Sunday, April 27, 2008

Anna Mae Sowell's Chocolate Cake

Family’s have traditions. Being the product of German Lutheran heritage on my mother’s side and East Texas foot-washing Baptists on my daddy’s side, I am proud of the little that has caught my notice over these 65 years. Dear God, how can it be that the little boy hiding in the bar-b-que pit from his heckling Uncle Bubba in that giant yard on Reinerman Street, Houston, Texas, can be approaching his 65th celebration of dies y sies de Septembre? Many bowls of German potato salad and hunks of Anna Mae Sowell’s chocolate cake later, yes, it is a banner year. Only recently has “the cake” been the subject of discussion. Of my two older sisters, Sue, the middle child, has continued the tradition of offering full service from her kitchen, including lots of recipes from her husband’s German family as well. In my eyes, none, no other, deserves the honors due the cake.

On this leg of my journey, these last four months in Texas, as I get ready to head back to my new adventure in northern New Mexico, we’ve been talking about that cake lately. I had a copy of the recipe on a note card, copied from either Mother’s or Sue’s recipe box. But I had no directions. Mother had stopped making the cake long ago. For many years that responsibility has gone to Sue, but even she had made the cake only as recently as our celebration of Mother and Aunt Mary’s 87th birthdays four years ago. It is Aunt Mary’s favorite. So when I asked Sue recently for directions, she faltered as we talked on the phone long distance. We were planning a cook down to occur in conjunction with a group garage sale we held here in the country. After we finally had committed some directions to laptop memory, I gave the recipe to our friend Bert, who should go ahead and start his new business in retirement, Bert’s Desserts. He made the cake for the gathering, and it was a hit. “That sounds like a recipe I have”, commented our neighbor Pat on the opening day of the sale, before we had eaten even a bite. You know how it goes with old cake recipes, or the chocolate filling for a meringue pie. Everyone has a favorite—the best chocolate taste, no argument. I don’t want to discuss it.

A continuing topic of discussion over the years has been why the cake wants to fall while cooling after it comes out of the oven. Did it always do that, I asked my sister? She didn’t remember, and I don’t know that the dilemma has been solved. Sue made another run at the cake a week later, after going through Mother’s box of recipes recorded on index cards, “Chocolate Cake (Sis)” was the heading on the card. “I think it’s the best one I’ve ever made,” Sue said proudly to me as I was returning from a business excursion to the coast, and as it turned out, on my way to eat a piece of that cake. Yes, it was perfect. The chocolate was perfect, and the butter icing, yes, just as I remembered.

A few weeks ago, Sue and I drove to Houston to visit our Aunt Mary, the only surviving member of Daddy’s generation. Aunt Mary turned 90 last September. She, Mother and I are a week apart—Aunt Mary on the 2nd, Mother on the 9th, and I on September 16th. Mother missed her 90th birthday by eight months. Aunt Mary survives, strong of heart and strong of family memories, although they wax and wane, even in the course of a conversation. Aunt Mary, do you remember the Hollis chocolate cake, I asked her on that visit. “You mean Anna Mae’s cake,” she replied. We were unable to figure out exactly who Anna Mae was. We knew at some point long ago, however. The closest we came, on my speculation, was that she was either the daughter or daughter in law of Aunt Minnie Sowell, our Grandpa Stephen Edgar Hollis’s sister. The index card reads simply Chocolate Cake (Sis), who was Daddy’s youngest sibling, another fine cook in the East Texas southern tradition.

I have the cake recipe documented, and one of my goals for the next four months is to find a bakery in Santa Fe New Mexico who will make this cake for me. And I want it to go in a cookbook of Texas southern favorites. And I want to know who Anna Mae Sowell was, while I still care. Things happen sooner, and quicker, than we realize. I don’t want to be the one dropping the ball on this important piece of history, for our family, those foot-washing Hollis Baptists from Angelina and Trinity County Texas.

Anna Mae Sowell’s Chocolate Cake—Normangee Texas (April 27, 2008)

R. Harold Hollis

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Miracles of a Minor Key

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink,* or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?* And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God* and his* righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Matthew 6:25-34

I try to make a habit of reading the meditations found at Some days I nod affirmatively, having been blessed with recognition, understanding, having been touched. Some days I read with a leaden heart , not so much in rejection, but maybe worse, with disinterest. It’s not that I wake up and decide just to bear the day, moving robot-like through one minor accomplishment after another. Some days just start out that way or develop that way. Aside from the miracle of waking from sleep, the miracle of our body commanding us to sleep for a long stretch in the glorious dark, quiet hours of night, I long for miracles every day. Some days I just don’t recognize them. I move through the haze, slugglish.

The other morning, as I sat at my laptop, intent on Forward Movement, I heard the miracle. They’re at it again. Daybreak is happening, and the maven songsters are vocalizing their intentions. What was a chorus of various at first gave way to singular calls as daylight established itself. As well documented and explained as these songs may be, I like to think of them as miracles.

Such was the pot of coffee I made that morning—the best pot of coffee. Everything worked. Although those who say they know about things—all kinds of things—advise us endlessly, making money off of our innocence, it remains a mystery to me what miracle comes together for that perfect pot—spring water, whole beans freshly ground, stovetop percolator, Chemex drip with unbleached paper filter, or some other barrista  hype. Should I draw the water the night before? The bottom line for me is the taste I associate with Mrs. Olson’s favorite brew, yet I have found no guarantees there either. It’s easier to understand the rudiments of what makes birds sing. For that we can just go to the Internet, or take the old fashioned route to the library.

Such was my discovery of art in my garden two days ago, art that I had constructed from river rock and old brick a few years back. I don’t have to wonder anymore how sidewalks get lost under thickets of San Augustine grass, such as I uncovered in front of an old house I bought several years ago in the little town nearby.  In the  garden my artwork work had been claimed by the build up of soil shifting and resettling outside of the beds. Thursday had been a day to dread of a sort. It was one more job on my list of things-to-do before leaving here for the next four months. That part of the garden has gone loved too little for a while. The shed that I intended to be a respite has become, like everything here, a warehouse of sorts. I refuse to build another barn, or add anything more that becomes yet another repository. I have taken my stand in the shed. Facing west from that tall, wonderful space open to the air you look square onto my garden cross, more evidence of the patchwork, emblems concerning life here in Leon County since the year 2000. Art sometimes grows out of necessity. I needed to make that cross four years ago. It has become more beautiful, now uncovered, the bricks rotated here and there, the crushed granite washed away, a little, among the rock.

This garden is filled with many miracles—plant materials, wildlife such as my songsters, lately a family of rabbits, and my brand of art—paths and beds and bottle trees, old pots empty and landed haphazardly here, and there, relic gates, and a primitive cross. I don’t have to remember too far back to visualize the wild grasses that prospered in that undeveloped area when I lay claim to it. Fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants art…that’s my claim. Cross grew into beds, grew into trees, grew into an open-air shed with electricity and ceiling fan, running water and a water fall, and a patio for sitting on to gaze at my cross. As I prepare to head west and north for a few months, I am comforted to have uncovered this miracle of a minor key, one that had become lost, absorbed into yet another item on a list reminding me of things to do, reminding that maybe I’ve wanted too much. Maybe I’ve worried too much about losing so much, filling the void with my shovel and sweat. The more things you own, the more your things own you.

Miracles of a Minor Key—Normangee Texas (April 26, 2008)

R. Harold Hollis

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Champing at the Bit

A week yet to go in April, and this place has begun the preview of July, my measure of when summer should be done. Yet by then we will have just hit the dog days of summer. Spring, those—what—two, three weeks in Texas when we pretend that we live in a world of seasons is barely one month old today, but I’m already heading into the refrigerated air starting at mid-day. Presidio, usually the hot spot in Texas, already has temps forecasted in the low to high 90s for this week. Abilene will hit the 90s in another week. Weather on the Gulf Coast, which practically speaking extends way north of the coast, has climbed into the high 80s—when you factor in the heat index, how it feels to the human body. If you live anywhere near the coast, you know weather-speak and relative humidity. According to my good friend Wikipedia, the human body works to cool itself by sweat, which evaporates and carries heat away from the body. When the relative humidity is high, the evaporation occurs at a slower rate, causing the body to retain more heat than it would in dry air. We're into the days when it doesn't really cool down at night. I can smell the mountains.

So there you have it. My body knows it wants to be cooler. “How do you stand this humidity,” a friend who’s lived in northern New Mexico for 30 years asks during a fall trip to the antiques markets held here in central Texas. “Do you ever get used to it?” No. Usually, so-called spring is a little easier on us. The climb has begun, though, and I’m ready to head west and north, say howdy as I roll through Muleshoe, and know that 7500 elevation and dry air are only a few hours away. Damn, I hate anticipating my life away. 

 So what do I learn from a truth that blesses me, at least for now? I am by nature an impatient human being. When I get hot and sweaty, my threshold for tolerating aggravation plummets. By the same measure, I have no patience with bugs that plague the high desert open spaces, like those pesky, biting flies that gnawed my legs on the Carson, New Mexico mesa last summer, sending me wounded to the local version of Whole Foods for homeopathic ointment promising to sooth the itch. Cranky, cranky, I became.

Come summer I’m happiest in khaki shorts and a short-sleeved shirt, but I love it when the nights ask for a little extra cover. This will be my first summer living in a space that I own in Santa Fe, and it will be my first time to find out “just how does a swamp cooler work?” Last year my evaporative cooling was a box fan that sat in the window and used a pan of water that I filled regularly to do its work. Now that I am a homeowner, my swamp cooler is built into my structure. To be comfortable, a little luxurious, however relatively I need to define such earthly kindness, that’s what I’m wanting, as an older guy.

If I get to choose, and it seems so for right now, I’ll take a spot on the bench under that portico. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not planning on sitting out the summer. I want to climb, ramble, and stroll as well, but I sure like anticipating the feel of basking in that high desert air. I might even grab a shovel and help out in the gardens at the Audubon Center, even though, as you know, I’m not a joiner by nature.

Champing at the Bit—Normangee, Texas (April 23, 2008)

R. Harold Hollis

Monday, April 21, 2008

Songs of a Feather

I don’t remember a winter and early spring when the birds have been as “out of control” in the most wonderful way. Unlike my friend and neighbor Jim, who can name trees and birds with ease, I remain stuck in my mundane knowledge of the feathered many. I certainly know the sound of the mockingbird and cardinal, and the tat-a-tat-tat of the downy woodpecker, all of these prolific here in rural Leon County Texas. I own cherished memories of other sounds from our grandmother’s dairy farm northwest of Houston where killdeer roamed that prairie, of our great Aunt Minnie’s land in Hockley where the trees were alive with pesky, complaining grackels—a sound that somehow still makes me smile of childhood—and of course, crows that hid, then took flight among the towering pines, caw-caw-caw-ing—on  the land where I grew up. It was country then, now it’s part of the great Houston sprawl.

Through the kitchen window I see a pair of mockingbirds careening across and around the garden, low to the ground. Is it a mating ritual? Something else I don’t know about birds. Maybe they are beckoning me to my perceived duty to get into the garden again this morning and continue the work that I’ve promised myself  I will accomplish before leaving here for the summer in another week. Regardless of what I do, however, when the birds have this place to themselves, they won’t care about thistles, nut grass, and all the other green out of place to some, green that is a source of seed and life.

I started cleaning again a few days ago, leaving the product of my efforts lying to dry before moving it to the burn pile out in a cow trap. Work underway this morning, as I forked mounds of dried material into the wheelbarrow, a cardinal flew so close to my face that I could almost feel his breath. He lighted on the leather leaf mahonia, secured a ripened berry in his beak, and then pausing only briefly, popped into the air, probably to enjoy his breakfast in the comfort of a wild pear tree nearby.

I’m raking and hauling, pushing a mower through only those sections of the landscape that are not ripening with the bounty of wildflowers I started broadcasting here a few years ago. Even those areas I am mowing are sprinkled with the color that comes up naturally in this part of the world. From my efforts, the primrose and Indian paintbrush are plentiful, a couple of bluebonnets already come and gone, penstemmon, gallardia ready to burst. Giant sunflowers will dominate here after I am in northern New Mexico. Maybe someone will send me a picture. I have to stop regularly and wipe my sweat-stinging eyes with the sleeves of my t-shirt.

At lunch, I sat in the garden with a sandwich. Singing filled the air, but not a bird could I catch with my camera. An occasional butterfly darted from red to pink, moving too quickly for me. It is a busy time here. We’re all working, some of us sweating more than others. Some of us are busy eating and singing, others dining and filling the air with color, an occasional buzz now and then.

Songs of a Feather—Normangee Texas (April 21, 2008)

R. Harold Hollis


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Getting What You've Got

Today a young couple from Houston looked at our property and my home, which have been on the market for six months, only the fourth showing in one-half year. If  I were just sitting here waiting for something to happen, I’d be mighty frustrated. Gratefully, I have my escape in northern New Mexico. Happiness isn’t a place, though, right? It sure can help.

My sisters and I knew going in to this real estate market that a place this size—a couple hundred acres—wouldn’t sell overnight. I hadn’t thought that my home, which was built as a two-story metal barn 40-plus years ago, would be a factor, one way or another.  It is what it is, a work in progress, a piece of art, house and great storage fronted by an awesome native Texas garden, also a work in progress and a piece of art. I’ve realized though that this place isn’t for everyone. It’s not for those without imagination or a bent for work and problem-solving, and it’s not for anyone who might worry that using the outdoor shower, which is open to the sky but protected by a privacy fence, might expose them to someone who happens by these two hundred acres in rural Leon County. Sure, I have traditional bathrooms inside, including a shower stall and a whirlpool tub. For the life of me, though, I can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t choose to shower in the fresh air nine months out of the year, looking up at a 100-year-old Green Ash tree, and knowing that a lush shade garden surrounds the enclosure. Those who balk at bathing in the nest of nature apparently are not few in number. Hmmm, that’s different.

So I said to the young couple from Houston this morning as we paused in the garden—a-blush with the spring bounty of old garden roses in bloom, brilliant red amaryllis standing near a wax leaf mahonia covered with wine-like berries, trees flush with green-green leaf, and perennials staging their annual comeback all around—I intended for this garden to look like it just happened here. The house, you either get it or you don’t. One of the party of three, a woman who grew up in this county but lives and works in Houston and has a weekend place here, replied that houses are a work in progress. Yes they are, as well as gardens, and as well as life. If you need a magazine or a decorator to flesh-out your brain or a landscaper to burp out a garden plan, best not make the stop here.

The prospective buyers asked a few intelligent questions, the third party gushed over the antiques, art and artfulness of the space, even making suggestions about how additional undeveloped space in the barn could be converted from storage to living area. After the realtor loaded them into her four-wheel drive SUV to tour the land, I started weeding outside the fenced-in area. And as I worked, I thought, you really do have to get this place. It’s big, it sprawls, it gets dusty from the county road even though it stands more than a football length from the road, and the garden, well, that’s a full-time job itself, if you choose to make it that.

Were I starting over here, or starting at any of a number of junctures where I’ve made more than a couple of fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants choices, I’d do some things differently. I wonder how many million-dollar homes dot the landscape of America where the owners would have made different choices. It’s all relative, and it’s all about getting what you’ve got. For most ordinary folks, it’s also about available resources—money, energy, time, and motivation. I can’t imagine living in a suburban home, manicuring the driveway and sidewalks with a power edger, making the semi-yearly trek to the local home and garden super mart for another round of garden annuals, going down to the local edition of a chain furniture gallery for a new living room set, or having the poster from a trip to a traveling Broadway musical framed, well, for any room in the house. Yet when I despair over the project list and the problem solving that comes with my real estate territory here, I want to remind myself that none of this happened overnight. And oh how thankful I am for clean sheets on a comfortable bed, climate-controlled air, working commodes upstairs and down, leftovers in the refrigerator, and a full moon shining into the outside bath area deck as I lay awake in the middle of the night wondering about my life.

Getting What You’ve Got—Normangee, Texas (April 19, 2008)

R. Harold Hollis

Saturday, April 19, 2008

To-do List

I should be making a list of where I’m stowing one thing or another and a list of what I want to relocate from this house to the condo in Santa Fe, and a list of what I want to accomplish before leaving here in just another week. That removing anything from here in Texas to the other place, which is already as full as it needs to be, would somehow make this barn/home seem less crowded is at least silly, probably hopeless. Nonetheless, it is the things we do that give us the sense we are clarifying our circumstances and that sometimes make the path seem a little less briar-like. So, as an expression of hope, I think I’ll make these lists.

I have two homes now, although I think I’m trying to leave behind the real home, the one that contains most of my earthly possessions, the one where the garden that I’ve tended for eight years flourishes in the kindness of a Texas spring. Since getting back to rural Leon County at the end of December, I’ve logged more hours in this garden than comprise a standard work week. And while I can see the difference—having whacked away at ornamental grasses, trees and shrubbery, more than 30 rose bushes, and having cleared the beds of spent perennials—I am faced with an abundance of spring growth of the sort that I don’t really want in my beds or in the paths. Thistles abound, along with some kind of sticky fragile trailing WHAT! I don’t know its name. They are joined by clover and oxalis, which I leave alone, and now crab and Bermuda grass, which I do my best to remove. Lately I’ve been head-down with the weeds inside the fenced area, and in mid-Winter I spent quality time in the beds and on the crushed granite approach to the front gate. All of the beds outside the fenced area, including the approach to the front gate, are alive with unwanted spring growth. So before I can say God-speed to this place for the late spring and summer, my sense of duty and beauty demands that I solve the problem of weeds—yes, weeds—that remain.

According to, a weed is commonly defined as a plant that grows out of place—a rose can be a weed in a wheat field—and is “competitive, persistent, and pernicious.” It’s hard for me to think of a rose as a weed, but I know people who hate roses, they say because of the thorns. Would that I could just say, thistles, have at it. I’m headed to the mountains. So weeding is on my to-do list. The forecast calls for spring-like weather—well, after all, the calendar says it is spring—great gardening weather. So, with cap on head, tools handy, and an allergic reaction to poison oak on my right forearm and wrist for which I have a prescription, I’ll pay the gardening piper.

Inside this barn/house another piper demands payment. Way too much furniture, paintings that have no place on the wall, all of the treasures that have been drawing my eye for 35 years, beg the question, when is too much too much. Well, it is too much. But I didn’t assemble it in a day, or a year, or a few years, so undoing what has been done will take time and persistence and judicious choices. As I work at dispersing much of what delights me—for sale, all my earthly possessions—I can only try to make sense of it inside the walls of this large place. I’ve already lost part of the battle, however, because many of the rubber-maid tubs I’ve packed are stacked, absent labeling and lists of contents. In earlier fits of organizing, some containers have been sorted and re-sorted, gaining labels and lists in the process.

The list of what I’ll remove to New Mexico can only be relatively simple. I don’t need or want another warehouse 700 miles away from this barn. Only a collector can understand the instincts of another collector. To the uninitiated, collecting can seem just another word for hoarding. That may be true, but I don’t consider myself like the woman on Oprah recently who couldn’t stop bringing things home from the Dollar Store and everywhere else she saw a bargain. Ultimately, an intervention was required—instigated by the three adult children—and the whole family ended up laying out their lives before a live audience. I saw only the before, as I tried to pay attention to the program while waiting for my laptop to be backed up by a computer guy recently. The after came the next day. A friend told me that the difference was amazing. Of course, the woman had to go through some kind of therapy. The story made me think of people who do weird things like collect Tupperware, or worse, disposable food storage containers, or even worse, buy and hide clothing that is too small because they’ve gained weight and have fantasy plans to lose it. Or maybe they can’t pass up found bolts and nuts or let go of string that has already served its initial intended purpose, name it.

We’re an odd lot, aren’t we? I’ve spent way too many hours awake in the middle of the night, mentally working my lists, most of which I don’t remember the next day. Obviously, I’d be a lot better off just getting out of bed and doing something about the lists, even though it’s 1:36 a.m. No weeding for me, however, in the dark hours of early morning, and somehow, packing and labeling the contents of rubber-maid tubs has no allure when I’d rather be sleeping. Well, this is something to work on. And I’m getting in the mood to make lists. I’d choose this over pushing a mop just about any day of the week.


To-do List—Normangee, Texas (April 19, 2008)

R. Harold Hollis

Monday, April 14, 2008

Selling from the Garage and Yard

I’m not a big fan of garage sales. As someone who traffics in high-end junk typically categorized as primitive Americana—I call everything we antiques dealers buy and sell “junk”. You can say crap, if you prefer, I mix that term with junk. When I first started collecting antiques in Texas some 35 years ago, I had been to a few local antiques fairs, and most of what you saw for sale could be legitimately classified as antique—handmade in the 19th century or earlier. Go to the same local antiques fairs these days, you will find exhibits stretching for miles, many of them organized into shows with names and known for certain categories of goods, such as Americana, and you will find a little bit of everything—antiques, yes, from here and abroad, and lots of collectibles. Some of the merchandise displayed at these shows and fairs entered the market from garage sales and now carry big price tags. Frankly, such good fortune is rare, in spite of popular notions. I’ve been fortunate enough to score a few treasures at garage sales and resale shops. Ninety-nine percent of what shows up in someone’s yard or in a thrift store with a price tag of pennies, however, is truly ordinary—clothing, kitchen stuff, toys, bedding, costume jewelry, old books and records, some bad art, and so the story goes. For those who claim to be antiques dealers but who really trade in collectibles, garage sales and thrift stores just might be the ticket. I’ve heard one dealer proclaim, “I don’t pay anything for my merchandise. I buy it all at garage sales and thrift stores.” Yeah, it shows.

If you’re lucky enough to come up on a garage sale where the hosts are sending out a treasure or two, bully for you. Every dog has his day in the sunshine. I can count the garage sales I’ve hosted or participated in on one hand, and every one of these sales has included lots of things that I wish I could have sold for legitimate money. “You make your money in the buying, not in the selling,” claims a local guy in the junk trade. That makes sense to me, and I hope the garage sale that six households hosted on our place in rural Leon County this last weekend ends up making some money for one of the buyers. It probably won’t be much, however, because all of us are card-carrying collectors, and we pretty much knew what we had.

So why do people have garage sales? When you consider that the sellers paid good money for much of what they are now sending back out into the world, you take into account the time spent gathering and organizing the goods—this after much consideration about whether you are finally ready to let go of some particular treasure…whether it’s an old jug of unknown heritage or a pair of high heels little worn that cost a pretty penny in the beginning…you’re already deep in the hole. Consider the cost of advertising in the newspaper, making signs and putting them out, the time putting out the stuff, putting up with the public, boxing up the leftovers to go to the thrift store—that is, if you don’t go back through the stuff and reclaim some of it or most of it—delivering it to the thrift store, gathering the signs because you don’t want to be another blight on the landscape, and it promises to be a lot less painful to just load it up and haul it off to begin with.

Maybe the process of having a garage sale is the reason itself. I have been stumbling over things that I finally started putting in boxes and setting them aside with the intent of carrying them to the thrift store. Some of these things I had bought for virtually nothing and had high hopes of turning into a profit. The cost to me of other single items would have provided a decent dinner for two at one of the well-known local chains. Clothes I don’t wear anymore, well, I’d rather just donate them. Clearing the closet and chest-of-drawers of shirts and t-shirts that languish unworn can be troublesome for me. Hurricane Katrina, however, got me off the fence a few years back. Once my neighbors, my two sisters and I had made the decision to have a garage sale, I forced myself to search one cupboard or another, facing the task of trying to make sense of stuff that I had just stashed to get it out of the way because I couldn’t decide what to do with it. For all of us who are born junkers, we understand how easily these stashes can take on lives of their own. The offering at our sale ranged from the usual food storage containers, glasses-cups-dishes, apparel, battered lampshade and ugly lamps, books, small and large appliances, bedding, cracked garden pottery, to a few pieces of decent furniture. In the country you can’t expect to draw the buyers that a city sale would have. Pick any city neighborhood and you have enough residents on the very block to equal the total crowd from miles around at a country event. Location, location, location.

By design our sale included food. What started as a cook-down for one evening of the two-day event turned into lunch and snacks and dinner for the entire two days. When it was all over, the boxes packed and the trailer loaded for a trip to one of the local charity thrift stores, we had all made a little money, lightened our load a little, laughed a lot, and gained a couple of pounds. It was a time of getting to know one another a little better, visiting with folks from the community, and sharing the bounty with neighbors. Sometimes it just feels good to give something away. At our final evening meal I discovered that one of our six hosts had a connection to the man who had offered me a job as head of the English department of the new suburban high school where I was scheduled to teach in the fall of 1967. One of our hosts had grown up in rural Mississippi and with her husband had lived a number of places in the south. Another and her husband had lived in several Texas cities and as far away as California. Our friend Jim had found his way from Ohio to Florida to Texas. Some of us had always lived near the Gulf Coast of Texas, and all of us had found our way to rural Leon County. Everyone was at home that evening.

Over the last year I have somehow managed to shy away from hauling home more trinkets of the sort that had been building up in my barn house for several years of junking. I’ve never had the garage sale habit that some have, and I’ve not had the habit of hitting lots of junk stores and resale shops. Although I have gone through periods of running my traps, just like any junker worth his or her salt, I’m learning to change my habits. Truthfully, though, I’ve only scratched the surface of worldly treasures that eventually will need to be dealt with. Yes, way too much crap still has a life of its own inside and around the two-story barn I call home. There’s also a lot of stuff with serious value, although the uninitiated wouldn’t have a clue. And I expect more of the same will show up here. Whether another garage sale is in my future, well, I wouldn’t want to say just now. Something defining though will have to happen at some point. This place is for sale, and the thought of packing and moving even the most valuable things makes my back weary and my spirit sag.

Selling from the Garage and Yard—Normangee, Texas (April 14, 2008)
R. Harold Hollis