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East to the South: the Diary of a Wander EAST TEXAS An old man whose white whiskers he had not shaved a week or so sat at the counter of the Lively Cafe in Pflugerville eating his chicken fried steak in short rolling chews, as between two last surviving molars. One could see through a door to the back room two Negro women sitting at a table silently eating, the light from the door on the alley falling across the floor. The South splayed out to the east ; to East Texas. To take a farm road, and not the high road, is to bathe the mind’s eyes in new contours of the land, a fresh tilt to the green horizon, bisected by the road arching aslant out of sight. From Pflugervine to Hutto, three several storied houses stand in the gentle fields, each of them galleried, gabled, and spired with the bristling solidity of Norse battle helmets. The land runs away from the main highway then in arcs tracing the ground to the horizons. Cultivation has taken the unruly thickets, the wild curiosities out of the country, reduced our land to rows and rows of ordered fertility. There seem to be two very good ways to see the country \(if one does not consider, as one does not these days, these places, bicycling The bus competes with the train, ‘but only by also relieving the traveler of driving; its bumpiness, congestion, and halting hopscotch from town to town disintegrate tranquility and privacy. On a train a man flows forward smoothly, independent of highways and nearly independent of towns. He can take walks, read or meet people in the club car, and, if he is willing to chill out of his mind the hostility of the headwaiter, he can muse over his meal or his pot of coffee in the dining car, reading in comfort and looking up to see the landscape, moving past him at his elbow beyond the broad window. To simulate the bum’s freedom, though, the car is best, even a 1952 Chevy with a creeping cloth carseat and a shimmy over 65. A man can put everything he wants and needs for day or night in the back; ‘he can go where he wants, by the route most novel to him; he can stop at will, go at will, and when night comes unroll a sleeping bag in a state park or a campsite in one of the forests and sleep with nature and outwit the tourist court merchants. But he must do his own driving. My reflections on the freedoms of car travel were confirmed when I was greeted, at the outskirts of Taylor, by the billboard, “Welcome to Taylor, Friendly as a TEXAN’S SMILE,” the emblem of the town’s battalion of civic clubs undersigned. I had been feeling pretty good, thinking perhaps to stop in Taylor and read a little over an early lunch, but the prospect of such a town upset me, and I put it behind mewith dispatch. At Franklin I thought to stop to see Herman Yezak, the representative whose occupation is publishing and reporting. The office of the Franklin Favorite, however, was deserted. The table halfway back from the entrance, in the middle of the otherwise desolate floor, and the desk to the right from the door, had been abandoned to their small town loneliness. I went across the street to the movie, named the “Re San,” and asked the day watchman about Herman’s whereabouts. “No,” he said, “that’s the Favoreyte. He’s over there,” he Dointed down the street half a block, “the Franklin Texan. They’s another printer here too, puts out the Calvert ‘n Bremond papers.” Three printers in the town seemed too many. “Too many,” he agreed. “Ah don’t know how they make a livin’ but Ah guess they do.” \(One could have wondered this, too, about the speaker. He seemed to have been assigned, or consigned, for his lot in. life, to lurk about the half-dark movie lobby and amble out to talk to whoever Mrs. Carl O’Rear, the lady in charge at the Franklin Texan, said Herman left half an hour ago for Bremond, where he lives. “He worked all night,” she said as one might of one’s favorite person. “Had more newsprint on ‘im ‘n’ anything else. He comes over her every Tuesday an Wednesday, guess to give us moral support more’n anything.” A heavy linotype machine stood against the wall just beyond the counter; the shop was a shambles of wrapping paper scraps and loose type. A lady wearing a print dress that had been washed many, many times came in to file a complaint with Mrs. O’Rear. The paper’s list of the starting football players did not include her son, A.D., that week. Mrs. O’Rear was sympathetic, but she wouldn’t apologize ‘about it; it wasn’t her fault. “We give em headlines and sell tickets, they need the money, you know, but then try’n get some news out of em! I go over there an give em my dollar, don’t have to, I have the pars, you know. Well, they just won’t give us the news!” she said, looking toward me for supporting indignation, which I readily advanced. “Well,”said the Mother, “costs me twelve cents to get the paper an mail it over to Orange.” A.D.’s brother, it developed, liked to read about his younger bud’s exploits. “Think I’ll go over an see if it’s in the Hearne paper,” she said. Mrs. O’Rear rejoined now in a quickened tempo, as though to bypass that terrible thought with sheer verbal acceleration: wondering if the Hearne paper was out yet, rummaging about in a stack on the ledge at the big front window, she said exasperated, “Now where is whatsadoodle’s paper? … I don’t think it’s out yet.” Might the lady be interested in a subscription?it would cost just a little over five cents, including mailing costs, to Orange. “No, take too long to get that far.” Mrs. O’Rear explained that the principal didn’t really like the high school games to get in the papers because mothers would call him at school, and even at home, complaining their offspring were neglected in the stories. “You take girls’ volleyball, even that,” said Mrs. O’Rear, “even if you don’t tell she had a good play, :Well, you mentioned her girl, why didn’t you mention mine?’ ” But the lady wasn’t buying. Having served notice of her boycott, she took her leave without bothering to be too polite about that, either. OUTSIDE THE AIR was freshened by a breeze scudding west ahead of the rain. Eastward under a dull blue canopy the sunlight softened to a caressing haze, brightening all the colors of the land, the fresh green grass, the white-headed weeds, the yellow beds of flowers, the gradual tones of the meadows. In Marquez I crossed over the tracks from the highway and stopped at the only pay phone in town, in the telephone office. This was a house one room wide, four rooms deep, its outside boards weathered but persisting with a clayey color, as though hard rains had spatter-stained them .In the front room the telephone exchange, a contraption the size of a large packing crate, with the red-necked fingers plugged in, the wires to them crossing like dancers’ legs, shared the space with a double bed and a clothesline, over which the mother-like lady representing Communications in Marquez had hung some clothes she had ironed on the board between the bed and the exchange. Her working and sleeping area was separated from her customers by a wooden fence barrier, waist high. Lest the homelike atmosphere put a customer off, she had nailed a sign on the wall by the door leading back to the rest of the house, a red and white stamped tin sign, “Our Employees Are Bonded by the Fidelity and Casualty Company of New York.” We talked a little about the heavy rains. “They might done more harm than good,” she said. “The corn an peanuts were ready to harvest, an that sun might bake them now. It’ll steam in that corn, get so hot they might sprout.” And the peanuts?could sun bake ‘them too? “Well, can be an extra growth in the nut you know.” She directed me then to the little closet-size room behind me where there was a wall telephone, with the separate earphone and the kind of mouthpiece you can bend up and down, and an elbow rest at a very sharp angle, where you could take notes if you had three hands. The man I had called sounded a long way off. Driving back across the tracks to the. highway I passed a long legged boy in bluejeans sitting very tall on a long legged horse gingerly lifting her hoofs to avoid the ties and the rails. The town plan of Jewett required no city planning commission, the principle was simplicity itself: one side of the road for the railroad, the other side for the stores, the countryside for the farm homes. A sign at the end of the store fronts prohibits trucks from parking in front of them during shopping hours. Walking along the board sidewalk, past the five and dime, the grocery, the clothes shop, to the drug store, then you can stand at the rail, or sit at a marble topped table, to drink your coke. An old man was telling the soda jerker, who doubled in farming, “I planted four, five acres in that coastal bermuda in June, an it’s knee high now. That’ll feed a lotta cows, won’t it?” “Did it kill out the weeds?” “Oh yes.” “The grassburrs? I got a fine crop’a grassburrs this year.” We laughed with our breaths. “Oh yes, it will, it will,” said the old man. “I tell you,” the grassburr farmer continued, “I tried to go get a calf outa-air the other day an they like to kill me ‘ey were so adthey got all in me.” “Yoh, an wait til they ripen and get hard’: “Oh yah. You know nex year I’m jus gonna plant me a little corn, that’s all, jus for feedin’.” “You take an plant that coastal bermuda, you’ll be buyin so’ more calves. You know that soil, so sandy, washes? Well, therd won’t be no washin, no grassburrs I? South of Palestine you see the first oil wells, a Negro shack, several children and an old woman there. Along the broad street through the outskirts are the produce sheds. Beside one is an outshed with the sign, “Cold Melons.” South of Tyler, in a forest, a black arm reaches high out of a car window, and the rattletrap bumps off the highway down a dirt road into the trees closing behind it. Across the highway from a Negro’s house and a red layercake sunset, five Negro children of stepladder ages straggle down a path along a fence with small buckets in their hands over their arms. Lights begin appearing in the windows of the houses, in the kitchen windows. A young Negro man rides along aside the highway on a cloth-saddled horse. IN ROUTE TO A DRY county I one usually tries to pick up a bottle for friends who might be dry. In Tyler, however, a filling station man said the nearest place for such purchases was Gladewater, over in Gregg County. “You might run into a bootlegger,” he said. “You kin always find somebody sell you a pint or a fifth. But it shore is high that way.” I placed a couple of phone calls and sat down to wait for a call-back from Bill Kugle in Athens. I heard the attendant tell someone on the phone to bring some chili over. After a while a thin, very placid and contented seeming lady came in with a pan of chili and some hot coffee. She sat it down in front of him on his big table, and he set about polishing it off. “Boys eat it like it wascake,” she said to me. “I’m gonna have start make it by the tubful,” he said. They talked about her day with the children, and she opened the station ledger and began straightening the books for the night. After a while she looked over at me and the book I was reading and asked, “Is that Hill fromthe Home?” It was, by the East Texas fellow, I saidHumphrey, over at Clarksville. “I thought I’d heard about that,” she said. Kugle called and said come over, they were leaving the house soon for a junior college football game with Cisco, which had a Negro boy on its team”first integrated football game in the history of Henderson County,” Kugle said. “I don’t think we’ll have any trouble.” I had only half an hour to get there but was arrested leaving the station by the sight of the biggest large mouth bass I ‘have ever seen. It was hanging from ,a stringer held by a man of about 22 in muddy white bucks and a jacketit had just started raining. “You better get out now they’re bitin in the change of weather,” he told the attendant, evidently a friend of his. “One of em took my best line, leader an all, an about twen’ny feet of line.” How much did it weigh, the attendant askedthe. one in his hand. “About six pound. You ain’t never caught one that big an doan say you did!” “No, I haven’t. You caught that one and headed for town didn’t you?” he rejoined, laughing. The fisherman laughed too and put the big fish back down. in. the drink cooler in his trunk. The rain had stirred up the fragrance of the meadows, a blended fragrance of grass, dust, flowers, and dung. A dogpatch style leanto slipped past the car in the slanting haze of the raining twilight. Bill and Ginger Kugle used to live in Galveston. He was elected to the legislature and came out for closing down the gambling and prostitution in his home town and obeying the Supreme Court ruling on integration. He was not re-elected, but he almost was, and the night he lost he had the satisfaction of receiving a threatening telephone call from one of the gamblers. After a time and quiet he and Ginger and their pretty children girls moved to Tyler, where he worked a while organizing counties for the liberal Democrats and practicing law. Now he is a successful lawyer in Athens, in partnership with the loyalist Democrat Wayne Justice and his father. During the recent gubernatorial campaign there was a picture in the Athens paper of Bill Kugle shaking hands with Henry B. Gonzalez. And Ginger Kugle is not likely soon to forget driving through the center of that talkative little East Texas town day after day with a Gonzalez poster as wide as her armspread pasted on the back of their pickup truck. We sat with the Jaycees at the football game. Bill is an active Jaycee. In fact when the announcer, at the hail asked all the Jaycees to stand up and be recognized, Kugle alone rose and gave ’em the rebel yell. “Well at least we know Bill Kugle is down there,” the announcer said. We squinted across the field of bright, bright grass to the Cisco ‘bench, and there he was, the Negro, No. 33, but the coach didn’t send him in right away. When he di 1 the fellow ‘shouldered down one of his own teammates trying to receive a punt, but otherwise he played in an average way and was in and out several times. We didn’t hear any comments around us, but the next morning Bill heard that there had been a little knot of people at the 50-yard line who kept yelling, “Pass it to the nigger!” and the like. The uniforms were very bright, the cheers as responsive to the play as one might, if thinking about it in advance, anticipate, and the coca cola was ten cents in a glass cup. We went back to the Kugles’ rambling house amid their forest on their acre of land and ‘talked late into the night in their rumpus room. That night we neither thirsted nor languished; we had many stories to trade of the summertime and our respective places in the world. IN A DRUG