You may have seen some of this content in previous posts. Please forgive any repetition. I’m starting a new project and feel I should explain myself.
As I’ve said before, I grew up in the small Central Texas farming community of Fentress. In the 1950s and ’60s, most of the residents were old–elderly would be the polite term–but these were old. And interesting. They sat on porches and in living rooms and talked about cotton and boll weevils and playing dominos at Home Demonstration meetings. They talked about relatives and neighbors–sometimes imparting sensitive and pretty juicy information. And they talked about the past. Local history. Their history.
Now I want to record as many of the stories as I can.
My main source is my great-aunt, Bettie Pittman Waller, who moved to Fentress in 1902, when she was sixteen, the first girl in the newly founded community. She held the history of the town in her amazing memory. But, although she could recite the facts with textbook accuracy, her stories focused on people, old friends and neighbors, and the little dramas of daily life. Many stories were funny. As she spoke, Great-uncle Maurice–accent on the first syllable–the quietest and sweetest man imaginable–sat in his recliner, shaking with silent laughter.
I’m always open to additions and corrections and will make necessary adjustments. Cullen Myers Dauchy, Sally Barber, Ann Barber, are you listening?
These posts might not interest anyone but a small group who have connections to the town. But I’m going to record the the ones I remember before they’re lost, and this is the best venue I have.
Handbook of Texas, and excellent publication, offers the the basics, a few paragraphs, names and dates, just the facts.
And I pray I don’t step on any descendant’s toes. If they ever happen to read the posts.
To show I’m willing to air my own family’s dirty laundry along with everyone else’s,* I begin with a story about my Uncle Joe, my father’s oldest brother. I don’t think he would care, because he, too, was a great storyteller about friend and foe alike. And he didn’t mind being the main character.
Joe Waller was born in 1913, the oldest son of Frank Waller and Vida Woodward Waller. His mother died when he was nine; there were five younger children–Maurice, 7 years old; Billie, 5; Donald, 3; and Graham, 8 months.
My grandmother’s sisters wanted to take the boys, but each had several children of her own and couldn’t take all five.
So my grandfather and and the children moved across the San Marcos River to town. A room was constructed over the garage next to Grandmama’s (his mother’s) house for their bedroom. The boys were cared for by Grandmama and Aunt Ethel, my grandfather’s older sister.
This was probably when they became generallerery known as the Waller boys, a label that followed them the rest of their lives. Several women in town also described them as “the sweetest things.” I can attest to that.
Some time later–I don’t know exactly how long–my grandfather moved back to the farm, which was very close to town as the crow flies and just a bit farther by road. (But considerably longer when rain turned the road to mud or the river rose out of its banks.) My grandfather loved his sons, never a doubt about that, and saw them almost daily–he ate most of his meals at his mother’s house–but as a father, he followed a sort of laissez-faire doctrine, leaving most practical parenting to his mother and his sister.
When Uncle Joe was a teenager, he turned what family members termed “wild.” I gather that having a rather detached father led in part to rebellion. And like his brothers, he loved Grandmama, a sweet woman with plenty of experience in raising boys, but I suspect he clashed with Aunt Ethel; lots of people, including her siblings, did. She was eminently clashable. In addition, she doted on the younger two, who were still baby-cute, but was never kind to the three older boys; she wasn’t physically abusive, but love and kindness weren’t part of her bargain.
Anyway, Uncle Joe fell in with some local boys who were described as “wild.” Joe followed their lead.
(This is where the story veers from serious to ridiculous.)
One night they drove to Seguin, a small city about twenty miles to the west, got likkered up, and stole an anvil.
I repeat, an anvil.
Why would anyone steal an anvil? They’re heavy and, I would think, impossible to fence. And of little use to a bunch of teenagers.
They were caught and arrested and spent the night in jail.
The next morning, word came that the boys were in the Guadalupe County Jail. Their fathers gathered at the Waller store, where Uncle Maurice was working, to decide what to do. Uncle Carl, an older Waller brother, was there, too.
As the fathers conferred, Uncle Carl repeatedly put in his oar: “Leave them in jail. Just leave them there. Teach them a lesson. Leave them.”
Then someone mentioned that Carl, Jr., known as Bubbie Carl, was one of the jailbirds, and his father changed his tune. They must go to Seguin right now and get those boys out.
When Uncle Carl was agitated, he fidgeted with the waistband of his trousers. Aunt Bettie, who was among the observers, said she thought he was going to pull them clear up under his armpits.
I don’t know what happened next. I assume the boys were brought home and suffered familial consequences. Or some of them did. I believe my grandfather became undetached and meted out appropriate punishment. And then went out behind the barn and died laughing about the anvil.
The rest of the story, or part of it: The Case of the Anvil was Uncle Joe’s only brush with the law. He later worked in the Civilian Conservation Corps, then with a friend rode the rails to California, got a job, and married Aunt Laura. After eighteen years in California, he moved back to Fentress, built a house, became the postmaster, and in his spare time raised cows, one of whom he named Loretta. (They all had names.) He also had a Jersey milk cow named Two Spot (she sported two spots somewhere on her anatomy) who offered to hook everyone but Uncle Joe and my father. I was scared to death of her.
But more about Uncle Joe in a future post, which will include a section about his testifying before a Senate subcommittee. Purely informational. He wasn’t in trouble. Other people were.
*I don’t really know about anyone else’s dirty laundry.
I’ve already posted some Fentress stories. See
J Is for Just One Story and An Inconvenient Prayer
Fentress Memories (aka My Visiting [and Much Older] Worden Cousins, Who Had a Lot More Fun Than I Did, Because I Didn’t Blow Up Coke Bottles or Bring Home a Stray Dog That Was Foaming at the Mouth or Hotrod Down the Street with My Baby Cousin (Me) in Her Stroller or Anything Else That Would Have Gotten Me Shut Up in My Room Until I Was Thirty-Five)
Father’s Day 2021: He Made Us Laugh