It all started with a Facebook post and a cake claiming 80 birthdays. I looked at it, and I looked at it again.
“Surely, it’s a joke,” I thought to myself. “There’s no way that Carol Teich can be eighty years old,” I actually said out loud. And then I thought about it. “If Carol is really eighty, then Betty can’t be far behind.” At this point, I think I was still talking out loud as I tried to make it all make sense.
Of course, the more I thought, the more I remembered how old I am…the same age as these women’s children, more or less, so…of course, these dear friends could easily be at that octogenarian mark. And it was at that point that I decided to write about them. After all, they may just be the youngest 80 I’ve ever seen, and I wanted to know how and why.
It was with all of these things in mind that last week I made the trek down Highway 36, where once upon a time the old Cottonbelt Railroad had its tracks, to meet with Carol Adcock Littlejohn Teich and Betty Patton Kirkland at Betty’s home in the little hamlet of Gustine, Texas. And, of course, there are two clues in that last sentence that just might be part of the key to the fountain of youth these two seem to have found.
1. Gustine, Texas, I’ve known it all of my life and yet it wasn’t until about 25 years ago that I really came under its spell…quite accidentally, actually. You see, once upon a time, Sandy Luker had a beauty shop in Gustine, with a bench in front of it. I could walk outside, sit, and literally feel the stress of life begin to melt away there in the serene little town, not quite the town that time forgot, but close.
Could this be part of the secret of the two women who forgot to age? Quite possibly.
2. And then there’s Betty’s house, a rambling two story affair that casts its spell over all who enter. It’s old, it’s inconvenient, it’s full of memories that seem to linger in the air, it has a personality all its own, and it’s basically perfect. Truly, the beautiful old house reaches out to welcome, even calm, all who enter.
Again, I stopped to wonder if having this type of haven might be part of the answer to my question. Of course, there’s also the friendship thing, and I have to tell you that I wonder if that’s not another ingredient that seals together all of what these two lovely ladies are.
“We’ve always been best friends,” Carol explained to me as soon as I had my computer propped in my lap. “Betty grew up in a house right behind me, with just a field between us.”
Betty interrupted as good friends are prone to do. “Mother and Daddy bought an acre of land after the war and built a four-room house for the five of us. It wasn’t big, but it was all we could afford.”
“Yes, but you were luckier than we were, Betty. You had a bathroom, and we had an outhouse. But it was a fancy outhouse,” the tiny blonde laughed. “It was a three holer and not just a two.”
“And a Sears and Roebuck catalog lay there on the floor inside it!” Betty finished for her.
The Adcock home might not have had a bathroom, but it was certainly no slouch, as houses went back then. Used first as a section house for the old Cottonbelt Railroad, Carol’s parents purchased it from the railroad after the Cottonbelt was no more. It was a big, rambling old house with large rooms, high ceilings, and long porches.
The depot stood where the Methodist Church lot is now. There were three section houses that sat to the north of the depot, more or less across the street from where Betty lives now. In fact, William and Betty Kirkland only live a couple of blocks from the home her parents built for their family after World War II.
When Betty was in the first grade there in Gustine, Carol was in the third. Of course, that was because she skipped the second grade when Texas schools added the twelfth grade.
“We’ve been friends longer than anyone else we know, and we’ve both lived in Gustine almost all of our lives,” the dynamic duo explained. “In fact, our title around here is Community Organizers. We’re thinking that we might be able to run for president with that title. Of course, we’d have to run as a pair!” they both laughed.
At that point, Betty had to leave the room for a moment, and Carol turned to me and said, “Really we’re more like twins than sisters. We even have the same thoughts at the same time, AND we were even homecoming queens together in 2012!”
Since I could see that they weren’t kidding, and that they truly possess an extremely special friendship, I asked them to walk me back as far as they could, back to their first memory of each other. They did answer my question, but they went through the back door several times first.
“Daddy came home from the war wanting to buy his own filling station,” Betty explained. He looked everywhere, driving from town to town. There were a couple of guys who had built a station here in Gustine, but it just wasn’t for them. I just kept hoping that Daddy would decide that we could live in Gustine, and he did! He and Mother bought the station from Mr. Purcell and Walter Young.”
And, of course, the Adcocks owned one of the grocery stores in Gustine. “Daddy worked for the mercantile and when it burned, he and mother put in a grocery store. Then, after the war, they built the grocery store that was on the corner. They were in business for 40 years even though the store burned twice. So my brother and I were raised on the streets of Gustine, but we had boundary lines that we had better not pass. Somehow they enforced it because we didn’t stray!”
Finally, the pair was ready to tell me their early memories of each other, and they both remembered the same things: playhouses and paper dolls.
“Back then, little girls “built” playhouses under chinaberry trees or anywhere they could find to build a house. If there were rocks, girls would lay out rocks to indicate where the various rooms of their houses were. If not, they would take a stick and draw their houses in the dirt.
“We built ours behind Carol’s house, and we used all the broken dishes we could find!”
And then they both remembered one playhouse that never came to be.
“There was a field of whorehounds between us, and we each started on our own side with a hoe, and we began chopping those awful weeds. We worked and worked so hard that if our moms had tried to make us work that hard, we would have died. We finally had to give up. The job was just too big for two little girls.”
The other pastime for the little girls was paper dolls.
“We’d play for hours on end in the house, dressing our dolls with clothes we made from a Higginbotham wallpaper sample book. It was such a joy when someone would give us a real paper doll book as a gift! We played with paper dolls like girls later played with Barbies. All of these things we did on our own because we didn’t have television or video games.”
They did, however, have radios, and each of their families loved to listen to The Lone Ranger and Fibber McGee and Molly when they came on.
“We’d pull our chairs right up in front of the radio just like we were watching TV,” they laughed.
In the daytime it was Stella Dallas, a soap opera that Betty likened to Days of our Lives, that brought everything to a screeching halt as the women listened to the drama play out each afternoon.
It wasn’t too many years until the girls fell in love…with roller skating, that is.
“Oh my gosh, we had more fun roller skating and I guess we must have skated a thousand miles. When the Gustine rink closed, Thang Couch (Ernest) took us wherever we could find a rink. We’d pile up in his ‘39 Ford and away we’d go.”
Going to the picture show was also high on the girls’ list of fun, and they went most every Saturday afternoon. The admission price was a dime until you turned twelve…then it took a quarter to get inside the show.
“Loree Huey and her husband, Marvin, owned the show, and Loree knew every birthday of every kid in town. When you turned twelve, there was no getting in for a dime!”
And then, the girls grew up and started dating, often double dating.
“There was nobody stricter than Fred Adcock and Paul Patton,” they both said at once. Our curfew was 10:00, and we’d better be home! One night we were out with two of the basketball players, and at ten minutes until ten, we decided to make the circle in a park called Highway Park. Would you believe that we ran out of gas? We were scared to death, and about that time we looked up and there came Paul Patton and Fred Adcock.”
Betty picked up the story. “The only thing that saved us was that Daddy was friends with those boys, and he followed them everywhere they played. Those poor boys….they went back to the station with Daddy, and he got them some gas. I thought Carol and I would never get to go anywhere again!”
Of course, they did get to go again, and it wasn’t long until Betty’s dad took them to see the Fort Worth Cats, a minor league baseball team. Their memory of the ride was four people squished into the back seat of Paul’s 1949 Chevy!
“We could hardly move, but it was fun, especially for two little country girls from Gustine, Texas! It was a different time, but it was a fun time.”
Of course, the girls’ mothers sewed everything they wore, even the skirts (yes, skirts) they skated in. Since Carol’s mom always helped run the grocery store, she kept her sewing machine there, using slow time to sew a seam or two. Even the duo’s pep squad uniforms with the gored skirts were made by their mothers.
“We didn’t need to go far to shop. Everything we needed could be found in this county.”
At this point in the story, Betty turned into a hostess and invited us into the kitchen for a snack of grapes, crackers and cheese, and raspberry tea. Covering the table was exactly what I would have expected…a tablecloth given to her and William for their wedding shower…62 years ago. And again, I had the strange sensation that maybe I had stepped into an episode of the Waltons, that place where happy seems to win every single time.
And then I asked The Question, the original reason why I decided to write this article in the first place. Why have they stayed so young? Of course, like most of us, they have no definitive answers. They do have thoughts, however, and it was no surprise to me at all to hear them both give all of the credit to their God.
“Every single day we thank the Good Lord for our health. We have friends who are not physically in the shape we are. I think a lot is your attitude in life, and we’ve stayed active…” Carol trailed off while Betty picked up the thought.
“William tells me every day when he has me out fixing fence that he’s just keeping me active!”
“That’s what my boys tell me as we deliver produce! Plus, I live alone (having survived two husbands) so when baling wire needs tying, I’m the only one there to do it!”
“We’re just thankful to be where we are and as healthy as we are. Some of our friends aren’t even here any longer, and others can’t walk. We give all the credit to the Lord for allowing us to continue on as well as we have.”
And having a friend that gives new meaning to BFF doesn’t hurt either. In fact, they both agreed that having a good friend for as long as they have been friends is a blessing indeed.
“We raised our kids together, went to the same ballgames and every school activity together, and we raised good, successful kids. That’s something else we thank God for.”
So what are their plans for the future?
“Oh, I guess we’ll just stay community organizers.”
Somehow I’m left with the feeling that Thelma and Louise have absolutely nothing on these two petite beauties, with a tiny hint of sparkling mischief bubbling just below the surface, nothing at all.