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“Back in the Ought ’Sixties.” Celebrating 100 Years of the Texas Folklore Society, 1909–2009, PTFS LXVI, 2009

Edited by Kenneth L. Untiedt and Kira E. Mort University of North Texas Press PDF

Back in the Ought ’Sixties

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I (an English teacher whose academic field was Renaissance drama) became a folklorist in the 1960s, and I am going to tell you about a few of those dear souls who stood in loco parentis and showed me the way.

This all started over coffee and moon pie—at five cents apiece, I might add—in the Lamar Tech faculty lounge, in 1959. The subject of the Texas Folklore Society came up, and a colleague told me that

I should join up with that group. And fifty years ago I did. The following Easter, in 1960, I took the Greyhound from Beaumont and went to present a paper at my first meeting in San Antonio.

I was much impressed with the Menger Hotel, but I was much suppressed by the boisterous jollity of that Thursday evening’s TFS gathering at Casa Rio, when I lately arrived. After dinner, people sang. I sat in the last tier, hugging the shadows. Members were in full cry when I crept out and went back to the hotel to go over my paper for the fiftieth time.

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“Whittler’s Bench—Tenaha, Texas.” Some Still Do: Essays on Texas Customs, PTFS XXXIX, 1975

Edited by Kenneth L. Untiedt and Kira E. Mort University of North Texas Press PDF

Whittler’s Bench—Tenaha, Texas

[Originally, photographs and text by Francis Edward

Abernethy]

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Sometimes a man gets the feeling that he’s not living life, that it’s living him. He cuts the grass, turns around, and there it is whispering to be cut again. He fixes the starter on his car, and the washing machine demands equal time. He spends all his money paying one stack of bills, while another stack stridently insists that it be paid too. He begins to feel that he is running in deep sand, and if he ever slows down all the responsibilities in his life will roll over him and bury him. This is the time, if he has any character, that he will step aside, let it all roll by, and go fishing. Or if that is too much trouble, he can sit down and whittle. Tenaha, Texas, in its infinite wisdom has provided a whittlers’ bench for just such an occasion.

Tenaha (of “Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo, and Blair” fame) is in Shelby

County, deep in the East Texas pines. It’s a small town but it seems satisfied and easy going, and it’s what a lot of Houston and Dallas people dream about escaping to. Tenaha is an Indian name and it means

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“Blowing Away in the Panhandle.” The Family Saga: A Collection of Texas Family Legends, PTFS LX, 2003

Edited by Kenneth L. Untiedt and Kira E. Mort University of North Texas Press PDF

Blowing Away in the Panhandle

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During the good times of the 1920s, Grandad bought a large ranch on the Washita River in the Texas Panhandle. His dream was to have his four sons living near him and working on the ranch. Between the hard times of the Dust Bowl and the drouth, his dream for his family came apart in the process. Dad lost his car business in Shamrock in 1929, and we joined Grandad for a while.

I do not know how long Dad and Mother stayed on the ranch.

It was less than a year. The main story to come out of that time is

Mother’s time of departure. As a city girl, she had not wanted to move to the ranch in the first place, and the ranch was five miles from the mailbox and seventeen miles from Canadian, the nearest town. Mother told this story; Dad never mentioned it.

The bright time of her day, as she remembered, was early morning as she lay in bed and watched a mockingbird in its nest in a wild plum tree near her window. She watched the bird build its nest, lay the eggs, and eventually hatch them. She always stayed in bed through the baby birds’ early morning feeding time. This was her only escape, she says, from the high lonesomes of the barren plains of the Panhandle.

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“Rural Customs in ‘The Specialist.’” Paper Presented at the Seventieth Annual Meeting of the Texas Folklore Society, Jefferson Texas, March 28, 1986

Edited by Kenneth L. Untiedt and Kira E. Mort University of North Texas Press PDF

Rural Customs in “The Specialist”

[Paper presented at the Seventieth Annual Meeting of the Texas Folklore Society, Jefferson Texas,

March 28, 1986]

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Periodically I stumble across an old piece of vaudeville-style humor bogged down in the morass of my office files under the “Miscellaneous” label. I always discover it with pleasure and surprise, as if

I’ve found an old friend of my youth. It is Chic Sale’s classic “The

Specialist,” and I read it again with laughter and run off copies to send around to my friends, some of whom remind me that I sent them copies on my last discovery. “The Specialist” is two-generations-old outhouse humor, so a truly appreciative audience, one with first-hand experience with this venerable institution, becomes increasingly hard to find.

One reason for my continuing enjoyment of this semi-scatalogical outhouse humor is that it was an indelible part of my own growing up, not only because it was there that I first discovered strange and what turned out to be everlasting internal murmurings as I studied the ladies’ underwear section in the Sears & Roebuck Catalog, but as it figured in other dramatic incidents during what I considered then to be very uneventful times.

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“Greater Love. . .” (by George N. Oliver (the Rabbi) 1923–2002 of Tyler, as told to F. E. Abernethy). Both Sides of the Border: A Scattering of Texas Folklore, PTFS LXI, 2004

Edited by Kenneth L. Untiedt and Kira E. Mort University of North Texas Press PDF

Greater Love . . .

[by George N. Oliver (the Rabbi) 1923–2002 of Tyler, as told to F. E. Abernethy]

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We called him “Rabbi” ironically, probably because he could be so outrageously disorderly and unrabbinical. His name was George

Oliver, and he was among the veterans who returned from World

War II to the Stephen F. Austin State College campus on the

G. I. Bill in 1946. He had been in the 169th Infantry, C Company,

43rd Division and had fought up the islands from New Guinea to the Philippines. George and I lived together in old army barracks that had been moved onto the campus to house students. We called it “The Old Folks Home,” and it was a den of iniquity.

The Rabbi was one of the wildest, drinkin’est, fightin’est characters I have ever known, and we bonded early when we were thrown in jail together on one of our sprees. But the Rabbi changed. He married a good woman and he became a schoolteacher. He taught at a junior college and in one of the Texas prison units. And he got religion and became a lay preacher. And every one of us who knew him in The Old Folks Home continued to be amazed at his metamorphosis.

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