Friday, December 16, 2011

Making Adjustments

For two weeks, we've been getting slow, soaking rain. Just what we've been needing here in Central Texas. For the first time since Labor Day, I felt like I could risk bringing some of the family treasures back from the storage unit in Austin. I was happy to reach the point where I could feel good about bringing things back home because I was tired of looking at the bare hooks on the wall and heading to my office to look up a family record before realizing that it was not in residence.

So early last Saturday Mojo, Coco and I headed to Austin to rendezvous with David and load up Big Red to bring things back where they belong. This week the house has been looking much more normal with the familiar faces beaming down on me from their accustomed places on the walls.

Tilman and Matilda Wilcoxen have resumed their positions in the foyer to greet arrivals.

Baby Lucy Mason, "Aunt Duff", and Elmo Hodge have returned to their spots in the stairwell and on the opposite wall the fragile wedding certificate of my Wilcoxen grandparents and the 1920 photo of Cora Mobley Hodge and her mother Mary Caroline Mobley are back in place. That stairwell has looked mighty bare for the past 3 months.

I hauled back a half-dozen small grocery bags of baby books, Bibles, school records, and assorted small heirlooms that are normally stored in the camel backed trunk in my office. As I started to unload the bags, it occurred to me that it would be smart to line the lower compartment of the trunk with larger bags and repack everything inside. If I ever again have to evacuate, all I will need to do is open the trunk and lift out the bags.

In the smaller upper tray, I unloaded the small pieces and then put a folded bag on top of the tray. All I will need to do is scoop the contents of the tray into the bag and go. Finally, I clipped a list onto the bag to remind me of various items that are located around the house (like the portraits lining the stairwells) that need to be rescued and that might be overlooked in a moment of panic.

It makes me feel good to know everything is back home where it belongs and that I've taken a couple of preventive steps against the possibility of future evacuation.


Friday, December 02, 2011

My First Estate Sale

You should always look for new life experiences, right? Many, many years ago, before I was interested in things old, I attended an estate auction in Missouri with my Aunt Syble and Cousin Amanda. I can't remember too much about it, probably more interested in checking out the boys at that point in my life. I remember it was a nice day and I remember the steady progression of new lots being brought up to the front and offered for bids. I can't remember if Mother bought anything.

Decades later I have discovered an appetite for antiques and when sis-in-law Karen mentioned that there was to be an estate sale of the belongings of a dear friend of hers who recently passed away unexpectedly, I decided to take a day of vacation and tag along with her and really participate in an estate sale. The friend was a collector and had amassed a considerable amount of Texas Pottery and Texas history books, both of which make me salivate. I've lately been watching Cash & Cari on the HGTV network and figured I had an idea of how things would go and I was ready to jump into the estate sale fray. Or so I thought.

The estate sale was set to begin at 10 a.m., but we needed to show up at 8 a.m. to get a number, hopefully an early one that would get us inside before the good stuff was snatched up. I set my alarm an hour earlier than usual, hauled myself out of bed in the wee hours, and prepared to head for Austin. First surprise of the day was opening the door and discovering the blessing of rain - a slow, soaking rain, the kind we folks in Bastrop have been hoping and praying for. Not the best weather for an estate sale, but I am not ever again complaining when the good Lord decides to send some of the wonderful wet stuff our way. It was a little hairy driving to Austin during rush hour on slick roads with a bunch of drivers who have forgotten how to drive in wet weather, but I arrived only a few minutes late and Karen and I headed over to the estate sale location.

Second surprise of the day. Nobody was there at 8 a.m. to pass out numbers and the word was that nobody was going to be there and we were expected to behave ourselves on an "honor system" of noting times of arrival. Yeah, that always works in Austin. Nevertheless, those of us who were early arrivals assigned ourselves numbers and Karen and I went in search of breakfast. We decided on Java Cafe and it turned out to be an excellent choice. We were well fed and back at the sale site a little after 9 o'clock. The crowd had thickened, but was surprisingly well behaved and those of us who had been the early "registrants" were allowed to take our places at the head of the line without any fuss. That turned out to be a doubly good thing since the sale organizer announced that the first 12 inside would be given a 10% discount to compensate us for the foul up in the registry process.

We stood in the rain for an hour, waiting for the doors to open. We were able to observe the sale personnel traipsing in and out and we recognized what would become the theme for the day. The lady in charge was a - uh - word that rhymes with "witch". Apparently she was not at all happy that the good Lord decided to bless us with rain today, or she hates her job, or she got up on the wrong side of the bed, or she had a kink in her colon, or she ascribes to the Basil Fawlty business plan that all would be well if it just weren't for the pesky customers you have to deal with to generate income. Whatever her problem, she did her best to ruin every one else's mood so she would not be alone in her misery.

But we were not to be so easily daunted. The venue was cramped, the hordes were grabbing items out from under your nose, the checkout line was slow, but the mood of the shoppers stayed pleasant despite Miss Wicked Witch of the West. Karen found several items to add to her Tonala collection and a lovely paperweight. I came out with a big pile of Texas history books (2 of which I've been looking for a long time and 2 of which were signed), two small figurines to use in a dollhouse somewhere, a few items that will become Christmas presents, and a pile of unopened DVDs for a TV series I loved back in the day. As we were checking out, Miss WWW made a last attempt to spoil our day by grabbing our purchases and roughly jamming them into a box and telling us to hurry up and leave, but we persevered with our good moods. All I can say is I'm glad I don't have to live with or work with her. She is one sour persimmon.

We made a quick stop at El Interior on the way back to the house, then rested a few minutes before Karen left to babysit grandbaby and I began to slowly make my way back home.

I decided to stop by Central Market at Westgate and pick up a few food treats for the weekend. Once I got to the shopping center, I drove around to see what else is there and was surprised to find two stores I used to love in residence. I prowled through Back Home and Whole Earth Provision Company and thoroughly enjoyed reacquainting myself with their offerings. Finally, I did a round of expensive grocery shopping and hit the slick road back to Bastrop.

About half-way between Austin and Bastrop is Berdoll's Pecan Farm which I almost never get to visit anymore because I hardly ever drive that way, so I impulsively grabbed the opportunity to visit them. That turned out to be an expensive stop, too. If you have the chance, check them out.

The rain had almost petered out by the time I got back to the house, but the air was still heavy with cool moisture and the Central Market tortilla soup was a perfect early supper. Followed by the Central Market bakery peach pie. And a few roasted pecans. And a session on the couch perusing my new stash of history books.

Good day. Sorry to disappoint Miss WWW.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Scavenger Hunt

When I decided to take vacation time to extend the Thanksgiving holiday to a full week off, I knew that I wanted to go shopping one of the days, but not Black Friday. Initially I thought about seeing if little brother wanted to go computer shopping with me, but first he injured his back and then I did the same, so I decided that could wait until another time.

I thought about going to San Marcos and hitting my favorite outlet stores, but I just could not get excited about the idea of clothes shopping.

The only thing that sounded like fun was a ramble to the little towns close by. I decided I was overdue to get myself over to LaGrange and check out the shops on the square. And, if I was heading east, I could hit the antique mall in Giddings on the way back home. If I still had any steam left at that point, I could drive on over to Elgin and hit the antique mall there. Now, that sounded like fun, so that was the plan.

I did not plan to have a sleepless night the night before. Whatever I've done to my back, it is not letting go and I could not find a comfortable position to sleep in for more than 20 or 30 minutes at a stretch. Mojo and I spent a good portion of the night on the couch and finally returned to bed about 4 a.m. when, exhausted, I managed to drop off to sleep. That lasted all of an hour before an impressive lightning storm began rattling the windows and two little dogs started madly scrambling for cover and I spent the remainder of the night holding both of them securely against me and assuring them that we LIKE the rain and the thunder that comes with it.

So I was dragging this morning and I had no choice but to get up and get with it, because I had made an appointment to stop by and sign my application papers for membership in the United Daughters of the Confederacy on my way out of town. Since it was a nice, cool morning, I decided to take the dogs along with me. My brief stop to sign papers turned into an hour's visit with the chapter registrar, who remembers a lot of the same people I remember from when I first moved to Bastrop. She and I are also distant cousins through my Lentz line and we both like chatting about family history. It was almost 10 o'clock before we pointed Big Red toward LaGrange.

Naturally on the way to downtown LaGrange, I had to stop by Weikel's bakery and pick up a few cinnamon rolls. I was glad to find that the little gift store Honey Bee's that was formerly in the neighboring store front and had somewhat disappeared with the opening of the new building, has returned. It carries some unique clothing and I was glad to see it fully stocked and back in action. I wasn't interested in clothes shopping this time around, but I'm sure going to head over there when the mood hits.

First stop on the square was the Hallmark store. This little town Hallmark is one of the best ones around and has a wonderful gift selection. Kitty cornered across the square are several little stores that I love to visit, especially Le Petite Gourmet Shoppe and The Shops on the Square. I found a great scarf and did a lot of looking in the other little stores before ending up at Le Petite Gourmet Shoppe. This little store was a pure surprise the first time I visited. Here you can find all kinds of things, from a wide selection of K-cups coffees and teas to cookbooks, to wine accessories, to top of the line cooking utensils. Today I met the owner, who was super nice. When I bought a small appliance, she gifted me with a scones mix to make up for the fact that I was missing a sale that would start on those appliances on Friday. She answered my questions about various brands of cookware she carries and when I get ready to buy, I will probably go back and buy from her. She gives the kind of customer service that makes you want to return, even if you might find the product cheaper at the big box store.

I was hungry at that point, so I headed to Giddings and decided I would indulge in a Whataburger. I was lucky that the parking lot had a nice grassy area adjoining and I let the two dogs out to stretch their legs before heading inside to order. I placed an order to go, planning to eat in the car and keep the kids company. I waited on a bench across from the order counter and was people watching, when I realized that I knew one of the people I was watching. In a county we don't represent and where neither of us would normally be expected to be on a work day, I and one of the attorneys I work for were both indulging in burgers for lunch at the Giddings Whataburger. It just goes to show you never know who you are going to bump into when you are playing hooky from work.

Whistle-Stop Antiques was my next stop. I can't believe how long it took me to check this place out, because it is a great way to spend a couple of hours, poking into corners and prowling for treasures. I found a great book on Texas Courthouses architecture and a sweet little tatted baby bonnet.

Today's haul

The little baby's bonnet caught my eye because I have been interested in antique tatting lately. You don't see much of it, but I've been able to acquire a tatted collar and a small tatted doily and now this lovely little bonnet, priced at a mere $5. I didn't at first realize that there was a note attached to the inside with an old safety pin. It made me a little sad when I did notice and read it. The note identified the baby for whom it had been made and the lady who had done the work in 1916. It always makes me sad to see family heirlooms end up in antique stores with no one left to care about their history.

About this time my back indicated it had had enough and the dogs were getting restless, so we opted to skip the Elgin Antique Mall. At least until Friday when, if memory serves, their Christmas sale should be beginning. If I have enough energy after the art show Friday morning, maybe I'll wander over to Elgin and see if I can save another heirloom from someone else's family.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Living With a Neurotic Cat

Well, the official verdict is in. I have a cat with emotional issues.

Now there's a surprise. Have you ever known a cat without emotional issues?

I've had an on-again, off-again issue with somebody in the household who periodically decides that rather than use the litter box (any one of the 3 available), he/she will just use the bath mat or the pile of laundry sitting by the washing machine or the dog bed or just about anything else soft that is handy.

That sometimes includes furniture, and therein lies the problem. Two chairs in particular are favorite targets and I have to keep waterproof mats in place as a precaution. Because I have new living room furniture and I don't trust the heathen cats in the slightest, I have no choice but to keep everything draped in plastic when I'm not home to monitor their activity.

In the past this sort of behavior would have resulted in certain parties being ejected from the house. But since moving to the forest and losing two cats to what may have been coyotes, and having declawed these three to save my furniture from being shredded, and having the conviction that once you have made the commitment to take on a pet you don't just drop them at the pound when there's a problem, I am obligated to try to find solutions to their "emotional issues".

So, the first step was to try and determine just who the culprit is. I had my suspicions from the beginning, but I'm a fair pet parent and wanted to make sure.

I was fairly sure that Dixie was not the source of the trouble. The first round of this annoying behavior occurred well before she became a member of the family. Plus, she seems to love her litter box and spends an inordinate amount of time there, so litter box avoidance did not seem to be a problem for her.

One down, two to go.

Boo was a definite possibility, since he is a neutered male and neutered males can sometimes have chronic urinary infections. In fact, we have been down the antibiotic route with him on several occasions. When cats with urinary infections experience pain in the litter box, they may associate the pain with the litter box and seek alternative places to relieve themselves. Two weeks ago when we suddenly had another round of inappropriate elimination, I took him to the vet for a checkup.

Now, Boo does not like the vet. He is normally the most loving and cooperative cat, but let the vet start prodding and probing and he turns into a mini lion of horrendous disposition. This requires a few minutes in the "happy box" (an option sort of on the same order as that happy gas the dentist gives you to relax your nerves before he starts the drill) before they can get anywhere with determining the state of his health. Add to that a urine extraction, urinalysis and sonogram to check the state of his internal organs and this becomes an expensive proposition. (I should also mention that since his first round of urinary tract issues I've been faithfully buying him special food that helps keep stones from developing and since it is impossible to separate the cats' food, all three of them are eating this very expensive gourmet food.) For a cat I acquired free, he has turned out to be as expensive as raising any kid.

It turned out that Boo did have a mild infection. I opted for a pricey long-term antibiotic injection. Ever since the cat bite experience of 2006, I do not poke my finger down a cat throat for any reason, so pills are out. In about a week, Boo's mood improved and he obviously felt better. Money well spent, but I was still doubtful that the potty problem had been resolved.

I was doubtful, because I always figured the real culprit was Scout. I've always known she is a bubble off plumb.

So, I kept my fingers crossed, but my eyes open. For a couple of weeks, all was well. And then, one day, when I was in the room with her, Scout carelessly hopped up on one of the protected chairs and proceeded to squat. We had words and she kept her distance for a few days.

A few days later, the whole episode was repeated. That time, I was close enough to aim a swat at her butt, missed and cracked my knuckles against the hard frame of the chair. My hand was already in a mess from a bout of poison oak and now it became swollen and a beautiful shade of green.

I was not a happy Mommy. I found myself considering that trip to the pound. I kept MY distance from HER this time until I had a chance to calm down.

I decided I had better rule out any medical causes for her behavior, so off we went to the vet yesterday for another round of diagnostics. Fortunately she cooperated with them and we skipped the expense of the "happy box" and she willingly offered up a urine sample, so we skipped the extraction expense. The results came back with a clean bill of health - except....

The vet caught something I had missed. Scout had been compulsively grooming herself and had removed most of the hair on her stomach. We talked about other odd behavior I had noticed. Scout compulsively chews the edges of magazines and newspapers. She frequently walks the floor, yowling plaintively and her eyes will become hugely dilated. Dixie and Boo periodically jump on her and beat the stuffing out of her. While she was a model citizen during the two week evacuation, it nevertheless was probably a factor in her behavior.

Diagnosis? I have a cat with stress issues. Now what?

Well, I was saved the expense of added medical procedures, but we decided to try the calming effect of adding pheromones to her environment. I've placed very expensive diffusers upstairs and downstairs. She did express a lot of interest in the things as I was assembling them, so I'm hoping we have some positive results in the near future.

While I had plenty of litter boxes available, they are all clustered in one area and we've decided I should move one into a separate area where she might feel less likely to be attacked by the other two while she is attending to her business. Probably be a good idea to try different litter, too.

Well. How nice. I have a cat with a stress disorder and I have to be extra nice to her to re-establish her sense of security and I have to pick up even more special items on my twice monthly visit to the pet supply depot.

Do I know how to pick 'em or what?


Monday, November 07, 2011

A Trip Home

Sometimes you just have to make a pilgrimage back home and touch base with your roots. When I got word last week that there was a 90th birthday party scheduled Saturday afternoon for a very dear friend in Smiley, David and I juggled our schedules so we could be there.

I've not been venturing very far from home lately, so I was happy to have an excuse to point Big Red south and drive the familiar route. I left a couple of hours earlier than necessary so I could stop at a bookstore in Gonzales on the way. It turned out to be a great little store and I found myself wishing there had been something like it when we lived in the area. I picked up three Gonzales County history books to add to my reference library. Great start to the day.

The birthday party was being held in the fellowship hall of the First Baptist Church in Smiley. The last time I was there was for Daddy's memorial service and not exactly an occasion for wandering around looking for memories.

This time I was able to poke around, look in closets, check out the remodeled class rooms, and play a song on the grand piano. They didn't have a grand piano when I was a regular pianist there, otherwise it was a familiar feeling looking over at the old Hammond organ where Miss Reba would reign on Sunday mornings while I tried vainly to be heard. Miss Reba held the opinion that the piano should only be heard during the offertory. At least if I made a mistake, the only one who knew it was my poor father, who sat with his ear at the back of the upright that I played.

The focus of the day, of course, was the 90th birthday celebration for Thelma Barnett, a lady who does not look a day over 75, and is one of the finest persons I have ever known.

Thelma, on the left, and her sister Evelyn Mutschler, on the right, were good friends of my parents back in our Smiley days. Evelyn was the mother of one of my class mates and Thelma was the mother of David's best friend in grade school. They are the last remaining siblings from a blended family of 11 children. I had the pleasure of visiting with their children, grand-children and there may have even been the odd great-grandchildren floating around.

I had a really good time sitting in an alcove chatting with the two life-long friends, Thelma's son Keith and little brother. This is the now.

And this is the when (probably about 1980), before wives, kids and jobs turned them into respectable adults.

David stepped into Daddy's place at the pulpit and I sat at the organ, although I did not take a chance on cranking it up. (I did crank it up and play a few songs after Daddy's memorial service.) When Miss Reba was away, I would shift to the organ, so it is an old friend and I would dearly love to tuck it under my arm and whisk it away, even though it would fill the better part of my garage. It is a grand old lady and there is still life in her.

I didn't take a chance on sneaking the organ home, but I did pilfer a souvenir for myself. Keith, David and I were sitting and chatting, when I idly started checking out the books in a small bookcase in the alcove. It suddenly dawned on me that three books in the top shelf were calling my name. I knew they were books that we had left behind, because I had clear memories of them from way before Smiley. I remarked to the boys that "those are my books!" and went to pull them out and take a look. Sure enough, my name and address from Oak Hill (1960-1962) were inscribed on the fly leaf in my childish scrawl.

Although I figured it would be easy for me to simply tuck them under my arm and no one would be the wiser, you will be relieved to know that I trotted into the fellowship hall and asked permission from the pastor to reclaim my property. He was happy to send them home with me.

The church parsonage is immediately south of the church, so I wandered over to take a photo of the house where we lived for 9 years. It hasn't changed all that much. There is a metal roof now and the flower beds are gone.

Otherwise, it looks much the same.

about 1966, me, Daddy & David

On the way out it was obvious that the place to be in Smiley on that Saturday night was next door at the Volunteer Fire Department. They were having a fund-raising barbecue and I think most of Smiley was there. Unfortunately, we had to forego the opportunity. It was getting late. We drove out to the cemetery to check on Daddy's grave before heading back to our regularly scheduled lives.

Once in awhile you need to go back where you came from and find out that the good folks you remember are still there, small town life is still good, and that no matter how far away you roam physically and mentally, there is still a place that remembers when you were a geeky kid who played the piano for Sunday services. It is a little weird when someone mistakes you for your parent, though. It happened to both of us. We are a few years older than our parents were when we moved away from Smiley. There were several folks who got caught in a time warp when they saw us.

It's funny. I've lived in Bastrop for most of my life, but "home" will always be Smiley.


Wednesday, November 02, 2011


Well, in the ways of the great Internet, a previous post I had been working on went *poof* and disappeared. So, we will take a slightly different approach since I've forgotten what ground I had covered.

This far after the fire and the panic and the evacuation and the eventual return to home, life has returned to a certain normality for those of us who had homes to return to. The definition of normal has been redefined for Bastrop, however. Now normal involves watching the skies on windy days, turning in your neighbors who decide to ignore the burn ban, learning to avert your eyes from the burned timber when you have to drive east, and clearing brush and dry pine needles out of your yard in an effort to reduce future fire hazard.

Just as you think you've made some progress in regaining control of your nervous system, you get word of yet another friend or acquaintance who lost everything and has decided to rebuild or decided to relocate and your stomach drops all over again. You think you are coping fairly well when one morning you step out the front door and your heart jumps to your throat before you realize that you are facing fog and not smoke. You tell yourself that everything is okay and to settle down and then you jump to attention when you hear a siren out on the highway or a helicopter passing overhead. We citizens of Bastrop have a long road of recovery to travel.

I was asked by a close friend to take some time and make two lists: one of the things I did right when I got the evacuation order and one of the things I forgot. I am glad that I had pondered the possibility as soon as we moved out to the forest because I had already worked out the order of what I would rescue and I had made sure that I had enough pet carriers on hand and ready in the garage.

What I Did Right:
1. I isolated the cats immediately before they knew anything was going on and put them in the utility room or bathroom so they couldn't hide.
2. I grabbed my stash of reusable grocery bags and headed for the trunk where I keep a lot of the smaller family heirlooms that are not on display. I filled three bags with as much as I could of the contents of that trunk.
3. I filled another grocery bag with enough dog and cat food to last several days.
4. I threw - literally threw - clothes into a suitcase and made sure I included jeans, t-shirts, underwear and tennis shoes. Before I zipped the suitcase, I grabbed some breakable family treasures out of the china cabinet and tucked them down into the clothes to protect them.
5. I filled my briefcase with laptop, phone accessories, address book and the book I was reading. I keep my backup hard drive in my brief case, along with my work essentials, so I knew I would be able to function so long as I had an Internet connection.
6. I loaded cats in carriers, dogs in carriers and got them loaded into the car, then started loading the grocery bags full of family treasures. I loaded the briefcase and the suitcase.
7. My last trip into the house was to take down the ancestor portraits hanging in the stairwell and wedge them in and around the pet carriers in the back seat. I locked doors, turned off lights and took one last look around, trying to decide if there was anything else I could fit into the car, which at this point was packed fairly tight. It was time to leave.

What I Did Wrong:
1. I forgot all about picking up the folder I had prepared of important papers - like my home insurance policy. Thankfully some of the more important things had recently been moved to a safe deposit box.
2. I forgot all about the camera bag. I had been working on an inventory of all my antiques and collectibles. I had the list of possessions in a document on my backup drive, but all the photos I had taken to support the inventory were still on the card in the camera left behind.
3. I remembered the portraits hanging in the stairwell, but forgot to swing back through the study and pick up two other very important family portraits and I totally forgot about my mother's oil paintings.
4. I forgot all of my jewelry.
5. I forgot to shut off the air-conditioner or computer and the refrigerator/freezers never entered my mind.

In my defense on the last one, I had no idea when I left that it would be 6 days before I returned to my house or that the electricity would be off all that time. I was lucky that I got back to my house in time to empty the refrigerators and freezers before any of the food spoiled badly enough to render them unusable. A lot of folks had to endure almost another full week before they were allowed to return to their homes and a lot of appliances had to be discarded.

In the aftermath, I am maintaining a packed suitcase of essentials and my briefcase gets repacked every night before I go to bed. I moved a lot of small valuables (my parents wedding rings, for example) to my safe deposit box. On the first trip back to the house, we picked up my jewelry, my Grandmother Hodge's quilts, my father's sermons, my mother's oil paintings and assorted other family heirlooms and relocated them temporarily to a climate controlled storage unit. I am in the process of searching for a handier unit where I can store these kinds of things more or less permanently during periods of high fire danger.

I made an assessment of what I would have lost in the matter of my genealogy records and realized that I had fallen behind in keeping things filed and in getting new material digitized. I have embarked on a scanning project to get that situation corrected and I'm also working my way through the notebooks to get all extraneous notes transferred to my computerized files. It's going to take awhile to get caught up, but I'm making good, steady progress. I have also gotten serious about purging all unnecessary papers out of my genealogy and my personal files. So far I've taken 4 shopping bags full of paper to the shredding bins at the office and I'm gaining some storage space as a result. I'm back to work on the household inventory.

My evacuation plans have been modified to include emptying the ice bucket into the sink and turning off the ice maker (all the ice melted and ran out into the kitchen floor) and to keep the contents of the refrigerators and freezers down to what I will use in the near future. I am keeping a thermal bag handy to carry out any frozen meat.

I am keeping a pet emergency bag packed and ready to go, with a supply of food, bowls, and leashes.

I was very fortunate that I had a mental checklist in place before hand and was able to leap into action even as my mind was trying to blur into panic. I was caught somewhat unprepared in the matter of having my family records completely backed up, but I had about 75% of the data computerized and about 90% of the photographs scanned and triple backed up (one copy in the safe deposit box), so I would not have been completely wiped out of 40 years of work had things gone differently. I am working hard on getting the gaps closed.

I was very fortunate and I'm learning from my mistakes. Everything could be gone in the wink of an eye. Make sure you are as prepared as you can be so that when someone knocks on your door and says you have 20 minutes or less to get out, you know what to do.


Thursday, September 08, 2011

Down to the Last Nerve

Five days since I ran away from the fire and smoke. Five days of sitting by the television waiting and hoping for the announcement that the fire was under control. Five days of bad, bad news and horrible photos of the now devastated area that I call home. Five days of wondering if I still had a home. Five days of scanning Facebook feeds and watching press conferences. Five awful, horrible, nerve-wracking days.

Five days later the fire still burns. Progress has been made, but the fire still burns.

Yesterday the reports began to be posted that gave me hope that I was one of the lucky ones. The officials were being very cautious about specifics, but they did confirm that the western part of the subdivision had mostly escaped the ravenous flames. This morning a series of aerial photos allowed us to pinpoint my neighborhood and see for ourselves that there was no sign of fire damage. Late today, the barricades were moved further into the subdivision and some residents were allowed to re-enter. My street was included in the re-entry area.

After five days, I allowed myself to take a deep breath and relax just a tiny, tiny bit. David and I will drive down in the morning and check on my house.

I read a Facebook post this evening from a lady who had discovered that not only did she still have a house, she actually had power and water. Her family is preparing to spend their first night back - and she's scared. Scared because the fire still rages a short distance away and a shift in the weather could call for them to evacuate again.

It is hard to describe the conflicting emotions - joy that you have not lost your possessions and your home; despair at the horrible losses that have been suffered by your neighbors a few miles away; dread that the danger has not been totally removed; fear that you will never ever feel safe again.

I feel like I've been kicked in the gut. The disaster at the top of the news hour is personal this time. Thank God for the firefighters. Thank God for the law officers and the emergency management team and the volunteers who worked to shelter the evacuees who did not have anywhere else they could ride out the storm. Thank God for the folks who took along their neighbor's dogs who were at home alone and the animal rescue folks who removed the animals at the local shelter to a safe location. Thank God for the friends and relatives who have offered shelter and support and have prayed unceasingly for the deliverance of this community from the jaws of Hell.

May we all pull out of this nightmare soon.


Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Hell Hath no Fury

The relentless heat and drought of this summer has kept me on pins and needles, worried about the possibility of fire. Ever since I moved into the pine forest subdivision outside Bastrop, I've fussed about fireworks, cursed smokers who tossed their butts in the edge of my yard, and shaken my fist at the drivers who drag their trailers with the chains dancing merrily on the pavement, shooting sparks in every direction.

Sunday afternoon my worst fears were realized.

I had been enjoying my 3-day weekend. I spent Saturday cleaning the house so I could spend the rest of my holiday doing whatever my heart desired. Sunday morning I was working on genealogy updates when I got the idea to go over to Smithville for lunch. I had an ulterior motive in that plan. I had spied some little things in an antique store between Bastrop and Smithville that I decided I should probably go ahead and buy. I headed out, assuring the dogs I would be right back.

I had not even reached the end of the street when my tire light came on. I have ongoing issues with the tires on Big Red and this is usually the first sign that I am about to have to replace another tire. Fearing that I might have to change a flat when I left the restaurant, I decided I would just stop at the convenience store and pick up a few things, then go back home and have another bowl of the sausage and bean soup I had made the night before.

As soon as I pulled back into the garage, I got my tire gauge and checked all the tires. None of them showed any real pressure problems. A couple were only a mark or two off where they should be. Having nothing but a bicycle pump at hand, I used it to inflate the tires back to the proper place. All of them checked out just fine. I started the car. The tire pressure light came on.

Blast and heck. I went on and had my lunch and watched some tv and worked on some genealogy notebooks. In about an hour I went back and checked the tire pressure again. Still fine. Still the light was on. I decided to sit tight and go to the tire dealer first thing on Monday morning.

I was beginning to become aware of a blue cloud just over the treetops. I knew there was no rain in the forecast, but I also know better than to trust forecasts, so I turned on the weather to see if there was any word about rain in Bastrop. Nothing. I think it was then that it occurred to me that maybe that blue cloud was smoke. I began to look for news bulletins and couldn't find anything about a fire. About that time Lana called me to ask if I was getting ready to evacuate. She was watching the only station that was issuing a crawl across the bottom about a fire in Bastrop County.

Mild panic set in. I loaded the dog and cat carriers into the car - just in case - threw some clothes into a suitcase - just in case - took two grocery bags to the trunk that holds a collection of family memorabilia and filled them with photo albums, diplomas, and assorted other family treasures that were small enough to pack into the two bags - just in case. I opened the garage door, thinking that if the electricity were to go out, I might not be able to do that later. I was loading my various bags and baggage and stepped out to glance down the street. The police were making their way toward me, knocking on doors. I went into high gear.

I cornered cats and got them into areas that I could be sure I would be able to get hold of them quickly. I finished packing my suitcase, filled another grocery bag full of dog and cat food. Then came the knock on the door. The lady officer told me I should get moving out of the subdivision as quickly as I could and to leave by the back exit. I immediately began stuffing cats into carriers and loading the last of the bags I had packed. The last thing I did was to take down the oval portraits of my grandmother and great-grandfather, the oil painting of my mother, and a few other framed pictures and load them, along with my computer case. The dogs were aware that something was up and readily allowed me to zip them into their carriers.

I walked through the house looking for anything that I felt I just had to take with me. Finally, I locked the door, stepped out of the garage, waved to my neighbors, and we all started moving down the road.

The tire light was still on, but I told myself I would just have to take my chances. It occurred to me that I had forgotten the dog leashes, so I made a U-turn, ran back into the house and got those and rejoined the line of cars making the exodus. I was at the end of the street and turning right onto the road that would lead me out of the subdivision - and the tire light switched off.

At one point in our slow, crawling process out to the main highway, we made a turn and came face to face with the billowing clouds of smoke. At that point, I think my mind went numb.

My remaining thought was to head to Austin to David's house, but I wasn't 100% sure I would be able to get in and they were out of town for another night. I stopped for gas and a cold drink once I had gotten well on my way and my aunt called about that time to see where I was. We decided it would better for me to go to their house in Dripping Springs for the night. When you are hauling along 5 critters, you don't turn down offers to house you. I angled around Austin and headed to Dripping Springs.

A perfect storm of extreme drought conditions, high winds and a spark from an unknown source grew rapidly to a hellish fire that has consumed a very big chunk of the county where I have lived for almost 40 years. My subdivision has been decimated, the State Park across the highway from the subdivision has been almost totally burned, and numerous other outlying subdivisions have been wiped out. The fire continues to push southward, eating up huge amounts of acreage. Other fires were breaking out all over Central Texas. It has been Hell in Texas for the past 48 hours, with no end in sight.

Thankfully the wind is no longer gusting and the temperatures have dropped. Some of the smaller fires have been brought into some semblance of control. But the Bastrop County fire rages on. We evacuees are holding onto our iPhones like lifelines, reading the updates being posted by the Emergency Services folks. Facebook has been a really useful tool during this period of horror, although it has fed the horror some as you read posts from people who have learned they no longer have a house to go home to.

I and my little brood are now safe and sound at David's house. We are waiting, hoping for a miracle that will let the firefighters get the upper hand in this battle. We have no idea how our house has fared. I remember various things that I overlooked in my mad rush that certainly qualified to be included in the family treasures I brought with me and I grieve that they may have been lost. I am grateful that I was able to bring out as many things as I did. Some folks had so little warning that they were barely able to bring out more than the clothes on their backs.

Hell on Earth. I know what that means now. I also know that I am lucky that I am safe and well, my pets are safe and well, and that (most) things can be replaced. I have been comforted with a steady stream of calls and emails from family and friends from literally across the nation. Despite what I may ultimately have to deal with, I am blessed.

And that tire light? Hasn't been on since. Laugh if you want, but I think my ancestors - and I fully expect it was my grandmothers with some help from my parents - did what they had to do to make sure I stuck around the house that day so I would be there to take care of business.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hot and Bothered

I knew better than to plan anything even the slightest bit strenuous this weekend. 108 degrees predicted for Saturday and 111 degrees predicted for Sunday told me I had better get whatever I needed to do done early. Unfortunately I am also dealing with a little bit of cabin fever, thanks to this nice long stretch of hot weather we have not been enjoying. I needed to get out, if only briefly.

After running a couple of errands to pick up a new lamp timer and a birthday gift, I decided to head over to Smithville for lunch at Pocket's. I could not get that close to the antique shops on Main Street without poking my nose in at a couple of favorite spots to see if anything interesting was to be found.

My favorite shabby shic/antique shop had lots to see. I acquired another flowered and feathered hat to add to my growing collection and a hat stand to display it. I also spotted a little chest and a mirror that I really liked, but I could not make up my mind to buy. Across the street I found a tiny, garishly painted wagon that will ultimately take its place in the Mexican restaurant dollhouse, which is still in progress, and a small tatted doily.

That was as much as I could handle for an outing and I headed home to spend the afternoon puttering with my Hodge notebooks and explaining to the dogs why they could not go outside. All evening I pondered that little chest I had left behind, and by morning had decided I needed it after all.

So, Sunday morning found me heading back to Smithville. I arrived just as the store opened and in short order the little chest and the mirror were loaded into Big Red. On the way back home I impulsively stopped at Dixie's Emporium and picked up a few more things, including 8 bowls of Arcoroc Aspen to add to my collection. The set of dishes I purchased 15 years ago have become very hard to find, so when I stumbled over 4 cereal bowls and 4 soup bowls for a ridiculously low price, I grabbed them.

Loading Big Red was one thing (and I had help from the owner's husband getting that chest into the car), but unloading it was another since by the time I got home, the temperature was starting to crawl up well past 100 degrees. I had plenty of help there, too, with both dogs and the cats joining me in the garage as I wrestled the thing out and into the house.

Nothing would do but that I get it moved into the place I had chosen for it. I've been long wanting to rid myself of the last of the crate furniture, a piece that has held my stereo components and part of my CD collection. I had decided that the little chest would be a great replacement. I had dismantled the stereo and removed the CDs and then belatedly remembered the collection of 45 rpm records that were tucked in behind the CDs. By the time the shelving unit was empty, I had CDs and 45s strung all over the living room.

Eventually the CDs were tucked into the drawers and the stereo was back together.

And I have absolutely no idea where I am going to store the mountain of 45s.

There is everything here - from early Merle Haggard to the Partridge Family to the Carpenters to the Rolling Stones to what is probably every 45 that Glen Campbell released. I had fun listening to some old forgotten songs, like Jerry Lee Lewis's version of Chantilly Lace. I'm going to enjoy rediscovering some of these treasures while I try to figure out where I'm going to store them.

I may need to go antiquing again. I'm betting the perfect chest is out there somewhere.


Sunday, August 07, 2011

Tin Trunks and Fun

Last weekend was a whirlwind of activity. I decided to take a day of vacation on Friday in anticipation of a late evening outing in Austin and a second outing on the following Saturday afternoon. Friend Lana was to spend the night and go to both events with me. We decided to kick off our fun and frivolity by meeting at the Elgin Antique Mall and bringing home the antique oak bookcase I had coveted for several years.

We had help getting the thing into Lana's van, but it was just the two of us getting it unloaded when we arrived at the house. Undaunted, we carefully tipped it out of the van, pushed it down the sidewalk and gingerly inched it up over the two step-ups into the house and it finally came to rest in my living room, where it has settled in and acts like it has lived here all along.

That night we headed to the downtown Hilton, where we joined an estimated crowd of 650 folks who had assembled to see psychic John Edward. This was our third time to see him and we had always enjoyed the experience before, but this time was a bit of a let-down. To begin with, we arrived two hours before the event and had planned to get a light snack in the coffee shop while we waited for the doors to open. Fortunately we decided to locate the ball room first and discovered that the line had already begun forming and we changed our plans to stay in line so we could have a better choice of seats. Two hours later, the show finally started - with a packed house. The 106 degree heat outside had the air-conditioning laboring hard to keep up and the sound was initially muddy, making it hard to understand him. He always gives some impressive readings and this time was no exception, but the heat and the crowd and the bad sound system left a bad taste and it may have been the last time we will venture out to see him.

The next morning we geared up for another adventure, beginning with "woofles" at the local Coffee Dog. They really hit the spot and then we headed east toward La Grange. We decided to take a detour to explore the little town of Fayetteville since neither of us had ever been there. We were delighted to discover a sleepy little town square and two antique/gift shops where we both found some things we had not been aware we needed.

We left Fayetteville, headed to Round Top, planning to get to Festival Hill an hour before show time to allow us plenty of time to get parked and seated before the play "Heart of the Tin Trunk" would begin. When we arrived, we were very glad we had decided to get there early. We were greeted with a "Sold Out" sign (the performance hall seats 1100) and ended up with a moderate hike in from our parking spot in a big field at the rear of the complex of buildings. We were beginning to feel a bit of trepidation after our experience of the night before, but we made our way through the crowd and snagged a couple of seats in the second row. Then we took a look around and were amazed at the interior.

We had a feeling this time we were in for a great time and we were right. The play was a lively musical that centered on a young girl's discovery of her Czech heritage when, upon her graduation from college, she is given an old tin trunk full of family memorabilia. She initially feels that there is nothing for her to learn from the old ways, but as she explores the trunk's contents, she begins to learn that she is who she is because of those who came before her.

The audience is transported back in time as we learn of the trials and sorrows experienced by the girl's great-grandmother Pavla when she, her brother, sister and mother make a ship journey from Czechoslovakia to Galveston and finally settle in La Grange. The brother falls ill and never sees America; the sister is given to a family to raise when Pavla and her mother are forced to abruptly flee when Pavla injures a local farmer who is trying to molest her. Eventually Pavla and her mother each find love and start anew, only to find sorrow again when World War I takes Pavla's husband. Finally the story comes full circle when the girl visits her ancestral homeland and discovers the life she is meant to live.

While the music and traditions were definitely Czech, the history of the family had elements that spoke to everyone's background. To two old genealogists like Lana and me, we were caught up immediately and enthralled with the story. It was uplifting, it reduced us to tears, it made us laugh. The cast and orchestra were flawless in their performances. We had a wonderful afternoon.

We came home fired up to get back onto our genealogical pursuits and planning our next research trip. I'm busily working on getting my files for Dr. Hodge ready to hit the road. I've got a couple of months to get ready!


Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Week of Highs and Lows

July ranks just slightly less stressful than May in the work department. Our yearly work cycle really gets started on July 1st and we kick off by mailing out delinquent statements for all of our clients. I stay very busy for several weeks, finally getting a little breather at the end of the month before we pick up with a second wave of statements that get mailed in August.

The High: Last Friday I finally caught up and reached the breather stage. I celebrated by taking off a couple of hours early and hitting the Elgin Antique Mall on the way home. At first all was well. The bookcase I have my eye on is still there waiting for me (and may be coming home in the next week or so) and I found a book on the history of Manchaca to add to my Texana collection.

The Low: Abruptly, in the middle of my antiques ramble, I didn't feel so good. My stomach was not happy about something and I had managed to mis-step and put my hip out of kilter. That took the fun out of things and I paid for my book and headed home. By the time I got home the stomach ache had escalated and I had developed a bad headache to go with my hip ache. I took some aspirin and some antacid and crawled into bed for a 2 hour nap.

I still don't know whether I ate something that didn't agree with me or I had picked up a mild stomach virus, but for several days following I would feel almost ok for awhile and then feel totally rotten. I mostly hibernated over the weekend, resting and watching what I ate.

The High: I was relieved that I felt ok enough to go ahead and attend a play at the Opera House on Sunday afternoon. I had ordered my ticket weeks before for Always, Patsy Cline. The one and only matinee performance was sold out and the play was getting excellent reviews, so I did not want to miss it. Thankfully, my stomach cooperated and I was able to relax and enjoy two hours of a good story performed by an excellent cast. Ordering my ticket so early had earned me a seat front row, center, one of the best seats in the house.

I was glad I had not missed the opportunity to see the play, which centered on the true story of a friendship that developed between Patsy Cline and an ardent fan, Louise Seger, when they met at the Esquire Ballroom in Houston. In those days a musician did not travel with an entourage and Patsy had traveled alone to the gig at the Esquire. Louise appointed herself Patsy's manager for the night and before the evening was over the two had become great friends. That night began a correspondence that lasted until Patsy's untimely death.

The play was full of music, with Terry Lyne Moore doing a very good imitation of Patsy Cline and accompanied by an outstanding group of musicians. There was even a little bit of audience participation when Engela Edwards, as Louise, pulled a couple of gentlemen out of the front row for a little dancing during the nightclub scenes. Everyone had a great time going back in time to when country music was something special.

And, even knowing how the story ends, it still took your breath away when Louise hears the news of the plane crash.

The Low: After such a good afternoon, it was a disappointment when the evening brought a relapse of my stomach issues and I spent Monday lying on the couch alternately napping and watching old movies and hoping that another day's rest would put an end to whatever bug had taken hold.

Another Low: I was back in (cautious) action on Tuesday and decided I would spend my lunch hour getting an overdue oil change taken care of. That was a bad decision. Normally the dealership gets me in and out in an hour, but I made the mistake of asking them to go ahead and do the yearly inspection so I would not have to make another trip in a couple of weeks. That lead to having to purchase a new tire to pass inspection and it took twice as long to get me back on the road as I was told it would be.

The High: But, when I got home that night, there were packages waiting for me. I had located a copy of a Crittenden County, Kentucky, history book for a good price from one online source, and a book on Mary Hardin-Baylor history from another online source and both had arrived. It was a good week for adding to my history book collection.

Another High: With the rigors of July notices behind me, and finally feeling almost human, I found myself in the mood to do a little genealogy. I spent a couple of days making some headway in getting piles and piles of Hodge genealogy sorted out and filed. I am rediscovering how much material has been acquired to document my black sheep ancestor, Dr. Henry, and his long-suffering father John. And this week brought an unexpected contact with a gentleman who is researching the Pointe Coupee Artillery, a Confederate unit in which my ancestor Albert McAfee may have served. I have been trying for many years to prove that the A. McAfee listed in their ranks is indeed my Albert. It was nice to get an objective opinion from an independent researcher who feels that it is a good probability that the two are the same.

More Looming High: Have I mentioned I love live theater? In about another week, I will be attending another play, this time at Festival Hill in Round Top. Friend Lana and I have been scheduled for some time to attend a John Edward appearance in Austin, with her spending the night afterward. When I received notice that a matinee of a play focused on connecting with your heritage would be playing the following afternoon in Round Top, we decided we had to include that in our plans. I have been wanting to attend something at Festival Hill for a long time and this sounds like it will be a perfect opportunity.

And, Lana's vehicle is large enough that we are anticipating a trip to the Elgin Antique Mall to buy that long-coveted bookcase that I hope will soon be holding my collection of music books. I can already see it standing next to my piano. I certainly hope that it will soon be mine and that nobody else will suddenly get it into their head to buy it out from under me. (I've only been watching and drooling over the thing for the last 3 years.)

So, life has had its ups and downs this month. Fortunately the accumulated highs have outweighed the lows. And when life gives me lemons, a nap on the couch with two cuddly dogs is a great analgesic.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Stepping Cautiously

Lately, going for a walk with the dogs has been problematic. Just a year or so ago, our afternoon walk involved a round trip of 5 to 6 neighborhood blocks. We enjoyed our 20-25 minute strolls about 6-ish.

Then a small pomeranian along the way slipped loose from his owner and attacked us as we passed. It was annoying (how do people stand those little yapping fluff balls?), but I was able to scoop up the kids and carry them away, while the pomeranian's owner ran his dog down and got it back under control.

We began to avoid that block.

Then we became aware that a big black Lab at the far end of our route was generally loose in his yard at the time we made our rounds. He was under very good voice command, but a time or two he almost reached us before his owner noticed and called him back. Mojo started to pull backwards when we would get within a house or two of the Lab's yard.

We began to avoid that block.

We modified our walk to go the length of our street and then turn left instead of right and wander down a seldom traveled dirt road where there are no houses. That worked for awhile and then the folks at the end of the street where we made our turn acquired two dogs who were allowed to run loose in the yard when their owners were outside. And they always seemed to be outside when it came time for our walk. Again, the dogs were under very good voice control, but it made my two very nervous to walk past.

We started turning a block earlier and following our old route, less the block where the Lab lived. We were now covering half the distance we originally traveled, but we were still getting in a decent afternoon walk.

Then came the afternoon we met the German Shepherd. He was visiting a home around the corner from us and had been turned loose in the yard. We didn't see him until after he saw us and he made a beeline for us. "He won't hurt you!" called his owner cheerfully, just before he grabbed Coco and pinned her down to the ground. She began screeching in terror and Mojo pulled out of his collar and ran for home. I was trying to call him back and wrestle Coco out of the jaws of the strange dog, all the while the owner was casually walking over and commenting, "he's never done that before..."

I managed not to choke the living daylights out of her, but only because I had finally lifted Coco out of the way and was racing after Mojo, praying he did not run out in front of a car before he got home.

It took awhile to get them to walk anywhere after that. From that point on, Mojo would begin to fret as soon as we walked out of sight of the house. He never wanted to find himself uncertain of which way lay safety. Our walks were now a fraction of the original length.

Our customary stroll takes us past a neighbor's yard two houses down where two large dogs are in residence. Bear always charges the fence when we pass, threatening to tear us limb from limb if we approach his yard, and Mojo has enjoyed fussing right back at him. Bear is really a sweetheart of a dog and so is his cohort Doobie. They sometimes escape from their yard and I've escorted them back, both of them ambling along at my side begging for head pats, so I have not been overly concerned about them. Bear has even burst through his gate when I was passing by with my dogs, but has always turned around and gone back in his yard without incident.

But, last Friday, the little yapper dog that is normally inside was out in the yard. Just as we passed on our return, the neighbors turned them out to run into the woods that border their property. Bear and Doobie would probably have ignored us, but little Yap Yap was looking for a rumble and ran straight for us. Coco began shrieking her head off, as she has done every time a strange dog approaches us after the German Shepherd encounter, and Mojo was dancing at the end of his leash, trying to pull free. Bear and Doobie, figuring Yap Yap knew something they didn't, joined in the frey. Thank heavens the neighbors were right there pulling them off, or we might have had big trouble. My dogs were shaken, but all right. I was the only one injured, through my own stupidity. In trying to get my dogs under control, I got tangled up in the retractable leashes and sliced my hands to ribbons. I've spent the last week with deep, painful cuts on several fingers, which are healing very, very slowly.

So, for the last week, Mojo and Coco are refusing to go any further than across the street and down to the end of our yard and back. They get their business done and they are ready to go home.

Needless to say, this all has not only wrecked havoc with my nerves, it has caused my stamina to deteriorate because I'm not getting in the good walks I used to enjoy. I don't like walking alone and the dogs don't like me leaving them behind. So, in desperation, I went to the pet store in the outlet mall last week and bought a pet stroller.

We tried it out on Saturday morning and the kids haven't quite decided whether they are happy about this new development. I take them for their very abbreviated leash walk and then pop them inside for a long ride on our original route. It is big enough for both of them to sit inside, and they are surrounded by mesh, so they can see ahead, to either side, and out the back to check on Mom. Mom has company and they aren't left behind.

I'm hopeful that when it gets a little cooler, this will allow me to get back into a regular routine of walking for exercise. It may also allow them to go along on short road trips. (I hear some of the malls are even allowing pet strollers inside, so long as the canopy is kept zipped closed.)

The cats are completely stumped. And the neighbors have not yet witnessed us enroute, so I may be in for some pointing and giggling. They all think I'm a little kooky anyway, so they may not even blink.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. At least I'll get my walk and the kids will get some fresh air.

And the neighbors will get some free entertainment.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Paying Respects

Today was the first time since Mother's memorial service that I put on a pair of pantyhose. Ironically it was in order to attend the funeral of a lady who I last saw at Mother's memorial service.

Artie McLaurin was one of the first people I met when we moved to Bastrop in the summer of 1972. She served on the pulpit committee who recommended that my father be called to pastor a new congregation that had split off from the larger Baptist Church in Bastrop. I liked her from the beginning. She was the City Secretary for the City of Bastrop and her hand was firmly on the rudder that kept the city chugging along in the right direction.

When my first year of college was completed and I was home for the summer, Artie asked me to do some part time work in the city offices. I performed various tasks for her, mostly involving her duties as the City's tax assessor-collector. I posted tax payments and spent days at the courthouse extracting legal descriptions from recent deed transactions. In those days, the City offices consisted of a utility department on one side of the building and the Mayor and Tax Office were on the other side. The Police department was in the basement. I'm not sure how many people were in the utility department at that time, but the police department consisted of the Chief of Police. The Mayor had an office, but was seldom there. Artie was a one woman show, keeping the City's business running smoothly. She acted as City Secretary, City Tax Assessor-Collector, the City Financial Officer and Police Dispatcher.

After Artie had gotten me somewhat familiar with the daily routine, she dropped the bombshell that she was taking a vacation and needed someone to man the office while she was gone. She was too organized to have much work that needed doing while she was gone, but someone needed to be there to answer the phone, take the odd tax payment, issue a check here and there to various contract maintenance folks, and get hold of the Mayor if someone came in to pay a ticket. Oh, and by the way, if someone called in a police emergency, I needed to find Adell, the Chief of Police. That was the one that scared me silly. I had a police radio in the office, but I was terrified of using it. Thankfully my instructions in the event of a police matter was to call the Sheriff's Department and let them find Adell. Adell spent the entire day moving around the City, checking in and checking out and I just could not keep track of the man.

So I spent a week, or maybe it was two, all by myself in the City offices. The mayor would check in once a day for his mail, Adell would drift in and out, and the rest of the time I answered the phone and took messages. Artie had left me what she thought would be several days of odd jobs that I finished up before the first day was over. I listened to the police radio and worried that something would come up that would require me to call the Sheriff's office. I taught myself how to use the old-fashioned calculator with the rows and rows of numbers that would bounce back and forth as it ran its calculations. I read the ancient books of the City minutes that were stored in the huge walk-in vault. I managed not to screw up anything and I only had to call the Sheriff's office once.

I guess I did okay, because Artie called me back to fill in for her during other summer breaks and I was occasionally called to fill in when the librarian needed to be away. I enjoyed the days at the library very much. In those days there was only the one employee and you might see a half-dozen people through the day. I had long days to explore the contents of the library and hours to read in peace and get paid for doing so.

Artie McLaurin was my first real boss. After I graduated college and began working full time in Austin, I seldom saw her. When my father left the ministry briefly after my parents' divorce, I continued to play piano for the church for awhile but eventually I resigned my position and I only saw her a few times after that. But it was Artie who, after my father's second ex-wife died, helped organize an estate sale and saw to it that some family relics that had remained in the house after that divorce were returned to me.

The last time I saw her was when she and her husband attended the memorial service we held for Mother at the park. She was the same Artie. I enjoyed getting to visit with her again.

It was quite a jolt when I heard this past week that she had died. Somehow I always pictured her as she was when at the helm of the City. Quietly competent, generous, patient, caring and timeless. She was a good woman who made a considerable contribution to the City of Bastrop.

She will be missed.


Monday, June 13, 2011

Before and After

Oh, the joy of getting a working washing machine back on the premises! Not a minute too soon, either. The bathtub was about to overflow with dirty clothes. I just could not face another trip to the laundromat, so when the hamper began to bulge at the seams, it all began to pile up in the tub.

I was given a delivery window of 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. today. I was just about to break into a nervous sweat when the truck finally rolled into the driveway at 5:05. One skinny little guy with a power lift and a dolly had the new appliances unloaded and installed and the old appliances loaded for removal inside of an hour.

The utility room before:

and after:

I've already done 3 loads of laundry and I'm delighted with how quietly these new units run and how quickly the dryer turns out fluffy, soft towels.

The first load had barely started when Boo discovered that the lids are clear and he can see the clothes swishing back and forth. I have to admit that I stood and watched the first load run, too. This new machine has flashing LED lights and the spin cycle is fast and vigorous. There is no agitator and it seems like it holds a ton of clothes without that obstacle in the middle. The show was much better than anything on television tonight.

Also new on the scene is a high-falutin' electric range. I failed to get a picture of the old one on the way out. When the electricians came to put in the new plug (the old stove was direct wired into the house and you're not supposed to do that anymore), one of the guys asked if he could have the old stove and I grabbed the chance to get it out of my sight. So, I lived with a gaping hole in the kitchen for the last week:

The new stove is big and black and CLEAN. It may be awhile before I can bring myself to cook in it, although I did boil some water and heat some buns tonight, just to prove everything works. It has a small oven and a larger convection oven. It also has lots of flashing lights and beeps. I would not be surprised if it talks.

No more ugly gap:

I guess I am going to have to make a batch of cookies or a coffee cake this weekend and see what kind of a job that convection oven will do. First, though, I have to read the enormous manual that came with it. High tech has come to my kitchen and I may have to learn to cook all over again. It took the delivery guy and me several minutes to puzzle out how to turn on a burner. Heaven only know what kind of hoops I will have to jump through to get those ovens to cooperate.

I can't wait to dive in.


Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Sand, Surf and Seagulls

Quite a number of years ago, we spent a weekend visiting our Ging relatives, staying in their beach house just up the road from the beach in Matagorda. I remember playing in the surf, eating well, and discovering on the last day that I had been sharing my bed with a three-pronged fishing hook.

This past weekend, I traveled to Matagorda Beach to spend a long weekend in the current Ging beach house - a comfortable Rockwood RV. The last time there were a lot of boys involved. This time it was just us girls - myself, my aunt Linda and long time friend Marianna.

Matagorda Beach is one of Texas' few remaining primitive beaches, unspoiled by commercial development. Where the old beach house once sat is now an RV park run by the LCRA and we were sleeping just a few yards away from where I slept on that infamous fish hook so many years ago. This time I shared my bed with my two terriers, a much more comfortable experience.

The beach was covered in seaweed, but the water was beautiful and the sky was a brilliant blue.

We walked along the beach....

We admired Mother Nature's sand art along the jetty...

We listened to the pounding surf....

We enjoyed watching the seagulls busily exploring the seaweed,
looking for tasty tidbits...

...and floating in the sea breeze.

I never could get those pelicans to come close enough for me to get a good picture, but they were fun to watch flying by, playing Follow the Leader.

As before, we ate very well. We napped. We visited. We slapped mosquitoes that were almost as big as those pelicans. We visited an old cemetery and practiced grave dowsing. We explored downtown Matagorda and soared high above the Intercoastal waterway on the new bridge that replaced the old swing bridge we crossed on that previous trip. We watched a tugboat push a barge down the Intercoastal. We visited the Nature Center adjacent to the RV park. We walked down to the spot where the Colorado River empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

A lot has changed over the years. For one thing, those boys got really, really big and I got a lot older.

What hasn't changed is the calming effect of the waves and the sea breeze and the soothing chatter of the seagulls. I think I will hold onto that mental picture for awhile.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Quilts by Lucy

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I loaned three of my grandmother's quilts to the local museum for use in a special exhibit during the month of May. With the heavy work crush and two weekends out of town, I almost forgot about the event. I decided it would be a good idea to plan on stopping by the museum after my DAR meeting on Saturday.

I had asked the curator how she planned to showcase the quilts and she had described how she would hang some of them and drape others over a collection of white lattice panels. They used both of those methods, but they also placed some of the quilts on the furniture that is on permanent exhibit. An old bed stead was wearing a historic quilt. An antique baby carriage had a small baby quilt tucked into it. Every room of the museum had splashes of color here and there from quilts made out of everything from tobacco and flour sacks to satins.

Grandma Lucy's three quilts were shown to their best advantage.

The quilt closest to the front edge of the photo is one of her string quilts. On the far wall is a signature quilt with blocks made by several members of the family including Lucy herself, her daughters Nettie and Bettye, her mother Nettie Mason, her sister-in-law Dixie Rose and Dixie's daughter Betty.

Below is a closer look at the signature quilt. It is one of the prizes of my varied collection of family heirlooms.

The last of the three quilts was a simple pattern of diamond shapes on one side and squares on the reverse, and they showcased both sides by draping it across a display case.

The museum had managed to assemble quilts from a half-dozen or so of their members and there were quilts of every type and material. I was very impressed with the whole exhibit and very pleased with the treatment they gave to my own contributions.

If you decide to stop by the museum to take a look (the exhibit ends on May 31st, $2 entry fee and be sure to check the hours before you make the trip), let me warn you that they did make a few bobbles in the information posted with the quilts. They confused the quilt shown first above with another quilt I had pictured on my website and which is in my Uncle Larry's possession. The one on display is not the quilt that was quilted around an old army blanket. And I know full well that my grandfather did not grow cotton as a cash crop, as they describe. When the curator was making her notes, I mentioned that my grandparents grew a variety of things but that their cash crops were peanuts, cantaloupes and watermelons. Somehow the peanuts turned into cotton by the time the descriptive placards were written. I suspect that is because they have been having an on-going cotton industry display for the last few months. Minor details that no one but us Hodge kin will catch as errors.

I am very proud of my grandmother's quilts and happy that they are getting this chance to get some public attention. I can remember her quilting frame that was raised to the ceiling out of the way and and lowered to working height when she was ready to spend some time crafting. I myself do not like to sew and stand in awe of the mountain of quilts she turned out.

I am more likely to tackle a doll house and one of the latest on my craft table is intended to be a quilt shop. In a small way, it will help me re-connect to my grandmother.