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What's In a Name? : Little Is Certain in This Texas Town

November 08, 1987|WILLIAM H. INMAN | United Press International

UNCERTAIN, Tex. — Pops, who is 90, leans his balloon-tire bike against the Fish Hook liquor store and looks to find Betty Bays, who runs the place.

"This is the best listening place in town," he says in a German accent as thick as it was the day he left the Kaiser's service.

"You hear all the important things here," he said outside 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 with boxes of snuff and candy, sits Betty, 65. She not only helps run the Uncertain Supper Club and the Uncertain Floating Christmas Parade, she presides over the Uncertain Tourist Bureau as well.

"Welcome to Uncertain," she says. "You know you've arrived when you've found us."

She doesn't laugh. She means it.

Story of the Name

"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 that pushed trees across the Red River sometime before East Texas was settled by white people. It created Caddo Lake, the oldest lake in Texas--the only lake in the state before Texans started making them. Tent settlements became fishing camps, which became Uncertain.

Today the town has 176 people, a six-volunteer fire department, a two-man police department and the most-stolen road sign in the state.

The Uncertain Town Hall takes up half of a listing 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.)

Water Clerk, Too

Rita Jones, 57, works in the half of the trailer that isn't the Town Hall. For a few hours each day, she runs the Caddo Lake Water Supply.

"We have 300 people on the water system and a lot who prefer to get water their own way," she said. "There has always been a tendency to let people do what they want to do. That's the Uncertain way." She laughs.

Down This-A-Way a bit, across from the Cafe Curley, Leon Rivers strains to pull a flat-bottomed boat through the rushes. He is 70 and he has 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."

Alligators in Lake

Rivers' daddy died on the lake.

"He was out guiding a party around the mangroves when he had a heart attack. Nobody saw him, but they heard him go splash and they think he died almost instantly. He keeled right out the back of the boat. If he didn't die right away, the alligators would have gotten him. There are plenty of alligators and gar."

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 lit on the water.

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