The View from Writers Roost

THOSE OF US who grew up in small towns and had part time jobs as youngsters are very likely to have spent some time bagging groceries and carrying them out to the customer’s car. That was customary in late 1940s-mid 1950s Teague and a shopper didn’t have to request the service.

The four Webb brothers’ parents insisted on us “earning our own spending money.”

Two of us had paper routes all the way from grade school through high school. However, early morning paper routes were done before school, thus leaving after-school and after-football practice time open and even evenings, if we didn’t have a social life.

All four brothers managed to do considerable grocery-bagging and carry-out. One even worked a couple of years as a shoeshine boy in a barbershop. The two who also had paper routes found that there was one customer in common in each undertaking — Miss Gertie Boyd — but all grocery sackers enjoyed her largesse.

She was the wife of an attorney, Bill Boyd Jr., who’d ultimately become head of the American Petroleum Institute in New York that, among other things, lobbied in Washington, D.C. The Boyds discovered oil and gas on their land prior to his becoming head of API, so they were “well-off.”

For years, Bill Boyd was on the Texas State Democratic Executive Committee and also served on the National Democratic Committee. In those days, Texas was already a 2-party state — Conservative Democrats and Liberal Democrats. When the great migration from north of the Mason-Dixon line began, those émigrés brought Republicanism to Texas and a much more competitive 2-party system.

It was said that Miss Gertie came from humble beginnings and she loved the social position and respect that her husband’s position and all that money brought. According to the local legend, she’d grown up poor wearing “flour-sack dresses.”

THAT TERM derived from 25-pound sacks of flour, which most households purchased for all baking. To appeal more to farmers, ranchers and small town people, the cloth sacks were different print patterns and so the sacks were used to fashion some wearing apparel for our family, mainly boys boxer shorts and shirts. With four boys and great sewing skills, my mother made lots of shorts and shirts.

Miss Gertie was known to bemoan coming back to Texas because she loved the swirl of social life in the New York and Washington, D.C. fast lanes.

In a parade celebrating their return to Teague, her husband was in the lead car with the mayor and some other dignitaries. Miss Gertie was placed in a second car with the mayor’s wife and the mates of other leading citizens. She announced to her fellow parade passengers, “I don’t know why the hell Bill had to come back to Texas!” Shocking language for that day and time in a small town such as Teague.

Those who delivered a daily newspaper to Miss Gertie, could count on at least a $5 tip on top of the $1.25 per month cost of the carrier-delivered subscription. Occasionally, she’d give more.

Some grocery sacker was always assigned to Miss Gertie when the storeowner saw her coming in. She was escorted around the store and the sacker would take her grocery list and fill it to her satisfaction. All the sack boys jockeyed to be the chosen one when they saw Miss Gertie enter the store.

ON ONE occasion, she announced to the sacker accompanying her, “Oh, yes, I need some po-tay-toes.”

“Yes, Miss Gertie, how many potatoes do you need?”

“Give me a bushel basket. Senatuh Tom Connally is coming to dinner tomorrow night and he just loves potaytoes. My cook will fix them every way possible.”

Once, she ordered: “Find me some peppuh.”

“Yes, ma’am. Bell pepper, red pepper or black pepper?”

“No, no. Writing peppuh.”

The grocery forays — escorting her for her complete shopping experience and delivering the grocery bags to her car — brought tips in the neighborhood of $10. When you were working for 75 cents or $1 per hour that was a heckuva tip.

But, then Miss Gertie was one heckuva customer.

Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher of more than 50 years experience. He can be reached by email at
© 2013