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In the Heart of the Blackland Divide

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Down Memory Lane: The Boys Club Easter Trip and a Rattlesnake Bite

Roscoe boys on an Easter Trip meet Governor Allen Shivers in Austin in 1954.
For me, late April always brings to mind the annual Easter Trip once available to members of the Roscoe Boys Club, and the rattlesnake bite I got while on one in 1957.  Any of the boys who ever made that trip in the forties, fifties, or sixties will tell you that it was a memorable experience.

The Easter Trip was an annual affair that took place on the Easter break, which in the days before schools observed a spring break was a four-day holiday that began on Good Friday and lasted through the following Monday.  About ten or twelve boys would make the trip in the “Moose Wagon,” our nickname for George Parks’ van.  Each had to have enough money for his own meals, snacks, and souvenirs.  The rest was covered by the Boys Club.

As with most Boys Club trips, the Easter Trip began at the Roscoe Times office with leaving time set at five in the morning.  George was an early riser and insisted on an early start, and woe to the boy who arrived ten minutes late, because by then George would already be gone.  This idiosyncrasy was well known to all the mothers in and around Roscoe, and usually by ten to five, everybody was there and ready to go.

It would still be dark when we set off for San Marcos, about 325 miles away, and many boys, especially those in the back seats, would go right back to sleep and doze until it got light.  At around one or two o’clock, we’d arrive and immediately go down to a recreational area on the river there and get in a good swim before supper.  It would be the first time any of us had swum that year, and the water would be cold—but not as cold as the water in west Texas, which wouldn’t be warm enough to swim in until the end of May.

There was an outdoor snack bar there with a jukebox, which blared out the latest hits, the favorite of one year being Elvis Presley’s “Midnight Train.” There were also local high school kids hanging out there, the boys in white t-shirts and blue jeans, white socks, and moccasins—with their hair combed back in duck tails and one sleeve rolled up so that it held a pack of Camels on the upper arm.  Girls in ponytails wore full skirts or rolled-up blue jeans with thick, white socks and saddle oxfords.

Near the diving board was a contraption we called the trolley, which we all loved to ride.  You climbed a ladder about as high as a high diving board up to a steel cable that ran from an overhead pole all the way down to the bank on the opposite side of the river.  The trolley was a handle with grooved wheels that fit on the cable.  By grabbing the handle with both hands and jumping off the platform, you would quickly be borne out over the river.  Then by letting go, you would plunge from ten to twelve feet into the water below.

We swam and played until everyone had had enough, and then we went to supper at a restaurant called Arredondo’s. One year, George got sick of people playing Elvis and Little Richard on the juke box there, so he fed it about a dollar's worth of nickels and played Johnny Cash's "Ballad of a Teenage Queen" over and over again.  The other people in the restaurant thought he was crazy.  I can still sing that song by heart.

Then we went to the cabins, where we stayed for the night.  George knew a man in San Marcos who owned some cabins that he rented out to Southwest Texas State students. He usually had two or three vacant ones, and these he let the Boys Club use for the night.

The next morning after breakfast we swam again, this time at a place where the river water came pouring over a short concrete dam about three feet tall.  The level of the river was about three inches higher than that of the dam, and we would get in the spot where the water came over the dam in a big, constant wave.  After the swim, we went to Wonder Cave for two or three hours and then to Aquarena, a tourist attraction with glass-bottomed boats for rent and an underwater show for tourists—with “mermaids” (young women in mermaid outfits) and a swimming pig.

That afternoon we’d leave San Marcos and drive over to San Antonio, where we went to the Alamo, which we treated with the reverence of a church.  This was the cradle of Texas liberty, and it meant more to us than anything from the Revolutionary War.  Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, and Colonel Travis were heroes we grew up knowing about, and after visiting the Alamo we’d go to the San Fernando Cathedral in downtown San Antonio to see the stone casket that held their ashes.

We’d also go to the old Spanish Governor’s Palace and in the evening to La Villita and the Riverwalk, although those places were much different then.  Before the revitalization of downtown, La Villita and the Riverwalk were in rough areas that tourists visited only in the daytime.  At night, Hispanic gangs were out, and George made us all keep together while walking along the river there in the evenings.

On Easter Sunday morning, we’d go to a protestant church somewhere in San Antonio—and would usually be recognized and welcomed by the pastor when he gave the announcements before the sermon.  In the afternoon we went to the batting cages or played miniature golf or went to a movie in the Aztec Theatre, one of those grand old movie theatres from the twenties, with a high ceiling and elaborate architecture.  The ceiling had “stars” that twinkled, and everything was built and decorated in the Spanish style.  That evening, after supper at a Mexican restaurant with Mariachi singers, we’d go to Playland, a big amusement park with the largest roller coaster in Texas, along with various other rides.

The next morning we got up and went to Austin, where we spent the greater part of the day.  We always went to the state capitol and saw the sights there.  The state representative for the Roscoe district would sometimes meet us and show us around, and one year some boys went in and met the governor.  Then, we’d get in one last swim, this time at Barton Creek, a spring-fed creek in south Austin with crystal clear water the same temperature all year round.  Finally, in mid-afternoon we’d start the long drive back to Roscoe.

It was on one of these return trips that I got bitten by a rattlesnake.  This was on April 22, 1957, when I was thirteen.  We were about five miles beyond Lampasas when Billy Haney, admiring the bluebonnets on the shoulders of the highway, asked George if he could get out and pick some for his mother.  George agreed and stopped the van.  This was before it was against the law to pick bluebonnets.

Billy and I got out and were on our way over to a bluebonnet patch when I stepped on something soft.  Simultaneously, I heard the unmistakable rattle and felt the snake strike me on the lower leg.  I was barefooted and in shorts, and I still remember what the snake’s body felt like when I stepped on it.  I called out to George that a snake bit me.  When he asked what kind and I said a rattlesnake, he told me to lie down on the shoulder of the road.

Then he said, “Who’s got a knife?” and when my brother Joe said that he did, I knew this wasn’t going to be fun.  Joe’s knife was an old pocketknife that he got from Daddy and used primarily for cleaning fish.  Its main blade was chipped and rusty. George cut an x with it on my leg where the snake bit it and started sucking out the blood and poison and then spitting it out.

In the meantime Joe and Cuppy Graham found the snake in the grass and killed it with rocks.  On George’s orders, Wade McLeod stood out in the middle of the highway and flagged down a car.  It was just luck that the first person who came along was an intern who worked at St. Mary’s Hospital in Lampasas.  He and a couple of boys picked me up and put me in the back seat of his ’57 Chevy.

Then we went roaring off at high speed back toward Lampasas. Wade and Benny Hunter jumped in the back seat with me, and I lay across them.  Benny gave me his army fatigue cap to chew on, and Wade was crying and saying, “Don’t die,” while Benny reported to us that the driver was going 95 mph.

When we got to the hospital, the intern drove right up to the emergency entrance, and almost immediately they had me on a table and went to work on my leg.  While one doctor repeatedly stabbed my leg with a scalpel and then ran a suction device over it to pull the poisoned blood out, another gave me a snake serum shot with a big needle and then some morphine.  Then the lights went out, and I was out cold for twenty-four hours.

When I woke up, I was in a hospital bed and my mother was sitting in a chair by the wall crocheting.  My right leg was about twice as big around as normal and just about every color of the rainbow—purple, red, and yellow being the main colors.  I stayed in the hospital for five more days before the doctor said I was well enough to go home.  Wells Funeral Home in Roscoe had an ambulance in those days, and George Parks got Sid Wells to drive to Lampasas and bring me back to Roscoe in it.

I was out of school for another week or so after that and on crutches for three weeks more.  Robert Martin started calling me Snake, and before long all the other boys followed suit—although the girls never did, so to this day I am still known in Roscoe to the males as Snake and to most females as Bitsy, as I was known to everyone before the snake bite.



Robert “Bob” Gordon Campbell, 80, died last Tuesday at Rolling Plains Hospital.  Funeral services were held on Friday at the First Baptist Church and followed by interment in the Roscoe Cemetery. 

Born March 4, 1931, in Corpus Christi, he married Annell Hodges on April 20, 1957, in San Antonio. He worked for Industrial X-Ray Co. for many years and also owned Instrument Service and Engineering Co. for 10 years. He had lived in Roscoe for the past 17 years.  A Korean veteran and American Legion member, he was also a member of First Baptist Church.  Survivors include his wife, Annell of Roscoe; daughters, Brenda of Arlington and Lisa of Roscoe; son, Greg of Irving, and three grandchildren. 

1 comment:

  1. Well, that quells the rumors about your name. A good moral story for keeping people out of the blue bonnets. That's quite an agenda they had for ya'll on those trips. It makes me feel like going on vacation.



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