Posts Tagged ‘Family’

Papa Started Out as a Cowboy

August 31, 2010

Papa Teas in his daily radio news and solitaire card station.

It’s important to remember the people we came from. At least, it is to me. And today I just have a few thoughts about one of my grandfathers, my mom’s dad – the ne “Papa” who lived in my life from the time I first opened my eyes.

Of my two grandfathers, one was always a writer and businessman. The other started out as cowboy before branching out as a jack of all trades in the lumber business, other product sales, and finally as a bureaucratic manager for the Works Progress Administration during the New Deal Era.

I never knew my Grandfather McCurdy, except for what I could know of him through his writings for the little newspaper he started and owned through his death in 1913. The Beeville Bee got its start from Will McCurdy back in May 1886 as the first newspaper in the little Texas town of Beeville, some fifty miles north of Corpus Christi.

Grandfather Willis Teas, or “Papa”, as we called him, was in my kid life forever.  He died of a stroke at age 72 in September 1955, just as I was starting my senior year in high school here in Houston. Papa had lived with us for  a while in the early 1950s, but, by the time of his death, he was continuing his retirement and living in his real home town of Floresville, Texas.

Grandmother Teas, whom we called Mama, died in 1944, I think, and Papa had lived alone in a rental first floor duplex on Hammond Avenue in San Antonio before coming to live with us for a while in 1950.

Papa Teas

Papa’s place would have made a great stage set for a play about a good man growing old. Had he been alive today, he would’ve had a computer screen sitting in front of him and been spared all the card shuffling he did daily playing solitaire. Although I have a hard time seeing Papa on Facebook, I’m sure he would have found that site too by now.

As it was, Papa’s Place centered on the right side of a little breakfast cove, where there was plenty of space for cards, coffee, pipe tobacco, ash tray, and radio news.

Papa had been pretty strict as a parent to my mom and uncles, but he was a softy in the matter o f his grandkids. Nevertheless, we still respected his strict veneer and somewhat stand-offish manner at first when we came to visit. When I was a really small kid, in the last days of World War II, I also sometimes had trouble understanding the words that Papa used.

Once, while watching Papa play cards and waiting for him to say something, I noticed that every now and then he would glance my way and then back to his hand of cards, Finally, he spoke, but I heard him say the following: “I just heard on the news that we dropped a lot of bums on Nazi Germany yesterday.”

Bums? Falling from the sky? The picture of a lot of hoboes bouncing all over the German countryside was almost too much for my kid’s brain.

“What’s so funny?” Papa asked.

When I tried to explain, he smiled too, but then he made the mistake of trying to straighten me out. “No, Billy,” he said, now leaning toward me as he spoke, “I’m talking about bums that contain explosives, the kind that blow up when they hit the ground,”

More laughter. Our conversation devolved into something like an Abbott and Costello “Who’s On First?” routine without the audience laughs and big Hollywood contract. I’m not sure we ever got it straight. He talked funny. I heard funny. It was funny. To us, at least.

Papa also always had one of those popular calendars of that day that showed a bunch of monkeys sitting around a table playing cards. “Don’t monkey with cheap roofs!” was the company’s calendar sales motto.

Papa’s place was always too dark. And it always reeked with the aroma of sweet pipe smoke. That part never bothered me, unfortunately. I could have benefitted from a little childhood allergy to tobacco smoke. Instead, I eventually got sucked into years of nicotine addiction, before my incredible late life recovery from same. I don’t blame Papa or my dad for my nicotine habituation, I think we just had it our DNA and life style patterns.

Sometimes Papa would take the train to Houston and we would pick him up at Union Station, the current site of Minute Maid Park. I remember once walking from the train platform with Papa toward the big station lobby and looking up at what seemed to me as the very high roof of Union Station. It was high enough to prompt this Q&A exchange between Papa Teas and little kid me:

Billy: “Papa, would it kill you if you fell off that very high roof?”

Papa: “The fall itself wouldn’t kill you, Billy, but that sudden stop by the sidewalk would pretty much do you in.”

We both had to laugh at that one.

Once he moved into our little house with us, Papa never felt comfortable. He missed his card-playing, pipe-smoking, coffee-drinking, news-listening station in San Antonio. By the time it all got worked out for him to live in his own little rental cottage in Floresville, near other family, he was much happier to see us, but on a less constant basis.

I still love you, Papa. As we approach the 55th anniversary of your death next month, I’ll be thinking of you even more than usual, and wishing we could talk some baseball again – even if you were a diehard San Antonio Missions fan and I was a true-blue  Houston Buffs man,

Hope you all have someone like my Papa to remember in the name of love. Those special people never really go away, do they?

Uncle Louie and the Wayward Wind.

February 2, 2010

"Them frogs ain't got a chance 'ginst a fast-risin' rain!" - Uncle Louie.

Some of the most unforgettable characters I ever met came early. They were members of my own extended family, profiles for countless novels that never found their way into print and mostly, wayward wind, king-of-the road type travelers who dropped in to see us every once in a while like so many blue moons.

Only one other characteristic bound them together in any form of unity. They were all related to me on my mom’s side of DNA package.

My favorite of them all was “Uncle Louie.” He wasn’t actually an uncle, but all my cousins knew him as such too, so that’s what we also called him. Louie actually was something like a second cousin, twice removed on my maternal grandmother’s maternal side of that splintered family branch. Louie had established an identity with some of the blood kin somewhere as “Uncle Louie” and so it stuck. He was Uncle Louie – no matter how times some family members tried to remove him for creating some considerable drag on the family’s needs for social ascendancy.

Uncle Louie was just plain folks. No one seemed to be really sure of his exact age. He had one of those character faces that placed his age as being somewhere between fifty and death with no discernible change over time. He stood moderately tall, somewhere close to six feet, and he was of slender build with dark skin, high cheek bones, and a permanent smile etched into his craggy skin from a lifetime of living in the sun. To me, he always vaguely resembled Iron Eyes Cody, the Native American actor that used to shed a single tear in those old anti-litter public service messages. I will always believe that he was several parts Cherokee, but I have no proof of same beyond my eyes and intuition.

Uncle Louie was a mechanic by trade and pretty much a drifter by choice. He worked everywhere from Louisiana to New Mexico, but he also seemed to come back to South Texas, San Antonio, and Houston for short visits with family from time-to-time. He loved to fish. And he loved Tarzan movies because of the monkey named Cheetah. You see, Uncle Louie thought Cheetah was the funniest creature on God’s good Earth.

When he was in town, Uncle Louie would often take me and little brother John to the Saturday kid movies. H eseemed to love them as much as we did, especially if Cheetah was on the bill. We had a field day at the concession stand on those occasions – and that exercise was just a warm up for the malted milk shakes we then got to order at the fountain drink counter down the street at Mading’s Drug Store after the show.

Uncle Louie was what we used to call a confirmed bachelor. I always assumed he traveled alone because he wanted nothing in his life that might slow him down from his free-to-drift on the will of the wind life style. Mom came down on the harsher side in her own mind about why Uncle Louie remained single forever. “No good woman would put up with Louie for thirty days,” she opined. “Any wife of Louie would have to get used to a man who goes fishing at the drop of a hat, a man who just picks up and moves over night, and a fellow who just hardly has an opinion about anything, other than Cheetah, even if you ask him.

Mom was wrong about Uncle Louie on one count. Uncle Louie had strong opinions on weather and he described certain weather conditions in ways I have never forgotten. In fact, many of these phrases are descriptors we still use to this day. Most of these terms, and most likely all of them, were not original with Uncle Louie, but his attention to the use of them when he was around us simply underscores how important changes in the weather were to this good man. He definitely danced through life to a different drum during his long and still uncounted years on this earth.

Sleep tight on the Happy Fishing Pond, Uncle Louie! I hope that Cheetah is there with you to share the joy of a lazy afternoon on the coolest bank near the water. For everyone else, here’s my list of Uncle Louie’s Weather Terms – and my brief explanations of what I know or think they each also mean:

(1) Frog Strangler. A rain that comes down so fast that even the frogs drown before they can find the high ground.

(2) Blue Norther. A polar cold front that blows into Texas on the front of deep blue-black clouds; a cold front that drops local temperatures fifty to sixty degrees in just a few hours.

(3) Gully Washer. A flash-flooding tide of water caused by a cloudburst of rain in large volumes over a few minutes of time.

(4) Egg Fryer. “It was hot enough that day to dry an egg on the sidewalk.”

(5) Goose Bumper. “It was cold enough that day to turn your skin into goose-like flesh.”

(6) Wind Whacker. A gale like wind that has the power to throw things around and knock things over.

(7) Burger Broiler. Throw the patties on the barbeque pit. You won’t need to light a fire today. They will cook themselves.

(8) Skeeter Heater. Heat that follows a soft summer rain. It’s just warm enough to awaken the mosquito eggs that have now been hatched by the ground’s new moisture.

(9) Sweat Swamper. The humidity is now so high that we are in danger of needing canoes to navigate the swamps created by our cumulative perspiration deposits.

Uncle Louie forgot the one weather reference that most governed his sweet and innocent life. He was a man of the Wayward Wind, a man who loved to wander. In fact, as the old song says, he was more a blood relation to the wind than he was to any of us. – “For he was born, the next of kin, – the next of kin, to the Wayward Wind.

Wasn’t That The Year The Owls Were So Bad?

November 24, 2009

Talking with an Internet friend this morning about the old days, I was reminded again of my late dad and how he took to computers like a duck to water back in the early 1980s. He was about my current age back then, retired, but still full of energy for something to do. I bought him one of the early Apple IIe computers because I thought he might enjoy the banking and writing features. We didn’t have the Internet in 1983, but anything we did get from these early specimens of the coming high tech age were so far far ahead of typewriters and calculators it wasn’t funny.

Somewhat to my surprise, it was the word processor that really lit my dad’s fire. Unencumbered by his barely legible handwriting or the plethora of errors that always plagued dad about typewriters, the word processor freed him to write his memoirs about growing up in a small Texas town in the early 20th century.

Dad’s “book” derived its title from an expression he picked up from former major leaguer and fellow Beeville native Curt Walker. Walker was like an older brother or surrogate father to my dad while he was growing up fatherless back in the early 20th century. In addition to being an off-season undertaker in Beeville, Curt Walker was a man with little time and patience for those among the living who would take up a morning from others just to share personal stories that were so concretely wrapped in uninteresting material that they rivaled paint-drying as an opportunity for stimulation.

Whenever one of these old codgers would get started with a “back in 1915” tale, Curt would simply interject the following as the earliest opportunity: “Wasn’t that the year the owls were so bad?”

According to Dad, that question always worked with the Beeville crowd. Instead of waiting for the deadly story, they would embark upon the newer question: What’s this about an owl invasion? Was 1915 the year it really it happened, or was it some other time and place?. Meanwhile, Curt Walker would be making his way out of the conversation circle and heading elsewhere. Mission accomplished. If the subject ever did return to whatever the old geezer wanted to say, Curt Walker would be long gone from the scene.

“Wasn’t That the Year The Owls Were So Bad?” became the title to my dad’s book of memoirs about life in a small town.