The Town Girl

By John Limmer

(Note from Norris Chambers - I worked with Bill Baucom in 1937 when he was working for Hightower Oil & Refining. It was my first oil field experience. Bill pumped the Eubanks, the Stone-Willis and part of the H.C. Williams leases. I was his assistant and learned how oil leases are maintained and made to produce. I later worked for Hightower as a Roustabout. I had great admiration for Bill. The girl described here lived with Bill and the family on the Eubanks lease and I knew her and little Bobby very well.)

Throughout our journey we have tried to view life in Cross cut from every possible perspective. We have looked over the rumps of a four-hitch team of draft animals, through the eyes of a no-nonsense rancher's only son in the early years; we have eaves dropped on the private thoughts of a young lady of the same era, as shared by letter with her absent sister; and we have mingled with the family of a farmer/mechanic, his hard working wife, and their six rowdy sons during the depression. In keeping with that format, I think it is time to introduce you to a young town girl who lived through those same hard times. You met her briefly on the school tour through her candid definition of the outdoor privy, and you've also met the man she eventually married, asleep in the trees on the Chambers' place, Junior Chambers. She is Miss Billie lo Baucom, cousin of Marie Baucom.

To put her in lineal perspective, Billie Jo was born on March 4, 1927, to William (Bill) Baucom and Daisy Ruth (Williams) Baucom. She was the fourth of five children, but the youngster who would have been her older brother lived but four months after his birth. In the year 1933, at the height of the depression, the Baucom family composition was: Bill Baucom, age 43, gather and oil field worker; mother, Daisy, age 41, mother and homemaker; and children, Inez, age 22, Ruth, age 13, Billie Jo, age 6, and little Bobby, age3.

The family home was in the Williams Addition, situated between that of a man who, for reasons you will understand later, shall remain nameless, on the south, and Mrs. R. S. Williams -Billie Jo's maternal grandmother -on the north. The close family ties between the Baucoms and the Williams' was evidenced by a well-worn footpath connecting the back door of one to the other. Billie Jo remembers her grandmother Williams, "had this old hucklebeny, and we had to always go down there and get her a toothbrush for her snuff "

The Bill Baucom family were members of the fortunate few in that Bill was a hard worker who always had an oil field job to go to, usually that of a pumper, and picked cotton when he wasn't gauging tanks or packing stuffing boxes. So they did not have to worry about money as much as many of their neighbors did. As her next door neighbor and cousin, Marie, puts it, "We had to drink cow's milk, and they drank tea.'Billie Jo says, "we a/ways had a little money to go to town and buy our bologna and stuff like that, and a loaf of bread You could get oodles-and- gobs of bologna for a nickel.'1 A constant supply of store~bought bologna and light bread, who could ask for more?

As for her home life, Billie Jo' s mother was a devout Baptist, a talented seamstress, a meticulous housekeeper, and just as concerned about her own personal grooming and that of her family as she was about their immortal souls and household surroundings. Everything in her home had to be just right. Marie tells us her Aunt Daisy even ironed her cup towels! Billie Jo remembers when a visitor came to the house, as they were leaving, her mother, "would have the dust op out before you even got out the door, trying to dust the floor. " Billie Jo's sister-in-law, Peggy, remembers Daisy as, "a very prim and proper lady. She a/ways had on gloves and all the trimmings anytime she went out. " Billie lo agrees, and adds, 'That's right. She bought two pairs of shoes a year (at a time when new footwear was a luxury few could afford). She'd buy a new pair of Sunday shoes" nearly identical, and the shoes she had been wearing she took as her knock-abouts. " And Daisy wanted very much to pass her style consciousness on to her youngest daughter. Unfortunately for both, the daughter wanted none of it!

Billie Jo remembers a particularly troublesome shopping trip with her mother and her cousin, Marie. "We went into Brownwood one day, and we a/ways went to Shorty Jews because if you couldn't find it there, you couldn't fine it anywhere. We got back in there and Marie found this durned hat she wanted me to have. Now, mind you, it was one of these that kind of pulled down - a felt hat - and it had tiny dogs right here on the side! You know, I'd rather had anything but an o/ddog!" Apparently however, Marie liked it and said, "I just had to have that. She talked my mother into buying that darned hat that had these three little dogs, Scotties, and here I was so durned big. I was about thirteen then, a big old kid. I squalled; I'm not having that, mother! ' 'Oh, yes, you must have it.' I had to wear that durned hat three Sundays! "

Daisy Baucom also believed more in the old adage, "Cleanliness is next to Godliness ", than in the more traditionally accepted. "Saturday night bath -whether you need on or not.'. For her small brood, it was a soap and water ritual every night of the week. '"had a bath every night." Billie Jo says, "in a number 3 wash tub. Just put a little bit (ofwater) in there and make us get in there an she'd wash our durned backs. " Without the benefit of a well or other convenient source of water, frugality was the watchword in Cross Cut when it came to water usage. "We didn't fill it like a person does this day and time. One (heated) teakettle of water would be enough for your bath (after enough additional cold water had been added to cool it down)."

Another luxury enjoyed by the Baucom family was natural gas. Where most in that day made do with kerosene lamps and wood stoves, some were fortunate enough to have gas lines run from nearby wells and piped throughout the house for illumination and heating purposes.

Such advantages of town life aside, Bill Baucom procured his milk and butchered and cured his own meat supply in the same manner as did his country counterparts. Billy Jo continues, "Mom and dad were good milkers. " Unlike their neighbors, whose cows were allowed to roam freely, Bill's milk cow was kept penned up along with his chickens and pigs. Occasionally, he would butcher a beef and Daisy would can it for later consumption, but the major family meat source was the ever-popular, curable pork. "Sonny {Bobby) always named the pigs just like kids do now, and when they'd slaughter them, we'd bawl our heads off. We had these great big old barrels and we'd put the ham down in there. She'd wrap them in cup towels or pillow cases, salt them real good and then put them down in these barrels of sawdust. We hung the shoulders up and let them cure out." Billie Jo and Sonny seemingly forgot the trauma of the annual slaughter when it came to consuming its end products, though. "Oh, that tenderloin!" she remembers fondly, "mother could slice that up and that was the best eating." She did not forget, nor did she ever forgive a slaughter of a different, and senseless kind perpetrated by her neighbor to the south on warm Sunday evening.

"This old man, their daddy, would come home .from work. and everything had to be (ready for him). I mean, the biscuits had to be piping hot, no matter what time the old man come a 'straying in. (If not) he'd turn the table over! He would! He'd go hound hunting, or coon hunting (with) these old hound dogs. I mean plenty of dogs! She (his wife) had to have a pan of hot milk and cornbread cooked up every time to feed those durn dogs. " Based on the above, one might assume the man held his dogs in high regard. One would be terribly wrong in that assumption, as evidenced by the rest of Billie Jo' s troubling childhood memory. "We were sitting on our .front porch on Sunday night, and one of those dogs had a litter of puppies. He made (his son) hold those puppies and he took an ax and chopped their heads off! And we had company and were sitting in the swing and everything on our .front porch there. My dad got so mad, if my mother hadn't (stopped him) he'd have gone down there!" Daisy Baucom was most certainly a protective mother, but she knew and apparently accepted the fact that she could not control her children's environment beyond the borders of their own yard.

Few travelers in those times ever went to Cross cut; the great majority simply went through town, on their way to someplace else. Such were the frequent overnight occupants of Mrs. Williams' barn, and visitors to the kind and generous old lady's back door on their departure the following morning. Young Billie Jo viewed her grandmother's charitable activities with mild amazement, tinged with distaste. "These old hobos would come through. I mean, some of them were terrible looking! I don't know why they would always come through there, walking, and; you know, their shoes were about half-way ... My grandma and them had a big old barn, and those hobos would stay there." The vagrants would sleep in the barn, then stop by the house to beg for breakfast leftovers on their way out. They always came to my grandma 's door and asked for handouts, and she always, you know, most of the time she'd have sausage or ham or whatever, she'd fix them a sack. " We have witnessed the strength and intelligence of Roxie Williams in prior chapters, now we catch a rare glimpse of her compassion and generosity.

Billie Jo disapproved of her grandmother's opening the door to strangers in the full light of day, but seems to have had no reservations about doing the same, herself, in the pitch black of night. And the travelers she confronted early one morning were potentially far more ominous than any shoeless hobo begging for leftovers. She describes the brief meeting, "They (her parents) use to .fuss at me for going to the door, because I slept up .front. But they came, they showed up one night. They knocked on our door. " Billie Jo opened it to a man and woman who, "wanted gasoline. " After being told by the little girl there was none available in town at that time in the morning, the pair left. The following morning, another young Cross Cut resident, Miss Charlie Mae Newton spotted an unoccupied car parked near the bayou. Her curiosity getting the best of her, she investigated the strange vehicle. The back seat held several "'tommy guns". As quickly as possible, the sheriff in Cross Plains was notified of her find, but he suddenly had more important things on his agenda. Obviously, relieving an irate local citizen of his double barrel was one thing, but facing down the notorious Bonnie and Clyde was far beyond the call of duty!

By now you know, while the boys of Cross Cut cold always find a good fist fight to get into, or a running creek to swim and fish in, there wasn't a heck of a lot to interest a girl. Sure, there was the occasional ice cream party, singing, or picnic, but the real excitement lay six miles to the north, in Cross Plains. Not only did it have a picture show, it had a much larger selection of boys to flirt with. But how to get there? Harder still, how to get permission to go? For cousins Billie Jo and Marie Baucom, success was achieved through team effort based on codependency. Marie, at ate 18, had access to transportation, but no permission. Billie Jo, at 12, was too young to drive, so had neither requirement. As so often occurs between young ladies an protective mothers, a mutually acceptable, negotiated settlement was soon reached. Marie could go to Cross Plains, if Billy Jo accompanied her. The only one having a problem with the final arrangement was Marie; how was an 18 year old girl expected to attract boys with a 12 year old cousin in tow? A major drawback undoubtedly considered by one of the older negotiators before agreeing to the settlement in the first place.

Billie Jo explains Marie's solution to the perplexing age problem as follows: "Every Saturday night she curled my hair, looked kind of like Shirley Temple, and she put a durned hat on me. They ta/k about the president's wife that wore, you know, a pill box hat. We//, I was probab/y the first one in Cross Cut that wore one. I had to put a hat on, you know, to look o/der. She cou/d drive the car if I went with her, cause they thought I'd come back and tell. Well, we'd go up there (Cross P/ains), we did go to the show sometime, sometimes we didn't go to the movie. Here we'd go, making a drag through Cross Plains. I mean, we were dragging! Waving at every boy, she wou/d. She'd always tell me, when she stopped to talk to a boy, 'don't say anything, I'm just going to tell them you are my cousin. I was about eleven or twelve years old I mean, this was - every Sunday afternoon! "

The cousins' clandestine partnership eventually came to an end, but Billie Jo's trips to Cross Plains continued. Albeit, still escorted. Her mother and father would drive her and her brother to the movie and walk the streets of Cross Plains while they were inside. If her father didn't accompany them, her mother would escort them alone, and sit in the car while they watched the show. Billy, 10, says in amazement, "I mean to tell you (her mother sat) in .freezing weather In front of the picture show! We didn't even have heaters in our old cars, but she sat there every Saturday night." It must have been a hard pill for Daisy Baucom to swallow but, in time, Billie Jo finally reached the age when she was allowed to leave the house in the company of friends, rather than family. Those friends, those with whom she could most often be found were girl friends Lillian Byrd and Fontaine Martin ? .And they usually weren't that hard to find. All one had to do was spot the road dust billowing up behind an old Model T Ford driven by Junior Chambers. If a movie were made today about the antics of this fun-Ioving foursome, it would undoubtedly be "Driving Mrs. Daisy Crazy".

. "One time we went out to this orchard, " Billie Jo relates with a mischierous grin, "and was stealing green app/es. And the man came out with his shotgun and was shooting at us. We'd get all this mess we'd gathered up and go through Cross Plains chunking it " Whether this tale got back to her mother, she didn't say, but another minor escapade did. Apparently there was an establishment near Cross Plains called "Bertrand's" in which patrons might drink beer and dance. She says defensively, "I wasn going to do a durned thing! I just went in to see what it /ooked like cause I'd never been. " But, as is usually the case in a small town, she laments, "my sister and Lee drove by and they came back by Cross Cut and to/d mother on me for being at this dive. "

That was Saturday night. "The next morning, m0ther comes and gets .me out of bed and says, 'girl, you'd better get dressed '. The climate dunng the ensumg trip to church that morning and that around the Baucom household for the next few days must have been palpable indeed.

Such indiscretions as this, innocent or not, tend to hasten the natural graying process of any mother's hair. We can only assume it was far worse for a mother as protective as was Daisy Baucom. The worry she must have endured at night, waiting for Billie Jo to return safely from a date could only have been magnified by the incident on Hazelwood Hill. The hill was located between Cross Cut and Cross Plains, and was so steep according to Carl Chambers, there were times he and Jake Byrd were unable to get up it when it was muddy. On the day of the accident, three local young people were riding in the same car:

Miss Billie Bess Jackson, daughter of druggist Charlie Jackson, Miss Catherine Blum, and Sonny Shannon, son of the Cross Cut School Superintendent. For some tragic reason, the car failed to negotiate the hill and crashed, killing Billie Bess.

The pretty and vivacious Miss Billy Jo Baucom had no shortage of suitors during her brief but active period of social freedom. By her own recollection, "I had lots of boyfriends (before Junior). I can't even remember. I had Keith, C. B. Johnson, I had lots of them before him. The numbers and names of his rivals made little difference to Thomas Junior Chambers during Billie Jo's senior year at Cross Cut High, however, for on November 24, 1945, she became his wife, and the two left Cross Cut.

Two more introductions, two more perspectives: those of a small town mother and her daughter. I suspect your empathy with one or the other depends largely on your age and life experience. If you are a parent, like Daisy, you know there is a pendulum in each of us that swings between excessive protectionism and extreme permissiveness, and it seldom resides at the optimum, six o' clock position. If you are a young person, like Billie Jo, subjected to either pole on the arc, you know how suffocating one can be, or how uncaring the other may appear. Only the most wise and fortunate manage to attain true equilibrium, but then, as now, somehow we manage to muddle through.

The stated purpose of our journey is to highlight the many differences between life in Cross Cut during its existence and life as we know it now, but I believe those who shared this particular chapter can see there is at least on constant throughout history, be it 1933 or 2033. That constant is the always loving - sometimes adversarial relationship between a mother and her daughter.

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