From the 1940's until 1994 my grandparents lived in Ballinger on the same street in the same house. They were George and Marie Scruggs. I have been to Ballinger more times during my life than I can count or remember.
From the 1940’s until 1994 my grandparents lived in Ballinger on the same street in the same house. They were George and Marie Scruggs. I have been to Ballinger more times during my life than I can count or remember. Winter, spring, summer and fall we made the pilgrimage from El Paso, where I lived, to Ballinger to see my grandparents. Going to Ballinger was like going to Mayberry. It was the real life West Texas version of the fictionalized TV show. It had everything a kid could want. There were tanks to fish in, ranches to hunt on, a high dive swimming pool to cool off in when it got hot, and a huge park with and a miniature golf course.
My grandfather used to say Ballinger was on God’s time. That’s what he called Central Standard Time…God’s time. It might be the reason he always wound his mantle clock on Sunday. God’s time in Ballinger, at my grandparents’ house, had a schedule -- breakfast at seven, lunch at noon, and dinner at five. All the hunting and fishing and swimming had to be squeezed in between those meal times. As younger kids my brother and I amused ourselves with balsa wood gliders from Winn’s and comic books from Hambright’s drug store. As teenagers, we played pool in the domino hall next to the Texas Theater.
At some point in Ballinger history, the domino hall building was the City Cafe because you could see the old block lettering through the whitewash on the front of the building. I never knew it when it was a cafe. It was always the domino hall. There was an old sign…a rectangular double six domino hanging on the wooden sidewalk cover just over the door. This is where my grandfather spent many happy hours playing dominos with his friends. I don’t remember their names except for two. One was Mr. Lyle Curry. He was like the John Wayne of the domino hall. You knew he was there the moment you walked in the door. You usually could hear him but if not…well he had presence. The other was Mr. Lefty Vogelsang, who I think would join in occasionally when he wasn’t working on his farm. After my grandfather retired he bought ten acres of land off of FM 2133. It was his hobby farm and he called it, to no one’s surprise, the “Ponderosa”. To him it was Ballinger’s version of Bonanza. His schedule was after lunch to head out to the Ponderosa take a quick nap, set the water on the cantaloupes or watermelons then head to the domino hall. He played probably from two until four thirty then back out to the Ponderosa turn off the water and pull into the driveway at home before the clock struck five keeping in perfect sync with God’s time.
This schedule went on for years and all the while that mantle clock ticking. In the 1970’s I was a graduate student at Texas Tech working on my M.A. degree in Mass Communications. My photography instructor was Herschel Womack. He was big on training yourself to “see” the world as a photographer. He told me iconic photographs are all around us in our everyday lives. You just need to be able to “see” them. So, needing that iconic photograph for my Master’s portfolio, my wife (who also loves Ballinger) and I came to visit George and Marie one Saturday in the spring of 1975. George did not usually play dominos on the weekends. Saturdays were for watching either football or baseball depending on the season. Somehow I was able to cajole him to accompany me down to the domino hall to see if I might get a good picture of some domino players. By the 1970’s the pool tables were gone and there were not as many tables set up as there once were but four men were playing. My grandfather told them about my photo project and they agreed to let me shoot some pictures while they played. I shot a roll of Tri X film we thanked the players and we left.
Two great things came out of that brief session. First I ended up with a picture of my grandfather in the domino hall where he spent so many happy hours of his retirement life. Secondly, I got that iconic picture. In May of 1976 I graduated and moved to Austin. The picture from the Ballinger domino hall was entered into a competition to be included in the 1978 Austin Book of Days. This was calendar style book featuring sixty two of Austin’s photographers. It was produced in conjunction with Laguna Gloria Art Museum and my domino picture was selected to be included. I was ecstatic.
Flash forward to 2017. Going through my files I rediscovered the roll of film I shot of the domino players in 1975. Unfortunately, the negative of the winning calendar print was either misplaced by me or lost in being returned from the competition so I can only reproduce a print of that shot but I had lots of good shots of the four players on that Saturday back in 1975. I don’t know their names and all by now are long gone as I have discovered at 65 years of age…God’s time never stops. That’s why I called them the ghosts of the domino hall.
After my grandparents died, I did not stop going to Ballinger. My wife and I pass through whenever our route is remotely close. There are echoes of wonderful times and they are worth the extra miles to go and listen. I walk past the old domino hall and I can hear Lyle Curry say…..well, I can’t really repeat what he said…but the walk from the domino hall back up Eighth Street, past the library headed toward my grandparents’ old house seems to slow God’s time down just a bit and it sure makes me smile.
Joe Scruggs is known across the U.S. as a children's entertainer, noted for numerous shows like the "Nanny Nanny Boo Boo Review." He is retired and lives in Austin.