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James R. Stout

When Every Day Was Thanksgiving Day

            There are many objects that I associate with my childhood years and spending time at my grandparent’s farm. There was the old crank phone. The earpiece for that phone was very heavy, but my grandmother seemed to not notice when she made calls on the that phone. There was the old wood stove in the living room of the house. It was huge and my grandfather had purposefully installed it in so that you could walk behind or in front of it. The advantage was that several people could stand around it to get warm. There was a homemade gun rack hanging over the front door that held two .22 caliber rifles (I have both of them now) and a very old Civil War era shotgun that had been handed down through the years. My great-great-grandfather had bought it in the 1860’s.

            In the garage that was beside the house there were treasures galore. Up until I was about 8-years-old the garage had a second-floor apartment. It had originally been built in the 1930’s to house the schoolteacher for the one room community schoolhouse that was within walking distance of the house. In that old garage there were cane fishing poles, some homemade tools, a very large crosscut saw that my sister and brother-in-law have now that is painted and used as a wall decoration, many yard implements and tools, and there was still room enough for two Chevrolet pick-up trucks. My grandfather would get a new truck about every three years. But he would keep a truck for six years. The first three years, when the truck was new, it was their “city” truck. It was used for going to town, to church, to vote, etc. When the previous “city” truck had spent three years as a farm truck it would be sold, and a new truck purchased. This would then render the “city” truck as the farm truck. Grandpa would use the old truck as a trade-in and sell a couple of cows to pay cash for the new truck. My first memories are of their 1955 Chevrolet Apache 1-ton truck that was doing duty as the farm truck and their 1958 Chevrolet 3100 Stepside city truck. In 1961 a teal colored Chevrolet Stepside replaced the 1955. The last truck that they bought was a white 1964 Chevrolet Fleetside. Grandpa died in 1967 and my grandmother had to move into town because she wouldn’t be able to live alone on the farm. They had a big auction after my grandfather died and sold all of the farm implements, a couple of trailers, both trucks, and all of the cattle. Grandma kept the land though. I now own 45 acres of what was their farm.

            Grandpa’s passing was a change for the whole family. As my mother once said, “That was when everything changed.” For the first two years my grandmother lived about 12 miles from the farm in the small town of Trinity, Texas. She spent a day or two a week at the farmhouse just to keep it cleaned and give it that “lived-in” feel. We still spent occasional weekends there, but nothing like we had before. Grandma’s health became a concern by early 1969 and it was decided that she needed to live closer to her two daughters (my mother and my aunt) in Houston. She sold her Trinity house and moved into a brand-new townhouse in Spring Branch, a suburb of Houston. You could see her townhouse from my aunt’s house. This move meant that she could have help when needed, help going to the doctor’s and so forth. In the fall of 1972, the family decided it would be great to have Thanksgiving at the farm again. So, the plan was for us to all get there on the day before Thanksgiving and have time to cook the meal etc. My sister and brother-in-law asked if they could have the old crank phone. My brother-in-law wanted to refinish the phone and they were going to use it as a decoration in the house. Well, we got to the farmhouse on Wednesday afternoon and the front door was crashed in and the door frame broken. Thieves had broken in and stolen that crank phone, the old shotgun, and some other items. When we asked the County Sherriff’s Deputy why on Earth someone would steal that old phone he said, “To go fishing”. It seems the old crank phones had a magneto. The thieves would hook up wires from a car battery to the magneto and toss the phone into a pond. This would effectively electrocute the fish which caused them to float to the top of the water. The thieves then just scooped them up with a net. How nice.

            Over the next few years the farmhouse was broken into several times. Thieves even stole the behemoth wood stove! My parents replaced it in the early 80’s with a smaller one that is there to this day. Before I built my house and moved up here, I would spend a weekend every once in a while, in the farmhouse. This was in the 1990’s and early part of the 2000’s. I would purchase a cord of firewood in the fall and it would last all winter for my visits. Sadly, on three or four occasions when I got there and went to start a fire in the stove, I would find the dead bodies of some beautiful bluebirds. They had managed to get down the exhaust pipe from the roof and then were unable to get back out. It was sad to look at those birds with their rose-colored breasts and cerulean wings just laying there in old ashes from the last fire.

            There was one thing that I was determined not to allow to be stolen before I could get them. However, I failed to do so. There were several old phone poles, the kind that looked like big crosses, that were no longer used by the phone company, but still stood in our fields. Those poles had off-white colored ceramic insulators on them. Four on each side of the cross. I made a plan. I was going to get those insulators and make a display of them. I set aside a weekend for the project. I packed up for the weekend and in the back of my truck I had an extension ladder that would get me up to the crosses that had the insulators. I had my tools and I headed to the farmhouse. I got there late on Friday night (had to wait until after work to leave) and went to bed. I got up the next morning and was ready to do what I went there to do. Imagine my surprise and disappointment when I went outside and saw from the farmhouse that all of those insulators were gone. They had been there two months before, but now they were gone. Someone had just helped themselves to them.

            There isn’t much, if anything, left in the farmhouse from those long-ago days of my childhood. Those items were either stolen, thrown away, or retrieved by family members as keepsakes. The house is full of stuff though. It’s become the place where old furniture of family members goes when no longer considered fit for their home. I think about that old crank phone and the telephone insulators from time to time. They were there for a very long time and we certainly had ample opportunity to get them. But by the time it occurred to us that we might want to get them thieves had made of with them. The insulators probably weren’t worth much money and still aren’t. But they meant something to me. The old phone even more so. I have memories of that phone ringing and my grandmother talking on it. It was installed on a wall in the dining room in an out of the way corner. There was no chair to sit in while on the phone because you didn’t spend time on the phone like people have for the last 50 years. You used a phone to call someone and tell them something and it was always short and sweet. I do have one thing from that old phone. For some reason, the thieves cut-off the earpiece and it was left lying on the floor of the dining room. My mother had kept it and when she passed away, I got it. It’s displayed in a corner curio cabinet in my house along with an empty snuff box of my grandfather’s, some arrowheads and spearheads that my grandfather found when plowing the fields, an old aluminum tumbler that we drank out of as children when visiting my grandparents, my grandfather’s last pocket watch, and his straight razor with a pearl handle. I’m thankful these items survived the thieves and time itself. Most of all, I’m thankful for the memories of when every day was a Thanksgiving Day.

 

The farmhouse and garage circa 2003.

 

A gathering at the farmhouse circa 1960. From left to right: My grandfather, Mom,

Sister Barbara, Grandma, Aunt Majel, Uncle Tommy Sister Debbie holding Tiger the Cat, Me, and my father.

The photo was taken by my Uncle Paul.

 

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