Today in a bit I’ll be heading to the Ware family farm. My grandfather bought the land in parcels, ending up with just over 140 acres of East Texas red dirt. He managed to keep it through the Depression.
The farmhouse we have today — the one I’ll be staying in tonight — was only built in 1939-40. Dad moved into it as a high school senior. Until then, the family had not had a house with electricity, running water, or plumbing. Neither of the two wood houses they lived in prior to 1940 still exists, but we know where they were. The first was quite primitive, with a packed dirt floor, as I recall Dad saying.
The house they moved into in 1940 had three regular bedrooms and one small room that held a 3/4 bed; it also had a living room, dining room, kitchen, and a bathroom. Family stories about the bathroom are quite funny. Granddad, it seems, wasn’t convinced that it was hygienic to have the toilet so close to the kitchen, but Grandmother (who one of my dad’s first cousins refers to as “a progressive woman,” was determined to have it. She won. The bathroom was built, adjacent to the kitchen. But Granddad built an outhouse and, I understand, used it for a while before he gave in about hygiene.
That house ended with the bathroom and kitchen — both had doors leading to a small porch that stepped down to the backyard. However, after Granddad sold timber in 1956 or so, he built on an enclosed back porch, a small room for storage, and one more bedroom, large enough to hold two double beds and a crib. That back porch enclosed the well that we used for water. Though the well was connected to an electric water pump, there were times when we had to haul water from it by hand. Only in the 1990s did we get “city” water. That’s kind of funny, in a way — we are five miles or so out of the “big” town of San Augustine, which has a population of maybe 2500 people. Only in the 1970s or 80s did we get connected to the gas main — until then we had a propane tank.
This is the house now:
The farm is very much in the country. I tell people it’s in San Augustine, but that’s not quite true. It’s in San Augustine County, but it’s not in town. It’s five miles or so out of town, in a tiny community called Bland Lake. It’s country, clearly:
There’s a lot of pasture land now, and our barn’s still standing. Sort of:
Both my grandparents’ families were from this area. The Wares came to this area in the 1830s, just before the Texas Revolution. Some other ancestors on that same side came about the same time. My grandmother Ware’s family, however, were relative newcomers — they moved to San Augustine in 1900, leaving Barbour County, Alabama, for an area that friends had already moved to, and wrote back about.
San Augustine and Nacogdoches, Texas, have an ongoing disagreement about which is the oldest settlement in Texas. San Augustine is also known as the point of entry for the border area between it and Louisiana (known as No-Man’s Land). The town is also known for feuds along the lines of the Hatfields-McCoys. With a violent past, it had its last shootout in the 1930s, and my aunt and grandmother were in town when that happened. The problem was considered serious enough that TWO — TWO — Texas Rangers were sent in to take care of it.
Granddad farmed with a horse and mules. Only when he sold the timber in 1956 did he buy a tractor — and a new truck — and build on to the house. The main crop was cotton, of course. He also grew corn and potatoes and watermelon. I can remember helping to pick corn and get potatoes. I also remember getting in trouble for plugging watermelons with my older boy cousins — until Granddad put a stop to it, sternly. He sold most of them for cash, another source of income.
Grandmother had her “truck patch.” Most farm wives did. Hers was, at its peak, pretty large. I remember going up and down rows of peas and butter beans and other vegetables, sweating, with my little bonnet on that she’d made. She always wore her own bonnet, long sleeves, and gloves — ladies didn’t get tanned, even farm wives. She also milked and gathered eggs. I loved to help with that — though I couldn’t milk worth anything. Gathering eggs was much easier, and feeding the chickens was a neat chore.
My grandmother didn’t have a washing machine until the 1950s — and we still have it. It was a ringer-type washer, and I was always fascinated by it. We don’t use it, of course — but it still sits in the shed.
Dad and his brother and sister helped out, as farm kids did, and they’d laugh as they told us what it was like to run barefoot on the hot dirt as they picked cotton. They’d tell us about using a kerosene lamp to read and study by.
By the time I was born, none of the three kids was on the farm. Dad worked for Sun Oil Company and lived in Beaumont. Uncle James worked for Sun Pipe Line and lived in Louisiana, though he ended up in Beaumont as well. My Aunt Mildred lived in Fort Worth, where she and her husband and two boys lived; she’d moved up there during World War II to work in a war-related plant, as so many did. None of the grandchildren ever lived there either.
Grandmother died in 1962; Granddad died a couple of years later. Yet the farm remains in the family. For Dad and his siblings, this was home. For us grandkids, it’s not home, but it’s special. We spent many hours roaming the pastures, playing in the ditches and barn, and wandering where we weren’t always supposed to be. One of my earliest memories, in fact, is here — when Dad was in the hospital in Beaumont for goiter surgery, I was at the farm with my grandparents, and feeling very lonely. I can remember lying in bed in the fireplace bedroom, looking out the window at the pasture, and crying. Granddad came in to hum to me and comfort me. I was, at the time, probably 3. This view is close to what I remember, though it’s in daytime, not night:
Over the years, we’ve worked on making the house safe and comfortable. We get together several times a year there, working on one project for three days or so each time. It’s work time, but also family time. We take turns being responsible for meals, and we sit around at night and talk a lot. And laugh a lot, too.
Though it isn’t a working farm, we lease out pasture to a cousin’s husband; he runs cattle on it. Since he’s there every day at least once, we are comfortable knowing that someone has an eye out for us. If he doesn’t look at things, another cousin (who lives just down the road), drives by and keeps us informed of any activity, especially related to oil or gas-related lease information; he’s the county surveyor, too, as his dad (my dad’s first cousin) was.
It’s a small county, after all.
This weekend is the weekend of the Richards family reunion. Grandmother Ware was a Richards; her father began the reunion tradition. Until this year, it was always held on Labor Day weekend. Now, we’ve moved it to October, when it’s a bit cooler.
There were, I think, 12 Richards children — my dad had something like 35 first cousins just from the Richards side. Grandmother’s last sister died in 2010– at 104 1/2 — and she wasn’t the youngest. Now the first cousins are the eldest, and I’m in “the younger generation” in their 60s. Of course, there are a lot of our age- group’s children and even grandchildren by now. It’ll be interesting to see how many turn out tomorrow; attendance numbers have fallen over the years.
When I hit the road in a bit, I’ll be driving for three hours or so, with one stop to rest my legs a bit. I don’t take the same route we always traveled, though — that route takes me on two-land roads, twisting and turning through Louisiana and Texas. Instead, I head up to North Louisiana to Many on a four-land road, much improved. At Many, I take my break, then head west over Pendleton Bridge into East Texas, and finally take the two-lane road to San Augustine, out of it, past the small church and cemetery where Mother and Dad and Phil and other family members are buried, and then turn left on a farm-to-market road to the farm. I’ll unload the food I’m bringing for tonight’s supper and for tomorrow’s reunion. I’ll unload my small suitcase and put it in the fireplace bedroom that Dad always used.
It’s not that far, in miles, but it’s a long trip in memories and laughter and tears. I can’t wait.