Gathered Under A Pecan Grove

Print this entry

Family and friends of the departed gathered under a grove of pecan trees on a dusty June morning, near a curve of the San Gabriel River in Williamson County, about 40 miles northeast of Austin. It was a world away from the big city. The family had raised children and critters, grown hay upon these acres, for six decades.

The men mainly wore slacks and short-sleeved shirts. A few wore blue jeans, while others donned sports jackets. I saw no ties. The women wore loose-fitting cotton dresses or blouses and slacks. These are sensible folks who knew they were about to spend a couple of hours outside in the Central Texas summer sun. They prefer not to risk heatstroke. The forecaster had predicted a string of 100-degree-plus days, starting with this one. Later I heard one weather pundit say it was the driest June in these parts since records were kept. The best hope is that this drought is short-lived, compared to last year’s dry spell, which forced folks like those at this service to sell off most their cattle.

Few people arrived for the memorial service empty handed. I only carried a notebook and thus was put into service, helping a woman by carrying in a casserole dish. Soon, the tables and kitchen counters of the house were laden with food. Outside, coolers were already filled and labeled: Bottled Water, Soft Drinks, Beer. Several bottles of unopened wine stood on a table nearby. Nobody would go hungry or thirsty except by choice after this service.

People milled around, renewing acquaintances, telling stories, swapping jokes. The service was a celebration of the nearly century-long life of a woman whose final years were spent in the twilight where death becomes a blessing. Certainly there was sadness in her passing, but mainly this was a remembrance.

I never met the woman whose memory we were honoring. After hearing others talk about her wit, sense of humor, love of opera, writing ability, and intrinsic strength, I wish that I had. A dozen or so photographs shared a table along with the guest book. The black-and-white photo that graced the cover of the program showed a pretty woman looking seriously a bit over the camera lens, as if at something else. She had thick, wavy hair and a no-nonsense gaze, as if she did not suffer fools lightly. I suspect she did not.

Roughly 100 folding chairs quickly filled with attendees, while a few of us stood wherever we could catch some shade. A few opera pieces were played, between remembrances from family and friends, some reading from notes, others speaking extemporaneously. One speaker looked up and smiled, noting the butterflies flitting about beneath the pecan tree canopy.

I was a stranger at this service, an unfamiliar face made welcome by folks who no doubt thought they couldn’t quite place me. The woman being remembered was the widow of a fellow whose story I am chasing. He wrote a column for nearly a half-century during the heyday of country newspapers, starting in the late 1930s. As it turns out, so did his wife. That’s how they met, when they got into a long-distance war of words while working at country papers in the hinterlands of East Texas. He made a modest living and achieved some fame writing a humor column. She wrote and sold advertising for decades — even after his death — for her family, which owned country papers throughout the state.

I am drawn to these type of folks, who worked at small papers for modest pay and little reward, save the independence of being one’s own boss, the satisfaction of a byline on a well-written piece, and thanks from readers who buttonhole you in the supermarket.

That was my life for many years, though it is no longer. I now am content with trying to tell the stories of some of the folks who were singular characters in this profession, to preserve the memories of what they contributed during a time when country newspapers were the fiber that held a small town together. The people gathered under this grove of pecan trees fondly recalled those times, and the decades of contributions made by the woman being honored.

Newspaper stories when typewritten used to conclude like this, to let the typesetter know the story was at its end:


It was an honor to be there at this story’s conclusion.


A note: This piece culminates 30 years of writing a weekly column, a journey that began on July 1, 1982 for the San Augustine Rambler and has continued unabated since, except for a few months spent at Kilgore College. I regularly ponder whether it is worth the effort to continue, but old habits die hard. So for now, I reckon I’ll keep plugging away. Your input, comments and even insults are always welcomed. 

Print this entry


Leave a reply

Fields marked with * are required