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.
What a revolting development. In the interest of time, I’m cross-posting another piece from Whiskertips. But I can’t get the photographs to transfer, and they’re not saved on this computer. I suspect they’re on one of the flash drives, but I don’t have time to check that out.
I’m on my way to see Fannie Flagg, and I’m afraid if I hang around here much longer, I won’t find a parking place. So I have to leave soon.
Any minute now, I’ll start to sing.
I’m late, I’m late for a very important date No time to say “Hello”, “Goodbye” I’m late, I’m late, I’m late, I’m late
I really want to post the photos. They add to the piece. They’re necessary.
But really, I must make haste.
In a burst of creative thinking, I’ve decided to post now and add the photos later. That will satisfy both the requirement that I post daily and my determination to include the photos and my obsession with at least waving at Ms. Flagg across the parking lot. So, if you’ll come back later, you can see my grandfather dressed up in his painting duds, and me when I was little and cute. And some catfish.
I don’t believe it! The second photo transferred, and I didn’t even notice! I’m going back to see whether I can grab the others. Maybe I’ve made a mountain out of a molehill, or Ossa like a wart.
Obviously only half a wart. I can’t unbold the last section. No matter. I’ll take care of that later, too.
Really, I have to leave.
I have the awful feeling I’ve posted this here before, but I can’t find it in the index, so here goes.
“My grandfather thinks stop signs cause wrecks.
“That’s what he told Mama when they put up those signs at FM 20. If you just go on across, you’ll get out of the way, but if you have to stop, you can’t build up enough speed and somebody’ll come along and hit you for sure. Mama didn’t argue. She’s a firm believer in safe driving, but she says when you marry into the Coburn family, you learn to choose your battles. In the meantime, you’re polite. Of course, with Daddad driving, stopping isn’t an option anyway. He hasn’t had a car with brakes since 1925.”
The lines above open my short story “Stop Signs.”
The story is fiction. The first two paragraphs, however, are pretty much true. Frank Waller did think stop signs cause wrecks. But instead of telling my mother, he said it to Mr. Farr, a new neighbor about his age. Although Mr. Farr nodded, I was sure he was just being polite. I was seven years old, and I thought the idea was crazy. The reasoning seemed sound, but the facts were skewed.
Of course, I also knew my grandfather was capable of making outrageous statements just to see the listener’s reaction.
But having been his passenger the day he tested that theory, I’m satisfied that in this case he believed what he said.
The flaw in his system was that he drove so slowly he rarely built up any speed at all. He also drove on the wrong side of the road. If he saw a car approaching, he moved to the right, but not until he had scared the bejeebers out everyone else in the car.
His five sons, four daughters-in-law, and several dozen “adopted” relatives called him Dad. He was especially delighted when one of his tenant farmers addressed him that way. Rejecting the suggestion of Granddaddy, I called him Daddad until I got too old for such juvenile behavior and joined the adults.
Dad was tall, built like a scarecrow and, as is evident from the photograph above, mostly leg. He wore khaki shirts and slacks and a scruffy old hat. When he did house painting, he wore white overalls. I think I saw him wearing a suit once, but I can’t remember when or why.
He farmed. In the 1920s, he also ran a filling station and sold Chevrolets. When I was very young, he turned the farm over to one of his sons and moved to a little house he built on his sister’s lot in town.
When he wasn’t sitting on the bench outside the post office with the other old men, he did painting and paper-hanging. He was slow and meticulous. Seams he taped and floated became invisible. Wall-paper he hung was perfectly aligned, and he used enough paste to keep it up for decades. He fell short in only one area: according to my mother, every room he papered was missing two or three feet of border.
Everyone who hired Dad knew he would interrupt the job to indulge in his great love, trotline fishing in the San Marcos River. He used Crystal White soap for bait. The picture below is an average catch. By the time I was seven, I was helping him skin the fish. He then filleted them and put them in his freezer. When he had enough, he’d host a fish fry on his front porch: fried cornbread, Aunt Bettie’s potato salad, Aunt Jessie’s tartar sauce, my mother’s pecan pie.
The summer I was eight, while I was spending a week with him, a friend who’d been hunting gave Dad two wild rabbits. Dad told me we’d have fried rabbit for supper. When I mentioned the plan in front of my uncle’s wife, she said, “You’re not going to eat a bite of that rabbit!” Thinking her just a tad bossy, I ate extra to spite her. Ten years later in a college biology course, I learned why I shouldn’t have eaten the rabbit. It’s a wonder I’m alive today.
A widower for over forty years, Dad lived on canned Pillsbury biscuits, sorghum molasses, instant coffee, and roll-your-own Bull Durham cigarettes. A daughter-in-law occasionally got him to eat a square meal.
He saucered his coffee and gave lessons to anyone who asked. On a camping trip, I watched him coach a thirteen-year-old boy. They sat side by side on the edge of an army cot, the boy holding the steaming, trembling saucer halfway to his mouth, Dad saying, “Now you’ve got to let go with that right hand.”
He let me roll cigarettes and smoked them even though they were severely deficient in tobacco.
The day he died, one of my uncles called to say Dad was sick but refused to see a doctor. My mother and my uncle’s wife convinced him to go with them to the hospital.
When he was settled in a room, a nurse came in and said, “Mr. Waller, I need to get your temperature.”