Papa Started Out as a Cowboy

Papa Teas in his daily radio news and solitaire card station.

It’s important to remember the people we came from. At least, it is to me. And today I just have a few thoughts about one of my grandfathers, my mom’s dad – the ne “Papa” who lived in my life from the time I first opened my eyes.

Of my two grandfathers, one was always a writer and businessman. The other started out as cowboy before branching out as a jack of all trades in the lumber business, other product sales, and finally as a bureaucratic manager for the Works Progress Administration during the New Deal Era.

I never knew my Grandfather McCurdy, except for what I could know of him through his writings for the little newspaper he started and owned through his death in 1913. The Beeville Bee got its start from Will McCurdy back in May 1886 as the first newspaper in the little Texas town of Beeville, some fifty miles north of Corpus Christi.

Grandfather Willis Teas, or “Papa”, as we called him, was in my kid life forever.  He died of a stroke at age 72 in September 1955, just as I was starting my senior year in high school here in Houston. Papa had lived with us for  a while in the early 1950s, but, by the time of his death, he was continuing his retirement and living in his real home town of Floresville, Texas.

Grandmother Teas, whom we called Mama, died in 1944, I think, and Papa had lived alone in a rental first floor duplex on Hammond Avenue in San Antonio before coming to live with us for a while in 1950.

Papa Teas

Papa’s place would have made a great stage set for a play about a good man growing old. Had he been alive today, he would’ve had a computer screen sitting in front of him and been spared all the card shuffling he did daily playing solitaire. Although I have a hard time seeing Papa on Facebook, I’m sure he would have found that site too by now.

As it was, Papa’s Place centered on the right side of a little breakfast cove, where there was plenty of space for cards, coffee, pipe tobacco, ash tray, and radio news.

Papa had been pretty strict as a parent to my mom and uncles, but he was a softy in the matter o f his grandkids. Nevertheless, we still respected his strict veneer and somewhat stand-offish manner at first when we came to visit. When I was a really small kid, in the last days of World War II, I also sometimes had trouble understanding the words that Papa used.

Once, while watching Papa play cards and waiting for him to say something, I noticed that every now and then he would glance my way and then back to his hand of cards, Finally, he spoke, but I heard him say the following: “I just heard on the news that we dropped a lot of bums on Nazi Germany yesterday.”

Bums? Falling from the sky? The picture of a lot of hoboes bouncing all over the German countryside was almost too much for my kid’s brain.

“What’s so funny?” Papa asked.

When I tried to explain, he smiled too, but then he made the mistake of trying to straighten me out. “No, Billy,” he said, now leaning toward me as he spoke, “I’m talking about bums that contain explosives, the kind that blow up when they hit the ground,”

More laughter. Our conversation devolved into something like an Abbott and Costello “Who’s On First?” routine without the audience laughs and big Hollywood contract. I’m not sure we ever got it straight. He talked funny. I heard funny. It was funny. To us, at least.

Papa also always had one of those popular calendars of that day that showed a bunch of monkeys sitting around a table playing cards. “Don’t monkey with cheap roofs!” was the company’s calendar sales motto.

Papa’s place was always too dark. And it always reeked with the aroma of sweet pipe smoke. That part never bothered me, unfortunately. I could have benefitted from a little childhood allergy to tobacco smoke. Instead, I eventually got sucked into years of nicotine addiction, before my incredible late life recovery from same. I don’t blame Papa or my dad for my nicotine habituation, I think we just had it our DNA and life style patterns.

Sometimes Papa would take the train to Houston and we would pick him up at Union Station, the current site of Minute Maid Park. I remember once walking from the train platform with Papa toward the big station lobby and looking up at what seemed to me as the very high roof of Union Station. It was high enough to prompt this Q&A exchange between Papa Teas and little kid me:

Billy: “Papa, would it kill you if you fell off that very high roof?”

Papa: “The fall itself wouldn’t kill you, Billy, but that sudden stop by the sidewalk would pretty much do you in.”

We both had to laugh at that one.

Once he moved into our little house with us, Papa never felt comfortable. He missed his card-playing, pipe-smoking, coffee-drinking, news-listening station in San Antonio. By the time it all got worked out for him to live in his own little rental cottage in Floresville, near other family, he was much happier to see us, but on a less constant basis.

I still love you, Papa. As we approach the 55th anniversary of your death next month, I’ll be thinking of you even more than usual, and wishing we could talk some baseball again – even if you were a diehard San Antonio Missions fan and I was a true-blue  Houston Buffs man,

Hope you all have someone like my Papa to remember in the name of love. Those special people never really go away, do they?

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2 Responses to “Papa Started Out as a Cowboy”

  1. Margery McCurdy Says:

    Dear Bill:

    My favorite quotable from Papa was (actually two things!):

    “If you’re not interested in politics, you may as well be dead.”
    (Of course, he was a real FDRinista!)

    “If you don’t follow the news, you may as well be dead!”(Our mother said he was vitally interested in current events and would listen to repeat broadcasts as if it were the first time he’d heard it. I guess he was afraid he’d missed something!)

    Great advice to us all!

    Your little sis,

  2. Pam Morse Says:

    Weldon’s was the best! Very find childhood memories of it! I just wish there was a recipe book with all the fabulous dishes! In particular … the pineapple cake!

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