Connecting the dots with pennies

Published 11:05 am Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Commentary by Dr. Don Newbury

Dialogue about pennies is rare. They’ve become the Rodney Daingerfield of coins, rarely useful and generally disrespected.

So, when one is able to link “penny stories” to the same individual through happenstance, there’s an eagerness to share the account.

Here goes. Triggers on “way back when” stories often are pulled by care center residents–some who don’t remember what was on breakfast trays this morning, but have “rainwater clear” recollections of long ago “doings.” One person with great mental clarity is Brownwood’s Dorothy Allison. When conversational triggers are pulled on way-back-when and verbal gunfire erupts, this almost 88-year-old is the one with the automatic.

Her mind is a steel vault of goings-on during depression years in her hometown. A “car hop” as a young adult at Bill’s Drive-In–a “goin’ Jessie” eatery established by the late Bill Young around 1950–she made notes and took names of much and many.

She remembers the price of menu items, who stole which limeade glasses and who was dating whom.

Dorothy was a favorite–beyond personable, good-looking and usually able to write down orders before customers opened their mouths. She was–particularly to young men–“picture perfect” in just about every way, with a mile-wide smile to boot. Some had to wait for their jaws to “unslack” before they could place orders.

At the Redstone Park Retirement Center recently, she asked me if I’d like to hear a story about Leonard Underwood and pennies. I did, and already knew one. Little did I know her story was a great companion piece.

Early on in my HPU years, Underwood handed me a $25,000 check for the university. He joked that if he’d made the gift based on his first “paying job,” it would have taken about a century–even if all proceeds were pledged. Beginning at age eight and for the next four years, he marched into the Brownwood Bulletin office to pick up 50 newspapers. (His cost was three cents each.) Then, he’d “hawk” them to business people in town for a nickel, usually selling out. The third-grader pocketed the $1 profit five days each week, feeling good that he’d “out-hawked” other youngsters working the same territory.

Dorothy remembers well his coming by the restaurant daily, eagerly selling Mr. Young a newspaper, always exiting with a “thank you.”

“One day, it was raining, and Leonard’s lone remaining copy was soaked,” Dorothy related.

“He dropped by anyway, without a dry newspaper but with an eye-moistening offer. He said, ‘Mr. Young, I’m going to run over to the Bulletin to get your paper, and I hope you won’t buy one from another kid before I get back’.” Young didn’t, but he did re-tell the story a few thousand times, as has Dorothy.

Interestingly–and most sentences beginning with the word aren’t–the legendary Underwood’s Barbecue started in Brady, TX, where Leonard–the youngest of eight boys–was born. That’s when M. E. Underwood started selling the succulent beef from the trunk of his car around 1930.

Dorothy’s “beginning” preceded the dawning of Underwood’s barbecue by a couple of years.

“Old Man” Underwood was great with beef, but no better than “Mama Underwood” was with fried chicken.

During dark days of the depression, they plodded on, lacking capital for major strides. They “graduated” to a shack where they sold take-out orders, and after World War II, closed out there to open a similar shack in Brownwood.

By the 1950s, the family had established more than 30 dine-in restaurants throughout Texas and beyond.

Now, only the Brownwood location remains. Leonard, 76, retired in 2001, but sons Leo and Paul are carrying it on in grand manner.

They can’t improve on their grandparents’ menu, and continue to serve vast numbers of diners “up close and personal.” They’re the guys in white aprons asking patrons if they want more hot rolls “right out of the oven,” or another “dollop of whipped cream” on their cobbler.

Their dad, a giant in his community and church, is glad the work ethic “rubbed off” on him, as well as his sons. This proud Aggie and Mary Jo, his wife of 54 years, pray the same for their four grandchildren.


Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Inquiries/comments to: Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: Columns archived at, newbury blog.