Editor’s Note: This is the first story of a four-part series about individuals who made a difference in our world and also left a positive and lasting impression on the author. The remaining three articles will appear in this newspaper on succeeding Mondays.
BY STUART CHILTON
His name was “Rabbit.”
A number of years ago this writer discovered certain individuals can make a lasting, positive impression.
These persons do not have to be popular or noteworthy in a history book. The personality to be discussed in today’s story, was an individual, who never reached for the glitter of Hollywood nor walked the political halls in Austin or Washington, D.C. Here’s the story — I never knew his real name - only his nickname, “Rabbit.”
He was the man, who racked pool balls in the pool hall in Waco in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Rabbit also shined shoes, and greeted customers, when they entered the dingy pool hall, located on an alley in downtown Waco, between Austin and Franklin Avenues.
This was during the time that pool halls were not the best places for one to visit, and pool tables were a “no-no” on the Baylor University campus. It’s different today.
One can find pool tables in student centers on university campuses, in homes and other places one would never associate a pool table being located a half-century ago.
The first time this writer visited the Waco pool hall was with some college buddies. As we walked up the alley, I thought, “Where in the world are these guys taking me?”
Once inside, I quickly discovered a congenial atmosphere with numerous Baylor students in attendance. Except for the lights glaring over the pool tables, the large room was dimly lighted.
As we entered the door, a small Black man greeted us, inquiring if we wanted him to “rack ‘em?” One of my buddies quickly responded, “Rack ‘em,. Rabbit.”
We paid Rabbit the prescribed game fee, and I was soon playing my first pool game in Waco. As time went by, I became better acquainted with Rabbit. He was a personable individual, always smiling, polite and really knew the “in’s and out’s” of pool.
Rabbit could place the fifteen balls in the triangular wooden rack in record time. He would shove the racked pool balls with precision to the designated spot on the table. Then he would give the rack a snap with his wrist so the pool balls would hit the rack’s sides with a loud click that could be heard over the entire room.
One could surmise Rabbit had performed this job for many years. He also had the knack to cause a shoe shine rag to pop with authority.
The last time I saw Rabbit was about a week prior to my May graduation in 1950. I had wanted to do a feature story on him for the Baylor student newspaper, The Daily Lariat; however, as things turned out I never wrote the story. Although the story would center around a pool hall, I visualized it as a human interest story about Rabbit. I was hopeful the student newspaper faculty advisor would give his approval.
Rabbit had such a positive philosophy about life. I thought he would be excellent feature material. Rabbit never attended college, and probably never graduated from high school. He loved life, and he made a contribution with his glowing personality and his interest in mankind. However, my upcoming graduation and obtaining a job on a newspaper, overshadowed my ever asking the faculty advisor for his approval.
Following my last pool game, I advised Rabbit I would be graduating, but I would return whenever I might be in Waco. That time never came.
Three years later on May 11, 1953, the pool hall was destroyed in the tragic Waco tornado. Rabbit was among the 114 individuals killed that fateful day.
To quote from The Dallas Morning News issue of May 14, 1953 -
“The digging by Wednesday afternoon had carried workers to the backs of the buildings, to the pool hall which opened into a wide alley between Austin and Franklin Avenues ….”
Rabbit’s lifeless body was found in the demolished pool hall.
Another story listed the fatalities. And there was Rabbit’s name - listed with only the name of “Rabbit.” Apparently the news sources did not know his real name.
Perhaps Rabbit is still “rackin ‘em”, but this time in that “Great Pool Hall in the Sky.”
Rabbit, please forgive me for never writing that feature story - it may have won a Pulitzer Prize.
Dr. Chilton is a retired journalist/educator, who lives in Stephenville. He occasionally writes for this newspaper.