Everything Matters

Everything Matters
Zim's Bottling of Strawn

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Tudor Road Awakes

Tudor Road Awakes..
Talking With Shorty Fox
By Jeff Clark

I’m out riding up Tudor Road with Shorty Fox. He’s eighty-seven-years young. Slowing down a little, he tells me, only going to three senior citizen dances a week now.
Tudor Road runs north and south through the tough Palo Pinto Mountains, in far eastern Eastland County. From the Howard Cemetery, north of Hogtown, take off due north though the Mountain, Tanner, Tudor and Marston Communities. Those long ago places are invisible to the untrained eye.
Up and down mountains, jaw-rattling bumpy corners, and after a rain, more than a few not-so-low water crossings. Lonely country.
Back in the old days, Tudor Road continued north, I think. Going somewhere as yet concealed. Wagon roads, like first family fence rows, always have a punch line.
The lost Tudor Road communities no longer boast as many now-grown school kids as I met over Alameda-Cheaney way. But its Palo Pinto Mountains are filled with unbelievable legends, secrets and ghosts. Hopefully, Tudor’s dearly-departed will be in a talkative mood someday soon.
We stop the truck at the Howard Cemetery. Shorty used to live behind this place, moved there in 1950. “Lots of folks think the cemetery’s deeded to the Howard Cemetery, but it’s not.” Shorty’s getting ready for a tale.
“I’ve got a copy of the abstract. It was deeded to the Jimerson Peak Community School. The road separated the graveyard from the school back then. The school sat right over there, on top of that southern part of the cemetery. Miss Wisdom gave the land back in 1887.”
There was never a Jimerson Peak school up ON Jameson Peak (n/k/a), best I can tell. Though I’d like to walk around up there, if anyone’s got a key to the gate.
“Do you remember the old school building?” I ask.
“Sure do.” It was a wood structure, framed or boxed, he’s not sure. Kids from all around walked in. The Howards lived north, right across the road that’s there now, related to those up in Cheaney, along the western rim of Cook Canyon.
Tudor Road swings west at the cemetery now, though Shorty says it used to continue on south toward Desdemona. Was an eighteen foot wagon road when he was a boy. I draw and sketch while he talks.
We pull away, heading north. Pass places that had one, then another owner. Tom Friday, Rufus Buckley, then a Hogg, a Grimshaw. I’m stopping the truck every time he says a name, writing it down, noting a landmark so I can map it later. Getting permission to enter gates is the hardest part of this work.
That old Hogg house, out by the statuesque red barn you can still see, burned to the ground one year. Neighbors tried to put it out, hoisted water one bucket at a time up onto the roof. One man jumped to safety near the end. The house, gone.
That fine old barn on the old Hogg place survived, faded red barn wood, stump-toe turned up wood shingles. A hay loft. A wind mill. Open shed sides like medieval flying buttresses. “Maybe there were two houses that burned there.” He tells me where to find the grandson.
There was an Uncle Doc Horne that lived in an old house on the left. Wesley Hammond took care of him. None of his kin still around, best he knows. Neither is the house. I know it’ll show itself again, down the road some day.
The Tidwells on the right had a big turkey hatchery. Sons and daughters and lots of clues. A good view of a landmark from this homestead. Ancient footsteps cross the back of this place, leading up the valley, I’ll bet. We pass a forest of now-vanished wood-timbered oil derricks from The Boom, one of which blew out, caught fire, provided blazing day-like light all night to read from, for miles, for days.
A Genoway strip of land lies behind one of the Fonville tracts. Kin to Earl Fonville, who once led my steps to the Mountain School. A good man, I think, a kind man, recently passed away. Shorty was there, in the old frame homestead, the night old Fate Fonville died. Fate was born answering to “Lafayette”, was one of the first in this country in 1887.
Fate’s daughter, maybe his granddaughter Addie made coffee for those sitting up with their Fonville patriarch that night. A houseful, knowing history was passing away, through that door behind the cook stove.
We moved north, caught the land Bill Greenhaw leased, decades before, for 75 cents an acre. Shorty starts telling me about his friend Hardy Tidwell, all their fun and adventures, some of which won’t be repeated here. Not yet.
We start going up in elevation, toward Rattlesnake Mountain. “This was state school land way back,” he tells me, pointing off to the right. Sixty-something acres that could starve four cows plum to death.”
My guide did some baling back in the 1950s and 60s. He rode his Case tractor, his hay baler, his hay conditioner one long journey up this road, topping out at fifteen miles an hour. His wife Almarie would pull the hay conditioner with their 1951 ¾ ton Ford pickup. A six cylinder. It took the better part of a morning to get where work could begin.
When the couple was done, was heading out, they’d start back up the big hill (called a mountain on my map). Almarie would floor that old truck, wheels grabbing hold, accelerator pressed hard to the floorboard the whole way, to get the truck and its load out of that deep draw, up the hill toward their place. Mr. Cullum, one of their clients, thought Mrs. Fox was one of the best drivers he’d ever seen. She worked the fields, rode horses, tended cattle, worked with her husband, from beginning to end.
His partner.
We roll up on the cutoff to the Davidson-Tanner Cemetery and coast to a stop. Uncle Peter Davidson, the famed pioneer who surveyed this Palo Pinto country and its Leon River cousin to the west from 1856 on, owned this land back then, moving down from his Indian-thick first roost between Strawn and Thurber. I can see an old box homestead from the road. Then the Gaileys to the left, then the right, then the left again.
Shorty baled for five men up this way. Most planted Haygrazer. Other old homeplaces taunt from my 1917 map, places we don’t see, that Shorty doesn’t remember.
Most of Shorty’s work was south of the Tudor Community, so relevant stories taper off as we move north. He’s telling me about cutting hay, good money, baling for 35 cents a bale as long as the sun stayed up. I filled up on $2.59 a gallon gas that morning in Weatherford.
Oh, Shorty used to love to coon hunt up and down these creek bottoms, as a younger man. His dogs would get into some powerful scraps with those varmints. He’s pointing off to the west, tall trees staring back from the riverbed. The hounds would bay in the moon light, running the trail, sometimes half a mile in front of their masters.
Moving down toward the creek bottom, mature Native pecan trees join us, plenty of water in the time before tanks and wells and terracing. “I can’t believe these old fence rows have gotten so overgrown,” he’s telling me.
We had heck seeing past the fence rows. I’ll need to bring him back, come winter. When the trees die back. Some of the city-fied places have gone over to mesquite, to fat cedar juniper tree-size bushes. Thick oaks here and there along the bottoms give a clue to what stood guard before.
Jack Blackwell was the county commissioner in these parts about that time. Kept this rugged road in good shape. Smoothed it down for a hard-working farm hand friend, pulling a Case tractor up and down this hard-scrabble road, looking for work.
We stopped at an old stone cellar standing sentinel in a field behind drooping barbed wire, five feet of stacked rock showing above the ground. A county courthouse-quality precast keystone over the door. Precise mortar joints. Chiseled brown rock. Fine craftsmanship like the Hamilton Cellar over in Cheaney. Like the Alameda cellars and walls that I suspect Shelby Stanfield laid out by hand, coming up from Paluxytown in the early 1860s. To race horses.
“You didn’t know I made a mason once, did ya?” Shorty’s got that story-telling smile on his face.
“No sir, Mr. Fox. I don’t believe I’ve heard that one.”
“Well, when I was a kid, I was one of them that laid the stone on those cabins, next to the city pool in Ranger.”
“The NYA cabins, across from the library?”
“Sure enough. That was around 1935. I got paid $16 a month.”
“A month? Was that good money, back then?”
“ANY money was good money back then.” He’s looking out the window. “I had to get a Social Security card, a Social Security number so they’d pay me. They withheld eight cents a check, for Social Security. Heck, that could’ve bought gas for my Model A Ford.”
Shorty worked for a man in Ranger named Rainwater. That name rings a bell with me, so I’ll stop that part of the story, for now, till I remember to whom the man is tied.
Dangerous work, writing.
Shorty worked up there laying rock with old Mutt Lee. A Ranger boy, I suspect. They mopped tar up on the roof. Drove in to Fort Worth for building supplies one time, pickup truck breaking down, fixing its water pump with a pair of pliers and two hand-fulls of patience. Old Man Rainwater gave em a hard time, about that, about other things too. Rings a bell, that old man…better move on.
We reach I-20, the north end of Tudor Road. “Where’d Tudor Road end, Shorty, back when you were a kid?”
“Ended at Highway 80. That’s all there was.” Turn left. Turn right. Straight ahead is a fence. Now.
We hop up on the interstate, turn south on Hwy. 16 making good time toward Desdemona. I point out the abandoned rail bed, leading once to Eastland County’s Thurber mine. I ask him about goats…my boy wants to raise a goat, which I’m all for, if he’ll eat the weeds in the pasture (the goat, not the boy).
I did a little trading with Mr. Fox when we got back to his place. Sold some saddles, some lead ropes. I tried to impress this man, a man I respect, calling one “worn out” saddle, by its kinder “broken in” label of love. One “old” piece of tack, transformed into “vintage”, using the lilting trading songs I’ve heard my friend sing to others, lured off the road to examine his siren’s wares.
Shorty smiled at my rookie verbal tactics, nodded his head politely, patted me on the back, then traded circles around me til the back of my truck was empty. Never go to a gun battle, my friends, without ammo in your gun.
Shorty and I like to talk ABOUT people, if you want to know the truth. When it’s just us. Would be gossip coming from anyone else, ‘cept we both know how important these tidbits can be.
Important that we stay informed.
We really got down on one old boy, not there to defend his lowly ways. A nugget rolled across the floor. “That man was too lazy to eat all he wanted,” Shorty told me, a gleam in his eye. I pulled over the truck. Wrote it down. Used it in a sentence, down in Stephenville, later that very day.

Tudor Road has started talking. I hope she has a lot to say.

Quit Working

It’s Lunch where I come from.
Dinner there’s named Supper here.
She didn’t understand.
The meal at noon. They call it Dinner out here, darlin’. Trust me on this one.
I remember Bridget Mann, Dr. Bridget Mann, my college French professor, a native of Germany before the time of Hitler, a BBC broadcaster from London during the Battle of Britain.
That’s World War II.
German speaking English teaching French.
Madame Mann used to confide that students seeking to speak a foreign language well must stop translating – from English thoughts in your mind into French spoken words from your lips in this case.
You must think in French.
Think like the French, without that troubling need to surrender.
The French think different thoughts than Americans – different shadings, different back stories.
It takes some getting used to. Listening deeply, one discerns cultural differences. Divergences in history.
My companion nodded, like she understood.
A beautiful, freshly-minted penny.
I pointed to the cafĂ© we’d just left, an hour and a little west of Fort Worth. “You heard a better example,” I told her, “French versus German, right back inside that restaurant before the chicken-fried hit our table.”
“Do tell, monsieur.” She was getting into it.
“Remember that cute waitress? When you wanted a cup of coffee?”
“Yeah!” Her soft brown eyes lit up in recognition. “The waitress said the coffee pot had quit that morning!”
 No coffee for you.
“And if that same coffee pot failed to produce back in your big city Dallas hometown?”
“Then I’d tell you the coffee pot stopped working!”
C’est vrai?
Sure ‘nuff.
Dr. Mann must be smiling.

Don’t get so hung up on the words themselves, she says across three decades of silence. “Listen to the thought patterns those words betray.”



Monday, February 24, 2014

The Louis White Drowning

Soda Pop Offer Tints
Louis White’s Memory
By Jeff Clark

“Life was cheap back then.”
            Butter Bridier is 85. He spent his first decade of life in coal mining Thurber. The Bridiers lived in House 1269. That’s eight-year-old Butter in the photo telling this story.
“One day Louis White knocked on our front door. I didn’t even know his name.” Louis was 14. After knocking, Louis stepped back off the Bridiers’ porch. He was black. Times were different.
“He wore no shirt or shoes, his hands in his pockets.”
             “Miss Polly Boo,” Louis said to Butter’s mom, “Charlie said I could ride old Mary.” Charlie is Butter’s older brother.
“Are you sure Charlie said you could ride his donkey?”

“Yes m’am. If he hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here.”
Butter’s dad was French, his Polly Boo nickname derived from “Parlez vous Francais. Louis gets the donkey bridled. He dives halfway across her back so he can straddle her to ride. But when Louis jumped, his pants slipped down around his ankles. “My mom laughed so hard snuff ran down her face.”
Another time Butter and his mom drove their A model Ford to Thurber’s service station for two gallons of gas. “That was all you could afford, even at 15 cents a gallon.” Louis is there, leaning against an iced soft drink cooler.
“Hey Louis.”
Louis looked at Butter, not lifting up from the cooler box.  “You want a soda pop?” he asked Butter.
“I don’t have any money.”
“I’ll buy you one. I got money.”
“You won’t pay for it.” Butter doesn’t know if Louis had a nickel, dime or what. Grown people in Thurber didn’t have 10 cents in their pockets back then.
“I don’t remember seeing Louis alive after that.”
            The White family is living with Louis and Isabella Walters inside House 208, according to the 1920 census. A 40-year-old “Louis” Walter and a four-month-old “Louis” White. Father Ed White is 65 and wife Lucy’s 37. By 1930, Louis is 11, his father 75, mom Lucy 49. They’re living in House 102, in “Colored Town” notes the census taker. Lucy is a laundress. Ed isn’t working. He listed “coal mines” as his job in 1920. Perhaps he became disabled.
The census shows the most money any of 50 names on the page possessed was $20 (all races). Ed and Lucy had “none”. Though Thurber had no black school, Louis was able to read and write.
Thurber’s Little Lake still sits just west of New York Hill. You could swim or fish there. There was a homemade flat-bottom row boat anyone could use, made of 1 x 12’s, tar and pitch keeping water out. Two boys about 16 joined Louis in the boat that day.
He could’ve fallen overboard accidentally. His shipmates could’ve wanted to see if Louis really couldn’t swim. Louis disappeared beneath the surface.
Johnny Elwood brought his metal boat. He and Ted Botts went back and forth looking for Louis’ body with a grappling hook. Fifteen to twenty people watched from shore.
“I came around our house the day of the drowning. Diagonal across the street Miss Crane had a grandson Charles Sanders, playing with a yo-yo. “Hey Butter, you know N___ Lewis drowned?” He just kept yo-yo’ing. “I told momma and she hurried to Little Lake to see.”

When Louis was brought to shore, he wore no shirt or shoes. A stretcher carried him up on the dam. He’d been in the water over an hour. No effort was made to resuscitate.
“Dr. Baldridge was standing by Louis’ feet. He said, ‘I pronounce him dead.” The crowd dispersed.
            There wasn’t an inquest, it doesn’t appear. The family cared, perhaps few others. “It was hard to stay alive back then.” Louis was buried in an unmarked grave in Thurber Cemetery.
Blacks had church below New York Hill. Though all races mined together, there was little associating around town.
            There was a black preacher once, preaching real loud. “I got scared and started crying,” Butter told me. “They once passed the plate. One guy didn’t pay the plate any mind as it went past. The preacher asked, “How ‘bout you sir? You got something you can give to the Lord?”
“Yeah, I might give Him a dollar.”
“Very good, put it in the plate there.”
“Well, if you don’t mind, I’ll give it to Him when I see Him.”
            Louis White was willing to share a soda, Butter told me these 76 years later. “I always remembered that.”
            Louis’ mother Lucy died two months later to the day of a broken heart. We don’t know if his then 79-year-old father had died or moved away. Lucy was getting up in age, in bad health, poorly fed, facing the world’s worries without that 14-year-old boy’s smile to keep her going.
“Those were survival times. As bad as it was, Louis offered to buy me a soda pop.”
When the restoration of Thurber Cemetery began Butter told wife Faye, “If we ever discover where Louis’ grave is, I want to put up a tombstone.” Butter’s grandmother is buried at Thurber.
After he retired, he talked to Flogene Boston who lived on Park Row. She told him, yes, she went to Louis’ funeral. His grave’s right there by the fence. The Bridiers found two plots that “fit” her memory.
Butter and wife Faye gave Louis his tombstone. Leo Bielinski gave Lucy hers.
“I can always remember that little guy,” Butter told me, “leaning against the soda cooler. If I could put flowers on only one grave at Thurber, it would be his.”
Lucy White’s headstone reads “A Mother Grieves No More.”

Little Louis White drowned, after teaching one important lesson.
            “You want a soda pop?”


1.         The story teller, eight-year-old Butter Bridier in front of House 1269 in Thurber.
2.         The grappling hook used to find Louis White’s body in Little Lake.
3.         Mother and son’s headstones.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Another Bell Tolling

Another bell tolls, possibility turning into loss, unringing the clanging cacophony that had once been boomtown, its winning poker hand placed near the action once, by a loving God, trying to do the right thing.

A phone call. “I can’t understand it. What happened. It makes no sense.”

Words come through the line, not for the first time. Not the first caller.

Capital invested, unable to leave, its cruel ransom denied.

“I just wanted to help. To make a difference.”

Another echo.

History’s slide.

More vital organs shut down. The body is failing.

The once-tall-town is sealed inside a dark coffin, lowered into far darker ground, broken bones and decaying muscle oozing toxic muck. The pine box is nailed tightly shut, from the inside. It took awhile for historians to discern this important forensic clue. The only movements now are the worms and creeping low-bellied crawlers seeking to devour any positive sign of life still alive within that box.

Signs of possibility.

We can’t have that.

Heroes have come here to join the town’s rescue since the 1960s. The funeral was well underway even then, though destruction was then disguised as prosperity, back then. Mine from yours.

I win.

You lose.

Life is good.

We sure showed Them.

Run off, discouraged, It’s Dead but It’s Ours. Fight over one last scrap of puerile possibility, while in truth, the civic carcass has been in the ditch – its only Easter Sunday resurrections dreamed by outsiders, every other year or two. I’ll make a difference, they think. I’ve done it before. Other places.

Outsider memories.

Bad memories, all.

Lottery tickets, never cashed in.

Triumphalist history, Manifest Destiny, the stories outsiders learned back in high school, we’re a nation of greatness, those same myths or tales or drivers or core beliefs couldn’t find footing here. People don’t always put the greater good first. Unbelief, unbelievable to spectators. Not ahead of their own gain. Or worse, the crawlers or slackers who won’t even benefit from their attack on the newcomer’s light, so many men and women through the years, but through the local gate-slamming infectious cloying virus, what could’ve been different is slain.



Limping to leave the place.

History becomes history. Just make it be over. The passage of time becomes decay. Nothing noble about that. God’s purpose in this endless slide a mystery, unexplainable, incomprehensible to the outside world.

It’s not like that, everywhere.

History, so different. Outcomes so driven by human premeditated intent.

The place needs a Vesuvius or Chicago Fire or Black Plague to help its slow suicide make sense, give context or at least an excuse – but even then, in those examples, there was a faith that life would return, a knowledge that hundreds of years, and historians looking back, could make be true.

This town knows better.

Its loss, its victory.

There is no excuse, here.

We sure showed Them.

Like a green-purple-white searing cedar forest fire, sometimes flames of hate burn so hot that the ground below loses its ability to bear life, the fertility underfoot lost to new growth for decades.

Or lifetimes.

Or forever.

This phone call, a good heart, trying with all there is to give. Another casualty – good intention, God intention, hard work, solid capital punished for pushing a place that has no will to live.

Its noose, self-tied.

No want, to give their children any better.

Dear Lord, let the offspring of this once-beloved slow hurtling place escape away to climes where they can prosper, where they can see normal as love, hard work, teams who pull together.

God’s will be done.

We’re all in this together.

Let the sad darkness within their darkness, the giving up and sliding back, the slow-eating sets of teeth buried bloodily inside their neighbor’s flesh go quietly. Let the darkened coffin become finally quiet, some day, when they are gone, let this once-hallowed place be remembered for the lost, heroic history that made it so great.

For the lives, and the childhoods, lost.

For all, that could’ve been.


Friday, February 21, 2014

Lake Leon, the Emerald Lake

Reading and writing, looking out on a Sunday afternoon at Lake Leon, emerald lake, the dammed up waters above the Leon River, the raging rapids or dusty dry bipolar ghost river that crosses the footprints of Peneteka, Spaniards and oil rush character actors.

A cacophony reaches my ear – birds, hundreds, gulls white and gray screaming calling diving toward fish brought to the surface by this first sunny February day in awhile. Majestic loons, stark, move in a row across the rippling surface water like a fleet of battleships, their pointed beaks and erect vertical necks like the bridge masts of Trafalgar frigates gone to war.

Lake Leon’s blue green surface sparkles boils from below with small silver light fishlings chased to the surface by mean menacing streaks below.

The loons dive, disappear, all in a line, nabbing tiny fins inside their sharp chiseled beaks. The white gray gulls dive bomb, The Battle of Britain, joining the feast, their calls beckoning the country around the cove to come observe the slaughter, the springlike feast after so many days of ice blue gloom.

Plenty for all.

Pull up a chair.

It lasts ten minutes. The loon posse moves left, then back right, like a prairie wildfire driving rabbits with clubs, like lemmings toward their fateful date with Dover White Cliff zero gravity greatness.

Lake Leon presents a curtains-up ecodrama as compelling as anything found in more famous deep adventure Klondike venues, projected on dark walls, by cable TV, late at night.

There’s no one here to see it, no bass boat. Neighbors aren’t home. Everybody’s in church, but are they really? I can’t imagine a benediction more graphically I AM than the symphony swirling thirty yards from the sanctuary of this veranda porch.

Clock ticks later, it’s over. Father, Son, Holy Ghost – the gulls fly off. The loons dive, disappear. I’m not sure how they left the stage.

Or why.

But they’re damn sure gone now.

We know this.

Lake Leon’s waves are quiet again, expectant – waiting to see What’s Next.

The wind turns chill.

The pen ceases to move.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Senior Citizens Dance story

Senior Citizens’ Dances
Stir New Life in Erath County
By Jeff Clark

I thought I’d warn you.
There’s a movement afoot.
Senior citizens are meeting without supervision all over these parts, dancing with each other, carrying on outside the public eye until all hours of the night.
Sometimes as late as 9 p.m.
Senior citizen dances are being held in DeLeon, Stephenville, Early, Desdemona, Weatherford, Springtown, Cleburne, Granbury and many other places. If you’re picturing helpless rest home patients waiting out their final days, you’ve got it wrong.
            I’ve known Desdemona’s Shorty Fox for some time. He initiated my current wife and me into our first senior dance three years ago. He’s 87.
We meet Shorty at the Stephenville Senior Citizens Center, just off the square. You pay $5 to get in, double if you’ve brought a date.
            Sign in here. Y’all have fun.
            Before I even hit the dance hall, I’m pointedly informed that tonight’s band, James and Dorothy Glenn’s Cowboy Country Productions is great, I’ll like them a lot, but the dance floor is, well, they’re not real proud of this composition tile floor in Stephenville. “Y’all need to go to DeLeon Monday night. They’ve got a great floor there.”
The band’s warming up, seasoned pros in their starched white shirts, deep violet kerchiefs and black cowboy hats. Vintage country music fills the hall. James Glenn plays bass guitar, Mike Caperton drums, Teddy Driskill lead guitar, Ray Austin steel guitar, and Johnny Johnson vocals & rhythm guitar.
Couples ranging from 16 to well nigh 100 fill the dance floor under florescent lights and ceiling fans. If you’re 65, you’ll swim in the young end of this pond.
The seating along the walls is like in church. The people from the Cowboy Church, they’re against the far wall. The folks from DeLeon are back over here to my right. I’m not sure what camp I’m sitting in.
“How’ve y’all been?”
Dress ranges from garage sale to Dancing with the Stars. Most sport proud cowboy hats, polished boots, saucer-sized belt buckles and crisp-starched collars. Shorty takes my wife and heads out into the fray. I see Texas Swing, then Two Step. I hear gossiping and catching up about grandkids.
            Shorty and my wife return after a few tunes. He points down at the floor. “They need to remember who held this town together back in the Depression.”
            These folks take their dance floors seriously.
One man I pegged for mid-70s, turns out to be 99-year-old Raymond Carpenter. He’ll be 100 on May 21. They’re planning a big to-do that night. Carpenter’s lived in Erath County since 1912, once owning a hardware store on the square a block from here. Folks around his table nod as he banters, this man’s soft voice a tune they’ll never forget.
The band calls a Chair Dance. Couples dance round the floor in a circle. Once they pass this metal folding chair, they change partners. Suddenly the gum-smacking teenage knockout leaves her hunk-ish beau and finds herself dancing with a stately gentleman four times her age. The solidly-built thirty-something hoss wearing the white hat links arms with delighted frosted hair older ladies each time he completes the circle.
They are giggling school girls again.
One couple at least in their seventies holds onto each other for dear life – slowly rocking left to right like a pendulum, transfixed in their own little world. They’re seeing a loving lifetime lived together in the reflection of each other’s eyes.
A waltz begins. The whole floor moves in an up-two-three, down-two-three that would’ve made Hank Williams proud.
Sitting next to me as I scribble this down, a quiet couple holds hands, they only able to watch from the sidelines now. Their eyes sparkle bright as they dance long graceful circuits in their mind, still in this game together.
The band calls out to the crowd that it’s Jack’s birthday. “How are old ya, Jack?” the band asks.
“Thirty-nine and holding.”
Another dance whose name I miss begins…couples change partners after every few bars, progressive for a town like Stephenville. Some feet slide forward gracefully along this much-maligned floor, some lurch awkwardly left-stop-pause-then-right to their next station.
Men walk bravely over to lovely ladies pretending not to notice, hold out two hands and invite their next partner to dance.
I see no one turned down all night.
One man next to me dances three bars then sits back down, never moving more than twelve feet from his chair. He’s 93-year-old Raymond George. “I’m going to dance a bit. Be careful, when I come back I might accidentally sit on you.” A noble, happy gentleman, he later leaves for home pushing his wheeled walker.
I’m proud to know him.
            Shorty had a heart attack not too long ago. His doctor said that even if he could only dance a couple of songs, he needed to get out there and do it.
Shorty didn’t have to be told twice.
I see a sweet animated lady with early Alzheimer’s, brought here by her daughter. They dance together, holding each other’s two hands. The lady’s as happy as can be, clapping with delight, talking to friends between songs.
Smiling so bright.
            The band leader tells me later, “I like playing seniors dances better than the clubs I’ve played for 40 years. These seniors get up and start dancing the second you start playing. At clubs, people have to get drunk first. By the time they start dancing, you’ve already played your best stuff.” He’s a story teller who I enjoy. He adds, “It’s nice to not play behind chicken wire anymore.”
            Sweep, slow – quick, quick. Russ and Shirley Johnson tear up the floor with practiced poise. They’ve been at it for awhile. They’re having fun. It’s no harder than that. My wife and I get ready to leave, talk to a few, say three or four goodbyes, promise we’ll go to DeLeon.
            “Y’all be careful going home.”
            Monday night DeLeon’s City Hall is lit bright. The street is packed with shiny pickup trucks and four-door sedans. We’ve come to see the floor.
            It’s 7 p.m. straight up, the time this dance begins. Everybody’s already here but us.
There’s no time to waste.
I open the front door and hear the steel guitar fueled lyric, “When she does me right, she does you wrong” waft past.
I have to smile.
The buff wood planked floor is worn nice and smooth. The crowd here numbers 99 when we sign in.
The beloved floor is packed.
The Burnin’ Daylight band’s members Paul Dominguez (Drums), Jim Keeney (steel guitar & singer), Wallace Reid (rhythm guitar & singer) and Joe Daniel (bass guitar & singer) blaze through tune after tune.
Shorty steals my wife away for a dance. A high-dollar couple blows past twirling and scattering a wake behind them. The band breaks betweens songs, so all can catch their breath.
Though I can’t put numbers to it, there are married couples here, there are unmarried widow and widower friends here and folks that showed up by themselves. I hear one man ask a potential dance partner, “Are you hitched or just carrying on?”
John and Janet Lilley dance better than most. “We learned to dance in prison,” he tells me straight-faced. Turns out Janet was a psychiatrist employed by the prison. The prison offered a dance class and the Lilleys signed up (neither were inmates). The Lilleys dance somewhere three times a week and have for 17 years.
Prentice “Pinkie” and Billie Baker of Granbury danced this circuit for 12 good years. Pinkie passed away. He was Bob Wills’ cousin and a Texas Swing master. Tonight Billie’s here with Tommy. He’s Billie’s best friend’s boyfriend, but the friend can’t make it here on Monday nights.
Don Broome is ruggedly handsome (my wife’s impression) wearing a brown western shirt, blue jeans and majestic white hair. He dances in the big leagues and knows it. “Eat your heart out, partner,” erupting as he passes one of his buddies in a furious fit of Two Step. Broome learned to dance his high dollar moves at beer joints, been going his whole life. This man still rides a motorcycle, works the oil fields. His wife passed away five years ago.
His dance partner this night taught him all the fancy steps, he tells me half-serious. She’s a butt wiggler, he confides.
I ask several men if they recruit based on dancing ability or good looks. Shorty smiles eyeing one lovely across the dance floor. “That woman’s bound to be a good dancer.”
I ask if fights ever break out, among all this struggle to land the perfect partner. No one’s ever seen it that I talked to, though the no alcohol, no smoking, no profanity worldview of the place probably dampens that fire.
 Shorty remembers taking his late wife Almarie to a country dance at his uncle’s house, north of Olden in 1947. They were true loves, the two of them. They stopped going to dances when their kids were born and never started back. They agreed that when one of them passed on, the other wouldn’t sit home and be sad.
Shorty’s been boot scooting in DeLeon 20 years exactly.
Jack White started dancing again five years ago. His moves are more refined than most of his competition. White’s doctor advised that he needed to exercise 20,000 steps a day. Well, he told me, he’d have to be out walking his dog all day long to rack up that kind of mileage. White wore a pedometer to a dance. He traveled 19,000 steps that night. “Why stay at home, grieve and feel sorry for yourself?”
During the break everyone makes a beeline to tables laden with cakes and snacks. Folks pitch in. The third Monday each month they have a meal, bring their own dishes to share.
It’s getting late. We start shaking hands, making plans for next time. A stray double-three word lyric catches my ear.
“Storms never last, do they baby?”
They don’t indeed.

Least not in Erath County.

Latin Mass at Thurber

St. Barbara’s Church Walls Hear Echoes from its Past
The Latin Mass in Thurber
By Jeff Clark
            It’s black dark here in the long-deserted Thurber Cemetery, a mere hint of orange sunset visible to the west. Tonight is New Year’s Eve – the beginning and hopefully the end. Forty-seven pilgrims, good people ranging from pre-teen to senior citizen kneel in a circle around their priest, in the flat dead winter grass beside one lonely grave.

            I won’t water this down. The presence of the Lord is tangibly inside this forgotten place tonight, among and around these people. They are in communion with Thurber’s departed fathers, mothers and children at rest beneath and around us, their souls or their memories or their tragedies as present to me this night as my own distant heartbeat – perhaps more so. Father Kenneth Novak’s words waft skyward:
            “Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine,
                        et lux perpetua luceat ei.”
            “Eternal rest, grant unto him, O Lord.
                        And let perpetual light, shine upon him.”
This is a prayer for the repose of this mining town’s lost, buried for eternity within these tombstone-speckled nine acres, spreading like a flickering Easter candle into the darkness around us. If there are ghosts within this place, tonight they welcome this throng to their table.
The circled parish quietly answers their shepherd: “Amen”.

The priest lifts his strong voice into the night: “In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.” Hands touch foreheads, heart, left then right across their chests. These new friends to Thurber Cemetery rise. The cold wind turns warm in celebration. We return quietly to our cars, headlights come on in the darkness, a slow procession of 14 vehicles snakes slowly along the cemetery’s serpentine center road, then along the fence, leaving this hallowed ground to its peaceful night.
            I’m beginning to wonder if there’s such a thing as chance encounter. Last week, my friend Leo was tending to this cemetery, as he has for many years. Father Novak of El Paso shows up, completely at random Leo tells me later, a priest from the Pius X Society.
            The Pius X Society is a conservative Catholic group that believes the Catholic Church departed from its true path after Vatican II (1962-1965). Father Novak is excited about Thurber’s story, Leo tells me. Wants to bring his parishioners out here, hold a Tridentine Mass in Latin that dates back to 1570, inside Thurber’s 1892 St. Barbara’s church, resting peacefully at the foot of New York Hill. Leo agrees.

            I was baptized into the Catholic Church when I was thirty-eight-years-old, following a year much like this last one. Never baptized or saved or any of that before one dark fateful Easter Vigil evening, back in the big city. I’ve attended Masses all over the South – in pre-dawn Spanish at San Antonio’s San Fernando Cathedral, at a sprawling Jesuit monastery beside the lumbering Mississippi River, and with a couple of once-ordained friends nearing the end of their own personal crises. I’ve never seen the Latin Mass performed, at least not in person.
            Friday morning, I met Leo at St. Barbara’s. Father Novak’s flock began arriving soon after. It was clear from the cardboard boxes, the number of altar boys, the stream of cars pulling up outside this church that history was about to make itself visible inside this little wooden church.
            Weekly Mass has not been said at St. Barbara’s in many, many years. This proud white building originally sat below Graveyard Hill until it was moved to Mingus in the 1930s, until it returned here to Thurber in 1995.

            Father Novak swept into the old church building, wearing a traditional black cassock. He is a force, a sparking current of energy that can take the unprepared aback. His exuberance would give my seven-year-old a run for her money. He shakes Leo’s hand, then begins issuing orders – candles go here, reliquaries there – a throng follow him down the wood plank floored aisle to make ready. His followers love their charismatic leader. St. Barbara’s stirs to life.

            Four altar boys light the candles, six white tapers lining the space behind St. Barbara’s front altar. Two statues are delicately lifted into place, atop empty white perches where St. Barbara’s own sculpted saints once stood. The red Gospel is placed lightly on the altar. The golden chalice moves into view. Men bow to their Lord when stepping in front of the front altar, turn and bow again upon leaving.
Father Novak is a teaching priest, explaining to the assembled that because there’s no altar stone in St. Barbara’s, that linens containing holy relics sealed within wax will help consecrate their communion rite, that clean linens atop these will be in place as tradition demands.
The Latin Mass is celebrated with the priest facing away from the congregation. Father Novak’s words were sometimes too quiet to hear, though God undoubtedly received the prayers heading His way. One of the prayers was sung, the haunting Gregorian chant rising to the ceiling like sweet-smelling incense. St. Barbara’s communion rail has been put back in place, restoring authenticity to its pre-Vatican II legacy.

The men led the rosary before Mass began, gleaming beads in hands as confessions were received by the priest in the confessional along St. Barbara’s back wall. Four ornate golden reliquaries graced the altar. St. Barbara’s white wooden tabernacle against the front wall is original. The tops of women’s heads are graced with delicate lace veils. These worshippers in the Latin rite have traveled here from all over North Texas. The lights are on. The bathroom door is unlocked. The floor is swept. This church, at least for today, is back in business.
            My eyes were fixed forward, sitting in the back pew with Leo. Edging majestically into the silence, the sound of St. Barbara’s original foot-pumped organ announced the opening words of Mass. “I haven’t heard that organ play in over 60 years,” Leo whispered to me. You have to pump both your feet at the same time, while playing the keyboard to make the thing sing – not a common skill in this post-modern age.
This organ was heard by coal miners coming here for Mass over ninety years ago. Leo’s Big Ciocia (Polish, “Big Aunt”) played this same organ. His mother Lottie sang in the choir. Today the organ’s tone was again strong, was haunting in its beauty. Leo was baptized in this building, married here, and served as an altar boy here.
            Father Novak preached of the history of this town – about the fleeting cities of man, about the eternal City of God. His masculine last words stayed with me: “Lord, we’re coming. We’re on our way.”
            I believe him.
            Toward the end of Mass the church’s steeple bell began to peel, each strike carefully timed to fit the choreography within Father Novak’s traditional liturgy. That long-silent historic bell could be heard all the way north to Mingus back in the day – its first toll to get dressed (church starts in 30 minutes), then to head for the church (15 minutes left), and then to take a seat in your pew (five minutes til kickoff).
            I sat there wondering if New York Hill Restaurant diners up the hill knew that the St. Barbara’s bell they were hearing from their tables was singing its part this last day of 2010 in a centuries-old celebration. That Thurber’s heart had come back to life.

            After Mass ended, the worshippers left the church and climbed the steep Thurber-brick steps to New York Hill’s scenic overlook, bringing to mind Christ’s last sorrowful journey on this earth. A catfish dinner was served by New York Hill Restaurant, being Friday and all. Leo gives a talk about Thurber, about scanning for graves. The room warms to his stories.
The group adjourned for a short tour of the museum down the hill, then drove across I-20 to the Thurber Cemetery. Kids and adults were taught to scan – new graves were located. Stories were told among new family –about the Spanish influenza mass graves, about the two Marys, about our sleeping friend Vincenzo. We talked about the past, about the holy duty of handing our stories forward to their futures, through kids and grandkids – through ink onto paper. Someday those descendents will need to know who they are. We told one short ghost story, then moved away.
            There is a concept in Catholicism known as ecumenicalism – the simplified definition explains that though there are important differences between the various denominations, we should all reach out in fellowship and love one another as Jesus did, as Jesus does. People of good will should join hands, the thinking goes, no matter what the sign says on the front of their church building, on the front of their cardboard box home beneath that lonely freeway bridge.
            I meet many new people each week. After “I live in Weatherford”, I often get asked which church I attend. The answer is complicated, as I feel connected to the Holy Roman Catholic Church (Mother Church versus some of her recent drivers), the Church of Christ (special friends and ancestors), the Baptists (my two daughters and grandparents), the Buddhists (Catholic friend Thomas Merton saw the same bridge here, I believe), to the Native whispers I’ve begun to hear from this part of Texas and to the many other “unseen churches” that I happen upon in senior citizens’ homes around the state. God is not just an inside-some-church-building deity. The gleaming megawatt cathedral of worship these kind folks brought to life this night in Thurber Cemetery proves this, at least to me.
            Thurber Cemetery contains believers’ graves of many stripes, probably some non-believers too. In this quiet darkness, I prayed as rarely before for 2010 to be finally over. I prayed that conflict would end its too-long stay outside our doorsteps. And I listened for the future.
These kind people who I now consider friends remind me of the earliest Christians, holding their assemblies below the streets in dark catacombs. They knew what they believed. Their parents or grandparents has seen Jesus in the flesh, had known the sacrifice that their faith might extract from their too-fragile lives. Those catacomb warriors joined these new friends worshipping in the dark last night – they knew that One was more powerful than many. I respect these people’s return to their tradition, their fidelity to what they know is right.
            There are no chance meetings. Let us leave it at that. May this New Year bring us back to that knowledge. May we all see what God puts before us. And act. Amen.

The “lonely grave” mentioned above is that of Barbara and John Lorenz, its perimeter “fenced” with vertical oil field pipes. When first discovered, only the date “January 31, 1931” was visible. Research into 1931 church records restored their names to the roll call of this physical place. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Mrs. Gordon

She was always so kind to me. Listened closely when I spoke. Had to know I was intimidated by who she was. Made me feel welcome. Told me the most amazing stories. Her life snippets were like glossy pages from Life magazine – presidents, founders of the American industry, artists, patriots.

A life that mattered.

I came to know that Chissa Gordon had died, over a week after it happened. I learned the news from a friend. We each had our own stories from this great woman, clutched tightly to our hearts.

Anna Melissa Hogsett “Chissa” Gordon. 1918 – 2014.

Mrs. Gordon called me several years ago. ‘Had read some tales I’d written about Thurber, a ghost town her family had helped make great, putting thousands from around this nation to work, and thousands more who came here from around the world to work.

We shared a fascination with the haphazardly-stacked myths and legends and woeful triumphs that all ended inside the fence of Thurber’s lonesome hilltop cemetery.

I won’t bore you with those stories now.

We grew silent together over the lost little girl buried up there in an unmarked grave. I’d sought the girl’s name, her story, back before, when times were better.

Silence together, listening for her name.

I met Mrs. Gordon outside New York Hill Restaurant. She wanted to ride through the cemetery. I helped her up, slowly, into the front passenger seat of the dusty pickup. We were off, crossing the highway, opening the front gate.

Climbing the curving road up cemetery hill, we both told stories, mine collected from others, hers lived, mostly, first hand.

Mrs. Gordon saw up close as few still do the majesty of a working people. She had lived inside the milieu that day-by-back-breaking-day made America great once.

The rise and fall of Thurber stops thinking people cold.

I spent four times with this woman, one morning and three afternoon meetings, both here and in Fort Worth. Gracious, forthright, blindingly honest about the topics we talked around in our brief times together.

Elegant, brash, incisive – I learned about people from her. Ironically friendships gained and friendships severed conspired to bring our two paths together. She’d felt those ironies in her life too. I got a glimpse of a world seen through her eyes, through decades near and far away, a world that I would never have known in such detail and passion on my own.

Hearing her words, seeing the evidence, listening to her conclusions, I became enamored by the strength of her perspective. By the high quality of her intellect.

She was first a storyteller, at least with me, a witness to events and characters most only get a taste of from books. Her passing cannot properly be called a surprise.

But it was.

It is.

I won’t make grand pronouncements about her majestic life, her accomplishments, the impact this great lady had on people, on cities, cultural institutions, friends. I hope those closer to the action will report her family’s role in the founding and rise of Fort Worth, in the birth and growth of Texas industry, of philanthropy and education and class.

I will treasure the honesty that the great woman possessed, an honesty that let her be who she was. Honesty that let me know that fidelity to one’s calling is the noblest life one can ever lead.

Fidelity, faith, hard work.

Sadness, mixed with a mischievous smile comes to my face as I remember a sunlit room, a slightly impolite story that neither will ever repeat – shared between new friends.

A confidence I treasure. Her laughter that of a little girl not taking things too seriously. A grown woman who knew what mattered most.

She referred to me as a writer that day we first met, the nicest thing any woman has ever said to me, before or since.

“You must think I’m something, going on like that,” she told me the last time we were together.

I did.

I do.

Blessings and honors and heart-aching thanks, from me to you as you begin your next journey of grace. I hope to hear more stories. Mrs. Gordon.

I hope to hear from you.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Is History history?

Is Parker County History History?
By Jeff Clark

            There was a time when Parker County history was chased after like a long lost love. Log cabins could hide along forgotten creeks, knowing someone like Mary Kemp would be along shortly, would return their story back into the pages of this county’s recorded history. Doing local history has become like television – we can give it our time, but first it must entertain us.
The story of Parker County was largely written by “hunter/gatherer” historians like Evlyn Broumley, Fred Cotton, Mary Kemp, Dodie Sullivan, Leon Tanner and others. These folks were not formally trained. Most were born here, all were consumed with the desire that their hometown’s legacy be remembered, preserved and celebrated.
These folks slaved away in courthouse basements or chopping brush away from lost cemetery headstones by themselves or in small unorganized groups for decades. No grants, no employees, no hoopla.
Today a robust menu of local groups is still doing important work, each holding a different part of the elephant: the Parker County Historical Commission, the Weatherford Historic Preservation Commission, the East Parker County Genealogy and Historical Society, the Parker County Texas History and Heritage Inc., Parker County Heritage Society, the Parker County Archeological Society and more. There are also individuals like Debbie Liles (the Parker County Oral History Project) making significant contributions.
Still, I sense something’s changing.
The Parker County Genealogical Society disbanded after 41 years. Its 37 charter members have “gotten old or passed away,” charter member Evlyn Broumley told me. The internet has also made the in depth research these trailblazers pursued a rarity, even among scholars.
There’s still a lot of history out there to discover and document, almost all I spoke with agreed. Lowell “Dodie” Sullivan, president of the Parker County Abandoned Cemetery Association tells me three “lost” cemeteries were restored just since August.
Watching bulldozers and dump trucks pave What’s Next across Weatherford’s landscape, I begin to wonder if anyone cares.
            Broumley used to get five to 10 research queries a week. “You don’t get them anymore.” She fills her weekly column with interesting snippets from old Weatherford newspapers. This should’ve been a clue.
            People have become readers, not writers.
The internet is one factor. “You still have to get offline sources,” she told me. “You can’t believe everything online, in a book or what Aunt Mary said until you can prove it.”
People settle for “good enough” research in this bulleted age of blogs and sound bites. The “why things happen” questions sometimes fall by the wayside.
Broumley said she still gets questions from people wanting to know about the area, “but you can’t really separate people out of history – they make it.” She’s come home from “hands on” research and preservation scratched by briars, bitten by a dog and having walked up on a rattlesnake in the woods. “Did you know you can jump flatfooted straight up from the ground?”
I asked Broumley who her replacement would be. She mentioned a granddaughter in college who will be 65 four decades from now. I hear bulldozers rumbling in the background of my concern.
Fearfully, I begin searching for the next Evlyn Broumley, the next Mary Kemp.
            I started looking inside the 18-member Parker County Abandoned Cemetery Association (ACA). They maintain 64 cemeteries within 30 square miles.
Word of mouth delivers most volunteers. “You get to a certain point in your life,” President Dodie Sullivan says, “when volunteering fits your life. You’ve retired, the kids are grown. A lot of people will volunteer if you ask them at the right time.” The ACA has also received help from the county commissioners, volunteers and landowners in the past.
Lost graveyards are often discovered by new landowners clearing brush. A man called them about the abandoned Clower Cemetery near Whitt. The ACA got to work. Census records were searched to match each headstone’s identity. Brush and high grass was trimmed back. Dodie feels like he knows the people in each cemetery after he does all that research. It connects him to the cemetery’s future care.
Few ACA members are younger than 65. The Parker County Committee on Aging reports there are over 13,000 senior citizens in this area.
Mary Kemp worries about the future of “doing history” in Parker County. “Most people don’t remember the Great Depression, don’t remember WWII,” she said. I asked her where her passion for history came from.
            Kemp’s mother took her to visit their family’s Parker County cemeteries when she was a little girl. “She told me their stories, who those people were.” Families would meet at Spring Creek Cemetery to take care of their own plots. “If another family’s plot was uncared for, everyone just pitched in.”
            Children worked beside parents, heard their stories, built community with the folks that came before.
Mary has written five books, edited or co-edited the two Parker County History books, had a hand in 17 state historical markers and helped restore numerous historic buildings and cemeteries. “I couldn’t have done what I did without family, friends and volunteers helping all along the way.”
Those who know Mary, however, know she’s a self-appointed committee of one – her own parade or the leader of small parades when she finds something that needs saved. Still, Mary’s fabled sunbonnet, boots, gloves, and grubbing hoe haven’t left her closet in a while.
Mary’s “Shaw-Kemp Open House” draws 4,000 visitors each spring to see bluebonnets blooming among an 1856 log cabin, a 1918 homestead and many other historic structures she’s preserved south of town.
Mary went hard core into her historical pursuits when she was in her mid-50s. “Who’s the next Mary Kemp?” I ask.
Mary smiles. “I love all my grandkids, all my great grandkids equally.” They call her “Great Ma.” Mary’s 11-year-old great granddaughter Taylor Todd Kemp has come to Mary when working on school projects, has her same love of dolls (Mary’s collection numbered in the thousands), and is asking the right questions a young Mary Kemp might ask.
Taylor was born while her family lived in the historic Causbie House, a big two story brick home built in 1916 on far South Main. Maybe that had an impact.
Taylor has come to Mary and told her “I’d like to go to the 1918 house on the Shaw-Kemp place and spend some time. Someday I’ll live in that house.”
If Taylor cranks up her research in her mid-fifties like Great Ma did, the Mary Kemp machine will lay silent for 40 years.
That’s a long time for this county to wait.
The Doss Heritage and Culture Center opened four and a half years ago, the 25 year culmination of work by a small group of local leaders called Civic Development. Many don’t realize the beautiful stone building at East Park and Texas Drive houses a museum. The Doss often adds the new tagline “A Texas History Museum” to their promotions.
Exhibit Coordinator C.B. Williams shares that a recent seminar for museums she attended said that the typical format museums use to showcase their history archives is changing. Museums must compete with places like Six Flags for the attention of potential visitors.
Looking to the east, I notice that the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History changed their approach. Quiet “nailed to the wall” static displays have been replaced by lively “hands on” exhibits, videos, and interactive games.
The Doss has learned that their opportunities for educating youth will grow if current traditional exhibits are enhanced by interactive displays, video games, and turning the Mary Martin Collection into a more dynamic “Broadway Experience”, as one example.
The Doss already boasts interaction with area youth through school programs, Doss Wranglers weekend classes and “Gone to Texas” and “American Indian” summer camps for kids.
“We have so much to compete with for kids’ entertainment,” Williams says. “We’re going to be the Kimbell someday, only about history.” The Doss would be a destination.
The Doss sits on seven acres leased from Weatherford College for 99 years. It hopes to fill these seven acres with six log cabins now in private hands. The Doss just started tapping into Weatherford College as a resource, using students to design video games for future exhibits or using archeology students to research Parker County’s prehistoric history.
The Weatherford Public Library boasts a great history/genealogy collection – old maps, newspapers, files on families and old groups. And let’s face it, newspapers, magazines, websites, blogs – surely this flood of information will positively impact future researchers.
            Mary Kemp is still always on call, even with her health challenges. Evlyn Broumley still writes, still answers questions that trickle in.
            Broumley received a request for information last week. “There’s no way I can lift those big deed books anymore.” Mary tells me she turned over many of her cemetery records to the ACA last year.
            “You have to encourage people to become active,” Broumley told me, “as we become inactive.”
            The Good Old Days often weren’t. A story like this written 20 or 80 years ago would’ve revealed a haphazard approach to the gathering of county history. People like Mary, Evlyn and their deceased forebears were out on a mission and worried little about public image, Roberts Rules of Order or strategic plans.
Harder to document would’ve been the little girls and boys hearing their family’s stories, visiting ancestral hallowed places, taking within their own heart stories of where they came from, of who their bold heritage would allow them to be in their own lives.
Look around Weatherford. The days of story-telling old men drinking coffee together are coming to an end. Children are rarely pulled away from their computer keyboards and handed a grub hoe to tend grandma’s grave. What’s out in the woods will have to wait, will have to hope the bulldozers can be distracted until the next Mary Kemp or Evlyn Broumley make their entrance onto Parker County’s historic stage.

Plowshares Into Keyboards,
Quick Hits of History for Next Generation

People often confide “I wished I’d paid more attention to grandma’s stories about the old times when I was growing up.” Today’s college student or history researcher will likely hit Google or rootsweb.com websites, before thinking to ask grandma (who lives in another state) or God-forbid opening a library book.
I became curious about the future of “doing history” in Parker County. Through the years, our first hand oral history changed to second hand written history and now heads toward filtered, anonymous online history. The computer becomes the storyteller, instead of whoever generated the original “content”.
We can’t ask a black man in Weatherford what it felt like to be discriminated against, unless we go knock on his door.
Indiana Jones didn’t use the internet.
Early on, I suspected internet access to websites like Ancestry.com was the culprit. That’s not the entire answer. History is like football. It can be learned, played, or watched. Imagine learning to play football by reading a website. The gathering of history is no different.
Professor Brad Tibbitts teaches history at Weatherford College. “Students entering college are being taught history in a very interactive way.” They are exposed to computers and DVDs to receive information. This trend will increase as time goes by, he believes.
College courses still offer lectures, but students want content to be as interactive as possible. Many textbooks have DVDs in the back. Companies selling learning materials realize this and push the envelope, developing progressively more interactive means of learning, moving away from lectures and original research. Searching for a relevant book becomes passé.
Students learn with computers, video games and online. They become “recipients” of information, not discoverers.
Most of what Tibbitts’ five and ten-year-old grandsons requested for Christmas consisted of electronics. This year’s high school graduating class will be the first Google Generation, being born the same year the search engine came into being. These students believe the answer will hit their screen, if they type in the correct question.
When Tibbitts was a kid he occupied himself outside, his imagination or friends providing the chief search engines of his entertainment. Now many kids remain inside watching hours of TV or playing electronic games. Goofing around with your friends has become a schedule of activities organized by adults.
No one knows the long term implications. “Things don’t get melted in the melting pot like they once did,” Tibbitts said. “People don’t get to talk to different types of people like they once did.” Children “talk” through the filters of text message, email or Facebook.
Even the use of the telephone is becoming limited. Each semester Tibbitts explains to new students that telephoning or dropping by his office will facilitate better interaction. Students are resistant to using the phone, though it’s hard to text message the same subtlety of 1950s race relations that one can see in person on the twisted face of an 80-year-old man who suffered it first hand.
We talk more AT each other using electronics, not WITH each other like we did in the past. Public discussion is often lost in a tide of cynicism and reproach.
“It’s important to set examples that are worthy,” Tibbitts believes. “Look more at how we’re alike, not at how we’re different. If we’re losing the ability to talk as people it’s dangerous for this country,” he adds.
Tibbitts sees similarities between the current tenor of public discourse and that shortly before the Civil War. It was easy to see Northerners as Them, not taking the time to know or understand their point of view.
Tibbitts has taught young people for 44 years.
“I think it’s important that we be mindful of who’s coming along behind us,” he said. The path we lay out will be walked by our children and grandchildren.
We are being taught by machines, expelling information input by people we may never know. Many accept the truth of what pops up on their computer screens. The story and meaning of the nation and of Parker County history become shallow and prone to misinterpretation when we become “watchers” of the world instead of people actively digging into Parker County’s soil for its truth.

Donate Grandma’s Stuff
Where It Will Live Forever

“A lot of things get into the hands of people who don’t care,” historian Evlyn Broumley says. Parker County citizens have amassed rich personal collections of papers or artifacts over long life times. “Things get lost,” she added. “Private collections become at risk or disappear once their collector dies.”
Though these collections are viewed as strictly private property by out-of-the-area heirs, the harmful impact to the county’s history when these treasures are lost or destroyed is hard to overestimate. There are core historians in this county who are unsure where they’ll leave their valuable collections.
As Weatherford continues to grow, we don’t know all our neighbors. We don’t know which door to knock on searching for this county’s Holy Grail.
The Doss Heritage and Culture Center’s C. B. Williams reports that a lady recently walked through their front doors with one of Oliver Loving’s quilts. None of her kids wanted it. What if that kind donor had passed away before her important gift?
Broumley encourages heirs to donate at least a copy of important papers somewhere safe. She suggests a local collection, but advises that one ask important questions: do you want these things, will you preserve them, and what happens if you close or change your mission?
Broumley places duplicates of her work in multiple places. Just because an event is recorded in a book, doesn’t mean it happened exactly that way. “You’re taking one person’s report, what he saw and remembered,” she says.
When grandma dies, you can toss her collection in the trash, donate it to a college or university, attempt to maintain the collection yourself or find a local archival facility like the Doss or the Weatherford Library.
The Weatherford Library will copy family bibles and place them in the files (there’s nine filing cabs in the Weatherford Library now). The Doss Heritage and Culture Center will accept items if they comply with their mission statement (www.dosscenter.org). In a nutshell, if grandma’s history happened in Parker County, it has a pretty good shot at the Doss. If not, it could still be used in education.
Researching a recent story, I was told that the late educator Raymond Curtis maintained a lush collection regarding Weatherford schools. Though I was given many clues, I could never locate this treasure trove. I completed my story sensing one of Curtis’ boxes might’ve held an underreported chapter in this city’s history.
Many artifacts are offered to the Doss. Their Collection Committee reviews these donations, which can be made as true donations, conditional donations or loans for an agreed-upon period of time.
“We learned about a 91-year-old lady from her husband,” Williams told me. “His wife lives in a nursing home. When she was born she slept in this wonderful pioneer cradle, which she donated.” He asked if the cradle was being exhibited. Williams told him that she wished his wife could come see the museum to see where she donated her wonderful treasure. Parker County Transportation brought her to the Doss. Her wheelchair was rolled in and she saw her donations distributed among the exhibits. She cried with happiness and shared many old stories.
Doss Archive/Collections Coordinator Delissa Slimp wants to make sure, however, that people know that donating is no guarantee that materials will always be on exhibit, due to space limitations.
There are other great archival facilities like Texas Tech’s Southwest Collection in Lubbock, UTA’s Special Collections and several other Texas colleges and universities. These can offer unparalleled safety and integrity to historical collections, but they lie outside the county.
The Doss has catalogued storage facilities on its ground floor, as well as climate-controlled storage offsite. Like most history museums, they utilize the Past Perfect software to catalog their collection for researchers’ use. The Doss has already assisted college student research, using their four and a half-year-old collection. The Doss is a 501(c)3 entity and is incorporated. The assets (collection) of the organization would be turned over to another non-profit organization or as directed by the board to an organization should the structure of the Doss ever change.
Ideally, historians should visit these facilities themselves. Ask the important questions. Then let their years of hard work go forward to help future researchers piece together Parker County’s important legacy.

Special thanks to Joann Barnhart, Evlyn Broumley, Harold Lawrence, Wayne Lee, Mary Kemp, Betsy Pedigo, Linda Pelon, Delissa Slimp, Lowell “Dodie” Sullivan, Leon Tanner, Brad Tibbits, C. B. Williams, Rae Wooten and the Weatherford Public Library.