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In the Heart of the Blackland Divide

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

The time of year is once again upon us when Americans of all races, religions, and political persuasions gather to give thanks for all the blessings bestowed upon them for the previous year.  And Roscoans have plenty to be thankful for this year—a bountiful cotton crop, continued leadership in the field of wind energy, a program at the high school to put students on the fast track for college, renovations and plans underway for new school facilities and a new high school building, a city government that is proactive in improving the city’s looks and reputation, state money for a new reverse-osmosis water treatment plant that will give the city pure, mineral-free water, as well as all our personal benefits.

Thanksgiving is also a holiday given over to getting together with loved ones to feast upon dishes we generally ignore for the rest of the year—roasted turkey, dressing, giblet gravy, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, pecan, or mincemeat pie--yet on this one day these dishes are somehow perfect for the occasion. If we’re not careful, we leave the table stuffed and groaning to collapse on the couch or recliner to watch the Dallas Cowboys do their annual Thanksgiving thing.  In past years, this was often a blowout of the Detroit Lions, but this year they’re playing the Saints, so anything can happen.  If you’re a college football fan, you may also be gearing up for the annual Aggies vs. Longhorns game.

Since that first Thanksgiving feast shared by the Pilgrims and Indians in New England, the holiday has been observed in many ways, but if you were a boy growing up in Roscoe in the 1950’s or 1960’s, you may well have been involved in a yearly Thanksgiving ritual that was celebrated in a way like no other I ever heard of.
The Roscoe Boys Club had an annual Thanksgiving Feast, usually held on a little creek on a ranch not far from Maryneal.  Each boy who participated, and there were usually about twenty or twenty-five who did, was instructed to bring a dish from home—potato salad, pie, cobbler, cake, cranberry salad, macaroni and cheese, green beans, potato chips, sweet potatoes—anything except the turkey and dressing, which was furnished by the Boys Club and prepared by the local Steak House.  Boys Club director George Parks would make up a huge steel vat of lemonade made with fresh-squeezed lemons and pour in Welch’s grape juice from quart bottles. The squeezed lemon rinds would be thrown into the vat for flavor, and the top of the lemonade was covered by crushed ice and floating lemon rinds.

All the boys would meet at the Roscoe Times Office at about nine or nine-thirty on Thanksgiving morning and go out to the ranch in a borrowed school bus, arriving at the creek around ten or ten-thirty.  Time between then and feast time was taken up with games, explorations up the creek, and shenanigans of one sort or another—like stripping off our clothes and running around “in the raw” as we called it.

Then, when it was time to eat, the food would be brought out and set up on rock ledges.  Boys would get a paper plate, line up, and fill their plates with everything that looked good to them. They would then go sit on a rock somewhere and start eating.  There was always glory for the boys who could eat the most. But everybody ate two or three times as much as normal, especially since there was always an abundance of dessert, and the time after the meal was punctuated by the moans of those who had gorged themselves, that is, the majority of the boys.  Nothing happened for at least a half hour while everyone lay on rocks and tried to recover, but then as stomachs started feeling better, activity would once again start up.  Now it was time for the Rat Race, the highlight of the day.

The Rat Race was a kind of initiation ceremony.  Boys who had run the Rat Race on a previous Thanksgiving were the throwers, and boys making the trip for the first time were the rats, the runners.  First, a nice grassy expanse was located, one which could be run on barefooted without hurting the feet.  This was always somewhere down by the creek.  Then all the half-lemon rinds in the lemonade vat would be distributed to the throwers.  There would generally be enough rinds for every thrower to have two or three.

The hapless victims, the runners, would then strip down completely naked.  This in itself could be harsh, especially in those years when Thanksgiving happened during a cold spell with a sharp north wind.  In the meantime, the throwers with their lemon rinds would arrange themselves in a long line running parallel to the creek.  The runners, who were at one end of the line, would wait their turn to “run the gauntlet” between the creek and the throwers.

When George said, “Go,” one of them would run as fast as he possibly could past the line of about twenty howling boys, who would pelt him with the lemon rinds as hard as they could throw as he went running by.  When he got to the end of the line, he would jump into the creek for a quick, cold washoff because he would be covered with the sticky lemonade juice that came from his pelting.  Throwers would then retrieve their lemon rinds, line up again, and yell out threats and taunts at the next victim until George set him off and the pelting resumed.

This process was repeated until every rat had run.  The only rules for the throwers were that you could not throw until the boy was even with or past you—and that you couldn’t aim for the head.  Backs, sides, and butts were the acceptable targets, and a hard-thrown half-lemon rind could raise a welt, especially when thrown by some of the older boys.  The only mercy shown was to the littlest boys who bravely endured the ordeal.  Everyone else was pelted unmercifully.  The only solace for the runner, often through held-back tears, was that once he had run the Rat Race, he never had to do it again.  Instead, he could look forward to being one of the throwers the following year and forever thereafter. 

Happy Thanksgiving!


  1. I well recall the fear generated by seeing Snake Duncan, Joe Duncan and Roland Smith looking at me with dripping lemon halves in their hands and evil glints in their eyes as they awaited my turn to scamper down the line. In fact, I vividly recall the phrase, "I'M GONNA KILL YOU, BRAWLEY" floating through the chilling breeze that day from more than one quarter.

  2. Flash forward to 2010. How far under the jail would George Parks be buried for most of the Boys Club activities of yesteryear? How many cries of “bullying” and “hazing” would be heard? Life is sure a lot easier now, but I often wonder is it better. I know it is nowhere near as fun as it used to be here in the United States of the Offended and Litigious. What we have lost and what we are losing as we make progress, well; I will stop bringing the room down and just be thankful for what we had and what we have left.


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