Regarding Sheetrock, or Drywall: Back When

 

A slow drip leading to a leaking pipe leading to several brittle pipes and serious drips, and finally to a plumber, have brought contractors in to cover holes left in the drywall of the laundry room, and appreciation for a landlord who responds to problems without delay.

With strangers in the house, William is lurking behind the cedar chest. Ernest is folded up on the bottom shelf of an empty bookcase still hidden by boxes and facing the patio window. They don’t enjoy the process. I do.

I grew up calling drywall sheetrock. Well into adulthood when drywall cropped up, I asked what had happened to sheetrock and learned that it’s properly Sheetrock. More properly it’s Sheetrock™, a trade name that’s become a generic term like Kleenex (Kleenex™).

Frank Waller, aka Dad, dressed for painting me dressed for watching, ca. 1953.

I learned about Sheetrock in early childhood because my grandfather, sometimes assisted by my father, did remodeling and repair around town. Once or twice I got to watch.

Dad was meticulous. Unlike some I’ve seen, seams he taped and floated disappeared, the drywall mud flush with the Sheetrock. Seams in my parents’ living room remained invisible for a good fifty years.

When he painted, the brush moved slowly from side to side, no slopping of paint onto floors, windows, or doorknobs. Stray paint was immediately cleaned up.

During my family’s brief sojourn in Del Rio, we lived across the street from a young man who, post-high school, had briefly lived on the farm with Dad after his parents moved away from Fentress. While visiting, Dad found Dick painting the walls of his kitchen but getting paint on the ceiling, where it didn’t belong. Dad took the brush out of his hand and finished the job himself.*

(My father was almost as particular. He and my mother stopped in to see neighbors who were hanging wallpaper. My dad had to leave because he said they weren’t using enough paste, and the paper was going to fall off almost before they got it up. He couldn’t watch.)**

When Dad was painting Dr. Luckett’s clinic, I dropped by and insisted on helping. He tolerated more from his nine-year-old granddaughter than from adults, and handed me a brush. He knew I wouldn’t last. After about twenty minutes, I stopped to play with a ball of putty, (unsuccessfully) keep my puppy, who had followed me to town, from getting into the paint, and generally get in the way. Not long after that, I went home to air conditioning. My parents had recently elected to move back home from dry Del Rio, and the South-Central Texas humidity was killing me.****

Me with San Marcos River catfish caught by Frank Waller (still aka Dad).

Dad was famous for taking off in the middle of a job to go trotline fishing. Family shook their heads and said, “Well, that’s just Dad.” If people complained, they did it out of our hearing. Many were relatives—extended family lived all over town—and they expected him to disappear for a while.

Or he might have shared his fish. He caught enough to spread some around.

Once in early spring, he did some work for a sister- and brother-in-law who had a peach orchard beside their house. His helper said, “Mr. Frank, I sure wish we were going to be here when those peaches get ripe.” Dad said, “Don’t worry. We will be.”

For years, I thought leaving like that was a character flaw. When I heard that other contractors sometimes take time off in the mid-project, I thought it was a tall tale. People who worked for me finished in a timely fashion. Then a fellow who was repainting the door of a previous apartment—the blazing west sun hit it in summer, so it required paint that wouldn’t peel—told me he did a lot of painting, but he took off and went fishing whenever he wanted, and he didn’t ever apologize for it either. Business as usual, I guess.

The Sheetrock people have gone. They left no sign they’d been here. Dad would be pleased.

###

*My grandfather had other crotchets, too. My mother claimed that when he was driving down the road and saw a sunflower, he would stop and pull it up. (Farmer.) He let most things go much further than other folks would, but certain things he could not abide.

**As to my father’s other requirements: After retiring, he worked for some farmers he was acquainted with, hauling maize from the field to wherever it went.*** He enjoyed driving, and he liked the men, but after a week or so he resigned. He said they let Johnson grass grow up at the edges of their fields. (Farmer.) He wasn’t obsessive about anything else, but his fields had to be clean, and his fences tight, with sturdy cedar posts and six strands of barbed wire, so his cows couldn’t escape, except for big, fat, sleek Hereford Opal, who lay down and rolled under. Impossible, we thought, but he finally caught her in the act.

***Once upon a time, I knew where maize went, maybe. But I wasn’t a farm girl, and I was busy reading in the air conditioning and didn’t pay attention. I wish had, because now when I set a story in a rural area, I have to look things up.

****After a zillion years, the humidity is still killing me.

The Great Throwing-Away: Bob’s Grocery

I just packed the egg separator from Bob’s Grocery in Fentress, Texas, ca. 1956.

Why?

Because it’s from Bob’s Grocery in Fentress, Texas, ca. 1956.

Bob–really Rob Waller–was my father’s first cousin. They grew up on neighboring farms on the Guadalupe County side of the San Marcos River.

Nell, Rob’s wife and partner in the grocery store, was my second mama. She and I were the sole and exclusive members of a Mutual Admiration Society.

Rob and Nell’s three daughters, teenagers when I came along, were my idols.

There are a lot of stories I could tell, but the movers will be here any minute, so I have to stop.

But the point is, no matter how broken and cracked and shabby that egg separator is, you just don’t go throwing it away.

S Is for a Sin & a Shame: #atozchallenge

 

LONG before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them. I suppose it’s an early form of participation in what goes on. Listening children know stories are there. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole.

~ Eudora Welty, “Listening in the Dark

 

In the olden days, my family spent most holidays in my hometown with my father’s side of the family. Dinner rotated year to year from my house to Aunt Laura and Uncle Joe’s to Great-aunt Ethel’s. The woman hosting cooked turkey and dressing; the others brought side dishes.

Some of the same sides appeared year after year: Great-aunt Bettie’s potato salad, Great-aunt Aunt Jessie’s something-or-other salad, my mother’s pecan pie. Aunt Bettie put sugar in her potato salad–the older generation of Wallers sugared everything–and it was delicious.

Mother’s pecan pie was delicious, too; every year I ate  pumpkin pie, then regretted it. The pumpkin was good, but, as Garrison Keillor pointed out, the best pumpkin pie you ever ate isn’t that much better than the worst pumpkin pie you ever ate.

Aunt Jessie’s salad was a delicious enigma. Nobody knew what was in it then, and nobody knows what was in it now. Finely chopped pecans were recognizable. Lime Jello was highly probable. It wasn’t Jello-smooth, it didn’t taste like Jello, and it didn’t jiggle. As to the third major ingredient, I’m guessing cream cheese.

She brought it to every communal dinner, and  the other women wondered aloud what was in it. If anyone asked, she didn’t get an answer. Aunt Jessie certainly didn’t volunteer the information. She was known for not telling anything, most of all her age. After Uncle Curt died, she put up a double tombstone with her birth date engraved on it. Everybody in the family made a point of driving out to look at the miracle.

After dinner, we sat in the living room and the men–my father and his brothers–told stories, some about their childhood, others about local current events. As the only child there, I wasn’t outside playing with other children; I was sitting on the floor, listening.

Like Aunt Jessie’s salad, the same stories were served every year. Most of them were funny, and we laughed as hard each year as we had the last. Fentress was a singular place. It was like Charles Dickens created enough characters, most of them elderly, for an entire book and then set them down in a little town in Central Texas. Their quirks, their mannerisms, their speech, their opinions, their actions marked them as individuals.

Mr. John Roberts steered his old green Chevy well to the right before turning left, just as if he were still driving a horse-and buggy. Every time his brother, Mr. Perry, left the post office, he backed his old gray pickup at least a hundred yards before turning around to head for home (long-time residents knew not to not park behind him). My grandfather rolled Bull Durham cigarettes with one hand, drove on the left side of the road, and glided right past every stop sign he saw (if he saw them).

The stories were about small things, but they were our history, and worth hearing again. For example:

Mr. George Meadows used to wake my father up in the middle of the night because old Fritz was down in the river bottom baying at a treed raccoon and disturbing everyone’s sleep, and he wasn’t going to stop till my dad took his shotgun down there and took care of the coon.

When Great-uncle Carl was agitated, he fidgeted with the waist of his trousers. Once, back in the 1920s, a group of teenage boys, including my father’s oldest brother, Joe, went to Seguin, about twenty miles away, imbibed some alcohol, and landed in jail. The next morning, word got back to their families, and the fathers gathered downtown in the Waller store, to discuss what they should do. “Leave them there,” said Uncle Carl, “just leave them there and let them learn a lesson.”

Then someone mentioned that Carl Jr. was among the incarcerated. Uncle Carl started fidgeting with the waist of his trousers. Aunt Bettie said she thought he was going to pull his pants clear up under his armpits. He drove right over to Seguin and got Jr. out.

The best part of the story, in my estimation, is the crime that sent the boys to jail: They stole an anvil. I’ll bet in the history of the world, they were the only ones who ever stole an anvil.

The law imposed no consequences. I assume the anvil was returned to its owner and he boys apologized and that was that.

There. Those anecdotes aren’t interesting to the general public, including the readers of this post–they fall under the heading “You Had to Know the Participants,”–but I remember Uncle Carl’s fidgeting, and the image is as vivid now as it was sixty years ago. And that anvil . . .

The stories told on those holidays represent some of my happiest memories. They’re also material. I write fiction, and if you think I’m not weaving in bits and pieces, you can think again.

It would have been a sin and a shame if I’d missed out on those holiday gatherings.

*

I’m pleased to report that Uncle Joe went on to be a sober citizen, and a postmaster, and in that job he saw and spoke with most of the townspeople every day, and therefore had the opportunity to gather more stories to share at family gatherings.

**

Eudora Welty, “The Making of a Writer: Listening in the Dark.” New York Times on the Web.

***

Images of Raccoon and Anvil via Pixabay.com

 

Friday Fictioneers: Used to Be

The Friday Fictioneers Challenge: Write a 100-word story based on the photograph.

 

PHOTO PROMPT – © Roger Bultot

*

USED TO BE

“The convention center? Well, go about six blocks, to where the old movie house used to be–the one that burned in ’87–What’d you say, Fred?”

“It’s The Oaks now. Condos.”

“Oh, that’s right. Well, just before the condos, turn right, and when you get to where the Masonic lodge used to be, there’s a–What’s that, Fred?”

“It’s the Hyatt–”

“All right, the Hyatt. Turn right again, and almost to where Milton Badey’s furniture store used to be–”

“The Omni.”

“Omni. One day they’ll knock down the diner and this’ll be where we used to be.”

 

***

On my husband’s first visit to my hometown, I took him on a walking tour: There’s where Miss Blanche Harris used to live, and my great-grandmother lived there, and when my grandfather moved in from the farm he built that little house, and the house across the street was Uncle Carl’s, and that one belonged to Aunt Bettie and Uncle Maurice, and Rob and Nell’s grocery store was there, and right next door was where Dick Ward sold double-dip ice cream cones for a nickle, and next door to that was Earl and Lorene McCutcheon’s store, and that was the Masonic lodge, and across the street was Dr. Luckett’s office, and that was the cotton gin, and there are the scales where they weighed the cotton wagons, and there’s the old post office that was a bank before it was a post office, and that was the gin yard where they stored the cotton bales, and the skating rink was back there on the river before they moved it to Lockhart . . .

And when the tour ended, I realized everything I’d told him was history.

*

(The the event pictured below happened before my time. And it’s Fentress Resort. That’s the skating rink in the background.)

Cottonwood School Reunion – Fentress Resort–Fentress, Texas–1930s (?)–Row 1, 2nd from left – Carl Waller; 4th from right – Jessie Waller Meadows (white collar); last on right – Ethel Waller (polka dots). Next-to-last row, from left: Maurice Waller (partially hidden); Bettie Pittman Waller; Pearl Daniels; Frank Waller; Barney Waller

***

Friday Fictioneers Challenge

On Tuesdays, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields posts a photo prompt on her blog. The following Friday, writers post 100-word stories inspired by the photo on their blogs.

To read what other Friday Fictioneers have written, click the blue frog.

 

Doodle #5. A Quiet Moment

Doodle #5.
Doodle a quiet moment.

Doodle #5. Quiet river
Doodle #5. Quiet river

This is the San Marcos River edged by willow trees and grass and such.

Well, it is if I say it is.

Here’s a better picture.

San Marcos River above Fentress, Texas
San Marcos River above Fentress, Texas. By Kathy Waller.

###

Prompt from 365 Days of Doodling by Carin Channing.

The Lowdown on the Political Road

The gravel road in the picture below (and, for a time, in the header above) runs from Texas State Highway 80 just north of the town of Fentress to where it intersects with Farm-to-Market Road 20, about five miles to the northeast.

The sign at the intersection reads Political Road. The sign denotes Caldwell County’s approval, but the name existed about a zillion years before anyone thought about marking it.

And therein lies a tale. I relate it as it was told to me, but, in deference to the etiquette of small-town life, I omit names.

The Political Road
The Political Road

Once upon a time in the 1920s (or maybe the 1930s; I didn’t listen carefully enough), the formerly insignificant thoroughfare rose to prominence during a race for County Commissioner of the local precinct. The incumbent promised that, if elected, he would pave the road.

Hence, people in the area started calling it the Political Road, and the name stuck.

When I went to Fentress a couple of months ago, I drove the length of the Political Road. I expected to see it built up with new houses.

But there’s still not much out there.

I saw some cows resting beside a dying fire. That was a welcome sight. I love cows. I don’t see them often enough. They are superior to houses.

So that’s the story of the Political Road.

Except for one more thing: The incumbent County Commissioner lost the election.

The road still isn’t paved.

***

Backroads of Texas by Larry Hodge and Ed Syers is a good source of information about roads more interesting than I-35 and SH  130.

List of highways numbered 20
List of highways numbered 20 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)