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July, 2014

My Cousin George

by Julia

[Editors' note: In tribute to her relative George, whose family was honoring him this year when he would turn 97, Julia wrote this essay of recollections and associations. She gave me a copy so it could, in turn, be shared with others who may find it of interest. Thanks much, Julia, for your account of a fine man's life and what he meant to you! Larry]

My first cousin, George Louis C.*, was born in 1917, I believe. He is five years older than I. His mother died shortly after he was born. She was the very much beloved wife of my Uncle Leonard. Her name was Lou, I think.

After Lou died, my Grandmother C. and Grandfather C. took care of Louis. I don't know why he was called Louis instead of George; it may be because that was part of his mother's name. Louis had two older brothers, Gordon and Elmo. They and their father, Leonard, lived at 603 S. 10th St. in Waco, TX. with my grandmother and grandfather. It was a fairly large house on the corner of 10th and Clay St.

Waco at that time had a population of about 40,000. Grandfather C., John Bell C., worked for the Katy Railroad. He had been with this same railroad for many years and had worked up from the lowest position, oiler, to fireman. This involved shoveling coal to keep the engine going. This was long before the enclosed trains of today. Both engineer and fireman were in an open work space, so that in all kinds of weather they were exposed. At that time, both my father, Byron, and Leonard worked for the same railroad in the roundhouse. This was an actual round building with several tracks running into it. The trains were run in for maintenance or repair.

My grandfather owned two homes, the one at 603 and another at 615 S. 10th. My father and wife, Louise, lived at 615. I was the first born of Byron and Louise, and it was in 1922.

The homes were just a few blocks from the station where my grandfather would end his run. He walked home, and I remember when my sister and I would go to the depot to meet him. I didn't realize at the time how terribly hard he worked. He was a big strong man, and I never heard him complain. His first act when he got home was to wash the cinders out of his eyes. He had a little eye cup which he filled with Murine eye wash. He would tip his head back and wash his eyes until the coal cinders were cleaned out.

When Louis was eight and I was three, our Grandmother C. died with stomach cancer. Louis then lived with Grandpapa, his father, Leonard, and two brothers part of the time and some of the time with us.

During those years, Grandpapa was the only steady wage earner, and he kept us going.

Left to right, pictured are George's wife, Irene, George himself, and Julia, in the summer of 1999. The photo was taken, Julia believes, behind a motel where folks were staying for their family reunion that year.

I don't remember much about the following years. I do remember that Louis lived with my family at 615 for some of the time. When I was about five years old, he taught me the alphabet and my numbers. If I got it wrong, he would slap me. Not hard! We always had a good relationship.

I'm not sure when Uncle Leonard went back to California and married Fay, the sister of his first wife. They had two children, Roberta Lou and Neil.

During those years, Gordon finished high school, and I think he moved to California to be with his mother's relatives. I especially remember Elmo's graduation because he had a solo marimba rendition to play. EImo played the drums and marimba very well.

By 1931, times were very hard; both Leonard and Byron had lost their jobs. Leonard was able to get plumbing jobs some of the time. He also kept a cow and had a garden which helped. My father tried various things but not successfully. Finally, when I was nine he left to go to the Panama Canal in hopes of working. He never came back.

Louis early showed a talent for earning money. The first I remember was selling Eskimo pies, an ice cream confection on a stick and covered with chocolate. He had a pack on his back with dry ice to keep them frozen. He walked for blocks yelling that he had Eskimo pies for sale and usually sold out every day. One summer he got a bicycle for selling the most pies. He put it on the front porch of where he was living, at 603, and it was stolen the first night.

The next enterprise I remember was his soda pop stand. Every year, there was a huge county fair a few blocks from where we lived. People would park their cars blocks away to avoid paying for places near the fair. This meant that a lot of them would be walking by 603 S. 10th and Clay Street. Louis persuaded my grandfather to cut an opening in the wall. This meant he had one side of our garage and rabbit hutches on the other to enclose his stand. He had tubs filled with ice and all sorts of soft drinks. During the time of the fair he did a brisk business.

I'm not sure when he got a job as an usher at two movie houses; one was an upscale theater, and the other mainly showed westerns. He could get me into the cheaper one any time. However, if I wanted to go to see the better movies he would let me know when it was a slow night and slip me in. Occasionally we walked home together after a show, and he would buy me an ice cream soda. It cost 10 cents, and it was really a big deal in those days.

In order to make more money, Louis joined the National Guard. He paid me 10 cents to shine his boots. With his usher job and National Guard, he was getting by but wanted to do better. We had a business school in Waco named 4C College. The owner wanted to make education more accessible and so had both night and day classes. Louis got a job as a night time mechanic at a twenty-four hour car repair shop. This way, he could go to school mostly in the day. He was allowed to sleep on the job; just had to be available if someone came needing a repair. Back then, cars were much easier to fix, and Louis always could do almost anything.

I believe he had just finished, or almost finished the business course when the National Guard was called into service because of World War II. By that time, I had married and moved away, so we didn't keep in touch very well. He was in the army and was sent to the South Pacific. I believe he had advanced to the rank of sergeant by the time he was actually in battle. I don't remember which island he was on when the officers in his unit were killed, and he was made a Battlefield Lt.

Sadly, during that time he got an infection in his ears. It was impossible to evacuate him, and by the time he was flown to Australia for treatment he had lost a lot of his hearing.

During his time overseas, he had a buddy who had a lovely sister, Irene. She and George (by now called George because one is referred to by first name in the Army) began to write, and when the war was over he went to meet her. You probably know the rest of the story.

There is one other story I'll tell you, as another example of his resourcefulness. We were both living at the corner house, 603. Grandpapa had bought a going-out-of-business five sided building from a barber. It was fairly large, and in it he had a workbench and storage for his tools. He kept everything in meticulous order. It also became the washhouse when we got a modern, for its time, washing machine.

Although we had a hose in the washhouse to fill the tubs, the first washing had to be hot water. This had to be heated in the kitchen and carried by buckets out to the washer. This was one of my jobs. From the back steps to the washhouse, there was a low spot so that when it rained the water collected, and splashing back and forth caused it to be a muddy mess. That meant that the kitchen floor was also a mess and had to be mopped every rainy wash day, which was on Monday. Somehow George found out that a big tree was going to be cut down, and with his usual wit he saw an opportunity. He contracted to haul it away if it could be sawed into four-inch rounds. Or maybe five-inch, I'm not sure. Then he carefully laid out a path from house to washhouse and filled it in with those rounds. I don't remember what he put in the holes to fill in between the rounds. He cut other wood to make sides, so the path was high enough to clear the water. I just remember that for the rest of the years that I knew of that path it was keeping the feet dry in rainy weather. I know that those of you who know George as Father and Grandfather are not surprised.

[Editors' note: To assure greater privacy and per family members' wishes, in all cases last names are abbreviated.]

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