November 2023

The Persistence of Memory II

Gregory Luce | Scene4 Magazine

Gregory Luce


In my previous installment I related a humorous (in retrospect) incident involving my baby brother who was born in Henrietta. I clearly recall going to the hospital and looking through a glass window and looking at the array of newborns in cribs available for viewing by family and friends during visiting hours. Frankly, to my young eyes, they all looked alike, but it was a thrill to pick out my new sibling by the name card attached to his crib.

I would, however, be greatly remiss if I failed to mention my younger sister who was four when we arrived. One of my earliest memories is the day she and our mother came home from the hospital. I was the first person (aside from my parents) allowed to hold her. I had grown quite excited during the run up to her birth and thrilled to be able to cradle her and marvel at her tiny features, fingers, ears, etc. I had probably never been so close to a baby before.

By the time we moved she had grown into an energetic, talkative child, already demonstrating her self assurance and occasional bossiness (which was actually quite charming). She could also surprise. One night after she had been put to bed, my parents and I were in the kitchen at the opposite end of the house. We were sharing a Hershey bar, thinking we could get away with it now that my sister was safely tucked in. All of a sudden came the sound of small feet and a voice asking "Do I smell chocolate?" She was rewarded with a small piece and returned to bed.

As I noted previously, this was my first and only experience of a truly small town or a rural area. The landscape was rather stark and the town did not offer much in the way of recreational activities, but there was no lack of things to do once I made a few friends. There was lots of open space to run around in, many interesting rocks to pick up (including the occasional rose rock), and, best of all, crawdads to catch. These latter were completely unknown to me until a couple of friends taught me how to nab them after a rare rainstorm had passed through. We would get a piece of string, tie a safety pin to it, and get some fat from our mothers, and look for a sufficiently deep puddle. Once located, we put some fat on the pin, and dragged it through the water until a crawdad grabbed it with its big claw. Then we hauled it out, let it dangle while we looked it over carefully, then released it back into its puddle. I didn't learn until much later that these hard-shelled insect-like creatures were correctly known as crayfish and that they were an edible delicacy.

A more conventional regional food specialty was catfish, fried and served with cole slaw, rolls, and possibly a green vegetable. At that time, Episcopalians, like Roman Catholics, observed meatless Fridays. This practice normally called for fish sticks, macaroni and cheese, spaghetti with tomato sauce, or on a really good night, cheese pizza. But every once in a while, we would load ourselves into the car and drive for about half an hour, across the Red River, to Waurika, Oklahoma, to dine at Bill's Fish House. This was especially exciting for me because not only was the catfish exceptional, but the joint had a juke box and a shuffleboard table. I didn't actually play but was allowed to slide the puck up and down the table which for some reason I found to be great fun. (Years later, I discovered that my father had been a table shuffleboard champion in college when he easily beat me and a friend in a tavern in my own college town.) I was amazed just now when I looked on Google maps and found that Bill's is still in operation, and, if the photo is accurate, has not been redecorated in the intervening 60 years.

Foodways in Henrietta were generally highly satisfactory. Like most Texans we ate steak, barbecue, chicken-fried steak, black-eyed peas, cornbread, greens, meat loaf, fried okra, and other southern specialties. Not fried chicken though, unless we got it from a restaurant. My Dallas grandmother cooked unbeatable chicken in her cast-iron skillet, used only for frying, in Crisco, fried once, drained, and fried a second time. And of course we would go out from time to time to the local drive-in, Dairy Queen if I recall correctly, for burgers and fries like any good American family.

I thought that I was going to wrap up this trip back in time with this piece, but I am nearing my self-imposed word limit and I still have more reminiscences to share. So stay tuned for part III coming next month. 


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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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