Curmudgeon in Corduroy

The Best of Jerry Flemmons' Texas

978-0-87565-217-7 Paperback
6 x 9 x 0 in
176 pp.
Pub Date: 01/01/2000


  • Paperback $14.95
In “And Flights of Angels Sing Thee to Thy Rest,” the essay which opens this compelling collection, Jerry Flemmons displays an uncommon sense of both history and fun. When it was announced that angels would adorn the facade of the magnificent hall to be built in Fort Worth for the performing arts, the columnist, intrigued by the incongruity of angels in Cowtown, demanded, “Where in the hell did those angels come from?” He finally solved the dilemma by deciding they were the fallen angels of Hell’s Half Acre, “Irish Kate. . . on the right, and Big Birdie . . . on the left.”

With strong affection for almost all things Texan, Flemmons writes of the ordinary with an extraordinary sophistication and cleverness. His Texas is sometimes a place of sadness, even tragedy, sometimes a place of high jinks and great jokes, but most often, it’s a place of vanishing traditions and long- ago days. It’s all here in this collection . . . and it’s Flemmons at his best.

He was a pallbearer the day they buried Lee Harvey Oswald in Rose Hill Cemetery in Fort Worth. There was no one around at the brief ceremony to carry the coffin, so newspapermen performed the chore. Thereafter Marguerite Oswald, or Mama Oswald as the reporters called her, telephoned Flemmons and others with histrionic demands and telephone tirades and “official” announcements on the progress of her “case.” Flemmon’s essay, “Mama Oswald,” is a compassionate and complex picture of this tormented and tragic woman.

He was there, too, when they found sniper Charles Whitman on the observation deck of the famed Tower at the University of Texas. He wrote of the slight breeze that blew that day, the play of light and shadow on the deck—and on Whitman’s body—and the stunned reaction of those who found bodies on various levels of the Tower.

But Flemmons also tells lighter stories with ease, such as the one about the late Amon Carter commissioning a statue of Will Rogers on horseback, then keeping it hidden in planked boxes for eight years while World War II ran itself out. Carter couldn’t have a proper unveiling with the war going on, so he waited. But those planks were an awful temptation to local boys.

It may be that Flemmons writes best of the small and common bits of Texas. There are essays on hunkering, that fundamental resting position for rural men, and the importance of front porches, the nostalgia of a good courthouse clock with a bell, the etiquette of the two-step, the vanishing tradition of the game “42,” and the inadequacy of pork barbecue.

Once he found his own private Brigadoon, a small East Texas town with a Gothic courthouse in the center of a square faced with old wooden storefronts. Old men pitched horseshoes, played dominoes or sat quietly on the worn benches on the lawn around the courthouse. Children played on the lawn and begged hard candies from the man behind the grocery store counter. Flemmons ate lunch at the café and a dish of ice cream at the drugstore that still boasted a counter and stools. “To this day, I cannot remember the town’s name, though I can recall everything about it. I have driven many miles in East Texas, searching for it, have found other towns with other courthouses and other old men, but never my town, my Brigadoon.”

Published by Texas Christian University Press