The Wallace Theatre years were boring. Initially I really enjoyed running the theatre projectors except when the film would break and there would be a lot of jeering and stomping of feet until I got the film rethreaded and projector running again. Then sometimes I would forget to check the reel in one machine and not get the other machine fired up early enough in order to make a smooth changeover. Jeering and stomping of feet!!
On Saturday matinees I would occasionally get to look out of the window into the streets below and notice some friends coming into town and shopping. This was boring after awhile until I would see a girl and her family park alongside the theatre and I would fantasize going on a date with her. This was fun but just make believe. The job was seven day per week and matinees on week-ends in addition.
For a young fellow of thirteen, fourteen, fifteen and sixteen this eliminated a lot of extra curricular activity at school. I was able to do my class studies while working and make pretty good grades but other things were lacking in my life. I did not get to go to church much. I was able to avoid working in the café. Walking home near midnight each night was sort of hazardous. One night I heard something rattling close by. I had almost stepped on a rattlesnake. I tried to keep a flashlight or matches with me after that so I could avoid being bitten.
George and Mary had joined their finances together and bought a house about 6 or 7 blocks from the café and this helped us move to a different location from behind the café. That was an improvement. Mother and Dad had been saving their money and were buying some land in Ruidoso, New Mexico. They were tired of the café business too it seems.
Mary had gone to work at the local Hospital. She had graduated Morton, Texas High School in 1942. She was glad to get to move into a house that she partially owned. George was starting to Texas Tech about that time and did not need a place to live in Morton. Dad told me that I needed to stop working at the Wallace Theatre and do extra stuff at school. Bob was still working at the print shop and staying pretty busy.
I turned 16 in March of 1946 and Dad wanted me and George to come up an get a job at the Apache and Pueblo Theatres during the summer of ’46. We were able to land these jobs and it worked out well. Bob continued living in the Mary’s and George’s house in Morton and working at the Morton Tribune. Katie had graduated Morton High in 1945 and was working in the café still. Janie went to Ruidoso with our parents. Katie was in charge of the café during that summer.
Billy Burns had come home from the war and he built a house in Ruidoso near our parents place. His mother, Ruby Burns was my science teacher and geometry teacher. She came up to Ruidoso and lived in Billy Burns’ house summer 1946. I made a little extra money around her place by chopping wood for their fireplace.
At the end of the summer of 1946, the folks decided to stay in Ruidoso over the winter. They had been offered the job of running the café in the bowling alley. Winter business was not brisk in Ruidoso but there was increased activity because they were building a ski run. Ruby Burns and her son were moving back to Morton so Ruby could teach school and Billy could get a paying job. They loaded their possessions on a truck and allowed me and Ruby to ride on top of the stuff. I wound up with a tremendous backache as a result of that trip back to Morton for my senior year in school.
Bob let me move back into the room with him at Mary and George’s house. George went back to enroll in Tech. I was ready to start my senior year at Morton High School.
Sand Storms were a big part of my growing up in Cochran County. One morning when we were living behind the café in Morton, Texas I was about to depart for school but Mother told me not to venture out. There was a report on the radio that Amarillo, Texas was having a bad dust storm. It was supposed to arrive in Lubbock in about an hour. This storm was a big one and traveling at a good rate of speed.
Any students that had arrived at school were being sent back home. I went outside the café toward the Court House and looked north. Sure enough it was getting dark in the north big time. We all knew what to do. We took old rags and started closing the windows in the quarters behind the café. We stuffed these rags around the windows to keep as much dust out as possible. We filled the wash tubs with water so we would have enough water to clean up. Mother Bess was posting a note on the front of the café stating that we would be closed until tomorrow. All the businesses around were doing the same.
When the dust started flying we were all secured in the rooms in this hotel type residence and were getting ready for the big blow. Mother had to run back into the café and get something she had forgot. As she ran back into our quarters she said she could hardly see the Court House just across the street from us. The electricity went off and we got some candles to light and a kerosene lamp to light. At about 3 o’clock in the evening it became pitch black. It sounded like the roof was blowing off. We had to wet some bandanas and put them across our nose and mouth to keep the dust out. Our job of preparing the windows was only partially successful.
We all went to bed a little earlier than usual. During the night I had to get up and use the slop jar and it sounded quiet outside like the wind had died down. It was nice to get up the next morning and notice that the sun had come out. Everything was dusty but at least the air was not so dusty anymore. Mother was already over at the café preparing the breakfast for customers. When I finally got dressed and went over for breakfast the men were sitting around drinking coffee and eating breakfast and talking about this storm as being the worst they had seen since the early 30’s. The ranchers were criticizing the farmers for breaking up too much land to plant and not leaving the native grasses alone.
At school we were given damp rags to help clean the desk tops off and dust the books. The janitors were busy with their brooms and shovels to remove the dirt drifts in the halls and some classrooms. During recess the boys especially were rolling down the sand drifts and playing “king of the hill”. I was sad when the teacher told us that we would likely have to take an extra day at the end of school to make up for the Sand Storm Day.
After I graduated high school and joined the Army I was at Fort Ord, California three months before I thought to myself “when am I going to see a dirt storm here”? I asked one of my buddies in training with me when the sand storms might start. He looked at me and said we don’t have sand storms here in central California. I guess I thought that sand storms were just a part of life for everyone on the planet.
George Andrew Graham, Jr. was sickly as I remember him during the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. He got pretty sick after driving the cows from the farm about 5 miles outside of Morton, Texas to the White House nearer to Morton. I remember Mother Bess putting some kind of poultices on the back of his neck to get the boils or abscesses to open. I watched as she would pick at these with one of those sewing needles that she burned over a candle to get the germs off the needle. She did this before she used it on his neck.
He missed a lot of school. After we moved from this White House into Morton city limits behind the café he was in some sort of hospital or doctor’s office where he had overnight beds. In fact, George was in that house for several weeks on one occasion. I did not like going there because it smelled like ether. I hated ether ever since the doctor gave me that stuff to sedate me while he operated on my left foot. Mother visited him there daily. One day she was so busy she could not take him some clean clothes so she begged me to go. She finally convinced me that I should go see George because he had asked to see me.
I must have been eight or nine at the time and that would make George sixteen or seventeen. He was about nine years my senior. This time they had to put him to bed because he went out for the football team and went into some kind of heart leakage. After my medical training years later, I found out he had an aortic heart valve that leaked badly. I took him the clean clothes and we talked some and he wanted me to come see him more. I noticed he had a bunch of books there on the floor by his hospital like bed and he told me the teacher had brought those so he could keep up his studies.
When George finally got out of that place the doctor warned him never to play sports again because it could kill him. Friends in town would take him to school in their cars and pickup trucks to keep him from having to walk very far.
George did finally graduate from high school and after the WWII started he went to the Dallas-Ft. Worth area and worked in the defense plants. There were several of the young men who had gone there to work because they heard it would keep them out of the war.
After a couple of years working there we got some unsettling news. Some of these young men got into trouble and had to join the Army anyhow. George was one of this group but because he had this heart problem, he was sent to a work camp in Seagoville, Texas.
This was all very hush, hush in our family and I just assumed that George was being punished because of his heart disease. He did not have to stay there very long and then came back to Lubbock, Texas and went to Texas Tech and met a beautiful young lady by the name of Zylphia Neely. They became the parents of two neat young boys by the name of George Andrew Graham, III (Andy) and Clifford Dale Graham.
George finally got his heart valve replaced and lived to the ripe age of 87. The family is so proud of George and his accomplishments.
Living behind the café in Morton, Texas had its challenges as well as conveniences. Mother Bess did not have to travel that far for work. The kids had a lot more neighbors to play with. Dad even bought a booth from a traveling circus where you could throw baseballs at objects on a shelf about 30 feet away and if one was successful in knocking the object off the shelf a prize was to be awarded.
Dad of course let his two young sons man the booth most of the time. One day two older boys came to the booth and instead of paying the 25 cents for three throws, they just started throwing the balls anyhow. Dad heard the commotion while he was in the café working and came out rapidly and caught the arm of one of the boys while he was winding up to throw. His friend saw that an older person was actually in charge of the place and he came up behind Dad and was about to leap up and grab Dad around the neck when Bob tacked that boy. These rapscallions saw that they were outnumbered and fled the premises.
Another disadvantage was all that extra noise made by traffic around the square and extra peeping toms. I had some beautiful sisters and this fact seemed to attract young male wanders especially at night. There was no air-conditioning in the sleeping quarters so the windows had to be left open for survival. Not a problem on the farm but a hazard in the city. My sisters became quiet adept at using noise and flashlights and rocks to distract the attention these stalkers caused.
One night I awoke from a sound sleep and thought I was witnessing a break-in at my bedroom window. I made a lot of noise and nearly scared “Fluffy” the Persian cat to death. She was climbing through a hole in the screen to get back in the house after doing her prowling. I repaired that screen the next morning and wondered when this hole had been made and who or what had made it.
In 1940 or 1941 a new fellow came to town to open a drycleaners. His name was R. B. Ford. He had a brother who came to help him. This brother’s name was Gilbert Ford. Gilbert and Leola started dating and Mother did not like Gilbert too much. Leola however did like Gilbert and they eventually got married. They were married April 7, 1941. They moved to New Mexico where Gilbert got a job. Out of this marriage came Paul Douglas and Gail Ford.
Bob had a lot of fun with Paul when they came to visit. When Paul was about 2 years of age Bob was trying to train Paul to say “pepper belly” when he saw someone of the Hispanic descent. Bob got thoroughly scolded by Leola when she heard what he was doing. Charles would NEVER have participated in anything like that!!!
Mother had a green thumb deluxe. She planted some morning glories at the back of the café and they were the highlight of the short trip of 10 to 15 feet from the old hotel (our Morton house) and the café. I hated to see fall come and those flowers go to seed. She would always harvest the seed and reuse them. Such a blessing to have Mother the gardener around.
I was reminiscing today about my time overseas in the Korean Occupation, Japanese Occupation and lastly the Korean War. It seems that it was exactly 67 years ago today that the Captain in charge of my company B, 32nd Infantry Regiment came up to me on the front line and told me that I would be rotating back to the good ole US of A. There was a lot of celebrating with my squad that day and there were more than a few inches of dirt dug out of my fox hole. We were anticipating incoming mortar fire. The next morning as promised by the Captain the jeep driver picked me up and took me to 7th Infantry Division Headquarters to start the processing to send me home. Incidentally Truman fired MacArthur that day. When my ship arrived back in the States it had been 3 years and 13 days away from the USA.
Little did I know when I was growing up in Morton, Texas that these event could be recorded in the history of my life. As a boy of about 10 years of age I was taking on more responsibility for my life by being less of a burden on the family. I started paying about 5 to 10 dollars a month to my Mother for room and board. By age thirteen I had taken over the job of theatre projectionist from Dink Cox who had been drafted. This job put more money in my pockets and allowed me to buy things I should not have purchased. One example of this was buying a horse. This new obligation required more attention than I could devote so I enlisted others to help. I could not afford a saddle so someone loaned me theirs when I was asked to go on an outing to help brand some calves.
My horse and saddle were transported out to the ranch where the activity was to be performed. I was able to ride in the pickup with the other cowboys. The problem that arose was that I could not stay out as long as they could because I had this obligation with my job at the theatre to start the show at about 6pm.
It was about 5 miles from town to the ranch. Same distance back. After this enjoyable time I started back at about 3pm thinking this would be long enough for me to ride this horse back home and then get ready for my job. WRONG.
The horse was tired. I was tired. The horse probably had not been given enough water to drink and he moved as slow as the seven year itch. I had to get off of his back and lead him a good distance. We were making about a mile per hour. You do the math.
The manager of the theatre sent out a search party at about 5:45 to try and find me. One of the search party saw me and my poor tired horse round the corner of the court house at about 5:55. He came and took the horse reins out of my hands and told me I had better get over to the theatre or I was in deep trouble.
The show went on as the saying goes. A dirty, tired drained theatre projectionist did not miss a beat but learned a valuable lesion that day. Plan ahead a little better. This did help me in Korea a few years later when I judged how much deeper to dig my fox hole on my last night on the front lines in the Korean War.
In a recent blog, I talked about a scar on my right leg that formed after the healing of the wound received from picking up a roll of barbed wire. I also mentioned another scar on my right leg just above my knee that I promised to tell about later. I better not let this scar wait too long because later may become never. You older people understand my dilemma.
We were in between moving from the White House into Morton proper when this accident occurred. I had a friend who lived close to the White House and we visited a great deal during the summer months when school was out. We decided that we needed a private place and as a result of our planning started digging a cave like structure. We were going to cover the opening or roof with some timbers and plywood and other things so we to put dirt on top of this structure but leaving an opening so we could crawl in and out without much difficulty. My part of the work on this structure ended abruptly one day when my friend had a grubbing hoe and was swinging this with the pick edge toward the stubborn dirt in the bottom of the cave. It so happened that my knee was in the way and the force of this pick hit right above my knee cap and left a gash.
Since mother was at the café and feeding a bunch of people, she had little time for this son who went looking for trouble. She delegated my sister Leola to clean and bandage the wound. It finally healed and I was able to visit this finished cave a few weeks later. I really enjoyed climbing down into this cave and even enjoy (?) a puff or two on some bark we rolled up in newspaper to simulate the smoking habit some of our adult friends had developed. We also talked about this being a MAN cave and not ever letting a female be invited to this hideout.
One day we were planning to take some sandwiches and some of these new coke bottles down to our hideaway for lunch. Unfortunately we were thwarted by an unusually large downpour of rain that completely wash away the dirt from the top of this cave and collapsed the timbers before we got there. After the storm left we found us a tree and did have lunch but not exactly where we had planned.
Another day during that summer we also got into trouble with the law. We had some firecrackers left over from the 4th of July celebration. Found some metal pipe with an opening we could stick a firecracker in with the fuse outside of the pipe. We also found some small rocks that we could put in the other end of this pipe. We aimed this pipe at some bottles set up to see if we could hit them. We got pretty good with the accuracy of this invention. What got us in trouble with the law is that we decided to aim this contraption at a small house about 300 yards from where we were shooting at the bottles.
A few minutes later we saw a car driving up to where we had been doing our experiment with this apparatus. This happened to be a fellow from the Sheriff’s department who asked who we were and why we were shooting at this widow’s house. After he discovered that I was one of the County Judge’s children he decided that we would not be taken to jail but gave us a stern warning. I guess I pulled some rank that day. We also abandoned our invention and the target practice.
Another blog from the late depression years 1938-1940
Marguerite was leaving home to go to Arlene’s Beauty School after her graduation from Morton High School in 1937. She graduated from Arlene’s in 1938 and passed her state board exam. According to her book “Growing up with Eight Siblings in the Depression” she details her struggle getting through beauty school and a period of depression it caused her to have. I remember that she got a job in Alamogordo, New Mexico.
We visited her while she was working in Alamogordo and slept in her beauty shop. We had visited White Sands National Park and played on those sand dunes all day and then had no place to take a bath. That was indeed a “sandy sleepover”. I believe that this was the first time I had been out of the state of Texas. I have wondered what her coworkers thought when they got to work the next day and saw all these sand covered people wandering around in the beauty shop.
Blackie Julian was the owner of that beauty shop and several others and he called her and told her to catch the bus and come home because there was not enough business to keep her and some of the other employees there. She was very sad but it turned out good for her because the harvesters who were coming into Morton to help with the crops wanted their hair done. Marguerite went to work at Esther Adam’s Beauty Shop in Morton and writes in her book that she was up until mid-night on some Saturdays giving perms.
One of Marguerite’s customers introduced her to a brother by the name of Cecil McSpadden. Within six weeks she had married Cecil. The date of the wedding was September 16, 1940. Marguerite was the first of the siblings to move out of Cochran County. She and Cecil started a family that included five daughters: Amy Helen, Cecelia, Marikay, Barbara and Debra and one son: John.
The siblings remaining at home were George, Leola, Mary, Katie, Bob, Charles and Janie. Still a house full. Still a lot of work to perform in the Graham Café. I was already employed at the Wallace Theatre as a ticket taker and popcorn boy and did not have to wash the dishes. Leola and mother were having a little conflict at that time and I can remember Leola slapping my mother and stalking out of the restaurant. I do not know where she went. I do not remember what the conflict was about but this was unusual to see this type of violence in the house. Remember that Leola was the one who Dad disciplined with dunking her head in the rain barrel. She seemed to be pretty stubborn.
I do not remember when my parents discovered Ruidoso, New Mexico. I recall visiting Ruidoso during this time while Marguerite was still home. We have a picture with all 8 remaining siblings sitting on top of this big rock or surrounding it in some pose. It was not many years after Marguerite’s leaving home that Dad purchase 7 lots in the Midway area of Ruidoso. He had big plans to build on these lots and rent out cabins to the tourists.
One of my biggest surprises in this visit to Ruidoso was seeing a river bed with water in it. We had the dry gulches around Morton but no flowing water. This was neat. The elevation of Ruidoso (7,000 feet) gave it a cool atmosphere. The wind blowing through the pine trees was an exciting sound.
Marguerite graduates beauty school