I fell asleep in my chair and when I awoke, I was right clicking on Ernest the Cat’s soft underbelly.
Such is my life: cats, computers, and clicking. It’s past time for a new project.
Thirty-three years ago this month, I received a master’s degree in English. I’d spent the previous year digging myself into and then out of research that resulted in a thesis: The Writing of Helen Hunt Jackson’s Ramona. I followed my usual writing process: modified chaos. If my adviserhad known how I worked, he’d have booted me out of his office the first day.
At the outset, he gave me some excellent advice:
Modify your aspirations. When I said I’d like to write about Emily Dickinson, he asked if I wanted to spend all my time reading what everyone else had written about her. I didn’t. He said…
When I think of my hometown as it used to be–and I do that often–two people immediately come to mind.
I’ve written before aboutDr. Francis Carlton Luckett,who practiced medicine in my hometown of Fentress, Texas from 1917 until shortly before his death in 1965. I won’t repeat myself here except to say he was an extraordinary person and physician. In the words of my great-aunt Bettie Waller, his presence raised the level of the community. To people who knew the town in the first half of the 1900s, he was Fentress.
But what prompted this post–Dr. Luckett was also a musician. He worked his way through medical school at Tulane by playing a theater organ, accompanying silent films. In Fentress, he gave recitals and played for weddings. And he composed “Hospital Rag” for the piano.
As a child, I was fascinated by the idea that my doctor, who hated giving children injections (I never got mad at him for popping me with a penicillin shot every time he saw me; I blamed my mother instead), came to my house to take my temperature (and give me a penicillin shot) when I was sick, and took out my tonsils, had composed a rag. But I never heard him play it, and he didn’t commit it to paper, so I gave up hope.
Until Doctor’s granddaughter sent a recording to my friend Patsy Munk Kimball (whose husband was named for Dr. Luckett, and whose two sisters, in addition to her first child, he delivered), and Patsy sent a file to me.
Wow. That man was all over the piano.
Patsy had shared with me many old photos of Fentress in its early years, when the Fentress Resort drew people from miles around.
I wished aloud that I could share everything with folks who remember Dr. Luckett. David offered to make a video and put it on Youtube.
Suddenly the topic broadened–we couldn’t make a video about the town without includingDick Ward,who owned and operated what used to be called an ice cream parlor in the early part of the 19th century and continued until, like Dr. Luckett, he retired in the 1960s. He, too, was Fentress. I’ve written about him, as well.
There was a big sign on the awning in front of his store–W. F. Ward Conf. After I learned to read, I asked what Conf. meant. Confectionery, my father told me, but he’d heard someone remark it ought to say, W. F. Ward Cone, because that’s what he sold–huge double dip ice cream cones for a nickel. And if the top dip fell off, as sometimes happened, especially to children without the manual dexterity to hold the cone upright (or who tried to get on their bicycles with cone in hand), he automatically replaced the dip, free.
That had to be the best deal anywhere–the only price in the world that was never affected by inflation.
And ice cream is therapeutic. After a penicillin shot from Dr. Luckett, one of Dick’s ice cream cones made everything okay again.
(And make no mistake–it wasn’t just kids–I saw plenty of adults walk out of Dick’s store carrying ice cream cones. And smiling.)
But back to the video. Patsy supplied the pictures, I put them in order, and David made the video. It’s onYoutube for all to see.
If you want to know more about Fentress, the bare facts are covered in the Handbook of Texas. But if you want to know the whole story–like
why the Methodist Church was founded, or
what J. C. Dauchy always carried in his pocket, or
which teenager made the owner of the telephone company so mad–and how the teenager did it–that the owner threatened to cut off service to the Fentress School, or
which new bride invited visitors to “Come right in” when her husband was taking a bath in front of the fireplace in the living room (in 1905), and
what the new husband did when he heard his bride invite company to come right in, or
what the members of the Staples Baptist Church did immediately after their minister preached against the Sin taking place in Fentress on a daily basis (I’ve been told that during Prohibition, the skating rink/dance hall did get a little loud)–
If you want to know anything like that, don’t ask the Handbook of Texas.