Friday, March 30, 2007

Yard Markers, Bananas, and Baloney ...

When the South Beaumont Lions’ Club agreed to send the old South Park High School Band to Chicago, we were elated. The year was 1953, and the occasion was the Lions’ International Convention.

I was 17 and had just graduated from South Park. The school administrators agreed that the graduated seniors could accompany the band to Chicago even though we were officially no longer in high school. In others words the band that played together stayed together through the summer.

The offer from the Lions’ Club was that they would send the band to Chicago if we would raise one-half of the money needed for the trip. The Lions would pick up the other one-half. The total cost at the time was $3,000 to charter three Greyhound buses for the roundtrip. This meant that the band had to raise $1,500. Mr. Harold Ramsey and Mr. Louis Stumpf were the band directors. They headed up our fund-raising activities.

The first fund-raising project was that of selling address markers door-to-door. These markers were made up of small blocks of concrete with the appropriate numerals affixed. You could set your marker out by the street. At night, the numerals would reflect the headlights of vehicles passing by. The markers sold for $1.50. The band earned fifty-cents from each marker sold. A concrete company on Washington Blvd. made the products.

Since my family had moved in 1952 over to Voth Road (now Concord Road) on the north side of town, I had a very lucrative territory in the relatively new Minglewood Addition. I started out knocking doors and explaining the band project to the neighborhood. People were very receptive. I sold markers to 50% of the people I approached.

A few of the people questioned my knocking doors in the Beaumont Independent School District to raise money for the South Park band. I explained to those folks that I was their neighbor and had friends in all the high schools of both districts. Guess I was walking a thin line being a Greenie and living in Purple Land.

One afternoon I knocked on a door. A lady’s voice from the back part of the house asked, “Is that you, Winston?” I was somewhat surprised that she knew who I was because I didn’t know who lived there. Anyway I replied, “Yes, it is.” The lady said, “Well, just come on inside. I’ll be there in a minute.” So, I stepped inside. Soon, this lady came walking into the living room wearing a bathrobe with a towel wrapped around her hair.

She looked up at me and let out a little, “Oh!” She ran back out of the living room. From the back of the house she asked, “Who are you and what do you want?” I told her that I was Winston and that I was selling yard markers for a school project. She started laughing and came back into the living room, this time wearing a dress. She explained that her cousin had just called and said he was coming over to the house. His name also happened to be Winston. She thought that I was her cousin and invited me to enter. How many people are there named Winston? Not very many.

Our next fund-raiser was selling bananas door-to-door for 15 cents per pound. We didn’t have the bananas yet. We were just taking orders. Seems that several of my would-be customers wanted to see what the bananas were going to look like. So I began carrying a banana around with me explaining, “They are going to look like this banana.”

You know what? Between the yard markers and the bananas, we raised enough money to make the trip. It was a blast.

Winston Hamby
The Beaumont Enterprise

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Make That With Mayonaise, No Onions ...

The Toddle House Restaurant used to be one of my favorite eating spots. In fact there were two of these Restaurants in Beaumont back in the 1940s. One was located on Pearl Street next door to the Yellow Cab/Star Taxi Cab Company. The other Toddle House was down on Calder Avenue west of the downtown district.

My family used to eat at the Pearl Street Toddle House every Sunday morning following church services. One reason we went there was because of their Banana Icebox Pie. I loved it. If you ever wondered what a little bit of Heaven was like all you had to do was to eat some of that pie.

The Toddle House was a chain of restaurants that was started in Texas in 1931, with headquarters later relocating to Memphis. The chain flourished through the 1940’s and 1950’s. But during the ‘50s a rash of fast-food restaurants hit the country. One of the executives of the Toddle House chain and another gentleman jumped into the mix by opening the first Waffle House in 1955. The Toddle House finally phased out while the Waffle House continues to flourish.

The basic layout for a Toddle House was just a counter with ten stools. You would sit at the counter and watch the cook do his thing. The restaurant was opened 24/7 and they did a great “take-out” business. I just can’t get over how delicious those Banana Icebox Pies were.

By the time my family moved over to Beaumont’s north end on Concord Road (Voth Road) in 1952, I had gotten my driver’s license. Still needing the Toddle House “pie fix,” I began stopping by the Calder Avenue location. It was much closer to my house than the one down on Pearl Street. I frequented the Calder Toddle House once or twice per week.

Then one day, a new hamburger restaurant opened up on Calder Avenue, just one block from the Toddle House. I can’t recall the name of this new place but something interesting happened there. This was a place where you placed your order at their outside window and gave your name. Then you waited in your car. When your order was ready they called your name. Then you paid for your food when you received your order.

Thought I’d give this place a try. I walked up to the window, ordered a cheeseburger and vanilla shake, and then gave my last name. In a few minutes the attendant called my name. I went to the window, pulled out my wallet with every intention of paying. The young lady said, “Oh you don’t have to pay.” I replied, “I don’t?” She said, “Of course not.” I expressed my appreciation and took the food. You ate in your car at that establishment.

After a bit, the young lady came out to my car and asked, “Your last name is Hamby isn’t it? I told her that indeed it was. She asked, “Are you Tom Hamby’s son? I said, “No, I belong to W. J. Hamby.” She exclaimed, “Oh then you do need to pay for your food.” I paid.

Turns out that the owner of this new restaurant was Tom Hamby. Since “Hamby” is not a very common name, the young lady assumed I was Tom’s son. Anyway, it was kind of fun getting to eat free for a few minutes.

But the main reason I kept patronizing the Toddle House was not because that new place made me pay for my food. No the main reason I stayed with the Toddle House until they closed down was because of their Banana Ice Box Pies. Those pies were just heavenly.

Winston Hamby

Monday, March 19, 2007

A Nickel For Your Thoughts ...

Have you ever heard of the “40 nickels in a jar” routine? Read on for additional information.

My parents decided to give weekly allowances to my sister and me. I can’t remember how much she got but mine was fifty cents. Probably I was in the third grade by the time this arrangement began. In order to qualify for the allowance, certain duties were expected of me. For example, I was supposed to carry the full trash can out to the side of the road and then retrieve the empty can once the pickup was made. Also I was to keep my room, “picked up.” Always thought it was funny to “pick up” a room. My parents never did acknowledge the great humor contained within this original pun.

Anyway, as time went along, a few changes took place. Evidently I was a bit too full of mischief to suit my parents. They decided that rather than to give me fifty cents per week allowance, they would instead give me two dollars per month. This would equal fifty cents per week, right? Not necessarily. Here’s the rest of the “new deal.”

On the first day of each month, my parents put 40 nickels into a jar and set the jar on a high shelf well out of my reach. Anytime I pulled a bratty stunt a nickel was removed from the jar. At the end of the month I would receive as my allowance the nickels that still were in the jar. However, for every nickel that was missing I would get a healthy swat with a choice switch from our hedge growing behind the house. For example, if 5 nickels had been taken from the jar then I would get the remaining 35 nickels and 5 swats with the switch. Dad wasn’t content just to swat my trousers. He would pull my pants legs up and swat on the skin. Let me tell you. That will tone down a bratty kid. I think the best month I ever had was the one when I merited 36 nickels.

Soon I discovered that I could contract out some of my assigned duties. For example, Jackie Garretson who was a member of the Pipkin Street gang, agreed to return our empty trash can to its spot by our back door. I paid Jackie ten cents per week for taking on this assignment. Since Jackie’s allowance was only twenty-five cents per week, he was delighted to add the additional ten cents per week to his gross income. And I was delighted that a system was developed to get me out of having to do some of my tasks.

As you already have surmised, this newly developed system ran onto hard times. Ms. Garretson, Jackie’s mom, found out that I was paying her son to do my duty of carrying our trash can. She visited with my mother and the entire arrangement was annulled. Also, my parents found that I had already paid Jackie twenty cents for two weeks worth of trash canning. Thus, four nickels came out of my jar. That meant four swats. My contract business was ended almost before it began.

Even today (I am 71) I’ll stop and think, “How were my business transactions of the day handled? Did I use integrity and truthfulness with my customers?” In other words, “Did I lose any nickels today?” It seems that no matter how hard I try, a few nickels manage to slip out of the jar now and then.

But also I know this truth by faith that when I reach the end of the road, by the Grace of God, my jar will be full of nickels.

Winston Hamby

The Beaumont Enterprise

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Hidden Hymnals ...

Donald Rao showed me a great place to fly kites. There was lots of open space with nice mowed fields. There were no power lines to get in our way. This “kite flying” location was just off of the Port Arthur highway near East Virginia Street.

Donald lived over on Wilbur Boulevard in South Park. Wilbur Blvd. was a neat little street. You would enter the street from Florida Ave., drive a short distance to the end and then follow the U-Turn around and exit back out onto Florida.

I really enjoyed visiting at Donald’s house. First of all, we were about the same age. His parents and mine were active leaders in the South Park Church of Christ. They visited often. This meant that I got to go along to play with Donald. Most of this memory is set in the mid-1940s.

Donald had a nice upstairs room. He had lots of toys. Especially I enjoyed playing with his Marx electric train. Donald was a good friend and we had a lot of fun playing together.

When the new church building which was located on Highland Ave. and Threadneedle Streets was nearly complete in 1948, Donald and I had a blast. First of all, the pews were about two weeks late in arriving. So the church continued to meet in the old building over on Elgie and Irving Streets. During that two-week period my dad, Woodie Hamby and Don’s dad, Leon Rao spent a great deal of time overseeing last minute touchups inside the new building.

While our dads were working inside the new building, Don and I would tag along. The auditorium floor was waxed linoleum and was all shiny and slick. Since there were no pews yet installed, the floor made a great sliding place. We would take off our shoes and start running from the rear of the auditorium toward the pulpit. At about the halfway point, we would sit down and slide on our posteriors all the way to the front. That was the best sliding place I ever knew prior to the days of waterslides. Donald and I marveled over how warm our backsides got from the friction of sliding on that floor.

During this period of time before the pews arrived, a shipment of 500 hymnals showed up. My dad assigned Don and me the task of opening all the boxes and stacking the hymnals along the auditorium wall. Then we were provided with little rubber stamps that read, “Property of the South Park Church of Christ, 3395 Highland Ave., Beaumont, Texas.” Don and I had to stamp the inside back cover of each of those hymnals. This job assignment interfered a bit with our pastime of sliding on the floor. Each hymnal had a red bookmark sewn into the binding. Correction: There were six of those 500 hymnals that had purple bookmarks. Donald and I took ownership of those six hymnals. We hid those six hymnals down in the basement of the building inside a crawl space that later was sealed closed.

But what about the neat kite flying area that I started out to describe. Well, Donald took me out to this field and we flew our kites. There was a building down at the corner of the highway and East Virginia. I asked Donald what the building was for? He replied, “Oh, that’s Lamar College.” Then I asked him what they did there. He said he didn’t know. But the barren Lamar College campus of that day made for great kite flying.

And you know something else? I’ll bet those six hymnals are still sealed up in that crawl space.

Winston Hamby

Saturday, March 03, 2007

What's That Thing In My Food ... ??

Recently my wife and I visited with our daughter and her family in Baytown. We intended to go on a picnic at Hermann Park in Houston and take the grandchildren to the zoo. But this was not to be as traffic around the zoo was grid-locked on all sides and all the parking areas surrounding the zoo were closed. Thus we ended up back at my daughter’s house sitting around the dining room table eating sandwiches out of our Igloo Cooler. It was nearly as good as a real picnic although we did miss the ants and outdoor scenery.

I selected an interesting-looking sandwich spread from the cooler. It looked interesting because the label on the cover said, “Rotisserie Chicken Salad.” Anything edible with the word “chicken” connected is interesting to me. Perhaps out of curiosity I looked at the label on the bottom of the salad container to read the ingredients.

Have you ever knowingly eaten “hydrolyzed sodium cacinate”? How about “lecithin or Calcium Disodium EDTA, polysorbate 80 of black pepper with natural smoke flavor” plus about 70 other ingredients? If you have eaten all of these at once then it is likely that you have eaten Rotisserie Chicken Salad. I know because I have been there and done that. I’m not pulling your wishbone. What I am telling you is coming directly from said label.

The questions that first stuck my mind when I read the label were: “Do people actually eat this?” and, “How in the world did someone come up with all this mixture of stuff?” Are these concoctions formulated in a chemistry lab or in bad dreams?

If you were going to come up with a new sandwich spread of some sort would it occur to you to include a bit of “modified food starch and dried vinegar?” How would you know if your food starch was modified or not? And how would you dry vinegar? Vinegar is a liquid. Wouldn’t it evaporate if you tried to dry it?

Would you be inspired to stir in some, “sugar and garlic with partially hydrogenated cottonseed and soybean oil?” Can you even think of sugar and garlic in the same thought? And how do you know how to think about “torula yeast with lipolyzed butter oil?”

Let us reason together. Just how many people have read labels on food containers similar to the one I have tried to describe? All I really saw was the word “chicken.” I had no clue that along with the chicken were bits of “modified tapioca starch and pinches of hydrolyzed whey protein mixed with corn syrup solids.” What is a “corn syrup solid” anyway? I thought syrups were liquids. Maybe they freeze it before they mix it in with the chicken.

In my imagination I began to ponder how I would conjure up my own Rotisserie Chicken Salad sandwich spread. Hopefully I could come up with some exotic ingredients. However, following due consideration, the label on my sandwich spread would read something like, “Mashed up Rotisserie Chicken with mayonnaise and other stuff included.” I wouldn’t bother with adding “spice extractives” and I would let the “natural flavors” take care of themselves.

Anyway I have a new fascination and I invite you to join me. Start reading the labels on your food containers. You will be astounded at what you are putting into your body. I leave you with one final example: If you love the taste of Rotisserie Chicken Salad, that means you have a thing for “sodium diacetate and phosphates.”

I know because I have read the label.

Winston Hamby –

The Beaumont Enterprise