Growing up in Sabine County in the fifties was a wonderful adventure. One of the greatest pleasures was camping out on the banks of the Sabine River, or one of the many creeks which feed it. This was real camping out. No motor homes or travel trailers in those days. Dad’s group had a small Army surplus tent which was sometimes used, but mostly it was an open air bed on an Army surplus cot, if you were lucky. There was a cranky generator which required about a half-dozen 100 watt light bulbs to operate properly. If they used fewer, the bulbs would burn out. At any rate, sleep was secondary. Much of the night was spent “running” the throw lines and bank set hooks. Catfish were the prey, and usually enough were caught to feed the camp and take a bit home. Occasionally, something would destroy one of the sets, and embellish the persistent rumor that giant catfish lived in those waters. More likely, a big Loggerhead Turtle or Gar was the culprit.

One member of the group was a man who had no visible means of support and could usually be found loitering around the Court House. Let’s call him Jethro, mainly because I never knew anyone named Jethro, and I don’t want to embarrass any of his family. Jethro’s contribution to the group was as camp cook, and for the most part, he was competent. On one occasion, the group had been quite successful and decided to have a fish fry at the camp. Jethro prepared a huge mound of cornmeal battered fish and the men gathered round for the feast. My father bit into a piece and was unable to swallow it.

“Jethro”, he exclaimed, “why is this fish so salty? We can’t eat this?” Jethro looked puzzled, picked up the box of salt, and after studying it for a bit, said “Well, Floyd, this ain’t my usual brand of salt.”

A camp culinary mainstay was a dish called Slumgullion. Slumgullion had its origin in the Hobo camps of the thirties, and consisted of whatever the men had, all thrown into a pot and shared. There is no recipe for it, it’s strictly catch as catch can. By the fifties, a basic recipe of sorts had evolved. These men were far more prosperous than the homeless men who rode the rails in the thirties, so a bit of care was taken in selecting ingredients to make the stew. I liked it, not only because it always tasted good, but because it was never the same twice in a row. Today, more that 80 years after its creation in Hobo camps, it survives as Cowboy Soup, and tastes better than ever. In fact, I had a bowl of leftover Slumgullion, with a Latin flavor, for breakfast this morning.

Slumgullion or Cowboy Soup
Basic Recipe

meat (can be ground, or chopped into small pieces)
tomatoes (canned or fresh. chopped is best)
4 or more different vegetables, canned or fresh

Throw it all in a pot and cook until done.


God is not dead.

If you get your news from traditional news sources, you might believe that God is on the run, if not on the ropes. In some places, there might be some truth to it, but in rural America, nothing could be further from reality. This is God’s country, and God’s people. These are the people who made America great, and they will do it again, if government gets out of the way. They give a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. They support their local church, and believe the police are on our side. They are the salt of the earth, generous almost to a fault. God and Family are their driving forces. They say Grace at the table, and aren’t reluctant about saying it in public.

In my rebellious youth I thought I would be an atheist, but learned that I didn’t have enough blind, unquestioning faith to be a nonbeliever. I’m not a regular church goer, but when I attend I am made welcome and leave feeling uplifted.

Sabine County, Texas has more than 30 churches, representing 12 major denominations and a few non denominational. That is one church for every 320 residents. This is not an anomaly. Tiny Geneva has an active Baptist church, and the Methodist Church on the opposite side of the road, though without a pastor or congregation, is lovingly maintained.

Though I grew up going to a Baptist church, my mother was Pentecostal, and would sometimes attend a Pentecostal church near Lufkin, Texas. I thoroughly enjoyed those visits. Pentecostals don’t sit quietly in the pews, listening to the preacher, they join in. They take Jesus very seriously and want the world to know it. When they make a joyful noise, it is wonderfully spiritual, emotional, and loud. They don’t just love Jesus, they embrace and become one with the Holy Ghost and their joy bursts out in a torrent of sound, movement, and euphoria. Sitting quietly, struggling to stay awake, is not an option. Even if the congregation could sit quietly, the preacher would ensure no one nodded off.

My oldest son, Karl, is a Pentecostal minister in the small town of Starks, Louisiana. I spent the last weekend plus Monday and Tuesday of my recent trip to Texas with him and his family. I attended church twice on Sunday, something of a record for me, a backslid Baptist. The church hasn’t changed in the last 60 or so years, and my fond memories were reinforced. The music was tremendous, the visiting preacher was fiery, and the congregation enthusiastic. After the service, people sought me out and welcomed me, in part because I’m the Pastor’s father, but more because they are good folks who want to share their love of God.

So, despite the best efforts of misguided people who want to remove all Christianity from public view, out here in small town and rural America, God is very much alive and well.


Race Relations

In the 1950s, race relations in Sabine County were a lot different than today. We had separate water fountains and rest rooms at the County Courthouse. We had different schools for whites and coloreds. Most white kids of my age had very little contact with black people. We were fortunate to have a black lady who came to our home and helped with house work a few days a week. Her name was Irona, and in our house, she was treated with respect. I was quite young, at the time, and she gave me the gift of seeing her as a person. Without her presence in our home, I might not have overcome the almost universal prejudice that existed then until a lot later in life.

My years in the military were enlightening, as I met and became friends with black soldiers. Though we mostly liked different music and different styles, we had the same dreams and aspirations, and I came to understand that the only color in the Army is green. Things didn’t progress as rapidly back home in Sabine County, but gradually, over the years, relations improved. Today, the overt signs are gone, and I believe most folks are accepting of all our citizens of whatever race or color.

I don’t know how much, if any, effect the Democrats’ campaign, led by Barack Obama, to foment racial hatred, has had here, but nation wide, they have done immense harm to race relations in the US.

I have mixed race children, a mixed race grandchild, and my wife of 41 years, is mixed race. I like to believe I have overcome the early prejudice of my boyhood, but I also understand how difficult it can be to overcome. I’m proud of my family and the people of Sabine County for accepting those who are different, even though the differences are unimportant.

Falling out of the Field

In my youth, my father told a story about falling out of the field while plowing. This happened on the upper 32 acres, which we have always called “the Mountain”. For many years, I believed the story an exaggeration, but not any more. I spent a little time up there last winter, and am now convinced that attempting to plow the hillside could easily result in mule and farmer falling out of the field. The area is surrounded by steep hillsides, and if it could be magically stretched out, would likely cover nearly 100 acres. Much of this part of the county is like this and our lower (by about 35 feet) 52 acres is very similar. The Mountain is the highest accessible point in Sabine County. One point on the San Augustine County line is a few feet higher, but no roads go to it.

It took hardy stock to farm this land. Every time I walk it, I am amazed that my grandfather was able to scratch a living out of it, where the most abundant natural feature is lots of red rocks. Where the land is not red dirt, filled with rock, it is sand. The sand at the house place is three feet deep. Somehow, with a mule and lots of guts, the family produced 1 bale of cotton per year at the height of the depression. At $.05 a pound, 600 pounds of cotton brought $30.00 at the Gin. With that, my Grandfather had to provide clothes and shoes for the school year. My father and his siblings had to walk the two and a bit miles on the Sand Road to the schoolhouse in Geneva. Life was hardscrabble here in the 30s, and I’m sure my family story is not unique. I take pride in having family roots here.

The Old Homeplace

My travel trailer is located by the house built by my Grandfather, Acie Smith, in 1946. The house is now uninhabitable, but still standing. How long it will stand is anybody’s guess. For now, it evokes many fond memories of my childhood.

My earliest memory is a painful one. I had a bad case of Shingles, and my back was one huge scab. The house was new, and did not yet have steps at the kitchen door. I got too close to the threshold, slipped and slid down the raw edge on my back, ripping the scab off and taking with it dozens of what we called cores. It left behind holes in my back, and 70 years later, the scar is still visible. After that, I healed quickly, but to this day I am careful about getting too close to the edge of a dropoff.

More pleasant memories are of lying in front of the blazing fireplace and reading the Sears, Roebuck catalog. As the years went by, I progressed from roller skates, to bicycles, to guns, to motorcycles. Somewhere in that progression, I started taking peeks at the women’s underwear pages, but we won’t talk about that.

The kitchen was my favorite place. There were always good smells, and I got my first taste of very sweet coffee with lots of milk there. My Grandmother “Nanny” made the best biscuits I’ve ever tasted, topped with home-churned butter and sprinkled with sugar. My brothers and sisters can attest to the fact that her Coconut Cake was the best ever. It was a vanilla cake with either hickory nuts from the front yard tree, or black walnuts from the back yard. We kids were often tasked with cracking and picking the meat from the very hard shells but never complained because the reward was worth the effort. Sadly for us, the recipe went to Heaven with her, but I’ll bet the angels love it.

The old house should be torn down, but none of us want to do it. We all have wonderful memories, and when I look at if I can still see my Grandmother in her kitchen, mixing her wonderful cake.

Growing Old Gracefully

Sounds like something we should all do, doesn’t it? Well, that ain’t gonna happen. I’m old, but I am not going to act like an old man. No front porch rocking chair for me. I’ll celebrate 82 years of annoying others by not acting my age in December, and look forward to more.

During the hunting season, I live in a travel trailer in Sabine County Texas on family land, and spend a good deal of time in the woods.  The rest of the year, I live in Panama and ride my motorcycle to get around.*

I make and shoot slingshots, I like old cowboy movies, and I listen to a lot of 50s and 60s Rock and Roll. My heroes are Roy Rogers, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Audie Murphy. My all-time favorite author is Louis La’Amour, and I am still searching for the few stories I haven’t read or do not own.

I’m a libertarian, which means I believe in small government, no more than needed to maintain order, pave the roads, and deliver the mail. We have a whole lot more than we need, but fortunately not as much as we pay for. I think Democrats and Republicans, in large part, are enemies of the Constitution.

With that in mind, join me in my often rambling, sometimes coherent thoughts as I wend my way through what are supposed to be my golden years, though I have yet to see any gold.

*Note: This was the first post on this blog. I no longer spend hunting season in Texas and the rest of the year in Panama. Nora and I moved to Texas in 2018.