Former Governor Thomas Mitchell Campbell, December 1913
“Nothing appears more boring, Papa Tom,” whispers Clarence Dilley, “than stringing popcorn and cranberries.”
“No need to whisper. They’re chattering like magpies, and their laughter drowns out anything we say. Popcorn-stringing evidently is hilarious entertainment for the girls. But untangling these strings of lights is frustrating. And if one is loose, the whole string fails.”
“A boon for electric companies,” nods Clarence.
“Yet these new-fangled electric lights represent a giant step forward for our safety. When we lit candles on the tree, I felt compelled to stand guard, armed with pails of water and bags of sand.”
Clarence holds up a bulb. “I do like this jolly old Santa Claus light.”
“Ah, part of the FAO Schwarz haul. Walking into that store in New York City was an enormous mistake. You would’ve thought the ladies in our family were six-year-olds. They wanted everything. I spent less money taking them to dine at the Waldorf Garden or to shop at Bloomingdale’s.”
Clarence puts down a stubbornly knotted string to peer into some of the surrounding boxes. “Surprising this Lionel train set captured their attention. Personally, I can’t wait to watch it up and running.”
“I hope we’re clever enough to accomplish the task. Piecing the track together is supposed to be tricky. The locomotive’s so hefty I actually believe it capable of hauling all the cars they insisted we adopt. Along with a station. And two tunnels. Soon they’ll want a whole village.”
“The longer we spend setting up the train, Papa Tom, the less time available for Sammie to snare us for any of her holiday parlor games.”
“Plus, while we work over here I can complain to you about the laurels heaped upon Emperor Adolphus Busch. Even patient Fannie can bear my groans about him no longer. Every time I complain about something I read about him, she makes me reach into my pocket and deposit coins in the pickle jar to go toward purchasing more Red Cross Christmas seals. We now have an over-abundant supply of them in the drawer of her writing desk. She’ll be applying them to envelopes at least until July.”
“Sammie’s been sticking them on all her correspondence. I’m befuddled, given her dislike of the Colquitts.”
“Surprisingly, Missus Colquitt has embraced a noble cause for the Christmas seals—improving hospitals in Texas. She sings praise of the clean, modern facility she toured in Panama to nurse canal workers felled by yellow fever, typhoid fever, dysentery and malaria. She terms the sanitization of the Isthmus miraculous. They drained the swamps. Raised houses off the ground. Screened windows and doors everywhere. Nearly a quarter of all French workers on the project ended up in the Colón graveyard. Following all the improvements, the current death rate for American canal workers has been reduced to three per thousand.”
“Papa Tom, if she can rid Texas of mosquitoes, I agree with her. Panamize our state. Returning to the topic of the late shrub of St. Louis, newspapers throughout the country still print exhaustive eulogies to him. They paint the mighty Adolphus as a charitable saint.”
“Out of the millions he made creating a land of drunks, he periodically tossed a miserly handful of coins to the scrambling rabble as though offering great gifts. His only god was wealth. Clarence, men of his ilk should not be held up to the young men of this land as worthy of their emulation.”
“Perhaps his passing will bring an end to the flood of funds he used to pay poll taxes and buy votes. The bribes to state legislators and members of congress to serve the interests of the brewing industry might cease.”
“I fear he schooled his son well in the art of pursuing illegal political practices.”
“They say each of his seven children,” says Clarence, “will receive income from his trust of $375,000 a year. That is more than $1,000 a day. No man can spend that sinful amount.”
“Of course, we have those San Antonio brewers adding to the stockpile of funds for bribery. No doubt money already is pouring into the pockets of some of my rivals for the Senate seat. You know, Clarence, when I won the governorship, I didn’t have to take a stand on the issue of prohibition. Before I encountered all of their underhanded schemes for corrupting others, I was in favor of local choice. No more.”
Clarence shakes his head. “I wish prohibition could be eliminated entirely from the discussion. You have so much to contribute toward solving problems facing this country. No voter should evaluate a candidate solely on one issue. Unless it’s a man’s integrity. You’re a better man than Jake Wolters, President Brooks of Baylor and particularly Governor Colquitt.”
“This battle ahead of me will be a royal one. But I am ready for the dance.”
Clarence claps his hands together. “Hooray! All the lights are working. Even Saint Nick is glowing merrily.”
Thomas turns aside. “Now for the train. I feel my life has prepared me better for running for Senate than laying this track. I wish Saint Nicholas did more than fill the stockings before flying off ‘like the down of a thistle.’”
Visions of sugar plums danced through the Author’s head trying to imagine a holiday evening at home in Palestine, Texas.
Not everyone was an Adolphus Busch fan as evidenced by this tone picked up from the Bonham Semi-Weekly News, and Thomas probably agreed. The Brenham Daily Banner-Press referenced Mrs. Colquitt’s desire to “Panamaize” Texas following the couple’s fall visit to the Canal.
The former governor announced he was throwing his hat into the ring for the U.S. Senate at the end of October 1913.
As for how a Santa light slipped into the narrative, visit this older post.