Monday, June 27, 2011



As the economy, oh so slowly, improved, my father was able to eventually "bid" successfully on a "regular" job on a switch engine in Amarillo, Texas.  We left the house on Travis Street, I've forgotten under what conditions, and moved to Amarillo.  My Uncle John owned a duplex and lived in a garage apartment on the back of the lot at 908 Arthur Street.  We rented one of the duplexes, 908 & 1/2 Arthur Street, and I enrolled in the "Lower Fifth Grade" at Sanborn Elementary School.         

The latter was a traumatic experience.  After reporting to the Principal's Office, I was escorted to my "Home Room", where I was the embarrassed center of attention of the entire class.  When we went outside for morning recess, a skinny red-headed kid came up to me and asked, rhetorically, "are you the new kid in Fifth Grade?"  When I admitted I was, he hit me in the mouth. We were immediately encircled by all the pupils on the playfield.  I wasn't sure how I came out in that encounter; but at afternoon recess I was challenged again.  I was forced to fight every boy in the fifth  grade to establish my rank in the "pecking order". I worked my way next to the top, but could never whip Murel Greathouse who became my best friend in Amarillo.  I felt better about that when he made ALL STATE for the Amarillo Sandies (I played against him in a losing cause in my final game of HighSchool football in the 1940 State Playoffs), and, especially, after he was a two time ALL AMERICAN linebacker at the University of Oklahoma.   

Uncle John and his family were interesting; he was fat, phlegmatic and a Deacon, or maybe even an Elder, in the Church of Christ.  His wife, Dolly, was a shriveled prune with a strong personality.  The prevailing family rumor was that he had met her in a house of ill repute, where she was gainfully employed, in Little Rock, Arkansas.  I had trouble believing that because I couldn't visualize Uncle John with his clothes off, let alone in a whorehouse; but Aunt Dolly was from Arkansas.  Aunt Dolly was the first person I ever knew who served hot tea.  Back then, Texans drank a lot of tea, but always in a tall glass filled with ice and with sugar and lemon, maybe, but never cream.  Everybody knew cream was for coffee.  Anyway, Aunt Dolly served hot tea, not coffee.  Invariably on tasting hot tea for the first time, her guests would say, "that's not bad or that's pretty good".  Aunt Dolly would then suck in her gut and reply, "I God, when I make tea, I make tea; and when I make water, I make water."  She would then smile appreciatively at the laughter; she knew she was funny, but never understood why. 

Uncle John and Aunt Dolly had two children; the eldest a fat girl so ordinary I can't remember her name or anything about her.  The youngest, John Sparks, Jr., was the apple of Aunt Dolly's eye.  When everyone was securely entrapped by the teacup and saucer in their lap, Aunt Dolly would summon her children. The daughter would take her place at the piano and John Jr. would strut out with a hard straw hat, a striped coat and a cane. Then, as MC, she would tell them to perform.  John Jr. would sing, while going through the appropriate gyrations, "Hand me down my walking cane, hand me down my walking cane".  After it was mercifully over, Aunt Dollie would say, "I God, that boy can sing." "Sing it agin, John Jr."  After the encore, everyone,
even the Preacher and Deacons would remember important appointments, and the entertainment would end.  I sometimes wondered if John Jr. and his sister knew any songs other than "Hand Me Down My Walking Cane."        

John Jr. was a combat medic enlisted man in WW II and, probably under the stress of combat, injected himself as well as the wounded with morphine.  He apparently became addicted or in the parlance of the time, turned out to be a "dope fiend."  I don't know the outcome of his treatment in the Veteran's Administration Hospital or the fate of his nameless sister. After his retirement from the Fort Worth and Denver City Railroad, Uncle John and Aunt Dolly bought a farm in Arkansas and were never heard from again. 

In retrospect, Amarillo was a harsh environment; in addition to the mean kids, the weather was terrible.  We were there during the "Dust Bowl" times; often the sun would be totally obliterated at mid-day by dust storms.  The topsoil from Kansas, in microscopic particles, was insidious.  It not only invaded your eyes, other body orifices, and clothes when you were outside, but sifted through closed doors and windows  like an invasive, metastasizing cancer.  When we arrived there in August, it was hotter than Hades; when we left in January, it was colder than a "witches tit," in the Texas  vernacular.  I don't remember 0NE nice day in Amarillo.

 For years I fantasized that Cyd Charisse was in my Fifth Grade Class at Sanborn and was my "girl friend," but more likely it was  some other gorgeous fifth grader.  It was about then that I realized that I LOVED  girls, almost all of them.  Unfortunately, the feeling was seldom reciprocal. 

After about five months, my father "bumped" someone in Wichita Falls and we returned to our home on Travis Street.  Despite having to give up my hard-earned number two spot in the pecking order and my relationship to the queen of the Fifth Grade, I was not sorry to leave Sanborn, Amarillo and even "I God" Aunt Dolly.  When I think about Amarillo, I recall that scourge of the South, General William T. Sherman's statement while serving as the Military Governor of Texas after the War Between the States, "If I owned Hell and Texas, I would live in Hell and rent out Texas".  I can't remember anything positive about that time except that maybe it really was Cyd Charisse.   If I ever meet her, and that is highly unlikely, I'll ask her if she went to Sanborn Elementary School.  

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