From the archives:
A Christmas card I received from one of my Woodward cousins, and next-door neighbor, Cullen Myers Dauchy.
I believe it was my second Christmas, when I was fourteen months old. Cullen would have just turned six.
My father, Bill (Billie) Waller, May 1, 1915 – September 8, 1983
I remember, in no particular order–
He loved horses. When he was in the saddle, they knew who was in charge. He didn’t have to force them.
He loved driving—down backroads to see how much it had rained, or just for the pleasure of driving. He said my horse Scarlett “rode like a Cadillac,” his highest praise. He appreciated a smooth ride. Scarlett was the only Cadillac he owned.
When children started school at seven, he started at five. His mother had just died, and sending him to school with the two older brothers was easier than keeping him at home with the two younger. He had to repeat first grade.
He quit school before his senior year to farm full-time. His father didn’t think graduating was important. No one else could have convinced him to finish—except maybe one of his mother’s sisters, if she’d thought about trying.
One of his high school teachers told me, “Your daddy was just terrible. He said the funniest things. I was only couple of years older, and he was so funny, I never could get mad at him.” It was genetic. He got it from his mother’s family.
He created ridiculous fictions my mother then repeated all over town. (“Bill Waller, I am never going to believe another thing you say.” She always believed it.) He learned the art from two his of his maternal uncles.
He always gave me five-dollar bills to go to movies that cost fifty cents, including popcorn and Coke, and told me to keep the change. (I didn’t.)
He believed dogs and cats belonged outside but when the Siamese draped herself across his feet in bed at night, he let her lie. The Collie didn’t let him or his pickup out of her sight. He made sure she was in the truck before he left in it.
When I called home to say I’d locked the keys (and the spare keys) in the car, he rescued me, no matter what the time or how long the drive, without a word said. Every time.
He pointed out spelling errors on signage. The most memorable was tresspassing, on a sign commissioned by the local water company.
He said he spent half of his life waiting for me to find my shoes.
He told me to keep plenty of money in my purse and the gas tank full, but when I said shouldn’t we fill up before leaving Seguin, he said we’d wait till we got home. We ran out of gas on the country road two miles short of our destination, with only maize fields and a river between us and fuel. He walked; my dress shoes and I waited in the car.
He loved being outside and doing manual labor—cutting brush, stretching barbed wire, plowing and planting, watching the soil turn, working cattle. After a day of doing manual labor for a salary.
He made stunning chocolate and lemon meringue pies.
He liked sardines but said they should be eaten on the riverbank with a can of pork-and-beans.
He sent me to college, including three years in a dorm, financing it by periodically selling one of Opal’s offspring. Opal was a White-faced Hereford a neighbor had given me when I was eleven after her mother rejected her at birth.
When his brother called from up the street to say my grandfather, who lived next door, had set fire to a pile of brush in the small pasture next to his house, and it was getting dark and the wind was getting up, and somebody ought to do something, but he had to live next door to him . . . he drove two blocks, dragged a water hose through the yard, and said, “I’m putting out that fire before you burn up the whole town.” He was the only one of five sons who could do that and not get in trouble. He was the only one who would risk getting in trouble. (Trouble being a brief parental cold shoulder.)
He read the newspaper starting at the back. He read every word of local “county” papers, right down to the phone numbers in the want-ads. He read magazines. No books. Until he retired, when he picked up my copy of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and plowed through it. So I started giving him books.
He came home from World War II deaf from bomb concussion. Because his hearing aid didn’t filter out ambient noise, and he was embarrassed to have to ask people to repeat what they’d said, he left church dinners, large family gatherings, and other social events, early, often just taking off and walking home by himself. He quit a job that depended on his using the telephone, because he thought he might get information communicated to him—serial numbers of airplane parts—wrong, and cause a tragedy. When he took off his hearing aid at night, he was gone.
When I was eleven, his hearing aid broke. He sat through the public school week evening program in the school auditorium and heard absolutely nothing.
After twenty years of deafness, he had surgery to restore conversational hearing and his original personality surfaced. He enjoyed mixing with people. He engaged in long telephone conversations with friends. He got a kick out of Archie Bunker.
He watched The Muppet Show every Saturday evening. Every time Kermit the Frog flung his arms around and said, “Ya-a-a-a-a-a-ay,” he shook with silent laughter.
He stood in the churchyard after services checking the dates on inspection stickers on windshields, just killing time. Occasionally he found one that had expired.
He was good to old ladies. He got their cats out of trees He charged Miss Blanche’s ancient car’s ancient battery every six months or so (because she drove only every six months or so). She called every Halloween and said, “Tell Bill to get up her and get some popcorn balls before the kids get them all.”
He worked best alone, I think because, although he could do a multitude of things, he figured out how to do them as we went along. He passed that gene along to me.
He was a gregarious loner.
He was solid and dependable.
He made us laugh.
He died suddenly and unexpectedly and too young.
I’m posting at Ink-Stained Wretches today, but for some reason, I’m unable to reblog the post. So here’s the beginning, with a link to the rest. Or you can just go to Lost and Found and read the whole thing in one place. By the way, it’s not about computers. It’s about something I found while looking for something I’d lost. What I found was better—memories.
“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, One Writer’s Beginnings
In 2000, I wrote a story I titled, “Stop Signs.”
I composed in cursive—sat on the bed with a pencil and a tablet, wrote a couple of pages, crossed the room to type the fragment into a document and make some edits, moved back to the bed to pencil two or three more pages, went back to the computer to transcribe and edit, moved back to the bed . . . And reaching “The End,” printed and penciled in more edits, then went back to the keyboard to type the changes, then printed and penciled more edits, then back to the keyboard . . .
It was my second foray into fiction. I rather liked the result, and as a naive newbie, I submitted it to a contest. A month later the North Texas Professional Writers Association notified me the story had placed first in its fiction division. They enclosed a check for $50 (real money!) and a copy of the chapbook in which winners’ work was published.
Later I became comfortable composing at the keyboard. I printed, marked the manuscript, revised and edited the document, went through that process several times, stored the file, ripped up the paper.
Down the road apiece, “hard copies” became unnecessary—just attach a file and email it off to contests or zines. Easy peasy.
And then came another desktop, and laptops, and new versions of Windows, one after the other, and CD-ROMS (writable!), and external backups, and online backup services, and cloud backups, and a whole raft of things I’ve never heard of.
The paperless society. Everything on record, available at the touch of a fingertip, no document or image ever lost.
Read the rest of the post on Ink-Stained Wretches, here.
Bill, fourth from the left, is my father. Joe, Graham, and Donald are my uncles. Collectively, they were known as “the Waller boys.” There were a number of other Waller boys in town, but these four, along with their brother Maurice, who died in 1952, were the.
Rob is their first cousin.
The snapshot was taken at the Fentress United Methodist Church homecoming, ca. 1980. That was the last time they were all together.
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™).
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.****
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.
I just packed the egg separator from Bob’s Grocery in Fentress, Texas, ca. 1956.
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.
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.
The Friday Fictioneers Challenge: Write a 100-word story based on the photograph.
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–”
“Omni. One day they’ll knock down this 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.)
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 a quiet moment.
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.
Prompt from 365 Days of Doodling by Carin Channing.
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.
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.