Abilene High School Class of 1961

A short story by AHS 61 Classmate Ron (Jack) Sprouse

                                  THE SALVATION OF RANSOM CURRY   

     In the Great Depression years of the 1930’s, in many parts of the country, there existed an entire population of displaced persons, often whole families traveling together, roaming the length and breadth of America looking for enough work to provide the bare necessities of life. Where ever there was work, or even just the hope of work, they would gather by the hundreds, desperately seeking and searching. Everywhere they went they there was sobering evidence of their presence. Makeshift towns sprung up, cardboard and plywood structures that barely kept the rain and cold out. Whether they were called hobo jungles, shanty towns, or just plain slums, they were miserable places, the products of an economic system gone awry.

 

     One of these shanty towns was a place in Texas called “Jackass Flat”. Jackass Flat was an eyesore that stretched for several blocks along China and Cherry streets a short distance from the railroad tracks on the south side of Abilene, Texas. The area remained in existence until the late 40’s and early 50’s until an era of prosperity, brought on by the Second World War and post war growth pulled the country out of the Depression and eventually did away with the blight on the city. But while it lasted, Jackass Flat spawned poverty, despair, lost hope and Ransom Lee Curry.

 

     Ransom Curry was ten years old when his family came upon hard times. Forced to get by as best they could, they moved around, from one menial job to another, living from hand to mouth until they wound up, at the end of their ropes, in the south Abilene slum, in the Fall of 1932. They were too broke and too tired and too sick to go on. A few years later both parents died, leaving son Ransom to fend for himself. The hard times left him mean and twisted.

     Kicked out of school early on, for beating up a teacher, Curry never received an education and as a full grown man could neither read nor write. He killed a man in a fight when he was twenty one and spent the war years in Huntsville. He carried a reminder of the fight with him always, for the man had stabbed Ransom in the right eye, blinding him permanently on that side. For this reason, and because he had claimed self defense, Ransom was given only four years in jail.

 

     It became a common practice for the men around Abilene to try and keep to his right side in the hope of avoiding being seen by the ill tempered goliath. The scar gave him an evil look and, refusing to wear an eye patch, the big man would often thrust the white, glazed eye at women and kids, slapping his knee and laughing at their frightened reactions.

 

     In the early fifties there was a Pentecostal street preacher named Joe Mabry who used to go downtown and pass out leaflets and gospel tracts to the shoppers and merchants along Pine street. He became a familiar figure to all who worked and visited the downtown area. His soft and gentle nature just seemed to naturally endear him to folks. He wasn’t one of those “wild eyed fanatics” like most Pentecostal preachers, they said. People would stop and talk at length with him and he would tell how he came to know the Lord and how he had gotten the call to preach the gospel. Catholics and Baptists alike were proud to call Joe Mabry their friend. One would have been hard pressed, in those days, to name someone who did not like and admire the easy going preacher.

 

     That was of course, with the exception of Ransom Curry. Ransom took an immediate dislike to Mabry. No one knew why. Joe didn’t understand it and he believed that, if he were asked, Ransom wouldn’t know either. In any case there was an undercurrent of tension between the two men. The preacher kept his distance while the other man taunted him continually. It was subtle disrespect at first, but over the years Curry became more brazen and mean spirited in his derision. On occasion he would pull his truck alongside the curb, where Mabry was preaching, and rev up the engine. The noise from the truck’s busted muffler would make it impossible for Joe to be heard. The Preacher usually would move along or stop preaching altogether.

    There was a popular eating place downtown at that time was a cafe called the Green Frog. The Green Frog was on Pine near north Fourth Street.

 

     Ransom ate breakfast in the Green Frog, almost every morning, after finishing his shift on the

oil rigs. Curry always drew the graveyard shift because the pushers wanted to keep him as far away as possible from the big bosses. One morning Joe Mabry walked in and took a seat at the Opposite end of the counter from where Curry was sitting.

 

“Hey Preacher, Ransom yelled, don’t the Bible say we’re s’posed to love everybody?”

     “It does say that, Ransom,” he said, not sure what was coming.

     “Well, I love this ol’ girl here.” He grabbed the arm of the waitress behind the counter. She jerked her arm away.

 

    “She don’t love me ‘tho.”

    “You’re right about that, she said, I sure don’t love you.”

     “How’z come she don’t love me, Preacher, if we’re s’posed to love everybody. Tell me that.”

     “You’re mixed up, Ransom, Joe said. What you’re talking about is lust, not love.”

     “Oh, okay, well then I got another one for you. Do you love everybody?”

    “Not always.” Joe replied, somewhat curious as to where the conversation was headed.

     “Do you love me Preacher?”

 

     Joe paused for a moment and Curry started grinning. “I try Ransom, I try. You must be some kind of test for me. I may pass and I may not.”

     “I don’t see how anybody could love everybody.” He said.

     “It’s not easy. Most people are just like you in some respects, too scared to show their true feelings.”

     “I show my true feelings.” Curry shot back.

     “I don’t believe that.” Joe said, calmly.

     “And I ain’t scared a’ nothin’. I sure ain’t scared a’ you and Jesus.”

     “I think you’re more scared than you know.” The preacher said.

 

Ransom’s temper ignited. He was just stupid enough to think he was being made fun of, and he started, for a moment to get up off his stool. “You got a big mouth, Preacher.” he said. Then he felt the waitress’ hand on his beefy right arm.

 

     “If you’re smart, she said, looking him right in his face, and God knows you’re not, but if you got any brains left in that ugly head of yours, you’ll stay on that stool and let this go. Consider that a bit of friendly advice.”

    

He cut a sharp menacing glance at Joe Mabry and then a grin, or more accurately a snarl, broke across his grizzled face. “Aw hell, Betty, you know I ain’t gonna beat up no preacher. You’d prob’ly call the cops anyway if I did.”

 

     A collective sigh of relief was heard throughout the cafe. No one wanted to feel the wrath of the six feet four inch Curry and they certainly didn’t want to see the preacher humiliated, or worse. The tension died down and there was a semblance of peace for a while.

 

     Ransom drank like a sailor, but there were no bars in Abilene in those days so he had to buy bootleg liquor or else drive over to Jones County to get his poison. Two brothers, Sam and Tom Larkin, used to make regular trips to Stamford to pick up booze. On one particular trip they had taken money from Ransom to pick up some for him but on the way back they were stopped by the law and their goods were confiscated. Ransom wanted his money back but the Larkins refused, believing they should all share in the loss equally. They avoided him for about a month but their luck ran out early one afternoon in front of the Green Frog. He beat them both senseless, leaving Sam lying on the sidewalk while he chased the younger boy, Tom, into the cafe intent on continuing the beating. As he grabbed Tom Larkin, Ransom felt some one push his way in between them. It was Joe Mabry, with one hand on Ransom and the other on Tom, holding them apart.

 

     “That’s enough Ransom”, he said.

     “That’s what you think, Preacher. You better get out’a here if you don’t want the same.”

    “Curry, you’re a hateful man and I guess you’ll always be, but you’re not going to hurt this boy anymore today.” He pushed the big man hard with his left hand and Ransom fell back over a chair, unhurt but embarrassed. Someone in the cafe had the poor judgment to laugh out loud. The place became like a tomb, deadly silent as they all waited to see what would happen next. Ransom was mad now, spitting mad, and determined to teach the preacher a lesson he would never forget. He charged like a bull, reaching for Joe with his left hand as he drew back to throw his big right fist.

    

     To this day, no one is really sure exactly what happened next, but Joe Mabry took a half step to his right and, in a flashing blur, threw three punches in quick succession, all of which landed and none of which were seen by anyone in the cafe.

 

     When his vision cleared, Ransom was looking up at the smoke stained ceiling of the coffee shop and he wasn’t altogether sure where he was. He tried to work his jaw and a sharp pain shot through his entire head. He tasted blood in his mouth and was sure that some of his teeth were loose. Standing over him was Joe Mabry looking like anything but a preacher.

 

     “Preacher, he said, I ain’t never been hit that hard before, not in all my life.”

     “That was the arm of the Lord, Ransom,” Joe said just as calm as could be.

     “Well it must’a been”, Curry said, shaking his head, “cause ain’t no man ever hit me that hard. I ain’t never seen a mule could ‘kick’ that hard. Whatever I did to rile you, I didn’t mean it.”

     Joe extended his hand. Ransom took it and let him help him up. “Come on, lets go see about your jaw and then I’ll tell you about the Lord.” They went outside and sat down on the curb and talked for about an hour. No one left the cafe while the two men were talking.

    

     Gathering in small groups, they sat watching the backs of the two dissimilar forces conversing there on the curb. As new patrons arrived they would be dutifully filled in on what had happened. There was much speculation about what was being said outside.

 

     “No, I don’t believe it”, one replied when informed that the preacher had just beat the tar out of Ransom Curry.

     “Believe it”, another said.

     “But how can that be?” Came the reply

     “Let me tell ya’ll a secret”, Betty said, in the flippant manner that was common to her trade. “He didn’t much want it known but I guess it don’t matter now, but Preacher, Joe Mabry

was the light heavyweight boxing champ of the entire Second Marine Division during the war. I know that was eight or ten years ago but he ain’t lost much. I guarantee you he ain’t lost much.”

     “I guess not”, someone said, ask o1’ Ransom how much Joe has lost since the war.”

     “He’s the toughest man I ever knew”, she said. “Before he got the call, he was the toughest man in Taylor County. After what I saw today, I expect he still is”.

    

      Soon after, Ransom started wearing an eye patch. He said he was tired of scaring women and kids, and it became known around Abilene that men and dogs no longer had to cross to the other side of the street when they saw him coming toward them.

 

     The incident was never mentioned again in front of either of the men. Whether out of respect for the preacher, and fear of Ransom, or the other way around, no one knew for sure, but the folks at the Green Frog Cafe went on about their business as if nothing had ever happened.

 

     About a month after the fight, if it could be called a fight, Ransom showed up at the Pentecostal Church on Ambler Avenue. Being as inconspicuous as a man his size could hope to be, he took a seat in the back row. Joe spotted Ransom but gave no sign that he had, knowing it would embarrass him if a big to-do was made about it. A few weeks later, one Sunday evening, after Joe had given the alter call, Ransom walked down the aisle and gave his life to Jesus. When Joe baptized him, he held him under an extra count figuring that Ransom needed all the cleansing he could get. All the violence and the sin that had accompanied him his thirty three years, floated away in the muddy water of Little Elm Creek and when Ransom came up out of the water, the light of heaven was shining brightly in his one good eye. He was singing and praising the Lord like a choir member, and he hugged Joe Mabry so hard that the preacher’s back was sore for a week.

 

     The two men remained friends for thirty five years and when Joe died in 1988, Ransom delivered the eulogy at his funeral, and stood at his grave, with his big arms wrapped around

 Joe’s wife and grandchildren, weeping like a child. He died the following fall of ‘89. The last thing they heard him say was, “I’m going home to see o1’ Joe.”

  

THE END

 

The Salvation of Ransom Curry     

 

C 1994 Ron (Jack) Sprouse

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3 Comments »

  1. It was a pleasure to read, especially since it was set in the Green Frog. My father and Marshall Mullins were good friends, and since Daddy loved coffee, I’ve spent many hours in the Green Frog. I haven’t thought of it in years, but the memories came pouring back as I read the story. Thanks for posting it. Teresa (formerly Terry O’Neal)

    Comment by Teresa Whittington — December 13, 2007 @ 5:01 pm | Reply

  2. Thanks Teresa, for the kind words. I wrote the story quite a few years ago and sort of forgot about it until I started hearing from Joh Odom and learned of this website.

    I was wondering if anyone would remember The Green Frog. I am glad you do, and glad you enjoyed the story.

    Jack

    Comment by Jack Sprouse — December 14, 2007 @ 3:58 pm | Reply

  3. My great uncle Marshall Mullins owned The Green Frog Cafe when I was growing up on a farm north of Nugent and attending church and school in Lueders, TX. We enjoyed meals at the cafe. This Saturday, I plan to attend one of his great granddaughter’s bridal shower in San Antonio.

    Comment by Carolyn Mullins Pearson — May 8, 2013 @ 1:55 am | Reply


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