‘You’re a Gov. Whatsizname Outfit, you!’
Willis Webb

Most people can find ways nice or not- so-nice to describe their feelings about someone they don’t like or are just temporarily out-of-sorts with. If those objects of disdain are public figures or elected officials, the descriptions might be a degree or two beyond proper, even minus profanity.

There was a time when the worst thing someone could call you was the Proper Name of a public figure, usually a politician/ office-holder. Profanity spoken aloud was inappropriate but if you wanted to teasingly demonstrate your displeasure with someone or something, you could say, “ You’re a Gov. Rick Perry Outfit!” Outfit implied someone’s physical being and was stated as if spitting, to emphasize how “sorry an ol’ outfit” you were. The public name in front of “outfit” was the real “cuss” word in the declaration.

This lesson in letting it all hang out without profanity came from my landlord in a “rooming house” across the street from Sam Houston State Teachers College where I was a student in mid-1950s Huntsville. Elmo Welch was an 80ish retired state prison system guard. He and his wife, Falvy, had three rooms they rented to “college boys.” It came w ith front- porch- sitting and washer-pitching privileges, but no kitchen use.

Elmo had suffered a stroke a year or so prior, but recovered to the point it didn’t affect his washer-pitching prowess, which he happily demonstrated to all comers. I was more than willing, even to the detriment of studying, to challenge Elmo.

When anyone scored against the reigning champion, Elmo would look at them in mock horror and say, “Why, you Allan Shivers Outfit, you!”

Shivers was governor of Texas at that time and, as you can correctly assume, was disliked by Elmo. The main reason for his distaste for the governor was a story in the headlines for a couple of years in the mid-1950s, the Texas Veterans Land Scandal.

Now, understand that Shivers was never accused, except in the minds of some Texans like Elmo, of any wrongdoing in the veterans land dealings. However, Texas’ elected land commissioner, Bascom Giles, was accused, tried and convicted in connection with the scandal and served three years in the prison system’s “Walls unit” in Huntsville during the time I pitched washers with Elmo.

Following World War II, the Texas Veterans Land Board was designated by legislation to oversee a program that allowed military veterans to purchase blocks of land with low down-payments and cheap interest rates as a reward for their service. The state was the financing agent and the Land Board administered the program. Veterans were eligible to buy tracts of at least 20 acres with five percent down and three percent interest for 40 years.

According to stories on the scandal and on Giles’ subsequent trial and imprisonment, he and some of his associates convinced some unsuspecting veterans to sign paper work enabling the schemers to block-purchase land at the special prices. Giles and his cohorts enriched themselves in the illegal scheme. Giles apparently felt he was entrenched in public office. He’d begun working in the General Land Office in 1919 as a draftsman and worked up to chief abstractor when he ran the first time for commissioner in 1938. He was re-elected eight times. Giles came up with the plan to reward Texas’ veterans with the ability to buy land at low interest rates. Texans authorized $100 million to fund the program.

An enterprising Cuero newsman, Kenneth Towery, discovered the flim-flam through which Giles and his cohorts siphoned money to buy land. The resulting stories brought down Giles and the scam and won Towery a Pulitzer prize for investigative reporting. Giles was convicted of fraud and bribery and served three years of a six-year sentence.

Elmo figured Giles took the fall for Gov. Shivers. Our washerpitching duels resulted in the name-calling:

“You Allan Shivers outfit.”

“ You Bascom Giles rascal!”

Mighty near cussing.

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2011-03-10 digital edition

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