The Cisco Kid
My paternal grandfather was born William Daniel Strother in Texas in 1899. “Dan,” as he was known, was in his twenties in the Roaring Twenties and in his thirties during the Great Depression. He was too young to fight in World War I and a little old for WWII. Despite dodging the world at war by virtue of age, he must have had some stories to tell, having lived through each at a key time in his life.
Unfortunately for me, his oldest grandchild and a boy enamored of “the olden times”, he was not one for reflection. Little Granddad (that was what my siblings and I called him, because he was slight of build and because Mom’s Dad, “Big Granddad,” was a big man) was much more concerned that his 10…11…12 (pick an age) year old grandson learn a trade and appreciate the value of an honest day’s labor than chatting about the past. The past was the past and he would not dwell on it…unless, of course, you talked about Cisco.
Cisco, Texas is a lazy little West Texas town snugged up to Interstate 20, between Fort Worth and Abilene. Cisco’s claim to fame is that it is home to the first-ever Hilton hotel. The legend associated with the Cisco Hilton is as follows. Conrad Hilton was in town with the intention of buying a bank. When he was unable to secure a hotel room in the town, he up and bought the Mobley Hotel. The rest is Hilton history.
I suppose Cisco is an important place to the Hilton family, but it is just as important to the Strother clan. My father, Little Granddad’s only son, was born in a shotgun house on a bit of farmland outside Cisco. For sentimental reasons, the unsentimental Dan Strother longed for Cisco. To hear him talk about it, you would think it was a magical land like Oz and would take an epic journey to reach. Of course, during the time this part of his story took place – from the late 1960s through most of the ‘70s – we lived in Mineral Wells, Texas. Mineral Wells is a whopping 70 miles from Cisco.
To the little old man in the starched white shirt and gray fedora, who walked with a cane and had no car, Cisco might as well have been a million miles away.
Little Granddad always said he would go back to Cisco as soon as he could.
He died in 1986. He was 87 years old that year, sick, tired, lonely, and in a rest home in Rockwall, a burgeoning town just east of Dallas. That was the last place I saw him. I lived in California by then with my wife and two daughters. Our third daughter was still a couple years from her grand entrance into our lives.
That nursing home visit marked the only time I ever knew for sure the gruff old man was happy to see me. He grinned and anyone who knew Dan Strother the Scowl-Faced will tell you that was no small thing. He joked about his circumstance and the lack of chewing tobacco. He beamed when he was introduced to my daughters. In the saddest place I ever saw him, he was the happiest to see me.
Not long after, I received word that he had passed. I boarded a plane from San Francisco and met with my family in Cisco, where we buried him. He was home at last.
King Edward’s Treasure
Little Granddad kept things simple. He liked Folger’s coffee, Red Man chewing tobacco, and King Edward cigars. He drank the Folger’s every morning, chewed the Red Man all day every day, but only smoked the cigars when Mom would buy him a box for Christmas. He was too frugal to waste money on cheap cigars. Cigars were a luxury. Chewing tobacco was an essential.
He was from the “waste not, want not” generation – heck, he may have been the father of it. He was repurposing before it was a thing. An empty Folger’s coffee can makes a fine spittoon. An empty cigar box serves as a safe deposit box, storing important papers and memorabilia.
After he died, we found his treasure chest. A worn-out King Edward cigar box contained pictures of my Dad and his sister when they were kids; his wallet with a long-expired driver’s license and a few old receipts in it; old check stubs; one half of a two-dollar bill; a cloth tobacco pouch containing assorted old coins; and sundry other yellow-stained and long-ago-faded papers. There was an old pocket watch in it, but the chain was broken.
I asked my Mom what else she remembered being in the box and she answered, “Not much.”
Little Granddad’s earthly belongings fit in that cigar box and an old hard-shell suitcase that he must have had since the ‘50s. The suitcase contained a few white dress shirts (his attire of choice every day of his life) and a pair of slacks. He didn’t leave his family a house or land. There was no money to fight over, no fortune to squander. What he left was coded in our genes, stamped in our memories, and planted in our hearts.
The only two items not in one of those containers were his walking cane and his fedora. Each was as native to his persona as his scowling face. I have no idea where that cane went. I wish I knew. The fedora on the other hand…
“Go To Thunder” Hat
Little Granddad had the gray fedora he wore every day. He was never seen outside the house without it. Ever. I do not know where that hat wound up. I assume it went the way of the world. Maybe it found itself in a Goodwill store somewhere or a dumpster.
He had a Sunday hat, too. It was a black fedora, a bowler with a smaller brim. Little Granddad would have worn that hat on Sundays. Since he seldom went to church, the hat was hardly worn.
Dad gave that hat, still in its box, to me. It is one of my most treasured possessions. I have never worn it in all these years. I don’t think I have even put it on my head. It remains in the top of my closet in its original box.
Granddad called the black Sunday hat his “Go to thunder” hat. As a kid I thought that was a hoot. I asked him why in the world anyone would name a hat such nonsense.
“Because,” he said with a twist of a grin to his scowl, “Any man who can wear a hat like that can tell the whole world to go to Thunder.”
He would have never said, “Go to Hell.” I think; however, they mean the same thing.
I own a half-dozen fedoras and wear them on occasion to this day. Between the legendary Cowboys coach Tom Landry and Little Granddad, I think I grew up with the notion that as soon as I was old enough to pull it off I would wear a fedora myself.
Anyone who doesn’t like it can go to thunder. This is my treasure and it is priceless.