Downtown Wichita Falls, Texas, in the mid 1940’s was a bustling metropolis for a boy of 7 just away from the farm and ranch community where he was born. My father, a cook and cowboy by trade, had just started as one of the first cooks for the Casa Manana restaurant in 1947. He moved us to an apartment on Ohio Street, right across from the Gem Theater, between 7th and 8th Streets. It’s here that we would stay for the next three years. The Gem Theater became a magic palace for a young mind. But it had to share that distinction with the rest of the magic that was Wichita Falls. I attended San Jacinto and Carrigan elementary schools, as well as Reagan Junior High, and belonged to the Boys Club on 6th Street. Please join, and share your stories and pictures through a Guest Blog, of early Wichita Falls - or your home town. Contact me at or leave a comment. We could use old pictures of movie houses, drive-in theaters, and other nostalgic pictures related to our youths.

Thursday, October 31, 2013


For a fun Halloween, be sure to read these two stories before going to bed tonight! $.99 each on Kindle.

“The Soul Stealers” by Tom Johnson. Angels have walked among mankind since the dawn of civilization. Although we may not recognize them, or even see their presence, they are always with us. Perhaps they whisper advice in our dreams, or guide our governments without their knowledge, angels are moving us towards a higher good. Some even protect us in our final day, when violent death reaches out for our very soul - these are the Soul Sealers!

“The Mind Master” by Tom Johnson. New York has a new hero. In a contemporary setting, thieves knock over an art gallery, stealing famous and valuable paintings, and at the same time hit a museum displaying a necklace once belonging to Queen Bathsheba given to her by King Solomon, its value beyond price. From the chaos rises a new hero, The Mind Master!

Halloween 60 Years Ago

Halloween 60 Years Ago

         I can’t remember if it was 1951, 1952 or ’53, but the school year around that time, sixty years ago, brings back a flood of memories today. It was probably my first experience of Trick-Or-Treating. But the fun of this event was that it occurred at our school that year. The teachers and faculty of San Jacinto joined with many of the parents to provide a safe and entertaining Halloween for the students. I don’t remember a lot about it, though I think only the downstairs rooms were decorated, and teachers and parents gave out candy to the students who ran from room to room. I had never been on a Trick Or Treat before, and it was a blast.
            It was the only time that I remember San Jacinto doing this, but there may well have been other years.  In fact, I wouldn’t celebrate the night again until I was a teenager and living on Blond Street several years later. I don’t know if my parents just didn’t allow it, or kids I knew didn’t do it, but Halloween was something I didn’t do.
            In some communities today, I think some teachers have a “Trunk” party on Halloween. They are not allowed to use the school facilities, but will set up in town, under supervised conditions, and children are brought to the area where they run from stand to stand, or car to car.  I’ve never seen this in action, but see the notice listed in some area newspapers.
Tom & Ginger In Costume On Drama Club Float During Parade

            As older people, my wife and I used to enjoy answering the door and handing out treats. For several years I wore a costume when we opened the door; the costume consisted of alien mask and ray gun. I had a lot of fun. One group of boys asked my wife if they could take me with them. One girl about 10 really shocked us, though. She wasn’t expecting a creepy alien to open the door, and she jumped back yelping a swear word. Unfortunately, my costume was a bit too scary for the younger children, and several of them started crying when they saw me. I decided to stop wearing the space alien suit when I answered the door, and in more recent years we have not participated in the event, preferring instead to keep our lights out, and have the children pass our house. As it was, I’m sure that some of the parents weren’t happy with me scaring their children in previous years, and avoided our house regardless.
            Halloween should be a fun time for children, but I agree with the supervised area where feasible. There is just too much meanness in the world today for our children to be running around alone in strange neighborhoods at night. I can’t help but remember how much fun we had that year at San Jacinto. I guess politics, religion, and liability put a stop to that for good, even though it was a safe and controlled environment.
I wonder if other schools participated in Halloween back then? Does anyone remember?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Book Signing In Seymour

My book signing today went poorly, but I blame the cold weather for keeping people away, and the fact that I was put outside for the ordeal. I set up just before 9 AM, and it was in the mid thirties. By noon it began warming up, and people came by to talk, but no one was interested in buying books. That’s okay, I did get exposure (more ways than one), and enjoyed meeting and talking with people. Seymour has never been much for readers. I learned that when I owned and operated a used bookstore for thirty years. My sales continue to be from other sources; for instance, my Kindle books are still selling better than the print books, both in the US and overseas. Ginger only took one picture of me at the signing, and as you can see, I’m bundled up for the cold temperatures.

By afternoon it had warmed up enough for me to shed all the winter wear, just in time for the newspaper owner to come by and snap my picture, after telling me to wave at the camera. But by then it was time to pack up and close down. Ginger and I were tired and a little disappointed that books didn’t move. Sigh.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Day I Fought - Frankenstein!

The Day I Fought – Frankenstein!

It’s odd how something insignificant can force your mind to wander into the past on occasion. Recently, while taking my wife to the hospital in Wichita Falls in preparation for surgery, a loud voice drew my attention to a gentleman my age in a wheelchair. He was instructing a person where to wheel him. The man’s voice, and his features triggered something in my brain, and I was again on the San Jacinto elementary school grounds.
Tom With The Boys Club In The Background

Our memories of childhood often reflect on some of the more frightening momentsof our life. Though we try to recall the good times, like our first date, first kiss, or even that first bicycle. At times other things are brought to mind that may not be all that pleasant. My childhood was filled with many such unpleasant memories.

I attended San Jacinto elementary school in Wichita Falls between 1947 and 1953; sometime around 1951, when I was about eleven, we had a boy in school that was much taller than the rest of us. Being bigger, he tended to be a bully, and pushed the rest of us around on the playground. So we knew to stay out of his way. This kid always acted like he was the Frankenstein monster, walking stiff-legged, with his arms outstretched as if to grab one of us. He took pleasure in seeing us scatter. One day he even stuck something that looked like bolts on both sides of his neck! He was his own Frankenstein monster.

I had a good friend I’d known about four years, since we moved to Wichita Falls. He was a little bit fat, and maybe somewhat awkward, but he was my buddy. It all started at recess one day, when something happened – I don’t know what – but suddenly the kid we called Frankenstein jumped on my pal and was hitting him. Sometimes I do things without thinking. I jumped on the monster!
Tom On A 1946 Nash

We had just started swinging when the bell rang, calling an end to recess. We headed for the school building. Frankenstein threatened, “I’ll see you after school!”

I said something like, “Good!”

Unfortunately, I had the rest of the day to think about what this monster was going to do to me after school. It wasn’t a good thought. He would look at me from across the classroom, and snarl.

Time cannot be halted, however, and eventually the bell ending the day finally sounded, and I knew it was time for me to die. Frankenstein was going to kill me. But instead of running home like a sane person, I stopped outside the door and waited for the inevitable. Maybe I had a slim chance, I thought. My heavyset pal was nowhere to be seen, he was smart and got away from school quickly. He wasn’t about to wait around for the monster to tear me from limb to limb, and then start on him!

Well, I waited, and I waited. Just about all of the kids had left the building, and was headed home, only a few stragglers remained. The longer I waited the braver I got. Frankenstein is scared of me! I thought. Well, it was worth thinking anyway.  Just as I was sure the last kid had left the building, a boy came out who remembered about the fight.

“Hey, Frankenstein is waiting for you on the north side of the building!” he yells. “I’ll go get him!”

The north side of the building! Of course, the San Jacinto school building was built in a square, with four sides, four exits! While I had been waiting on the west side, the monster was waiting for me on the north side of the building.

Thankfully, I didn’t have much time to think about my predicament. In no time at all, Frankenstein came running around the building anxious to dismember me. I don’t know who threw the first punch, but we were quickly swinging meaningful headshots; we weren’t skilled fighters, as you can imagine. But I was giving as good as I was getting, and the monster was starting to cry. Maybe I was too. But we kept on throwing those headshots with hard knuckles, and neither of us had gone down.

Suddenly, someone yelled, “The principal is coming.” That ended the fight. Everyone scattered, included Frankenstein. I raced for home also.

I don’t remember if I worried about the monster that night, or not. But the next day school was normal. Frankenstein didn’t approach me. In fact, he never bothered my buddy or me again. Like all bullies, once someone stands up to them, they become less aggressive. But it wasn’t bravery on my part believe me. I had merely acted instinctively, without thinking. If I had had a second to stop and think, I would never have jumped on the Frankenstein monster that day!

There is something of an addendum to this story. In 5th Grade art class one day, our teacher gave us an afternoon assignment. Each of us was to draw a self-portrait of what we wanted to be as an adult. After we finished, she picked up the drawings and glanced through them, and then selected mine and Frankenstein’s to hold up in front of the class. I had drawn a sheriff with a badge on his chest, and Frankenstein had drawn jail bars with him looking out. What she said kind of chilled me. She said, “What you have seen in these drawing is what you will become.”

I didn’t become a sheriff, though I did become a cop for twenty years. I wonder if Frankenstein ended up behind bars? I don’t remember his name, except for what we called him, nor did I ever see him again after leaving San Jacinto school. There were other fights, some even more violent than the day I fought Frankenstein, but few that I remember as vividly.

Was the old man in the wheelchair my Frankenstein monster? I don’t know. I would have felt foolish going up and asking him. From the wheelchair, he posed no threat today, if he was. I’m sure he would have had many fights over the years, so our little encounter at age eleven would not have been something he was likely to recall. I merely watched him a while and remembered other times in my childhood with fonder memories.

Saturday, October 12, 2013



Our drive to Sheppard AFB is always the same. Coming in from out of town, we take Seymour Road to Beverly, then turn towards the base and cross the Wichita River. I will glance at the ugly brown water running between the banks, and marvel at how uninviting and dangerous it looks today. We've even seen homeless people living under the bridge on occasion. But it wasn't like this in my youth.
From let to right, Richard, Jerry Odom, and Tom

There was a time when the muddy river beckoned to an eleven-year old boy and his companions. On weekends, my San Jacinto classmate, Jerry Odom would drag me from my house to explore the jungle growth of the mighty Wichita; to us it was a great waterway with pirates and beasts to be conquered. Jerry would bring his BB or pellet gun, and I would carry my homemade bow and arrows. Lizards were Komodo Dragons, and snakes became giant anacondas fifty-feet long. Or we might be outlaws of Sherwood Forest. Our imaginations knew no bounds.

Jerry always had plenty of BBs and pellets, and I made arrows from the branches of trees, so we never ran out of ammunition to battle our imaginary enemies. Once, Jerry let me shoot his pellet gun. I spotted an insect on a rock, took careful aim, and pressed the trigger. No, I didn't shoot my eye out, but the pellet hit the rock and bounced back - hard - striking me square in the forehead and knocking me flat of my back. It was my first lesson with firearms!

While exploring the margin of the river one day, we came upon a small tributary that branched from the main stream. It didn't appear to be more than a foot deep, so Jerry leaped over the gap easily. Anything that Jerry could do so could I, so I jumped right behind him. I landed in the water just inches from the bank. To our surprise, the mud below the surface wasn't solid and I began sinking rapidly. I had landed in quicksand! Suddenly, our imaginary adventure turned into a real threat. The mud was sucking me down fast, and it took all of Jerry's strength to pull me from the muck. He succeeded.
Tom on Burnett Street

I got back to my house with Jerry's help. We only lived a block from the river on Burnett Street, between 3rd and 4th Streets, but the mud was caked on my clothes, and it was difficult to walk. At the door, my mother saw all that crud, and told me to wash it off with the hose outside, then come inside and change to some dry pants and shirt. When we did get inside finally, and I told my mother what had happened, she just smiled and told us to stay out of the mud in the future. She never did believe the story about the quicksand. Perhaps it was easier for mothers not to worry about their children, if they didn't have to think about dangerous quicksand and venomous snakes. As it was, I didn't learn to swim until Havens Park at age fifteen, long after the days of playing on the bank of the Wichita River.

My mother had a pair of pet turtles she named Tom & Jerry because of our close friendship. We were Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn playing on the mighty Mississippi River. We eventually moved away from the area, and I left San Jacinto School and entered Carrigan School for the 7th grade, losing all contact with Jerry Odom. Time and separation often erases memories of childhood pals. Perhaps I would have forgotten Jerry long ago, if it hadn't been for that day he pulled me out of the quicksand. But every time we cross that muddy old brown river, I can still see us playing on the banks below, repelling hordes of pirates with only BB guns and homemade bow and arrows!

I may be older and wiser now, but deep in my subconscious is also a yearn for those simpler times, when youth knew no fear and two boys could find excitement and adventure in a make-believe world while our mothers laughed at our imagined dangers.

I hope Jerry also remembers.

Addemdum: I did locate Jerry in a sense. When his younger brother (was it Richard?) passed away, I discovered Jerry was living in Holliday, Texas. I tried to contact him, but evidently Jerry was in bad health and living with a relative, so there was no listed telephone or address. Jerry also passed away not too long after his brother, so I never reestablished contact to talk about old times.