Monday, July 30, 2018

Monday Memories: My Home Town

I’m never going to write an autobiography. For one thing, I don’t have the time and energy, and for another, it seems a little pretentious for a hack writer to be doing such a thing. Also, let’s be honest here. I’ve read a lot of books, watched a lot of movies, and spent a lot of time in a room by myself typing. There you go. JAMES REASONER: HIS LIFE AND TIMES. The End.

However, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I wax nostalgic from time to time, and in doing so quite a bit lately it occurred to me that I ought to start a series of such posts that are sort of autobiographical in nature. If nothing else, it gets some of my memories down in a bit less transitory form, and they might provide a little entertainment for some of you or make you think back to your own younger years. And of course, one of the great advantages of doing these as blog posts is that you can roll your eyes and skip them and I’ll never know the difference.

I’m going to begin with the picture above. That’s an aerial photo of Azle, Texas, taken in 1938. Now, before you think, “Just how old are you, anyway?”, let me say that my parents didn’t move to Azle until the early Fifties, right after I was born. So that photo predates me by more than a decade. However, some of those buildings were still there when I was growing up in Azle in the Fifties and Sixties, and some of them are still there.

The two-story white building in the lower right portion of the picture? That’s one of the oldest buildings still standing in Azle. I believe it was originally MacDonald’s Grocery Store, and after that it was Stribling’s Drug Store. By the early Sixties, it was Tompkins’ Drug Store. There was a spinner rack of comic books, and I bought a bunch of DENNIS THE MENACE comic books there, along with issues of the DC war comics OUR ARMY AT WAR and OUR FIGHTING FORCES. The Odd Fellows lodge met on the second floor, and around on the side, for a while, there was a small lending library where you could check out books for, I think, ten cents a week.

After the drug store moved to a new strip shopping center at the other end of town (where I bought even more comic books and paperbacks), the building became the home of C&W Electronics, a TV repair shop. Azle had three such shops for a long time: C&W on Main Street downtown, Jimmy Chandler’s out on the Boyd Highway, and my dad’s shop, where he worked out of our house on Hankins Drive. C&W was there for a long time, and after it went out of business the building sat vacant for ages. A few years ago, a For Sale sign went up on it, and I thought, “Crap. Somebody’s going to buy it and tear it down.” They’d already torn down the Red Top Café, just up the street, which dated back to the 1870s and started its existence as a saloon. But no, the building is still there, and these days it’s Red’s Burger House. I go in there to pick up burgers sometimes, and I still know approximately where the comic book spinner rack stood. It’s a good feeling.

Now, diagonally across the street on the corner is a two-story stone building. It was fairly new when that photo was taken in ’38, I believe. A local couple named Jim and Eula Nation built it. I don’t know the original purpose, but in the early Sixties there was a barber shop on the first floor and a snow cone stand on the corner of the parking lot during the summer. I never went to the barber shop (my dad and I got our hair cut at Hukill’s, across the street, in a building that wasn’t there yet in ’38), but I did eat a lot of snow cones from that stand. Then the building was vacant for a while, and in the mid-Sixties, the Azle Public Library, which had gotten started a few years earlier in a small space also across the street, moved in. Mrs. Nation, who still owned the building, was the librarian. I was already working at the library by that time, first as a volunteer and then as a modestly salaried employee (I made enough to buy more comic books and paperbacks!), so I worked there until, I think, 1969. In the mid-Seventies, the library moved into a new building out on the highway, not far from the hospital. The stone building on Main Street is now the Azle Historical Museum, where the original of this aerial photo now hangs, or at least it did the last time I was in there.

See the road that turns off of Main Street next to the museum building and curves up and to the left out of the picture? The second building on the right, the little white house, was still there as recently as a year or two ago, but I believe it was jacked up and moved out. I don’t know where it is now.

Across from that house, on the left side of the road (Church Street), you can see the steeple and part of Azle Christian Church. The building still sits on that property, although in a slightly different place now, and is the church’s Fellowship Hall. Follow Church Street on around, and that clump of trees and cluster of buildings on the left is what was then Azle’s only school. It’s a sprawling stone building famous in these parts as the Rock School. When I went there in the Sixties for sixth, seventh, and eighth grades, it was Azle Junior High. When my daughters attended fifth and sixth grade there, it was Azle Elementary. But whatever its official name, it was and always will be the Rock School.

There are a few other buildings in Azle old enough to have been in this picture that are further out. About half a mile to the south is Ash Creek Baptist Church, where a building that dates from 1898 is now Fellowship Hall. When I was a kid it was still the church’s main building, and that was where I attended the first church services I remember. Livia and I also had our wedding shower in that building. Farther out the same road the church is on is an old house that was built in the 1850s, within a decade after the first settlers moved into the area. When I was a kid, an old log cabin built in the 1840s was still standing on property belonging to the family of a friend of mine. I remember seeing it. I don’t know if it was torn down or fell down, but it’s long gone, like the Red Top up on Main Street. I’m sure there are other private homes in the area that date back that far, but I don’t know the details on all of them.

Since the Sixties, a four-lane highway runs right through the middle of the area in the picture. Most of that farm land you see stretching into the distance? Covered with houses, of course. Things changed a lot during that era, but in the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies, Azle was still a darned good place to live and grow up. One thing about living in one place all your life, every time you go anywhere, you drive right past all those old memories and they come alive again in your mind.

At least they do in mine.


Jeffrey Meyerson said...

Great. I'm glad you started doing this. We need to get memories down while we and they are still fresh (relatively speaking!). It's like those wonderful posts Bill Crider did on his blog about growing up, meeting Judy, etc.

I hope you'll keep it up from time to time.

Todd Mason said...

Asimov managed several thousand pages of memoirs eventually, while living a not Too different life. And they are engaging. Hell, Stephen King's autobiographical writing in ON WRITING is the best prose I've seen from him. It tends to swing.

Lawrence Block said...

Keep doing this, James.

James Reasoner said...

Bill's posts were a definite inspiration for this series. But then, Bill was an inspiration in many ways.

I read those Asimov memoirs and enjoyed them. Also King's autobiographical stuff.

I didn't mention it in this particular post (although I think I have previously), but Tompkins' Drug Store, after it moved to the strip shopping center at the other end of town, was where I bought TANNER'S TWELVE SWINGERS and TANNER'S TIGER brand-new off the spinner rack. I have two more of these posts scheduled and several more in the works.

Peter Brandvold said...

I for one enjoy memoirs even by hacks, James. They're one of my favorite genres. And I enjoy writing them myself. Forward, ho!

Chap O'Keefe said...

Excellent reading! My home town is on the other side of the world from where I have lived the largest part of my life, but memories remain precious even without the day-to-day prompting you mention. And other people's memories, of changed places and times, contain so many fascinating and nostalgia-provoking parallels.

Keith West said...

Enjoyed this immensely. Keep writing these posts. It boggles my mind that someone tore down a building from the 1870s.

James Reasoner said...

When I was volunteering at the library's original location, that old building was the Red Top Cafe and was just a few doors down the sidewalk, so I ate lunch there lots of times. I don't know what kind of shape it was in later, when it was torn down, but I wish there had been a way to save it. I've put saloons called the Red Top in many of my books as a nod to those days.

Anonymous said...

Great idea to start with an aerial photo of the town. Give it a documentary-like quality. Looking forward to the add-ons.

John M. Whalen