Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Vacation Hump Day

So far my vacation from work stress has been an exercise in cleaning out closets and packing boxes for a later trip to the thrift store. In the midst of all that I ended up repacking about a dozen boxes of books that have been the foundation of "Cat Mountain" for the last few months. I wanted all the boxes moved out to the garage until I find the right bookcases for the bedroom. That resulted in numerous trips between the bedroom and the garage. The dogs have been anxious, trying to decide if I'm packing to take a trip or maybe we are moving. So far I've managed to not throw my back out with all the lifting and carrying and the house is beginning to look a little bit less cluttered. The garage? That's a different matter, but at least out of sight is (temporarily) out of mind.

Today I decided to take a vacation from my vacation and go on a hunt for ancestors.

Some years ago I had approached the folks in the District Clerk's office about getting copies of a couple of old divorce case files and had not been successful. At the time those files were stored in the courthouse basement and the gals working the counter were less than enthusiastic about going down to the dark recesses where spiders and other creepy crawlies were busy. I relented and decided to try again another day.

In the intervening years, an annex building was erected and the District Clerk moved into new quarters. I wasn't sure where the really old files were housed these days, but I decided to make another try for those divorces. I arranged for a co-worker who is based in the courthouse to take me over and introduce me to the ladies in the clerk's office. They could not have been more helpful and it turned out that all those lovely old records are now in a nice, well-lighted, spider free vault off the main office. I was invited to "make myself at home" and explore to my heart's content.

So far as the divorce case files were concerned, they were quickly located and copied. Unfortunately, the one criminal case I was after was in a section of files that were missing in action, but you have to expect that some of those old files will be hard to locate and I do have copies of the court minutes for that case so I was not too upset about that.

I proceeded to prowl through piles of ledgers and indexes. I found the Physician's Registry books, but Dr. Henry Hodge once again managed to avoid registration. (I've only caught him in one of those registry books in all the Texas counties the old boy lived in.) On the other hand, I found the registrations for three of the Mayo brothers, one of whom was Dr. Henry's brother-in-law. (And yes, the Mayo family who married into the Huddleston branch of the family and produced at least a half-dozen doctors and dentists, were distant relatives of the Mayo clinic bunch.) Dr. Stephen Mayo, who married Ellen Huddleston, delivered quite a few of my relatives who were born in the Red Rock area, so he is a very important person in the family history.

On one shelf I found a pile of docket ledgers for delinquent tax suits. Well naturally, seeing as how I have spent the last 30 years in the business of delinquent tax collection, I began paging through the books and looking for familiar names. I found a few. My great-great grandmother Hodge had a suit filed against her and so did the brother of my great-great grandfather Frankum. Another suit may or may not involve my great-great grandmother Mason. The cases weren't in the active archives, but my co-worker is going to retrieve the files from that dark basement sometime this week.

As I was flipping through the delinquent tax suit docket, I ran across a surprise. Someone had used the very back portion of the book to log in a few criminal cases. I was idly flipping the pages there when a familiar name jumped out at me. A murder trial in 1905 had a long list of witnesses that included my great-grandfather Burl Mason and his son Henry. That had me flying back to the criminal indexes and court minutes, looking for more information on the murder trial. Again, I hit a sudden brick wall on that case. Only a single sheet was in the file, a call for a body of 40 people for the selection of a jury. I plan to check the newspaper for further information on who was murdered and why Burl and Henry Mason were called as witnesses.

After three hours, my stomach was growling and I called it a day, planning to ponder what else I need to look for and intending to spend another morning there in the near future. I headed for Smithville to eat at my favorite Mexican food joint. I enjoyed reading through the divorce case files while I ate and I am wondering what kind of fur will fly when I divulge the contents of one of them in next year's Frankum reunion newsletter.

To prolong my good morning, I stopped by the furniture store in Smithville and went sofa shopping. Found one, too, but I'm holding off making a commitment just yet.

My morning of lifting heavy books was good preparation for when I got home and began to move the boxes of books to the garage. Cat Mountain was dismantled and relocated before suppertime.

The mid-point of vacation week was satisfaction from start to end.


Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Music Therapy

Back in the early 70s, Kris Kristofferson was not yet a big movie star but he was hot on the outlaw music scene. My father, mother and I were big fans of his music. Mother and I attended three concerts where Kris performed, the first being the very first Willie Nelson 4th of July picnic in Dripping Springs, which I've written about before. That was in 1973. The following two years brought Kris back to Austin, headlining concerts at the old Palmer Auditorium. Both of these events included his then-wife Rita Coolidge. (Willie turned up, too, at least once and maybe both times.) They were knock-out performances, the questionable acoustics of the Palmer notwithstanding. Mother and I were fairly close to the stage on both occasions and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Back in those days, you could bring a tape recorder and camera into the auditorium and I caught the entire concert on tape the year that Rita was promoting her new album Fall Into Spring. I fell in love with that album and I immediately bought it and played it over and over. Rita was moderately popular, but her big chart climbing hits were yet to come and the album was not a blockbuster. When CDs came along, many of her later albums were released on CD, but Fall Into Spring and the earlier The Lady's Not for Sale (equally great) were never made available. I hung onto my well-played vinyl versions, dragging them out periodically to enjoy them again, which would lead to checking Amazon for any news of their release on CD, always being disappointed.

I do not know why I ran a check on Amazon a few days ago. I had not listened to either album in a long time and had given up hope they would ever be resurrected. I almost did not realize what I was seeing. Both of the coveted albums, plus another I also owned on vinyl were now available on one double CD. I immediately fired off an order and it arrived last Friday evening.

For the two hours following my arrival home, I enjoyed listening to these old friends. I still think Rita's early music is her best work and these albums correspond to the period of time she was sharing a band with Kris. Her perfect voice, framed by outstanding backup musicians, provided me with an evening of pure enjoyment. I've been listening to it on my commute this week, too. It has had a calming effect on me, sort of like slipping into your favorite jeans and sneakers and curling into the corner of the couch. Not a bad tranquilizer.

Look at the prices...what a deal.
And these were the high priced seats.

Kris & Rita, center stage

Now, if only someone would get busy and release Marty Robbins' Devil Woman.


Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Big Foot Lives

Back when we first moved to Bastrop, there was a little five-and-dime store down on Main Street. In the rear of the store was a section where you could pick up a few houseplants and the odd vegetable seedling in spring. Mother and I would hit that little store regularly and one day we decided to pick up a couple of philodendrons. We brought them home and hers can be seen in this old photo taken on her front porch. The philodendron is the one closest to the step, at far left. (The dog in the photo is the infamous Fancy who ruled the house with an iron fist in a velvet paw for 9 years.)

We did not know what we had taken on. The philodendron was of the Monstera variety and it began to grow with a vengence. (Mine disappeared over time, probably a victim of the casual neglect with which I treated plants in those days.) We kept repotting into larger and larger pots, faithfully moving it inside when the threat of frost was upon us. For several years it wintered in the dining room, perched high on the platform created by the top of the closet that had been added in that room years after the house had been built.

When it grew too big for the house, Mother and David would haul it down to Mother's school room for the winter and haul it back home at the end of the semester. Finally, one year we were just tired of trying to find room for it every winter and we contemplated leaving it outside to take its chances. Our neighbor across the street, who has one of the greenest thumbs I've ever seen aside from my grandmother Lucy's, assured us it would do just fine if we just stuck it in the ground and covered it during cold weather. We decided to do just that, and it spent several more years living in the flower bed next to the front porch.

As the plant grew and matured, it developed a large trunk-like base and we began to refer to it as "Big Foot". We were all rather fond of the enormous plant and when we decided to move to our present house, there was no doubt in any of our minds that Big Foot would have to be excavated and relocated as well. By that time, he was well into his twenties.

Big Foot took residence in the flower bed on the north side of the house and once again began to flourish. Every winter, at the first sign of a killer frost, I would faithfully go out and put a big plastic cover over him, weight it down with stones, and ignore him until the frost danger was past. Every year, he would spring out from under the cover with a few wilted leaves, but for the most part just fine and dandy.

This past year, I thought we had lost him. We had an extended period of freezing weather and I had not done as good a job of keeping him adequately covered as I had in years past. When spring arrived and I removed the wrappings, all the leaves were dead and the trunk that had earned him his name was dry and brittle. I felt guilty for not having kept an eye on him through the winter, but my attention had been distracted by Mother's last illness and I had not given him a second thought. Big Foot was dead at the age of approximately 35 years.

I reasoned that it was appropriate that Big Foot had perished in the same winter that we lost Mother. She had been the one who had tended him and coddled him for most of his life. I did not attempt to remove the stump, deciding to leave it for another day when I felt the urge to clean out that flower bed. I had every intention of purchasing another Monstera philodendron to plant in that spot in Mother's and Big Foot's memories.

It had been several weeks since I had spent any time on that side of the house. On Monday I was clearing the dead pine blooms off the deck and emptying pots where other plants had perished in the winter freeze. When I walked down the side of the house to dispose of some trash, I glanced at the place where Big Foot had lived and was amazed to see a couple of great big green leaves waving at me.

On closer inspection I found that new growth was emerging - not from the old trunk, but from a new place a few inches from it. Big Foot Lives! It was like seeing an old friend you thought you had lost forever.

Here's hoping Big Foot's descendants are as sturdy and vigorous as their grandpa.