Grandma was a snuff-spitting joker

Don McAlavy

This story comes from John Paul Pitts, a Texas oil man.
He was 9 years old when he feared the world had come to an end near Wink, Texas, about 200 miles south of Clovis.
This was in 1940, on a Saturday night, long after the sun had set.
A mess of roughnecks and roustabouts and their wives, or girlfriends, would gather each Saturday night in Pitts’ grandparents front yard.
“On this night,” Pitts reported, “as I was about to nod off, a strange and heavenly event began to unfold. Suddenly the sky became alive with ‘falling stars.’ Then one lady pointed and half shouted: ‘Look!’
“They all followed her gaze. A strange pulsating glow had appeared on the northern horizon, first small, then quickly casting a fiery hue across the entire northern sky. Some thought it was a gas flare. Not even the giant gas flare at Denver City could light up the sky like that.
“Suddenly, Grandma bolted from her rocker with hands raised, shouting ‘Praise God! It’s him. It’s the Lord!’
“Grandma usually rocked and savored her snuff, but seldom spoke. But when she did speak, people took notice. Such was Grandma’s reputation. So now, startled eyes focused hard on her as she loudly proclaimed the second coming!
“Sinful cigarettes were stomped and questions were asked: ‘Do we pray? Do we run home for the kids? Will it be painless?’
“My Grandma had spoken, and now the strange, unexplainable fiery phenomenon made sense: It was the end of the world!
“Grandpa, who feared nothing, neither man nor God, made his move. He swaggered slowly into the house and flipped on the radio. We all knew why. If it were the end of the world it would be mentioned on the radio, if anybody were still out there.
“Our ears were cocked toward the screen door as we waited for the radio tubes to heat up. Finally, through the static, sprang the voice of Hank Williams singing about ‘cheatin’ hearts.’ There were no news flashes about doomsday, and the oil-patch clan knew that the world was still turning. Mankind was still out there, still playing country music.
“The relief was audible, cigarettes were relit and, within minutes, the group disbanded, drifting toward their cars and pickups. However, some very chill glances were cast at Grandma, who had now gone back to rockin’ and spittin’ and crochetin’. She did not look up, but a faint smile on her snuff-stained lips did not go undetected. Her sense of humor was always a subdued one.
“In any case, the next day we learned the truth. A gas well had blown out near Jal, N.M., and had lent an eerie hue to the meteor shower. It was all quite normal.”

Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian.