Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Little Nat Patton

Most if not all of my readers from Crockett knew or knew of Nat Patton.  His father, Nat Patton Senior was the U.S. Representative from 1935-1945.  After leaving congress he served as the Houston County Attorney and died in 1957.  His son was forever known as Little Nat.  He was very short in stature which added validity to the title.

My grandfather owned a small grocery store at 1116 E. Houston Avenue, and our house was next door.  Little Nat and his wife Eleanor lived less than a quarter of a mile from the store and one or both of them came in almost every day.  I can't remember when I didn't know Little Nat.  He was the Houston County Attorney the entire time I was growing up in Crockett.

You have all heard people say of someone, "He knows everybody in town."  If Nat didn't know everybody he came closer than anyone else.  He was soft spoken and friendly to all.  I never saw him come in the store that he didn't talk to each customer.  If they were a stranger to him they weren't by the time they left.  I remember walking in one day when there were eight or ten customers.  George Satterwhite was at the counter and Nat spoke to him immediately and shook his hand.  Nat then began circulating through the aisles speaking to everyone else.  George smiled and said, "Watch this!"  He walked down the aisle next to Nat and then approached him from behind.  Nat turned around, shook his hand and said, "George Satterwhite, how are you doing?  Nice to see you.  How is Ann doing?"  George spoke to him and walked back to the counter laughing.  "I could do that all day," he said.

My mother ran the grocery store until I was in junior high, or thereabouts.  Small neighborhood stores were becoming a thing of the past.  She leased it to Max Petty and took another job.  After that I wasn't in the store nearly as much as I'd been in the past, but I still ran into Little Nat on a regular basis.  He would always ask me about my family, school, and whatever else was on his mind.  After I left for college in Nacogdoches my encounters with him were rare.

Teresa and I were married in December of 1974 and moved to Wichita Falls where my mother and stepfather were then living.  We missed living in Crockett, so in November of 1975 we moved back.  I had almost completed my degree in Criminal Justice at Stephen F. Austin State University, so applied for a job at the Crockett State School.  It was a facility for juvenile delinquents and I was hired to work as a Youth Activities Supervisor.  In state speak than means watch'em and don't let anyone get away.  Most of the boys were in a camping program in the national forest, so my only contact was with the ones who got locked up on campus for some infraction.  I worked nights so the ones I did see were asleep  most of the time.  That was fine with me.

There were not Crockett natives on staff at the school, and a great many didn't live in Crockett at all.  Most were recent college graduates of area colleges and still lived in the town where they had attended school.  I was one of the very few on the Y.A.S. staff who knew most of the locals.  It was common for a student in the camping program to take off in the middle of the night, and more often than not they would find them wandering along a dirt road in the forest tired, hungry and scared.  Every now and then one would make their way to a house and steal a vehicle.  When crimes were committed it became necessary for the school officials to work with the city and county law enforcement personnel, and of course, the county attorney, Little Nat Patton.

One morning I had just finished my shift at 8am when one of the new upper level bosses pulled me aside.  He was about to go to the courthouse to ask the county attorney for some help regarding some problem.  He had never met Nat Patton, but there were rumors he was a real character and a mess to deal with.  Someone on the faculty suggested he take me with him to meet with Nat.  I told him I'd love to go.  I hadn't seem Nat in a long while and I knew it would be fun.  The plan was for me to introduce him to Nat, then sit back and keep my mouth shut while he made some kind of pitch for assistance.

He had tried without success the day before to get in touch with Nat, but a secretary had said to stop in the following morning and he could give him a few minutes.  We arrived at the courthouse about 9am and the receptionist said he could talk to us for about fifteen minutes before going to another meeting.  The receptionist knew me and we talked for a couple of minutes.  My boss was all smiles.  He was confident I could help him break the ice with Nat.

About five minutes later Little Nat came out and ushered us into the office.  He didn't know I was coming along.  His first words were, "Little Jimmy!  How are you doing?  Come in and sit down.  How is you mother?  Do they like living in Wichita Falls?  I sure miss seeing all of you at the grocery store.  I remember you running around there when you were just a baby!"

This went on and on.  I smiled and answered him when I got a chance.  My boss was looking at his watch as the allotted fifteen minutes were quickly slipping away.  Little Nat never slowed up.  A couple of times the state school official tried to diplomatically break in and state his case with Nat, but to no avail.  Finally Nat noticed the clock on the wall.  He stood up, shook my hand and said, "Jimmy, it was so nice to see you again.  Come by the office and visit anytime.  Tell the family hello.  I've got to get to a meeting."  He shook hands with my boss once again and said, "Thanks for bringing Jimmy by to see me.  Nice to meet you."  With that he walked out of his office and down the hall.

As we got back in the car my boss was shaking his head in disgust.  To lighten the mood I said, "I sure do thank you for driving me down here so could visit with Little Nat."

He glared at me and said, "I will never take you with me anywhere in this town again!"  And he never did.

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