Friday, August 2, 2013

On the road with Aunt Lil

     I wouldn’t recommend hitch-hiking to anyone in these violent days, but 70 years ago it was a respected and popular means of free transportation. I only remember two times I ever did any serious hitch-hiking. Once when I was a 19-year-old GI, and when I was nine years old.

     It was 1942, and everyone in Maud, Okla., was mobilized to do their part to win W.W.II. School was out for the summer and my brother Dillon Jean who was 12, and I were having a ball playing army and collecting scrap metal. Our Mom who was building airplane at the Douglas plant in Okla. City, wasn’t too happy about us running loose without any adult supervision.  That’s probably why she gave in so easily when our great-uncle Burr and Aunt Lil, who were staying overnight, invited us to spend the summer with them on their Texas Panhandle dry-land farm.

     Before Mom could change her mind, we were packed and ready to go, and early the next morning before daylight, we were barreling down Highway 66 in Uncle Burr’s new 1940 Dodge touring car.

     We made a short food stop in Elk City, hamburgers and Pepsi Colas for us boys, and Uncle Burr’s usual lunch of a cold bottle of beer and a hot cup of coffee. Aunt Lil said she wasn’t hungry and could wait until she got home, and besides the prices were too high.

     Uncle Burr was the closest thing to a hero my brother and I had. He was about 6’4” with a full head of white hair, and always with a week’s growth of whiskers. His lower face was red and sunburned except for his forehead when his 10-gallon wide-brimmed black felt had kept the sun off. We thought he looked just like Randolph Scott. He was probably close to 80-years-old at this time and he had only one ear.

     He always told my brother and I it was cut off my a wild Comanche Indian when he was a boy, but Dad said it was probably skin cancer from too many days in the hot and windy high plains weather. Uncle Burr was my Grandpa’s younger brother and he homesteaded in Wheeler County, about the same time by Grandpa made the Oklahoma Land Run. When my Dad was nine, he father died and he was raised by Uncle Burr and he’s the one I’m named after.

     Aunt Lil was a different breed of cat. She younger than Uncle Burr, but she was a Brindle, and Brindle women were tough. Now I don’t mean physically tough, although shed could still chop cotton with the best, but I mean strong-willed would best describe her. Uncle Burr said she could out baulk any one of his mules.

     If Aunt Lil had a weakness it was hitch-hiking. Even though there was plenty of transportation on the farm, she dearly loved a free ride. Aunt Lil wouldn’t waste her time sticking out her thumb like everyone else. No sir! Her favorite method was to stand in the middle of the road, and it was either run her over or give her a ride.

     Another one of her favorite things was the movies. She was just as big a fan as Dillon Jean and I, but she would never pay admission. Twenty-five cents she said was just too much to pay for only a double feature, newsreel, cartoon and a Buck Roger serial.

     So every Saturday afternoon we would all pile in the Dodge and drive to Shamrock. Uncle Burr would head for the pool hall to play snooker and drink beer with his cronies and Aunt Lil and us boys would patronize the Lone Star Theater. My brother and I would pay our dimes, but Aunt Lil would just walk in and sit down with us. The ushers knew better than to ask her for a ticket.

     The summer passed faster than we wanted it too. Two weeks before we were due to go home, Dad sent Aunt Lil $10 to pay our Greyhound bus fare. Aunt Lil said it was a shame to waste our Dad’s money on bus fare. She convinced Dillon Jean and me we could make enough money picking beans and peddling them door to door in Shamrock, and that just what we did. We made $17 between the two of us and Aunt Lil took charge of the money . . . for safekeeping she said.

     The day before we were to leave Aunt Lil decided why waste our hard earned green bean money on bus fare when we could hitch-hike home. Dillon Jean and I thought that was a heck of a lot more fun than riding the Greyhound Bus.

     So the next morning, bright and early, there we stool, a 75-year-old lady and two boys standing next to the most traveled highway in the U.S. with our thumbs stuck out. Early on Aunt Lil had decided that her usual habit of standing in the middle of the road might not work this time.

     Finally after a while, a kind hearted motorist pulled over and offered us a ride. When Aunt Lil told him that Dillon Jean and I were the only passengers, he said no way would he be responsible for a couple of kids.

     After a couple of more unsuccessful attempts, she finally decided that the only way we were going to get home was for her to go with us, so when the next car stopped we all got in and away we went.

     It took us only seven hours and five rides to travel the 300 miles to Maud. Dillon Jean and I had the time of our lives. The only expense we had was two Pepsi Colas because our lunch was paid for by a kind traveling salesman who picked us up outside Clinton.

     When we got home Aunt Lil gave Dad his $10. He thanked her for seeing us home and shook his head in disbelief. She also gave Dillon Jean and I our $17 we earned selling bean, minus 10 cents for the two Pepsi Colas.

     The next morning Aunt Lil was up bright and early and Dad took her out to the highway to hitch-hike by to Texas. Needless to say my mother made sure my brother and I were occupied the next few summers and we didn’t get back to Uncle Burr’s until after the war was over.




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