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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cut Toe and a Minstrel Show.

I mentioned in a previous post that I sang country music as a child.

It was 1960 and my parents had abandoned The First Assembly of God church and they were having fun, they had gone back to the group of friends they had before joining the church. They would buy a six-pack of Schlitz and it would last them all week. They hid it when my sister or myself walked in, but we saw it and didn't understand why they hid it.

These friends liked to sing and have fun. They brought guitars, tambourines and mandolins. I was in heaven. I loved it. Mom had a hauntingly beautiful voice. Men were drawn to her beauty and her voice, but she was always loyal to Dad. His name was Billy Joe. My Mom is Yvonne and she sang songs both popular and old-time, mostly country. Listening to Ray Charles, Dinah Washington, Bobby Darin, Jerry Lee, and BB King, she sang the songs of Patsy Cline, Dottie West and one of my favorites at the time, Jeannie Seely. I loved it when Mom sang this one:

Jeannie Seely -- Don't Touch Me

Mom and I started singing at the Odd Fellows Lodge shows. Lodges were a big thing back then. Everyone belonged to some group or another. My Grandpa was an Odd Fellow and he recruited us to sing in the Annual Jamboree. It was a variety show along vaudeville lines. We did several shows at the high school auditorium.

I am ashamed in retrospect at one show we did. I was only six and didn't know it was wrong and this type of show was very popular in the 40's/50's & early 60's. We were in a
minstrel show. A Minstrel Show is when white people blacken their faces and hands with charcoal or paint, dress up funny and mock black people. I cringe now, but I thought it was funny to dress up when I was a kid. I have trouble understanding what the grown ups were thinking. Mom wasn't prejudiced at all, she taught us not to judge others, that everyone is created equal, and that everyone has the right to pursue happiness. Somehow we all thought this show was a perfectly respectable thing to do.

I practiced my song for weeks. I had a surprise for Daddy. My song was "
Little Liza Jane" and one of the lines was "Brussels carpet on my floor" and I changed the words to "Grabeel Carpet on my floor" Daddy had recently opened his own company selling carpets & drapery's and I thought it might please him.

The day of the show, Mama took us to the public pool for a swim. I walked in the shallow end and immediately cut my big toe almost off on a piece of glass. It turned out there had been a teen party the night before at the Youth Center. A whiskey bottle had been tossed in the pool and I found it.

It was my first trauma. I remember pulling my foot up and seeing my toe hanging, but the water held back the blood for a few seconds and all I saw was white muscle & bone then blood started spurting out. I soaked a towel before we made it to the car. No such thing as 911 then. Mom just screamed for sister, Vicki and we were off to the clinic. The same clinic that sewed Grandpa's finger back on.
I will never forget. I was laid on the white paper covered table on my stomach and when that Doctor put a needle in one of my nerves...well I can't even describe the pain.

It is a pain I have felt since and I declare it worse than labor pains. I broke my thumb a few years ago, it was mangled and crushed by a red Firebird's door. I actually screamed when the nurse put the needle in my raw nerve and I begged him not to do it the next two times. He apologised for it being unnecessary when the Doctor finally looked at the X-rays and saw it was cut to the bone. I learned that if you have a cut to the bone, you're not to expose it to any water at all, it will get badly infected and surgery can not be done. I think I would rather lose the thumb than ever have shots in the nerve again.

Anyways, I was bandaged and medicated and went home to dress for the show. I had to put plastic over the foot to bathe, but I made it on time. I hated walking across the stage to the mic on crutches, but the show must go on, so up I went, my big white wrapped toe drawing all the attention. I love attention, so I am lying when I said I hated the crutches. I was looking right in Daddy's face when I sang the revised line and I saw him beam with pride. The audience gave me a standing ovation. I loved every minute of it.

Mother wore lighter face paint and sang:

"Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey" This is Patsy Cline's version. I couldn't find a good one of Pearl Bailey)

Grandpa sang the old standards with his Barbershop Quartet. I remember one was "
Old Man River", but they did several.

I planned on writing about Panther Hall in Ft Worth.
I am truly surprised that Daddy let Mom & I go there every weekend. I was noticing a change in Daddy. Though it wasn't severe. Daddy just acted a little different when he drank.One day he called Jerry Lee Lewis's agent and invited Jerry Lee to our house for red beans and cornbread. His agent said he was on tour, but he was sure Jerry Lee would have enjoyed them.

He was still the best Dad in the world to me. He took me hunting, fishing, and would lie in the backyard grass with me to teach me the constellations. We loved Hank Williams and we sang "Hey, Good Looking" as a duo. Damn, I miss him.

The Hank Williams video set off some emotions I wasn't expecting. I reckon that does it for me for today. I will tell you about Panther Hall next time if you're interested.

Mom said maybe I shouldn't talk about "The Minstrel Show", but I told her it was part of our personal history and it was a part of Americas shame and it shouldn't be hidden. She agreed.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Great-Grandpa Was A Cattle Thief!

Jacob William Moultre Grabeel - Margaret Virginia Crockett
Great Grandfather and Great Grandmother

Recently I found my paternal family after a long separation They have a family website, so I have been getting to know them again. Granny and Grandpa died long ago and some of my Uncles and Aunts, but I still have ton's of cousins. I asked for information on my Great Grandparents and I received these pictures and some interesting gossip today.

My Great Granddaddy was shot as a cattle thief. He was a scoundrel and the black sheep of the family. My Grandpa always said his Pa was a butcher and sold meat and that's all he would say, neglected to mention he didn't buy the meat he sold. They lived in Virginia, not sure how the family ended up in Texas.
My Great Grandmother was Margaret Crockett from Tennessee. I have heard all my life that I am related to Davy Crockett. (distant uncle)

Mom, Dad and Granny 1951

I didn't know my Dad's side of the family as well as Mom's. I knew them when I was young. My Grandmother was a very sweet woman, she introduced me to books. Gave me Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and Peter Pan for my 6th birthday, as well as a white zip-up Bible with my name imprinted in gold.

I didn't think about it till I was grown - just how ironic that was. She could barely read. She was from the Oklahoma Hills and didn't have a chance for much education, but introduced me to a love of books at six.

Harrison Jocephas Grabeel and Polly Matilda Row Grabeel
(Grandpa and Granny)

My Grandpa was a quiet, gruff German. He was a craftsman and built beautiful wood furniture. What I remember best about him was the loss of one of his fingers while I was staying with them once. Granny didn't drive, so he had to drive himself to the clinic. Granny carried the finger in a glass of ice. I was about seven then. Very exciting stuff for me, not for them, it was the third one he cut off. The Doctor just sewed it back on and we went home.


I never heard anything about their parents. I remember some portraits hanging in the front room of their house. My parents divorced when I was eleven and we quit seeing that side of the family. Everyone moved and holidays became telephone calls then became nothing.

The young man is my Daddy, Billy Joe Grabeel.

and this little doll face is me in 1954.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Irving Theater

There was a theater in town on Main Street, it was The Irving Theater. When I was six I started going to the indoor movies there. My Mom had gone to the movies there as a teenager. It smelled of many years of popcorn, giant pickles and spilled sodas. I had only been to the Drive -In movies before, but that is a story for another day. I have mentioned I was addicted to television, but that was nothing compared to the movies. Back then you saw a cartoon, then a news reel, then a feature film then there was an intermission and they showed you a new cartoon, news reel and feature.
Every week I was either scared to death by Vincent Price, Peter Lorre or Boris Karloff or falling in love with Elvis, Frankie Avalon, Kurt Russell, Moondoggie, or Dwayne Hickman. I can't leave out Tony Curtis, Rock Hudson, James Gardner or Cary Grant., though I knew them more from the old movies on TV. I remember my sister jumping up in Mom's lap during "The Tingler" and breaking her belt. That was a creepy movie. There was a talent contest during intermission and I liked to enter. I was so proud when I won a years free passes to the theater AND an Elvis "Fun in Acapulco" album for doing my Elvis imitation and singing "Return to Sender".
Some weeks I twisted. some I sang, once I won a limbo contest. That wasn't hard, because I am shorter than the tallest hobbit...haha I stopped growing at 4'11" and was always a very small person. I got my second kiss at the theater by my sister's friends little brother. ( I also was felt up and felt up a boy for the first time here, but that was much later) He was so cute, dark headed with green eyes and he was exotic because he went to a private school, which was unusual back then. I was eight. I take it back it was my third kiss. The first was Mike Trammell when I was five. He lived down the street and he had his Mom buy me a locket. It had blue flowers on it. He pecked me on the slide. The second kiss was Harry Don Rowe, an older boy, he was in 3rd grade and I was in first, he kissed me in line for the playground. This third kiss cost me. My sister was a bully. She told me if I didn't do five favors for her that she would tell Mama that I kissed a boy. I did them. Then she said I had to do five more favors or she would still tell. I did them. She tried it again, but I may be dumb, but I ain't stupid. I had a nice lesson in paying blackmailers. I called her bluff. She called me back. She told Mama. I got a heck of a lecture, which I hated worse than a whoopin'. Mama sure could make you feel shamed. If she only knew what my neighborhood best friend and I did. My sister and I had become best friends with Mama's best friends daughters. No choice. The older one was very irritating, always slapping my leg over and over rapidly and calling it "Love pats" It hurt. The younger one and I had a lot of fun playing nasty, I don't know how we knew how. I am so glad we never got caught. I know almost everyone does it as children, but things were not liberal back then and I would have been shamed badly. Later on there was an entire group of us girls. We would meet in the attic and see who had learned a new nasty word or we would strip tease with scarves. I had seen a movie I wasn't supposed to called "Promises Promises" about strippers and was also a huge Natalie Wood fan and she had done Gypsy Rose Lee, so I taught the others. Back to the theater. On Wednesdays it was free pass day. You could go to any of the local stores and they would give you the free passes. The Mom's would drop us all off for four hours and have a little time to themselves. Thursday was Pepsi Cola day. You could get in for 6 Pepsi caps. The regular price was 50cents. I went Wed. , Thurs. and Sat. afternoons. I grew up there. We had a new theater come to town when I was about twelve, The Chateau, it was new and cool, but nothing will ever be as fun and cool as The Irving Theater was.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

I Remembered! World's Finest Chocolates

The candy bar name I couldn't remember was World's Finest Chocolates. They still sell them for fundraising, though the bars are half the size and twice the price. I wonder if they melt on your tongue like they used to. Wished I had one to try.