In a fit of insomnia the other day, I was thinking about my life. I suppose I do this every time I reach a pivotal time of the year–namely, my birthday, which is later this month. It’s an annual event–this issue of my life flashing before my eyes and because of some equally bored and/or nostalgic people who post their memories on You Tube or the Intraweb, I get the chance to revisit parts of my life in living color.
I grew up in Karnes City which lies about 55 miles southeast of San Antonio.
Admittedly, I never knew too much about Karnes City history. I just found that my home town is actually something of a bastard step child to the city of Cuero.
It seems that in December 1890, a group of Cuero businessmen bought a thousand acres alongside the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad to be the next county seat. Originally named Karnes–just Karnes, after Texas patriot and Indian Fighter, Henry Wax Karnes (who the Natives deemed to have some “good medicine” allegedly because of fiery red hair). Eventually, “City” was added by postal authorities when the post office opened in 1891. In 1892 an auction was held and the railroad built a spur to facilitate the unloading of lumber for new homes and businesses.
And Karnes City grew steadily in the 20th Century, from the teens throughout the mid 70’s and then, well I left for college in ’77, the city went tits up. Actually, Karnes City was never a population center, but did start to see a decrease in population once the oil and gas and uranium minding industry which kept it afloat for decades, started to dwindle.
But during the city’s hey day from the early 50’s to the late 60’s, Karnes City wasn’t a bad place to live. We were fairly self-contained. The photo below is a view of Main Street (real name Calvert—I think) and this is maybe looking west, probably from right in front of the City Hall building or that Wesley Hookley person’s shop???)
This is downtown Karnes City, apparently on a Saturday morning. I don’t remember store hours in KC. If stores were open on Saturdays, they closed early. But if truth be told, this is probably what downtown KC looks like on a Thursday morning or a Monday afternoon. I can remember when commerce happened in downtown. There were cars parked along the streets; people walked on the sidewalks–with bags in hand. They’d spent their money in the stores. When I was there, we had Kuhnel’s Hardware and a Western Auto, two grocery stores The Mercantile and Speedy Peedy’s (which later became Looney’s), Rowan’s Lumber Yard; the City Pharmacy and it’s across the street rival, Bailey’s Drugstore. Three car dealers were in town. “Big Auto” was well represented with Chrysler, Ford and GM dealerships located all within about a block of each other. Karnes City also had a few restaurants, but not many. One BBQ place downtown (Smolik’s) that produced some of the best brisket and sauce EVER.
Karnes City had one very private member’s only swimming pool. (READ: segregation) and two pools in the backyard of private homes. The K-Bowl was a six-lane bowling alley; the Midway was a drive in theater; there was one in-house theater (well, that was in Kenedy, some six miles away). Radio station KAML-AM was there everyday with the farm report, the scores from Badgers and Lions athletic contests.
It was in many ways, an idyllic place to grow up. Many moms stayed home and raised the kids, in between cooking and cleaning and ironing along with all the other wife/Mom duties.
All the while, the youngsters were busy doing what we knew best–being kids.
That involved going to school, studying and playing.
I guess this is part and parcel of the small town existence but I went to school in the same buildings my parents, my aunts and uncles, cousins and sisters went to school. My first grade teacher was Doris Garner. She had also been my mother’s teacher.
I never liked milk. I did at one time I think, then something happened that caused me to stop drinking it. We had milk breaks in South Elementary (that was the building that housed first and second grades). You could choose between while or chocolate milk in these tiny glass milk bottle with thin, easy to remove cardboard tops that peeled off.
The bottles looked a lot like this, but I don’t think ours had any wording on them. They were however small like this; pint-sized versions of the classic bottle that The Milk Man left on your doorstep.
By the time I was hatched in the late 50’s, milk conveniently came in cartons, but these tiny bottles were available for all kids for a mere three cents a bottle. Milk break was around 10 am followed, by a very brief recess.
Then it was time for lunch. Kids who ate at the lunchroom were ferried to the high school cafeteria (at the time, the only one in the school district) by busses.
You could also be picked up and taken home for lunch or you could bring your lunch to school with you.
Our lunchroom in the South Elementary building was smallish and had these ugly, dark brown painted picnic tables. I HATED the way the lunchroom smelled. It was like this gross, acrid amalgam of bad bologna, sour milk and nasty what not. You could buy milk or a Coke to have with your lunch. When I bought mine, I always preferred a Coke. You’d give your dime to the unlucky teacher who had drawn the short straw to cover lunch duty that week; you’d tell her what you wanted and she adjusted a dial to point to your selection on this short, squatty Coke machine and pull this lever thing to release one of those tiny little bottles of Coke.
You’d gobble down your sandwich or whatever you or your Mom packed for you that morning then try to get a swing or the Jungle Gym (which we always called “The Monkey Bars) or a Tether Ball poll. It was a poll with a U-Bolt welded into the top, then the poll was placed in the middle of cement poured into the center of an old tire. This stabilized it and made it easy to roll into position. The Tether Balls look like a volleyball with a rope attached to it.
Those thing REALLY hurt if you ever got hit with one in the face.
And we had seasons, too.
The boys played marbles and then that morphed into battling tops. The girls played Jacks and then hopscotch in which we drew the pattern on the sidewalk with chalk. And then the school supplied these long, tan-colored hemp ropes, we’d play jump rope.
I can’t remember who or what dictated the change in “play seasons” but it always happened and it ws annual…like clockwork.
You played with a golf ball. They had game. The strange back little superball in the core gave it game. Bounce, too. The red ball that came with the set just didn’t cut it. And you never played with plastic jax either…it was always the metal ones.
Now that I think about it, jax season usually ended when a Dad accidently stepped on a stray jack that got away when you were trying your hand at “FOURSIES” .
That painful scream followed by a full confiscation of your jax always signaled the start of jump rope season the very next day.
TV was important, too. As I’ve mentioned several times on this blog, we only had three networks to watch back then… well, four if you include PBS which we rarely did. Friday’s were (and still are) my favorite day and night of the week. In South Texas during the Fall, Friday nights meant football night games. The Mighty Karnes City Badgers would play and usually lose to the opposing juggernaut that was the Floresville Tigers or the Poth Pirates or the Three Rivers Bulldogs and The George West something or others. Cant remember. At the end of the year, THEE BIG GAME; the one against our sworn enemy and arch rival–the Kenedy Lions.
Football season ended in mid to late October, but that didn’t mean the good times ended. Hardly, KENS TV (Channel 5 in San Antonio) gave us Project Terror to force us to get all “skeered”.
Here’s the original intro which was scary in and of itself. It was this animated atom and an a scary emergency siren thing. I hadn’t heard this in years and even as a kid, remarked on the odd way the announcer said “terrifying” right at the :17 mark.
Listen for it.
Project Terror came on right after the news at 10:30. It always featured schlocky B horror movies from the 50’s, such as “The Walking Dead” and “The Dead Who Walk Among Us”. I remember watching “Terror Night” then a week later, “A Night of Terror”.
As I mentioned at the top, Karnes County had one theater–the Rialto which which was located in downtown Kenedy. Karnes City had its own but it closed in the early 60’s and was converted into the City Pharmacy, but I remember the Rialto very, very well.
I fell in love there.
It’s just a shell with a rotting marquis now. I don’t remember going there after Jr. High, but it was a favorite pre-driver’s license hang out for all the kids in Kenedy and Karnes City. The place was always special to me because as I said, I fell in love for the very first time in that darkened theater. I was 12; he was 13 and from Kenedy. I don’t remember much about that night back in 1971–other than I wore a gold Hang Ten shirt and white shorts, brown low healed pumps and I finished my look with gold loop earings. The movie was “Something Big” , starring Brian “Uncle Bill to Buffy and Jodie” Keith (as if HE was any kind of leading man) and the love of my life was wearing a dark blue shirt, jeans and white sneakers. We sat halfway down on the left side of the theatre and held hands. It was a Saturday night, September 9th to be exact and the theater’s A/C was on and it sure was cold right around the start of the movie at 8:18 pm—other than that, I don’t remember much about that night at all.
It broke my heart though when I saw the state of the theater’s insides.
“Insides” are putting it loosely.
A lump in my throat formed at when I first laid eyes on this photo that someone sent me. From where, I don’t know. TheaterWasteland.com, perhaps if such a beast exists. Oh and uh, one more thing–this is looking into the theater from behind what’s left of the screen. The theater is well lit……. thanks to sunlight. There’s no roof covering that portion of the building.
I do remember though being in the theater when the film would break as if often did. It was nothing for angry patrons to throw their just refilled Dr. Pepper’s up on the screen in protest.
I remember seeing Gone With The Wind at the Rialto as a kid. For years, I thought Vivien Leigh had one of those big, dark birth marks on her face. Not the case: just a 50-cent Coke stain on the screen thrown by angry movie go-er when the film broke two days earlier during a screening of Doctor Zhivago.
On Saturday mornings, we did our chores then once sprung from servitude, we watched American Bandstand and then, KSAT Channel 12’s homespun teen dance show offering called ” Swing Time”. Kids danced outside somewhere as the camera followed their gyrations and groovy moves. Brucie Poo Hathaway, who was THE BIG BOSS DADDY D-J who spun the wax to create the BIG BOSS SOUNDS OF ROCK AND/OR ROLL ON KTSA-AM, hosted the show. It was sponsored by the National Beverage of San Antonio….Big Red.
Don Cowser, a jock on KONO was also one of the hosts, unless I’m getting him and Hathaway confused. Well, one or both hosted and they spun records but every once in a while, a few bands played the Swing Time circuit. Anybody remember Neal Ford and The Fanatics, The Kaleidoscope, Moving Sidewalks, and Band Ayd??
The show was produced or directed or marketed by Mel Adcock (who was also a local band manager from what I understand and had something to do professionally with KSAT 12). Mel’s daughter Sherri, was one of the regular dancers on “Swing Time”.
I don’t remember Sherri–other than her name, but I do remember my older sisters commenting on what Sherri wore, her hair or how she danced and like Arleen Sullivan and Kenny Rossi, the All-American couple who frequently danced together on “Bandstand” and “twisted and shouted” their way into late 50’s teenybopper history, Sherri frequently danced with the same guy. Who he was escapes me and the Internet.
KTSA DJ, Ricci Ware also had a TV dance show on KENS 5 called “TeenTime”. Swing Time aired at 11:00 am and Teen Time aired Saturday afternoon at 4:00. The two shows were big time competitors, but I don’t remember much about “Teen Time”.
For some reason, (and this memory is actually vivid) I remember hearing The Cowsill’s “The Rain, The Park and Other Things” for the very first time on Swing Time and it was introduced by a video. I couldn’t have been more than six, but even so, I remember watching the very toothy Cowsills cavort together at an amusement park of some sort and they were either riding on a train or a roller coaster or something as their song played underneath.
Lo and behold, I actually found the damn thing on You Tube.
Wanna hear it, here it goes.
I remember thinking that this video/music thing was cutting edge. So would the creators of MTV some 20 years later.
INTERESTING COWSILL FACT:
Barry Cowsill was the drummer and eventually played bass in the band. He endured years of alchololism before moving to new New Orleans where he played in bars and local venues.
He reconnected with family and fans and was reportedly attempting to become sober when Hurricane Katrina hit the city in August 2005. Cowsill was heard leaving messages on his sister Susan’s voicemail in the days following the hurricane, but was not heard from after September 1.
In January 2006, after a long, tireless search that included fans as well as family members, a body that had been found on December 28, washed up at a wharf in New Orleans, was subsequently identified as Cowsill’s by comparison to dental records.
His death was ruled a drowning, a result of floodwaters from the hurricane.
Saturday afternoons were also spent watching TV for many kids. Channel 5 in San Antonio kept its scary effort going by featuring “5 Star Shock”. Joe Alston was this all-purpose voice factotum for KENS TV. He was the booth announcer and on Saturday’s donned this mortician’s attire, complete with a cape and sometimes, a big tall hat and introduced scary movies on “5m Star Shock”.
I found this photo of Joe in Bing’s public domain photo group.
I’m not sure what’s going on with Joe’s left eye in this photo. But it looks like his entire retina and iris have turned to milk glass. I don’t remember him having a white eye or a cataract for that matter.
Then again, I don’t remember what I ate for breakfast this morning.
Anyway, “5 Star Shock” was cancelled im 1967 or so and Saturday afternoon movie watching then dwindled into Shirley Temple flicks, Abbot and Costello farces or Charlie Chan movies.
OK, ready for the Charlie Chan debate? I say Warner Oland’s version of the Chinese Private Dick was FAR superior to Sidney Toler’s. Plus Keye Luke, who played “Number One Son” to Oland’s “Pop” had a great on-screen chemistry with anyone with whom he was paired.
Luke added a comedic role to the plot line’s which always centered around Charlie’s (or “Cholly” as hisB-List 40’s Hollywood crowd with their Brooklyn accents referred to him) and his intrepid crime solving abilities. Enter actor, Manton Mooreland, who often played the poor man’s Step-N-Fetch It in 30’s and 40s B-movie serials.
In the Chan series with Oland in the title role, Mooreland was brought in for comedic effect for the white, round-eye, movie goers. Truth is, when he played the wide-eyed, always scared, African-American man-servant, it was at times, down right hilarious.
But Joe Alston’s GREATEST ROLE was that of Captain Gus, the host of a kiddie cartoon show on from 4-5 pm, every M-F after school.
Here, long time KENS 5 news anchor Chris Marrou pays homage to Captain Gus during what really amounts to a KENS TV 50th anniversary “look at us” pud yank special.
Captain Gus featured Popeye, Bugs Bunny and the whole pantheon of Warner Brothers cartoons, the occasional Droopy and other offerings from animators Bob Clampett, Tex Avery and Walter Lance.
There was also Mighty Thor.
And SuperCar with featuring puppets such as ace pilot, Mike Murphy, that old British queen, Dr. Beaker and some kid with a pet monkey.
And of course the green eraser who had is own show…not bad for a guy that “once was a little green slab of clay”.
There was Kiddie Park which stood (and still stands I think) on Broadway along the edge of Brackenridge Park, near the Witte Museum. It’s been there forever. Like a mountain. It was/is a small permanent carnival with safe, slow rides for kids. My parents went taken there by their parents when they were children back in the 30’s and they took me there as a child in the 60’s.
I lived in San Antonio in the late 80’s. I continued that tradition by taking my nieces and nephews to Kiddie Park. The rides cost 25 cents.
A place I always wanted to go but never did was Playland Park, another permanent carnival and midway further down on Broadway closer to downtown. It now lies in a rotted heap behinds overgrown weeds and graffiti.
I’d never written a roller coaster before and one was located just 55 miles NW of my hometown. The wooden based “Rocket” was built in 1947. At its opening it was hailed as “the largest roller coaster in the world.” It’s first hill measured 78 feet and there was some 3200 feet of track.
Playland Park closed in 1980 leaving The Rocket standing silent I have no idea what’s on property now, but years ago, you could still see a wooden support tower from the roller coaster just standing there on the property, lonely and rotting.
Referring back to Captain Gus again, when he would go to the Peanut Gallery (the dock like bleachers situated near his boat) to meet the Lil Mateys (usually Boy or Girl Scout troop members or kids having a birthday ) and competed in games and contests for the chance to win toys from his Wishing Well, the goodies ALWAYS came form Kiddie City, a huge San Antonio toy store on Loop 410 and Walzem Road. ( I think). I always envisioned Kiddie City to be this toy mecca for kids under eight.
At least, I think this is the front of the Kiddie City toy store, though since MY PARENTS NEVER TOOK me, I wouldn’t know for sure.
I loved San Antonio radio. I’ve already mentioned two San Antonio radio stations on which I honed my teeth upon. I loved listening to KTSA and KONO when they were TOP 40 AM radio station. I mentioned Bruce Hathaway, Ricci WSare and Don Cowser earlier..
As I matured, I discovered FM radio and those cool underground FM stations with jocks that were always stoned–or sounded that way.
I fell in love with KTSA’s FM sister station, KTFM early in my Freshman year of high school back in 1973 and shortly after that, discovered KEXL. That station was so cool, so happening. I remember one summer, The San Antonio Express News included a KEXL logo iron-on transfer in between the sheets of the newspaper. It was a cowboy on a bucking bronco–interesting for an album oriented rock radio station, but KEXL was cool. It mixed progressive country (The Cosmic Cowboy movement which began in teh early 70’s had its roots in KEXL) and rock. I ironed this on one of my dad’s old white T-Shirts.
I was so damn hip.
But perhaps my best memory of growing up in the 60’s and early 70’s was just the mere fact I grew up in the 60’s and early 70’s. As kids, we played for hours, rarely calling home, much less going home. When thirsty from playing, we drank water from hot, green rubber lawn hoses. We rode our bikes everywhere without getting raped or kidnaped or worse. Our parents left our keys in the cars ignition overnight…rarely locked our houses and ate sugar and drank sugar and had BB gun fights and shot bottle rockets at each other. We built forts out of anything we could find, and we built tree houses on other people’s property and really, no one cared. We played outside more than we did anything else.
And we could buy Post cereal and get a cool 45 rpm of some bubble gum band with what would invariably be its one hit wonder on the back of the box.
We’d cut the record out and put it on the turntable. In between playing the damn thing, we’d have to place it under big heavy books to keep it flat. The damn things would, in all that South Texas humidity,would curl or roll up around the edges.
I mean, we had to.
The “record” was made from the same flimsy cardboard as the cereal box.
On the back of Sugar Crisp, I found one of my all time favorite songs. It charted at #33 in the summer of 1972 and was the quintessential one hit wonder.
It was “You Are The One” by the Sugar Bears and believe it or not, it featured Kim Carnes as a back-up singer; an embarrasement I would think she’d not want us to remember, but hey Kimmie, we all gotta start somewhere. But that’s her voice. The same raspy one that in the 80’s, gave us “Bette Davis Eyes”.
The very same Kim Carnes who no doubt, begrudgingly had to follow the multi-ranged, über talented Cindy Lauper in the original , “We Are The World” from USA For Africa, video from 1985.
The look on Kim’s face when Cyndi starts to belt out those powerful notes is priceless. She even has to turn her head away as if to say, “Holy Fuck!! I gotta follow THAT????”