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Colorful Days of Old Neches

A Memoir by Roxanna Posey

My mother was Freida Lawrence, a twin sister of Fred, and the old timers of Neches, all have passed away, could not remember any of the Lawrence kids, 'cept Fred and Freida. They were a lively pair, with Fred getting into trouble, and Freida bailing him out, then telling on him when he got home, so that he got into trouble again.

Mother was born in 1920, in Neches, in a large house that had been owned by the railroad at one time. The house was torn down in the '40's and the lumber was used to build a house out on the Rusk highway, across from the cemetery, close to the sale barn. The house burned in the early '60's. But, anyway, my grandfather, Robert O. Lawrence, ran a saw mill in Neches, then other places around the country during the Depression. He donated a large bit of land to the state for the Neches High School, due to being unable to pay taxes. Later, oil was found on that land, so let that be a lesson to always keep your mineral rights.
J.B. McDonald & Son, Neches, Texas
Downtown Neches. Notice the sign of "J.B. McDonald & Son"
Photo Courtesy Lori Martin
During the early '30's, a fire broke out across the tracks from what is now downtown Neches. Neches used to be twice as large, but the fire burned half the town. Mother went running down to the fire to see what she could see, and she heard two old men talking and one stated that if the fire reached the tankers on the railroad tracks, the whole town would blow up. Mother said she pivoted on one foot and took off back up to their house. Later, an oil tanker car did turn over and the oil spilled into a local pond. Everyone went to see it, and someone threw in a match. Whoosh! the lake caught on fire.

Oh, and the town did have quite a railroad history. The train jumped the tracks and ran over the depot. Then, there was the old woman who could barely see. She would walk with a broom and hold it out when she got to the tracks. If she couldn't see a train, she would cross. One day, the train took her broom. She said," Hmmph. First time that ol' iron horse ever got that close to me." Next time, it took her.

Around 1936, Mother was staying late in the afternoon at the school, getting ready for a play. A friend walked in a said, "Freida, Norman shot me." Mother replied that she did not have time for their foolishness. The girl moved her hand from her ribs and there was blood everywhere. Mother said she took off like a shot and ran to one of the churches where a local had a car. The girl and "Norman" had been practicing for the play, and evidently it called for a Derringer. "Norman" pulled the trigger, and it was real. The girl recovered, Norman recovered, and Mother had another story.

My Uncle Fred was an early sleeper, and normally went to bed before sundown or full dark. At a revival meeting, a preacher had talked about the fires of Hell and the end of the Earth. Fred awoke one night and saw the torches of the "Holy Rollers" shining across the patch, and thought the end had come. He also came home one day, shouting that he had a job. Now, during the Depression, any job would be welcomed. His mother asked what it was, and he said it was putting diapers on the lightning bugs so that they wouldn't flag down the trains.

FDR was supposed to come through Neches, so it had to be after the '32 election, so somewhere between 1933 and 1938, since the family moved to Palestine in "38. Everyone got up and went down to the railroad tracks around 5 am, so that they could watch the train roll through town. Not much to do in Neches at that time.

There were picnics up Daily Mountain, cotton picking in the summer, boarders in the old house, the bricks transported out to Todd City for Mr. Todd's house, the Cantrell boys, Truett and Joy. Joy came in and told his mama that he wished she had not named him Joy. Whe she asked the weeping boy what he did want to be named, he replied with "Maggie".

I wished Mother was still here to tell more, but all of the Lawrence kids have gone on. I did get to meet Miss Johnnie McDonald when I was a child, and that was very informative. A well traveled lady and very intelligent.
- Roxanna Posey, Canton, TX, September 06, 2006

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