REMEMBERING FIDLER’S STORE
By Chris Evans
Hood County News – November 14, 2000
It was where I first saw flypaper, mouse traps, those arm-propelled Black Flag bug sprayers, a butcher at work. But the butcher in this case, Calvin Fidler, also happened to be the postmaster, songleader at the Baptist church and the co-proprietor of “Fidler’s Store.”
It was the early to middle 1950s. The Cresson Post Office was in the southwest end of the multi-colored sandstone store at Hwys 377 and 171. The Dee Tankersleys ran the filling station in the northeast end. There was a veranda across the front of the building, along with cedar hitching rails. There were, much of the time, dusty or muddy ruts in the “parking lot” across the front along what today is Highway 377. My mother’s uncles, the Slocum brothers, had their cattle company office in a two-room shotgun house that was on the lot abutting the post office.
Fidler’s Store. Calvin’s Store. The Slocum Brothers Building. Other towns have structures that give them a sense of place and history. Cresson today has several, including its Alamo-motif schoolhouse. None carries with it more cherished memories for me than Fidler’s Store, which has deflected more than a few automobiles, hailstones and who knows what else in its time yet remains a monolith capable of deflecting lots more.
It sits today like an unmovable rock bulwark at the only stoplight in Cresson and one of the deadliest traffic intersections in America. It has since 1936, when Slocum brothers Ferd, A.W. and Jeff, who are credited in concrete above the front door, built it to replace the old Cresson Hotel, razed a year earlier.
There is no grocery-general merchandise business in it, hasn’t been for years. Since the early 1980s, there have been sundry enterprises-a sunglasses emporium, a ferrier, a tire shop, an antique boutique. Today, Fidler’s Store is occupied by Jim Gordon’s auto sales and service, plus a store that sells handcrafted wood furniture and ironwork from Mexico. And has two owners, each of whom owns a specific part or end of the building.
Gordon, who owns the old filling station-cafe end of the building, put a home behind his auto business. He said that though he is not originally from Cresson, he loves the rockwork and the stories he hears about Fidler’s Store. But he and others, who have owned or looked to own it since it closed as a grocery in the 1960s, know that there are certain drawbacks to it real estate-wise—among them antiquated plumbing, and a lack of truly adequate parking space.
Further, Gordon said, the state will put in a middle turn lane on Highway 377 at the intersection, and has invoked imminent domain to take a triangle of his property, which means the state now owns up to, but not including, the corner pillar of the old store. “So, they could put the turn lane right up to my building,” Gordon said, emphasizing the word “could.” Gordon said he would welcome an effort to get a historical marker for the building, which may not be terribly old but certainly was a gathering spot for folk living in or passing though the unincorporated crossroads community.
Rancher Mildred Milburn was a small child when Fidler’s Store went up in 1936. “I also remember when they tore down the Cresson Hotel in 1935,” said Milburn, whose parents Gus and Bessie Fay ranched outside Cresson. “I remember my father, while they were taking the hotel apart, reached up above one of the windows and found some coins.”
Others love to regale the memory of Calvin C. Fidler Jr., who was to Cressonites like TV’s Ike Godsey, but much more. “Of course, he was the postmaster, too,” said Cresson resident Helen Long. “I remember that Calvin, if Christmas presents arrived late on Christmas Eve, would deliver them himself to people’s homes,” said Long. “I even think he delivered some packages on Christmas Day.”
Milburn, during a Cresson Cemetery Board meeting last year, lamented that Calvin Fidler, who died in 1991, took a lot of what he knew about our cemetery with him when he died.
“Calvin was absolutely marvelous; he was just Cresson,” said Alva Jean Slocum Cole of Waco, daughter of A.W. Slocum. “When I’d take my children to Cresson, they’d want to go see Calvin right when we got there. He’d always give them a candy bar or a lollipop.
“When I was in school, I remember Calvin had the biggest bananas I’d ever seen,” Cole said. “I don’t know where he got his produce, but I do remember those bananas. They were bigger than anybody else’s.”
Though Herschel “Pat” Fidler, Calvin’ older partner in the store was just as respected as his brother, Calvin was the more outgoing and “seemed to be the one in the store all the time,” as one person put it.
Cresson historian S.R. Smith, who worked for a time in the store, said that one time a company promoting its product sent the store a little microphone-speaker setup whereby someone with the mike could hide at the back of the store and, when someone walked in the front door, “say something like “Good morning, Mr. Putteet, have you tried our product today?” Smith, who got to man the mike, said the advertising ploy was the talk of the community.
Fidler’s Store was made from Millsap sandstone over concrete by an Aledo man named King-wish I knew more about him-who crafted several of the sandstone homes in Cresson around the same time. When it opened in 1936, it featured a filling station with garage in rear, what today are the used-car lot and tire business, on the north end, and is a classic example of the peanut brittle sandstone masonry style so prominent here.
Amid my own musty recollections of Fidler’s store are sitting on the corner of the ice-cream box and listening as my “Uncle Jeff” Stocum, a popular Cresson cattleman and character who actually was my mother’s uncle, not mine, rattle on with Calvin Fidler about cows or droughts or death or grasshoppers or the latest mission project at the church.
Alva Jean Cole remembers the local buzz when Calvin Fidler wed Cacy McCommas Feb. 14, 1941. “All the little girls around Cresson thought that was a marriage made in heaven,” she said. “That was all anybody talked about.”
According to Smith’s Cresson: Community Crossroads, a local history published in the late 1980s, the Fidler nuptials, indeed the entire courtship, were the talk of the community and beyond.
Calvin Fidler, the book says, met Cacy McCommas after the latter had moved to Cresson and begun working at Lil Bailey’s Cresson Cafe, which was next door to the store in what’s now the used auto business. “Cacy…worked for room and board and…$1.75 per week,” the book says. “She lived in a small, one-room house behind the store. She met Calvin when he came into the cafe for a cup of coffee.
“She wound up making coffee every day for him for life.”
SIDETRACKS: About 35 people from Cresson and the Hood County Historical Society / Historic Preservation Council turned out at the historic Cresson School Nov. 6 for a tour of the old building and some delightful storytelling from three people—Dillard Crook, Mildred Milburn and Kenneth Teich—who attended the school in the 1930s and ’40s. Crook waxed eloquent and humorous about almost getting a whuppin’ from colorful schoolmaster Victor B. Penuel for throwing rocks at an outbuilding in the 1930s. Teich recalled how Penuel, who’d been superintendent of schools in Johnson County before moving to Cresson in 1927 and doubled as Cresson’s basketball coach, had an old car that was the sole means of transportation for the team. Teich also recalled colorfully how Penuel’s vehicle had a tendency to lurch forward several times after it “stopped.”