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A Time Not Forgotten
~~ Humble, Texas ~~

by Newt Harlan


“A small town is a place where there's
no place to go where you shouldn't be.”


I've just experienced my 68th birthday, which, predictably, caused me to examine changes that have come about during the 50 years since I was 18. As you might imagine, there have been many changes in my hometown of Humble, Texas, since the '50s.

Probably the most notable is the growth. In 1958, Humble was a small country town of about 1350 people, surrounded by farm and ranchland and woods. Today Humble is just another Houston suburb, surrounded by subdivisions and more subdivisions and people running helter-skelter like so many ants.

Most of the old familiar things from the '50s are either gone or changed to the extent that they are unrecognizable to an eye unaware of what was there before. The prime landmark, which pretty much surrounded Humble and kept it a small town for many years, is no longer. The several thousand acres owned by the Bender Estate (we called Bender’s pasture) is no longer. In its place are now a huge mall and commercial area along with several subdivisions, with more and more a'building.

In the midst of the property is Bender’s Lake, an oxbow, spring-fed lake formed several hundred years ago when Spring Creek flooded and changed courses. When we were kids, the rumor was it had no bottom. Supposedly divers had tried to go to the lake’s bottom, but it was so deep their air supply ran out and they had to surface. Another rumor had it that an oil company brought in an offshore sounder, whatever that was supposed to have been, but it had no luck finding the bottom either.

Bottomless or not, Bender's Lake afforded us a multitude of good times, and it holds countless fond memories for me. Among other firsts, Bender’s is where I got my first real kiss and where I first skinny-dipped with the opposite sex (not on the same occasion). The lake is still out there somewhere, but the last time I saw it about 20 years ago, our neighbors in the new subdivisions had turned it into a trash dump — that broke my heart and I’ve made no efforts to locate it since.

All the best places seem to disappear. The drive-in where we never saw the end of a movie was torn down years ago. Possum Park, where we used to go to park and do what teens do when they are parked in the woods is gone for sometime now, replaced by a golf course and subdivisions The field where they erected the tent roller-skating rink every year is gone now, replaced by a strip center. I never cared for skating and considered it somewhat sissy. Looking back, I can no longer give a reason, since many of my friends participated and even followed the rink around to neighboring towns.

The Humble Pharmacy and Tooke’s drug store both closed down years ago. My sisters, when they were teens, used go into the pharmacy to shop for all kinds of cosmetics and charge them to Daddy’s account. They got the clerk to write down everything as feminine hygiene products. I don’t remember ever hearing about their getting caught, but Daddy surely had to be curious about how expensive feminine products were.

The thing I miss most about the old drugstores are the soda fountains and the druggist who knew everyone in town. Nothing was more enjoyable on a hot day than sitting at that soda counter, drinking a cherry phosphate or fresh-squeezed limeade, made as you watched. The drink arrived in a conical silver server lined with a white paper cone, and the straws were long enough so I could share with my current love interest, and who can forget those sundaes and banana splits? Or the malts and milkshakes poured into a tall glass, with the mixing can left alongside, containing almost enough for a full refill?

Until I reached driving age and even for several years afterwards, the drugstores were shopping central for me at Christmas and other gift-buying times. In one stop I could buy for everyone in the whole family. Every year my mother acted as if the perfume was a surprise and exactly what she wanted, Daddy thought his billfold was great, and my sisters were pleased with whatever costume jewelry or gewgaw I selected for them. Sadly both drug stores are now gone.

We used to hang out at the Dairy Barn and buy twenty-five cent burgers and 10-cent fries and play the jukebox for a nickel or 6 for a quarter. The Dairy Barn closed up while I was in the service and later disappeared, replaced by a bicycle shop and CPA’s office. It sure was a hopping place for a while.

The Jewel Theater, where I first held hands with a girl and also where I must’ve watched several hundred Saturday matinees is no longer. Oh, the building still stands and the refurbished neon sign still proclaims “Jewel” in the night skies, but inside are no longer shoot-‘em-ups, cartoons and serials, but the offices of an insurance company.

In fact, most of the stores are gone from Main Street, victims of WalMart and the mall. In their place are artisan shops and antique stores and offices. The depot is now a feed store, one old Post Office is now a café and another an auto parts store, and the old City Hall with the jail and fire station has turned into a lounge, beauty shop and dance studio. Not everything has changed -- the Baptist and Methodist churches are still in their proper places.

Charles Bender High School, where I attended grades 7 through 12, is still standing, but no longer serves as a place of learning. It is now used as a storage facility while the school district figures how to demolish it because of all the asbestos used in its construction.

I miss high school football games at the stadium over on Charles Street on Friday nights. (Of course, they still play on Friday nights . . . and Thursdays and Saturdays, but in a different stadium, and the atmosphere isn’t the same). I miss those times when everybody in town packed into the stadium to cheer for the team. And the whole town shut down to go to the out-of-town games, leaving those who had to remain behind waiting breathlessly for news of the score.

Back then everyone went to the stadium to watch the football game and see the band perform at halftime. The cheerleaders were pretty girls, whose job was to lead cheers for the football team when play was stopped. Nowadays, the cheerleaders seem to ignore the football game and concentrate on some kind of trumped up cheerleading competition . . . it just isn’t the same.

The more years that pass by, the more downtown Humble seems smaller and drabber than I remember it from the old days, but then in my memories everyone stays young, the trees are always green and everything is freshly painted. Every now and then I get full of nostalgia and think I’d enjoy going back to the old days . . . but just for a visit.

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Newt tells us about himself:

I was born, raised and educated in Texas. With the exception of a few brief sojourns and the 4 years during the Vietnam Era that I spent riding around on airplanes courtesy of the U.S. Air Force, I've spent the more than 65 years of my life within spittin’ distance of the place where I grew up. I managed to cram a four-year college degree into nine years and by virtue of that remarkable feat, I am a former student of six different schools, which sure helps the odds of rooting for a winner in sporting events. The academic standards committee had a moment of weakness and I was the fortunate recipient of a degree from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas.

I'm Southern to the bone. The sound of “Dixie” being played gives me goose bumps and I stand and remove my hat. My yard dog, B.J., controls the squirrels, cats, meter readers and peddlers around my place. I’ve picked cotton by hand, plowed behind a mule, churned butter, shelled back-eyed peas, and for the first 12 years of my life, went without shoes from April until October. Several of my friends regularly hold conversations with mules, but as of yet I can’t get the danged mules to answer me. I think grits are as much a part of breakfast as bacon, eggs and cathead biscuits. I think ain’t is a perfectly good word and don’t plan to quit using it just because some damnyankee dictionary writer arbitrarily thinks it ain’t.

I've been married for 30-some odd years and have beaucoup kids and grandkids. I'm now retired after having spent the better part of the past 37 years traveling around Texas, Louisiana, and the Gulf Coast areas of Mississippi and Alabama, trying to sell steel products. My hobbies, in no particular order, include writing, grandkids, hunting, fishing and visiting the local watering hole to swap honest lies and research material for stories.


E-mail Newt at: Newt281@embarqmail.com

Want to read more of Newt’s stories at USADEEPSOUTH? Click these links:
Ol’ Red and the Armadillo
Earworms
Telephones and memories
Tastes like chicken
Remembering
Railroad Money
Basura Blanca News
Juicing Bovines
That's Entertainment ~ '50s Style!
Southern Words
Railroad Fireman
Funeralizin'
Curing Colds
Belly Waddin' Lunch

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Read many more great stories listed on our USADS Articles pages.

Thanks!

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