Home News Vision Historically Speaking: Roswell’s dog days of summer

Historically Speaking: Roswell’s dog days of summer

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Photo Courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico The caption reads, "Cantaloupe packing on the Duvall farm, undated post card."

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily Record

Farmer’s Almanac describes the dog days of summer as being the 20 days before and the 20 days after the alignment of Sirius with the Sun — July 3 to Aug. 11. Wilkipedia’s description is as follows: “They were historically the period following the Heliacal rising of the star system Sirius, which Greek and Roman astrology connected with heat, drought, sudden thunderstorms, lethargy, fever, mad dogs and bad luck. They are now taken to be the hottest, most uncomfortable part of summer in the Northern Hemisphere.”

Do we not feel as though we’re living in the dog days of summer right now? That being said, I thought it would be fun to share a little bit of nostalgia, memories growing up in Roswell during the ‘50s and ‘60s.

Some of my very earliest memories growing up in Roswell are those of visiting many farm stands with my parents on East Second Street. During those days, it seems many of the farms in the area would bring their wonderful produce in, and sell it in stands that were set up next to each other, like the food booths at the fair. You could buy all kinds of fresh fruits and vegetables, straight from the farm, and of course multiple trips would be made to purchase whatever was picked on that day, to put on the table fresh, or to pickle or can for later.

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To that effect, I put in a call to my friend Lizzie Taylor, now living in California, because I knew her family owned one of those stands, only theirs was further out and connected to their farm. Following is a paragraph she graciously wrote for us about her memories:

“My father’s parents, William Eagleton Taylor and Avis Stuart Taylor, homesteaded their land in Roswell at the turn of the 20th century. I was told by my aunt Willie Echo Weathers (their oldest daughter) that my grandparents built their home from adobe bricks they had handmade from straw and soil from the earth on their own homestead. Some years later, these bricks were covered over with mortar and plaster as the home was updated. The home initially did not have indoor plumbing, so a two-hole privy sufficed. For many years, grandmama cooked and baked on a wood-fed stove. Story has it she never really liked, nor got used to her gas range. I’d believe this because I lived with grandmama my senior year of high school and can attest — this dear woman, Lord love her, never grasped the intricacies of a gas range and could fry an egg on that stove, (turning it) into something totally inedible.

“My granddad was a farmer who grew a wide variety of fruits and vegetables on their truck farm — tomatoes, squash, okra, field corn, bell peppers, green, navy and lima beans, beets and watermelon — which they sold throughout the various growing season in their Second Street roadside market, Taylor’s Garden, Fruits and Vegetables.

“My earliest memory of my granddad was that of a very quiet, stern man. A man of few words. I was so intimidated by him. But many years later, I learned his quiet side was a reflection of his Cherokee heritage. And even though my granddad and I didn’t have a long time together, I sensed, even as a little kid, he deeply loved his land.”

I also remember the Farmer’s Country Market — not sure if that was the store name then — on East Second Street, back when it had horse troughs out in front that were filled with ice and watermelons. An employee would let you pick your watermelon, and then, if you wanted, he would  “plug” it — with a little round tool, that would pull out a bitesize of the melon — letting you have a taste to make sure it was the sweetness and ripeness that you wanted, before you purchased it. Every summer, there was always a line to buy the fresh-picked melons. Incidentally, before East Second Street had businesses, it was the farm land of the Wilkins family, the parents of Arlene Wilkins, who married singer and actor Roy Rogers.

Moving along, summers were filled with running through sprinklers, making popsicles out of sweetened Kool-Aid in ice trays, throwing a quilt out on the lawn at night, and watching the stars with the neighborhood kids, or during the day, naming the shapes of clouds. Then there were the family picnics at the parks, Bottomless Lakes, or on the weekends, heading out of town for a day trip to the mountains. Sometimes, we would load up the car with picnic food at night, and go to the local drive-in movie to watch the latest Western or maybe a Disney movie.

One of the big events in the summer in Roswell were the soap box derby races that were sponsored by the Roswell Daily Record and the Optimist Club. Of course, there was the Fourth of July activities with front yard neighborhood fireworks, which consisted only of sparklers, fountains and maybe a few bottle rockets. I don’t remember the big loud ones we have now, but it was still fun. Oh, and we generally had freezers full of hand cranked homemade ice cream on July 4th — such fun.

Speaking of ice cream, another special treat was to go to A&W Root Beer for a frosted mug of root beer or root beer float, delivered right to your car window on a tray, which fit perfectly on the side of the car. We would also enjoy trips to “Pop’s Drive-in,” which was out on West Second Street. “Pop” was a colorful, much loved character, who owned the restaurant and dressed in a vest and ascot type cap. He would walk around the cars welcoming and greeting all the drive-in diners. The specialty that I loved the most there was homemade corn dogs, the best ever. They also had picnic tables and in-ground trampolines for the kids to play on.

Another summer fun thing to do was to play miniature golf at Terrace Hills Miniature Golf Course, which was on Southeast Main Street. Besides the fun of the golf course itself, it was landscaped with pretty summer flowers and petunias that perfumed the air, along with a little stream running along the golf lanes with pools of goldfish. Just a delight for kids of all ages.

Other childhood memories include wading in the streets in the curbside runoff of a summer thunderstorm, going to the park just to swing or slide, walking with friends to the local corner store for a grape or orange soda, and perhaps — if you were lucky —you might have enough money for candy to go with that delicious sugar fix. It’s no wonder our parents were happy for us to play outdoors most of the time.

One summer, our neighbor’s dad, J.D. Tays, brought home a 55-gallon steel drum — the kind we used to burn alley trash in. What fun we had taking turns climbing inside that drum and bracing ourselves, while the rest of the kids pushed and rolled us around the yard. That old steel drum was put through lots of miles that summer.

If you were really bored, you could always talk into the window air conditioner or fan, or pull the stamens from a honeysuckle for a little taste of sweetness on your tongue. However, one thing you never did was to tell your parents you were bored, or you just might find yourself doing dishes or sweeping off the porch, or any one of a number of different little chores your parents might find for you to do. After all, as creative as you might be, they were always a little more creative.

You always knew summer was coming to an end when your rubber flip flops had grown thin enough that you could feel the goat heads or stickers through the bottom of the rubber. Then you knew it would be time to go buy pencils, erasers, crayons, watercolor paints, paper, Kleenex, maybe a Big Chief tablet, depending on your age. Yep, that was the sign.

It would be fun to go back to those times and relive just one more day, but if you ever do, make sure to “close the door, you’re letting the flies in,” or “don’t slam that screen door!” It was generally one or the other.

Janice Dunnahoo is chief archivist at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or at jdunna@hotmail.com.