We drove up to Little Rock today and spent the morning with Rick and Kathy Lee, whose 6 year-old daughter, Abby, had successful open heart surgery today. Please keep them in your prayers during Abby’s recovery.
Then we went to lunch with my mom and dad and my “Uncle Jr.” (yes, we’re all from Arkansas!) He’s my dad’s brother, and the oldest Noble sibling of three. He drove in from Fort Worth to visit for a few days. We ate at La Hacienda and then spent the afternoon listening to Noble yarns. When dad and Uncle Jr. get together, stories and yarns fly. How I wish I’d had a recording of today’s session.
I want to recount for you one of those family tales. I’ve heard it from every Noble family member as long as I can remember. It’s been verified and passed on, mainly because of it’s hilarity and the severity of trouble my uncle got into as a result.
My grandparents lived for several years in Perryville, Louisiana, a small settlement centered mostly around the natural gas pump station that was there. Company employees lived in a closed community where every white clapboard house was alike. The kids played freely in the roads and woods around there. The pump station and community are gone today, replaced by progress. They had not arrived in Hamburg, Arkansas yet, which is the only place I’ve ever associated with the Noble’s.
As Uncle Jr. tells it, Friday nights were the night to “go to town.” For them, that meant Bastrop or Monroe. However, for this story, my uncle and some of his buddies had their minds set on the Rose Theater in Bastrop for these particular weekend shenanigans.
That afternoon, several of them had waded in the ditches and marshes near the pump station and caught several baby alligators. Yep. You read that right. Before there was ever Jeff Corwin or Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, there was (theme music here) Uncle Jr.
Now apparently the ideas of “fun” have changed a lot since he was a kid and I was a kid, because I played “Kick the Can” and then moved into “Kill the Man with the Ball.” I never quite had the testosterone to play “Risk the Finger” with miniature alligators. Maybe that’s why I’m driving a minivan today.
When they arrived at the Rose Theater, they bought admission tickets and entered the dark theater with somewhat bulging shirts, depositing themselves on the back row. The theater was full. Suspense builds. Frankly my dear, you better give a darn what happens next.
At this point in the story, I’ve always interrupted the teller. Not having ever had an alligator in my shirt, I’ve always asked, “Didn’t the alligators bite you?” To which every teller relates with sadistic glee, “Oh well, sure, they scratched quite a bit.” I made sure to interrupt at my traditional point in the story today and got the same answer.
Somewhere into the first 30 minutes of the movie or so, the Reptile Rebels released the cargo of their shirts onto the floor in front of them. They then watched and listened carefully for the ensuing chaos. It didn’t take long before they could see people shifting in their chairs and glancing down absent-mindedly. However, as the alligators made their way forward on the sloped concrete floor, the began to nip at the heels and shoes of the movie goers.
Realization of reptile invasion seemed to hit several rows at one time. All it took was for a few panicked popcorn poppers to yell out, “Alligator!” 4-5 people in this section or that would jump up, women screaming, leaping onto chairs, and then the balcony erupted.
Now these were the days of segregation. It was in the late 40s, and the “colored folks” had sole possession of the balcony. There were no alligators released there, but as the story goes, at the first cry of “alligator!” from below, there were echoing screams of “gator, gator!” from up above. It happened so fast that it unfolded in slow motion. Literally, people were falling over each other to get out of the theather. The unthreatened black audience above were unaware of their safety and began to climb over the rails and drop down to the aisles below in panic. As the crowd banged their way out of the swinging doors in the back of the theater, there was just one row of people left.
Uncle Jr. and the Alligator Boys.
While this could be a great name for a rap group of today, it was not a welcome site for the theater workers and manager upon their hasty arrival into the almost-empty movie hall. The boys were obviously and totally guilty. They were not breathing; they were laughing their heads off. Even Inspector Clousea could have solved this case with rapidity.
So ends the tale of the Perryville Reptile Rebel, my Uncle Jr. I hope in the future to begin recording some of these stories (this is just one of many) for posterity – if not here, then on mp3. I’d encourage you to find the storytellers in your family, pull up a chair, grab a cup of coffee, and enjoy the richness of moments gone by.