Memories of Mitch Fincher of his Grandparents, Theron Pickens Fincher and Zelda Lurline Wallace Fincher

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I think a lot about my Fincher Grandparents to this day. I marvel at how they survived incredible hardships and sorrow and yet were very positive and uncomplaining. They were always thankful for the little that they had.

When I was younger, in the 1960s and 1970s, they lived on the ranch at Ft. Griffin on the Clear Fork of the Brazos River. My dad, Mike and I would work at the ranch and my Mom would spend the days helping her mother Dorothy Gail Kane Sievers with the Hereford Motel. The ranch was originally bought by Theron's dad, Pickens Steele Fincher, in 1905 from a man named Horrigan(?) who got the ranch from the original Spanish land grant. It was originally about a thousand acres, but my Grandfather's share was a third of that.

Granddaddy and Mamma lived in a little house without indoor running drinking water. One of my chores when I was there was to fetch drinking water for the family from the metal tank outside the house. The water came from runoff from the aluminum roof. Back then I didn't think too much of the bird dropping on the roof. I was told after it started raining Granddaddy would go out and wait for a while until the water was clean and then move a spout over to put the water into the tank.

The water for sinks and the bath tub came from a small pond above the house. It was supposed to be filtered somehow, but I had my doubts. Lurline would wash dishes in the pond water and rinse with the drinking water. Her sink would drain directly into the side yard to water the yard.

Zelda Lurline Wallace Fincher

Lurline came to Albany to be a school teacher. She had an Uncle, Dr. Gordon, who lived in town. She taught rural Texas kids in Boogsburg (an abandoned town now forgotten). She shipped her furniture from Hill County(?) to Albany on the train.

Lurline's parents were farmers. I think she graduated from Trinity while it was still in Waxahachie with a degree in Education.

Lurline was frugal - she came by it honest being Scottish. She would wash used aluminum foil and plastic bags for reuse. They never had any money, but never complained. She was so kind hearted and humble. She wore badly fitting dentures since she didn't want to spend any money on new ones. She developed an underbite to keep her top dentures from falling out. I remember she had terrible callouses and corns on her feet, which must have been painful.

Once in Albany in the 1970s, it was a hot blistering day, and we went to visit them. Inside the house was really hot, but they didn't have the A/C going. When Dad asked them why they didn't run the A/C, Lurline replied, "We're not suffering too much."

Lurline and Theron would put on programs at local homes for the senior citizens. Lurline would play the piano and Theron would lead the singing and play his harmonica. One of the favorite tunes he'd play was one sounding like a locomotive coming closer. I played my trombone one time with them to rave reviews (I was not very good, but the audience was appreciative). They would also lead music at the local Ft. Griffin church. The congregation was small, maybe 15-20 people. Often a young student from the seminary in Abilene would come speak. Lurline would be the Sunday School teacher for my brother and I with official Baptist curriculum. My most vivid memory of the church was the outhouse in the back which had a huge wasp nest in the doorway. Quite a challenge when you really needed to go. It was scary.

Lurline would make her signature banana squares for us, which were kinda like brownies, but with bananas. She made wonderful biscuits and fresh bread. When my Dad was a child his job was to go chop wood for the store and get it burning so Lurline could start making biscuits. They had a propane tank in the back yard when I was there to heat the stove. Lurline was constantly working. She had this huge garden, and would plant, tomatoes, green beans, squash, corn, (I remember Theron saying that corn always was an odd number of kernel rows), cucumbers, watermelon, beets. She also had a few fruit trees like peaches. The issue was always getting enough water. I remember going to the garden with her and smashing tomato-eating caterpillars (it's not even as much as it sounds).

Lurline canned so much of their food. She would be at the stove with all the canning jars and would be "putting up" peaches, or green beans, or watermelon rinds. She should pickle them. During the summers when we went to the ranch to work she would faithfully make three meals a day for us. I remember her always making quite a lunch for us. One time in a quiet moment, she looked down at her hands and said uncharacteristically, "These hands have seen a lot of work."

She had a milk cow Minerva, after the Roman goddess of wisdom. I remember hearing Lurline taught Latin to the rural Texas school kids.

Lurline kept about 10-20 chickens. I would go with her to gather the eggs in the little wooden chicken shed. Each chicken had a little cubby about a foot square with hay at the bottom. She made chocolate chip cookies one time and I remember them being very yellow because of the fresh eggs. To make chicken and dumplings one time, I accompanied her to the chicken coop and she selected the least productive chicken and wrung its neck by grabbing it in her hand and then spinning it around. (That would give some incentive for the other chickens to lay.)

She taught piano to the children in Ft. Griffin. If the families that could not afford a piano, she somehow managed to buy one and let them use it. She owned a black piano and told me it was the same type of piano the Dwight Eisenhower's sister owned.

I was walking behind Lurline as we went to the trailer, and she stepped right over a baby rattlesnake. I was about to step on him. I must have yelled and Lurline turned around and was very calm. She grabbed a hoe and dispatched the little rattler without ceremony.

She had about 40 Reader's Digest magazines in the living room. Without anything else to do, I read most of them, especially the Humor in Uniform and other "funny" sections.

At her funeral, one of the attendees said he never heard Lurline say anything bad about anyone - ever. Quite a praise really.

Theron Pickens Fincher (aka "TP")

Theron grew up on the family ranch in Ft. Griffin. He went to Austin College like most of his siblings and other family. He went for a semester, but was so badly hazed that he didn't go back. I still have his textbook, "Euclid's Geometry".

While in High School, Theron was maneuvering a horse into a stall and the horse reared up and one of the front hooves came down on top on Theron's head. He was in a coma for several days, but eventually woke up. Theron started suffering from the injury. He walked with a limp in his left(?) leg. Before the injury Theron was a great athlete and a great baseball pitcher. It's sad that one work injury affected his entire life so much. As he got older the symptoms got worse. He has walking with a cane when I knew him. He also suffered from a tremor in his hands which I thought was a result of his injury. Little did I know it was a genetic defect that my father had, I have and my brother Mike has. When I was about 45 my hands started shaking. My doctor called it Essential Tremor or Familial Tremor.

Theron and Lurline ran a grocery store in Ft. Griffin. Dad said they did not do well at it since they were too kind-hearted and let too many people buy on credit that they never repaid. They also ran a grocery store in Albany for a while. Dad said that one night Theron was driving the car in a rain storm and ran into a pedestrian and killed him. Theron was so upset, that they moved back to Ft. Griffin.

One of the big activities of the day was going to get the mail. Theron would drive the 2-3 miles on gravel roads past the masonic lodge/church to the turkey foot (a place where the road branched into three roads in the shape of a turkey foot) and wait for the mail to be delivered. Many of the other older ranchers were also waiting there in their pickups. They would wave at each other. We would wait for a while and eventually the mailman would come. It was a thing to get the mail. I remember Theron had a collection of rattlesnake rattles in his El Camino in a bag or box, about a dozen.

Coming back from getting the mail, Theron stopped and pointed down the road that went to the ancient iron truss bridge over the Clear Fork, and said, "Mitch, this used to be main street. There was our grocery store, the livery stables, shops, and houses all up and down this road." I looked down the gravel road and it was surround on all sides by mesquite trees and brush. No sign that this dirt road was once the center of a bustling town.

Theron would make lamps by turning mesquite wood on a lathe and sell them. He also made wooden fishing lures and abacus-like domino point counters. He would raise cantaloupe and watermelons and sell them on the roadside.

He loved to play dominos and checkers. He would stack and entire set of dominos on one that was vertical. He would famously never look directly at the camera for pictures, but instead look off to the side. He was a very gentle man. He loved sugar. During lunch we would have tea and he would put enough sugar that he had about a quarter inch of sugar at the bottom. He would not cook often, but I remember him making us pancakes that covered the entire cast iron skillet, about 10 inches(?). They were very good.

One time when we were working cattle, Theron was at the part of the chute where the young bulls were castrated. He was throwing the testicles into a bucket for some reason. Later for lunch we were served deep fried mystery meat, aka Mountain Oysters. They were kinda tasty, if you didn't think too hard about the source.

Dad had bought Theron a blue surplus air force truck to use around the ranch. One day he came to visit and saw Granddaddy was in a shiny new red El Camino. Theron had traded in the blue Air Force truck for the El Camino, which was a little odd since the blue truck was still registered in my dad's name. The benefits of living in a small town.

Theron was always fond of a specific red cardinal that had taken up residence near their house. The bird only had one leg, and I thought with Theron being crippled in one leg, he had a special bond with the bird.

Dogs were always important at the ranch. Theron had a dog named "Laddie" and a few named "Buck". They were working dogs. Dad recounted that you could tell the dog to go get the milk cow, and he would dutifully go, find the cow, and drive her back to the barn to be milked. You could also tell the dog to get all the cows, and Buck would go to the upper field about half a mile away and gather up the cows and bring them back to the pen. They invested a lot of time training their animals which were so important to earning a living in the early 1900s.

My father was a pilot in Vietnam in 1969, and developed a thyroid tumor. His tour of duty was cut short by three months to send him back for an operation. This may have saved his life since we said two out of three pilots were being shot down. Theron and Lurline, my Grandmother Dorothy Kane Sievers, Mom, Mike and I drove down to San Antonio to see him before the operation. Theron and Lurline were very kind hearted, and even though they hardly had any money, they went to the grocery store and bought a loaf of bread, some sandwich meat and "fixins" to share with everyone else there for dinner. Privately, later my mom remarked she was actually looking forward to going out to eat. This little vignette to me showed the difference between my mom's side of the family and my dad's.

Theron was diligent to read his Bible. In his later years, I remember seeing him reading his Bible and putting a red tally mark and the beginning of the chapter to remind him he had read that chapter. The chapter he was on had about eight marks on it. I remember him reading a chapter of the Bible at dinner (lunch to most folks) with us. Lurline was a very devout Christian as well. She would be praying for us grandkids.

Dad once said about his Fincher Uncles and Aunts that they knew the Bible so well you could just name them a book and chapter and they could tell you what it was about.

The cow pens at the ranch had a large metal tank for the cattle to drink, about five feet in diameter and two feet high. Theron kept his fishing minnows in there. He kept a jar of oatmeal under the tank. It was always fun to go and feed the minnows because they would come up and thrash about to get the oatmeal. When it was time to go fishing, we would go to that tank and use a little net to gather a bunch of minnows and put them in a bucket.

I do miss my Grandparents, and regret that I did not spend more time getting to know them better and record their stories. As a young child you have no idea how much your Grandparents love you.

Bonus: About my GreatGrandFather, Pickens Steele Fincher, I remember my Dad saying a few things. PS would only eat a small amount of food and say, "A child's portion is all a grown man needs". PS would also tell stories which started with "When I was much of a man...". PS usually wore overalls. My dad said PS saw the most change in his life that he could think of - PS was born into the age of the horse and buggy and lived to see his grandson fly a jet.