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James R. Stout

Changes - Part 4 . . .

            It was August of 1967 and things had recently changed a great deal in our family. My grandfather had died suddenly from a heart attack on April 22. It’s amazing how the loss of one person can change the lives of so many. The first realization after the funeral was that there was just no way that my grandmother could live alone on the farm. As I have previously written in prior blog entries, I am going through that very same thing. Oddly enough, I am the same age that my grandmother was at that time.

            My two uncles, one of them my grandparent’s attorney, helped to liquidate the livestock, farming implements, and generally help my grandmother through that transition. They helped her to find a house in Trinity, Tx. She would be close to church, the grocery store, her doctor, and her bank to name a few. She would also be only 11 miles from the farm itself which would allow her to spend a day or two a week at the farm and make for a better transition. Not only could she keep the place clean and so forth, but she could visit her home of nearly 50 years and also be near to her mother’s homestead that Grandma had grown up on.

            So, there is was August and she was settled in her new house, the major liquidation had been affected, and she settled into what would be an all too short 18 months of living near her home. She could visit my grandfather’s grave easily as the cemetery was only 8 miles from her new home and on the way to the farmhouse. My sisters and I went to spend the week with her. It would be the last time that all three of us spent a week with her and also spend time together at the farm. One of my sisters and I did spend another week with her the next summer, but my oldest sister had graduated from high school and was working during the summer of 1968 and preparing to start college in the fall.

            It was decided that we would spend a couple of days at the farm and three days at her new house. Nothing was really mentioned, but the absence of my grandfather was strong. After all, it had only been 4 months. My sisters took the spare bedroom to the right of the living room and I stayed on the “sleeping porch” on the other side of the living room. So far as I was concerned, I got the better deal. There was still no AC in the house and that meant that the windows were all open (we had screens though) and we had fans to keep cool. Cool is a relative word in this case. August in Texas without AC is never “cool”. But I loved it. I liked the breeze through those windows, there were 9 of them, and the whirring of the oscillating fan on the bedside table. It was the kind of fan that they would never be able to sell today. The blades were metal, the screen on it had openings big enough to stick your fist through, and the plugs were not grounded. Thankfully, we had been raised with a brain and sticking our fingers into the fan just wasn’t going to happen. The motor on that fan could have powered a lot of cars today! There wasn’t one part on the thing made out of plastic.

            School was about to start and that was going to be another big change in my life. I was going to begin junior high school. I was partly thrilled and partly scared witless. One of my most unpleasant memories of starting junior high had to do with P.E. We had gotten a list from the school of supplies we would be required to have for when school started. One of those things was something called “a jock strap”. I mean to tell you that I was flat out flabbergasted when we went to K-mart and I saw that thing in its package. When we got home, I tried to figure out how the darned thing worked. It was beyond my ability. Well, true to form, my parents waited in the hall to see if I could figure it out. For crying in a bucket, couldn’t a guy get any privacy? After a few minutes, my father says from the other side of the bathroom door, “Do you need some help?”

            I begged him to go away and that didn’t do any good. We didn’t have a privacy lock on the bathroom door and dear old Dad just walks in, takes a look at my abject failure in figuring the thing out, and laughs his head off. To his credit, he used hand gestures to show me what I needed to do and then left the room. Well, I figured it out, but I don’t think I wore it more than half a dozen times over the next year.

            Back to the farm. I enjoyed those two days a great deal. The meals were just as good as always, the exploring of the property was just as fun, and the little things that Grandma did for us were just as endearing. But I missed my Grandpa. It wasn’t the same at the farm without him there. Two or three neighbors stopped by to say hello and you could feel the awkwardness that just seems to happen when someone dies. I think in their way, they were also saying how much they miss their friend. Grandpa had always been someone that helped his neighbors when it was needed. This endeared them to him all the more.

            The last day there we packed up our little suitcases and loaded them in the car. That was another change. Grandma had bought a car. As long as I had known my grandparents, they had always owned trucks. But a car was better suited for her usage and the trucks had been sold. I remember so well driving down the dirt road that I have come to know so well these past 11 years and looking in the pastures, now empty of cows, and thinking how much had changed that year. As we reached the top of a hill where the main entrance to the main pasture is, we met an old man driving towards us on his tractor. Grandma stopped as did the man and they visited for a few moments. He looked like the oldest man alive to me. I would later learn that he wasn’t nearly as old as he looked. It was just that he had spent a lifetime working in the sun on his farm. After we said goodbye and drove away, Grandma told us that the man was her cousin. She had known him all of her life. I remember thinking it just didn’t seem possible that you could know someone that many years. Yet, here I am the age my grandmother was then (almost to the day) and I have my sister and a couple of cousins that I have known all of my life. Not so strange after all. And as I write this, I am thinking about what changes my grandmother and her brother and cousins had experienced in their lives at my age. I also wonder if they thought about those changes. I’m betting that they did. I mean, who doesn’t?

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