'stina (texaslawchick) wrote,

A door

The day after my baby brother was born in 1975, my parents bought a piece of property in or near Walhalla, Texas (I'm not that clear on where the city limits are, it's not exactly a booming metropolis; it had a population of 37 in the 2000 census.). My parents knew that they wanted a place away from the city, where they could take their kids and have one-on-one family time. This place needed to be close enough to get to relatively quickly, but far enough away that my dad never felt the call of work. I was nineteen months old.

This piece of property wasn't all that big. It was maybe 12 acres, and it was on a paved farm-to-market road. The house was far enough from the road that my mom didn't worry too much about her kids playing in the front yard. There was a pond, and lots of grass, and some trees. There was also a yellow two-story wooden farmhouse on the property that had probably been there for at least 75 years. I don't remember the inside all that well, but I think that it wasn't all that updated. I'm sure that the rooms had lovely proportions, but I'm also pretty sure that the kitchen appliances were ancient and the bathrooms were probably antique and plumbing was less than reliable. Running water was sort of a newish thing to this house.

The previous owner of the house was an animal lover. She had goats and sheep and all sorts of birds, including peacocks on the property. When she moved, she didn't go that far. I recall that she moved to a trailer home very close by, and we used to call on her from time to time to see how shew was doing. I think she even had a monkey, though that may be a misguided memory of an amazed little girl. A lot of the animals chose to stay on our property. My parents didn't really care, because they thought the animals added character to the property. There's a story about me waking up early one morning when I was maybe two and a half, and wandering outside. I apparently came across a peacock and startled it. The peacock screamed. I screamed. There was a lot of screaming. My mother thought all hell was breaking loose, having never heard a peacock scream before.

My parents fixed up the place a bit. I think they got a few more animals: Two horses, a quarter-horse named Chupito (who died when I was 22) for my dad, and an Appaloosa named Mancha for my mom. And yes, I was the kid that actually got a pony (her name was Pimenta, and she was mean). A couple of cows.

And they hired this great guy to keep an eye on things. His name was Tommy and if you ever asked me from the age of maybe two to five who my best friend was, I would have told you Tommy. Tommy was a gay Native American man who was very sweet to me. He taught me important lessons about chewing tobacco (he let me try some when I begged him), and cigarette lighters in cars (he kissed my burnt finger). He taught me the words to "Michael Row the Boat Ashore" and "This Land Is Your Land." And he treated me with respect and love. When our pulis, Pancita and Picante, had puppies in 1976, more or less the week that Claudia was born, Tommy took two: Lisa and Jalapeno. Pimpenta kicked and killed Lisa when she was fairly young; I think that Jalapeno lived a long time.

A few years of owning this place, my parents realized they wanted something bigger so they could raise more cattle, so they looked at two larger pieces of property that totalled about 500 acres about ten miles away, outside of Ledbetter. They bought both. The small farmhouse they bought from Mr. Pietch on the 108 acre property was where my family stayed when we went to the ranch from maybe 1977ish to 1988, when my parents' dream house was finished. I remember celebrating Jose's third birthday there, so my parents must have owned the other place for less than three years. The other small farmhouse on the 380 acre property that they bought from the Rhumpton's was occupied by Tommy. The current farmhouse that we live in is on that property. The two properties are nearly adjacent: The Steurmer's hay field is between them.

And so they had to sell the place in Walhalla.

But my dad took one thing with him from the Walhalla house.

Above the bed in this picture is a door. This door, until maybe five months ago, hung in my father's office at work since the sale of the Walhalla house. Now, it hangs in the old farmhouse we lived in from 1977 to 1988. Our ranch manager, David, had been living there for the last 22 years, and he moved out in December to live closer to his daughter's school. So my parents decided to rehab the old farmhouse to lease it out occasionally for short-term rentals.

Anyhow, back to the door. The door originally hung from the outhouse behind the old farmhouse in Walhalla. The former owner operated her business out of the house. She, like some other women in the county, lost her employment when the longest continuously running establishment in the area (and the state) was closed down. (Please read the Wiki, it's awesome.) So she decided to open business for herself and continue operations on a smaller scale. She didn't let her clients use the facilities in the house, encouraging them to use the outhouse instead. They, then, would carve their initials or their ranch brands on the door of the outhouse. My two-to-five year-old self probably would have called Myrtle, the previous owner of the house, a good friend, too. She was always very nice to me.

The outhouse door must have hung there for decades, and I suspect that Myrtle left the Chicken Ranch a few years before it closed, because there are quite a number of initials and brands for a three year operation. The door is beautifully weathered, and the brands and initials are carved so well into the wood. This door is truly a piece of art, even without its fantastic history. I wish I had a better picture of it, so you could really see how wonderful it is.

I suspect that this will be an item that will be, er, discussed heavily if my parents haven't made specific arrangements for it. Everyone in the family loves it.

ETA: My mother informs me that, yes, Myrtle did in fact own a monkey. Our dogs once ran over to her place, and when we went to retrieve them was when I met the monkey. My mom also said that we got the horses after we moved to the Pietch place, not when we were still in Walhalla. She wasn't quite sure of the timing of the purchases of everything because there was a lot of buying and selling of property. Sometime soon after we got the Pietch place, the oil boom hit Fayette County, and things started righting themselves, financially.
Tags: 'stina, family, history, memories, papa, ranch

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