Blackland idyls: Summers in Leonard
By Edward Southerland
Jun 2, 2019
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When I was growing up, summer meant spending time in Leonard with my grandparents. I would go three or four times during the summer, usually for a week. It was like a vacation. A week away from my aggravating little brothers; a week of being the center of attention. It was good for the ego.

My grandfather owned a lumber yard where I spent a lot of time. He opened up early, too early for me, so I would get up later, eat some breakfast and head downtown at mid morning.

The lumber yard was a magical place to play. It had a big covered sheds with cat walks eight feet off the ground that made it like a fort. In the middle was an arched walkway that bridged the sheds. It was high and spindly looking, and as it was rarely used a thick layer of dust covered the walkway. It was a long time before I worked up the courage to cross that bridge, but eventually I did, and it was an unknown no more.

Behind the lumber sheds, were a concrete bunkers that held sand and gravel. It was the biggest sandbox in the world and many a troop of a little army men battled it out on the dunes of that desert landscape.

On the other side of the yard was a long building with two rooms. One was filled with wooden kegs of nails of all sizes and shapes. Of special note were the thin discs of metal, silver on one side, gold on the other about the size of a half dollar. Some people thought they were used, with a roofing nail driven through the center, to hold down the tar paper under the shingles. In fact they were pieces of eight, or gold and silver doubloons, waiting for an adventurous pirate or highwayman to spirit them away. The other room housed hundreds of rolls of wall paper and big flat table for cutting glass.

All of these treasures were under the watchful gaze of General of the Armies John J. Pershing, commander of the AEF in the Great War and my grandfather’s former commander-in-chief. “Black Jack’s” full color, framed, lithograph portrait hung over the door to the nail room, a memory of service in W.W.I.

A framed picture of Black Jack Pershing occupied a place of honor over the door to the nail room at the LaRoe Lumber Company--Everything to Build With--just south of the square.

My grandfather’s contribution to defeating the Kaiser and his hoard of Huns, at least according to him, consisted of playing catcher and first base for the Quartermaster Corps baseball team at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. He had a cigar box filled with yellowing clippings detailing the very real diamond heroics of “Larry” LaRoe.

Where the Larry came from I don’t know as his name was Les. He said that he kept volunteering to go to France, but they wouldn’t let him go, and that he had been accepted to Officer Candidate School when the war ended the need for soldiers.

The Texas Special roared through Leonard daily.

The lumber yard was next to the Katy depot, and daily, if he was not busy, he would leave the office and walk over to the depot to watch the “Texas Special” fly by. He loved that train.

Downtown Leonard was a neat place. I could walk a block up to the square and get a haircut from Charlie the barber, or visit my cousin Biff Holmes’ drug store. As blood kin, I got a free fountain Coke and could sit beneath the front window, by the magazine rack, and read comic books when it was too hot to play outdoors.

Sometimes my grandfather would entrust me to take the bankbook and several hundred dollars in cash and checks the bank for deposit. I would be warned not to stop until I got there and not to tell anyone what I was carrying.

I would hide the money under my shirt and kept a close eye out for bandits. My grandfather would watch from the office and a quick phone call to Mr. Price meant that he was watching from the bank end, so my journey was safer than I suspected.

Sometimes I’d stop in at Yachtie (The spelling of Mr. Albright’s first name is pure conjecture on my part.) Albright’s store and marvel at the mounds of stuff he had collected. Yachtie had a little bit of everything in his emporium. If you could find what you needed at Yachtie’s, you probably didn’t need it in the first place.

Across the street from the lumber yard, and behind a little cobbler’s shop was the Leonard lock upl. My grandfather called it the “hooskow.” It was a small concrete building, no more than eight feet by ten, with a steel door and two small barred windows. Occasionally I would slip over to the hooskow and, standing on something, peek in the window, hoping to see a real criminal. I never did.

We went home for lunch at noon where my grandmother set the table with fried chicken or ham or chicken fried steak accompanied by beans and corn and sliced red tomatoes that had been growing in the backyard garden when I had headed downtown that morning. Dessert might the family recipe chocolate pie, the likes of which I have found nowhere out side our family, or strawberry shortcake made with berries from the hot house my grandfather had built out of window sashes next to the storm cellar.

There was a barn in the backyard that was a fine place to scrounge around. Actually it was a large chicken house, but the chickens had disappeared before I was started school. There was another little building called the smoke house. In it were stacks of the National Geographic from way back and art supplies from when my grandmother had taken up painting with the other members of the 1922 Literary Society.

Across the street were the Leonard schools, with swings and see saws and a tall slide made from a fire escape. Behind the school was the water tower which every now and then would over flow, sending showers of cold water falling from the sky, splashing on the heads of the gaggle of children who gathered under the man made waterfall to cool off.

First Methodist Church, Leonard, Texas

On Sunday we would head for the red brick Methodist Church and Sunday School. And afterward, the congregation would gather in the sanctuary for short announcements. This gathering always closed with the singing a short, but heartfelt little song titled, “Help Somebody Today.”

Help Somebody today \ Somebody along life’s way.
Let sorrows be ended \ The friendless befriended,\
Oh, help somebody today.

When the regular Sunday service started I would join my grandfather on the front row of the choir stall, and sing out while my grandmother played the piano.

In the summertime, my parents and brothers would often come to Leonard for Sunday lunch to pick me up before heading back to Bonham. On those occasion, my grandfather and I would have special dispensation to skip the Sunday church and make ice cream. We would drive down to the ice house and return with a washtub full of crushed ice to pack around the freezer that held the custard my grandmother had made made the night before and had left chilling in the refrigerator.

When everything was set, I would start cranking. As the cranking grew harder and my imagination started to wander, my grandfather would take over and finish the task. I still got the dasher however, and would hold it over a big bowl scooping off the still soft ice cream with a spoon.

This ad for the Leonard Picnic was a little before my time, but the idea remained the same.

And there was so much more: an occasional fishing trip to Bois d’Arc; a junket to the city dump to search for treasures with a handy man named Otis who lived in a small cabin in the alley, or an occasional trip to the Leonard Theater for a movie. And there was the Leonard Picnic, and the Firemen’s Fish Fry and chasing fungos on the school yard and fishing for crawdads with bacon on a string in the creek at the edge of town and drawing on the sidewalk with the white chalk rocks that underlay the midnight black dirt that turned sticky when it rained and.... And so much more.