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Memories of Aunt Lulu and the son she barely knew
It was in the Depression, and Grandpa needed to make some money. It was because of Aunt Lulu that my grandparents -- the Goode family -- moved to Camp Ranch from Coleman, Texas, in 1930. Lulu wrote that there was plenty of cotton to pick in Wilson County. Elroy Dietzel, my second cousin, was born in 1936 in Seguin. His parents were Lewis and Lulu Dietzel, who had moved to Pandora in Wilson County about 1929.
Lulu was my mother’s aunt, sister to my grandmother. In the late ’20s, Lulu and Lewis had five children, twins Elzie and Elsie, 9, Doyle 7, Dorothy 5, and Zeno, 3. My Aunt Clare remembers Uncle Lewis was a farmer and “holiness preacher.”
But Aunt Lulu and her family didn’t stay long in Pandora -- they moved near Austin in 1930, in Travis County. They were still following the cotton-picking harvest. Daniel was born in 1931. By 1934 they had moved on to another county, McCullough County. Aunt Lulu had another son there named Eric Dane. The next year -- 1935 -- they moved to Guadalupe County near Seguin.
It was a hard year for Aunt Lulu. They had moved four times in the last four years, and she had had two more babies. Then little Zeno died that year in January. He was 6 years old. Cause of death was “toxemia/idiopathic.” What is that? I found out idiopathic means “unknown.” So I guess the doctor means he didn’t know what the cause of the infection was. I bet it was a burst appendix and they probably didn’t call a doctor, maybe they didn’t have a phone, maybe they couldn’t afford a doctor. We will never know. Aunt Lulu was pregnant when Zeno died. Elroy Dietzel was born in August.
So by the next year, it was January 1937, Aunt Lulu was suffering the loss of one child -- it had been one year since he died, and she was having a hard time after Elroy was born. I imagine she was in the midst of postpartum depression too.
One day my grandma and grandpa went to see Aunt Lulu. They were worried about her. The depression seemed to overwhelm her. While they were there, Aunt Lulu began to cry uncontrollably and couldn’t stop. She had a complete nervous breakdown. They took her to a doctor, and he did what they did in those days with people who had a nervous breakdown: He put her in the State Hospital in Austin.
I found out Aunt Lulu died 41 days later. Cause of death was “exhaustion from psychosis,” leaving the children without a mother. The twins and Dorothy went to Grandma and Grandpa’s farm in the Fairview community. Daniel and Eric went to my great-grandparents’ home in Coleman, and Doyle stayed with his father. The baby, Elroy, went to live with Lulu’s sister, Iva, and her husband.
But this story is about Elroy. Elroy had a good home and loved to sing and play guitar, eventually becoming a good musician. It was in Midland that he put together a band, called “The Rhythm Bandits.” They played what was called “rockabilly” and the band recorded two songs for Bo-Kay Records, which was 50 miles away in Lamesa. They cut their debut 45, “Precious Desires,” and “Teenage Ball” in Norman Petty’s studio in Clovis, New Mexico, in 1956, two months before Buddy Holly recorded “That’ll Be the Day” at the very same studio!
Then in 1958 they recorded “Rock-N-Bones” and on the flip side, “Shanghai Rock” in the same studio in Clovis. It seemed as if Elroy was on his way, but despite appearances on local TV, “The Louisiana Hayride” and “The Big D Jamboree” in Dallas, “The Rhythm Bandits” were never more than hometown heroes. Elroy disbanded “The Rhythm Bandits” in 1959.
Elroy came to our Evers family reunion several times, and he always brought his guitar and played and sang for us. His Aunt Iva was there with the sisters that were still living. My mother was always glad to see Iva and her nephew Elroy, who was like a son to Iva. I don’t think my family knew how he almost became famous. He was just cousin Elroy to them. Once Elroy and my cousin, Jimmy Price, from Nashville entertained them with singing and playing guitar. I always said the Evers family had music in their soul. All my Evers relatives from way back sang and played musical instruments. I found some of Elroy’s songs by “The Rhythm Bandits” on the Internet and bought them recently. I have been listening to them and imagining I was there when Elroy recorded them, when the rockabilly music was first born.
I wish Aunt Lulu had lived to see her son’s talents and love for music. But God knew he would be okay with Aunt Iva to love and care for him.
Lois Zook Wauson is the oldest of eight children who grew up on a farm in Wilson County in the mid-20th century. After many years living in other parts of Texas, she now lives and writes in Floresville. Her two books are available from the Wilson County News office. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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