“I hold that a strongly marked personality can influence descendants for generations.”– Beatrix Potter (1866-1943), English writer, illustrator, natural scientist, and conservationist best known for her children’s book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
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The newspaper was still lying there on my desk as I contemplated a column for this week. The March 24 edition of the Pittsburg Gazette that talked about the five-year renovation of the Camp County courthouse.
A couple of hours up the road from Center, Texas, Pittsburg is like a second home to me, although I never lived there. Unless spending time in the summers with my grandparents as a child counts as living.
My father grew up there and graduated from PIttsburg High School in 1941. After a couple of semesters at Texas A&M and a stint in the Army during WW II, he worked for the old five-and-dime store chain, Perry Brothers. And, in 1959, they moved him to Mount Pleasant, 11 miles up the road from Pittsburg, where he would live the rest of his life.
My father’s mother had a strong influence on me. But she was a strong personality and an influence on anyone who knew her. She stood just four-foot-eleven, but you never asked what was on her mind. As a rule, you didn’t have to, she would tell you. Either way, she left little opportunity to ignore her.
That’s just the way she was.
And that’s just the way that conversation down at the courthouse was, I’m sure. The one about the car title 41 years ago. She told me about it right after it happened.
Sylvester and Hattie Aldridge moved into a small frame house on Cypress Street in Pittsburg in 1930 and lived a simple life there for the rest of their days. My grandfather’s soul left this earth in that house in December of 1967. Granny left there for the hospital in October of 1993 and joined her husband of 47 years just weeks later.
The day she left, the house looked precisely as it had every day of my 40-something years of knowing it, save for maybe a few pictures of kids and grand kids on the walls and the new Cardui calendar every year. She even drove the car they bought in 1957 for 24 years. The green Ford sedan they purchased new at Travis Battles Ford near the depot where my grandfather worked in downtown Pittsburg showed just over 46,000 miles in 1981.
That was the year Granny called and said, “I need a car with power steering and air conditioning; you still want Liz?” Liz is what she called her car. I had told her years earlier that I wanted Liz when it was time for a new car.
Yes,” was my quick answer. “And I want that paperwork in the third drawer of your chifforobe.” The original title, the paperwork from the dealership, and the canceled check from the bank were all right where she put them in 1957.
At her house the following Saturday, she handed me the aging envelope of paperwork and a new ownership receipt in my name.
“They didn’t want to let me keep the title down at the courthouse,” she said. It was the lady in the auto registration office, Granny called her Margaret; maybe it was. I don’t remember now. But she called her by name because she knew her. Granny had lived in Pittsburg for 51 years by that time, and she knew everybody.
“You have to turn it in to get a new title in a different name,” the lady we’re calling Margaret told Granny. “Nope,” Granny said she told her. “My grandson wants the original title with the car.”
So, the courthouse lady, Margaret—I think, told her the only way to get a new title is if it’s lost or destroyed.
“So, you couldn’t keep the title,” I said, sadly.
Smiling like the cat that ate the canary, Granny continued, “I dropped the title in my pocketbook, closed it up, and told her, ‘Well, I’ll be John Brown. I guess I’ve lost that title.'”
Margaret reportedly just smiled, shook her head, and pulled out a lost title application. Granny may have known everybody in town, but I’m sure everybody knew her as well.
The newspaper on my desk says the courthouse is six years shy of 100 years old. That means it was two years old when my grandparents first called Pittsburg home. I’m betting by the time Granny “lost” that title half a century later, everyone in the courthouse knew my grandmother.
That’s just the way she was.
And just in case you’re wondering … the answer is yes. Some 41 years after that conversation down at the courthouse, I still have the car and the original title