By Debra Jenke
In early Winter, I had an evening meeting in downtown Livingston. Our host, Gary Davis, took us on a “field trip” from his beautifully restored office building (the JS Coats Building) to see another beautifully restored building, Ruby Cattle Company (the former Livingston Drug Building). On the way, we stopped at Cakes by Marsha since her lights were on and she graciously opened her doors to us to showcase the renovation there. Downtown was lighting up as the sun was setting.
At Ruby Cattle Company, it was a walk down memory lane. My mother worked in that building when it was Livingston Drug. She worked in the back, her desk backed up to the wall that was maybe 10 feet from the railroad tracks. The building shook with every train passing through town. I wrapped gifts there every Christmas for years, at a card table, making Livingston Drug ribbon roses and ribbon leaves—only the best wrapping paper and designs back in the day. On Memory Lane, I could see my mom at her desk and see the old Coke machine at the base of the staircase. That coke machine is where we stopped after getting our throat swabbed with mercurochrome upstairs; after seeing the doctor, you could go downstairs and get a real glass bottle of Coke, so cold it had ice crystals. The icy Coke was to get rid of the taste of the mercurochrome.
Before we left Ruby Cattle Company, I stepped outside to look at the changes downtown. From their lovely front doors I could see the lights of Whistlestop Cafe, Good Golly Miss Molly’s, Blue Duck and Petalz.
I ventured around the corner to see the office where I got my first “real” job. My first job out of Angelina College, with my associate’s degree in secretarial sciences, was for a new law firm—Pace, Moore and McClendon. It was in an old bank building that sits across from the courthouse on the north side. At the time, I just thought it was old—now it looks great. I also looked into the building next door to the old law office. I had never realized it houses a staircase and upstairs. It is amazing what you can see when you take the time to walk downtown.
As we left our “field trip” meeting, I stopped to look at the windows of what was once H.B. Davis. As I have told Gary Davis and his mother, Sara Poston, there was a coat there in the fall of 1977 that I wanted so badly. It was gray wool with a shawl rabbit collar. I certainly couldn’t afford it while working my way through college, and I knew my parents could not buy it. Yet, Christmas morning 1977, it was under the tree in a box. I graduated from AC that December, so maybe they were happy to get me off their payroll and out of the house.
I was amazed at how beautiful downtown is now. Downtown Livingston, all lit up at night—it was almost magical. Our meeting group that night, consisting of Gary Davis, Kathy Odom, Ralph Jenke and myself, spent the rest of the evening sharing stories of Livingston 50 years ago.
Lights—lights are my first memory of Livingston. That was 50-plus years ago, after my parents dragged me here kicking and screaming—to begin our life as managers of Camp Cho-Yeh. My dad and I came up in December, before we moved in January, to work on the house that came with the new job. We slept on cots and I think it was about 10 degrees. He took me out to eat, a rare treat, and as we came down South Washington toward town (I had never seen anything like it), “Cemetery Hill” sloped toward a lighted-up downtown Livingston, with the water tower in the distance and it was like a story book. We didn’t have hills where we moved from and we didn’t have a Roland’s Restaurant, where we ate that night.
Through the years, I quit paying attention to the lights or how beautiful our little town is. Change seemed to come slowly. I worked for Dr. Watson at his building which sat somewhere near where Jack in the Box is now. I would walk to the bank to make office deposits, walk to Perry Brothers to buy Cokes and ice cube trays and other various things for his office. I’ve spent a lot of time walking downtown and not paying attention to the surroundings. On the days I didn’t work, I would drive in from Angelina College and meet Mom for pie at the White Kitchen. I always hoped all the parallel parking spots would not be gone and I could pull up right in front. She would walk over from Livingston Drug and I would be waiting with pie and coffee. I am really not that keen on pie—but I loved the ambience, the group of businessmen that gathered there every afternoon with their latest stories. They were loud, smoking and laughing—always laughing. Mom and I eating pie and drinking coffee and listening to the locals—I wish now that I had realized then how special those times were. Sometimes I think of the Toby Keith song, “I Wish I Didn’t Know Now What I Didn’t Know Then.”
Special times—dreams of lights, of unexpected gifts, dreams of the old days, dreams of progress—they can exist together. Revitalization. Maybe that is the best word for downtown Livingston today. Like towns, we often need revitalization. Change can be good, progress can be good. If you are thinking of making a change, of getting that GED, of entering college—now is the perfect time. Start the New Year with a pledge to meet those educational goals and dreams! We are ready to welcome you to Angelina College and help you get the New Year started in a great direction.