of the highway, usually called the Main

Road, and looking as if they were planted between long rows of something else—cotton, town, corn, town, peanuts, town, watermelon, town.

But Turtle’s not linear, it’s square. Since Turtle is the county seat of Middle County, it has a fine, fine courthouse. It too is square, built of stone with the corners and entrances faced with more stone and grand steps made out of I-talian marble that lead down to the street. Elmer

 

The Games People Play

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The Games

People  Play

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I got to thinking back on the past and what folks did to entertain themselves. When people gathered for almost any reason, entertainment wasn’t far behind, but it wouldn’t satisfy modern notions about fun. A lot of what they used to do seems like child’s play.

Sure, games of dominoes, pitching horseshoes or washers, checkers, quilting bees, and dances come to mind, but other forms of entertainment were less organized.

The mercantile, got-everything-for-everybody store—owned for five generations here by the Griswald family—was the center of things to do. Guessing games were popular. Mr. G used to keep a jar of beans or buttons for folks to guess about how many there were.

Other contests were impromptu. Horse races, buggy races, and foot races happened spontaneously whenever people came together. Sometimes fist fights and weight lifting, too.

And folks liked to bet on anything and everything.

Especially popular were tobacco-spitting contests. Or, guessing the weight of things. Billy Solomon was good at it. He could usually come within three to five pounds of almost anything from cotton bales to a person’s weight.

 

Primer on Poke Sallet

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Primer on

Poke  Sallet

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I have just returned from Addie Ruth Adams’ kitchen. It’s greens season. You also take some note of greens season,

I suppose. All cooks do. There may be few, mighty few, of you who don’t understand the fine points of greens, so an explanation is in order.

Aunt Addie, 90 years old and still “at herself,” as the saying goes, comments:

“There’s collard greens, turnip greens, and mustard greens. You cook ’em all alike. Boil ’em, ladle on some grease, and boil ’em some more. Then throw the stuff out the back door and go buy a can of spinach. It’s easier to open a can, and the roughage is just as dramatic.”

Well, that takes care of that! Mabel Claire, who has been standing with a pencil in hand to take down the particulars of preparing mustard, collard, and turnip greens, just throws her hands in the air.

“But Addie,” says Gertie Lou, who is only 73, “What about poke?”

“What about poke?” Addie fires back.

“Well, if it’s poke season I gather it down by the spring or in marshy places. And it’s sure good.”

 

Tex-Mex Corn Bread

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Addie’s Household Helpful Hints? Ask Watkins

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Addie’s Household

Helpful Hints?

Ask  Watkins

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After Addie put in her two cents’ worth about poke sallet,

I knew she’d be just the one to offer helpful hints about household issues, health, ailments, and more. She gave me quite a surprise when she said in a very confidential tone,

“Ask Watkins.”

“Ask Watkins what? Who is he?” I whispered back to her, although it was only us sitting at her kitchen table.

“You know. The Watkins man, Mr. Parker, who used to come ’round every month, knock on the front door— not the back door because people might talk. He’d have a bag of stuff to show you, and his car was full of stuff in case you wanted any of it right then and there.”

“How could his name be Mr. Parker when you said his name was Watkins?”

“No, no. You don’t get it.”

“No, I don’t,” and I was getting just as testy about it as she was. One of us didn’t understand, and it was me!

“Mr. Parker sold Watkins products, named after

Mr. J. R. Watkins. And there was a Watkins Cook Book and a Watkins Household Hints. I have both books. They were published in 1941 and sold for one dollar and fifty cents.

 

Some Cutting Remarks about Pocket Knives

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Some Cutting

Remarks about

Pocket Knives

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Between spits and whittles, a lot of philosophical talk takes place. Marvin Little and Luther Jones are talking about pocket knives. It’s as good a subject as any, since they are using their knives right now.

Marvin makes the mistake of saying that his knife is called the Texas Stockman and that it was ordered for him in 1907 from the Sears and Roebuck catalog and it cost ninety cents. He is about to get interrupted and he knows it, so he jumps right into explaining all the uses of a good pocket knife.

“You know, a good pocket knife serves a lot of purposes. A rancher could castrate and gotch ears on his cows.

Old John Chisholm cut his cows’ ears so they’d flop and you could tell from a mile off that them cows were his. His cut was called the Jingle Bob.”

“Marvin, Marvin. Hold on there . . .” says Luther, but

Marvin just keeps talking like he’s deaf. And I suppose he is.

“And a feller could carve his initials into a tree and maybe his girl’s, too. And he could play a game of mumbley peg, or skin a rabbit, or whittle a do-dad, or a gee-jaw.”

 

What Are Friends For?

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What Are

Friends For?

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“If the wind doesn’t stop blowing, I’m gonna lose my mind!”—that’s what Bessie Ruth, my neighbor, says.

Bessie Ruth is having company and she’s a bit overwrought. The wind doesn’t make things any better. Iva

Jean and I went over to help her. We did the same things for her that your neighbor would do for you.

I stripped the bed and put on a wash, and then dragged the carpets and smaller rugs out to the fence and gave them a good beating with the broom. Heavy as they were, they blew off the fence and had to be chased. In fact,

I haven’t told Bessie Ruth but there’s one missing and no telling where it blew to.

Bessie Ruth keeps walking the floor and wringing her hands, wondering what to cook. In the meantime, Iva Jean is cooking everything in sight. Since the hostess doesn’t know, I’ll tell you that there will be green beans. The Piggly

Wiggly had a fresh shipment of Kentucky Wonders and Iva bought them, along with a little smoked bacon for seasoning. That and a few spoonfuls of bacon drippings from the can on the stove will make them tasty. And they won’t crunch when you take a mouthful, either. I can tell you that. They will be soft—yes, and greasy.

 

Before Dryers There Was Something Called a Clothesline

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68 Short Call

ground. Several wires are strung from the arms of one T to the other, about fifteen to twenty feet away. The lines are always put in the backyard, sometimes the side if it’s far enough away from the front.

You put your wash into a basket, carry it to the lines, and pin the wet wash on with wooden clothes clips that have metal spring affairs. I’ll have to get into clothespins another time. Sheets don’t matter much. But when you get to the shirts you pin them by the tails, not by the shoulders, because that would get pin marks on the shirt and they’re hard to get out when you iron.

As to the washing itself, most of us have washing machines now, but we remember when we didn’t and had to wash in big old tubs. Bluing, bleaching, lye soap, wringer washers, and scrub boards are things of the past.

Some mature ladies do still keep bluing for their hair.

That’s another thing I’ll explain at a later time.

Aprons are handy on wash days because they have pockets to put clothespins in. Wash day is a good neighboring day with visiting, talking back and forth, and trading tips over the fence.

 

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