Harry’s of San Saba, Texas

In 1950, Aunt Lennie bought me a pair of jeans and a straw hat at Harry’s Store in San Saba, Texas, a dry goods store near the corner of East Wallace and Highway 16.  As I was growing up, I visited Aunt Lennie and Uncle Floyd many times, spending weeks at their Cherokee, Texas, ranch near San Saba.

Harry’s purveyed hats, boots, shirts, Levis, jackets, coats and all associated accouterments to farm and ranch living in central Texas.  The smell of leather, felt, and Levis surrounded a customer as they shopped.  The dry goods were new and unbroken by weather and work.  Trading at Harry’s was serious shopping, not browsing or spending time checking out the newest fashions, rubbing the fabric for quality. You bought jeans that withstood brush and barbed wire; hats that shielded you from a sun that blistered the fair-skinned into pain; coats that were warm and gave enough room to twist, turn and lift sacks of feed and drag cedar posts; and boots that had high-heels enough to keep the foot from plunging through the stirrup in a tight turn or a moment of fright.

I wasn’t riding horses or lifting cedar posts into holes in the ground.  I was eight or nine-years-old and tagging along with my uncle into the pastures and fields, making a nuisance of myself, asking too many questions.  Nonetheless, I had jeans and a hat from Harry’s after that trading day in San Saba.  The possession of country dry goods to protect myself from brush and sun signified a boy’s development into life on farm and ranch.  I dressed the part and looked like my uncle and cousin.  Not a poser.  You are not a poser when you buy from Harry’s and work on your uncle’s ranch.

Now in 2010, Harry’s has expanded into several adjacent stores, including the old San Saba Hardware store.  Four buildings comprise Harry’s, not the one or two rooms I remembered.  The expansion into the hardware store revealed a weather history.  A clerk had recorded San Saba’s weather patterns, writing data on the wall for remembrance, prediction, or both.  Today, the tin ceiling remains intact.  The hat area is on the second floor.  Silk western shirts are now sold with short-sleeved cotton work shirts and Levis.

Harry’s still evokes the same scent as years gone by.  As my wife and I toured on Highway 16 to Fredericksburg this week, we went into Harry’s to purchase jeans and shirts.  Opening the door to the new entryway, the smell of leather and new jeans surrounded us and I felt comforted that life may be, for a short time, comprehensible and integrated.  I bought a pair of Wrangler jeans — a change from the past — that the sales girl said were pre-washed and less stiff to begin with.  My wife looked at the shirt section and selected one for me: a Ryan brand, silk type that I would never wear in the field, but under my field jacket in winter it would give me flexibility in the barn as I fed the horses.

As I stood in the middle of Harry’s breathing a history, a friend and colleague came up to me.  Surprise!  He had seen me and and Brenda enter the store and had parked his car to come in and say, Hello — he was on the way to Austin down Highway 16 to visit his son on spring break.  We talked and chatted about politics and the weather, the recent death of a colleague and her funeral.

I need to buy you a shirt, I said.

Oh, no, he said.

Oh yes, a work shirt.  Come over here.  Which one do you like?  This one?

Well, yes.

Then, it’s yours.

I paid for it and told him the story of my first visit to Harry’s.  I fetched him a business card from the sales clerk.  Then, he looked down at the shirt and Harry’s store label was attached to the lower flap.

Oh, I’ll remember Harry’s, from the label on the shirt, he said, as he walked out the door.

So will I.

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10 Comments

Filed under Cedar, Juniper, Recollections 1942-1966

10 responses to “Harry’s of San Saba, Texas

  1. John Caraway

    I discovered Harry’s last year during the nephews wedding the memory of the store lasted longer than the marriage. Thanks for sharing your story.

  2. A lot of the stores in Albuquerque, NM like Harry’s are long gone. It is nice to know that some of the stores like Harry’s are still in operation, that way our memories can be refreshed.

  3. A wonderful story. A poser you never were, I’m sure. Don’t you love the way our senses throw us back in time at rocket speed? Leather, felt and jeans. A fine aroma that. Growing up in the land of ag and ranching, we had a store where folks went to buy honest, hard working clothes, like Harry’s. When I was little, before we “town” girls were allowed to wear real jeans, I remember thinking…one day I WILL wear a pair of jeans from the Working Mans Store. Just try and stop me. With passage of time and money saved, I marched down and bought my first of many pairs through life. Silly rules. The look on my mothers face when I moved from jeans to overalls for awhile was memorable. Thank you for sharing this with us Jack. Passing a piece of Harry’s along to your friend made for a fitting tribute; to Harry’s and your Uncle.

  4. So tickled to read your kind words, description and expressions of the atmosphere that we strive to keep in our store. Although, things have change as they always do – we love to watch people as they enter in the boot room, and as they tour the store. It is so refreshing to be appreciated for the simple things in life – and believe me at Harry’s you are a welcomed friend, and then we hope a lifetime customer! Good day to all from the Harry’s Team in San Saba. May you be blessed with many happy trails!

    • Thank you for your comment. I hope to see you soon and buy some shirts. Thanks for the magazines on the Hill Country. If you read this comment, did you preserve the weather notations on the wall of the old hardware store?

  5. So nicely written! I love San Saba – bought the most amazing paper mache Mexican chess set in a junk store there on my way to Austin several years ago. And your description of the smells of the store – good stuff

    • Hi, Bunny, where are you? Santa Fe? Thanks for your comment. Mexican chess set. I bought some rope-entwined chairs several years ago in San Saba. The town seems to have a way with old-time stuff that is interesting.

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