On Saturday afternoons and evenings there was usually a little more activity in Vilas than other times, unless there was a ball game going on out of town.
Farmers would come to town and bring their cans of cream to leave at Tony’s Market and to stock up on groceries for the coming week. Many would hang around just to visit with their neighbors. One couple who had a pet dog named Wanda would park in front of Terrill’s Drug Store, go in and buy one ice cream cone then sit in the front seat of their car and all three share the cone.
But Saturday nights was when Western pictures were shown at the theater in Springfield. Before I was old enough to be of help around the service station I would often be invited to go to the picture show with some family who was going. Nothing was more exciting than to sit down front with a whole gang of kids and yell at the cowboys and Indians. There was Hop-Along- Cassidy, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and others, who were our heroes.
After I was in my teens Dad expected me to help wait on customers at the station. I enjoyed meeting new people and made many friends. I guess I was somewhat like Will Rogers who once said, “I never met a man I didn’t like.” Even in Vilas there were the occasional visitors who were just passing through on their way East to Kansas or West to the mountains.
During broomcorn harvest in the Fall of the year there was a lot more activity in Vilas. Broomcorn Cutters came from Eastern Oklahoma, Southwest Missouri, Arkansas, and other places. Some became residents of Baca County. Some who came were Indians, some were Mexicans, but all came to work.
One Saturday evening a car pulled into the station and they were Black people. I had seen a few Black people, but had never been around any of them. In fact, I don’t believe there were any Black people in or near Vilas. I soon got acquainted with the drier and we had a great time visiting. The next Saturday, they were back again, and Dad started to wait on them, but the driver wanted to know where I was. He told Dad he wanted me to wait on them. My nickname was a child was ‘Junior’, and he told Dad, “I want Junah to wait on me.” So, dad called me over to the car and I gave that fellow full service. This continued through the next few times they came in.
I never asked where these folks were from and if I found out their names, I failed to remember. But I never met them again. I graduated from high school, served my two years in the Army, went to college and graduated, and after pastoring a church in Miami, Oklahoma I became pastor of a rural church out of Hugoton, Kansas. I moved my family from a city of 12,000 to a church 13 miles SE of Hugoton. What a change! In order to supplement my income, I went to work for IGA Grocery Store in Hugoton. One day a Black man came in to the store, very frail, having only one arm, and could hardly walk. As I looked at him I wondered where I had seen him before. That night it dawned on me that he was the Black man I had waited on as a teenager back in Vilas. A few days later he came in to the store again and I asked him if he had ever cut broomcorn near Vilas years ago. He responded that he had. I said, “Do you remember a teenage kid who waited on you at the service station?” He looked at me and said, “Junah, is that you?” What a visit we had after more than 16 years.