Linden Tree Leaves

Genealogy and Ancestry Explorations


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Nona’s Stories: Pretty Poll the Parrot

The Peterson’s, Hanel and Lillie, came by the ranch for us. We left about 2: p.m. and drove all night – this was in the mid 1920’s and we were traveling in a Model “T” Ford – (the thing then!).

Arriving at Laredo, Hanel and Ray checked in at the new Power Plant, and Lillie and I went apartment hunting.

We took apartments at a Mrs. Foster’s. She was a woman in her sixties, blind in one eye, and the widow of a Capt. Foster of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Her house wasn’t far from the railroad round house, and some of the Engineers slept there on their time off between trips.

She had a green short tail Parrot, that had been her husband’s camp mascot. There had been many Mexicans in her husband’s troop, and they had taught the Parrot every “cuss” world in the Mexican language-(in Laredo it’s “Mexican” and not “Spanish”) -and, I suspect, a great many “cuss” words they invented.

“Pretty Poll” even “cussed” with a Mexican accent! She “spoke” English, too, and sounded more like a human voice than any Parrot I’ve ever heard.

She was quite old, as Parrots go, and very set in her ways – and, also, very “cranky.” Her days were a set routine. She was up bright and early. Mrs. Foster, who she called “Mama,” opened the front screen door for her, she made her own way down the wood steps of the front porch, down the concrete walk to the front yard gate. The yard fence and arch over the gate was thickly overgrown with Trumpet vines. She climbed up to the center of the arch over the gate, where she, being green, was well hidden. Then she watched for people passing. She liked girls, and thoroughly disliked men. She could give a perfect “wolf-whistle” when she spotted a girl passing, and call out “Hello, pretty girl, how about a date?” But if it was a man passing, she would wait until he was quite near, then say, in a man’s angry voice- “Get the Hell out of here!” (one of her favorite expressions, another favorite was “What the Hell!”).

If a dog passed down the street she would whistle to him, if he came looking for the “person” who whistled to him, she would say in a loud, scolding voice “Get the hell out of here!” Followed with a string of her favorite “cuss” words.

The reactions of people and dogs – and in Laredo there were many dogs –  were comical to watch. I often wondered if she had a sense of humor.

She wouldn’t come down from her archway perch over the gate until the noon time whistle of the round-house blew, no matter what. In mid-summer in Laredo it’s very, very hot. Not at all unusual to be 120 degrees. The concrete walks are blistering hit. But Pretty Poll insisted on “hot-footing” it up that walk on her own. She fought like a wild cat if anyone tried to pick her up and carry her to the house, and she could really bite with that strong, sharp beak.

Her legs were very short, and she was exceedingly “bow-legged.” It took her some time to walk the distance from the gate to the house, especially since she stopped about every other step to shake a foot and say, vehemently, “What the Hell!!”

I felt sorry for her as I know that hot walk really burned her feet, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.

She climbed up the porch steps by reaching up and grasping the next step up, with her strong beak, and pulling herself up. By the time she got to the front door she was in a vile mood and “cussing” in “Mexican,” calling for “Mama” to open the “&)^)^)!!!” door. She was put in her cage for a “siesta” until 3:p.m. Her cage was covered with thick black material, with a draw-string at the bottom, and if she could see the tiniest little speck of light she let it be known – loudly.

At 3:p.m. she wake from her nap as if by clock, calling for “Mama”. Then out to the front gate again to tease the passer-bys. At dusk she came back to the front door and called for “Mama” to open the door for her. Usually it was cooler then and she was in a better mood.

If anyone asked “Polly want a cracker?” her answer was “Hell, No!”

She greeted each of the trainmen with “Whatcha know, Joe?” To tease her and because they got a kick out of her “cussing” they would say “Well, if it isn’t old ugly Poll!” That would make her so mad she literally jumped – I should say – hopped- up and down, “cussing” in “Mexican.”

Mrs. Foster didn’t mind – she said it gave Pretty Poll an interest in life and kept her from being bored. Pretty Poll got even by walking sidewise up their chair leg, up their arm to their shoulder – then reaching over and biting their ear. She nearly took a piece out of the ears of the new men that weren’t wise to her trick.

To people she liked she climbed up to their shoulder, reached over and “kissed” them on their cheek.

She was quite a character, and really ruled the roost at the Foster house. When Mrs. Foster had her coffee in the morning, Pretty Poll had coffe too, in her own little bowl.

There was a city plaza within walking distance of where we lived. Every evening from 7:p.m. to 11: Mexican bands and orchestras played there, and it was really good music. The sidewalk around the Plaza was lined with benches and there was always a big crowd. But they were quiet and well behaved. Never once did I see anyone drinking or otherwise causing a disturbance.

The Mexican girls always had a chaperon with them, a relative or friend with whom they sat. The young men would come and introduce themselves and ask permission to walk with the girl. If granted, they strolled on the sidewalk around the Plaza, returning to the chaperon.

Most every evening Ray and I walked to the Plaza and enjoyed the music.

Nona


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Nona’s Stories: Omar the Turtle

One day we found an unusually large terrapin crawling along outside the corral fence. We decided to keep it, and named it Omar.

We took it inside the toolshed to paint its name on its shell.

We had it on the workbench when Hanse heard us talking and came out of the barn to investigate.

He jumped up on the workbench, almost landing on top of the terrapin.

When he saw it he yowled – no doubt thinking anything that looked like that was dangerous and not to be trusted.

In his scramble to get off the workbench, he knocked the can of paint off and it hit the floor about the same time that he did. I guess he thought it was the terrapin after him. He raced back into the barn, in his haste skidding and sliding, and yowling and yodeling.

It seemed to be his belief that if he yowled loud enough he would scare off any would-be cat-eating varmints.

Fortunately there was enough paint left in the can to paint “Omar” on the shell of the terrapin.

We had started a garden and had Pop Milam bring us some tomato, lettuce, and cabbage plants out from town. The garden was fenced with chicken wire to keep the rabbits out, so we thought that would be a perfect place to keep Omar.

We were afraid to keep him in the yard, knowing he could bite the curious noses off Kazan and Scotty.

They weren’t afraid of anything and were curious about everything. The next morning we went out to check on Omar and to our dismay and consternation, discovered almost all the lettuce and cabbage plants were gone! Omar had eaten them during the night! We knew he was the culprit for he still had bits of the leaves in the corners of his mouth.

Terrapins hibernate in Winter, digging themselves underground. I guess he had just come out of his long winter sleep and was hungry. Luckily he hadn’t eaten the tomato plants – maybe his taste didn’t run to tomatoes.

Knowing we couldn’t keep him in the garden or yard, we took him to the big pasture and turned him loose.

The last we saw of him he was crawling happily away in the tall grass.

Years later when we were living in Victoria, we found people there kept several terrapins in their yards to control “pill” bugs. Victoria being near the Gulf, is a very wet and rainy place and pill bugs thrive there.

People painted their cattle brands on the shells of the terrapins if they had a brand, and if not used their initials. This was considered proof of ownership, and theft of a marked terrapin was the same as theft of any other property.

-Nona


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Nona’s Stories: When the Cotton Gin Burned

I wouldn’t tell this story, lest no one believe it, except that everyone in the family knows about it. And Ralph and Harry remember it well.

I was about six years old, and this happened in late summer when the cotton was being picked and ginned.

The gin was near Grandpa H.T. Saunders’ house in Trenton, and right on the railroad, for convenience in loading and shipping the baled cotton.

Late one afternoon Dad and one of the hired hands took two wagon loads—(these had high sideboards on them in order to hold enough cotton to make a standard size bale of cotton)- to town to be ginned. There were so many loads of cotton ahead of him that there was not time to gin our cotton that day. So dad unhitched the two teams from the wagons, leaving the wagons loaded with cotton in the gin yard, putting the teams in Grandpa’s lot—he had a big lot where he ketp a cow and his own horse, a fawn colored little mare named “Fanny.”

Dad and the hired hand, Jake Macky, walked the two miles back to our house.

In the middle of the night Dad woke from a “nightmare” in which he “saw” the gin on fire, many men fighting the fire—there were no fire trucks then like we now have—he “saw” men pushing our two wagons of cotton away from the gin our of danger. While he was telling Mother about the nightmare, and how vividly he saw all that was taking place, the telephone rang.

Dad and Mother were sleeping in the East bedroom, the telephone was in the living room by the front door—the living room was on the West side of the house. When Dad went into the living room, he saw the Western sky was glowing red—it was Grandma Saunders calling to tell Dad the gin was burning, but that some of the men had pushed both of our wagons of cotton out of danger. Everything had happened exactly as Dad had “seen” it in the nightmare. Dad dressed and walked the two miles to town to help fight the gin fire. We watched from the windows on each side of the fireplace in the living room—you can see these windows in the picture of our old home place I sent you recently. We lived East of Trenton.

Sometimes the red glow of the fire would flare up as the fire reached walls and roofs of the gin. Cotton fire is very hard to extinguish as it smolders for so long. All the bales of cotton had to be broken open and wet down. The blackened cotton was a big loss to many farmers. It was days before the smoldering cotton was finally wet enough to stop burning.

Men had to carry water in buckets from Grandpa’s house to wet down the cotton. Grandma Saunders made coffee and cooked meals for them as they fought the fire in relays. Dad stayed in town two days and nights as he helped, sleeping for short periods at Grandma’s.

After this gin burned cotton had to be hauled a much greater distance to be ginned and shipped by train.

-Nona


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Nona’s Stories: Dad’s Hobbies

When we lived in North Texas Dad had two hobbies—raising bees, and fighting game cocks. When he was 16 years old, Grandpa H.T. Saunders gave him a hive of bees for his Birthday. He began raising and shipping the fine-bred Queen bees to foreign countries as well as to many other States. These were sent by mail in little cages made of a frame of wood covered with screen wire, that he made himself. He became quite well known in “bee circles.” The Game chickens were the kind used for “Cock-Fights” – quite the sport in most South American countries and Cuba—he shipped the cocks to most of those countries. It was, and still is, against the law to hold cock-fights in the United States. These game cocks had long  wicked spurs—Dad had many scars on his legs the results of being “spurred” by these fighting cocks. The foreign countries always paid for the Game Cocks and Queen Bees in coins—many of them gold coins.

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Oscar Saunders with swarm of bees.

Dad just kept these and had a larger than gallon tin bucket—it had once held Arbuckle Coffee– full of the coins. When our house buned these were all melted together in one big lump. I think Dutch or Polly has it now.

On Dad’s 17th Birthday Grandpa gave him a matched pair of cream colored fine mules—there were no cars, etc., then to give! One of these mules was slightly larger than the other, they were called “Big-Un” and “Little-Un.” Dad was very proud of them. But they later had a bad accident. This happened when I was about six years old, and I remember it well. The mules got entangled in a barbed wire fence one night, and in thrashing around trying to escape, they only got more entangled, and terribly cut on all their legs, stomachs, shoulders, and hind legs. They had almost bled to death when Dad found them next morning. He sent for the Vent, and got some neighbor men, as well as our hired hands to help him cut the barbed-wire away, and load the mules onto wagons—they were too weakened to stand or walk—and bring them home. By that time the Vet had arrived, and said the mules would have to be destroyed. Dad refused and insisted on the Vet sewing up the wounds, after first washing them with disinfectant. And Dad paid the vet double his fee. The Vet said the mules would have to be kept in a standing position, so Dad had a building built for them, with all the front screened to keep the flies away, and so the mules could see out and be better satisfied. He had the harness-maker to make “slings” that fit under each mule and so it’s feet did not touch the ground suspended from the ceiling of the building, with feed and water troughs for each. He kept the wounds clean, and the Vet visited them every other day.

In time they both recovered, only the bad scars remained. But Dad never used them for work again. When we moved to Uvalde in 1914, these mules were brought along. We still had them when our house burned four years later.

Eventually they died of old age.

Dad gave up raising the Game Cocks after wo moved from North Texas, but continued on with the bees and became one of the leading “bee men” in the Southwest. We had five different apiaries. Right around Uvalde is the only place in the world that the little shrub Guajilla grows and honey made from its flower is the finest honey in the world. This little shrub has leaves like the sensitive plant—they close when touched—and round cream colored flowers about the size of marbles—and claw-like thorns.

Dad had a glass barrel made and filled with the Guajilla honey. It was exhibited at the Texas State Fair at Dallas. The honey was so clear that a newspaper placed behind it could be easily read.

Dad had brought all our bees with us when we moved to Uvalde from North Texas. They were an extra fine strain of bees. They were used to him and wouldn’t sting him. He worked with them without gloves– but they would—and did—sting strangers. They know a stranger by their scent.

I’ll tell you more about bee-keeping and what is involved in a later story. When I start on the stories after we moved to Uvalde, this was an ill-fated move, and the start of a long series of bad luck, and sad happenings.


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Nona’s Stories: The Rock Springs Tornado

RockSpringsTornadoPictureSummer passed, and in early Winter Ray was transferred to a new plant the Power Company built at Miranda City, about 60 miles from Laredo, as Power Dispatcher.

Hanel Peterson remained at Laredo, and another man was hired as maintenance man at the new Plant.

The Company built two four-room houses near the Plant for us.

One evening in April we sat on our front porch steps and watched an awe-inspiring eerie storm cloud, which we knew was in the direction of Uvalde. It was a huge cloud, the lightning was continuous, making the cloud look as if it was aglow from within.

We were joined by neighbors, and watched with concern, fearing the storm was at Uvalde.

There were no radios then and none of us had telephones. So we didn’t know until next morning that it was a tornado that struck Rock Springs, above Uvalde in the hills.

Among the list of the dead were many people we knew, and one close friend Charles McMains, his family had lived near the Milam ranch, and he had gone to school with Ray.

A two-by-four was driven completely through his body as he was trying to rescue the children of the people he was working for. All in that family were killed.

We couldn’t see the tornado funnel from where we were, as it was more than two hundred miles from us, but I’ll never forget the sight of that cloud. It was about the worst I’ve even seen, dar, rolling, boiling clouds. Having gone through tornados when a child, I knew something of what one is like.

Once, when we were living at Victoria, we stood on our front porch and watched nine tornados at one time.

However, they were on the coastal plains between Victoria and the Bay where there were no houses.

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RockSpringsTornadoArticle

-Nona


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Nona’s Stories: Jack, Aunt Em, and Uncle Jim

One summer afternoon, a Mr. Hood—a childhood friend of Dad’s—they had gone to school together when they were boys—came back to Trenton on a visit to  old friends. He had been living back East somewhere.

He rented a horse and buggy from the Livery stable in town, and drove out to our farm to surprise Dad. But, I’m afraid it was he that got surprised!

Ralph, Harry and I were sitting on the front porch steps when the man drove up in front of our house, got out of the buggy, hitched his horse to the hitching post, came through the front yard gate –when he came through the gate, Jack placed himself in front of us kids, bared his teeth slightly, and raised the hackles on his back.

All our friends and neighbors knew and heeded this silent warning—they knew they better! For, to Jack, nobody could come too close to us kids, and especially not touch us—and to him nobody meant Nobody.

Mr. Hood was a big, jolly man, and walked up to us with a loud “Hello! There!” and reached out to pat me on the head—like lightning Jack leaped and caught his wrist, and held on.

Mother heard the man and came to see who it was. It took a lot of persuasion on her part, and Ralph’s, to convince Jack Mr. Hood was alright. And, even then, Jack kept a suspicious eye on him all the time he was there.

Jack had been trained to go for the throat of any man that tried to harm us kids, and Dad was always worried that Jack might kill some man that really wasn’t entending any harm to us. He had warned all our friends and neighbors to back off fast when Jack bared his teeth and raised his hackles—they might not get a further warning. Jack took his protection role seriously, and, when he warned anyone, he meant it.

Jack almost never barked. Sometimes there was a low, rumbling chest growl, but he never barked at anyone. The only times I ever remember him barking was when some of the mules would wander into the yard. There was a wide gate from the drive in the yard, opening into the horselot, so Dad and the men could drive the hay wagons to the big barn to unload hay into the hayloft. Sometimes they didn’t close the big gate and a mule would come into the yard. Jack would bark and drive it back into the horselot. If it came back into the yard, he didn’t bark—it got nipped and put back where it belonged. It usually stayed there.

There was little protection from the law in those days, simply because there were almost no telephones in the country homes. Dad had to pay for running the telephone lines from the two miles from Trenton to our house, so our telephone was the only one around there. When people needed the Sheriff when a crime took place, they had to go into town after him—by the time the Sheriff got there—the criminal was long gone.

At harvest time the farmers had to hire help in harvesting their crops, one man alone couldn’t do all the work. They helped each other as much as possible, but all the crops had to be harvested at the same time. They had to hire help—these men were “drifters,” both black and white—they just drifted from one place to another. No one knew who they were or where they were from. There had been some serious crimes in the county—robberies and even a few murders. Dad was concerned about the safety of Mother and us kids. So he wont to Dallas and bought Jack. He was a registered, pure bred bulldog. And he had him trained there to protect us. He was well trained and a good protector. He especially hated strange men, and wouldn’t even allow the neighbors to come into our yard unless Dad ordered him to let them in.

Jack Mackey and Lawrence Johnson were the only ones of our hired hands he trusted—except old Uncle Jim—Aunt Em’s husband. He was an aged little black man. Aunt Em had white hair, too, but somehow, to me, she never seemed old. She was a big, fat woman, but very active. No one dared call her a servant—she was Grandma Burns’ “helper.” And considered herself one of the family. She often said she was born into the family.

Her mother and father were slaves of Grandma Burns’ family back in Tenn. The Connelly family came to Texas by wagon train in 1851, and Aunt Em and Uncle Jim came with them.

Grandma Burns and Aunt Em told me stories about the wagon train trip, and Indian attacks, even after they got to Texas.

For some reason the kitchens used to be built separately from the main house. Aunt Em told me how the Indians—which she called “heathen” shot arrows at her as she ran from the house to the kitchen, and she was kept there most of the day. She was the only one that had any food, as the others were in the house, and had nothing to eat.

However, they never had any real serious Indian attacks—that is, no one was killed, though the Indians did steal some of their livestock and once burned their barn. But there was the ever threat of a possible Indian attack. All the men wore side arms, and the women had guns in the house and were taught how to use them.

Aunt Em told me once she was busy in the kitchen cooking when she looked up and saw an Indian man looking in the window. She said “she let out such a bloodcurdling scream” it must have scared him half to death, the last she saw of him he was going over the hill running like a lion was after him. Grandma Buns said probably the Indian just smelled the food cooking and was hungry. Aunt Em said she was the first black woman, probably, he ever saw, and the “heathen” must have thought she was some kind of evil spirit after him. Anyway, as far as she knew, that Indian never came back there. She said bet he had to change his pants when he got back where he came from!

Watching Aunt Em cook was my first interest in cooking. I couldn’t have been more than 3 or 4 years old, for I had to stand in a chair to watch her make “tea cakes” as she and Grandma Burns called them. They were really cookies, and I guess the reason they called them “tea cakes” was because they always had them with their afternoon cup of tea. It was always hot teas—no one had ice in those days.

I wasn’t allowed to have tea—”it wasn’t good for me” so I had a glass of milk with the “tea cakes.”

When I got married, Grandma Burns sent me some family recipes—the recipe for these ‘tea cakes’ was among them. I still have it and a copy is enclosed.

I’m sure Aunt Em could not read or write. She said she cooked “by guess and by gosh.” But, boy, how she could cook! I’ll never forget how good it was. She said her mama taught her how to cook when she was a child, and she had done a “mighty lot” of cooking since.

JackAuntEmAndUncleJim005

-Nona


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Nona’s Stories: North Texas Weather and Food

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Ralph took this picture of a “Texas Blue Norther” in the 1920’s.

We were sometimes caught in one of these famous (or infamous) “northers” – really a winter storm—on our way to or from school. Ralph, Harry and I started to school when we lived in North Texas. I was six years old then. We had to walk the two miles to school and then two miles home after school. Dutch didn’t start to school until after we moved to Uvalde.

There were no school buses then, and no cars—or bicycles.

It is very cold in the wintertime in North Texas—and very hot in the summertime.

The roads—they were not highways—were unpaved. The soil was black—and wagon wheels cut deep ruts in the muddy roads.

In Winter the ground froze and the walking was difficult.

When we were caught in one of these “blue Northers” or a snowstorm—and it snowed a great deal—we had to hold each other’s hands to keep from getting separated and lost in the storm. Sometimes our feet got so cold they were so numb we could hardly walk—and our hands really were numb—and how they hurt when we did get to school or home, it was unbearable to get near a fire.

We had to first “warm” them by holding them in cold water, and someone rubbing them to get the blood circulating.

School didn’t close until 4:p.m. and the days were short in Winter, so by thy time we walked the two miles home it was dark.

We had to get up before daylight, and leave the house right after daylight to get to school on time in the mornings, and those mornings were bitter cold, below zero, often snowing.

Some children had to walk a longer distance than we did and by the time they got to school they were so cold they would be crying from the pain of their half-frozen feet and hands.

I’ve never had too much fondness for cold or snow since then.

In the summer time it was very hot and humid—the nights almost as hot as the days. We used to sit on the front porch until almost midnight, since the house was so hot. On the nights when Old Man Cole didn’t come up to our house, and listen to the whip-poor-will calling from the wooded hill across the fields. Often it was very stormy and we were afraid a tornado would strike—and often when we did go to bed, we had to get up and make a run for the storm cellar.

And, in late summer and early fall, Mother would be canning fruits and vegetables and making jams and jellies. Of course, no one had air conditioning then. We had one of those huge cast-iron cookstoves that burned wood—and it really heated up the house.

t was my chore to pick the garden produce—peas, beans, tomatoes, etc. for canning. And, what I dreaded the most—the Blackberries and Raspberries—the stems of the vines were covered with sharp thorns. The only gloves I had were knitted wool ones—no protection from the thorns.

Dutch was two years younger than me and was never required to do any chores as she was too young. Ralph and Harry had other chores to do, so didn’t have time to help me.

All the canned fruits and vegetables, being in glass jars and liable to freezing and breaking in Winter, were stored in the storm cellar. It was lined with shelves.

Everyone raised hogs for winter meat and sausage, so the “smokehouse” was where the meats were stored. Everyone had a smokehouse—it was so called because the hams, slabs of  bacon, etc. were hung from the rafters and hickory wood chips burned to “cure” the meat so it would keep through the winter.

So, food was plentiful. We had all kinds of canned fruits and vegetables, meats, milk, butter and eggs. There were lots of chores, and work, but it was worth it.

In the Fall, Mother and Grandma made enough soap to last all year.

It was made in a huge cast-iron kettle, out in the yard.

This same big kettle was used to heat water for washing clothes.

No one had washing machines—clothes were washed on a “rub-board.”

-Nona