Norris Chambers Old Timer's Tales

Another Sand Lapper

by Norris Chambers

   I met Elbert shortly after we moved to our backwoods farm. It was summer, and I was to start school in the fall. Elbert Hall was a Sand Lapper, but I didn't know what a Sand Lapper was at the time.

  When we went to the big auction I noticed the deep sand in the narrow winding road. You noticed the sand when riding in a wagon because it made the wagon ride smooth and quit rattling. It was like riding in a limousine of later years. I remember it was a long trip, probably two hours, at least. I remember the many wagons and buggies and tied up saddle horses around the old box house and the nearby barn.

  The man who lived there had died and the folks were getting rid of his farm equipment and household goods. Since we had just moved to our farm, we needed plows and livestock. Farm auctions were rather common and this was just what my dad had been waiting for.

  While Papa went about looking at the rusty old plows and browsing in the house, I did a little exploring on my own. The house and barn were located in a rather small clearing among scrubby post oaks and polecat bushes. One of the larger trees had a swing hung on a high limb and fitted with a nice board seat. A boy was sitting in the seat.

  I walked up and greeted him cordially. He gave me a hard look, then grinned and returned my greeting. I told him my name and he told me he was Elbert Hall.

  "Want me to push you?" I asked. He nodded an invitation to go ahead, so I pushed him awhile. He volunteered to push me. After a few turns, we wandered off to find other items of interest. We had a good time playing until the auction was over.

  After our purchases were loaded on the wagon, Elbert and I said goodbye and waved at each other as the wagon moved off down the sandy road. I still remember clearly how he looked standing there in his ragged overalls and beat-up straw hat. His bare feet had impressed me because they were as tough as rawhide. He could walk through the thickest grass burr patch without even shuffling his feet.

  The next time I saw Elbert was the first day of school. We lived about six miles from school and Papa had brought me in the Model T truck. We were early and I was walking around the yard with a bunch of strange kids, wondering what I had got myself into. It seemed like most of the kids knew each other and were having quite a good time running and playing. Some had started a game of "wolf over the river" and it was getting bigger all the time. When I saw Elbert arrive I was glad to see someone I knew. Before I could greet him, a fat boy pointed at him and started yelling, "Sand Lapper! Sand Lapper!" Another one joined in, hollering the same thing. I found out later that some of the kids looked down on those who lived in the deep sand section and called them "Sand Lappers". There was nothing wrong with the people - they were just poor. But many of our students came from oil field families who had a steady income and dressed better, ate better and considered themselves better than the poor country trash they lived among.

  The fat boy and I approached Elbert about the same time. I spoke some sort of greeting and indicated I was glad to see him again. The fat boy turned to me and said, "Are you a Sand Lapper too?" I didn't know how to answer that and before I could think of something to say, Elbert handed me his lunch bucket and asked me to hold it a minute.I took the bucket and before I could ask why, he butted the fat boy in the stomach with his head. The action was so quick and unexpected the boy fell over backwards - his breath knocked out and his pride injured. But that wasn't the end of the fight. While Fatty was wondering what happened and starting to get up, Elbert hit him on the nose with a resounding smack. Fatty went back down with blood running from his nostrils.

  It was a quick fight and Elbert had won. He retrieved his bucket and we walked away. The crowd that had gathered around began to disperse and a couple of buddies were helping the chubby one to his feet. He was holding his hand to his nose. I tried to let Elbert know that he had done a good job.

  He told me something that I have never forgotten. "When you fight." he said, "fight to win. A bully likes to be a bully, but he doesn't really like to fight. He just wants to scare you. Always fight first and talk later, if necessary."

  I have found this to be true. Through the years that we were friends he taught me a lot about fighting. A good fighter is born with the instinct to fight, and experience hardens his body and sharpens his wits. Elbert was a strong boy and a smart fighter. Not many made the mistake of calling him a Sand Lapper during his school days. If they did, either they apologized quickly or regretted it later.

  In the country schools I attended, fighting was common and just about unavoidable. There were some tough kids there and most of them were fighters. Practically all of the kids from Sand Lapper country were real fighters - they had to be to survive. The sandy, scrubby land where they lived produced rough students who had become tough by hard living, hard work and just plain fighting for fun.

  Elbert taught me how to survive in a fighting society. "There are three licks to get in first" he often explained. "Number one, always hit first. Most guys expect to call names and do a lot of jawing and bluffing before they fight. Don't give them time. Hit first - and make it count. Usually a quick, hard punch to the belly, followed by a hard slam to the nose will get the job done. Most of them you can surprise with a sudden uppercut to the chin. Then bring the left to the belly. When he brings his arms down, pop him on the nose. The nose is the place that a hard lick can cause the most damage and end the fight. Nothing hurts more than a hard lick on the nose. Don't hit the nose in the middle, Hit it on the side. This tears it up more."

  He told me that most inexperienced fighters just swing wildly, usually hitting nothing more than your arms or the side of your head. When an opponent starts swinging wildly, bring up the quick, hard uppercut. Follow that with the belly and nose punch.

  That was good advice and it worked well.

  Elbert had another talent that was even better than his fighting ability. He was a good singer and he could play a guitar better than any musician in the community. As we progressed to higher grades, the teacher would often let him bring his guitar to school and perform during the last hour on Friday afternoon. He knew all of the Jimmie Rodgers songs and most of the old folk songs that had been handed down. Any time there was a community program, Elbert was there with his guitar. He encouraged me to get a fiddle and learn to play.

  I learned a few tunes and started playing with Elbert while we were still in high school. We often played at country dances and parties on Saturday night. I wasn't a top notch fiddle player, but with Elbert singing and playing the guitar, I didn't have to be. A good guitar player and singer can carry a poor fiddle player. I could play most of the popular tunes of the time - Corrine Corrina, Coming Around the Mountain, The Old Spinning Wheel, Isle of Capri, Jack of Diamonds, Home Sweet Home, Sinking of the Titanic, Death of Floyd Collins and so forth.

  When the crops were laid by in the summer, we sometimes worked for other farmers who still had work to do. Standard pay was a dollar a day. Elbert saved enough the first year to replace his three dollar guitar with a fifteen dollar Kay. The next year he graduated to a genuine Gibson in a shockproof case for thirty dollars. This instrument was his pride and joy. He polished and cleaned it and babied it just like it was alive.

  One time when the two of us were playing for a country get-together dance a drunk came over and started agitating us. He wanted to have the musicians take a drink of his top notch home-brew whiskey. Elbert didn't drink and neither did I. When the guy began to get louder and threatened violence, Elbert once again asked me to hold something. When I took his guitar and stepped back, I knew what was going to happen.

  Just like the first fight I saw Elbert engage in, this one ended the same way. Instead of butting his head into the man's stomach, he delivered a swift underhand punch. While the drunk was dealing with his surprise and his sudden loss of breathing ability, another solid smack on the side of the nose ended the fight. Two obliging patrons dragged him outside to the well and began splashing buckets of water over him. We didn't see him any more that night.

  I handed the Gibson back to Elbert and he began singing "Bully of the Town". That was one of the fiddle tunes I knew, so between verses I played it. Everybody started dancing and the disturbance was forgotten.

  After we graduated and I returned home after studying radio for a year in Fort Worth, Elbert and I did several things together. We picked cotton, worked in the grain harvest, helped pumpers on the oil leases and helped in the development of an irrigation system. The contractor paid 25 cents an hour. That was big money in those days when a job that paid a dollar a day was considered a gold mine.

  During these short years we enjoyed our music. We continued to play for country dances and even had a weekly program over a radio station. Later we played for awhile over a Mexican station and made very good money.

  Elbert joined the army in 1939, the same year I got married. I heard from him a time or two. He was stationed in the Philippines when the big war started and was captured by the Japanese along with the rest of our troops there. I heard that he died in a Japanese prison camp. After the war I went to see his folks, but they were not there. They had sold the farm and moved to the city - Elbert's two younger brothers had also gone into the military service.

  About this time I left that part of the country and never heard any more from the Hall family. I will always remember Elbert as a fighter and a friend, and if all Sand Lappers are like Elbert, I would be proud to be called a Sand Lapper.


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