A Final Trip to the Farm

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DOUGLASSVILLE, TX. — We drove to the farm for a final time on a wintry afternoon in mid-February. It is being sold in coming days. The farm, in Cass County about 20 miles north of Linden, belonged to my late father-in-law, H.K. Teel.

This was Papa Teel’s retreat, 40 heavily wooded acres, a huge garden spot across the road at the place owned by his late brother, Brad. I called those guys the Secondhand Lions, after the movie. They were a hoot together, constantly fussing at each other like an old married couple. But they grew massive crops of mouth-watering vegetables and fruits: tomatoes, purple-hull peas, cantaloupe, corn, jalapeño peppers and much more. Their bounty was shared throughout the family, so we were grateful recipients of their hard work.

The farm, with a modest trailer and a storage shed, is easy driving distance to Lake Wright Patman in Atlanta State Park, where Mr. Teel (that’s what I always called him) put in his flat-bottom boat and ran trotlines twice yearly, in May and October. He knew the best spot, and set the trotlines, plastic bleach bottles marking the spots with his name and address written with Sharpies on the bottom. A string of those bottles still hung in the shed. If one of his sons wasn’t available, up until his death at 82, he singlehandedly went out and hauled in the catfish, some weighing up to 50 pounds. Once Mr. Teel caught a fish on the trotline, he wasn’t about to let it get away. That fish was dinner, just awaiting cleaning and cooking.

I accompanied him on a trotline trip in 2010. I was more of a hindrance than a help. Mr. Teel didn’t have a lot of patience with city boys who had no idea how to get a wriggling catfish off a hook — and wore gloves while doing it. I explained I made a living typing and needed to protect my digits. Mr. Teel held his tongue as I eventually got the fish off the hook and into the ice chest. Once back at the farm, I watched and took photographs as he swiftly sliced filets off the fish, clad as always in overalls, a toothpick in his mouth. When dipped in corn meal and fried, those were the best catfish on the planet.

Before he bought the trailer, the family camped out on weekends and in the summer in an old school bus that once belonged to the Jefferson school district. It is in a cleared area down the road from the trailer. All the seats were pulled out, and an air-conditioner installed where the engine used to be. Most of the bus was painted green, but the far side was still yellow. My Beautiful Mystery Companion said they ran out of paint.

She pointed out the nearby pole shed with its pine log. She and her brothers while in high school sheared the bark off by hand. That shed will be standing for a long time. It is solid. Daughter Abbie pointed up the steep hill toward the trailer. Her Papa used to put her on the back of his four-wheeler when she was little and head down that hill, her late grandma, Maymie, worried sick there would be an accident. There never was, far as I know.

Back at the trailer, the screened porch attached to the rear of the trailer was where peas were shucked, and good times were had. A porch swing and rocking chair still remained when we visited, soon to be hauled away by one of the brothers. My BMC and Abbie spent a lot of hours on that back porch, with its view of the Northeast Texas forest before them.

It was a bittersweet final visit to the Farm. The peeps took a few mementoes — a box of unused Mason jars, a few plates, a wicker stool. And a lot of fond memories.

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