My mother was a storyteller. If I had been smart, and I wasn't, I would have written down every story she ever told us kids as we grew up on Elm Street. I would have stories to pass on for the rest of my life. I remember a few with fondness. The fondness comes from the stories themselves but also in the memory of the nights we spent listening to her relive her own childhood for us. She loved her brothers and sisters so much. I've written about her sister Cricket, and two of her brothers, Leland and Frog. Someday I will get around to telling about the rest of the sisters but right now I wanted to write a bit more about her brother Bill.
Mama's earliest memory of Bill was his coming to the rescue when she and Frog were both little. It was winter and a bad virus was working its way through the valley. Mama and Frog were both critically ill and things were looking worse by the hour. They lived miles from town with no real road leading out to their place. They got a call in to the doctor who said he would come out if someone would meet him where the road ended. Bill volunteered. He saddled up two horses and started out in the middle of the cold and windy night. He met the doctor and led him back to the house. The doctor was able to give the kids medicine to improve their chances and spent that night with the family. The next day the fever broke and both my mom and Frog improved quickly. The doctor told my grandparents if he hadn't come both kids would have died. Bill rode the doctor back to his car after that and never told the story again. I mentioned it to Bill a few months ago and he just smiled and said, "Yep, I reckon that's pretty accurate.".
My mom and her siblings were far enough out that walking to school wasn't an option. The family had only one vehicle, a flatbed farm truck, so rides to school were only a dream. They rode horses. Older siblings rode and younger sibs hitched a ride on back. My mom was generally riding on back since she was next to the youngest. On one occasion though she had a horse for herself. She was thrilled and felt all grown up until they got out of sight of the corral. That old mare did not want to go to school that day. My mom kicked and yelled and slapped and yelled and that old horse just stood there on the side of a hill. She finally yelled, "Bill, my horse wont go!" Bill told her to give her a good slap. The mare didn't move so my mom complained again. Bill told her to give her a kick in the ribs. My mom's legs were so short the mare just snickered. Finally Bill dismounted, gathered up some dry weeds, tied them to the tail of the horse and set the weeds on fire. My mom was the first one to school that day.
Bill was a horseman. He preferred his horse to any of those old gasoline engine things flitting around. His older brother Leland bought a car when he got older and was mighty proud of it. My mom and her sister Ramona "borrowed" it one morning to drive to school. They thought they could get away with it because Leland was riding fence that day and would be gone til dark. They had themselves a time getting to school since neither of them knew how to drive. When they finally worked their way through the gears they were flying down the old dirt road. That was a real thrill until they got to the school yard and didn't have a clue how to stop. They knew to stop feeding it gas so it finally came to a stop....but not before making about four trips around the school house scattering children in all directions. The car finally stopped completely when they ran into the school house. I'm sorry....I got off the subject of talking about Bill. His experience with Leland's car wasn't as much fun. I don't remember the details but for some reason Leland took Bill's horse on a trip out of town. When it was time for him to return he got word to Bill to bring the car to him. Bill drove the car to him and had all kinds of problems getting it there. He wasn't much of a driver either! Leland offered to give Bill a ride back and let the horse come back on its own. Bill said, "No sir! You take your car and I'll take my horse." Leland told him it would take two days on horseback and Bill didn't know the way cross country. Bill told him if the horse could find its way home alone it could sure find its way home with him on its back.
Bill was evidently pretty popular with the ladies as he got older. He would go on dates when my mom and Ramona were old enough to want to date but too young to actually do it. They enjoyed Bill's love life though because they would wait up for him every time he went out. When he got home he would strum his guitar, sing, and tell them every detail about his evening. My mama never forgot those times and said they were some of the best parts of her childhood.
Bill went off to war along with the majority of his generation during World War II. He served in the Navy. One of his kids will have to tell you about his experiences during the war. Any one of them is invited to post here and fill us all in if they want! When he returned home he married aunt Adelaide and they started manufacturing lots of children. They eventually bought a little place at the end of College Street in Llano, Texas and that is still home today. Every time a new kid was born another room was added to the existing structure. What started out about the size of a two car garage is now a rambling ranch house with large windows looking out over the beauty of the Texas hill country. Bill's workshop is in the backyard of this old house and he spends several hours in it six days a week.
Bill is a master craftsman. He designs and builds his own creations. His furniture is functional, sturdy, and always a work of art. He has built everything from complete homes down to footstools. His creations are in most of the homes of family members and lots of lucky family friends. I personally have two of his stools and a full length swinging mirror he made for my mom. Other's have pie safes, hope chests, book shelf sectionals, game tables with intricate inlaid detail...the list goes on and on. He has even designed and built his own coffin. Its beautiful and a real shame it will someday be placed in the ground. He taught his sons and daughters how to work with wood and how to keep their old cars up and running. He has taught me a lot about woodworking and I hope to pass it on to my boys. I asked Bill one day where he bought his plans for his many projects. He looked at me and smiled. He had never bought a plan in his life. He thought about it and built it. That has rarely worked for me.
My mama died a little over a year ago. Only Bill is left from a family of nine children. Bill has set at the side of each of his brothers and sisters' graves to say goodbye. It seems sad at times and yet the blessings are overflowing. Someday our uncle Bill will be gone and so will end a grand era but his, and the Hallmark family legacy lives on. One time when I was growing up I told my mama I had met a couple of girls at a ballgame in Llano. She told me to be careful because those girls were probably related to me. She said you couldn't throw a rock around Llano or Burnet without hitting a Hallmark on the head.