730 Days Come and Gone!

© 1983, 2011, 2015 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

    Well, folks, I hope you haven’t become satiated already with the anniversary brouhaha I published last month, because I have yet another one to celebrate: my second full year as the whimsical author of “The Vanity Mirror” blog. Yessiree, 108 posts through these two years. I started it back on January 3 of 2013 with the two characters reflective of my schizophrenic personality: Orpheus and Narcissus. You haven’t seen them lately, I guess because I have been able to keep myself together — no splitting. But, maybe someday they will return to this screen.

You know, I have been reading a lot lately, mostly pretty heavy stuff, like Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy and Pierre Abelard’s Sic et Non (Yes and No). And then there is Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, both of which I have finally finished…well, almost; I got interrupted halfway through the latter by my first subscription issue of Harper’s. I mention all this literary stuff not to show myself off as a super intellect but to point to a bothersome characteristic: intermittency. I wish I could break this habit of dropping one piece of reading matter to delve into another and then drop that one also to pick up yet a third, and then drop it to return to the first.

I am considering writing blog posts about the four books noted above, especially a comparison of the styles and contents of …Lady and …Letter. That might not come to pass, however, because it would require having to re-peruse both, since I laid them both aside almost two months ago to read Harper’s from cover to cover; and James in particular is arduous reading for me.

Yes, I have had ideas for longer, deeper blog posts in the past, including a thematic study of U.S. presidents’ inaugural addresses from Washington to Johnson; but I guess I am too lazy. That is one reason why I have published so many of my old columns, short stories and poems extracted from my two collections: A West Texas Journalist and Particles. Another, and better, reason for re-publishing those chestnuts, however, is that I think they are good enough to deserve a wider reading than by just a few Texas counties’ populations.

I still have a few of those country features and columns remaining to share with you. On this occasion I invite you to read the report of my mid-December 1983 visit to Barstow, a hamlet on the western edge of Ward County, Texas. It was published under the column head “Out in the county”, a site for “soft news” I employed each time I ventured beyond the city limits of Monahans.

Enjoy! (I hope.)

Out in the county

“Lum ‘n’ Abner”; Guerrero’s store; tree trimming

Heaven help us if the country store should ever go the way of the five-and-dime and the movie theater!

I recently bought a cassette tape of an old radio show called “Lum ‘n’ Abner”.  Motivation for the purchase was partly nostalgia but mostly admiration for the script writer, who was a superb craftsman.

Many of you, I’m sure, are old enough to remember Co”Lum”bus Edwards and Abner Peabody as the co-owners of a general store in Pine Ridge, Arkansas.  In just 15 minutes each day, those two guys could get themselves into some awfully tangled but humorous scrapes!  Or rather, their script writer could get them into such scrapes.

Lum and Abner’s place was called the “Jot ’Em Down Store”.  It was characterized by a party-line phone (three rings signaled the call was for them) and a continual influx of the townspeople, who shared the tangled plots with Lum and Abner.

Well anyway, I bought this recording of the episode where Lum and Abner have opened a bank in their store.  Unaware that they needed a state charter to open a bank, they neglected to get one.  That’s the basic plot.

I’ve heard it now I don’t know how many times, and I think about some of the funnier lines quite a bit.  For instance, there’s the scene of Abner helping Lum clear checks in an account book.  Abner calls off several checks written by a fellow named Cedric Weehunt—all for five cents or ten cents each:

ABNER:  Doggies!  That Cedric’s about the only one that writes any checks, ain’t he?

LUM:  Yeah, he’s our best customer.  Ain’t no doubt about that.

 ABNER:  Don’t anybody else write checks?

LUM:  Yeah, Widow Abernathy.  She’s got a big one in there some place.  Fifty cents.

I was musing about “Lum and Abner” when I drove into Barstow Thursday afternoon and parked in front of Louis Guerrero’s “Modern Food Market”. In spite of the name of Guerrero’s store, it really isn’t much different from what Lum and Abner’s “Jot ’Em Down Store” was like in April 1944, the date of the recording. What proves my point is that, when I came up to the door, I noticed a hand-written notice on poster board saying:  “Starting this month, if credit accounts are not paid on a monthly basis, credit will not be allowed.”

Inside, I was greeted warmly by Louis, and, while we chatted about local politics and economics, I noted that his shelves were about half bare.

“Yes,” he said. “Business has been good, but it’s all going out and none of it’s coming in.  I’ve carried this credit business a little too far, I’m afraid.”

“But I’m a bit confused,” I said. “You told me a while back that things were getting better, that many of the people who had lost their jobs this year had found other jobs.”

“Yes, but they were out of work too long,” he replied. “They aren’t ready to let go of that green stuff yet.”

* * * * * *

Like Monahans, Barstow was into that just-before-the-holidays quiescence—not much going on there except the trimming of the elms around the community center.

I left Louis and drove down to the community center to get a picture of the trimming.  As I approached the park, it looked more like the trees were being decapitated than trimmed, the lobbing off was so severe.  Limbs with thin branches all entangled were spread over the large lawn.  It looked like a kind of battlefield.

I found two young men sitting on the ground between two large trucks.  The hoods of the trucks were up and a set of battery cables was stretched loosely between them.

“How you doing?” I asked as I ambled up to the relaxing youths.

“We’ve got a little mechanical problem,” one replied. “We have to stop and recharge this thing every so often.”

Shortly, they unhooked the cables and lowered the hoods.  Then one young man drove his truck away while the other moved his truck on to another nearby tree.

This latter truck was equipped with a hydraulic lift and bucket.  The youth grabbed his chainsaw, climbed into the bucket and lifted himself in a weaving motion up into the tall elm.

There he started his truncating activity.  I shot several frames of him working and then signaled for him to stop his noisy chainsaw so I could ask him some questions.

His name is Bob Crews, and he and four other fellows (who were busy carrying off the cut limbs) are employees of Spruce Trees Service of Dickenson, North Dakota.

“Why did you come so far?” I asked.

“We come down here for the winter,” he said, laughing.

“How many trees have you done?”

“A hundred in two days, and I’ve got fifteen more to go.  We’ll finish the cutting today but not the cleaning up.”

“Why are you cutting them off so short?”

“So they won’t have to be trimmed again soon.  They’ll bush out nice in the spring and won’t have to be trimmed for five years.”

* * * * * *

Before I leave off this visit with you, I want to go back to what I was talking about earlier, “Lum ‘n’ Abner” and more generally old radio shows.  The prelude to each day’s installment of “Lum ‘n’ Abner” was a scene of them answering the phone as follows:

(Phone rings three times.)

LUM:  By grannies, Abner, I believe that’s our ring.

ABNER:  Doggies, Lum, I believe you’re right.

LUM:  I’ll see.  Hello.  Jot ’Em Down Store.  This is Lum ‘n’ Abner.

(Organ music in and out.) <See Note Below>

It’s the telephone bit that I want to call to your attention.  I doubt that many people paid much mind to the fact at the time, but the telephone was an important element in several other radio programs, such as “Duffy’s Tavern” and “Sam Spade”.

Those were the years (1930s and 1940s) when people, such as former U.S. House Speaker Sam Rayburn, were trying to get utilities like electricity and phone service out into rural America.  To do that, they had to go the route of allowing virtual monopolies, which is one of the reasons, if not the main reason, AT&T got so big.

Now such services are available in practically every backwater in America; and now AT&T is “divested”.  For me, this fact gives extra poignancy to my little cassette tape of “Lum ‘n’ Abner”.  In an indirect and surely unintended way, it is a historical document showing how unique and important the telephone was in years past.

— The Monahans News, December 17, 1983

NOTE: Anyone who would like to listen (on the Internet) to the “Lum ‘n’ Abner” radio show can find a long list of episodes and listen to them, in date order, here:
Unfortunately, the bank episodes from which the dialogue above derives is not on that list. You can hear two (of six) episodes, however, on this YouTube spot:
One of them involves Lum informing Abner that they are being forced to close the bank because they do not have a charter.


NOTE TO NON-BLOGGER READERS: WordPress has its program set up where only WP bloggers can register “likes” and “comments” on this page. However, if you are a non-blogger, I would be glad to hear any helpful criticisms you might wish to share and, therefore, have left my email address in the “About” page (see button above the title of this post). Please, no “snarky” comments, or I will have to delete it.
Thank you for reading.


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