Monday, January 9, 2012

What was in their pockets?

It's a simple question, but impossible to answer -- just ask Gollum from "The Hobbit."  He could never answer Bilbo's "riddle," though he tried.
Consider what you have in your own pockets for a moment. What do you carry with you?
In my own pockets you'd find various keys, a cell phone, a notebook (I'm old-fashioned), a pen, lip balm, a small measuring tape (a must for a printer), a memory stick (ditto), an attachment for my cell phone, an almost empty wallet, a pocket knife, and a bandana. Come to think of it, the bandana might be the most useful item in my pockets.
Each of those items tells a story, but taken together, they paint a more complete picture of a middle-aged Texan living in the early part of the twenty-first century. Sherlock Holmes could deduce volumes from such a list. So could a curious and observant historian.
The things we lug around with us, day after day, tell a story. A hundred little decisions add up to the inventory of items.
For example, I used to wear a watch every day. I now use my cell phone for that. I used to carry a small calendar; the mobile phone does that, too. There was a time when I carried a comb, back when I had enough hair to employ a comb. You get the picture. Some things we carry for utility; some for nostalgia; and some out of habit.
Sometimes I wonder about the folks in my old Kerrville photographs. I have this one, a photo of a cowboy crossing the unpaved intersection of Water and Earl Garrett Streets, taken between 1910 and 1918, back when Earl Garrett was still alive and the street was called Mountain Street.
Cowboy, Kerrville, around 1910
He looks like a character right out of an old Western, with his felt hat, boots, vest, and white shirt, with its collar buttoned at the neck.
He has an unlit cigar in his mouth, he's carrying a rolled up newspaper in his right hand, a big newspaper, from back when a newspaper was printed on a big sheet, and there's a watch chain running from a buttonhole on the vest to the right vest pocket. He sports a Clark Gable mustache.
A saddled horse, plus a horse and buggy are in the background of the photograph, but no automobiles. Behind the cowboy you can see the Weston Building, now the home of Francisco's Restaurant. You can also see the First State Bank building, and a nice collection of trees along the sidewalk. The trunks of the trees are boarded up with little fences to keep the horses from chewing off the bark and killing the trees.
I don't know the name of cowboy in the photograph. I wonder what he was carrying with him that day, too.
I can deduce some things from the photo, however.
The shadows tell me the photo was taken later in the day, in the late afternoon. His shoes, however, despite the time of day, and despite walking on the chalky dirt streets, are still clean. No dust or mud are on the cuffs of his pants, either. Most of the photos I have of early Kerr folks show dirty shoes and pants; I'm guessing it was hard to stay clean on our dusty roads and sidewalks. Somehow this fellow managed.
And our cowboy could read -- note the newspaper in his hand. Keeping a schedule was important to him -- note the pocket watch. He could afford a few luxuries -- note the cigar. And appearance was important -- note the hat and the little mustache.
I wonder, though, what he carried with him that day. What was important to a Kerrville fellow 100 years ago?  What was necessary enough to carry through the day?
A list of those items would really tell a story. I'm betting he carried a bandana, too.
Until next week, all the best. 
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who used to carry a pocket compass in his pocket most days. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times January 7, 2012.


  1. I love the mystery of this one, Joe.

    And it reminds me that the things we carry (apologies to Tim O'Brien) reveal our character.

    I carry my keys on a simple round key chain--two my car, my wife's car, our house and my office.

    I carry my cell phone which has the following apps running in the background: uniwar, weather, email, camera, facebook, flipboard, phone, messages, safari, calendar, imdb, music, cut the rope, and angry birds (several of those used by my kids yesterday).

    I have a wallet with various cards, memberships, and insurance info.

    I wear two rings: my wedding band and my Aggie ring, class of 97.

  2. I'm so glad that Kerrville no longer has those poles and wires running all over the downtown area.

  3. I think are whole lives are filled with pockets. We all have stories that will probably never be told, things in our pockets for reasons we may not even remember.

    Every person is a mystery.

    I want to know your cowboy's name. I want to be on that street with him, to walk up to him and hold out my hand and say hello. Though, I think girls weren't allowed to do that back then. But it was Texas. Maybe they did it anyway.

  4. There is nothing in my pockets I have a purse. I still wear a watch because it is more jewelry to me than a time piece. Thus this at best off center to me. At worst completely false.

  5. Here from, Joe. Thanks for the cultural artifacts. You can learn a lot about a person, his community, his job, his interests and personalities this way.


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