When I was a boy of eight or nine years old, while visiting East Texas with my family for a Lindsey Family Reunion, I witnessed an interesting set of events unfold in a coffee shop involving a Texas Ranger. As his actions played out, I found his sense of “law and order” most instructive.
The month was June, perhaps in 1959 or even 1960. I had ridden in our family car (a 1956 Ford station wagon) with my father, with one of his brothers…either my Uncle Raymond or Uncle Don (I can’t quite remember which)…to meet up with another of their brothers, my Uncle Parley. We were to meet Uncle Parley at a small coffee shop (or diner) on the highway that ran through Gladewater, Texas.
We all sat at the counter, three in a row, and my father ordered breakfast for us. There was a radio station playing lowly back in the kitchen. I’m pretty sure the radio dial was set to a “country western” station. Even at that young age, I was accustomed to hearing Hank Williams, Ernest Tubbs and Bob Wills playing on our car radio whenever my Dad could find a “hillbilly” station on the dial.
There was a tall, good looking man sitting two stools away from my Dad. He was wearing a Stetson hat and a gun belt with a “big iron” in the holster. I was fascinated by him and his “hog leg”. I kept leaning backwards and forwards to try to get a better view of him, straining my neck and leaning towards my Uncle (Raymond or Don).
My Uncle bent his head and whispered in my ear, telling me not to be too obvious and warned me not to stare. He told me that the man sitting near us at the counter was a Texas Ranger. I did notice that he was eating a slice of berry pie and had been gulping black coffee from a big Texas-sized mug.
After just a few minutes of sitting at the counter, the waitress brought out my plate and my Uncle’s. She was followed by the cook, dressed all in white with a white apron and wearing a white sailor’s cap pulled down over his ears. The cook served my father his order, walked back to the kitchen window, snapped off the radio and then walked over to a juke box on the other side of the cafe. He fished some coins out of his pocket, fed them into the slot and then began poking buttons that corresponded to his choices of music.
The first (and probably last) song that he played on that jukebox was an Elvis Presley song: “Jailhouse Rock”. As soon as the song began to play, the cook reached behind the juke box and increased the volume.
Almost immediately, the Texas Ranger set his coffee mug down firmly on the counter and looked up and toward the cook who was now heading for the kitchen door.
“Turn that thing down”, the Ranger ordered.
The cook walked on, seemingly ignoring the Ranger’s demand.
When the cook re-entered the kitchen and began working at the stove again, the Ranger balled up his fist, slammed it down on the counter and bellowed toward the open kitchen/order window: “I said, TURN THAT DAMN THING DOWN! Better yet, TURN IT OFF!”
The cook never quite looked up but managed to smile a wry, little smile almost as if he was satisfied to be irritating the Ranger. Except for that little bit of a grin, he ignored the Ranger’s demanding order to turn the juke box down or off.
My Dad and Uncle looked at each other, back to the Ranger, over at me, beyond me to the cook in the kitchen window, and then we heard the bell at the front door ting-a-ling as the Ranger strode out of the cafe towards his car. We wondered if he was going to drive off and leave mad.
We soon learned that this Texas Ranger was not going to avoid a confrontation or suffer his words to be taken lightly or ignored.
I got just a glimpse of the big man wearing the star fashioned out of a Mexican peso coin as he strode past the front window from his car back toward the coffee shop door. I did see that he was carrying something (just what, I was not quite sure). The door exploded open and banged with a crash against the wall. In four large strides the Ranger crossed the diner’s floor, raised what he was carrying in his hands, racked a round into the chamber and blasted a big hole into the front of that jukebox with a Remington .12 guage pump-action shotgun. The Ranger then turned toward the window and yelled at the cook: “I TOLD YOU!” He then turned back toward the jukebox and fired two more rounds of .12 gauge 00-buckshot through the glass front and the speaker grille.
The Ranger then glared at the cook, walked back to his seat, laid down 6-bits for his pie and coffee and a half-dollar tip for the waitress. He then turned toward the door he had just burst through and said aloud for us all to hear: “When a Ranger gives you an order, it is a goddamn order!”
I think in that moment I decided I was going to become a State Trooper if I could not manage to become the President of the United States or the country’s most famous archaeologist that would discover the world’s most mysterious, lost civilization.
You think big thoughts and make big plans when you are a son of Texas…or the son of a Texan.