The House That Jim Built


Jim was a pipe-fitter by trade. He was born in Kaufman County Texas in 1882. He was low born and poorly educated but he had common sense. Jim couldn’t spell very well, but he could spin a tale and he had seen a lot which made for great story-telling. He was handy with a hammer, an axe and a shovel. These were skills you could really use back then and to my thinking they are still important. I’d rather know how to use an axe than ski on a Wii. I feel sorry for modern kids.

As the fates would have it, Jim moved away from the piney hills of Kaufman county to settle in the hardscrabble of west Texas. He moved from lots of rain to no rain; from pine needles to mesquite thorns. The only things Kaufman county had in common with Stephens county was hard times and diamondbacks.

West Texas is mean country and it will beat a man down, but if you talk to the folks who live there you find they know things that more pampered folks never learn. It’s the sun and the wind that does it . . . that and the fact that everything there will bite or sting or stick you. Jim knew about these things and he taught me, his grandson, that in this country a hat wasn’t optional and working in the mid-afternoon sun was for fools and drug-store cowboys.

Jim and his wife Mary Etta had six children. They struggled mightily through the depression, but they had a garden and their chickens. Jim always said they were dirt poor but they had plenty to eat and since everybody else was broke, they didn’t think much about their poverty. Their first real home burned to the ground during a terrible storm while the whole family and a few neighbors huddled in an old storm shelter. Some friends pitched in what they could. Jim and family began again.

They had Church of Christ faith and so doing right and making their own way was in their heart. In time they bought a little 2 bedroom home with a barely functional bathroom. It was cooled with an old evaporative cooler and warmed by gas space heaters. It wasn’t central heat and air by a long shot but on a cold Texas night you could turn your backside to the space heater and you were warmed to your bones.

Like I said before, Jim was handy and added on a screened-in sleeping porch on the south side of the house. I spent many a summer night on that porch watching the lightning bugs and drifting off to a chorus of a thousand crickets. Some nights I would watch the light show from storms 30 miles to the south in Eastland county. The rain always went south. Always.

Just outside the porch was a huge mesquite tree where at night the wild alley-cats would fight. During the day, in the shade of that tree, Jim and I would sit in a swing and he would tell me his stories. At supper time, we would go in to a big dinner of buttermilk cornbread, red beans and sweet tea. For dessert, and there was always dessert, there would be chocolate pie or sometimes German Chocolate cake. Right after dinner, at dusk, it was off to bed in the sleeping porch unless it was Friday night. On Fridays we watched boxing. . . the Friday night fights.

Oh, how glorious were those summers. I ran all over half the county without a care and no reason to care. Just be back by dark and take the snake-bite kit. Those were the only rules. It was wonderful and I feel for kids these days, cooped up with their gadgets. It’s a sin against nature.

In ’66 cancer took Jim and a few years later it took his wife of 64 years. Their old house was rented out for a few years and then fell into disrepair. The high school football stadium was across the street and so the school district bought the house for extra parking. They brought in a D-5 Cat and that was that. Gone without a trace.

I think about that little house in west Texas and what it meant. I think about my parents larger home. I look around at my own home and how each generation has done a little better. Then I think about the last two years and what it means for the future and my grandchildren.

America’s house is in disorder and I wonder if we have squandered our legacy. I pray for leadership with vision, lest the dream perish. Where have all the Jims gone?

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March 13, 2011 9:25 am

It is truly a shame how weakened our children of today are, I think about running from morning to night and the rarity of a fat kid, today that is not the case at all. They teach screwing in schools instead of physical education they teach kids that everyone is equal when the truth is some will make it and others will not, they give every kid a trophy when in real life there is only ONE winner in games, we set up our children for failure instead of success and we will all pay the price in the future!… Read more »

March 13, 2011 9:29 am

Where have all the Jims gone? We find ourselves asking that question in so many ways these days, Texasgalt. We ask, “Where have all the men gone?” “How can women not want to be feminine?” “Where has childhood gone?” “What happened to decency?” “Good manners?” “Why is there such a lack of respect in our society today?” “How is it possible that we accept the murder of our unborn?” The list goes on and on, bringing us to the precipice of disaster that we face today. If we do not reach out and stop this downward slide, we will fall… Read more »

March 13, 2011 9:30 am

What a wonderful tribute texasgalt. We can not allow the passed two years to ruin the legacy of all of our families. I think about this alot. We must keep our traditions going for our kids, nieces, nephews etc. by retelling these stories of our past and keeping the memory of their ambitions, their perseverance and self-reliance up front and center. They were the ones who “lived” and built America. We must fight but the children today are clueless unless we inform them why we fight.

March 13, 2011 9:58 am

Awesome piece, TG! We as a country, collectively, have lost those old-fashioned values and the intelligentsia of today mock them. We may be ‘richer’ in riches, but we are a much poorer country for values and traditions.

Oh, and btw, this: At supper time, we would go in to a big dinner of buttermilk cornbread, red beans and sweet tea. made me yearn for Texas again. 🙂

March 13, 2011 10:38 am

TG, this piece brought tears to my eyes and stiffened my spine, both at the same time. Sounds like summer days and nights in Alabama and North Carolina (where my mom and dad were from) weren’t so different from those in Texas (except it was black-eyed peas, not red beans).

There is hope, I think, as long as we both remember and value the life and values you’ve described here. You’ve done a real service by pointing that out.

redneck hippie
March 13, 2011 11:30 am

Beautiful story about your family and many families. You carry the torch well, TG.

March 13, 2011 11:58 am

Texasgalt, it is stories such as this that strengthen our resolve. We have almost three generations of poor education and leftist indoctrination to overcome. We have to be in it for the long haul. I, too, feel sorry for modern kids who are so dependent on texting and video games. I was fortunate to grow up in a time when we walked for miles away from our homes to play in the woods and build treehouses, and pass the day with our imaginations. After chores were done, our entire days were spent outdoors, no matter the weather. I wish I… Read more »

March 13, 2011 1:28 pm

Kaufman County, not far from where another humble man was born, share crop cotton-picker by trade in his youth until he joined up.. About the same time your wonderful life story was playing out. His name was Audie Murphy.

March 13, 2011 2:04 pm

In the Army we said that it took two things to form a good unit, shared hardship and danger. The same holds true for individual American citizens. Though it may be more difficult in West Texas than other places, there is shared hardship to go around and danger lurks just as it did a hundred or a thousand years ago. The American spirit has and will overcome it again, and we’ll be better for it. Thanks TG!

March 13, 2011 2:04 pm

There is an announcement in our local paper today from a local “non-profit” that provides day care that they are now set up and certified to accept……………..infants.

Mighty Conservative Warrior
Mighty Conservative Warrior
March 13, 2011 4:06 pm

I did not grow up in West Texas but much like the Jim of West Texas I grew up in Western Wisconsin on a Dairy Farm. Us kids had chores from the time we got up till the time we went to bed and if we got up late we were sure to get some sort of discipline that these days the kids would consider abuse and parents likely would be astonished by. I myself agree with the author of the piece as well TEXASGALT, Kids in their formidible years are shaped parents can passively let the Fabian Socialists of… Read more »

March 13, 2011 4:49 pm

So how come we didn’t all die from those gas space heaters? Just think of everything that COULD’VE gone wrong with them. We managed.

March 13, 2011 4:53 pm

My husband coaches my son’s under 10 recreational soccer team. He got an email from a parent that said he was pulling his son from my husband’s team because another kid on the team called his son a ‘cry baby’. Said he didn’t want his son bullied. I laughed and laughed. I thought, that poor kid. His Dad is making him into a wuss. If that kid can’t defend himself against a mild schoolyard taunt, how could he ever defend something greater? It seems many parents are turning their kids into wimps. We need strong men – bravehearts! Our God… Read more »

March 14, 2011 1:41 am

I remember when I was a kid. We weren’t so much as sent to school in the morning as it was more like we were released into the wild and then reclaimed at dinner time. We used to come home bleeding, dirty, muddy and with ripped clothing dragging home our broken bicycles. If I told you all the stupid and dangerous stuff I did as a kid you would be horrified. Back then school kids weren’t on medication and I never heard of a damn peanut allergy until I was 35. Doodling gun pictures wasn’t a crime. It was normal.… Read more »