Town Day

By Thomas J. Minter

In small towns of the past there was a special day where everyone got all slicked up and went to a larger town, usually the county seat, for the day.  This special day was called "Town Day" in east Texas where I grew up as a boy, and it was always on a Saturday. But my family didn't make town day every Saturday, which is probably the reason it was such a treat for me.

We would always get an early start for the trip. Although Sulphur Springs, Texas, the county seat of Hopkins County, was only 17 miles from the little town of Saltillo where we lived, it seemed like I was transported in time and space to another world as we made our way over US 67. As we went tooling along in the old Model A Ford . . . kiss ya momma . . . kiss ya momma . . . kiss ya momma . . . at the incredible speed of 35 miles per hour, it seemed like the trip took hours.  But I didn't mind at all -- I was transfixed by the scenery that slid past my window. There were railroad trestles . . . Stout's Creek . . . Weaver . . . horses . . . cows . . . East Caney Creek . . . passing cars . . . and much more.

Once we arrived at the town square in Sulphur Springs, which would already be teeming with people, I was given some spending money, and cut loose, so to speak. This was back in the days when people didn't worry much about their 9 year-old kid being kidnaped by a child molester or being ran over by a car. The stipulation was  I touch bases with my Uncle Jack every so often.  Which was easy, as I knew all the places he frequented. And besides, Sulphur Springs wasn't such a big place that I couldn't hunt him down , like a good hound dog, in pretty short order.

One of the first things I would do on gaining my freedom was head for a movie house. There were several in Sulphur Springs then . . . some around the town square and a few on the side streets. I went from one to the other in a run to see what each were showing before I made my choice. It had to be a cowboy movie though, which was what most of the theaters showed. Those cowboy movies back then are what are now referred to as "B Westerns."  They were about an hour in length. And if you were to watch one now, you would think it sort of corny, with poor acting and much contrivance. But you have to remember, life was pretty simple back in the 1930s. And, we were for sure unsophisticated.

A few years ago I checked out the video of the original movie Frankenstein, based on Mary Shelly's novel, to watch with my 8 year-old grandson. I wanted to compare his reaction to seeing it with mine when I first saw the classic. I turned the lights down and started the VCR, and watched him more than I did the movie. It didn't faze him. He was naturally interestd in it and my running commentary, but he didn't appear a bit apprehensive, or act as if he might bolt from the room. Even the scene where Doctor Frankenstein is bent over his creation and the monster's hand starts slowly reaching for him from his back didn't cause any panic on my grandson's part, as it did with me years ago. That shows you the difference between the 1930s and the 1990s. When the movie was released by Universal Pictures Corporation in 1931, a lot of people in the theaters were scared out of their wits . . . women fainted . . . and it was all people could talk about for the longest time.

Going back to those times when I was a boy, the movie house
fare was the main feature, a cartoon, and a serial. And, oh yes,
the "coming attractions." It never varied. The serial was a short
story where the hero or heroine always managed to get them-
selves in dire straits, where death was imminent, like being tied
down to a railroad track with a speeding train, belching black
smoke. approaching just around the bend. Just at such a point,
the story stopped . . . a cliff hanger.  The ringer was you were
suppose to return to the theater the following week to see what
happened to the person in harm's way.  The burning question
was would they, or would they not, be able to extricate them-
selves from their predicament.

I had my favorite cowboy stars. Gene Autry, with his sidekick Frog Milhouse, was probably the one I liked best. But I also liked Johnnie Mack Brown and Charles Starrett too. I can't leave out little Bob Steele either. Sometimes I would watch a move a second time. But most of the time I would beat it out of the place and go see the feature at another theater.  Remember . . . the feature, cartoon, serial, and coming attractions altogether lasted no longer than an hour and 45 minutes at the most.

Sometimes around noon I would go to a burger joint and get a big hamburger, which cost 15 cents. This was accompanied by a big, old bottle of ice-cold RC Cola that cost a nickel. I might have a moon pie later if I was still hungry. Talk about living . . . this was it!  It gave real meaning to the phrase "hog heaven." Ice cream was something else; a coveted treat  back in those days.  Ony a few people had ice cream in their homes. It was reserved for special occasions. A big double cone with a double dip of  one's favorite ice cream was something to behold. If you licked it just so, you could make it last maybe an hour.

At some time during the day I would drop by the Hopkins County courthouse on the east side of the square and observe the comings and goings of the sheriff or his deputies. If  I were lucky, I would get to see a couple of deputies marching some lawbreaker into the courthouse.  From the hall in the courthouse you could peer through the open door of the sheriff's office and see him and others talking things over.  To see these lawmen with six shooters strapped to their sides just reinforced the message I got from the cowboy movie: the good guys always in the end triumph over the bad guys and their evil doings.

I will never forget the sherrif during this time. I remember his name to this day. It was Bud Melton. I thought sheriff Melton was the coolest guy I ever saw. He always had a cigarette dangling from his lips. and most of the time it was unlit. The way he was able to let it hang from his lower lip in a suspended vertical position was a big mystery to me.  The pistol he wore on his side and the cowboy hat  atop his head, slightly cocked, just cinched things with me . He was my hero . . . my idol.

Sometimes in late afternoon on town day I was allowed to walk to my Aunt Tom's house on Houston street, which was about three-quarters of a mile from the square, and visit her. If her daughter Mary Evelyn, my cousin, was around, I got to talk to her too. She was either just out of high school or was near finishing.  She was very pretty, and seem to have movie star qualities to me. Sometimes Aunt Tom's grown son Darrell would be at home, and he would kid me a bit.  Since Aunt Tom and her family lived in town, they lived a little different than we did in Saltillo.  You could say they were city folk.  Being privy to their lifestyle and the goodies that came my way from the association always topped off a perfect day. But one day, I recall, things didn't go so well.  Aunt Tom got as mad as an old "settin" hen at me, because in messing around I somehow managed to turn over her snuff spittin can on the rug.

Every so often the routine would change, and permitted to walk out to the edge of town, probably about two milles, and visit my Aunt Rose. She always treated me special. There were lots of treats. And since her husband played in a band, he had a set of drums, cymbals, and so on in a little house behind the main house. I was allowed to pound on everything to my heart's delight. Some years later I was sorry to learn that Aunt Rose, a kind soul she was, had burned to death in 1949.
Town day never seemed to last long enough for me. I knew it was about over when I heard the old Ford coming . . . kiss ya momma . . . kiss ya momma . . .  to pick me up. But town day lingered on some. I replayed parts of the movie over in my mind for several days. Other more tangible things from the trip spilled over in time too. On one memorable day at the county seat I got a new pair of Acme brand cowboy boots. I could hardly wait to get home and put those boots on. It was almost dark when we arrived back in Saltillo. I was so thrilled with the new boots that I put them on right away, skipped supper, and just walked  back and forth in the dark on the dirt road that ran in front of our house. The hollow sound those boots made on the clay packed road conjured up all kinds of images . . . with me being this or that cowboy star doing his thing.

Today with fast cars, freeways, and stores everywhere, the notion of town day is a thing of the past, and has lost its meaning. Too bad! All those who can remember it, should pause . . . close their eyes . . . and reflect on the passing of this great custom where grownups exchanged news, kids were dazzled, and goods were fairly traded.

Note: Uncle Jack was Jack Elijah Turner. I lived with Uncle Jack and his wife Minnie (Turrentine) from 1938-1945. Aunt Tom was Tommie (Minter) Hurst and Aunt Rose was  Rose (Minter) Woods, who were my father's sisters.