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From country to city, From farm to fireworks…Through marriage & children, Through employment & ownership, Life continues to be an amazing journey…

Saturday, March 11

The Windmill Of My Mind

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Only one post tonight, a long one “Sentimental Saturday”. Another “grab a cocktail”, settle in and read novelettes. One of my readers who proposed to his beautiful wife underneath a windmill inspired these memories. Thank You.

The photo above is the typical image most people have in their minds when they think of a peaceful country spread. I have always loved photographs of farmhouses, barns, and windmills. It is no doubt because I grew up in one, played in many, and cherished the windmill on the farm that was my home for 20 years. Although dirt poor, eking out a mere existence on a 160 acre cotton farm just outside Colorado City, TX, days spent there were the happiest in all my lifetime.

These photos were taken just a couple of years ago when I was back home for my adopted mother’s funeral. Yes, I too was chosen…chosen to be raised by people older than my grandparents. Mama Ann and Papa Bill… the two toughest and orneriest hard core Christian elders ever to grace the great state of Texas. The old farm has changed, so my descriptions of the pictures will not be visually accurate from these photos, but rest assured I will give you the true visual description of each one in all its West Texas glory.

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The old farmhouse. Picture a beautiful green luscious lawn surrounding the entire property with huge Sycamore trees and brightly blooming roses and deep green waxy bushes. Along the dirt driveway that seemed so long was a gorgeous tall lilac bush that stretched a quarter way down the road (between the two huge trees still in the picture) and was probably 6 feet tall on a trellis. Intermingled with the bright purple lilacs were vivid green honeysuckle bushes laden with sweet smelling blooms. Us kids used to pull the blooms and suck the honey out of the flowers for hours on end and place the lilacs in our hair that was so long it almost touched our butts. A highlight of each day was to ride the bicycle (yes, THE bicycle…one for the whole family) down the long driveway to the mailbox that sat on the other side of the road at the end. Mail in those days was scarce in a rural community, so even the local paper that only came two days a week, or the new Montgomery Ward catalog was a treat. A real letter from someone would make your whole month! Your address was something like Route 3, Box 365 / Colorado City, TX 79512. Our phone number when I was really young was two letters and four numbers…something like BS3456. It was a party line…meaning all the neighbors in the community (ours had 8) were on the same line. If someone else in the neighborhood was talking on the phone, you could pick up the phone in your house and hear every word. You don’t know how many times my mama put the belt to my ass for getting busted listening in on the other old bitties in the area gossip on the phone.

Our closest neighbor in “Looney Community”…I’m not kidding, that’s what our rural area’s name was…a ¼ mile away. There was a road that made a square loop, one mile each leg. I used to love to ride the bicycle around that 4 mile loop on a summer night under a full moon. It was like riding along with God Himself. What an ugly bicycle it was too…big ‘ole blue Schwin (faded splotchy paint all scratched up) with HUGE handlebars and an old granny tractor-like seat on it. Didn’t matter though…it was transportation and the wind was blowing in my hair. I was queen of the world on my journeys from farm to farm on that bike.

Notice that tree closest to the house. Both these trees used to be vibrant huge trees with shade for days. Notice the “twisted” form of the first tree especially, but somewhat noticeable in the second. These trees were full grown and this big as early as I can remember. However, they used to be perfectly straight and tall like any other. One summer day at about age 10 or 12, one of those infamous West Texas tornados came a ‘visitin, and in one fell swoop twisted both those trees and missed our house. Outside baseball sized hail that required a new roof, that was the only damage to our place. One man in our community died in that storm, and while watching it out the kitchen door, we saw one of the neighbors rushing down our road toward our house in his truck, and IMMEDIATELY, he was going the other way. The tornado picked him up and turned him around with no damage, except to his heart and his underpants :) The other neighbor’s chickens left the storm with NO FEATHERS. Sucked every feather out of every bird. Another’s refrigerator ended up in one of the neighbor’s cotton field upright. When opened, the eggs and a bowl of beans remained on a shelf unmoved.

That TV antenna you see beside the house got messed up in the storm, but my Papa Bill fixed it, and it remains there today still good. As tall as that darn thing looks, it’s good enough to get you one clear channel, and a couple of fuzzy ones if the weather’s good :)

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That brick contraption in this photo was our garage. Papa Bill was born in 1898, and Howard Taft came to his family farm a few miles away when he was young, and visited his father, James Hannibal Cook. Tin photos I have of that man epitomize Texas. I always wanted to name my first born son Hannibal, but Anthony Hopkins ruined that dream :) My daddy had every treasure in the world inside this garage. Growing up an only child of an “ancient” cowboy icon…I was a tomboy to say the least. I did boy things and played boy games. I was the only girl for years in the entire 5-6 mile stretch, so I had no choice but to be tough and hang with the guys. One of my biggest beatings was from stealing the last remaining pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes my daddy had saved for “hundreds” of years after he quit smoking, and smoking my first. He says he quit because “ready rolls” just weren’t as good as the old stuff (I also got beat for breaking the seal and having the first shot of whiskey in the cupboard that was a wedding gift to them). He had ham radios, ancient photos (He owned the first Harley Davidson dealership in that area back in 1915), and every old oxen farm gadget, old tool, anything you would ever need to fix anything broken, foal the new birth of any farm animal, guns of all kinds, and according to a young daughter caught in the wanderlust of her father…I THOUGHT HE WAS LIKE NOAH…I was sure he had two of everything in his “ark”.

My father was also an amazing woodworker. Just like the old shoe smith in the fairy tales. He had a HUGE table saw, scroll saw, and wood lathe in this garage. He made amazing little bowls, candle holders, and furniture on these machines. He made just about every dresser drawers, china hutch, school desk, sitting table, medicine cabinet, kitchen table, etc. in our home. His work was immaculate and priceless. The few pieces I have today are not worth any amount of money to me. This man I’m sure sits next to God occasionally on invitation to this day. He made most of his creations from Mesquite wood (one of the hardest and most durable woods) and finished them to shiny brilliance. (You people pay good money for mesquite chips for your bar-b-que grills, and we just swept the scraps from the floor for ours).

My basketball hoop was a metal hoop that my daddy welded himself, and hung to proper height on a piece of steel pipe cemented into the ground just to the right side of the building. I shot hoops for hours. There was a huge Hackberry tree that grew at the right side of the garage. I used to climb that tree and sit on top of the shingled roof thinking I had the view of a goddess from up there. I would get a stomach ache sometimes chewing on the red berries in the spring while reading a book and soaking up the sunshine.

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This little quaint hut was my daddy’s tool shed. Don’t ask me why, but to this day, this is one of the most amazing buildings I have ever had the pleasure to go inside. It was so cool, so little, and yet so huge. Inside this little shed, Papa Bill had neatly organized a plethora of farm tools of all sizes. All neatly placed or hung according to their use. There were hoes, and shovels. Rakes, spades, weird gadgets of all sizes and shapes. You had to duck a bit to go inside, but could stand up once you were in. It was the only building on the property that was ever locked (we never locked our house), and I had a key. For some reason, though NO ONE EVER actually SAID it…this was the place for top secrets. As kids, if we had something REALLY important to discuss…for some reason we went to the shed.

This little Taj Mahal used to be surrounded by our “orchard”…and in the background was a magnificent field of cotton. On a bumper crop year, sometimes the cotton stalks would be waist high, and one cannot imagine the unfathomable feeling of West Texas dirt squishing between your toes while walking along the rows. So cool in the mornings and early afternoon, and hot enough to literally burn your feet in the heat of the summer…but that dirt on my feet is a memory I never want to lose. I couldn’t lose it if I wanted, as I spent years of summers walking each one with a hoe in my hand, or following the strippers during harvest waiting to climb a trailer with neighbor boys to “tromp” the cotton down to fit as much cotton as possible into one trailer. We also carried the old burlap cotton sacks in fall after harvest to pick off the stalks what the strippers did not get. Whatever we could pick, we all got to keep the money. Hard work, but good money for kids. I often tell Negro people I have the opportunity to discuss world matters with, that “I’ve picked more cotton, and have lived more oppressed than you ever will…I actually know what it’s like… to me it was wonderful, it taught me life, and that lesson I won’t trade any college degree for.”

We would also have to the left a far piece, rows and rows of home grown black-eyed peas. It used to be my job in the summer as a teenager to pick a bushel of peas every morning before I could do ANYTHING else, as we sold them to the local grocery store, along with cucumbers, plums, and strawberries to supplement our meager income. It took me years as an adult woman once I moved to the city to manage a household having to grocery shop. Growing up, we only bought paper goods, and some occasional meat, etc. from the store. EVERYTHING else, we grew, canned, jellied, and froze. I can’t hardly think of a vegetable that we didn’t have rows of during growing season. And since we were a “plant” farm, not really an animal farm, we would barter our harvested goods to the neighbors for beef, pork, and fowl. I really miss this shed. I even miss the occasional rattlesnake we horridly found inside, or the many baby horny toads, rabbits, or other critters that graced its dwelling from time to time.

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And finally, to the reason for this post. The WINDMILL of my mind. Aahhh, the memories surrounding this windmill. It was a special and unique icon of my home farm all in its own. It’s small in stature (the freaking TV antenna is almost twice as tall), but was built and brought to existence by the bare hands of my Papa Bill. So was the house, the other barn in the background, and the shed. Papa Bill, 16 years senior to my Mama Ann, built this farm house, barn, shed, and windmill as a wedding gift to her in 1936. Romance and diligence does not exist like that today. Yes, I said 16 years older (and Mama Ann pitched a hissy fit when I was a freshman in high school, and cheated me out of my first date, because he was a senior…only four years older). I also used to climb upon this windmill when I was little, (it felt like one of the “big guys” that got to climb christmas trees on an oil derrick), and got yelled at every time I got caught, ‘cause I might get hurt…

That little cement mess you can still see to the left of the windmill was actually a perfect and functional water trough for animals in its day, used by the few animals we had to get fresh water. Every windmill or trough leaks from time to time, and so did this one. But my daddy kept this one in such good shape, that the leaks were mere drips. On a hot summer day, it used to be fun to stand under the rigging for the mill and let the water drip once in a while on your face. You could close your eyes to the sun, and let the cool water drop on your hot dusty eyes and feel anew again. This trough had a school of goldfish that lived in it, also a romantic gift to my mother from Papa Bill, and they grew and died off, and replenished again for years. It was so cool to watch the beautiful goldfish swim in the water, and kneel in the cool dirt next to the cement structure. Even the cement was cool to the touch on a hot summer’s day. You could put your hand in the water and gracefully move it around and touch the fish, and they didn’t mind. The leaking drips from the stand caused extra moist earth below, and my daddy planted mint plants and herbs there, and the aroma was exotic. I spent hours chewing on fresh mint leaves playing with the fish. We had rows of blue lake green beans growing close to the windmill. It was also close to “the road”, and as I got older, the perfect place to catch one of the neighborhood boys driving by for a quick hello, or if lucky, several of them, and we would strike up a quick game of tackle football, or shell peas in the yard.

This was the windmill of my mind, it always will be. No one who’s never experienced the quiet vast open spaces of a place like West Texas can truly understand the meaning of the Bible verse that speaks of the “peace that passes all understanding”…but it exists. And anyone that ever HAS experienced it cannot leave without a silent understanding of God and all that believing in something of a “karmic nature” or “a higher power” means. American by birth, Texan by the Grace of God. Thank you Mama Ann and Papa Bill for giving me a gift worth more than gold. Thank YOU for just being who you were that allowed me to grow into who I am. I can only pray that my children may someday express a love and remembrance of me the same way I feel about you. I am truly a blessed woman, in all my simplicity and existence.