My kids have a store!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Surprises found in an old book

An old book which held surprises other than its writing
I'm re-reading a book I read many years ago, back when our kids were still in elementary school, John Steinbeck's "Travels with Charley." I suppose I wanted to read a rambling travel book. Twice.
My copy of the book is old and beat up, from the second printing, with stains on the cover and pages which have yellowed in the 55 years since it was made. It is inscribed inside as a party gift from some hostess to some dinner guest at some feast held in an eastern state in 1962.
I'm pretty sure I bought it at a Friends of the Library book sale in the 1980s, in the basement of the Butt-Holdsworth Memorial Library, back when those sales were conducted among air ducts, junk, and a hodge-podge of rickety shelving. We often went there to buy books for ourselves and for our children, and many of the books we have on our shelves at home today were bought second-hand at their sales. In those days I was apt to pick up books by authors I recognized, and I'm sure I'd never heard of this book before, but I knew the name Steinbeck. It was an accidental discovery, and I may have paid the princely sum of one dollar for my copy.
Now that several decades have passed since I purchased the book and read it the first time I'm noticing things I could not have noticed before.
First off I noticed the simple joys of reading a real book, one made of paper and ink and binder's board and cloth. Even though I am a printer most of what I read these days is read on a screen of some type. Though I get a physical copy of the Kerrville Daily Times at work, I've usually read it on my iPad before leaving home, read at an hour when most of you are still sound asleep. I have subscriptions to a national newspaper and several magazines, but they all come to me wirelessly on that same device. I no longer receive printed copies of most of the magazines to which I subscribe, mainly because it's convenient and reliable to receive them electronically, but also because I tend to leave unread magazines in towering piles of clutter. Even old printers like me can enjoy these advantages.
This particular copy of "Travels with Charley" was printed on fine paper with a slight finish and cotton content. I believe I can feel the imprint of the letters on the page, suggesting it was printed on a letterpress of some kind, with lead type. It has a cloth cover that's rough in places from wear; the cloth is a light cream color and shows every stain. It's not a museum-quality edition, by any means. It's an ordinary book printed using techniques common in 1962, though those techniques are no longer used.
I can tell there's some acid in the paper, too. Most of the pages have age spots, and the edges are slowly turning brown. That acid will continue to work on the paper until it's brittle; if given enough time, the acid will eat it away until nothing is left but dust.
At least two readers made marks in the book as they read it. One of them was me, though a much younger me. I recognized the notations from the code of checks and brackets I used in those days, but haven't used for at least ten years, and cannot use as I read on my electronic tablet. Those marks I made many years ago, like the printing process used to make my copy, are obsolete.
Unlike others in my family, my memories of what I've read are hazy at best. Ms. Carolyn can recall with great clarity books she's read; I cannot. Looking at the marks I made in the book years ago is like looking over the shoulder of my much younger self, to see what interested him and to compare the judgments he made on the paragraphs he read with my reading of them today.
Those judgments are different. I'm more critical of writers today than I was then, less likely to be in awe of even Nobel prize-winning authors. I was more easily impressed twenty years ago, but I've read a lot more books since then.
Here's an idea, Gentle Reader: re-read a book you read decades ago. Read it in printed form. If you run across notes you made, see how much you've changed. You might be pleasantly surprised.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who has more books than he's actually read. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times February 18, 2017.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

A heart breaker named Silver Queen

I'm proud for my friends at the Plant Haus 2 who are opening their new store on Valentine's Day directly across Clay Street from their old store. I imagine Trena Cullins and her crew are about worn out, but I know they'll be happy to be in the new building soon.
My sister, son and I have been active sidewalk superintendents as the new store was under construction by the Zubers, noting each phase of the building underway during our morning walks for coffee at Pint & Plow. For a long while there was no sign on the project and we made many guesses about its purpose. We were thankful when the sign went up announcing the new building would be the home of the Plant Haus.
The weather this time of year acts as if it were a character in a play, with its own personality, ambitions, and conflicts; I know it plays a role in our lives whether we notice it or not. I don’t know if you were up early enough on Tuesday to see the thick fog, but as I drove to work before sunrise that morning, the fog was as heavy as I’ve ever seen here. Later that same morning, as the sun rose and the day grew warm, ghosts of mist rose from parking lots and lawns, rising to a brilliantly clear sky. It was quite beautiful. And then the rest of the day was beautiful and pleasant outside.
This lull between the cold weather of January and the remaining few cold snaps of February brings to mind the chores I still have to do in my garden as I get ready for the coming season. If anticipation is truly the best spice, I suppose these waiting days before planting time are some of the most flavorful of the year.
I've only done a little of the work in my garden this year; I cut down the stringy trees along the fence a weekend ago. I still need to build a better fence to keep the dogs out of the garden and till the soil. I'm toying with the idea of building some raised garden beds this year.
Another part of the garden work I haven’t done yet is the planning – and that's the fun part, really. This time of year, when the skies bounce from cold to hot in the slanting sun, there are few joys more precious than a seed catalog, a nice chair, a sunny window, and time to read. I used to read through the seed catalogs that come to my mailbox with great interest, like a hungry man reading a large menu at a roadside diner, and while my imagination lingers on the exotic plants (tennis ball lettuce, for instance). But printed seed catalogs are a thing of the past, and I always return to the plants I’ve known for many years, the ones that are reliable, but I also return to the one plant that breaks my heart season after season.
There are few heartbreakers like Silver Queen Corn.
The trouble with this plant is not its perennial failure in my garden, nor even the fact that it always springs up strongly with verve and grace before its final disappointment. The problem with this variety stems from the first time I ever planted it in my garden: on that first attempt, Silver Queen corn grew well and produced so many beautiful ears of corn we actually gave corn away. We’d call ahead and have the recipient put a pot of water on the stove to boil, so the time from stalk to pot was kept to an absolute minimum, preserving the sugars in the corn before their sad decline to starch.
In that first season, the Silver Queen was royal, gracious, and bountiful. It happened by chance it was also the first time I’d tried corn in our garden, and I came away from the experience thinking corn was easy to grow, and I’d found a new regular to stand alongside our tomatoes, peppers and beans.
A nice stand of corn is pretty in the garden; it makes the plot look like a garden, with the tall green stalks bunched together like a platoon in formation, a nice contrast to the more squat cages of tomatoes and the staked pepper bushes. We even made a rustic scarecrow after we kept seeing birds among the stalks.
The trouble came in the following years. We never again had the same success with the Silver Queen, for a variety of reasons, from poorly prepared soil, to a harsh wind storm that knocked all of the proud plants to the ground. Year after year I have visited Trena Cullins at the Plant Haus, buying the grayish Silver Queen seeds; year after year I have tried to think through the problems we faced the previous season; year after year I have planted the seeds with hope, thinking we will once again have a nice stand of corn in our garden.
One year Ms. Cullins gave me a different type of corn seed to try and I botched that one, too.
Maybe this is the year for success. Maybe my beginner's luck will return. If I just changed this, or that – perhaps tried raised garden beds -- would the Silver Queen reign again?
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who does not like to eat corn, but plants it for his family. Not that they've had any for many years. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times February 11, 2017.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

History from a cloudless sky

How much does the weather affect the course of history?
I'm not talking about the sudden rainstorm which forces Lulu's seventh birthday party to be moved inside. Lulu, of course, has felt a change in her personal history and the weather's effect has marred her fun. (Lulu's parents will definitely feel history has changed when all the party goers start running around inside the house.)
I'm not even talking about a sudden change in weather which altered a famous battle. Nor am I talking about weather which claimed the life of a leader, or of icebergs sinking famous ships.
I'm talking about the rhythm of the seasons, the cycles of clouds and sunshine, the dew and frost typical of a place. Plain old boring weather.
I've been reading "The Texas Rangers" by Walter Prescott Webb partly because so many of our early male settlers spent some time as Texas Rangers. Both Joseph A. Tivy and Charles A. Schreiner were Texas Rangers. There are more than 30 Texas Rangers buried in the Center Point cemetery alone, including a pioneer historian who had served as a Ranger, Andrew Jackson Sowell. So understanding more about the early Texas Rangers might help me better understand Kerr County in its early days.
In the first pages of the very first chapter, Webb makes a suggestion I'd never considered.
I'd read elsewhere about his 98th meridian theory -- that, in Texas, a plantation economy was not practical west of that line. To the east there is plenty of rainfall; to the west, a scarcity of rain. Because of this fact Texas was unlike many of the southern states in that its economy was not based largely on plantation agriculture and the exploitation of slave labor.
While that does not remove the wrongs of slavery from our state's history, it does suggest rainfall (or lack thereof) affected the history of our area.
The new thing I learned in the first few pages of "The Texas Rangers" was this idea of a dividing line along the 98th meridian (west) impacted the history of Kerr County for much more than just the period before the civil war. Its effect preceded the creation of Kerr County, and even preceded written history here.
Kerr County is closer to the 99th meridian than the 98th; we're farther west, hence drier than counties to the east.
Here's Webb, talking about the land of Texas:
"The 98th meridian separates the Eastern Woodland from the Western Plains; it separates East Texas from West Texas." Elsewhere he describes a trip upriver from the mouth of the Colorado River to its source, traveling east to west, starting in a "heavily timbered and well-watered country," crossing a level prairie region, and then ending in the high plains.
Anyone who's traveled IH 10 from here toward Houston can see the dramatic changes in landscape, from rocky hills to flat, soggy woodlands. And traveling west along IH10 toward Fort Stockton will show a transition from rocky hills to a semi-arid desert.
Consider, then, how these different environments would have impacted the various Native American tribes present in Texas around the time Mexico was losing its control here. Many of those tribes living in the eastern part of the state tended to be agricultural, even farmers. They had villages fixed in one location. Many (but not all) of these tribes were peaceful and cooperated with settlers.
Those living in the western part of the state had a much different way of living. Resources were scarce, and competition for those resources was fierce. The tribes were nomadic, and were not farmers. There was often constant conflict between different tribes, and seldom were these people of the plains cooperative with settlers. It was among these tribes the early settlers of Kerr County found themselves.
How much of the differences between these two types of tribes, the woodland tribes and the plains tribes, could be attributed to weather? Probably more than we suspect.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who can remember times when months and months passed between rainfalls here. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times February 4, 2017.  Titles by Walter Prescott Webb and Andrew Jackson Sowell are available from Wolfmueller's Books in Kerrville.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Saturday Link Pack

Louise Hays Park, not long after construction.
Note the Blue Bonnet Hotel and Cotton Eldridge's ski shack.

So many of my readers have memories of the Cascade Pool downtown; my generation made memories at Kerrville's Olympic Pool, off of Singing Wind Drive in east Kerrville.  It had a diving tower, with platforms at 5 meters and 10 meters.  I remember being terrified to jump off of the 10 meter platform.  This video, shot in Sweden, reminds me of my early days, trying to make up my mind, whether to jump or not.  (Via the New York Times.)

Several of you have asked for the link to the book on Texas Fossils, and I'm happy to provide it. (It's a free download.)  I wrote about fossil hunting a few weeks ago.  A copy of the book might be available at Wolfmueller's Books in Kerrville.

What happens if the data underlying our assumptions changes?  Here's a thoughtful TED talk given by Sarah Bloom Raskin.

Here's a bit of whimsy for your Saturday.

How much change can one family make on their hometown?  A chef and her family are making a difference in her hometown in North Carolina.  I sometimes watch her PBS show to learn more about the state where our daughter lives.

Have a great weekend!

Monday, January 30, 2017

Do You Remember Seeing “Irene?”

From my collection: poster frame original to Kerrville's Arcadia Theater,
with poster from the first movie shown in that theater, 1926
With the Arcadia Theater finding itself in a front-page story this week, I thought it might be time to share a column from my files telling the story of the theater's first night. I certainly wish the best for this latest effort to renovate the old movie house.
* * *
On the warm Tuesday evening of June 29, 1926, a flock of folks crowded into a newly built hall to watch the comedy film “Irene,” starring Colleen Moore. They were greeted with “cooled” air and a saga about the life of a poor, beautiful Irish lass whose dire economic circumstances obscure her royal lineage. She worked as a shopkeeper’s assistant, selling dresses. A local grandee had obtained the job for her there as a model; the villainous shopkeeper had demoted her to lowly clerk. During a grand fashion show, the grandee notes the absence of his protégé, storms to the dimly lit store, costumes the girl and returns with her to triumph, and eventually love – discovered on a rusting fire escape, outside the fashion show.
The scenes of the fashion show were “registered in subdued tones of the Techni-color process, a new idea which has recently been discovered by those who invented the method of color photography.” This probably explains the choice of this movie, a First National release, as the film for that particular evening. The film was in color.
“Irene” was the first film shown in the newly built Arcadia Theater.
The town was very proud of their new theater. There was an older movie house, the Dixie, near the corner of Washington and Water streets, on the northern corner, about where the left side of Rivers Edge Gallery stands today. The Dixie is remembered for its wooden bleachers, where patrons tucked their feet up to avoid the rats that ran along the floor eating popcorn and nibbling on shoelaces. The Arcadia, by contrast, was a movie palace.
Built at a cost of $90,000, the new theater featured high-tech (for 1926) projection equipment (a pair of Powers projectors), a ‘Gardner Velvet Gold Fibre Screen,’ a Hillgren-Lane pipe organ, and seating capacity for 1,000. The building looked very different then: it featured a Spanish mission façade, and the 16x40 foot ‘arcade’ was accented with rough plaster and hand-hewn beams. In the ‘arcade’ was seven display cases.
Seating was also arranged differently than the seating many of us remember. In addition to the ‘orchestra’ and balcony seats, there were also eight loges with five chairs each. Smoking was allowed in the balcony seats only.
The small stage (8 x 15 feet) was furnished with scenery from Volland Scenic Company of St. Louis, and included a “beautiful mountain and river scene, typical of the country surrounding Kerrville. It is a remarkable reproduction of nature, done in oil.” There was also an orchestra pit measuring 7 ½ x 25 feet; this was the home of the pipe organ.
The neon sign we see today, frantically flashing in the night sky, is not the original sign for the theater. The first was about 15 feet high and extended six feet above the building, with 16” letters. The lighting flashed on and off at intervals, but was not neon; the coloring of the letters was done by placing ‘glass color hoods’ over the lamps, and red and green and amber were the predominate colors. There was a twinkling torch and a ‘flowing’ border driven by an electric motor.
The Bart Moore Construction Company built the building. Mr. Moore was also the president of the Kerrville Amusement Company, which owned the Arcadia and Dixie Theaters, and he would serve as the Arcadia’s first general manager.
Admission prices that first week of performances were 25 and 50 cents.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who has a movie poster for "Irene" on display at his family's printing shop. The poster is framed in an original Arcadia display case. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times January 28, 2017.



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