The View from Writers Roost
by WILLIS WEBB
Apr 17, 2014 | 539 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
ONCE UPON a time, as all good adventure tales begin, I sought “interesting characters” to write about. And, as I had read, witnessed in movies and thus believed, about all “good writers,” I looked for them in establishments that served sudsy brews.

Being so entranced by “proper atmosphere” and physical surroundings, my searches took me to establishments in rural sites. These erstwhile places of business provided rest, relaxation and nerve-soothing foamy mugs.

In that time I was “blessed” in my “research” to have landed in a section of the Lone Star State where there were still some first and lots of second generation Czech, Polish and German immigrants. Many frequented “grange halls,” a carryover from their European origins.

I often wrote about visits to neighborhood taverns and of visiting with local characters. That writing often took the form of discussions with “natives” of an area who were obviously and proudly immigrants or children of immigrants from Eastern European countries. Thus, the names of Ignatz and Emil were given to the characters I visited with most often.

Most of these establishments were rural, usually near a church, in the center of the community. Since the particular region was extremely fertile farm and ranch land, there were lots of rivers. Communal establishments were likely to be in such locations.

Grange halls were, as continuing custom dictated, family-oriented, so attendance on any given night included plenty of healthy, young single women.

One learned quickly that there were certain requirements for dancing with these young women. First, you’d better know how to waltz and to polka. Second, you need to be of almost competitive sports physical conditioning and I mean that in relation to the number of polkas included in a four-hour dance session.

FOOTNOTE: While waltzes are very popular in their own right, they are welcome respites from the often breath-depriving polkas. Anyone who has ever played sports can equate polkas with wind sprints.

Of course, with the waltz you’d better be in possession of some amount of grace, dignity and respect.

Despite the myths of naivete or coarseness, smooth “lines” were quickly ferreted out, if not by the blonde dancing damsel, then by her ham-fisted, leathery-faced, unsmiling Papa. Grange hall gatherings were “family dances.”

It’s a natural follow that etiquette and manners were also of importance. One didn’t approach a group of young women and crook a c’mon finger at that evening’s girl of your dreams. Patrolling papas were persistent in their expectations of manners and respect as shown to their daughters. A proper “May I have this dance, please?” or “Would you care to dance?” was expected. Oh, and no “sleazy” dancing. That might bring a bruising ejection from the grange hall. At the very least, you could expect a healthy number of curt rejections when you asked someone to dance.

A large percentage of the young women attending a grange hall dance in those days, went to the event single but probably very properly chaperoned. It was no “pick-up joint” and obvious “cruising” or “patrolling” was discouraged, if not openly, then by the prevailing attitudes and overall conduct easily discerned. A complete cold shoulder treatment was often the order of the day for some obvious “outsider” who was not smart enough to follow the rules.

YOU COULD learn and take from experiences in those early grange halls, that despite views from a more restrained segment of society, there was a predominant air of respectability — in no small part influenced by churches — that precluded rude, crude behavior. Old World values were very much in vogue.

The things I learned from living in that region about our Texas melting pot have been invaluable over the years in assimilating all facets of our culture in my inquisitive mind. And, it has bred a deep respect for the cultures and habits brought here and established by immigrants from a diverse list of nationalities.

That is another of many reasons I am so enamored of this Lone Star melting pot and our Texas history.

Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher of more than 50 years experience. He can be reached by email at wwebb1937@att.net.
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