THROWBACK THURSDAY: Whimsy & Wonder triggers memories

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By James Wear

My wife Paula and I were fortunate enough to attend Saturday’s Whimsy & Wonder festival held in downtown Liberty Hill, and as we walked up and down the street we both marveled at the arts on display and the music and other entertainment provided, and yes, every so often we actually bumped into somebody we knew. There’s a lot of new faces in town as many of those we knew have passed on or moved on.

Many of the old buildings have received facelifts over the past few years, and as we stepped inside of them we both were impressed with what a few coats of paint and new materials have done to improve the looks.

We visited the old building that was once home to Paula’s mother’s cafe and complimented the new owners on what they’ve done to restore the building.

As I looked at the new ceiling and walls and floors I thought back to that weekend, maybe 30 years back, when Paula and I and a group of friends impatiently waited for the clock to strike two o’clock and for Paula’s mother, Wanda, to head out the door.

Finally, purse in hand, she turned the sign on the front door to “Closed” and bid us a good weekend. The moment her van turned the corner and was out of sight we went to work, carrying all the booths out of the cafe and boxing up napkin holders and utensils…and then the real work began.

We tore out the old dropped ceiling and began running new wiring and then installed a new ceiling, nailing up 4×8 sheets of plywood to the bottom of the rafters. We gave the walls and ceiling a fresh coat of paint. We repaired the tiny restroom located in the back of the building.

We worked, and worked, finally finishing up about 4 a.m. Monday. We were sipping coffee when Wanda arrived to reopen the cafe about an hour later, and I can still remember the look on her face as she stepped through the door and looked about. Oh, it wasn’t a perfect job, our makeover was done on a very small budget and very limited time and some of my carpentry, well, I often wish I’d known then what I know now, but none of that was important to her.

Stepping outside of the building, I recalled the two old benches that used to sit in front of the cafe, built for Wanda by I believe Irven and James Johns, both of whom have passed on. The benches would become the favorite gathering spot for the town’s oldtimers and they’d spit and whittle and tell lies about how much rain they’d gotten the night before and who had caught the biggest fish the previous weekend and they’d watch the traffic go by.

The oldtimers had a front row seat for all of the action that took place in downtown Liberty Hill, and sometimes, it was quite entertaining.

There was the time the fellow who collected trash around town had parked his old truck across the street, facing west on Myrtle and had forgotten to place a block in front of the truck’s tires (the old truck didn’t have a good emergency brake). His son, who helped him collect garbage, was in the back when the truck started rolling down the inclined street and began hollering, “Help me, help me,” as it began picking up speed, finally coming to a stop when the truck veered to right and came to a rest when it hit one of the old rocks that had been left behind after the sculpture park had been moved to the new high school.

There was the time a kitten had fallen down into an old well across the street and the fire department responded and after a bit of effort, pulled the kitten out of the well.

There was the time, when the VFW had decided to build its post home, that the concrete crew was wrapping up work on finishing the slab and somebody hollered at one of the workers, “Hey, (name withheld) give us a ‘moon’” and the young fellow promptly pulled down his britches and obliged.

There was the time we had erected a community Christmas tree at the corner of the park and when it came time to take down the ornaments we discovered we didn’t have a ladder on hand high enough to reach the decorations at the top. Not a problem for a rather hefty lady who lived nearby. She walked over, looked up, then grabbed the tree and began shaking it violently. The ornaments came down.

There was the week before we held a benefit for Paula’s mother after Wanda had been diagnosed with cancer and we posted a sign high above the street, writing on it with paint “Honk if you love Wanda” and the car horns blared all week long and continued until we took the sign down, but only after she had passed on. The one day the street was silent, although lined with people, was the day her funeral procession drove through town and paused momentarily in front of the cafe.

Last Saturday, as we prepared to erect a couple of walls we had built for an “entry” to the evening’s event, I thought it only appropriate that the fellow who helped us carry and secure the walls was James Williams, whose mother Grace recently passed. Grace, of course, was for many year’s Liberty Hill’s premier artist and while sculptor Mel Fowler may have gotten all the headlines, it was Grace who the community embraced as its own.

Most of those who prompt our memories are gone now, but Saturday night, as we made our way though the crowd, I could sense their spirits and a nod of approval.

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