mother grew up in the small community of Flat Prairie, Texas. For
those who don't know Flat Prairie is a suburb of that urban metropolis
located near the Trinity
County and Houston
County Line. My grandparents, Frank and Ruby (Smith) Tidwell operated
a sawmill in Flat Prairie for many years, as well as being cotton
farmers and cattle ranchers. Later on, after my grandfather's death
in 1966, my grandmother operated a small Gulf Station and grocery
store in Pennington.
By the time I came along in 1970 the gas station was long closed,
and Flat Prairie were barely map dots, but one thing that remained
was the neatest store I ever had the pleasure to visit. Brannen and
Walker's located on FM 358 in "downtown" Pennington,
near the Baptist church, was a huge building. Inside its four wood
framed walls with peeling paint one could find most anything they
needed, or just didn't know they needed but really did. They had more
variety than today's megastores. Besides feed for animals, coffee,
seeds, tools, farm implements and a whole host of other items was
a full on meat counter. Behind that counter was a real live butcher.
That real live butcher, Mr. Walker, sold the freshest, tastiest meats
and cheeses as well as the most delicious bologna money could buy.
So sure of his skill as a butcher Mr. Walker took it as an insult
if someone asked him to tenderize a steak, once telling a customer
who asked, "I will not tenderize that round steak. If that steak is
not tender you bring what you don't eat back and I'll trade it for
sirloin!" Try finding that kind of guarantee today at your local Walmart.
The most fascinating place in that old store to me as a child was
the the locker. For those who don't know a locker was a large walk-in
freezer with several different sized drawers inside that could be
rented by the year, month, week or even day by folks needing extra
storage for their meats or fresh frozen vegetables. In spite of the
fact that my grandmother had three working chest freezers in her small
house, she also kept a locker at Brannen and Walker's. Granny, being
a child of the depression, always said she never remembered being
hungry during those lean years, but she remembered being awful close
and never wanted to have that feeling again. I don't think she kept
much at the locker, but she always had something there, and every
now and then, when we would visit, my brother or one of my cousins
and I would go to the locker with Granny to either put something in
or take something out.
Going into that locker was always a little frightening for me. It
had a huge wooden door that was several inches thick with large metal
hardware. The mechanism for opening it up from the inside was a knob
that one had to press pretty hard on which would then push the outside
handle that controlled the latch. When the door closed it felt like
you were in the coldest cave imaginable. I always feared that Granny
would not be strong enough to push the plunger that would release
us from that icy prison. I remember having nightmares at times of
being stuck in that place.
Of course Brannen and Walker's is long gone, as are most stores like
it which once dotted the rural landscape. Lockers are a thing of the
past, the friendly butcher who guaranteed the tenderness, freshness
and quality of his meat is long gone. That delicious bologna (or let's
face it, we all called it baloney) is nowhere to be found anymore.
What I wouldn't give to find a store like that again, to walk inside
and breathe in the smell of chicken feed, fresh ground coffee, round
steak, penny candy and cast iron all in one breath. No longer do I
have nightmares about lockers, but long to go inside of one one more
time to recall great memories of my grandmother and my cousins.
© Jason E. Stringer
They Shoe Horses, Don't They?
15, 2012 Guest column