Life is What Happens

The title of my blog "Life is what happens" was inspired by a song which John Lennon wrote for his son. The lyrics of "Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)" contain the famous Lennon quote, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."

Big Daddy

Grandparents were the most significant people in my life next to my parents.  Although I grew up around only one of them on a day-to-day basis, the three others had a big influence on me as well.

I only have vague memories of Big Daddy because he died when I was there years old, therefore his influences on me were mostly indirect.  

Big Daddy was the patriarch of the family and one of the best known and respected businessmen in our small hometown.  His innovative projects served many people locally and across the country. Big Daddy owned land where he raised cattle and chickens. He started and maintained a large produce company where he sold seeds, hay, baby chicks, fertilizer, plants, sacks of feed, farm equipment, medicines for animals, and other farm related items.  

During the 1920's Big Daddy built the first "country club" in Erath County by the Bosque River which ran through his land.  He dammed up the river and made a lake for the locals to swim in.   It was called Handy's Park because his nickname was Handy.  Handy rented swim suits for 10 cents each to anyone who did not have their own.  Every Saturday & Sunday afternoon in the summers locals came to Handy's Park for a picnic and swim.  

Handy also built Erath County's first golf course.  Years later his son-in-law, my father, along with Hugh Wolfe built another golf course which is called Legends.  My father always attributed his business success to valuable lessons he learned from his father-in-law.  My grandfather realized what a fine man, husband, father, and friend his son-in-law was.  He was obviously proud of the man my mother had chosen to marry.  

Handy also was a chicken entrepreneur during World War II.  His company raised, dressed, and shipped by train & truck hundreds of thousands of chickens across the United States.  My mother worked for her dad at Stephenville Produce where at one time she dressed the chickens.  Dressing a chicken was not about putting clothes on it. Instead, dressing a chicken means cleaning the dead chicken of its feathers and packing it for shipment in cold storage.  

Mother loved to tell the story of putting a note in a chicken's body cavity with a pen pal type message much like a message in a bottle. She gave her name and address and asked whoever found it to write her a letter.  A young woman named Mitzi in Pennsylvania found the note in the chicken as she was cutting it up to cook for dinner. Mitzi wrote Mother a letter, & they became penpals for many years sharing their life stories along with family pictures & cards.  I can remember being in high school and Mother still receiving Christmas Cards from Mitzi.  This means they were friends who never met but corresponded for at least 25 years.  

I have a clipping of a short story blurb from Stephenville Empire Tribune news.  It was a humorous article about Handy when he was called for jury duty.  The well known county Judge Oxford was talking to the jury pool and noticed his friend Handy seemed nervous & figgity.  The judge asked Handy what was wrong with him.  Handy replied, "Your honor, I have 1,000 chickens loaded in crates on my truck outside waiting for me to take to the train in Fort Worth."  The judge laughed and said, "Handy, you are hereby dismissed."

Handy was a betting man.  Once when W. Lee O'Daniel was running for governor of Texas, Big Daddy walked around the "square" in our small town making bets with all of the other businessmen.  Because he had been listening carefully to the farmers who came into his produce business, he determined that W. Lee O'Daniel was going to win.  He did.  The day after the election Handy walked around the square with his hat in his hand and collected on all of the bets.  Then he went straight to Boone Brown's Auto Dealership and bought a brand new Buick car with the $800 he made from the bets.  

As a small child I remember sitting in that car in my widowed grandmother's garage with the smell of tobacco on the seats. Although my Big Daddy was gone, I had an association of what he must have smelled like.  

Another memory I have in 1947 was when Big Daddy was in the Stephenville Hospital dying.  The family, uncles, aunts, and cousins made quilt pallets on the lawn outside the hospital for our vigil.  I remember the combination of fun & excitement of our "camp out" but knew at the same time the adults were sad about what was happening.  Big Daddy died in August 1946 at the young age of 59. 

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