Messy Fingers, Greasy Chins, and Gravy Stains Vol. 2 C

Jul 22


I remember the first times for some foods that I love today. Snow Peas, South Texas Tamales , Red Hot Sausages, Peanut Butter and Red Onion Sandwiches, Fried Rabbit….crazy stories about how a kid gets introduced to  ( at the time ) some strange foods that become favorites.

We had moved back to Cuero, Texas after my brother Johnnie had passed . Dad’s way to forget California and what happened was to go home. We were living in town with Grandpa Robert Lee and Grandma Emma Jane. If ever there were folks worthy of a story being told, these two sweet and quirky people would make good reading. Their little house was close to town and the road to San Antonio . Grandma had a young African American woman , she was 17 years old, come to help in the house with ironing, the wash, cleaning-whatever needed doing. Grandma had worked hard all her life on a ranch and being in her 70’s , she was slowing down. The young lady would bring her little boy with her. I just loved that. I had left all my friends in California , and he was 4 years old,just like me. We had the most fun. It was a hot Texas summer and that day I was pestering Grandma for some money to go to the general store in town across that highway and about 2 blocks away.We wanted to get some soda pop; plus the little boy told me about Hot Tamales that the butchers wife made fresh once a week.

Grandma said, ” be careful ” and gave us 25 cents…enough for a soda pop each and a tamale or two. Crossing the highway was easy. In those days, there were still a few horse drawn wagons and very few cars and trucks. We walked on the wooden sidewalk and it slanted up high to in front of the screen  door. It was like that so the wagons and trucks could back up and load supplies, hay and feed, plus ice for their iceboxes at home. Not all the ranches had electricity. I pushed on the Dr. Pepper enamel center bar of the screen door and we went inside. The place was dark and cool…it smelled of kerosene. The floors were bare , worn and shiny-you could see all the nails worn down.(At night the floors were swept with saw dust soaked with kerosene to pick up all the dirt and debris…so the smell never left.)

We went to the back where the butcher was chopping some meat on a big wooden block. There was an old curled sign tacked to the wall behind him… yellowed with age and in a crude scrawl ,”Hot Tamales 1 dozen 60 cents  2 dozen $1.00″ . I asked for 4 tamales and told the man that we wanted a soda pop too. He pulled the tamales from on old dark blue speckeled pot sitting on a burner , wrapped them in some butcher paper and said to pay at the cash register.

The big RC COLA cooler was full of lots of bottles of soda Pop in cold water ….chunks of clear ice bobbing around. I grabbed a big bottle of  Bireley’s Orange and paid the man my 25 cents. I went outside, sat on the edge of the wooden plank sidewalk and took a big swig. I looked behind me and he wasn’t there . I went back in and he was trying to make up his mind  , but couldn’t choose one.  I told him to hurry up and went back outside. After awhile, he came out with a bottle of “red sodie water” (Nehi Cream Soda) ; he repeated. We sat under the cool overhang at the front of the store, drank our sodas and had those Hot Tamales. They really weren’t spicy hot , about the size of a flat Chinese spring roll…but oh man, they were good. In later years in San Antonio, we lived close to a tamale factory; the common practice was for people to drop by and buy several dozen and serve with Texas beer- Pearl or Lone Star for gatherings and parties on the week ends.

I do not remember that little boy’s name, I wish I did. Over that summer , we went back for sodas and tamales again when I could get a quarter from Grandma…which wasn’t too hard to do. Every time we wnentto that store, he would linger for 10 minutes or more trying to decide what flavor of soda to get ; and every time he came out of the door, sit down , dangling his legs and say , ” I got me a red sodie water “. In later years , I realized that this was something really special to him; I don’t think his mother had money for extras like a bottle of”red sodie water” and some Hot Tamales.

That same summer there came a day when Mom and Grandma were going on a visit or an errand . My Dad was at work. The job of watching me fell to my Uncle Jesse. A World War I veteran ,  was a life long bachelor ; had his two front teeth knocked out in an altercation with another soldier and never bothered to get a replacement. He worked as a short order cook for years. Never wore anything but a black suit, starched white shirt (usually with a frayed collar ) , a black tie pressed so many times the seams showed through, and a pearl gray Stetson hat . The kind of hat lots of Texas men wore in those days .

When told he would have to watch me for the day, he was not a happy man. Evidently out on a ranch in the country , was a illegally scheduled quarter horse race. Grandpa was already out there on the ranch , and Uncle Jesse was getting a ride from a friend to the festivities. (Grandpa was a regular at races since he was 13 years old…either as a jockey, horse owner or as a spectator. ) I say illegal. The question was who’s law was that. Since the race was officiated by the county sheriff (he held  some money bet by the  bigger players), the word illegal was moot.

I remember all the big black sedans lined up out in the hot, dusty grounds. There was a rope stretched between two Mesquite poles that had pieces of rag tied every few feet so the jockeys could see it clearly. The sheriff actually fired his pistol to start each race…always with just two horses. Jesse was talking and betting and drinking beer from the little stand that had a tarp stretched over the top to ward off the hot sun. Wash tubs were full of beer and sodas. A big man in a messy apron was grilling big fat red sausages ; putting them in pieces of butcher paper and handing them out with a bottle of beer. The smell was wonderful and I kept pestering Uncle Jesse that I wanted one of those sausages. “Boy, you don’t want one of those. They are too hot!” This was the same answer every time I asked for one. At some point , he got this sly grin on his face. The sweat was running down his fat pink cheeks, and his missing teeth shown through his grin. “I guess you ain’t gonna shut up til I get you a sausage, right boy?” I nodded in approval. He plunked down a quarter and handed me that big red sausage with the paper handle. I took a big bite right away. It wasn’t 30 seconds and it hit me. It was really hot! Very hot! Four- year – old- little- boy- ouch – it-  hurts hot! Uncle Jesse was just standing there with a couple of his cronies…. they were laughing to the point they couldn’t stop. The man that was grilling the sausages ran over and gave me a soda and took the sausage away. He led me to the wash tubs and gave me a big chunk of ice to put on my lips ; to see if I could get some relief. Uncle Jesse told my later that evening and they had a good laugh. My Mom was hopping mad. They just laughed harder. That’s how little boys learned lessons down in that part of Texas- where the cattle drives originated . It took me many years to try them again. Seems like Louisiana has taken credit for them. I’m not sure about that ; seems like the early settlers- German and Czech immigrants added native Mexican chiles to their the sausage recipes. When in Rome, I guess!

The Possum Lodge Credo: “I’m a man, but I can change…If I have to. I guess!”      The Red Green Show

Next time-Snow peas, Fried Rabbit and Peanut Butter Sandwiches with red Onions


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