The tiny town clinging to life on the side of a two lane Texas highway appeared to offer little more than the possibility of a cold drink as I stopped my car in front of the only store. Squinting in the afternoon sunlight, I was glad for the shadows cast by the few buildings that made the place look a little more hospitable. Other than the store, a long white church building, a gas station, and a scattered handful of houses were the only structures in evidence.
The city limit sign I’d just passed boasted a population of just over 200. Not one of them was anywhere in sight.
Inside the lone store, a square box built of red bricks, I met Ella Hatcher, the proprietor.
At eighty-six, Ella was as spry as some folks less than half her age and still ran the store, built in the 1930’s on the spot where the original wooden store, built by Ella’s grandfather, had burned down. A long soda counter ran along one wall. I perched on a stool and ordered a cherry-limeade.
The name of the town, also on the sign, intrigued me. Ella clearly liked having someone to talk too. Seizing the opportunity, I asked her what she could tell me about how the town got its name. Sipping my cherry-limeade I listened as she recounted a story handed down to her.
“When I was about six or seven, I remember that the store still had the original telephone my grandfather had installed around the year 1875. As a child, that telephone looked kind of like a comical brown dog with a long face, two big, round, glassy looking silver eyes, a big black nose, and one droopy ear hanging off the left side.”
I’d seen pictures of phones like she was talking about, and chuckled, thinking about her description. The “droopy ear” was the receiver you listened through.
“Only the general store had a telephone in those early days, which everyone used. Only about thirty or so people lived in the town back then, so you could just yell out the door for someone if they got a call. The whole town was proud of that telephone. People would come by just to visit it, they say. They even had a name for it, ‘Ole Dawg’, so I guess they agreed with me about what it looked like.”
Laughing with her, I thought about that, comparing it to the instant, anywhere, anytime access of today’s homogenous cell phones.
“The town was so small; it didn’t even have a name in 1876, when my grandfather decided it needed a post office. He submitted several names to the government. All of the names of the Alamo and Goliad heroes, such as Crockett, Bonham, Bowie, and Travis, as well as the names of those in the early government of Texas, most notably Austin and Houston, were already taken.”
“One day Grandpa looked at the telephone and decided it was as good a name as any for a little town. So that, they say, is how the town of Telephone Texas got its name.”
We laughed together when I joked that I was glad her grandfather hadn’t decided to name the town “Ole Dawg”!
Thanking her, I took out my wallet to pay for my limeade, but she waved and said it was on the house, thanking me for taking the time to listen to her.
I hope the towns of Uncertain and Fate Texas have an Ella Hatcher. I’d sure like to know how they got those names!
An entirely fictionalized account, though they say the naming of the town went something like that.
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