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Cass County, East Texas

An Old Family Friend's
Faded Eyesight

by N. Ray Maxie
N. Ray Maxie
Long, before the movie "Rambo" came out, there was a Texas community by that name. Located about two miles south of McLeod in remote southeastern Cass County, Rambo was an extremely rural community that began, existed for some years and has now almost died out. It was, for a long time, a totally Black community. At its peak, Rambo probably consisted of 400 to 500 people.
Rambo Texas
Rambo, Texas
Photo courtesy Gerald Massey
The neighborhood church, which I frequently attended as a boy, was known as "Aberdeen" and was located way back off the beaten path on a dirt road. Most of the people living in Rambo were fine, reputable, hard working people. One family that I got to know quite well was named Tyson. Ponto Tyson (known affectionately as Uncle Ponte) and his wife Iona operated a small store in Rambo while raising their four children.Their store consisted of an old "coal oil" tank, a lone gasoline pump and the store's meager inventory of a few basic groceries, candy and gum.

There was an oil lease within half a mile of the town and it was here on the Rambo Oil Lease that I was basically raised. My father was a "pumper" and "switcher" for an oil company operating on the lease and while his salary wasn't all that great, the amenities were good. In 1952 when I was thirteen, we moved from the lease, but it was a short mile and a half to some land that my father had purchased.

During the time that my family lived at Rambo, the REA (Rural Electrification Authority) arrived. It was a blessing to everyone. Right then and there our home changed from burning all natural gas (directly from the oil wells) for lighting and heating, to electricity. Although our family was ecstatic and we felt like up-town folks, my mother often expressed her great fear of electricity. She was reluctant to have it in the house and was very careful with it. She said that electricity was the first cousin to lightning. Natural gas was all that we had known for many years and although we were fortunate and happy to have it, electricity was so much better. I remember our experimenting with our first "hot plate" and then a small toaster. Later, we got a little electric radio that brought in country music from that great radio station, KWKH, over in Shreveport, Louisiana. That radio soon became our favorite electric appliance.

The oil company had furnished natural gas to us for free, plus (such as it was) the old "shotgun" house that was our home. It was a single wall frame structure that was one of only two houses left on the lease, where, at one time, there had been six. Our water came through a pipeline and was good for everything except drinking. We kids had to carry jugs to a freshwater spring about a quarter mile down the hill in the creek bottom for drinking and cooking water. It was a tiring and very unpopular chore - especially after having walked a mile home from the school bus stop. Our standing instructions were; "don't ever go down that hill toward the spring without taking a water jug with you."

The rural postal route was about a half mile from our house, and our mailbox was right in front of the Tyson store. Many times I walked that half mile, got the mail and walked the half mile back home. Of course I frequently took the liberty to spend the few pennies I sometimes had in my pocket, for gum or candy at the Tyson store. Over the years, the Tysons and their children became our family friends.

I remember one day being with my father in our old 1939 Chevrolet pickup and visiting the Tyson Store for some "coal oil" and gasoline. Standing outside the store visiting with Ponto and Iona, I recall the conversation was about the REA. As an eight or nine year old country kid, I looked up at the new electric lines and transformer on a pole and said, as I had been cautioned about, "Those things up there will persecute you." Everyone had a belly laugh at that and my choice of words was corrected from "persecute" to "electrocute."

Many years passed and my family moved from the Rambo Oil Lease. I had married and started a family. The neighborhood declined and the little rural store finally closed its doors forever. After the birth of my second son, he and his older brother spent almost every summer with my parents on the old farm. One summer day their grandfather took them to visit "Uncle Ponty" and Iona. The Tysons, with perhaps a few others, were about the only people still living in Rambo.

Ponto, now old and feeble, was confined to a wheel chair and had almost totally lost his vision. As the boys and their grandfather visited with Ponto, something happened that they would never forget. The talk was about family and past events when Ponto, in a most loving and feeble way, said to my youngest son, "Come here son, let me feel your arms. My! My! What muscles!" This remark coming from a non-family member, seemed a little strange. Ponto then said, "Let me feel your knees." And in doing so, he felt my son's leg and arm muscle development and even ran his hands over the boy's face, head and shoulders. As strange as it seemed to those present, Ponto, in his blindness, was sizing up the boy's development. Then he said, "My! What a fine young man! You are really a good one! I know that your grandpa must be very, very proud of you." To which grandpa readily and wholeheartedly agreed. Soon, as the evening sun was setting, grandpa and the boys headed home to where grandma had a hot evening meal waiting.

It was several months later that we learned that the old Black man we all knew as "Uncle Ponty" had died. At his funeral, as I solemnly reminisced, I sadly remembered what my father had frequently told me. "As badly as we might want it to, nothing stays the same, son. Nothing ever stays the same."

N. Ray Maxie
"Ramblin' Ray" March 8, 2005
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