The Leach Place Bee Hives

June 25, 2014

Another Note from the fourth Notes book I am now writing. Do like honey?

The other day when I went walking I saw some bees flying close to the ground. They were buzzing around the in-ground water meter of the house two doors down. You could see them going in and out of a little space between the metal hatch of the meter and the concrete of it’s in ground receptacle. Where there are bees coming and going there is honey and a hive. How do you know that for certain outside of seeing that on some animal show on TV? I know about bees since TR had some hives by the big stock tank at the Leach Place.

TR dabbled in a lot of things and the bees were just another one of his pursuits. He had several wooden box hives – painted white – that were in a line, each of them had more than one cell stacked one on top of another. TR was not a professional apiarist at all and he never wore any protective gear. NO gear? Was he stung? My mom says he didn’t get stung and actually I do not remember any of us getting stung either. I guess the bees were not bothered by us being there or when TR would pull out one of the combs dripping with fresh honey to take back home. No “Killer Bees” were in those quiet country hives.

As a result we always had honey around for biscuits and other things. Sometimes we would just eat some of the comb, chewing it until the wax became a chewing gum of sorts and the sweet bee nectar was gone. I guess the bees helped pollinate TR’s wheat and alfalfa and thus their work became our sweet treat on top of hot, warm biscuits on many a morn.

Now back in the present what did I do after spotting the little hive? I did not lift up the heavy metal lid. I had no idea how many bees were in there and sure didn’t want to piss them off and get stung by a whole volley of them. Instead of being too curious I called the water department instead. What was interesting was the fact that the lady I spoke to said she had gotten another report in a different part of town of bees having a hive in the meter there.

Well, are the bees seeking new real estate? Is this phenomena part of their numbers dwindling for some unknown reason or plague? I trust the City won’t simply blast them with Diazinon and will instead scoop them up Queen, combs, workers, and all and take them to some new, safe plant filled place to buzz around.

I hope they are not stricken by whatever is killing many of our bees; hopefully they will thrive wherever they wind up going. A world without bees and their fresh sweet honey will not be a very sweet world at all.
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Spending The Night With TR After Muh Died.

June 23, 2014

Another tale that will be part of “Notes About Growing Up And Kin” one day.

After Muh died I have a memory of TR driving down to Denton and picking me up to spend the night with him in Valley view. My mom does not recall that but I do for a couple of reasons which I outline below.

I remember TR pulling into our gravel drive way in his white Buick Electra. He came down on a Saturday during the spring, the day was cool with some low grey clouds streaming north with the breeze – the weather at that instant was a clue to what would happen later on.

One of the two things I recall was what he made for our supper that night. It was a simple southern dish called soft-fried potatoes and onions. One sliced potatoes and onions and friend them oil until they were soft on the inside and crisp on the outside. We ate them up and I think TR sprinkled some “pepper sauce” – peppers in white vinegar in a little bottle – on his (my mom says he would not have put that on his spuds). I don’t know if I did but I still like pepper sauce regardless of when I started using it. The soft-fried spuds I don’t indulge in much now since my diabetes would not like it so. But back to that day or night.

I slept with TR in his big bed on the side by the window on the house’s east side. During the night there was a big thunderstorm – remember the grey clouds that morning? They were s sign of what was then raging above our heads. At some point there was a HUGE thunderclap that shook the windows and seemingly the whole house. Such things are not rare in Texas as you know since Tornado Alley drops its southern end across the Red River into my part of the State. I do not know if I woke TR up after that big thunderclap or not. Or if I was scared but my mom tells me he never worried about the storms or if a tornado came near or actually hit. He never seemed to worry about things he could not control. And then I guess I must have gone back asleep. I do not recall more after that point; I guess I was too little to remember much else.

While TR arriving, the good food, and the big thunder are all I recall of that day and night it shines out of the darkness of past memories like a lightning bolt sharp and clear.


Going To Church In Valley View

June 21, 2014

Another tale from Valley View, Texas that will be in my next book.

Going To Church In Valley View

Growing up in Texas, the so-called buckle of the Bible belt, attending church on Sunday was a common thing to do. Being country folk by descent and fact we too went to worship on Sundays. When I was little we went to the Church of Christ on the northeast side of Valley View’s square in between Turner Grocery and the lumber yard.

What is the Church Of Christ you ask if you live outside of the south? The Church Of Christ is a fundamentalist denomination without a ruling hierarchy – each church rules itself – which believes in full baptism, uses no musical instruments in worship, and does not allow dancing, mixed swimming, or drinking alcohol. Our family broke those last three rules but that is another story for later on.

On Sundays we would drive up from Denton to worship there. During the drive up I-35 Mom would have us practice our weekly Bible verses we were supposed to memorize for Sunday School. We would arrive at the square and go inside. If we spent the night in Valley View on Saturday, which we did many times, we just drove up Lee Street to the church instead.

The church itself was not big at all. It was set up on a slab or pier and beam foundation with a set of steps leading up to its front door. The building sat southwest to northeast unlike the rest of the buildings on the square. It was kind of hard to miss and was the only church on the square although the Methodist Church was just a tad off of it. Like most of the buildings in town it was not fancy or uppity at all and built of brick and wood with a small, short white steeple at its door.

Sunday School was first and we went into a little room by the alter at the church’s back, or another one when we were older, and sat at a table to be taught The Word by some older lady or man. We would read verses or go over parables and learned what they meant in terms little kids could understand. We were in there with kids we knew from around town; even though we did not live there they were our friends and knew who we were. After church we played with them sometimes too.

When the sermon in the sanctuary began, so did my torture so to speak. It was not Hell on Earth but sitting in the pews and being still and quiet for an hour was trying to say the least – my thoughts were on lunch or playing with some of our cousins at our grandparent’s houses or one of the farms. We always sat in the back with my mom and her friend Betty who worked at the bank. The service was pretty structured and was almost always the same. Sing four songs before the sermon, hear the sermon, sing the invitation song for those seeking baptism, baptize someone if they accepted the invitation, say a prayer before the Lord’s Supper and offering, have the Lord’s Supper and offering, and then sing the closing song, hear announcements, and say a closing prayer. Then go home or to a relative’s for lunch. And get out of one’s suit and tie which was the usual attire in those days – no casual dress at church was allowed back then. And next week the cycle was repeated pretty much the same for years until we were older.

Nowadays I seldom, if ever, go to church for a variety of reasons. In fact none of us have attended the Church Of Christ since my high school days. In more recent years I went to Unity – not Unitarian – with Stephanie, which I wrote about in those two books. That denomination is completely opposite to the Church Of Christ in many ways but I liked it still. I did not agree with a lot of what they preached either, just as I did not agree with the Church Of Christ’s teachings many times, but it was a comfortable, spiritual place to hear The Word. And learn about many other things too. I guess no denomination is “perfect” for me since I’m a “Doubting Thomas” a lot of the time (remember that in the Bible?).

But even with doubt and coming to dislike the Church Of Christ I am still thankful for what it gave me, namely a sense of right and wrong and the fact there is something larger than just our own selves and lives. Plus the eternal truth of the Golden Rule which applies to so many things in life and work each and every day.

We could all do worse than hear The Word in a small country church and carry its lessons forward down life’s road to guide what we do every day that we live and love with those around us.


Valley View National Bank

June 18, 2014

My Granddad Couch’s bank was an interesting place. Banking is not always boring you see.

The Clem Turner family owned a grocery store on the Valley View square and my other granddad, TR Couch, owned the little country bank across from it. Like Turner Grocery it had some interesting things about it too.

When you walked in the front door, you could see Turner grocery out of the windows of course, was TR’s glass paned open topped office. It was not fancy having an old wooden desk and little else except for a loaded .22 pistol in it in case he was robbed. He WAS robbed but he never used it.

Next to his office there was the teller area with the vault at its end. There were three teller “cages” and places for old adding machines where the tellers also posted transactions on each customer’s ledger and places to file their checks away too. There were three tellers when I was young: my aunt Mildred Seyler, Betty King (my mom’s friend who we sat by in church), and Claudine Harris who TR later married after his wife, “Muh” (Inez was her real name) died to my mom’s great distress (which is another story entirely).

At the end of the cages there was door to board room. In it was a long wooden conference table where the Directors met. While TR owned around 90% of the stock he still had Directors who were customers, friends, and sometimes a relative too.

The real interesting part of the place was in the back, just as was the case at Turner grocery. Back there was a bunch of junk but amongst the junk was an old-fashioned foot powered organ which actually still mostly worked. After seeing TR and everyone up front we would go back there and try to stamp out a tune or two. Since my sister and I took organ and piano lessons we actually knew some things to play. Since pushing the petals was not so easy we did not play too long, or well, either, and went back up front or left.

Going back to the front, the customer side of the cages had beautiful grey marble on their counter tops. I guess the usually “tight” TR splurged some on that, eh? I actually have a piece of it in my garage I one day want to turn into some cutting boards to give to my kids. I got the piece by accident one when I was in “VV” – Valley View’s shorter form the locals use – and saw someone doing some work in the long closed bank. A family was opening some type of antique store and was in there working away, I went in, introduced myself, told them I was TR’s grandson, and they let me look around. And more importantly they gave me that strip of marble since they were just going to throw it away. Funny how that works, something once valuable is later just a bunch of junk but not to me in this case.

When TR got to retirement age he sold the bank and moved down to Denton. But the old building remained a bank for a while until the new owners –Lowell Miller and others – built a modern building on I-35 north of town. The old building remained empty and quiet for years. The new bank remained open until the 1980s Texas banking, oil, and real estate crisis and was gobbled up by one of the banks in Gainesville and became just one of its faceless branches.

As an aside, the bank was robbed after TR sold it by some robbers who literally landed in a helicopter and went in pointing their guns one day. My aunt Mildred still worked there and we heard all of the details from her – the robbers were never caught and the copter was found abandoned northwest of town in someone’s cow pasture right by a dirt road. I wonder what TR would have done if he had seen that but by then he had passed on and was buried across the road from the new bank in VV’s little cemetery.

Today the old bank building is empty and unused, as is the new bank building too. Things change like businesses coming and going but some things remain too – like that piece of marble whose eternal hardness will outlast my memories of it and the bank of course too.


Turner Grocery

June 10, 2014

Here is another one from the in-process fourth Notes book. This one is about my Dad’s family’s grocery store in Valley View, Texas.

My dad’s family had a little grocery store on Valley view’s town square. My granddad Clem Turner was the butcher and my grandmother Leta Bell ran the front and the cash register. There was another grocer across the square, their competition Sloan’s. Theirs was called simply Turner Grocery; it was on the east side of the square by the Church Of Christ which we attended and Buzzy’s Pool Hall where my dad was a pool shark in his younger days so they say.

When you went inside the store it was organized with usual aisles and the butcher counter was in the back. Clem was back there in a white apron and wearing one of those white paper hats to trap his hair. Since he did not have much hair when I around I am not sure what the point of that was except it was a habit. The hat was ALWAYS one with “Mrs. Baird’s Bread” on it; there is a picture of him with one on.

Up front was the register and my favorite part of store – the toy rack. Do you remember in the old days a little grocery having a rack of little plastic army men, trucks, dolls sets, and maybe some plastic models? If so picture that and that is what was there. I can recall my dad getting a model for me and gluing it together or getting a bag of army men to play with out in the dirt someplace. In that time, a little hunk of plastic made a child smile and occupied them for hours. No smart phone or computer was needed, or around.

At closing time, my grandparents would clean up. They would toss some “red stuff” on the floor and sweep it up. I’ll have to look up what that was one day.

Besides the mercantile portion of the store, the back of the store was really the most intriguing part of the place. The interesting thing was not the boxes of stock there but the fact that there was a table and a gas space heater around which the old men of the town gathered to play dominoes. Picture the town’s grizzled elders squinting at the dominoes under a dim light bulb on a cord surrounded by boxes with the space heater’s red glowing bricks sort of keeping them warm on a cold, winter day. I guess my grandparents were doing some community service by having an unofficial “senior center” before anyone thought of doing such a thing. Or maybe they thought the men might just buy more groceries too. Possibly the latter if I had to bet in a forced choice way.

Sometimes one of my older cousins would work at the store. I remember one Saturday night when we spent the night at the Turner house seeing my cousin Brad Calhoun drinking a quart bottle of Dr. Pepper while we watched TV.

Finally, the Turner family was even then entwined with my mom’s family the Couch’s. Not by blood or marriage but by finances. How? My mom’s dad, TR, who owned the little country bank there – Valley View National Bank – lent Clem and Leta the money to open up the store. While they were not “buddies” they did go hunting or fishing together some which shows how business was done in small towns then. The businesses and the customers were the community as a whole. You had to be honest and good to people since everyone knew everybody else and gossip spread faster than a prairie wildfire on a gusty day. TR was not a saint in some ways but he was always respected as was Clem who apparently had a grouchy side. Later you will see that the two families wound up living across the street from each other on south Lee Street. And of course my mom and dad started dating after that point – it was convenient to have your significant other across the street, but also maybe not with two sets of parents’ eyes looking out the window at you.

Thus as you see families become linked to each other in more than one way in small towns. They do business with each other, they intermarry, and the cycle repeats itself over the generations that are born there, move there, live there, and then are buried in their little cemeteries as much of my family has and is. In our big, diffuse, mobile urban culture we have lost that sense of “oneness” that one place and an extended family being close by once gave us.


Combining The Wheat

June 6, 2014

Another Note for the fourth Notes book in rough form. A tale of playing in the wheat on hot summer days…

Two things related to the Roach place that were at the core of a lot of family activities growing up was going to the picnic ground and combining the wheat. TR had wheat at all of his places except Duck Creek but the wheat field next to the picnic grounds made those two places forever intertwined in my memories.

Combining the wheat was a family project many times. The grown men would drive the combine and drive the flat bed truck used to haul it to the grain elevator by the railroad tracks in Valley View. Sometimes we kids would take turns riding on someone’s lap on the combine. The machine would go back and forth with the cutter snipping the wheat stalks and it would go into its maw. The grain would be separated from the chaff and stored in the hopper behind the driver’s seat. The chaff spewed out the back and would later be plowed under to enrich the soil. The dust & chaff would circle around us and the hot sun shined down on us all.

When the hopper was full the combine would be driven to the grain truck and the grain dumped into it. And that is when the fun for us kids really began. We then played in the wheat.

With no beach anywhere near Valley View the grain in the truck became a beach of sorts for us. We would scoop it up, roll around in it, and make hills with it just like you would do at a beach. Sand gets everywhere it shouldn’t at the ocean and the wheat did the same. But the wheat was easier to rid one’s self of however. It was innocent fun at the farm: of course now OSHA would probably say doing that was unsafe.

When the grain truck was full, someone would drive it into town and dump it off at the elevator and return to the farm. And this cycle went on until sunset each day until the wheat field behind the berm was cut. The same was true for the other fields too. And while the work in the fields stopped at dark the fun part really got going then at the picnic grounds many days.

After the work was done we gathered for a weenie roast at the picnic grounds tucked under the big trees by Spring Creek. I can recall as the sun went down seeing the lights of a relative’s pickup truck coming down the hill past the barn towards the waiting fire, food, and drinks. When everyone was assembled we would spear the dogs with some sticks and roast them until black and crisp. Then onto a bun they would go with mustard and consumed quickly enough too. All of it was washed down with some soft drinks or a beer if you were grown. At times we would spend the night down there too sleeping on army surplus cots or on TR’s bed springs under one big tree with blankets or quilts on top while watching the stars and satellites until we fell asleep until dawn under the canopy of the bright, summer Milky Way.

We did things there during the day too. After TR retired he had a big BBQ there for his friends and former customers. He was not a big joker but sometimes he had a mischievous thought or two. He said something like he wanted to pour some Everclear into the big metal water jug filled with lemonade to “get the do-gooders drunk”. He was referring to some of the Baptist and Church Of Christ members who would attend.

Under the trees we had some swings, one was a regular two chain variety and the other was a single chain “round swing”. The round swing was once my nemesis since I fell off of it face first into a big, fresh cow paddy – yes the cattle grazed there too. I picked myself up and ran screaming for my mom down to the creek to wash it all off.

Finally there was sometimes a big garden down there filled with vegetables that we all devoured. But I never liked working in the yard or the garden even though I enjoyed the abundance of fun and food.

As you can see we did a lot of things around the wheat and the picnic grounds, wonderful things that I still fondly recall. Well most of them were wonderful since falling into that cow paddy was NOT wonderful at all!


The Leach Place, Duck Creek, & The Hundred Acres

June 4, 2014

This will be in the fourth book one day, “Notes About Me: Stories About Growing Up And Kin”.

Besides the magical Roach place I hold so dear there were other places out from Valley View where mom’s family gathered and worked. In no particular order they were the Leach Place, Duck Creek, and the Hundred Acres. All of these pieces of land were farmed by TR. Each of them had some special things about them or some unique thing that made times there fun.

Unlike the Roach & Leach places, plus the Hundred Acres, TR leased Duck Creek. I have a faint memory of him sometimes having a few head of cattle there but mostly it was an empty pasture southwest of Valley View. Empty except when we went dove and quail hunting there. The hunting was a group affair and sometimes some of the Turner side of the family was nearby too like the Calhoun’s – Uncle Billy Mac and my cousins Butch and Brad. Outside of walking the quail with Dad’s birddog Lady or sitting by a fence line waiting for the doves at sunset, sometimes getting splattered with birdshot pellets from someone’s shot from afar, the sharpest thing I recall was when I accidentally shot a bobcat there.

Dad and I were walking by a little seasonal branch which was mostly dry on one cold winter day and suddenly something jumped out of the branch and I reacted out of reflex and blasted it with my .20 gauge shotgun. It was a bobcat and I shot it dead. We should have went home then if we wanted it stuffed since when we returned home to Denton it was stiff as a board. It could not be stuffed but it scared my sister’s cat Witchiepoo to death when I held it up in front of her. In my mind Duck Creek is synonymous with shooting that bobcat even now, that memory is crystal clear and etched into my mind even after forty years or more have gone by.

The Hundred Acres did not create a dramatic memory like that bobcat did but had quieter things about it to recall. That place was once owned by TR’s mom and dad and he bought it later when he was grown. That piece of land, which sits by I-35 south of Valley view and maybe a mile north of the Denton County Line was a big wheat field. The rectangular plot was flat and was perfect for a combine to swim though when the sea of wheat was tall and brown. However, the northeast corner of the land, not far from the road that went up the hill to the Roach place, was reserved for a small plot of corn. Many times we roasted and ate that corn down at the picnic grounds on the Roach place when it was dark and the combining was done for the day. When I drive by it heading north on I-35 I can gaze across it now, even with the south end of it now covered by some workshops, businesses, and sheds, and picture a another time when I was little out in the wheat or its stubble with my family and watching my Dad or TR driving the combine on a hot summer day

Finally, the Leach place was something altogether different. It had a wheat field like the Roach Place or the Hundred Acres did, but it had its own unique features too. Besides the wheat it had a pasture, which connected to the Roach place, & small barn, two stock tanks (ponds to you Yankees) which had fish which we caught, a small gorge that had fossils in the gravel of its sides, and TR’s beehives too. And another pasture where my Dad and I went “wolf calling” – I’ll write about that later since you might not know what that is.

Speaking of the bees, we certainly enjoyed eating the honey or the combs. Many of our beloved Aunt Sissie’s (my mom’s sister Mildred, may she rest in peace, on whose birthday I was born) biscuits got covered with it and butter in those days. And we fried up the fish we sometimes caught from the two tanks which the bees were by. Once upon a time I had a box with aquatic fossils pulled from the little gorge down the hill from the tanks. I have no idea now if they were trilobites or who knows what type of long dead sea creatures they were but just having them made the place more special to me.

As you can see all of the TR’s “places” were, like people, unique with their own charms. In the current age when most folks are set in cookie cutter urban areas surrounded by endless concrete and choked by constant crowds, few of us have had the chance to be graced by such things People might be more relaxed if they could be around a pasture with only the sound of the wind or the birds in the ears or sit by a pond catching some fish with fossils by their feet on a pretty day with wispy cirrus clouds forever streaming above their heads just as time streams by us all in the end.