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Texas | Columns

"Hindsights" by Michael Barr

Looking back at
Hye Society

Michael Barr
New members of the president's cabinet take the oath of office in surroundings that reflect the dignity and the power and of their position. Since 1960 that place, with few exceptions, has been the White House or somewhere in Washington. D. C. No wonder Lawrence O'Brien, a city boy from Boston (and future Commissioner of the National Basketball Association), looked like a Baptist at the Vatican taking his oath as Lyndon Johnson's Postmaster General on the front porch of the Hye General Store, Feed Store, and Post Office.
TX - Hye Post Office
Hye Post Office
February 2016 photo © Michael Barr

Hye, Texas is a tiny rural community on U. S. Highway 290 between Fredericksburg and Johnson City, about four miles from the LBJ Ranch. The highway is wedged between the store and the old gas station across the street.

The store building is an aging wooden structure of Bavarian design that sits just a little too close to the highway. Eighty years ago the store carried everything from calico to horse collars, but today it seems more like a museum than anything else.

President Johnson selected this folksy setting for the O'Brien ceremony because at heart Johnson was a sentimental man. More than any president since Washington and Jefferson of Virginia, LBJ had a rock-solid sense of place. He loved his home in the Texas Hill Country and couldn't understand why everyone didn't feel the same way.

The president's attachment to Hye went back as far as he could remember. He mailed his first letter at the post office, to his Grandmother Johnson, at age four. As a teenager in the 1920s Johnson played baseball with the local team.

"Truth is," Fredericke Deike once said, "Lyndon was a darn good first baseman. Had a lot of reach. Not many ground balls got past him that I can remember. And he could hit pretty well."

After a game they all went skinny-dipping in the Pedernales.

The O'Brien ceremony, on November 3, 1965, took postmaster Levi Deike by surprise. Levi had been on vacation in New Mexico. When he opened the store that morning, technicians were setting up the sound system on the creaky wooden porch.

When the president arrived he warmed himself at an old oil stove then went back to the post office to check his mail. All the mail for the LBJ Ranch came to box #276. On the way he stopped at the counter for Hill Country hors devours (aka saltine crackers and cheese).

At the ceremony Johnson outlined the enormous challenges his new postmaster general faced.

"Fifty-three years ago, I mailed my first letter from this general store," Johnson recalled. "I want Larry O'Brien to find that letter and deliver it."

"And now," Johnson continued, "Judge Homer Thornberry will administer the oath of office."

"As soon as that cattle truck goes by."


Michael Barr
"Hindsights" March 14 , 2016 Column

Sources:
Fredericksburg Standard, November 10, 1965, p1, sec 2, "Hye Has Day to Remember as Postmaster General Takes Oath."
Lubbock Avalanche Journal, November 4, 1965, p10A, c3, "Hye Postmaster Was Unaware of Ceremonies."
San Antonio Express, November 4, 1965, p12A, c6, "LBJ Jokes at O'Brien Ceremony."
Carlton Stowers, Oh Brother How They Played the Game (Abilene: State House Press, 2007)

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