Don’t you just love it when you can get a glimpse into days gone by? I don’t know about you, but I especially like to almost “feel” the way it was. I have to thank Missy Jones for leading me to the information in today’s article about Corene Steward (Terry) and Higginbotham’s in 1942. It gives us yet another glimpse of not only Comanche, but also life in Central Texas during that time.
First of all, I have to tell you that Missy tells me that Corene was an absolutely beautiful woman who was also a very “snazzy dresser.” Missy went on to say that Corene was as sweet as she was beautiful!
In 1942, Corene Steward lived on East Grand Street in Comanche, Texas, sharing an apartment with Jennie DeWitt. Her parents, Rob and Ora Lee Hicks Steward lived in the Creamer community. (This tells me there was an apartment of some type on East Grand.)
Corene was working on the east side of the square at Sol Hoffman’s Dry Goods (Last building on the north end) in 1942 when her friend, Doll (Mrs. Buster) Cameron who worked at Higginbotham’s, suggested that Corene should “put in” her application there. Corene went to Higginbotham’s and spoke with Armstrong Cox who was the general manager. (I just learned that there was a dry goods store on the east side of the square and that Armstrong Cox was the GM of Higginbotham’s in 1942.)
Not only did Cox hire her, but he almost caused Steward to faint at the starting salary he quoted her…$60.00 a month! This was a huge increase in what the young woman was making at the time.
“I had worked at Starr Variety Store (toward the south end about where John Gleaton is today) for $9.00 a week and at Hoffman’s for $11.00 a week, both on the east side of the square, and $60.00 was more money than I had ever made! This was a very good salary for a young lady working in Comanche at that time.” (Looks like there was also a variety store on the east side, and we see what wages were!)
Corene was hired to work in the shoe department (even I remember shoes), and Cyril Isham also worked in that department.
“When you walked into the store through the double doors on the right hand side of the building (Remember when there were two sets of double doors entering the store?), you were in the Ladies Ready-to-Wear Department. Doll Cameron was the manager there. They sold a very nice line of ladies wear. (Higginbotham’s sold clothing.)
“About in front of you when you walked in, the first people you saw were Miss Cullie West and Mrs. Mae Cameron. This was a very popular part of the store. They sold all kinds of dressmaking materials, patterns, threads, buttons, pins and needles, and all kinds of supplies that ladies would have used to make their clothes and their children’s clothes. They also sold quilting materials, quilt batting and all kinds of crochet threads and materials.
“One thing that I remember about their department is that Miss Cullie and Mrs. Cameron had bolted to their big table where they cut materials a machine for measuring out the yardage their customers needed. The machine had a gauage on it, and they would put the raw selvage edge of the material through the machine, and it would show the yardage that the customer needed. Many women made their own clothes, and this was a popular place.
“Behind the Ladies Ready-to-Weare Department was the Menswear Department. Bud Cauley was the manager and Vernon Welch worked there with him. They sold men’s suits, shirts, trousers, work clothes, overalls, socks, underwear, coats, and jackets. At busy times, other people came in to work there too.”
Corene went on to describe the shoe department in Higginbotham’s which was located behind the sewing goods. The department was small, but Higginbotham’s did stock a good selection of shoes for the entire family. The store had comfortable chairs for the customers, and the shoe clerks stools to sit on that had the slanted boards coming down off of the stool toward the customer. These boards werxe where the customers put their foot to have it measured. The foot was placed in a metal device, similar to the sole of a shoe, so that it could be measured for width and length.
Later Higginbotham’s purchased an X-Ray machine to measure just how the toes were fitting into the shoes. (How’s that for radiation?) This was great for mothers who needed to see just how much room her child’s toes had for growing.
“To the left center of the store were the groceries. Jesse Smith was the manager of this department, and he was so nice and good to everybody. They sold a full line of groceries with many of the people buying groceries and charging them. Many of the farmers did that and when their crops were harvested, they would come in and pay their bill. Others paid monthly. (We’ve learned they also sold groceries, and people had to wait to sell their crops to pay.)
“Also, to the left of the store was the cashier’s stand. We did not have cash registers at each department and when we made a sale, we would go with the customer and take the merchandise to the cashier, and she would ring up the sale. When I was working there, the cashiers were Tessie Chapman and Oma Lee Jones.
“When you came into the store through the doors on the left side, you were in hardware. Earl Burnnette was the manager there, and Mr. Allen Lee was employed there also. They sold ice boxes and all kinds of hardware, including lots of things for the farmer. (Mr. and Mrs. Allen Lee were the parents of Jim Bob Lee who would be killed in WWII.)
“Toward the back of the store there was a staircase that went up to the second floor where furniture and caskets were sold. These stairs were wide and deep and near them on the first floor stood a water fountain. This was ice cold water! Jack Wheat was the manager of this department. Porter Franks sold the caskets and then later went to school to become a licensed funeral home director. (Obviously, people could buy caskets outside of the funeral home.)
“Every morning one of the clerks would sweep the sidewalk in front of the store, and pick up the dirt and trash. When I arrived each morning, I would see a group of men visiting near the water fountain. Some of these men were T.J. Williams, Armstrong Cox, and Mr. Evridge.
“At the end of the day, we covered each counter with long strips of unbleached domestic material to keep the dust off of the merchandise. Before we opened the store the next morning, we uncovered everything and folded the material.
“Higginbotham’s was a very popular meeting place. So many people came to town on Saturdays, and I can just see the ladies standing and visiting with each other! I especially remember Mrs. Alma Nance, Mrs. Wilson, Mrs. Easley, and others I can’t recall. Our store was so nice, and the ladies always felt welcome to come in, lean up against the counters, and visit with each other.
“Mrs. Alma Nance grew the most beautiful roses I have ever seen, and almost every Saturday that they were blooming she would bring me a beautiful bouquet of roses. Everybody felt at home in Higginbotham’s store.”
And I don’t know about you, but I know a whole lot more about 1942 and the way it felt in small-town Texas, not just in Comanche.