The War Years

1940s Carnival on South 8th Street in Slaton

In 1941, it was official: the Depression was over.

Celebrations, which were once halted during the dust bowl doldrums and the menacing Depression era, continued once again beneath the blue West Texas skies.

Music drifted across the humble town square, bounced off brick buildings and wafted between trees. The spring air was overcome with laughter, pleasantries and the anticipative hints of young love.

“I married a Slaton boy and moved to Slaton,” Mary Helen Meeks said in a recent interview from the Slaton Care Center.

Mary Helen, who worked as a telephone operator in 1941, on many occasions took in the sights and sounds of Slaton. Her hometown, however, was the neighboring town of Post.

It was on one of those typical concert-filled afternoons when Mary Helen, sitting with a friend on the lawn of the town square, looked across the grassy field and locked eyes on a stranger who changed her forever.

After approaching the man and exchanging light conversation, Mary Helen rushed home and told her sister, “I met the man I am going to marry.”

Of course, remembering only his eye color and his name after that first meeting, Mary Helen returned to the square and to the concerts many more times and a few months after that first meeting with Alton, she became Mrs. Alton Meeks.

According to the book, Slaton’s Story, Alton was the son of Roy and Sue Meeks, who lived on a farm on the north end of Slaton. Roy was a farmer and a cattle buyer for many years. It is written that during the Depression, “Mrs. Meeks and the boys peddled milk, butter, eggs and frying chickens all over Slaton.”

When Mary Helen and Alton married, the two left their farm life in exchange for the small town atmosphere. Living at 250 West Dickens, Mary Helen worked as a bookkeeper at the Slaton Co-op Gin.

“Slaton wasn’t much different in 1941 then as it is today,” Mary Helen said. “Just a small country town. Some places have gone out of business and some have come in.”

A few months later in the fall of 1941, many citizens gathered and cheered on the Slaton football team at Tiger Stadium. The crowd would also sometimes travel by train to watch the Tigers play against other rival teams such as Lamesa and the 1939 Texas State Champions, Lubbock High.

The movie theaters on the town square also flourished as patrons from other towns and farm workers made their way every weekend to shop, dine and catch a show.

Entertainment became a vital part of the local economy. On some afternoons, the town’s skyline rose with the structures of carnival rides of visiting jamborees that came by train, daring the young people to take a whirl and experience new thrills on merry-go-rounds and ferris wheels.

In 1941, a young woman named Mary Enloe arrived in Slaton. She lived on a farm with her family who raised livestock and harvested vegetables. “We also planted cotton,” Enloe said in a 2010 interview from the Slaton Care Center. “Then there were the watermelons,” she said. “They were pretty good.”

Enloe remembered many of the festivals held in Slaton during the 1940s. “I remember one time when I borrowed my grandmother’s old dress, buttoned up shoes and a bonnet. They called that festival Pioneer Days. The festival was held downtown and they made food and ice cream. I remember the ice cream.”

In 1941, the radio was a household item and families gathered around it listening to music, news and variety show programming. It was also the same year a talented five-year-old boy by the name of Charles Hardin Holley, changing his name later to Buddy Holly, won a talent show in the neighboring city of Lubbock by singing the song, “Have You Ever Gone Sailing (Down the River of Memories).”

As people listened on the radio to the music that entered their homes, a sharp voice broke through the airwaves and the music was sharply halted. It was December 7, 1941; a man’s voice blared from radios throughout Slaton, “We interrupt this program to announce that the Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.”

“I remember it [Pearl Harbor] very well,” Mary Helen said. “We had the radio on all day and just sat around listening to the news.”

Christine Jackson, another resident of the Slaton Care Center, also remembered the frightening day. “It was terrifying,” she said in a 2010 interview. “We thought the war was going to come to us.”

Although war never came to Slaton in many aspects, like most other American cities and towns, Slaton went to war as well.

In the spring of 1942, one year after marrying Mary Helen, Alton Meeks scurried throughout the house, searching high and low in the family’s back yard, even scourging the trash cans for scrap pieces of metal.

“My husband tried to gather metal from everywhere,” Mary Helen said.

He wasn’t the only one; the entire community of Slaton came together to challenge the entire country in being the city that could collect the most scrap metal.

“We have the most patriotic citizens in the United States right here in Slaton,” D.R. Reid, chairman of the Slaton Salvage Committee, said in the July 31, 1942 edition of The Slatonite. “We will challenge New York, Chicago and Lubbock combined. Of course, it will have to be on per capita basis but just let us at ‘em and we will show the world that we are the best Salvage collectors that ever rounded up old water bottles or broken down cans.”

By 1942, it was official – the world was at war.


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