Sometimes Forgotten Now Found is an Oral History Story

Gaston MuseumMy family and I have “Family Day”. I have learned that this is a very Gen X thing to do, but it helps to put our family in the center of focus and remind us why we work so hard. Normally, this is on a Sunday, but my wife was off this Saturday, so we took advantage and visited places not open on Sunday.

We decided we would visit local history locations and museums. We visited those Historical Markers that are along roads and highways, as well as a couple of local small-town history museums. We live in East Texas, and in the 1930s there was a significant oil field discovery that helped develop the area in a very different trajectory than previous decades.

I could tell you about people responsible for this oil field discovery or the locations where the first wells came in. But, this post isn’t about the broad history of the area. But, I am going to give you a brief snippet of the Gaston Museum. We arrived before opening and still were greeted by a very nice older gentleman named Jim. We didn’t have cash for admission, so we told him we would be back. As you can imagine, some folks leave intending to come back but don’t. We almost fell into this category. The museum isn’t in a town with a bank or any ATMs so we had to travel about 5-10 miles to get cash. It’s rural East Texas, and I love it for this reason, but it can also cause a little extra driving.

We returned to another volunteer at the museum and we toured the museum building, then when we were about to leave Jim popped back up. He offered to take us to the Snack Shop that was built in the 1930s with whatever was available during the oil boom. He also showed us the Gas Station and told us about the visible gas pumps that would have been out front. Both were very neat to see as well as the house that was on the property.

But this post isn’t about those or the museum. We started chatting with Jim, who told our daughter to call him Uncle Jim. Uncle Jim had lived in Gaston when he was young and returned to his hometown after time away in the military. He told us about growing up in an oilfield shed and when his daddy brought home linoleum for the house to help with the drafts coming up from the floorboards and how proud he was to tell the other kids at school about it. All these stories were interesting to hear, but the next story just about floored us.

The Gaston School was the largest rural school when it was constructed, thanks to that oil. The Gaston ISD joined New London ISD in 1965 and now it’s called West Rusk. We also visited the New London Museum this weekend, but I digress.

The Gaston School Band needed to do a fundraiser to pay for some of their expenses. And Jim had an idea to bring in a singer and put on a concert. The Band Director told Jim, it’s your idea; you are going to be the stage manager. So, Jim worked to make sure everything was perfect. The day came. It was January 28, 1955.

The school auditorium was full in anticipation of the concert and to help the band raise money. The singer came out and sat on a stool. He sang his songs from the stool and was well received by the audience, but Jim knew there was more to this singers show. So, he went back to the dressing rooms during intermission and told the singer that it was okay to get up from the stool and move around a little. During this intermission, the band sold drinks to the folks, raising $95. This drink, which I can not recall the name, was medicinal and was the equivalent of Geritol with an alcohol content of 85%. I was a little surprised by this too.

The singer came back after intermission and stood up there and started singing and dancing. The kids in the audience went crazy. They were dancing in the aisles and having so much fun listening and watching and cheering for the singer- a young Elvis Presley who was brought to the Gaston School Auditorium for a Band Fundraiser by Uncle Jim.

You never know when or where a forgotten story will surface, but I am glad we came back to Gaston Museum this past Saturday and had a nice chat with Uncle Jim.  

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