December 2023

The Persistence of Memory III

Gregory Luce | Scene4 Magazine

Gregory Luce


I realized after I dispatched last month's column that I had failed to mention another kind of animal encounter that provided entertainment to my cohort and myself. In addition to crawdad fishing, and in similar locations, we would also sometimes succeed in catching Texas Horned Lizards, known to us as horny toads. They were quite tame and, since we had no intention of hurting them, they in turn remained calm and allowed us to stroke their spiky hides. Apparently they sensed no threat so they never squirted blood from their eyes, which I learned much later they are known to do. I was fascinated by the spiny texture and cool feeling of their skin. I suppose these encounters planted the seed of my ongoing love for and curiosity about nature.

Just as the region in which Henrietta existed was relatively lacking in biodiversity, so too the demographics. As one might assume about a small town in North Texas in the early 60s, the population was overwhelmingly White (as it remains today). A small number of Mexican-Americans lived there along with a smattering of Native Americans. I don't recall even encountering a Black person there. However, once on a family excursion to Possum Kingdom Lake (one of several created by damming the nearby Brazos River), I wandered down to the shore and met an elderly Black couple fishing. I spoke briefly to the man, who was very friendly, relating to me some things about his fishing methodology. I remember clearly that he was using some kind of bait that he extracted from a small tin. He referred to it as "dope." I never found out what it was, but apparently it was effective since he was having some success at bringing in fish. I felt a certain kinship with him as my grandfather was a dedicated angler who provided multitudes of bream and crappie for our occasional family fish fries in Dallas.

Aside from the fishing gentleman, I remember a Mexican girl about my age who attended my elementary school. She was very pretty with long, glossy black hair. I even recall that her name was Cynthia, though I never knew her last name. I met her once by chance in a small store near my house. She greeted me with a smile and we talked for a bit. I never really got to know her, and at the age of nine there was no question of romance, but the encounter stayed with me. I sometimes still wonder what happened to her.

I also have generally happy memories about school days. I was a good student, excelling especially in reading and spelling. It was in 4th grade that I first started wearing glasses. My assigned seat was near the back of the classroom and I was beginning to have trouble reading the blackboard. So off we went to the eye doctor in Wichita Falls, who prescribed my first pair of glasses. The improvement seemed miraculous.

The rest of my recollections are fragmentary and random. Henrietta was a great walking town. It's a classic Texas county seat with a town square and the courthouse in the center. I explored all the side streets leading off the square and one sight especially fascinated me. I peered into a window at street level and witnessed a group of elderly men playing dominoes. Many years later when I first heard Guy Clark's beautiful song "Desperadoes Waiting for a Train," as performed by Jerry Jeff Walker, that memory came flooding back. Sadly, I never got to talk to any of them and hear what would no doubt have been many wonderful stories.

In my almost seventy years on Earth I've lived in many places, met many interesting people, and have had many memorable experiences. None, however, have remained as vivid as my brief residence in Henrietta. I hope my readers have enjoyed this trip back in time as much as I've enjoyed narrating it.


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Gregory Luce is a Senior Writer and columnist for Scene4.
He is the author of five books of poetry, has published widely in print and online and is the 2014 Larry Neal Award winner for adult poetry, given by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Retired from National Geographic, he is a volunteer writing tutor/mentor for 826DC, and lives in Arlington, VA.
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For his other columns and articles in Scene4
check the Archives.

©2022 Gregory Luce
©2022 Publication Scene4 Magazine



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