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.

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.

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