15.HEB Grocery Store (NW
corner of Leopard & Port)
In about 1967 or 68, we were not having a Christmas tree. My dad, was making $156.00 a week working at a Andy Anders Rambler dealership downtown, and while that might seem like a lot of money then, it really wasn't for family of 4. So no Christmas lights, no tree. Still had to go to Midnight Mass & serve as a altar boy at Cathedral however which was about 3 hours long!
Us kids, me & brother Tommy, were bummed about this development. However, a sort of little Christmas Miracle happened this year. I rode my bike around this area with impunity, well, except the area black folks lived other side of I-37 was Forbidden Zone, as was the downtown area north of Zales with XXX dancers. Momma's rules, probably for good reason, but if I did, and got caught, she would take a orange Hot Wheels track to my ass, and that would leave racing stripes on hinie, so better not do it to begin with.
At this HEB it was always sparking clean. I befriended a nice young girl (I was about 9 or 10) but she was pretty brunette with curly hair, name was Sally and she called me "her little froggy". She knew I lived in area, of which the area was poor, working class folks, she didn't know my family was so poor even homeless people gave us food. I wore dirty sometimes ripped clothes. I liked this place because candy was cheaper here than Beils a block away, and this place had comic books. I bought a lot of comic books here, as would sell Super Balls to kids at Cathedral for a dime, but it only cost me 5 cents to buy them. Suckers. But comic books were 10 cents so I had a good racket going! Also sometimes take brother Tommy's newish Schwinn bike with three speed shifter to school, & after school, kids give me dime to ride it around perimeter block of Cathedral.
HEB had a beautiful lavender large sign you could see from different angles, you can see that in the big photo at top. At this HEB, the vegetables and fruits all in west side, meats in back, registers up front, and frozen stuff on east side of store near Port. You could stick your head in the frozen foods and had a wonderful smell! HEB also had some fancy new step on mats, so you step on the mats either side of door and door swing open, wow! My dog Bootsy quickly figured this out so had to escort her back outside to my bike a number of times while I read comic books I had no intention of buying, I had to pick & choose Superman, Green Lantern & Batmans you know. Oh, on the door, this was NEW STUFF in 1960s, modern Jetsons stuff, step on mat, doors swing open.
This HEB at corner of Port & Leopard, the store layout etched in memory.
Forever too, might be good thing, maybe I help them design stores now, meet JJ Watt or George Springer, Altuve or Correra ha ha. Go Astros! You had fold out glass doors facing west (where Citizens Bank later would be) same type doors facing Lew Williams Chevrolet across street. On west side of store, front to back, veggies, fruits, good array about 4 rows. At back you had bathroom, next to it a full scale meat and fish area with angled thick glass, with the fish on ice, the meat lined up pretty (don't lick the glass damned poor brat) and separated from the fish, different temperatures. Front to back the aisles faced Leopard. So can and dry goods and what not from fruits, veggies, then about 3/4 ways thru store towards Port, it changed to books, magazines, pots, pans, forks and things like that. After few aisles, it got to frozen foods, they were open casket type freezers, so look down into them and get frozen shrimps, lasagna, egg rolls and stuff. Ice cream too. You could stick your head into the freon type fog in these and take a big whiff, wow, does that transcend time. Against east wall had stand up freezers for more frozen stuff. But the best thing was waving had thru the frozen fog to make waves like on McGee beach. Up front next to Leopard was a courtesy booth for things like paying telephone and CPL electricity bills, cashing checks and getting money orders. Then about 10 checkout lanes, Sally used to run one of those.Behind HEB on Port side facing Hasty Tasty and directly next to Devine Printing was HEB dumpster area, a concrete enclosed area they threw all trash into, was great digging in here and catching rats and mice, sometimes watch traffic signals on Port or Leopard when they turn green, throw the rat or mouse into street, many of them got squished by tires, but some got away like that mouse game on Price is Right! But found a lot of cool things back there including food thrown away 'because it didn't look right' you know, we didn't have expiration dates then, so if it still looked or smelled good, we ate it. Even if Mighty Mouse (aka Super Raton!) might have had a few nibbles first, when you poor, you not picky.
So I rode my bike up to this HEB with Bootsy in tow as Christmas got closer.
The good Christmas trees pretty well picked over on west side of store ooutside in little fenced area, nothing left but sad little Christmas trees nno one wanted, even Charlie Brown would have walked away. The 'best' ones were about $8-$10 so you can see why we were not going to have one. We were gogoing to celebrate Christmas, just no tree.
I have to explain this to people just because were were dirt sh*t poor, didn't mean we were not HAPPY. The photo shows me, my dad, the only photo I have of my dog Bootsy & late brother Tommy at this time, note shotgun house in back and Tommy's torn pants.
So 2 days before Christmas December 23rd, I rode bike up there to see what all was left. Sally had seen me looking at them, sizing them up, day after day, so figured something was up. So she asked me. "Honey, why have you been looking at these Christmas trees a lot?" I said "Miss Sally, we ain't gonna have a Christmas tree this year, poppa ain't got no money" Yes, she teared up, hell, I tear up just remembering this, she really was a angel.
Sally the cashier walked back inside, came back out and said "pick one & take it home, free" I thought she was kidding, but no, free tree. Sure, I almost got hit twice on Port, then Antelope on my bike with this ugly thing, pine needles flying off it straddled between my handlebars on my bike hauling butt home.
My mom, Sarah Stakes, saw me ride up and said "where did you get that honey?" I said "Miss Sally at the HEB gave it to me free, since I told her were we not going to have a tree!!" Well, at first momma not to happy I was spreading word how poor we were, but then for a moment, swallowed her pride and said "lets fix it up before your daddy comes home" and went inside and propped it up, and brought out old Christmas ornaments from years past. Put lights on it too, as we had electricity (gee, a phone and flushing toilet and hot water!) at this time BC (Before Celia) We had a good Christmas that year, lots of toys for us boys, us kids didn't worry about what crap cost then you know, even the big bag of apples, oranges and nuts one of the Cathedral nuns gave us rocked. My brother Tommy (sure miss him) and my dad both came home later and momma had house dark in front room. My dad and Tommy slept in same bed, my mom and me same bed of old shotgun house at 2009 Antelope. So when poppa & Tommy opened door she flipped on switch, wished I had photo of that and the smiles on their faces.
Photo #1, the soothing lavender sign could easily be seen from east Leopard, and west on I-37 inbound.
Photo #2 clean store, the lady is not ghoing home to eat Tide Pods.
Photo #3, check out the strips of florescent lights, rows, and the noisy, but effective, cash register. This was one of the first HEBs in the area to have the conveyor belt for groceries.
Photo #4, there is one of those, ok, rows fo the frozen fog coolers you can take whiff of next time you in store. Lady is buying Bird's Eye frozen things, junior sit the hell down in basket.
Photo #5 is NOT about 67-68 but from 1960, that is my
first Christmas was 9 months old, brother Tommy excitedly checking out the
Photo #6, our crappy shotgun house 2009 Antelope, me on left, dad Homer T Stakes with the only photo I have of my dog Bootsy (I mention her a lot!) and brother Tommy in the torn up school pants. HEB was just over the tracks from our house, Beils was across street from Gulf Radiator.