Be it small or a large, there’s no place like your hometown. I hope you enjoy another article by Guest Author, the McAdoo Marvel, aka Mom.
Some of Mama’s family had used a big cardboard catalogue, similar to those Aunt Rosie gave us, as a scrapbook. Copies of stories, poems, and sayings were pasted in the book, right on the background pictures. Louise and I soon tired of reading it, and since a rainy, lazy afternoon loomed ahead, we had nothing else to do. We decided it would be a great idea to take a McAdoo census, so we counted the population. We counted house by house, street by street, and the number of people in each house. Three in the Nichols house, three in the Formby house, two in Uncle Rush’s, seven in the Isaac home, etc. When all were added up, there were 265.
At its peak, McAdoo had two cotton gins, one grocery store, two service stations, one dry goods store, and one drug store, with the post office in the back. For a time, there was even a mattress factory, but it didn’t last long. Though McAdoo had all that business, I wondered what a “milkshake” was when Daddy mentioned that he had one at a Lubbock café; we had no way of knowing about such exotic food.
McAdoo was small, but only by comparison with Spur, Crosbyton, or Lubbock, especially Lubbock, the big city. We felt grown-up when we went to Uncle Shad's real barbershop, in Crosbyton, to get our hair cut; that was his treat for us. It was a far cry from getting a haircut at home. Mama used a cloth to get the cut hair off our necks, and I think she got rid of some frustrations by whipping that cloth harder than she needed. We liked to visit Uncle Shad and Aunt Myrt, Daddy’s youngest sister, because we could go through the house to see what a rich woman would have. We had a strange idea of the meaning of “rich.” But Uncle Shad seemed to be an important person. There was a building in Crosbyton with his name on it, and I think he had been mayor. However, I don’t believe any of us wanted to live there. We were happy with the small town.
Perhaps my earliest memory of life in McAdoo is of my standing beside a full-size bed, pushing down on the mattress to make the bed rock up and down. The point was to keep the tiny baby in the middle of the bed asleep. That baby was my youngest sister, Theresa, who was born two months before my fifth birthday.
Also unforgettable was the Big Heist. Uncle Rush had a filling station on the highway − a couple of gas pumps in front, with a small grocery in the building (a forerunner of the modern convenience store). His family lived in the same building, behind the store. We were visiting at Uncle Rush's home one Sunday afternoon, which meant that his store was closed, and no one was in it. Bored with the adult company, I put on my coat and was on my way outside. As I passed through the store, I noticed perched on top of a glass candy counter a little devil, just my size, crooking his finger at me. I slipped my hand through a small crack between the case and its door, and took a piece of penny candy. I remember it well – diamond shape, white inside, chocolate outside, and a fake cherry in the center of the diamond. I went outside, sat in the sunshine, and ate it – very slowly to make it last. As soon as I swallowed my last bite, it hit - guilt! Bad, bad guilt. But there was no chance I was going to confess. I hadn’t yet heard that confession is good for the soul, but I did know that punishment would be swift and sure, and probably painful.
That was before I knew about sheriffs, or I might have been afraid of arrest, too, although I don’t remember being afraid unless the sheriff was nearby. And when he was around, you never knew what he would tolerate.
One cool, windy afternoon, Doris and I were “helping” Mama clean the yard. Theresa was in a little wagon, and our job was to entertain her. Soon, the county sheriff, Bill Arthur, came to visit with Mama because election time was near. That’s when Theresa chose to cry. I was terrified! I tried everything I knew to make her happy. But nothing worked. I knew I’d be held accountable for her behavior. I was pretty sure that the sheriff didn’t like having to compete with a crying baby, and that meant he would deal with me.
Thankfully, there was no problem that time, but how about when that same sheriff asks for a bite of candy, and you don’t share? That long arm of the law reaches everywhere. Once again, I was at Uncle Rush’s highway store with Daddy, and someone had given me a piece of candy. The dreaded sheriff stopped by while I was eating it, and teased me by asking if I would give him a bite. I froze while I thought about my options. I didn’t want to share; candy was an extremely rare treat. But would I be in trouble if a sheriff wanted me to share? Lucky for me, before I could make a decision, he laughed and moved on.
Years later, Uncle Rush bought a dry goods store in town, four miles from our house. He converted it to a grocery store, and often, when we went there to get groceries on Saturday afternoons, nobody was around. On one of those Saturday family grocery trips, Doris and I, then adolescents, attempted to break into the nearby jail, but no one noticed. First, we tried rolling a barrel under the window. The barrel was too low; we couldn’t see a thing. Prying the lock didn’t work. Finally, after repeatedly hammering on the lock, we managed to open the door. What disappointment. There was nothing inside, not even a cot. Obviously, people were right about its seldom being used. We’d heard that the only person ever locked inside was some young man on his wedding night.
McAdoo had more than its share of county trophies. A trophy was won each year that a particular school came out first overall in the county meet. Our meet was always held in Spur. The competitions pitted schools of the same size within the county against each other in track and field, athletics, and literary events. Reid, and I think Louise, took tennis to regional and district contests.
I never made it as far as county in tennis, but did well in other competitions. For first and second grade, two students represented the entire school in storytelling, where we retold a story read to us. The movements we used were our own. Fourth and fifth graders sent two students in picture memory; Baby Lou and I went both years, and won. We had to know names of various paintings, name of the artist, his nationality, the point of interest of the painting, and whether it was horizontal or lateral. For the unknown art we were shown, we needed to name only the point of interest and whether it was portrait or landscape.
But no one could be prouder than Gwendolyn Allen and I were when we were in the sixth grade, about 12 years old; we were the spelling team, and won first place. To kill time one afternoon, we were talking with a girl who was to be a Texas History test entrant and had earlier lived in McAdoo. As we learned some things the contestants studied and needed to know, we became convinced that if Mr. Davis were as good a teacher as we thought, then we were good enough for the test. We entered, and came in third. White ribbons never looked so much like winners! Not only were we two among the winners, the points we won put McAdoo over the top for another county meet trophy.
When six-man football came to McAdoo, we had no stadium, and neighborhood male spectators would run up and down the field during the game to watch plays, keeping the ball in view. Our cheerleading squad stood its ground; no matter what happened on the field or how blinded we were by spectators, we stayed put, never trying to get the spectators to join in the cheers. The squad was a group of high school girls, including me, who had signed up for the chore, or the honor, however you saw it. Cheering was expected only from that group. When it was a close game, the squad did all the yelling needed. The only thing that united us was a big “M” on the front of our white sweaters. Some of us wore special skirts, but there was no official uniform.
As happens with everyone, we often believed something was correct because we thought we heard it correctly. At church, Louise sang “right in the corner where you are” instead of “brighten the corner where you are.” That’s what she heard. We kids called all preachers “Brother.” Consequently, the new Baptist preacher was to us Brother Hood. He gamely stepped in as Boy Scout master. Before he came, we didn’t have scouts, and I’d never heard of scouts. For reasons unknown to me, we went to some scout meetings with Reid. When the whole group ended the meeting with the song “America the Beautiful,” I joined right in. I thought we sang “and crown thy good with Brother Hood” for him; to me, the entire song was strictly for the scout master. I wasted no time trying to understand the meaning of “crowning thy good;” I simply heard it and sang what I heard.
One thing that will forever connect me to McAdoo is the smell of Christmas. We went either to the small pasture near the house, or a little farther to the big pasture, where the canyons were. There was only one type of evergreen that grew in that whole huge area – cedar. For years, through many other locations, no matter how beautiful or how nice the tree, it didn’t add the smell of cedar. So it added nothing. Cedar is my greatest memory of Christmas in McAdoo, and Doris's favorite Christmas tree was the one Mama covered with inflated balloons.
We always opened presents on Christmas Eve. Every year, we waited near the barn while Santa came; our parents told us when we could go back in the house. There was always candy, a basket of mixed nuts under the tree, and gum and fruit hanging from the doorknobs. We had sparklers and Roman candles on Christmas Eve night. Daddy took care of the larger fireworks. Christmas Day was for carrying around a bucket of live coals, and popping small firecrackers. Perhaps that’s why I later had the idea to let my own kids open only gifts from family on Christmas Eve, and reserve gifts from Santa for Christmas morning, so Santa would get full credit for the gifts he brought. That was a good idea until they were older, and the Santa gifts stopped. Although they determined to open only one gift on Christmas Eve, it grew to one more, then one more, and on. Nothing was left for Christmas morning, so they made the decision to open everything on Christmas Day from then on.
Reid and my cousin Cless gave me my most exciting Christmas Eve. I sighted along Reid’s pointing finger, and saw nothing. Then I followed Cless's finger. Still nothing. They sounded more excited each time, yelling, “Right there! Right there! Can’t you see him?” I strained my eyes. I squinted. I looked exactly where they were pointing. All I saw was a dark sky and stars. Soon, he was out of sight; I had missed it. And I never had another chance to see a Santa Claus flyby. That was my fifth Christmas Eve, one of the clearest of my early memories. Even now, I can almost feel every emotion – excitement, anticipation, frustration, disappointment. I didn’t yet know about deceit, or there would have been other emotions.
One balmy Christmas Eve afternoon, a couple of non-believers, Louise and I, were sent to Uncle Rush's highway store for packs of gum for Santa to hang, plus a bottle of vanilla extract. “And take the long way home to kill time,” was a part of our instructions. We accomplished our task. But we both liked vanilla. As the older one, Louise was keeper of the bag. “Taste It” was the vanilla brand. Of course, Louise suggested that we do just that, since it said to. We alternated turning the bottle up on our tongues to get a taste. Our trip took us by the windmill, so we stopped to fill the bottle with water to its original level. When we later “told on ourselves,” as Doris called it, Mama responded, “It wasn’t very good vanilla, anyway. I never knew the difference.”