The Old Town Festival, on Saturday, Oct. 15, was a good time.
“It went well,” said Rick Pratt, director of the Port Aransas Museum, which is run by the Port Aransas Pres- ervation and Historical Association, the organization that sponsored the festival. “The story telling was particularly interesting. … We had a good bunch of story tellers, and we got into areas that everyone enjoyed. The gumbo was a huge hit. And the parade was a lot of fun.”
The day got started with what was scheduled to be a casual kind of surf con- test known as an expression session, involving nothing but longboards, the kind of surfboard that was used most before 1970.
A full slate of about 30 competitors signed up, but the waves at Horace Caldwell Pier weren’t so cooperative, lying flat that morning. Organizers decided instead to hold a series of paddle races – another kind of surfing competition that has its roots a bygone era.
Surfers, some of whom have been riding waves in Port Aransas since the mid- 1960s, paddled their boards in several heats around the end of Horace Caldwell Pier and back. (A children’s heat involved a shorter race.)
The overall winner was Nick Jones of Port Aransas.
The next part of the festival was a 10-gallon lunch of gumbo brewed up by Pat Farley, part of a founding Port Aransas family. Folks said they loved it.
Farley once operated several restaurants in Galveston and has won cooking awards for his gumbo recipe. He said he couldn’t write the recipe down. The process for cooking it is too nuanced, he said. To learn how to cook it, a person would have to watch Farley do it, he said.
“For instance, if you don’t put the sassafras in just so, it’ll clump up,” Farley said. “Little things like that.”
Next was the Old Town Festival parade, which wound through some of the most historic parts of Port Aransas.
One of the parade entries was a truck pulling a trailer carrying the Tina, a restored historic boat of the type that once was manufactured by Farley’s Boat Works, once a Port Aransas-based boat building business.
Parade spectator Art Bauer pointed at the Tina’s stern and exclaimed, “Hey! It’s F.D.R.!”
Sure enough, seated in the Tina was Deno Fabrie, dressed up like the U.S. president, complete with a cigarette holder clamped between his teeth.
Franklin Roosevelt famously went tarpon fishing while aboard a Farley boat with Port Aransas guides during a vacation in Port Aransas waters in 1937.
Perhaps the heart of the Old Town Festival was the storytelling portion of the celebration. Several longtime Port Aransas residents sat in a line of chairs at the Pollock Center and casually recounted recollections of old times while an audience listened and asked occasional questions.
Debbie Bundy lives in Ingleside now, but she grew up in Port Aransas. She remembers the days more than 50 years ago, when she lived at the corner of Beach and Station streets, in a house where the Venetian Hotplate restaurant is now.
One of the tallest sand dunes in the area stood directly across the street. Bundy recalled that, as a child of about nine years old, she hid and smoked cigarettes in hollowed-out spots under salt cedar tree roots around the edge of the dune. Her father caught her once, she said.
“He said I could smoke, but I couldn’t bum them,” she said.
Lifelong Port Aransas resident Mary Jo Brundrett Matthews said her ancestors took up residence on San Jose Island (known to many as St. Joe) in the 1840s, before a community existed on Mustang Island.
“The Karankawa Indians on St. Joe said, ‘There goes the neighborhood, let’s get out of here,’ ” joked Matthews’ friend, Nancy Smith Teller, another longtime Port Aransas resident who told stories that day.
Matthews recalled always going barefoot when she was a child growing up in Port Aransas in the early 1950s.
“We didn’t have to wear shoes to school until fourth grade,” said Matthews, who today is an instructional aide at Brundrett Middle School, named after her father, Ancel Brundrett. “When they told us that, it was a surprise. We were saying, ‘What?!’ We have to wear shoes?!’ ” So we did, but then we’d kick them off as soon as we got in the door. The teachers were nice, and they let us.”
Teller said making trips to Corpus Christi was a big deal for her family. For Teller, it only happened a couple of times a year: When she was getting outfitted for Christmas and Easter.
“The roads weren’t all that good, it was a long trip and we didn’t have money, mostly,” Teller said.
Manny Mathews, part of a founding family of Port Aransas, said the town didn’t have electricity at all until about 1929 or 1930. He said his mother loved it when power finally came to town.
“It just made things easier for her,” Mathews said. “She didn’t have to clean and fill up oil lamps, for one thing.”
Manny’s sister, Marcy, talked about the time her father, Port Aransas fishing guide Ted Mathews, took President Roosevelt fishing.
“He caught a big tarpon when he went fishing with my dad,” Marcy said.
Marcy made the point that Roosevelt never actually stepped foot in Port Aransas, contrary to popular belief.
Roosevelt arrived in area waters aboard the Potomac, the presidential yacht, and he transferred onto a smaller boat when he went fishing.
Local historian John Guthrie Ford said Roosevelt did visit San Jose Island, where he visited the wealthy Sid Richardson, who owned the island.
Roosevelt balked at the idea of being set in his wheelchair on a sloping wooden dock that normally was used as a cattle chute, Ford said. Richardson joked that Roosevelt was the biggest bull that ever would use the chute, according to Ford.
Questions? Comments? Contact Dan Parker at (361) 749- 5131 or email@example.com.