Cheerful and Colorful Paintings

Cheerful and Colorful Paintings in Oil, Acrylic, Mixed Media and Collage

Saturday, November 8, 2008

My Brother Bill: Cigars and Hershey Bars ~ Watercolor

Bill Watercolor 11" x 15" NFS
This is my brother's birthday month and I thought I'd surprise him with a painting from his youth. It may be hard to believe the following story and that is why I've included the above photograph.

My brother Bill is BIG. He has big, thick legs. I have large thighs. It’s in our genes. Our mother had sturdy legs and I’ve deducted that all on her family tree may have been blessed with this trait because of a genetic mutation after years of working cotton in the Mississippi fields. She came to Texas at age 5 with her younger sister when their mother died and left 6 other siblings.

Well, my brother lives in Midland and plays golf, eats Hershey bars, and walks on those speed type exercise walkers and he’s still has those great sturdy legs and a healthy countenance. There was time though that he wasn’t so healthy. In fact, a lot of people in De Leon and Duster didn’t think he’d make it past 5 years old. De Leon is a small Texas town with about 2200 population and Duster is about 10 miles west with one little community rock store that they owned in the 1940’s. De Leon is about half way between Fort Worth and Abilene if that would help in narrowing down the Texas location. Now De Leon has one traffic light but not during these war years. The Duster rock store (groceries and gas) had one little detached insulated shed known as The Ice House where our Daddy would make late night trips to De Leon to buy huge blocks on ice and load onto the back of his pickup and cover with a tarp. On hot summer evenings Bill and I would be allowed ride on top of the tarp for the trip home arriving with very cool derrieres.

It was a given that with a name like Duster, there is not going to be found a very shady spot, just maybe a few mesquite trees. Our neighbor across the road had a large lilac bush and Daddy would plant the poisonous castor bean plant, a quick grower and it would give a lush look during the hot summers with little watering. This annual especially liked the ice house with the cool drips of water. Think a Clint Eastwood movie – deserted dusty town but instead of grizzled villains just dusty farm folk. The action would center on a domino table outside under the service roof in the summer or in the winter around a pot bellied wood stove with buckets of sand for spitting or putting out cigar butts. A convenient stop to catch up on the latest gossip, buy feed, dip, chew, smoke or spit in peace and maybe a domino game on the side before heading back to their sandy peanut fields. The farmers could yell, slap their legs, laugh and make noise, or “carry on” as my Mom would refer to it. My little brother learned to walk and talk in this environment and his love of Hershey bars began to be nourished. He is five years younger and it fell to my lot in life to “watch Billy” when Mother was helping run the store. It was always a mystery to me just why all the watching and how much trouble could a boy get in packing a silver gun in a leather holster. Mother devised a workable plan to deal with her two whiny kids surrounded with glass cases of candy and an ice box of cold drinks. We were allowed to spend 10 cents each day giving us one cold drink and one candy bar of our choice of kind, when and where. We could have it any time during the day but once spent we could not ask for another that day and we understood that come morning this process would repeat. One look at her square jawed countenance and you dare not whine for more. (Because she did not add that we had to brush after these treats we both have mouths full of silver fillings and/or some bad teeth genes.)

Like mother goslings imprinting their babies, these farmers began to imprint Bill and he threw down the Hershey bar and picked up their old cigar butts from the ash tub or one from the concrete floor. Bill couldn’t grasp the mental game of dominoes but chose to follow their habit of the smokes. To keep him from picking up old smelly, used stogies, Daddy decided he’d give him a fresh cigar, make him sick enough and then forever after, Bill would be free of the desire. Since Bill was too young to play with matches, Daddy would get the cigar ready for smoking but it seems cigars and my brother just made a good match. My Daddy said you couldn’t break a suck-egg dog but felt like this would work for a preschool habit and get him back on his chocolate bars. Bill didn’t get sick and loved the tobacco flavor over chocolate and preferred a good cigar to a Mr. Goodbar and a Coke. I don’t remember my Mother being against this decision. Daddy left most of his children’s discipline up to her but in this instance this was “his boy” and she was glad for a little break. Out there in the country no one cared that Boss and Marie were giving their baby boy cigars because they’d heard enough radio commercials from Lucky Strike, Chesterfields, and Wings to accept tobacco in all forms as a way of life. A family doctor delivered you and you were pretty much on your own afterwards unless something catastrophic happened. Even for ear aches my Mother would heat up some salt and fill an old sock with it and put it on our aching ear. For chest complains, she used a foul green salve she applied and heated with a small electric heater, covering our faces with a washrag when we yelled it was hot, then put the said washrag to cover the warmed salve. Some vanilla on a piece of cotton worked for a hurting tooth. So did no one in Duster know any better to let a scuffed cowboy boot wearing little boy smoke cigars? Did they have time to care? Did you interfere in your neighbors business? My father discovered by accident that not all people felt this way and would keep their silence. Daddy would have to “run to town” on business and always enjoyed taking his boy and “showing him off” and found once Bill had a good cigar he was no trouble, but preferred to sit and enjoy his morning smoke. On one trip he sat Bill on a curb all equipped with a cigar and left to do his errands. Bill would draw a crowd of overall wearing farmers, probably a larger crowd than a street preacher and Bill had no plans on running off. He wasn’t concerned about being left or abandoned just on keeping his cigar lit. A street preacher might have counseled this young country father but there wasn’t one in sight, but a good Baptist lady was waiting with Bill when my Daddy returned from his morning business. She was more enlightened than most in Duster and decided to share those insights, telling my Dad what was going to happen to his soul and to Bill’s health if this nasty habit continued. My Dad was respectful of elderly church ladies and would do anything for his boy so they retreated back to Duster, chastised and with a new resolve to restrict the cigars and introduce the Hershey bars. I don’t know if it was a gradual process or cold turkey. Later Bill went on to Lucky Strikes in high school and as we all became more educated about the tobacco leaf gave up smoking but he’s never given up Hershey bars, chocolate pies, fudge, or his wife, Nelda’s good chocolate cakes.

(These photographs are precious to us as that old rock store burned a short time later and about the time of its being rebuilt, our old unpainted wooden house next door had some electrical problems and burned all of our belongings except the ironing board and iron my mother had in the store. Included in the loss were our photographs and fortunately, some relatives have produced these. Our daddy partitioned off about 8 or 10 feet all along the back of the store and we lived there until we moved to town.)

Happy Birthday, Bill.


Canvas by Canvas said...

Love,love your family story Nancy. Any one who grew up at that time in a small town can just feel that memory all over again. I hope you publish this in a short story book along with some of your other stories they are priceless.

Nancy Standlee said...

Thanks so much Barbara. I know you grew up in Brownwood and can relate. However, we went to Brownwood to do school shopping. You were a real city girl.

Myrna said...

What a hilarious story! What is it about the South? Your brother should love his birthday present.

Nancy Standlee said...

Myrna, I sent your comment on to Bill. He'll love it and I hadn't thought about it being a "Southern thing" but you could be right. I've signed up for Stephen Quiller this next week so there's more painting in my future.

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