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Gloria Hickey’s “Snapshots” of Round Top

Gloria Schwarz Hickey was born in September, 1945 in El Paso while her father, Hilmer Schwarz, was stationed at Biggs Field. She remained in far West Texas until her mother Eunice and she were strong enough to travel to Round Top where both sides of her family had lived since the earliest waves of German immigration. As soon as Hilmer could get a furlough, he traversed the 650 miles separating his young family from their extended kin: the Schwarzes on his side and the Etzels on Eunice’s side.

“I’ve lived in Round Top ever since Daddy dropped us off,” Gloria said.

Hickey’s maternal grandfather, Dennis Etzel, farmed on family land outside Round Top. Her paternal grandfather, Emil Schwarz, ran E. E. Schwarz Grocery & Feed, which was a single business with three parts: a grocery store, a feed store and a beer joint. The store was housed on the block that was the original Stone Cellar, which in the early days of Round Top was a brewery. Today, it is home to Lulu’s restaurant and Sandy Reed Country Properties.

“The brewery was shut down before my grandpa purchased the building,” Hickey said. “When my daddy returned home, he went to work with Grandpa Schwarz at the store—and ran it his whole life.”

photo courtesy of Gloria Schwarz Hickey

Her mother worked in the store alongside her father. Hickey helped and began working regularly in the 1950s. The store opened at 7:30 a.m. and closed at 9:30 p.m.  It was a year-round, six-day-a-week family affair.

“We went deer hunting in Bulverde in the winter, but that was as close to a vacation as we got,” Hickey said. “Nobody took vacations. I candled eggs and unpacked groceries in the summer while other kids picked cotton. I was lucky.”

Her Schwarz grandparents lived across the street where the Copper Shade Tree is now. Hickey and her cousins grew up climbing in the oak grove right next to the current post office. In those days it was the family’s sheep pen. The poultry holding pens were closer to the Schwarz house.

Round Top in the 1950s was a thriving ag community. Small acreage cotton still made money for the producers and the folks who ginned and stored it.

“There were gins all over scattered about 20 miles apart,” Hickey said. “When farmers would get their six or seven bales, they’d bring them to us, and we’d store them. Grandpa Schwarz stored the cotton for Grandpa Etzel.”

Then trucks would come from Brenham and beyond to pick up the cotton. The feed store was also the collection point for eggs, chickens and, near Thanksgiving, turkeys raised by local farm families and processed by out-of-town businesses.

“When the holidays got close, my grandparents’ pens would fill up turkeys just waiting to be somebody’s Thanksgiving dinner,” Hickey said.

The grocery store couldn’t have been confused with a supermarket.

“It was a country store,” Hickey said. “We never had refrigeration. Everything that had to be kept cold was kept on ice delivered in big blocks.”

Summer sausage, rat cheese and saltines were staples. Links of summer sausage hung in the doorway to catch the breeze.

“Grandpa Schwarz was a big coon hunter—and loved dogs,” Hickey said. “He’d cut off a chunk of summer sausage and feed it to any dog that wandered in with somebody.”

By the 1960s things were changing. Because of rising labor costs, cotton had gotten too expensive to harvest by hand. Farmers could either hire a custom harvester or buy a cotton stripper. Both were cost prohibitive for small acreage. The trucks quit coming to pick up cotton and other ag commodities.

People had begun driving to La Grange for their groceries. The Schwarz family—and the owners of the six other local groceries—either had to spend money to modernize or re-think their businesses.

“We didn’t have a monopoly on the grocery business, and we couldn’t keep stuff fresh—it was the beginning of the end of the grocery business,” Hickey said. “But the feed store and the beer joint were still doing good though.”

Then the family lost its patriarchs. In December 1961, Grandpa Schwarz died, and in February 1962, Hilmer suffered a massive heart attack and died. Eunice and Hickey, who was a freshman in high school, were faced with the prospect of keeping the store going.

“It was just too much,” Hickey said, noting that Round Top was also in transition at the same time.

photo courtesy of Gloria Schwarz Hickey

Farmers’ children answered the siren call of good-paying jobs in Austin, Houston and other metro areas. When their parents died, many of the children sold the property to Houstonians who were looking to escape the city on weekends. Many local residents became caretakers of weekend properties, which provided their families with additional income.

Hickey began working at Leona Kiel’s store. Hickey was attending Blinn College with plans to go to Texas A&M and become a veterinarian assistant when she first met Ima Hogg. Miss Hogg, daughter of Gov. Jim Hogg and a noted philanthropist, was one of the first Houstonians to discover Round Top.

“Grandpa Schwarz taught me that the customer was always right,” Hickey said. “My job wasn’t to wait on them but to take care of them.”

Miss Hogg, who was already working on her Winedale project thanks to the prompting of another “local Houstonian” Hazel Ledbetter, soon enlisted Hickey’s help on a part-time basis.

“She had a group of friends coming to look around one weekend,” Hickey said. “She asked me to open the doors before they got there and to lock them when they left.”

Miss Hogg, along with Wayne Bell who served as the project’s director from the University of Texas, continued to increase Hickey’s responsibilities. She became a part-time tour guide for $ .50 an hour. When the University of Texas sent someone to create an inventory of Winedale, Hickey was asked to help when she wasn’t in class. Over the summer she began working full-time, and Miss Hogg convinced her to stay full-time until the inventory was complete.

“I was going to have to work my way through college, but I thought I might be able to save enough with this job so I wouldn’t have to work when I was at A&M,” Hickey said. “I stayed.”

It was April 1967. The inventory was completed. Hickey stayed. A curator came and went. Hickey stayed. Another curator came and went. Hickey stayed. Then Bell and Ronald Brown, then-president of UT, came.

“When the university president and your boss leave their offices in Austin and come to you, it doesn’t bode well,” Hickey said. “I thought, ‘This is it. I’m getting fired.’”

Instead of getting fired, she got promoted and took over as Winedale’s manager, a job she held for 38 years.

“I was at the right place at the right time,” Hickey said. “I had the rare opportunity to do a job I loved in a place I love. Unlike so many of my school friends who had to leave to figure out what a special life we have here in Round Top, I knew all along. It’s a good place to be from, but it’s a very good place to be.”

Snapshot: German Heritage

“Round Top was a German community. We kids learned to speak German—or at least understand it—because we wanted to know what the grownups were talking about. Then it was our turn to talk where the little ones wouldn’t understand.

My mother knew English because she was working in the store, but she was shy about it because she didn’t think she could speak it well. The grammar was so different, so she turned everything around. She didn’t want to teach me because she said it would ‘confuse my English.’ I never learned to speak it fluently, but I could understand everything.

I’d go with my Grandpa Etzel to visit his parents. My great-grandmother lived to be 98. When I was a little girl, I’d get antsy when all of the old people would be sitting around talking in German. I stayed ready to go to town because I might find somebody to play with at the store.

One day when I was about five or so, Grandpa told my grandmother he was going to town. I yelled, “Geh mit!”   Those were my first German words—and they worked. I got to go along.

We always had big weddings—families and friends pitched in for a party with food and dancing—but they weren’t fancy affairs like now. Somebody usually made the dresses. The flowers weren’t a big deal. The family killed a calf and bought a keg of beer. Friends made the potato salad and the dessert. Bands played; sometimes they were family bands. It was a happy celebration of a happy day.

By the time I came along, only one or two families were sitting up with their dead. I did that once right after I got married. I didn’t really want to, but it was out of respect.

We were all Germans, so there was nothing unusual about the traditions or the language. We all just lived the life we knew.”

For more of Gloria Hickey’s “snapshots” of life in Round Top, click here.

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by Lorie A. Woodward
photos by Anna Spencer Morse, Grace Photography
family photos courtesy of Gloria Schwarz Hickey