Published in the Rains County Leader on November 3, 2022:
You know your weekend wasn’t very exciting when you have to look on Facebook to see what you did that was worth writing about. Even then, it’s often not what you did that is interesting but rather the reactions of your Internet friends.
I’ve mentioned before that our neighbor David Perkins has raised quite a garden this year. One of his most successful crops was cucumbers. We had lots of salads, especially tomato and cucumber, and I made several batches of cucumbers and onions in vinegar. Perkins and I even worked together and made eight pints of bread and butter pickles. But after a while, the cucumbers get too big for pickles, and neighbors begin to run when they see you approaching with another offering of excess produce. Then Gennell brought her annual treat of candied cucumbers to the Senior Center, and I was inspired to try some myself.
I searched Google, my favorite cookbook, for a recipe and was a little intimidated when I discovered the long process involved in making these tasty treats. But keeping in mind that I learned to ride a motorcycle when I was fifty-two and published my first book after I began collecting Social Security, I tackled the project.
Published in the Rains County Leader on September 22, 2022:
The 92nd annual Rains County Fair has come and gone, and many tired people in Emory and beyond can attest to its success. My perspective of the actual Fair was, as usual, confined mostly to the corner of the Exhibit Building by the restrooms, but since a large percentage of Fair goers pass by my booth at least once during the week, I have a few stories to share.
The festivities began before opening day on Tuesday, so we got up early Saturday morning and headed downtown. David loves a good breakfast, so we attended the American Legion monthly breakfast. Once we were full of some of the best bacon in town and all that goes with it, we walked over to the square to check out the classic cars. There were over 300 entries this year, and all the smiles were almost as bright as the highly polished paint jobs.
Sunday afternoon was set-up time in the Exhibit Building. Linda and Rocky Pietila shared a booth with me, and it took us a while to figure out the exact configuration that showed my books, Rocky’s hand-crafted western decorative items, and Linda’s western memorabilia to the best advantage. With David’s help, we made fairly quick work of displaying our wares and were soon ready for Tuesday’s opening.
Published in the Rains County Leader on September 15,2022:
Spontaneity used to scare me – probably because as a child and later as a teenager, when I said or did something without proper forethought, I usually ended up putting my foot in my mouth or doing something awkward and embarrassing. As a result, I became an adult who makes lists, plans menus, and wants to know all the whens and wheres of an upcoming trip.
David, on the other hand, hates to plan. I’ve tried to explain that you miss some pretty spectacular events and experiences in life if you don’t make plans in advance, but he still prefers to follow his nose and see where it leads him. However, they say that married people become more alike the longer they’re together, and after over twenty-two years, we’ve both mellowed a bit. He’s learned that it’s a good idea to find out of someone will be at home before you go for a visit, and if the cook doesn’t plan in advance, he might not get his favorite German chocolate cake for his birthday. I, one the other hand, have learned that an afternoon motorcycle ride that turns into an overnight visit to Jefferson, Texas can be a lot of fun, even if you have to buy jackets because you didn’t plan for the cold front that came in overnight.
I recently experienced a lesson in spontaneity that will stay with me for a long time. Several times a year Believers’ Baptist includes a Family Fun Night in the schedule. In the past, this usually meant that, on a Sunday evening, we gathered on the parking lot bringing lawn chairs, outdoor toys and games, and desserts to share and spent the evening enjoying each other’s company. Earlier this year Family Fun Night was taken to the next level, and we had Church in the Park. We gathered at Sandy Creek Park where Red and Lori Lewis fried fish, hush puppies, and French fries, and the rest of us brought cole slaw, potato salad, watermelon, coolers full of soda, and enough desserts to send us all into diabetic comas. The children made full use of the splash pad and the playground equipment, and kids of all ages played football, corn hole, and other games. But mostly we simply enjoyed being together.
Published in the Rains County Leader on September 8, 2022:
The first Rains County Fair was held on the courthouse square in Emory from October 31 through November 1, 1930. A lot has changed since then. The event has moved from the square to the Fair Grounds, it now extends over five days instead of two – and more if you include the judging of the exhibits before the Fair opens and the livestock sales afterward – and it is held in September. But most of all, the Rains County Fair is probably a lot more exciting than it was 92 years ago.
Of course, exciting depends on your perspective –but there’s something for just about everybody regardless of what your perspective is. There are rides for the thrill seekers and all kinds of treats for the foodies. It’s the big finale for students who have spent months raising what they hope will be the prize-winning animal in its class, and it’s the photo op of a lifetime for parents and grandparents whose young ones are competing in one of the pageants or showing off their courage and skill at mutton busting. Those interested and talented in creative arts, horticulture, mechanics, baking, and more can present their offerings to be judged, and those entries are then exhibited for everyone to see.
The Fair itself opens on Tuesday, September 13 and closes on Saturday, September 17. Fair week also includes activities that are not on the Fair Grounds. The 24th annual Classics around the Square car show will take place on September 10, and a parade through downtown Emory and a chili cook-off will take place on the final day of the Fair. There’s much more that I’ve missed, but you can find more information here in the Leader, on the Rains County Fair Facebook page, or at www.rains.agrilife.org/county-fair .
Published in the Rains County Leader on July 7, 2022:
Two years after we moved to Emory in 2011 I wrote a column called “I’m a city girl, and I hate bugs!” In it I recounted three recent incidents that involved discovering a rather large bug in the glass from which I had just taken a swallow to wash down a couple of pills, the spontaneous dance I performed in the kitchen when a cricket made its way up the leg of my jeans, and the fate of a rather large spider that took up residence in our bath tub. There have been many encounters with bugs in the last nine years – most of which ended badly for the bug – and although I deal with most of them without hysterics, I still hate bugs. One of those encounters happened Sunday morning at church.
Every week before the service begins, or in this case, before Sunday School started, I make a pit stop so I can be sure to make it through class or the sermon without having to visit the ladies’ room. It’s a habit left over from my childhood when you didn’t leave the classroom or the sanctuary unless you were in need of an ambulance or you were about to throw up on your mother. These visits are not usually a traumatic experience, but this time when I went into the stall, I wasn’t alone. There, lurking in the corner by the door, was a HUGE spider. Well, maybe not huge, but at least two inches across if you count the legs.
While I was doing what I came to do, I was thinking about having to pass that spider on my way out. He didn’t move, so maybe he was dead. Maybe I could scoot by him, leaving him for the next occupant to deal with. But then that little voice that God put in your head to let you know when you’re about to mess up whispered in my ear. “What if the next person to come in is a visitor?” I immediately thought about Edwina Patterson.
Just when I think I’ve experienced all that country life has to offer, I find something new – or at least new to me. In the eleven years we’ve lived in Emory, I’ve heard about the “you pick” farms, but I always seem to miss the seasons, and I always seem to hear about the picking parties after the fact. But this year was different.
I did miss the strawberries – they came and went in a hurry. And I thought I had missed blueberries when I saw a post that one venue had been picked out in three hours. But then a couple of weeks ago I saw a post from Alford Family Farm that they had lots blueberries ripening in sequence. When I asked David if he’d like to go on a berry-picking outing, he replied that he’d like to have some fresh blueberries, but he didn’t think he wanted to go in this heat.
I was a little disappointed but not crushed. I’ve not been a huge blueberry fan in past years. I enjoyed a blueberry muffin now and then, but after I had a major allergic reaction the first time I ate fresh blueberries, I swore off of them for a while. My doctor said he’d never heard of anyone being allergic to them, but whenever I ate anything blueberry, my face would itch so I continued to avoid them. But blueberries are everywhere, and a mixed berry cobbler is hard to resist. Eventually I ventured a taste here and there, and when I didn’t swell up and turn beet red, I decided maybe the doctor was right. Who knows what caused that initial reaction, but whatever it was, I seem to have outgrown it and blueberries have made their way back into my diet.
Published in the Rains County Leader on May 19, 2022:
The City Girl column first began with a Letter to the Editor in September of 2011. When I continued to submit my thoughts from time to time, Earl Hill gave me print space. After several stories about the adventures and misadventures of being out of my city element, he began heading my column “City Girl,” and the name stuck. I still have my moments of showing my city roots, but almost eleven years later, there are periods of time when I’m definitely more country than city.
Around Easter David and I did a tour of the yard and noticed several wild blackberry vines in bloom. They’re more scarce than they were when we first moved here since the Virginia Creeper has taken over most of their favorite spots, but there are still enough to be of interest to cobbler fans. So, early last week I donned my berry-picking clothes, grabbed an overly-optimistic-sized container, and headed out.
I only found about half a cup of ripe berries, but it was fun searching for the small treasures hidden under other plants and often sheltered by a canopy of spider webs. It was also fun being able to distinguish the blackberry vines among the miscellaneous tangle of leaves without having to see the actual berries or having David along to point them out. I did, however, bring home an uninvited guest. When I was changing back into my “house clothes,” I felt a tickle on my shoulder. I discovered a small tick looking for a place to dig in, and like any good country girl, I sent him on a free tour of the Brendle septic system.
Published in the Rains County Leader on March 31, 2022
Robert Worley approached me at church on Sunday and told me I recently missed a newsworthy event – the Rains County Republican Convention. Apparently it was a great success with some positive results. Seven representatives were chosen to attend the Texas State Republican Convention in June where they will present a resolution that will prevent foreign countries from buying Texas land and companies.
I was excited for him because, not only does the proposal address an issue about which he is passionate, but he is also one of the representatives. But I am not much of a political writer. I occasionally collaborate with Robert on something of a more serious nature, but left to my own devices, I tend to produce feature articles and fluff. Still, our conversation made me wonder what else I might have missed during the past week.
Early spring is my favorite time of year. I’m not too crazy about the time change, but since my schedule is pretty much my own, I adjust without too much trauma. But what I love is the beauty that appears as the plants come out of hibernation with a promise of new life. In Texas, though, you have to enjoy quickly, because the time between winter chill and summer heat is short-lived. As I looked back on the last few days, I realized that I had missed several of those special days while I was inside reading or working on my computer. Those were not wasted hours as I studied for classes that I attend or facilitate at church and as I work on that illusive next novel, but you know what they say about all work and no play. So Sunday afternoon I took a stroll around our back yard to see what our untamed wilderness was up to.
Published in the Rains County Leader on March 24, 2022:
Those who have been reading this column from the beginning may remember that some of my early offerings were about my attempts at gardening. My protests of not knowing what I was doing because I was a city girl led to the name of the column. I haven’t done any gardening in the last several years, but gardening has come back to the Brendle homestead this spring. Before I tell you about that, though, let me share the fifth article I wrote for the Leader.
May 27, 2012 – My Garden
I planted a garden a couple of weeks ago. It’s not the garden I envisioned earlier in the year. Now that we’ve removed several trees, we have some perfect garden spots that get full sun, and David’s mom has a tiller she has offered to give us. In February I imagined a large area, tilled and mulched and fertilized, ready for several rows of squash and okra and beans, all those things that are so good for you but are so expensive in the grocery store. Then we began to make tentative plans to visit Florida for a month or so this summer, so I watched with envy as neighbors laid out their garden plots and tended the tiny green plants that stretched toward the warm Texas sun. But plans don’t always work out, and we realized that the trip to Florida isn’t going to happen, so when we went to Hooten’s to get some oil for the chain saw, I asked David a question.
“Is it too late to plant tomatoes?”
Remember, I’m a city girl. True, I’m only one generation removed from the fields of West Texas, but it was a pretty complete removal. Mom and Dad were both raised on farms, but Mom never liked it. Her sisters called her their house cat, because she would swap chores with anyone to avoid working outside. She wanted to get away from the farm as quickly as possible and never had a desire to return. She enjoyed fresh corn, peas, and cantaloupe when they were in season, but she wanted to buy them at the produce stand and prepare and eat them in the air-conditioned comfort of home. The only exposure I had to gardening was at Aunt Fay’s. She and Uncle Dean always had a sizeable plot full of all sorts of good things to eat, but Mom made sure we weren’t around during planting and harvesting time.
Despite Mom’s best efforts, my country girl genes creep through from time to time. When I was single again, I tried to raise a couple of tomato plants on the patio of my tiny, zero-lot-line home. One Saturday morning I checked on my babies and was dismayed at their condition. Half the leaves were gone, and many of the remaining ones were full of holes. Dad was still in good health and came over on the weekends to help me with my yard work.
“Dad, come look at my tomatoes. What’s wrong with them!”
“You’ve got tomato worms,” he said as he pulled one of the fat, green critters from one of the stems and squashed it with his shoe.
“Ewww, gross!” I’m not that much of a country girl.
With the help of a little chemical spray and a vigilant eye, my scraggly plants survived. I have to admit that I didn’t adopt Dad’s method of dealing with the worms. If I found one, I snipped off the whole stem and threw it away. In spite of the worms and my squeamishness, I produced a few scrawny, misshapen tomatoes with tough skins.
“Cool,” said Christian when he saw my crop. “Can I have them to make salsa!”
It’s nice to have your efforts appreciated.
A few years later after David and I married, we planted some tomatoes and peppers in a flower bed in the back yard. The peppers grew nicely, producing pods so hot that even David couldn’t eat a whole one. The tomatoes didn’t do so well. They were doing okay, but I left them on the vine a little too long. The morning I went out to harvest them, some critter had taken a bite out of the bottom of each one.
So it was with this limited experience and questionable success that I asked David about the tomatoes in Hooten’s.
“I don’t think it’s too late,” he said.
I dragged him out to the garden section to see what they had. The selection was very limited, but I found a couple of promising looking tomato plants, a four-pack of cayenne peppers, and another four-pack of Anaheim peppers. Not the wide variety I originally planned, but enough to play with and not enough to feel like I threw away a lot of money if my results are less than stellar.
The next morning I put on my working-in-the-yard hat and gloves and went out to bed down my plants. I chose a sunny, weed-free area and started digging. We haven’t made it to Louisiana to get the tiller yet; it would have been overkill for such a small plot anyway. The sandy soil is nice and loose, so I dug ten small holes and worked in a little bit of soil from a compost pile left by a previous resident. I mixed up a bucket of plant food and gave them all a good soaking. Finally, I marked the corners of the plot with four large rocks so my Cub Cadet pilot won’t run over my babies by mistake, or maybe on purpose. David laughed and said my little plot looks a little scraggly.
He’s right. It’s a little scraggly, and I don’t know what will happen. Some people are predicting another hot, dry summer, so it may all burn up before it has a chance to produce. Or the critters may get into it. If they do, maybe they’ll leave me enough for a batch of salsa and a pot of green chili stew. Regardless, I’m looking forward to watching the process. I think watching a tiny plant take dirt, water, and sunshine and turn it into something good to eat is nothing short of a miracle. It’s like being present at the Creation: “Let there be…and there was…and it was good.”
Now in 2022 David Perkins, our friend rents our motor home, asked earlier in the year if it was okay for him to plant a small garden. Of course we said yes. He immediately starting seeds in empty cans he collected from the Senior Center and now has an impressive collection of tomato plants and several types of greens growing on the dashboard of the motor home. He has already shared some horseradish leaves with friends, and he has a number of small green tomatoes developing.
He hand tilled a small area beside our shed where he has planted a few onions, a couple of Swiss chards, and a cabbage. And this week he borrowed a tiller from Dirk, another gardening neighbor, and tilled up a larger plot behind the shed. He transplanted a few tomato plants on Sunday and is looking forward to the predicted rain on Monday.
His enthusiasm has awakened my gardening bug, and I’m beginning to envision trips to Hooten’s and Potts for bedding plants, and I’m trying to remember how to pickle okra. My interest may be short-lived if the gophers and deer come for dinner, but in the meantime, we may get a few fresh veggies out of the deal as well as a column or two. Happy spring planting!
Published in the Rains County Leader on March 3, 2022:
Last week’s column about things to do in Emory attracted some attention, and my final request for suggestions of things I might have missed received enough response to warrant a follow up. Here are a few more ideas of things to do in Emory along with some of the things that make small town living special.
My cousin Bobby pointed out that Emory has a livestock auction on Tuesday and Saturday every week at the Sale Barn on Highway 19. I have never been to the auction, but I have seen lots of trailers full of animals going to or coming from the barn. The parking lot is always full on sale days, and it looks like it might be a lively social event.
Another Linda, one of my Friends of the Library buddies, suggested that weekly shopping at Good Samaritans Thrift Store is a fun social event. The Thrift Store is open to the public on Saturday from 8:00 am to noon. It’s a great place to find a wide variety of gently used and sometimes new items including clothes, household items, books, toys, Christmas decorations, and more. You will see the same people often, including my neighbors Pat and Dirk who frequent the Saturday sale, and the volunteers are very friendly. The Good Samaritans operation is also a great place to volunteer as they always need help sorting donations and managing the food bank during the week.
The story of a lonely, innocent girl who gets tangled up in the sex trafficking trade in a small Texas town. It’s about her relationship with Eric, a slick suburban pimp; Jesse, a Christian tattoo artist and motorcycle rider; and Mrs. G, a compassionate but tough attorney and foster parent.