UNCERTAIN, Tex. — The old man called Pops tilts a black bike with balloon tires outside the Fish Hook liquor store and looks to find Betty Bays, who runs the place.
"This is the best listening place in town," says Pops, his German accent thick as the day he left the Kaiser's service.
"You hear all the important things here," he says outside the door of the store with the peeling green paint across from Marion's Mini Mall, which is no mall at all.
"You hear the best gossip."
Inside the Fish Hook, behind the counter flanked by boxes of snuff and candy, sits Betty, 65, who not only helps run the Uncertain Supper Club and the Uncertain Floating Christmas Parade but presides over the Uncertain Tourist Bureau.
"Welcome to Uncertain," she says. "You know you've arrived when you've found us."
She doesn't laugh. She means it.
"Uncertain got its name because the founding fathers couldn't agree on a name, so they just slapped down they were uncertain on the incorporation papers. Some silly clerk somewhere took us literally and that's the way it's been ever since.
"In this town we're all Uncertain. That's with a capital u."
Uncertain probably wouldn't exist but for an earthquake. The quake felled trees across the Red River sometime before East Texas was settled. It became Caddo Lake and is the oldest lake in Texas and the only one until Texans started making them. A tent settlement became a fishing camp that became Uncertain.
Today the town boasts a population of 176, a six-volunteer fire department, a two-man police department and the state's most stolen road sign not far from the town's only church.
"It could have been called the Uncertain Methodist or the Uncertain Baptist or the First Church of Uncertain," says a founder. "But none of those names sounded quite right."
So it became the Caddo Lake Church of Love and Forgiveness--"Plan for Heaven in 87." A cross made of cypress and rusty nails is staked out front.
The Uncertain Town Hall takes up half of a tilted mobile home at the crux of This-A-Way and That-A-Way boulevards. (This-A-Way takes you to Curley's Lodge and Shady Glade and down a twist or two, beyond the old canal bridge, to the Uncertain Dump; That-A-Way takes you to the Uncertain Yachtclub.)
Rita Jones, 57, works in the half that isn't the Town Hall. For a few hours each day she is the Caddo Lake Water Supply. She stacks piles of invoices against accounts receivable on a wide desk across from the big Town Hall table, its top lettered in streaks of black paint 5 inches high "UNCERTAIN" in case somebody wondered.
'The Uncertain Way'
"We have 300 people on the water system and a lot who prefer to get water their own way," she says. "There has always been a tendency to let people do what they want to do. That's the Uncertain way."
Down This-A-Way a bit, across from the Cafe Curley, Leon Rivers strains to pull a flat-bottomed boat through the rushes. He's 70 and he's been fishing for white perch, bass and catfish all his life.
"My daddy told me about the days of the big fish wars when the commercial fisherman fought against the party fisherman. The men who fish for a living would build log cabins along the shore to mark where they should come ashore. The party boys would see the cabins and set them afire. Now we have mostly tourists who fish on weekends.
"There's not much fishing like there used to be. It's getting worse and worse. Nobody knows why that's happened, but there's a lot of pollution everywhere and I think that kills the fish."
Rivers's daddy died on the lake.
Each year the town sponsors a floating Christmas pageant. Barges, canoes, motor boats and rafts are decorated and pushed onto the Caddo. Sometimes Christmas trees are lighted on the water. One year the town sponsored a Miss Uncertain contest. But her name caused problems, according to Betty Bays, and the idea was dropped.