Noble Family Legend, 1

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.

On this day...


  1. Carolyn Bakalekos says:
    So, what am I? Chopped liver? Not even a mention for my appearance.
  2. Mark W. says:
    My grandparents had some whoppers. Thankfully, my family is one to always retell the family legends too. Great memories! Nice post!
  3. Marylee Noble says:
    Good job of re-telling the story. I wish you had recorded lots of the old family stories, especially when Opal and D.B. were alive.
    Maybe these old family stories could be your first best-seller.

    Now you know that to be a great writer, you have to have a good proofer/editor/grammar cop. So here goes:

    In the 3rd paragraph, it should read its hilarity (not it’s hilarity)
    Last word of 4th paragraph should be Nobles (not Noble’s)
    (refer to Carolyn’s and my earlier campaign)

    Always happy to help you, sweetie.


  4. Mark W. says:
    Ouch! Yo momma be knockin’ you upside da head wit “apostrophe usage,” man! Dat’s gotta hurt! Best be workin’ on dem possessives, ya hear?

    UAM Prof.

  5. Dawn Reed says:
    That is too funny!! LOVE IT!
  6. Jeff says:
    I have an amazingly beautiful and intelligent aunt named Carolyn whom I love dearly. I was shocked recently to discover that she is many years older than me because she looks so young. She is without doubt, the greatest relative I have. She frequently sends large amounts of cash – just for encouragement – when she herself receives encouragement.

    My dear aunt was present at La Hacienda the other day with us all, but had to leave before the telling of the Reptile Rebels. My deepest apologies for neglecting her!

  7. Jeff says:
    Dad called and related to me a few more details of the above story that were deemed “important.”
    1. There was a lot more planning involved in the Reptile Rebel Release…
    In those days, most movies were double-features. They were preceded by previews, then a 10-minute news reel, some cartoons, and finally the first feature. On this particular day, the first feature was a Western, and the second was some kind of “chick flick.” The boys purposely waited until the chick flick before they released the gators. Their thinking was like this…
    “All the little girls would have kicked off their shoes, and started snuggling with their little boys.” They wanted to be sure that the audience was primed for a the gators.
    2. Another interesting note. It cost a dime to get into the movies, another nickel for popcorn, and another dime for a coke. “For a quarter, you had a whole evening or day of entertainment.”
  8. Carolyn Bakalekos says:
    Very good kissing up. Apology accepted.
  9. hy says:
    Great! I would always ask daddy to tell that one if there were rookies around. Here is another one for you.
    When he was either a 1st or 2nd lieutenant he was in the officers club on base. There was this really pretty lady sitting by herself. So daddy went up to her to ask her to dance. She looked him up and down and said “I don’t dance with boys.” Of course he was offended so he shot back that he was 6’1 and 170lbs. just how big did the men grow where she was from. She looked at him and said ” Oh you’re big enough, but where I come from we leave them on the vine a little longer.” I always loved that one and may just be my favorite.
    1. Jeff says:
      Love this! Thanks for sharing and keep them coming!

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