Just before Marcia and I got married, I went searching for a rent house to prepare as a home for my bride. Having no credit, little cash and on an annual salary of only $7,000 a year, I only answered newspaper ads with the very lowest rent. One particular ad was placed by a Mrs. Stringfellow in Hawkins, Texas who was out of town when I called to come to look at the house. However, her housekeeper, a happy-go-lucky, middle-aged, black lady, offered to show me the house.
I followed her to the house, which was a tiny, white, oil-field house, there in that East Texas town of Hawkins, which consisted of a living area, two bedrooms with a Jack and Jill bathroom in between, a tiny kitchen and a screened in back porch. The whole thing couldn’t have been much more than 800 square feet. She let me in and walked me through each tiny room, announcing each room, using wide sweeping gestures like Vanna White, as if it were a brand new car. Finally we ended up in the little kitchen. “Oh, and `this house’ even comes with – a refrigerator,” she said, with a big smile, as she swung its door open with the same sweeping gesture.
Out of the bottom of fridge gushed what looked like a thick river of rust colored fluid. But it wasn’t liquid! It was hundreds if not thousands of small rust colored roaches. I was so stunned that I couldn’t say anything. As she continued to discribe all the features of the tiny kitchen, the creatures seemed to just flow across the floor and surround her feet. But the moment they began to swarm her shoes and climb up her legs, she glanced down, and that woman let out a high-pitch wail and commenced a tap dance routine, right there in that kitchen, that would have put Gene Kelly to shame, including leaps, jumps, heel-clicks and spins across the living area, through the screen door and what looked like a controlled slide all the way across the porch and down the front steps from which she landed on her feet and continued dancing all the way down the walkway to her car. Even her car seemed to keep up the same rhythm till it rounded the corner out of sight.
I called Mrs. Stringfellow the next day, told her what my financial condition was and that I was getting married soon and therefore that I, in spite of the previous day’s event, would still rent her house. That afternoon I got the keys, bought a couple of cans of roach spray and moved what few sticks of furniture I had into the living room.
After spraying seven or eight individual roaches, I saw one retreat behind the celling molding in the kitchen. So, using a step ladder and starting above the door to the living room, I began spraying the entire molding around the room. When I was half-way done, I began hearing the increasing pitter-pat of rain falling on the roof, but seeing nothing but sunshine and blue sky out the window, I turned to see what I was hearing.
Swarms of roaches were now pouring out of every inch of the crack above the celling molding, struggling across the ceiling and then raining down sick and dying on the appliances, counters and floors. Somewhat overwhelmed, I went to a nearby country store and bought every bug bomb that they had and brought them home. I closed up the house, and starting from the back rooms to the front, I set off bug bombs in every room, all at the same time, exited the front door and went to sit in the car.
For a while there I thought that I might have set the house on fire since what looked like a pale greenish smoke seemed to be spewing from every crack and vent of the house. Finally when I was sure that no one was going to call the fire department, I drove to the college where I worked and bunked on a dorm floor for three nights. During that time, the guys in the dorm, after hearing my plight, recruited a whole carload of girls to follow me home that weekend and help me clean up the house.
First we wiped and swept the entire house, ending up with a pile of dead roaches about four inches deep and two feet across. The rest of the cleaning took most of the day with only one of the girls passing out in a closet from ammonia fumes. They did a great job and I am still very grateful to those young ladies for making it possible for me to bring Marcia home to a clean house.
The next day Mrs. Stringfellow stopped by. After taking a quick tour of the house and being obviously impressed, she told me to get into her car. Now she was quite elderly and drove her huge Cadillac by peeking over the dashboard through the steering wheel. After what seemed a long, slow, yet hair-raising, thirty mile drive to Tyler, Texas, she took me into a furniture store, pointed out a very nice bedroom set and asked me what I thought about it. After saying that I thought it was very nice, she told the sales man to deliver it to my house. On the way back she told me that she just wanted Marcia and I to, at least, have a nice bed to sleep in.