Introduction to my being, while soul searching for answers to my life.
I can not say that I remember much of the night of December 1; 1955.The family was at home and as with most nights was early to bed. My youngest sister, Mary was five years old and quite a handful. Blond until she was two, her hair was turning much darker until it turned a dark burnet where it remained for the rest of her life. My brother, Robert (Bobby to the family) was thirteen and restless. He was slender with coal black hair and a beauty mark on his cheek. He was truly developing into a handsome young man even though going through puberty and adolescence in a house of women had to have its challenges for him. He was very close to Mary and would spend his time caring for her and watching after her. Meme, the oldest child still at home was only a few years older than Bobby and appeared to be from a different family. She was red headed, very fair and heavily freckled. She grew to actually be quite beautiful. She was obsessed with her beauty and spent precious time grooming herself and styling her hair. She was in her teens and had mastered the art of flirting with boys, all boys.
Momma, heavy in weight, short and stout was a strong woman at age forty five. She worked hard days and nights to provide for the family with the means she was provided with by our Father, who at the time, was fifty two. I don’t know what my Father did for a living at the time and only know that I was cramped, uncomfortable and was arranging my position for escape.
The house was a simple wood frame home owned by my Father’s youngest sister, our Aunt Rose. The house was in the heart of downtown Freehart but was mysteriously perched on the edge of an abandoned gravel quarry. The quarry made a wonderful play area for my sisters and brother but I was not to learn of the quarry until much later in life.
The night of December 1, 1955 must have been as any other night at home with no television or creature comforts of the modern homes of the era. My siblings were all in bed and expected to have been fast asleep. Meme was disturbed by the rumbling around of adults and the hurried escape during the middle of the night. The siblings were put back to rest by the comfort of our Aunt Rose who had shown up sometime during the night to look after them and to ensure their safety. Several days would pass before they would see our mother again.
The night drew longer and longer. The pain my mother experienced was excruciating and regrettable. After several hours, I did win the fight and pushed my way to freedom. At 1:05 AM on December 2, 1955, I drew my first breath of real air and became me.
Ten months and ten pounds ago, I was expected to be the symptoms of change in a woman’s life that allowed her to cross from the monthly plague of menstruation to menopause; freeing her from the fears and threats of pregnancy; yet into the era of hot flashes and chemical changes affecting the female body. Not this time. I was a ‘Change of Life’ baby to a family already in full blossom and already branching out new limbs of the family tree.
My birth came to most as a shock instead of a welcomed surprise. I have been told throughout my life that no one, not even my Mother new that I was on the way. I was told of how angry my older sisters and sister-in-laws were with my Mother for having a child at her mature age. To them, it was just not right. Far be it for me to decide or to know, but I would think that a mature woman, who had already given birth seven times and had three still births, would know that she was pregnant regardless of her age or physical condition. My Mother was a very private woman and never spoke of private matters. She had a hard life as a child and married young. She had provided for her family and ensured that her husband was well fed and properly serviced. The business of her pregnancy and her life was hers to keep to herself, only bearing to share when the time and conditions forced no other recourse.
What a day it must have been to see a TAXI coming down the street and pulling into the driveway without turning to the left as the road dictated. The driveway was dirt and the TAXI drove right up to the house. The children must have been in aw; for they knew of no one who could have afforded to hire a TAXI. The driver opened the door to the rear passenger side where he assisted my Mother in stepping out. There I was, bundled in her arms to be viewed for the fist time by my siblings. We had arrived at home. I was home and I was me.
We lived only a short time there, in that little house, in Freehart after my birth. Daddy was a laborer and was always moving the family to find better means to live by. I do remember a specific event while living there that I would like to share. People often wonder and ponder over their first childhood memory. I do not have to wonder. I remember mine vividly. As if just yesterday, I was sitting in the kitchen sink laden with soap and suds. It was an old cast iron sink with stained white enamel and a molded back splash. Mounted to the wall, it had two water faucets coming out of the wall above the back splash of the sink. There were no cabinets to remember or paint on the wall. A dark, unpainted, dreary wall with a sink mounted to it. There in that sink, I was getting a sponge bath by my Mother. Soon, I was lifted up, wrapped in a towel and carried away to be dried. There is not much more of the Freehart house that I can share with you until 1969 and then in 2007.
The cabinet doors under the kitchen sink were painted white and held back wonders to a curious toddler of two years old. I remember finding all sorts of wonderful things under that sink. One of which was a coffee can, short, round, red and rusted. It seemed to have a metal lid that snapped on but was no match to my wit at the time. However, the contents were clumsy and bothersome to me as I spilled them onto the kitchen floor. Nuts, bolts, washers and screws of all sizes and shapes cascaded out of the can and into a pile on the floor. This actually turned out to be a good thing for my curiosity. I could see everything that was in that can and was able to sort through the rubble of metal fittings until I found just the right item. It was the size of a nickel and resembled its color and shape with the exception of a hole in the middle. Ah, it had an unusual taste; metal, I would grow to learn, is not a desirable taste for the pallet. Needless, to say, it went down rather smoothly.
How Mary knew what had transpired is beyond me. All I could hear from then on was her running from the house to the milking barn, the screen door slamming behind her. The dairy cattle were milked in the milking stalls located just outside the kitchen door and down a short sidewalk. Mary was screaming at the top of her little lungs. ”Jeffery swallowed a nickel!” Mary’s yelling got attention, alright. Into the house came my frustrated Mamma followed by my sister Meme, brother Bobby and another man. There I sat, in the midst of the nuts, bolts and metal wonders that the coffee can under the kitchen sink had revealed. Suddenly, my head was jerked back, my mouth pried open with everyone’s eyes all peering in from every angle. Not finding any harm done, my Mother returned to the dairy barn to continue milking while my sisters were instructed to pick up the metal collage on the floor and put the coffee can away.
Spring time brought dewberries and homemade dewberry cobbler. I loved dewberries any which way; right off the vine, with cream and sugar, sugar alone, and especially in a cobbler. My Momma made two different types of dewberry cobbler. My least favorite cobbler was one baked in a large pot with a clump of dough that baked along with the dewberries and sugar. It was doughy, seedy and just not my kind of cobbler. My favorite, above all else, was the cobbler made of sweet dewberry juice layered between thin layers of pie crust baked crisp with sugar on top. That is my favorite to this day.
Dewberries grew wild and anyone who had the gumption to make dewberry cobbler, jelly or juice had to have the wherewithal to collect the berries themselves or pay high prices to those who collected the berries to sell. We never bought berries but we sure picked a peck or two each year. My mother was quite fortunate to have dewberry vines along the fence line across the creek from the house in Willing. The creek was dry and overgrown with thistle, vines, briars and every type of clinging obstacle to protect the berries growing on the opposite bank. My Momma was determined when it came to berry picking and found a way to go along the house side of the creek bank until she found a clear spot to get to the other side.
Bobby, Mary and I paid no attention to where Mom had gone; Mary and I were interested in play and Bobby was to be watching over us as we entertained ourselves in the side yard along the creek bank. Everyone was fine until I saw a familiar figure across the creek. By golly it was Momma! She had worked her way along the fence line on the opposite ridge gathering berries by the pail. She was crossing over and through the barbed wire fence like there were no barbs on it. I lost all attention as to what Marie and Bill were doing and stared over to Mommy.
Before I know what had happened, I heard heart stopping, blood curdling screams that drowned out every sense that I had as a toddler. I could not move nor focus. Only through blurred vision did I look down to see my naked feet wrapped and tangled among the briars and vines that prevented me from wandering any farther away from the yard and toward my Mom. The screams came from me. Never did I ever think that my little lungs could cry out so loudly that birds would take flight from the surrounding trees. I was mesmerized by the pain in my feet and legs and could only see and hear in slow motion. I watched her as I heard my Mother yell in an undisrupted voice “Get that baby!”
Within seconds I was swinging toward the sky! My brother, Bobby, had grabbed me from behind by my underarms and pulled me straight up out of the briars that tortured my little feet. I was crying with pain and one would think that I would have learned, even at such a young age, to never venture beyond the green lawn grass again. However, I continued my life learning valuable lessons, experiencing pain and venturing off the soft and proven paths.
Another memory from my young life in Willing was formed on one very hot day. It was fun to play in the cool water from the faucet and Bill and Marie had gathered a few five gallon buckets that lard had come in. Two lard buckets were filled with water and I was lifted up and sit down into the cool water to play. The bucket was a perfect fit for me as it came to my underarms while standing. I remember Marie had to squat down inside of her bucket to get the water to her neck. Bill was far to large for a five gallon bucket so he filled a wash tub and sit it in with legs and arms hanging out. It was funny to see us all in a row, sitting in our water buckets, splashing and having a good ole cooling off. Only after many years and with clarification from my brother, did I find out that there was no bath in the house and these play times in the cold water were alternates for baths, some much needed.
I don’t have many memories of Meme during our stay in Willing. She was flirting with, and being wooed by, a tall slim American Native, Daniel. She soon married Dan and was pregnant with her only child; a daughter, Jody. Dan did not work much so they had moved back in with us until Dan was able to find work to support his new family. It was not long after we left Willing that Meme divorced Dan and went out on her own as a single mom. However; her daughter, Jody, came to live with us and would assume a roll as my little sister for many months. My understanding is that Meta worked as a carhop and a waitress from time to time until she met her second husband; a truck driver she met while working at a truck stop diner.
“My name is Jeff” I said to the neighbor boy as I played on the corner of Garland Street and 3rd Street. “I’m three” I responded after he said that his name was Ray and he was four. We met at that corner for the first time. My parents were down the street at the cow pen where we had just situated the milk cow after the move to Pledging from Willing. The town was a small town with streets in a square grid. There was our side of the highway that was only two streets deep and 6 streets wide. Then there was the other side of the highway and the railroad tracks. All of the streets were made of crushed shell, graded and smoothed into a road. The dry shell powder created tremendous dust clouds when anyone drove down any street. The large pieces of shell were rough and sharp edges made it nearly impossible to walk barefoot on the roads. Garland Street was the last street over from the highway and Wood Avenue was the second. We lived on Wood Avenue between 3rd and 4th street. Ray lived on the corner of Garland and 3rd. The backs of our houses were separated by a grassy alley. There were many vacant lots and there was no rhythm or rhyme to the styles of the houses in the community. Everyone used a post office box but many years later, the county came in and numbered the houses. Our house was given the number 17811. Mail was still delivered to post office boxes as the house numbers meant nothing more than numbers for property identification.
Pledging was a small farming community that also housed fishermen and off shore workers. It is in Matagorda county and considered part of the Gulf Coastal area. We lived in Pledging for a very long time. I moved away from home at twenty three so twenty years of my life were experienced right there in that little spot on the road. We were 18 miles from Wharton to the West, 21 miles from Bay City to the East and West Columbia was 18 miles to the North.
Pledging was situated along the railroad tracks between the coast and Gulf, Texas. It had one flashing red light at the “Y” intersection that joined the roads from Wharton/New Gulf, with Bay City and West Columbia. Gulf was a company town owned and operated by TGS. It was a very clean and well structured company town; complete with shopping, a hospital, a nine whole golf course and country club. The elementary school that I attended was part of the Independent School District and was in Gulf. My second to the eldest sister, Molly, lived there with her husband and two children; Randy, two weeks younger than I, and Sally, a year younger. Molly had another daughter, Linda, a few years later, after they moved onto a nice piece of land just outside of Gulf. Randy and I were nine years old when Linda was born. Gulf was by far the best place to “Trick or Treat”. Molly’s neighbors, when she lived in town, had a haunted back yard and the streets were alive with hoards of costumed children. Of course there were the pranksters as well but we all had fun on Halloween in Gulf during the early years of my life in the area.
Pledging had a US post office, two general merchandise stores, two gas stations, two beer joints and more churches than I can count. It was a neighborhood of blacks and whites living side by side; poor, humble and making it day by day. In many ways it was a nice quite place to grow up and in other ways, it contributed to my yearning to move on and eventually to stay away.
The move to Pledging was a hard move. We had built up a small bank of farm animals in Willing and we had to move them all to Pledging. Onto a small city block, into pens and onto vacant lots that my Father rented, we were able to make them all fit. The chickens had the worst move of us all. The trailer was outfitted with a wooden frame, covered all around in chicken wire. Loose chickens and the chicken coops were placed inside. I remember the chickens flapping their wings wildly during the trip. We lost several as they panicked to death. My brother, Bobby, 16 at the time, drove the car pulling the chicken trailer and sure seemed nervous about the whole ordeal.
Soon after we settled in Pledging, Bill disappeared. He had joined the army to make a better life for himself. I missed him so and cried often for his return. My Mother and sister, Mary, missed him sorely as well. I can not say that I missed him more but he surely was my hero and the one staple in my young life that showed me love, made me laugh and put sparkles in my eyes. Once, upon a visit from the army in 1959, he greeted the family in full military dress. He was the most handsome, strong and dashing man I had ever seen and he was my brother. I was so mesmerized and aw struck to see him. It was a cold winter visit and I remember there being snow. The Army had furnished him with gloves that had two layers; a woven sock type glove to be worn inside the leather outer glove. He let me wear the woven inner gloves during that visit. They were large and clumsy on my little fingers but they were his and now they were on my hands. I cherished wearing them. Far too soon, his visit was over and he was shipped over seas to France. There he met his wife and the mother to his children. After several years, he returned home with a family of his own; a different man, no longer only mine. I had to share him now, and that seemed to have an effect upon me that I cannot describe.
Prior to making our home in Pledging in 1959, my Father roamed central Texas in search for work, and while he packed and moved the family around different areas of Texas, my eldest brother and first born was attending College, raising a family and gaining a following as a Southern Baptist Minister. It was he who led my family to Pledging.
Stacey was twenty five when I was born, married with a toddler girl and a boy on the way. He was attending college in Corpus Christi where he met his wife and started his family. He eventually got a job ministering the First Baptist Church in Pledging and moved into the church parsonage on Garland Street between 1st and 2nd. He lived there several years and had his third and fourth children there. Apparently on a visit by my family, my father found a house in the middle of town and decided that moving there would be the best thing for us all. I have no doubt that his decision was persuaded by Stacey and supported by my mother. Stacey, being the oldest and most educated child, carried a high level of persuasion over my parents that continued until they passed away in their eighties. Pledging was relatively close to the area where Momma and Daddy met and married, and my Mother had a sister just beyond Wharton and her only brother in Eagle Lake. Pledging was close enough without being in anyone’s back yard.
It seems that we were not in Pledging long at all before Stacey found another church to minister in Gonzales, Texas and moved his family there in the early sixties. Here we were now, in a small town in the middle of the pecan bottoms of Matagorda County. My eldest brother brought us here and left us for his own adventures. For the next several years, Stacey would move time and again, following the need of congregations who would hire him as a minister. He seemed to have the same traits as my father, moving his family around in search of work.
Stacey soon left Gonzales for Utopia, then to Fort Worth to attend the Seminary. While in Fort Worth he was accepted by a church in Wink, Texas. By the time Stacey was in his early thirties, he had decided to join the Air Force as a Baptist Chaplain. Non-Catholic Chaplains were far and few between in the military services so Stanley joined the service as an officer and continued gaining rank until he retired as very high ranking officer over thirty years later.
It was not long before my eldest sister, Jo and her family moved to Pledging, too. Her husband was a welder and was working at the petroleum plants and in the oil fields nearby. They rented an old house in the midst of a pear orchard. The house was surely a site to be seen in its day but was now a neglected building of mansion proportions. We children loved the old house. We played in the attic and ate pears from the orchard. Pear season would come and go. There were far too many pears to eat, preserve or even give away. Rotted pears would litter the ground for weeks after they fell.
Jo and her family moved in from the Rocky Island area. Jo and her husband had two girls by the time I was born and a son within the next 18 months. We all grew up in the same town together; very close in age; we were often mistaken for being brothers and sisters.
Soon after Jo’s third daughter was born; they purchased a house and a large vacant lot on the corner of the highway and 4th street. This is where they lived when Jo’s fifth and last child was born; a boy. Although we were one block down and a half bock over, our house faced the side of their house and there were no other buildings to block the view from one house to the other. We children spent as much time at one house as we did the other.
Behind Jo’s house was a large section of vacant land that was fenced in and rented by my Father for our chickens, calves and other farm animals. By this time it seamed that the family was farming downtown Pledging. We had rented several acres of vacant lots, unused land and pasture. We had gardens, fowl of nearly every type, milk cows and calves and even a horse for my sister, Mary’s, pleasure. We had cats, dogs and a full life of chores to stay on top of everything. We were quite self-sufficient even though my Father did continue to work from time to time when hard cash was needed for school clothes and staples that we could not provide for ourselves.
We had an open door to guests and family. We often had family move back into the house with us. Some would stay for a few weeks while others would be there for what I thought was an eternity.
Momma always had food to cook and she put out an incredible spread anytime that company was there. We had no phone and resorted to US Mail or word of mouth to get news. How my Mom would be prepared for those unannounced guests was beyond me.
We had our ups and downs and I continued to grow. I did not realize until recently how every facet of my very being is a result of something in my past. There is much to tell about my youth, adolescence and growth into manhood while living there. I would like to say that every memory was a wonderful one, many were. However, I eventually learned to hate and despise that small town.
The ill feelings of Pledging and my life there are new found. I had often longed to go back there to nestle in the comfort of familiar surroundings and suckle the nourishment to my soul that I missed so dearly as a younger adult. Yet, I learned that there is nothing there to console me, nothing there to support me or nourish me. I had a life there that I evolved from and now I search for comfort in my new life, my own nourishment from within. My life there was bittersweet. It was hard and fun, happy and painful. The long lonely days spent with my Mother and her day dreams after my sister Mary married and moved on at the young age of 18; the helplessness that I felt while in the government food lines in Bay City and on the free food program all through school. The embarrassment of not being good enough to fit in with the other students in high school is just another facet that was added to my being. My reason to make a better life for myself and reason to leave Pledging behind is complicated and I hope to prove those facets pale in comparison to what I have accomplished thereafter.