Browse the book with Google Preview »
My father always said he'd never write a book.
He still says he hasn't written a book. He says we've compiled a collection: a collection of stories.
He loves political stories—especially his own—so this is OK with him. The thing he loves best about political stories is telling them. He never met an audience he didn't like—and I've never met an audience that didn't like his stories.
When he and I set out to write this collection, we had similar, yet separate goals. He wanted to preserve his favorite political stories. He believes there's more entertainment, drama, embarrassment, and escape in a good American political story than in any other form of national humor. Why? Because politicians are just as human as anybody else—but more inclined to get into impossible situations, more desperate to squirm out of them, and faster with a quip.
Each generation of politicians has its own brand of stories. As the political landscape changes, often these stories are forgotten. In writing this book, my father wants to make sure that some of his stories are not forgotten.
Like him, I wanted to preserve the stories, but I had another goal, too. I wanted to preserve the way my father conducted his Congressional career, because it seems to me that his was a kinder, more responsive attitude than exists in politics today. Despite differences, he treated political opponents with respect, and never held a grudge. He works harder—even in retirement—than anybody I know.
Growing up in a political family, I learned The Rules early, not because he preached them, but because he lived them. At first, I thought we should write about The Rules, sort of a "how to" book for aspiring politicians.
Briefly, some of Jake's rules are:
In a parade, don't get behind the horses! ...
but do ride in a convertible with your name on the side.
Always be available to constituents.
Don't assume "they" won't find out about it, because they will.
If it doesn't pass "the smell test," don't do it.
A politician who expects financial privacy is in the wrong line of work.
Don't arrive at events too early, because they don't know what to do with you.
Listen for the bell.
Answer every constituent's letter within three days of its receipt.
If you don't know where the money came from, give it back.
Holding a drink gets in the way of shaking hands.
When you're in your home district, you can't say "No."
In a restaurant, face the door, so people can see and talk to you.
Always carry a pen and paper.
Introduce yourself first.
At barbecues, stand at the head of the food line; everybody has to pass by, and you get to shake their hand.
Never take it all for granted.
When I first approached my father in the summer of 1994 about writing a book, he was hesitant. He didn't want to fall into the familiar trap of a public figure self-importantly writing a memoir about his career—a memoir nobody really wants to read.
Several months later, when we knew he wasn't going to run for reelection, he agreed to think about a book. But he was adamant about not writing an autobiography, and he insisted we put off starting until he retired and "came home for good." The date of his retirement was January 1995.
But 1995 came, and for the first five months he was too busy—busy unpacking, setting up a new office, speaking to civic groups, returning to Washington to testify before Congressional committees. Anything but working on a book! He kept putting me off, saying, "Not now. Maybe next week."
Finally he committed to a date in May 1995. However, suddenly a much-loved member of his staff died. Instead of working on our book that day, he delivered a moving eulogy at his friend's funeral. We scheduled another date in June.
But when that day arrived, he appeared at my front door and said we would have to postpone it again: Vice President Al Gore was in town. He was meeting the Vice President in two hours. "I'll try to set up a time next week," he said.
But by now I had figured out there might never be a "good" time. I said, "We have two hours. Sit down." I even gave him a little push toward the easy chair I had set up beside my computer. So he sat, looking at his watch and telling me he wasn't used to working this way. But he began talking—and once he began, he got into the story. Which reminded him of another story...
That's how we started.
Over the next six months, he talked and I typed. He was used to dictating; I was used to composing directly into a word processor. We compromised. As he reminisced, I typed the details into my computer as fast as I could, stopping to ask questions. He hated when I did that! He'd be laughing about one of Pa Ferguson's speeches and all of a sudden I would pipe up, "What year was this?" But that was one of the reasons I insisted on working with him in person: to press for details.
Each day after we finished, I would log the outline of the story into the memory of my computer. Later, I would print it and think about the story. What was in it? What wasn't—and needed to be? Then I would start writing. If for Jake the fun was in the telling, for me the fun was in the writing. So we both got to do what made us happy.
When I was satisfied with the first draft of each story, I gave the copy to him, then rewrote it with his suggestions or changes. Often, he complained that I "stretched everything out." His oral anecdotes cut right to the chase, but I was aware that these stories would be read by people who might not know Jake Pickle, the Tenth Congressional District, or Texas politics, so I added background and detail. And always—after each draft—to his annoyance, I had more questions. Almost every night for six months I called "to check a few things" and, with unfailing poor timing, interrupted his dinner.
It was a productive system and, despite differences of opinion about what was, and wasn't, important, we were a good team. He has such wonderful stories! And because I had heard many of the stories all my life, sometimes I remembered things he had forgotten, or could see corollaries between events or people.
As we worked, the book evolved into something different from what either of us had visualized.
Jake prefers political stories with a punch line. I wanted a mix of political stories, family stories, and stories that took a larger view. We compromised on this, too. We agreed wholeheartedly on such classics as "Steamboats up the Colorado," "Bless Their Hearts," and "Bob Keckler's Cow." Other political stories, like "Ticket, Please;" and "Love, Bess," have to our knowledge never been written before.
At my insistence, one of the first stories we did was "Uncle Gus and Uncle Arthur." Although both men died long before I was born, he quoted them often when I was little. Because his memories of his uncles were diverse, rather than a single incident, when I suggested a chapter about them he was surprised, saying, "But there's no story." Meaning no punch line. However, I believe Jake's memories of Gus and Arthur reveal a strong sense of family and an early respect for politics.
I talked him into doing stories about growing up in West Texas, living at Little Campus Dormitory during the Depression, and the founding of Austin radio station KVET. Some chapters, like "The White Shark' and "Dan's Debut," we did just for fun. Other chapters, like "Good-bye to LBJ and Big John," "'The Civil Rights Act," and "The Navy Years," we included for their historical significance. Chapters like "The 88th Club" and "Confessions of a Rattlesnake Chili Champ" are an insider's view of Congress.
My father wanted to include three legislative chapters because the issues they addressed—Social Security, tax-exempt corporations, and pension funds—were major accomplishments of his service on the Ways and Means, Social Security, and Oversight Committees. We agonized over these three legislative chapters more than other chapters in the book because the issues are so complex, and because more work lies ahead of Congress.
As the book took shape, my father and I laughed, got teary, and fought over what—and what not—to include. Always there loomed the larger-than-life specter of Lyndon Johnson. We uncovered unexpected memories. At times, what we discovered surprised even ourselves. As we wrote about World War II and KVET we were aided by scrapbooks my mother kept from 1939 until her death in 1952, which resurfaced after forty years when Jake and Beryl sold their Washington apartment. A bundle of antique postcards saved and given to Jake by "Handsome Harry's" son-in-law brought back the 1940s, when up-and-coming Austin men hung out at the Driskill Hotel's barbershop.
Like most great raconteurs, Jake says, "Never let the facts get in the way of a good story." Whenever the facts needed corroboration, I went to Beryl, Aunt Judith, or Uncle Joe. They had it straight!
I had a lot of fun writing the book. He likes being an author, too—as long as it doesn't prevent him from telling his stories in person. Halfway through writing this book, we were in his office discussing copy with Joanna Hitchcock, Theresa May, and Dave Cohen from U.T. Press. We'd just reread the"Little Campus" chapter, when Jake repeated a prank he'd inflicted on a Little Campus dorm mate sixty-three years ago. As he talked, he began laughing so hard he became red in the face. Watching him doubled over with glee was contagious; Theresa, Joanna, Dave, and I started laughing, too. I thought to myself, "It's as though it happened yesterday!" After all these years, he enjoys a good story as much as he did the first time.
And he makes us enjoy it, too. One of his great gifts is his enormous appetite for life.
This book is not a biography, documented research, or an official record of Jake Pickle's Congressional career. Its stories about his experiences in Texas, the South Pacific, and Washington, D.C., and a few of the people he's known along the way.
The stories we've written do not include every friend or person who contributed to his career—and they are legion. Out of a lifetime of stories and friends, we could not include them all. We apologize for misspellings or other inaccuracies which may occur due to the informal nature of these stories, written from memory, from a distance of more than seven decades.
As you read Jake, don't think of it as a book. Think of it as a collection!
In West Texas, where I was born, the landscape is simplified, reduced to sky, mesquite and chinaberry trees, cactus, and sand. But where some people scan the horizon and see only nothingness, I saw possibilities. The days of my childhood were long and full of light. Every direction of that wide, austere landscape interested me.
Growing up in West Texas, I was a mischievous boy, steadied by family and accepted by community. My parents poured their energies into their five children. Our lives revolved around work, school, church, and each other. Whatever I am and whatever I've accomplished is a result of the discipline and laughter that were my inheritance.
My father, Joseph Binford Pickle, was born in Weakley County, Tennessee, in 1876. Pop's father, James Calvin Pickle—"Pappy"—fought with the Union Army in the Civil War. Back then, you could serve awhile; when you'd had enough or proved you were needed at home, you hitched up your mule or left on foot. After Pappy had had enough, he did just that.
Pop's mother, Louisa Dickson Pickle—"Mammy"—was tall and raw-boned. Mammy's father was half Cherokee, and he fought for the Confederacy. When the war was over, he refused to pledge allegiance to the United States and was imprisoned in Union City for several months, until the authorities gave up and released him.
I don't know how Pappy and Mammy resolved their families' political differences, but their union must have added some willful genes to the bloodline.
My mother, Mary Theresa Duke, was born in 1884. in Lampasas County, Texas. Mom's parents were Columbus Welcome Duke and Susan Eliza Meek. Family legend is that Mom, whose mother was a Crockett, was related to Davy Crockett. Once I bragged as much on the floor of the House of Representatives. But when it was time to put up, I had to shut up, because I couldn't prove a thing.
Pop, who was the oldest of eight children, emigrated to Texas from Fulton, Tennessee, around 1899. Back in Tennessee, two sisters had died of tuberculosis—they called it `consumption" then—and the doctor told Pop to find a dry climate. He found West Texas, which is about as dry as you can get.
He and Mom met while they were teaching in Miles, Texas, near Ballinger, in a one-room schoolhouse. They started going together, but then Mom and her folks moved to a farm in the Panhandle. That was too far apart for the sweethearts. In 1903, Pop followed her; they got married and returned to Miles.
My parents married without money and never amassed much throughout sixty years of marriage and five children, but theirs was as good a union as I ever saw. Over the years, Pop tried every way he knew to make a living. If one thing didn't work out, he threw himself into another. In the early years of their marriage, he and Mom taught school, and whenever he could, Pop picked up side jobs to bring in extra money. At the turn of the century, being a West Texas schoolteacher didn't pay much, and the family was growing. My sister Janice was born in 1904 in Miles.
Around 1910, when Mom and Pop were teaching school in Winters, Pop decided to raise a few sheep. The raising went all right, but then he had to drive the sheep to market. When the sheep came to a bridge, they spooked and refused to cross. Finally Pop had to get down on his hands and knees and lead them across the bridge. He had to do the same thing to get them under a fence. When he got home, Pop told Mom that sheep were so timid and stupid, he would never have anything to do with them again.
Then he heard that the Texas & Pacific and the Santa Fe railroads, expanding west, planned to converge in Roscoe. Roscoe was the next boom town! Mom and Pop packed up and moved to Roscoe. Pop had a new career in mind.
Pop was naturally curious, a fast reader, and a good writer. With those qualifications, but without previous experience, he started the Roscoe Times. A fellow named Whitten helped him set up a Linotype machine. The day Pop and Mr. Whitten were moving the Linotype into the newspaper office, a lady passing by saw them struggling, and asked what they were doing. When Pop told her, "I'm starting a newspaper—the Roscoe Times," she said, "Humph! I lost two bits on the last one!" Roscoe's other newspaper had folded not long before, and she was still sore about losing her subscription.
That was an omen of sorts, but Pop forged ahead. He and Mom made a good life in Roscoe. They had a pretty little house where morning glories twined around the front porch. Pop was elected Roscoe's first mayor in 1907. In 1908, Jeanette was born, followed by Joe in igio. I was born in Roscoe in 1913.
People ask why all five Pickle siblings' names start with the letter J. Janice and Jeanette were coincidence; by the time Joe came along, Mom and Pop had decided to make it a tradition—especially since Pop was a Joe, too. I was christened James Jarrell: James for my paternal grandfather and Jarrell after Roscoe neighbors and friends.
But after I was about age four, everybody called me Jake. That was because for entertainment at night our family read aloud, and acted out stories and plays; in one story my character was a rascal named Jake. I was a natural Jake, and the name stuck, except with my parents. Mom and Pop always called me Jarrell.
Sure enough, Roscoe didn't become the railroad hub Pop expected, so he moved the family to Snyder. He bought a share in a newspaper run by two brothers. But after awhile, Pop realized that he was doing all the work and the brothers were doing very little. Then in 1916 he heard that Seminole was going to be an oil boom town. He wanted to get there early, so he moved the family to Seminole. Years later, he always said with a laugh, "I got there early, all right—forty years too early!" Automobiles were starting to appear in West Texas, although they weren't as common as horses and buggies. Pop didn't know anything about cars but, as usual, he wanted to get in on the trend early, so he opened a garage in Seminole.
My three earliest memories are of Seminole, and two have to do with my disobedience. The first happened after I watched Pop lather up his beard with a straight razor. I tried to do the same thing. Mom caught me wielding the razor over a bleeding cheek and gave me a paddling.
Second, at about age four, I climbed the windmill in back of our house. Back then, there was no municipal water supply; the only way you got water was when the wind blew hard enough to turn the wheel and pump it. A wood ladder at the base of the windmill led to a platform twenty or thirty feet above the ground. One day I climbed to the top, but then I got scared and started to wail. Janice heard me and went for Mom. When Mom saw me, she was frantic. I was holding on to the platform with one hand and wiping my nose with the other. Mom started up the ladder, sweet-talking, telling me to hold on, telling me I was her precious baby—"Hold on, Jarrell, just a minute more, Mama's coming."
When she got to the top, she flung her long skirt over one arm, plucked me off the platform and carried me back down, still telling me how she loved me, "Hold on to Mother, sweetheart," she kept saying. But when we got to the ground, all hell broke loose! She paddled me but good! All the way down I thought I was Mama's precious darling, at the bottom, I learned that love has many faces.
Poor Mom. She was always bailing me out of scrapes or having to switch me. Pop was too soft-hearted; Mom got stuck being the disciplinarian in the family. Sometimes she'd break a switch off a cottonwood tree. I knew what that meant. Janice tells how once, as I watched Mom pulling off cottonwood leaves to make a switch more pliable, I stuttered, "Thaaads all riiiiight. You can jus' leave tho-thooose leaves on th-there!"
My third memory of Seminole is of November 11, 1918: Armistice Day—a month after my fifth birthday. I was sitting on our back fence when I heard horns, people yelling, and loud explosions. Later, brother Joe explained they were "shooting anvils" downtown. The blacksmith would fill the crevice in his forge with gunpowder, position his heavy anvil on top, and light the powder. The anvil would fly into the air with a loud boom and come down several feet away. In Seminole, nobody had fireworks, so we shot anvils. I never experienced that again, but it made a strong impression on me.
Sure enough, the expected Seminole oil boom never materialized, so after awhile, Pop took Mom and us kids to live with Mom's parents in Lamesa.
About this time, Pop was given a team of mules and a wagon as payment of a debt. However, he had to bring them from Post, Texas, back to Lamesa, a distance of about fifty miles. Without warning, a Blue Norther hit, covering the ground with sleet and ice. The mules wouldn't move; they huddled to stay warm. Pop couldn't see any landmarks. In the dark, he found a tree and tried to climb it to get his bearings, but the trunk was too slippery. He kept trying to climb the tree anyway, just to keep warm. He was so tired all he wanted to do was lie down and sleep, but he knew if he did, he'd freeze to death. Every time he had the urge to rest, he thought "about Mary and those kids at home," and forced himself to stay on his feet. He unhitched the mules from the wagon and wrapped their reins around his hands so he wouldn't lose them in the dark. All night long he and the mules wandered the icy prairie.
Finally, the next morning he spied some telegraph lines and followed them until he came to a house, which turned out to be the John B. Slaughter Ranch. At first, when Pop burst in the door, disheveled, wildeyed, and dirty, the cowboys thought he was a bandit. But then they realized he was half-frozen and lost, and gave him a shot of whiskey and revived him, so he was saved, and the mules, too. But by this time Pop had decided that his interests did not lie in ranching, especially with sheep or mules.
Throughout his life in West Texas, Pop was convinced that there was money to be made in oil and gas. He didn't expect to get rich quick—he expected to work hard, and then get rich! At various times he bought shares in oil and gas leases in West Texas, but they always turned out to be dry holes. He decided the thing to do was go to Burkburnett, north of Wichita Falls, where there was oil, and plenty of it.
In Burkburnett, he tried buying oil leases, but he couldn't scrape together much capital, and he was too honest to hustle people. From Burkburnett, he wrote Mom flowery letters, telling her how he loved her and wanted to provide for his family.
Finally, Pop had to come back to Lamesa without oil money—big or otherwise. Sister Judith was born in Lamesa in 1919. When Judith was just a few weeks old, I tried to trade her for a pig. A neighbor came to see the baby. I knew the man had a fat pig, so I tried to cut a deal whereby the man got the baby, and I got the pig. Humoring me, the man smiled and said,"Why, young fellow, that sounds like a mighty fine trade to me." Then when he got up to leave—without Judith—I ran after him and said, "Mister, you forgot your baby!"
Pop's next business venture was to go to Big Spring, where he opened a fruit stand near the railroad station. The fruit stand proved Pop's salvation. It prospered so much that he pooled resources with another man, Vic Flewellen, and opened the P&F Grocery on Main Street. But soon, Mr. Flewellen decided to go into the cotton business. Pop wasn't discouraged, he'd finally found a growing concern, and he had the people skills and gumption for retailing. So he opened the White House Grocery—named for its long white building, not because of politics—at 1901 Scurry Street.
Once the grocery business got established, he moved Mom and us kids to Big Spring. I was seven when we arrived, so Big Spring is where I grew up. Our first house was on Donley Street; then we moved to Benton Street, and then to 402 Runnels. By the time I was in high school, Pop was making enough to build a fine yellow brick house at 1800 Main. It cost $10,500, which seemed like a fortune in 1930.
Mom and Pop's prosperity was short-lived. A few years later, when the Depression really set in, they lost most of their money. Business at the White House Grocery dropped off, other customers couldn't afford to pay. A lot of people bought on credit, and Pop couldn't turn them away. In those days, rural grocers extended credit a year in advance "till the crop's in." Each family might owe $700 or $800 by the end of the year, and the debts added up. During the worst of the Depression, Pop was carrying $25,000 in notes.
Although I know now that my parents struggled for every loaf of bread they put on the table, growing up in Big Spring was for me a halcyon experience. Joe and I had a mongrel dog, Rex, who, when he wasn't tied, would follow us to church on Sunday, walk down the aisle, and bark when he got to our pew. Pop was Southern Baptist and Mom was Methodist, but they had compromised: Mom took Janice, Jeanette, and Judith to the Methodist Church; Pop took Joe and me to First Baptist. Joe and I played sandlot baseball and were Boy Scouts and Eagle Scouts. Mom and the girls made homemade ice cream, and we kids fought over the dash. In that small town, everybody knew everybody else, and nobody locked the doors.
Once when Mom was in Lamesa visiting her folks, Pop took Joe and me to the Busy Bee Café. I was eight, and it was the first time I had eaten in a restaurant. I scanned the bill of fare, and then mortified Joe when I solemnly told the waiter, "I'll have the potted ham." Small cans of potted ham were on the shelves at the White House Grocery. It was the only thing I recognized on the menu.
Then the waiter brought out a plate of what Joe and I thought were vanilla cupcakes. We ate our food, keeping an eye on that delicious dessert—until at the end of the meal, the waiter removed the plate! They were cornbread muffins! At home, cornbread came in a skillet. We boys didn't get out much.
The only time I ever saw my Tennessee-born father lose his temper was when a neighbor cut down one of Pop's trees. Pop thought destroying a tree in West Texas was just about a hanging offense. Sometimes he'd scan the flat horizon—that same horizon that filled me with boyish excitement—and say,"By jingo, what a Godforsaken country!" I hope there are trees in Heaven, because Pop missed them every day.
I'm told I didn't talk much until the age of three. But, as Janice says, "Once he started, it seems like he just never shut up." At Big Spring High School I was voted senior class favorite, and it had to be due to personality rather than looks, because I was the skinniest kid in town.
My senior year I was supposed to recite a speech I had written about public service at a school assembly. Halfway through the speech, every word flew right out of my head. At the time, Eugene O'Neill's play Strange Interlude was the rage; Groucho Marx even spoofed the title in one of his movies. So when I went blank at the assembly, I did the first thing I could think of, which was to press my fingers to my temples and say loudly to the audience, "Pardon me while I have a strange interlude!" The resultant laughter taught me the value of a quick recovery—and the sweet thrill of applause.
Despite being a natural ham, I never thought about being a politician. Mom and Pop thought I was so argumentative, I would make a good lawyer, so when I graduated from Big Spring High in 1932, they encouraged me in that direction. As a family, we had always talked politics around the dinner table. Pop was a populist, yellow-dog Democrat. In the early 1930s, he was elected mayor of Big Spring, supervising the construction of City Hall and the dedication of Big Spring City Park. He also had the honor of welcoming First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to Big Spring when her plane landed to refuel.
Now, brother Joe—he always knew what he wanted to do! He wanted to be a newspaper man. As a child, he published The Pickle Picayune, filled with neighborhood happenings. As soon as he graduated from Baylor, Joe made a beeline back to Big Spring to work as a reporter for the Big Spring Daily Herald (now the Big Spring Herald). Later, he became editor, a position he held for thirty-five years, retiring after forty-three years at the paper. Janice became a librarian, and Jeanette and Judith became teachers. At the University of Texas, I was on my way to being a lawyer when I got sidetracked by politics.
I don't know how my parents, who started married life as teachers in a one-room prairie schoolhouse, managed to feed and clothe a family of seven and see all five of their children receive college degrees during the Depression. I think they were attracted to each other because each believed in education: for themselves, for others, and for their children.
Besides laughter and unconditional love, one of my parents' great gifts to me was their appreciation of hard work.
Once when I was a kid, Pop was irritated about something I had done—or hadn't done—and he told Mom,"Mary, I think I'd rather see Jarrell dead than lazy!" Startled, Mom said, "Hush, Joe. You know you don't mean that!" And Pop said heatedly, "Yes I do, because when you're dead, you don't suffer. But if you're lazy, there's no hope!"
There was plenty of hope in our house. At the age of eighty-two, I have it still.
In 1932, former Governor of Texas Miriam "Ma" Ferguson was trying for a comeback, running against incumbent Governor Ross Sterling. Ma's husband, Jim "Pa" Ferguson had preceded his wife as Governor of Texas in 1915-1917. "Ma and Pa" made a great pair. Pa was a great stump speaker in the Populist tradition. Often at Ma's rallies he entertained the crowd, warming them up before his wife, the actual candidate, made her speech. Pa, who called himself "Farmer Jim," was always promising to help the little man. Farmer Jim would say, "I'm going to put the fodder on the ground where the calves can get it."
One of Jim Ferguson's routines, and one much appreciated by Depression-era audiences, was to poke fun at Governor Sterling, who before his election had been a wealthy Houston oil man. Farmer Jim joked that despite Sterling's highfalutin' airs, the Governor was still nothing more than oil field trash, too country to be governor.
To illustrate that you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, Pa often told the following story at Ma's campaign appearances. It never failed to bring down the house. One day, young state representative Herman Jones from Decatur was in Ferguson's audience. Courtesy of Herman Jones, here is Jim Ferguson's classic campaign story:
Governor Sterling had been invited to a deer hunt on the Anacacho Ranch near Uvalde. He went to the ranch directly from a speaking engagement and inadvertently left his deer rifle in his office at the State Capitol.
When he discovered the error, he called his administrative assistant, Pat Daugherty, long distance to make sure Daugherty found the rifle and brought it to the ranch. But when Sterling placed the call, there was so much static on the rural line that he and Daugherty could hardly hear each other.
Sterling kept saying, "Par, this is the Governor. The Governor! When you come to the ranch tomorrow, bring my gun. It's at the Capitol." And Daugherty would say, "What? What? Who is this?" Exasperated, Sterling would repeat the request, talking slowly and loudly into the receiver, but Daugherty could hear only part of what he was saying. Over and over, Daugherty would say,"Hello! We have a bad connection. What do you want?"
Finally Sterling became exasperated and—according to Ferguson—reverted to his old, country self. He lost his temper and shouted, "Pat, now you listen to me! And write this down! This is the GOVERNOR. When you come to the ranch tomorrow, BRING MY GUN. G-U-N.'G' as in Jesus, 'U' as in onion, and 'N' as in pneumonia! Gun, dammit!"