Eastern Texas, where I was born
and raised is populated by a number of different varieties of wasps.Wasps in
general are divided into two groups, solitary and social.The ones I write about
are the “social” wasps, but let me tell you, some of them can be very anti-social.
Among the social wasps
there are two major categories in East Texas.They are the paper-makers and the mud-daubers.The paper makers
actually make paper from cellulose and saliva with which they build their nests.The
Chinese are reputed to have learned to make paper by watching the wasps do it.The mud daubers build their nests with mud and saliva.There are a number
of different types of each of these categories of wasps.The type can be determined
by appearance or by the types of nests they build or both.
The mud daubers collect
mud by collecting moist soil and mixing it with saliva and rolling it into a small ball about the size of a BB pellet.They fly with the pellet to the building site and attach the mud ball to the new structure.Building a single nest might require hundreds of the mud balls.
Some mud daubers build
nests of single parallel tubes about ½” in diameter and 2” to 6” in length.Other types build a house shaped much like our own houses filled with cells ¼” to ½” in diameter.These houses vary in sizes from about 2” x 2” x 2” to ones much
larger and more complex.When a cell is complete, insects (which have been immobilized
by stinging) are placed into the cell and an egg is laid in the cell.Building
a mud cap over the end then closes the cell.When the egg hatches, the larvae
feeds on the insects until it matures into an adult wasp.It then removes the
mud cap and emerges.
If you go into the
attic of an old building in East Texas you will find it filled
with mud dauber nests of many, many shapes and sizes.The nests are very durable
and will remain there for many years.Of all the wasps, the mud daubers are the
most passive.I have never known of one to attack and sting anyone.Oh they will sting.I know because I have caught them and
been stung, but their sting is not very bad.We always had them in our house
in warm weather when I was a kid.I would find one on a window and using Mama’s
scissors, carefully clip the stem holding the abdomen of the wasp to the upper body and then play with them.The stinger was in the abdomen so this rendered them safe.
Hornets build a large paper
nest, usually suspended from a tree limb.Their nests are sometimes several times
as large as a man’s head.The nest is built with a single entrance in the
bottom.Yellow Jackets are closely related to the hornets.They sometimes build their nests suspended from limbs also, but at other times they will build their nest
in a hollow tree or in a hole in the ground.Hornets will do this too,
We lived in close proximity
to all types of these wasps except for the hornets.Occasionally I would happen
onto a hornet’s nest in the woods during one of my excursions.I’ve
heard it said that if you fired a rifle bullet into a hornet’s nest, the hornets would fly directly back along the path
of the bullet and attack the person that fired the gun!Is this true?I doubt it, but I don’t know since I was always too chicken to try it.I suggest that one of my readers test this out and let me know.
The other wasps were everywhere.They loved to build their nests under the eaves of houses or in the attics where they
were protected from the weather, but they would build nearly any place.In bushes
or even on a weed sometimes.Most of these wasps were easily riled and were quick
to defend their space.
I have been stung many
times, but one of the worst was the summer of 1956.We were living on the old
home place in the small tenant house and I was harvesting corn and hauling it to a storage building1 that my brother
Ray had.The weather was very hot.I
parked the wagon close alongside the building and was shoveling corn into the building through a window.
I hadn’t noticed,
but there was a wasp nest (red wasp) just above me under the eaves.One of the
wasps popped me right back of my neck and I guess the venom reached my brain quickly because I was so hot and working hard.I almost blacked out, got dizzy and became nauseous.Some people have allergic reactions to wasp stings and even die on occasion but I’ve never had that problem.
My cousin J.K. Williams
told me of a time when my brother Lloyd or James and his brother Dana offered him and my brother Ray a dime if they would
pull their overalls off and run past a yellow jacket nest by the trail in our pasture.They got stung several times when they did it, but never collected the dime.
Once Roy Kelly Gentry,
his brother Jimmy Russell and I were back at the north side of the Ernest Kelly place looking for Muscadine grapes.We followed a cow trail down to the creek, which was about dry in August, when these grapes get ripe, then
crossed the creek and went up the other bank.Jimmy was a good deal smaller than
we wereand always had trouble keeping up.He was probably fifty feet behind us when we heard him yell.We looked
around and saw him coming toward us, flailing his arms and yelling.We surmised
what the problem was and took off up the trail.We ran a ways and then waited
for Jimmy to catch up.
What happened was; there
was a yellow jacket nest in the ground right by the trail.Roy Kelly and I aroused
them when we went by and when Jimmy got there they swarmed him.He got stung
numerous times and at least once or twice on his upper lip that swelled up pretty large.I felt sorry for him but there was nothing we could do.
Once my brothers were hauling
wood on our wagon from the woods on the north side of our place.I think
I was with them but my memory could be from hearing the story.It was not always
easy to drive a wagon to the location of the wood, but we managed.
Usually one of the woodcutters
would walk along with the wagon and chop down a sapling or move a log to make passage possible.My brother James was doing that chore on this day.They had
just about reached the wagon road and James was walking behind the wagon.All
of a sudden he yelled and took off running through the woods swarmed by yellow jackets.As he ran he removed his overalls because some of the wasps had gotten inside them.Once he got his overalls off, he was completely nude because that is all he was wearing (this was typical for farm
boys in warm weather).They kidded him about going to the neighbor’s house
(Kelly’s) without any clothes on, but of course he didn’t.Ray or
Lloyd retrieved the overalls and James rejoined us before we left the woods.
1.My Uncle John Willis Brown built the storage building that I refer to.Uncle
Willis was a nomad.He went to California
as a young man and was married there.He and his wife had a daughter, Mary Ruth
Brown Case.I am guessing, but I feel sure that my guess is close to the truth.Uncle Willis was not happy in California
away from his family and I expect he couldn’t persuade Aunt Marjorie to move to Texas
so they divorced and Uncle Willis came home.Being separated from his young daughter
must have tormented him and he never stayed put very long.He was always searching
for contentment.He came home once and built himself a small house down in the
woods near his father’s (Grandpa Riley Brown) home.Years later after Ray
bought that part of the Brown farm where the little house was located, we loaded it on a truck and moved it.Ray used it for a storage building.
“The Trip to Shreveport”
In early summer 1944,
Mama went into the hospital in Shreveport, Louisiana
for surgery.After she had been there a few days, I went to see her by myself.I was 14 years old.It wasn’t far
so what is the big deal about that, you ask.Well, in those days a trip from
to Shreveport, Louisiana
was comparable to a trip from Houston to New
York today.I caught the Greyhound bus at Henderson
and the trip took several hours, but I don’t believe I had to change buses.I
might have though.I do remember arriving at the bus terminal in Shreveport.It was a huge place and I was pretty scared at being there by myself.Well not by myself, but with a bunch of total strangers.
I saw some taxicabs
outside the terminal and went over to one of them and told the lady (all the men were gone to war and women were driving the
taxis) that I wanted to go to SchumpertHospital.She told me to get in and I did.We took
off, but it soon became apparent that she didn’t know where the hospital was.I guess she came in from the farm shortly before and hadn’t learned the city.
We drove around a few minutes
and then had a flat.My driver didn’t know how to do it so I wound up jacking
the car up and replacing the flat tire with the spare that she had.Of course
in those days she had no radio with which to call the dispatcher.We got back
on the road and soon found the hospital.The driver charged me fifty cents for
the ride.I should have charged her fifty cents for changing the flat, but I
didn’t mention it.
The hospital was large
and scary to me.I was a little frightened to go in, but I did.In the lobby, a Sister came up to me.I knew Schumpert was
but that was the very first nun that I had ever seen.I told her Mama’s
name and she took me to the room.As we walked down the hallway and neared the
room I saw a mirror and as I looked into the mirror the angle was such that I could see Mama in the room, lying in bed.I was seldom so glad to see someone as I was to see her.I sat in the room and talked with her.
About a block down the
street from the hospital there was a drugstore with a lunch counter (there were no McDonalds or Burger Kings then) where I
took all my meals, which I think consisted of a hamburger and a coke each time.I
kept my time in the drugstore to a minimum because they served beer at the lunch counter and I strongly disapproved of that.I thought it was wrong and besides I hated the smell of the beer.
I slept in a large
chair in Mama’s room for two nights before I caught the bus and went back home.The bus went by the house where we were living near Henderson.The way it worked was you watched out the window and when you neared the place you
wanted off the bus you pulled a cable that ran along above the windows.This
rang a bell to let the driver know someone wanted off the bus.So I watched and
pulled the cable and got dropped off in front of our house and was very glad to be home.
A few days later Lloyd
brought Mama home from the hospital and it was wonderful to have her back at home with us.
“The Field Trip”
this episode a field trip, but to tell the truth trips like this weren’t called that then.At least we didn’t call them that.If someone had said
we were going on a field trip I would have grabbed a hoe, a cotton sack or harnessed up the mule.I don’t know what we called them then, but we went on one.And it was all the way to Shreveport, Louisiana.
That was an exciting time.I was in the fifth or sixth grade at Brooks school when the whole school made the
trip in a school bus.There were two teachers and the kids that I guess totaled
about 30 or 35 people.Mr. Gray Waldrop took us in his bus.Yes it was his bus.At that time the bus drivers owned the
buses and contracted with the school district to haul the kids.
We knew ahead of time that
we were going and somehow the school had made arrangements for us to visit some businesses.I have no idea how that was accomplished, but it was.A trip like that
was tremendously exciting for most all of us.Just to be out of school was nice,
but to go on a trip like that and see all of the new country was almost too much.
The distance from
Brooks School to Shreveport was probably 70 miles
then and it was about a 2 to 2 1/2 hour drive I expect.There was a sense of
excitement and all the kids were laughing and talking.But no one was rowdy.Mr. Gray was a very tolerant man, and he was a very well respected adult.A stern look from him would quiet the rowdiest of the kids in an instant.How times have changed!
Our first stop was at a
commercial bakery.The one that baked the “Wonder Bread” brand.Their loaves were wrapped in waxed paper that was white and covered with dots of various
colors and sizes.We went into a large room where they had big metal tubs of
dough with power mixers in them.The paddles on the mixer were kneading the dough.Dough was extruded into a rope of dough by a machine.The rope was about 1 1/2 inches in diameter.A worker took
a piece of the dough about twice the length of a loaf, folded it in half and gave it a couple of twists before placing it
into a loaf pan to be conveyed to an oven.
As we moved through the
bakery we saw loaves being removed from the ovens and the wonderful aroma of fresh baked bread filled the air.It was mouth watering.We saw the loaves placed on a conveyer
where they went through an automatic slicer and wrapper.Oh! The wonder of the
“Wonder Bread” bakery.As we were leaving they gave each one of us
a new pencil brightly covered with the colors and symbols of “Wonder Bread”.
I would have been very
content to return to school after such a wonderful experience, but there was more.Our
next stop was at an ice cream plant.I don’t know the name of the company,
but they made “Eskimo Pies”.This was an ice cream bar on a stick
that had been dipped in chocolate.We observed the process and then each one
of us was given one of the “Eskimo Pies” and that was a real treat.Unlike
the “Wonder Bread” pencil that I kept for many years, I immediately ate the evidence of my visit to the ice cream
We still weren’t
finished.We made a stop at a place that made “Moon Pies”.A “Moon Pie” is a graham cracker like wafer about 4” in diameter that is covered with
a marshmallow layer then topped with another wafer before being dipped in chocolate.Pretty fine eating for a country boy.After touring this place, each of
us was given a “Moon Pie” for our troubles.Needless to say they
were devoured pretty quickly as we headed home after a full and very satisfying day.This was a wonderful experience for us.It was one that we wrote about
in school for years to come.These “field trips” were far too few
to suit me, but their rarity made them all the more special.
“The First Picture Show”
As I mentioned in
an earlier story, the U.S.
Forestry Service routinely came to our community and showed a film about forest fire prevention.That was the only movie that many of us had ever seen and there was always a big turnout at the schoolhouse
to see the film that usually lasted about 30 minutes, was in black and white and was without sound.
When I was in the third
or fourth grade there was a contest in my class.The two winners (a boy and a
girl) were promised a trip to town to see a movie.I always enjoyed these contests.As most of you know, people react differently to the challenge of a test or some kind
of competition.Some people become tense and have trouble although they know
how to perform perfectly.Other people seem to perform above their abilities.I belonged to this second group and was almost always “up” for the challenge
and many times did better than others who had superior abilities.This
time I won the contest among the boys and Queenie Wallace won the girls competition.
True to her word our
teacher came through. My teacher at that time was Miss Alma Finklea.Mr.
Herman Kyle was courting Miss Alma then, and the two of them took Queenie and me to Carthage
to see a picture show (that is what we called movies in those days).
Strangely, I remember very little of that trip except for the movie.I do remember that we were pretty crowded in Herman’s coupe (Miss Alma was a large woman).I’m not sure if Queenie had seen a picture show before or not, but I expect not.I was tense with excitement and I’m sure she was too.We
got to the theater and went in and found our seats.The film being shown was
“Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm”, starring Shirley Temple as Rebecca.I
loved the film and I thought Shirley Temple was the prettiest little girl that I had ever seen.
The trip was a wonderful
experience for me and I’m sure it was for Queenie too.I suppose it was
a drag for Herman and Miss Alma having us on their date, but it didn’t dampen the relationship.I know, because they later married.Miss Alma was a dedicated
teacher and she continued to teach school for many years.I have no idea whatever
happened to Queenie Wallace.
I think as I mentioned earlier -- swimming
season began with April Fools Day and lasted as long as the water was not too cold in the fall.I would go swimming almost anyplace and frequently did.But
my favorite place was Mr. Odie Williams’ pond, near the crossroads a half-mile from our house.When I was very small, I think in 1934 or 1935, I watched while several men with teams and fresnoes build
The pond was built on a small spring fed creek that flowed from a really nice spring arising at the base
of a small bluff.There was a very small flow in the creek, so it didn’t
impede the men in their efforts.
The fresno was a large scoop
that I think held about one-half yard of dirt.The operator walked behind the
tilting it he could make the blade bite into the soil and fill the scoop with dirt.The operator held a rope attached to a trip mechanism.He would direct
the team pulling the fresno to the desired dump-site
and then pull the rope.The scoop would trip upside down and empty the dirt.The men with the teams just went in a circle, one behind the other, filling the fresnoes
and then dumping the dirt to build the dam.A fascinating operation to see.
I always have believed
the spring where the pond was built arose from the same underground source as the spring that supplied our water a few hundred
yards on the other side of the same hill.Once the pond was finished, it quickly
filled with pretty, clear, cold spring water.The pond soon became the favorite
swimming hole in the community.We went there a lot.In the hot summer we sometimes went swimming there at night.The pond was also used as a baptismal fount.I was baptized there in 1942.
The most convenient place
to go swimming was the small pond across the road from our house.When I was
very small I went swimming in this pond almost every summer day.We got most
of our water, except that for cooking and drinking, from the inlet pipe of this pond.Our livestock drank from it and we also kept our wagon in it during hot dry weather.
I suppose you are wondering
why we would put the wagon in the pond.Well there is a simple reason.It was to keep the wagon wheels tight.The wagon wheel hubs
were made from pieces of hardwood fitted together and banded with steel rings.The
spokes were wooden, as were the pieces that formed the circular wheel.The wooden
wheel was covered with a band of steel as wide as the wheel and perhaps 1/4” to 1/2” in thickness.In hot dry weather the wooden pieces of the wheel would shrink as the wood dried out.The shrinkage would allow the steel bands on the hub to come off, and worse would allow the steel band
that formed the tread to come off.Without that band the wheel would be ruined
Most of the ponds and creeks
in the area became a swimming hole at one time or another and most farmers, during dry weather, put their wagon in a pond
or creek to swell the wooden parts of the wheels.
“The Big Move”
In the winter of 1943-44
we moved to town.Well not to town but near it anyway.My brother-in-law Milton Cleo Roberts prompted the move. He
and my sister Cathryn had two small boys and were expecting another.Cleo didn’t
want to go off to the service and leave them alone or out on the farm with us.He
suggested that we all move to town so we would be near the doctor and other things we needed while he was gone.
I liked the idea myself
but the important thing was that Mama agreed to move if an acceptable house could be found.Cleo got out and looked around Carthage
and then Henderson and he found a small house about 3 miles from the town square in Henderson.We moved there before he left for the Navy.We didn’t have a lot, so moving was not a big chore.Our group consisted
of Mama, Cathryn and her sons Kenneth and Michael, Nell, Patsy and me.The house
was small, but it was very nice compared to what we were accustomed to.On
the farm we had kerosene lamps and an outhouse.In our new place we had electric
lights and a bathroom.
A number of things
stand out in my memory about that time.Moving from the ninth grade in CarthageHigh School, where I was just becoming comfortable,
to HendersonHigh School
was a traumatic experience.I was scared to death.The school was huge and I had trouble finding my way around.I
didn’t know anyone except for my two cousins Jim and Bobby Gaston and I hardly saw them.
is the County Seat of RuskCountyTexas and the county courthouse is located there.Somehow, I don’t remember now, I discovered there was a public library in the
basement of the courthouse.Finding that library was akin to a bear finding a
honey tree.I was overwhelmed by access to all those books.I got a library card and became a regular customer.They had
all of Zane Grey’s books as well as Jack London’s.I read them all.There was a four-book limit for checkouts so each time I went in I got four books.After reading those I got four more to read.The three-mile walk to town was a breeze and I walked it many times.
During the few short
months that we lived near Henderson I also attended the movies frequently.Tickets
for children were just ten cents.I became a big fan of the cowboy stars
of the time such as Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Johnny Mack Brown, Tex
Ritter and others.
There was always a Newsreel before the movie and then cartoons.On
Saturdays the next chapter in an on-going Western serial was shown before the regular feature.The serial each week always ended with the hero of the story in an inescapable predicament,….maybe the stagecoach
he was in was hurdlingover a precipice.To begin the next episode you would see the hero had actually jumped from the stagecoach just before it went over the
cliff.I always enjoyed the films, never paying any attention to start times.When I got to the theater I went right in.It
didn’t matter where in the film it happened to be, near the beginning or near the end.I just sat there and watched until I began to recognize scenes and realized I was back where I started.I think many people did the same as I did.
I had a very embarrassing
thing happen to me at the Strand Theater.That was the name of the movie in Henderson.
When the movie ended I got up and started up the aisle that was packed with people.I was just following along behind a group, not noticing it was a group of women.
Directly up the aisle toward
the front of the theater on one side was the men’s restroom and on the other side was the women’s restroom.It so happened on this day I was going up the aisle that led directly towards the
women’s restroom.The group of women ahead of me went into the restroom
and I, close on their heels, followed them in.All of a sudden it got real light
and I awoke to the fact of where I was and beat a hasty retreat.I was mortified
and spent an inordinate amount of time worrying about this incident.
One summer evening
while we lived near Henderson, a war bond rally
was held on the town-square.Rallies featured performers to draw the crowds and
were held all over the nation to encourage people to buy government bonds.The
government needed the money to pay for the huge cost of fighting the Axis (Germany,
Japan and Italy).The rally in Henderson
featured Johnny Mack Brown, Gail Storm and Chill Wills.That was the first time
that I had ever heard of Chill Wills who later became a fairly big star as a supporting actor.It was an exciting evening and the performers put on a real nice show that was enjoyed by most all the folks there
and by me in particular.I think they had a very successful sale of war bonds.
At this time my Uncle
John Tom Ross and his two oldest sons, Neal and Royce were working at the cattle auction in Henderson.This was a weekly auction always held on Monday.The owners of the auction were brothers by the name of Frank and TroyBell.They
also owned the auction in Carthage where my uncle and
cousins also worked on Tuesdays.Uncle John Tom thought it would be good for
me to work with them every Monday and I agreed.They came by and picked me up
early (before daylight) on a Monday morning.
We got out to the
auction and Uncle took me to see Mr. Troy Bell.Mr. Troy was the managing partner in practice if not in fact.He talked to me a minute and then said that I was too young for him to hire.This occurred just after school was out and shortly before my 14th birthday.I was devastated at not being hired…might even have shed a tear or two, I don’t remember.I didn’t have a way home so I was stuck at the auction for the day.After a little while, Mr. Frank Bell came up to me and told me that if I wanted to work I could.Because of my age though he couldn’t legally hire me, but if I worked he would pay me.He told me to tell anyone who asked that I was not working for the auction but just “hanging around”
and to see him at the end of the day.
I started out that first
day working in the auctioneer’s booth during the sale.I was a “runner”
and took the weigh tickets from the weigher at the scales to a clerk next to the auctioneer.I graduated from that job to working in the alley just off the sale ring.The
ring boss would tell the man at the gate the name of the buyer of that lot of one or more animals.The gateman would then call out which pen the animal(s) should go to.The gates to the pens were the same width as the ally.When a pen gate
was opened it closed off the alley and left only one place for the animals to go.My
job was to drive the animals down the alley and into the open pen.Generally
that was an easy chore, but not always.
Hogs are notoriously hard
to herd.Once a bunch of hogs came out of the ring and they were consigned to
a pen at the far end of the alley.The gateman had the gate open waiting on the
hogs.I was driving them toward the pen when the leader suddenly turned and headed
back toward me.I jumped over in front of him standing spraddle-legged and yelling
trying to turn the hog.He didn’t turn but ran straight at me and went
between my legs.It was a large animal and he picked me up off the ground and
I rode him backward all the way down the alley before I could get off.The gateman
came to help me and gave the hog a shot with the electric cattle prod and put him in the pen.Most of the men working at the sale carried those electric prods, which were new to me, and used them with great effect.Batteries were not very good in those days so I guess they didn’t last very
long on a set of batteries.
Brahman cattle were
pretty new to East Texas then.I
had never before seen any of them but I learned, first hand, how wild and unpredictable they were.They were fierce looking and all of us gave them plenty of room.They put me over the fence more than once and they also broke a lot of fences.I always hated to see them come in because I knew they were trouble.
Nineteen and forty-four
was the peak of the war years.We had about 12 million people in the armed forces
and they required a tremendous amount of food.I suppose cattle prices were very
good because of that demand.Stock began to come in to the auction yards before
daylight every Monday morning.Each animal was logged in and had a numbered paper
tag fastened to it by crimping a metal staple (called a hog ring) into the ear.There was a steady stream of trucks and trailers delivering livestock to the pens to be sold and then after the sale
began there was a steady stream of stock being hauled away.The livestock were
sold by type, sometimes singly and sometimes, in groups.I don’t remember
the order but all of one species would be sold before beginning another.
I believe the actual
auction began about 8 or in the morning.It continued until all of the stock had been sold and this was sometimes after mid-night.Whatever time it was, I went to find Mr. Frank Bell to get paid and he always
paid me the same way and that was by handing me eight half-dollars.That was
a king’s ransom to me then and I felt well paid for having worked from until maybe 1 or
of the next morning.
The auction was a dirty
place.Many of the pens were outside and became a muddy mess when it rained.There was a huge barn with lots of pens under the shed.There was an accumulation of dry manure in there and the animal hooves pulverized it into a fine powdery
dust.Those of us working there were always caked with dust by the end of the
day.I remember going home and taking a bath after a day at the auction and enough
dirt and manure would come off me to pot a flower.
Electricity was new
to me and I was fascinated by it.I was taking General Science in the ninth grade
and our textbook at HendersonHigh
School had text and pictures on how to build a carbon arc.I determined to build one and set out to do so.I found two old “D”
cell batteries and removed the carbon rods from them.I built a crude frame,
similar to the diagram in the book, to hold the carbon rods.I got an electric
cord from someplace and connected a wire to each rod and plugged it in.Now,
the way the thing was supposed to work was to slowly narrow the gap between the ends of the rods until a flow of electricity
went from the end of one rod to the end of the other rod.When that happened
a very bright arc developed.Well my rig lacked some of the sophistication of
the one in the book.I had no way to easily close the gap between the rods.When I tried, I closed it too much and instead of a bright arc, I got a big flash
of light a little smoke and a lot of darkness when the fuse blew in the circuit box.It’s a wonder I wasn’t electrocuted.As it was, I scared everybody
half to death and Mama said no more experiments for me.
Mama was not very happy
living away from the farm.She missed her garden, the chickens and the milk cows.We actually brought a milk cow from home and kept her on a tether in the back yard
for a time.Then in the summer we moved back to the farm.I know I was very happy to be back out there, though I missed the library, the movies and my job at the
auction.I think the move to town was a positive one when everything was considered.I have happy memories of the few months we lived in town.