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  • A fadin’ renegade’s last stand

    doug supernaw 2FILE PHOTO Douglas Anderson Supernaw

    By Chris Edwards

    “Pass the word I’ve done the best I can.”

    - Doug Supernaw, “Fadin’ Renegade”

    Each year the Country Music Association rolls out its exceedingly ridiculous parade of high-dollar fashion and spraytans and back-slapping. There was a fuss made in the aftermath of the most recent ceremony, about how it did not include tributes to three bona-fide country legends who had passed: John Prine, Jerry Jeff Walker and Billy Joe Shaver. Two days after the show aired, another legend of country music passed right here in deep East Texas, Mr. Douglas Anderson Supernaw.

    Had the long, tall Texan died prior to the broadcast, I doubt they would have included a tribute to him, either.

    The CMAs, like so much of what is trotted out to the general public as representative of the “music business” is fake, and Doug Supernaw was not. That guy was as real as Death Valley summers are hot.

    If you’re a casual music fan of a certain age, you might remember when Supe was a big mainstream star, a time when “Reno” and “I Don’t Call Him Daddy” were played dozens of times a day on the radio. It was a time when there was still a place for country music that sounded like, well, country music, on the top of the Billboard charts, and there was a place in the big radio markets for great songs. Although that was all coming up on 30 years ago, those records, like Red and Rio Grande and You Still Got Me hold up as amazing collections of songs to this day.

    doug supernawFILE PHOTO Douglas Anderson Supernaw

    To most folks for whom music is not a big part of their life (and shame on them for their poor life choices), Supernaw was relegated to the “I haven’t heard anything about him in years” status, due to his disillusionment with the music business and other factors I won’t address here, but he was always around and always relevant. To that end, it was an honor to be able to chronicle his return to full-time touring and what was supposed to be a comeback to recorded product for this magazine’s inaugural issue back in 2018.

    Sadly, it was a comeback that was cut all-too short. He was on a tear, playing great shows, promoting an album that showcased re-recordings of many of his old hits, and reminding the world that he was a force to be reckoned with. However, a nagging cough and other symptoms led to an eventual diagnosis of advanced forms of cancer in early 2019. The doctors, from what I’m told, did not give him much time, but they had no idea just how tough a man Doug Supernaw really was. He beat one of the cancers, and, after some aggressive treatments and the caring prayers and meditative energies from legions of fans and friends, it looked like he had beaten it all for good.

    It was not to be, though.

    The last time I saw him was during the Christmas parade in downtown Livingston in 2019. He was helping out in his wife Cissy’s shop downtown, and he looked great. Seeing him greet customers as they walked in, and help out with moving furniture and other goods, made me wonder if any of the folks coming into the store knew they were in the presence of greatness.

    Things seemed to be going well for him in the drawn-out debacle that was 2020, but then in September, word had gotten around via social media that his health had taken a drastic and sudden wrong turn. That news was a punch to my solar plexus, and I’m sure it took the breath of many fans upon discovery.

    The first time I saw Doug Supernaw onstage was at one of the Jasper Lions Club rodeos in the early ‘90s. I’d tagged along with my mom, and was blown away, not just by the music and his performance, but by the example I saw after the show.

    I stood in line with my rodeo program to be autographed and waited impatiently. I still loathe standing in lines to this day, otherwise I’m about as longsuffering as a Hindu cow. What Doug was doing, though, was making sure that he not only signed whatever the fans in line had for him, but that he got to hang out and talk to each and every one of them for a bit. All of this, in spite of the fact that the sack full of Burger King goodies sitting on the table behind him was getting cold.

    Through the years I’ve heard stories about how he played benefit shows for families in need, or for causes near to his heart, when he could have played big-paying shows, instead. I’ve heard stories about how he gave of his time to help coach Little League teams or would spring into action is someone needed help with their horses. He’d do anything for anyone. He was just a regular, very real guy, albeit one with a massive amount of talent and a beautiful, beautiful soul.

    Despite how much he tried to blend in, however, there was just something magnetic about Doug. He had a sort of charisma that made him stand out wherever he was. I remember a few years ago hanging out with him at a Texas Country Music Association event in Longview, and there were a good many musicians, industry folks and fans coming and going; oblivious to most everything and everyone else but him. Everyone wanted to stop and talk to him.

    Another time, at a party in San Marcos, after a music festival he’d played, he was the center of attention, even though it seemed like he would’ve been content to just sit on the host’s couch and eat pizza. Everyone at the party hung on his words about getting to meet Neil Young, or stories about playing Farm Aid events and of what the Beach Boys were really like.

    chris and dougMOLLIE LASALLE | ETXN The late, great Doug Supernaw with the author, backstage.

    One of the stories I’ve heard that best illustrates Doug Supernaw in a nutshell comes from the Midlandbased singer/songwriter Scott Hayley, whom Supe was mentoring shortly before he entered into hospice care. Hayley recently recounted via Facebook posting of how he and Doug were on a road-trip, and Tanya Tucker’s version of the Allen Shamblin tune “The House That Built Me” came on the radio. The song, which was a big hit when it was recorded by Miranda Lambert, recounts a house full of memories once occupied by the narrator, who returns as an adult to the house she grew up in.

    When it hit radio with Lambert’s rendition, it was at a time that Supernaw wasn’t likely paying much attention to pop culture or what was on the radio. Hayley said that he looked over at his friend, who was riding shotgun, and the beauty of the song struck him to the point of bringing him to tears. “It’s so beautiful,” is what he said of the song.

    That story spoke volumes to me about what kind of a guy Doug was. He was, on the surface, a fun-loving fellow who was the life of the party, and someone who loved to laugh (and make others laugh) but he was also a guy with an enormous amount of talent and a truly beautiful soul.

    The wave of mainstream popularity that Supernaw enjoyed in the early 1990s may have been his own slice of 15 minutes of fame, but he was important to many people far beyond the short, fickle memories and attention spans of gauche mainstream culture. All of that CMA Awards glitz and readymade Instagram-posting “outlaw” stuff is, again, utterly fake and Doug Supernaw was not.

    His success and legacy prove that every now and again the good guys finish first and come out on top, and lately, that same concept holds true with the popularity of real artists like Jason Isbell, Tyler Childers and Chris Stapleton making legit art.

    Their popularity probably seems like an aberration to those whose image of country music is defined by Jason Aldean and rapped verses about tractors and beer over computer-generated drumbeats. I’m sure that if Doug Supernaw were just starting out today, he would seem like an outlier, confined to what mainstream radio looks at as the ghetto of “Americana” or “traditional country.” But then again, the real music and real people making that music are still out there. It just requires more effort to find them than most folks are willing to commit.

    To many around Livingston, no doubt, he was just Doug, a magnetic and charming fellow who could be seen around town just enjoying life and the company of friends and his lovely wife Cissy.

    If such a thing as an angel on earth exists, it is his widow. Supposedly, in the mid-90’s when Doug was hanging out in the area, after a gig, he spotted her and said something to the effect of one day he’d return and marry her. Well, he must’ve had a bit of Nostradamus in him, because that’s what happened, and he not only found the love of his life, but a renewed vitality and commitment to his artform.

    God bless Doug Supernaw, a most incredible artist and an even better human being.

  • A Healing Forest for Wolfdogs and Women Parolees

    EastTexan Spring2021AMY HOLZWORTH | PCE

    By Jeff Fatheree

    I was raised with the thought that pets were family, so the idea that there are dogs that are abused and abandoned is foreign to me. Having watched “Pit Bulls and Parolees” I learned that many of the dog world are abandoned, abused, deserted, and otherwise treated as if they have no worth in our society. Parolees often must feel the same things as these animals when they attempt to return to society.

    They experience what it is like to be judged by appearance and past rather than looking for the beauty within. Tia Torres and her family and crew are not the normal society people and they choose to give both animals and humans second chances. Villalobos Dog Rescue in New Orleans was an outcropping of this idea. Tia began in California rescuing wolves and wolfdogs in the area she grew up. She made a trip to Sri Lanka and learned what it meant to truly be a community of man. The blending of religions from all over and the love that the people there had for each other spoke to her and she spent a year studying the different religions. She was raised Catholic but came to appreciate the beliefs of all types of spirituality. Sri Lanka left her with a love for all things of creation but particularly the animals.

    Tia told me that when she returned from Sri Lanka, she had a vision to minister to the outcast of society. The wolfdogs she started with do not belong to either the wolf world or the dog world. Captured somewhere in-between they often are put down rather than rehabilitated as neither rescue center wants to house them. When they moved to Louisiana, they found a large population of Pit Bulls, labeled as a vicious breed. Most of them end up being put down when they no longer have a home and family to care for them or they have begun to lose in dog fights. The parolees in Louisiana, much like the dog population, were outcasts and found themselves living on the edge of society. Tia saw the beauty of both beneath the surface and the Villalobos (Village of Wolves) was born.

    Having done animal rescue in Louisiana during Katrina, Tia and crew went back to California. Louisiana continued to call to them and in 2011 they spent a year transitioning to “The Big Easy” and working with the parole system to give the dogs of New Orleans and the men re-entering society a chance to work together to change both man and beast. Taking care of and learning to be responsible for something other than oneself is a giant step in returning to society. The animals rescued from the streets of New Orleans, like the men, had trust issues and had spent time relying on and worrying only about themselves to survive. This mix has helped heal man and beast and resulted in adoptions all over the country of the animals from Villalobos. Tia, her family, volunteers, parolees, and crew have truly formed a “pack” with the dogs of Louisiana.

    In 2017 they expanded the operation to include a rural property in Assumption Parish. They work with the animal shelters in some of the smaller areas to help with resources and taking in animals that are unable to be cared for locally. They have some hounds and other pups that flourish better in the rural environment there and it also acts somewhat as a retreat and healing area for the staff. They live “down the road” from another Louisiana legend, Troy Landry of “Swamp People” fame. Troy has spent his life making a living off the swamp. Being the person Tia is, when she received a call for help from Henderson County Texas, she was on the way. Some wolfdogs had been abandoned when their owner took his own life, and the Sheriff needed assistance to capture them or he would have to put them down. She planned to be there two days capturing and getting housing for 40 wolfdogs.

    1 EastTexan Spring2021AMY HOLZWORTH | PCE

    A lady in Athens had purchased the property several years prior, but the previous owner never moved so she could take ownership. Finding that only fourteen of the animals would cooperate, she said before her brain could stop her, her mouth asked well what if we just buy the place? The lady said certainly she would sell as she loved the idea of the animals remaining in the location they had called home. Sheriff Botie Hillhouse said, “Tia, you just bought the ugliest piece on the block.” Tia told me she saw it as an almost enchanted healing forest and envisioned what the future might hold. She has gathered volunteers and family to begin cleaning the property and has a caretaker that stayed through the Winter Storm of 2021 to make sure the wolfdogs had food and water.

    They have also begun working with the animals to reacquaint them with human contact and the changes in the animals’ demeanor have been nothing short of miraculous. The long-term goal and plans are to build cabins on the property for female parolees and their children, if they have them, to live and work with the animals. Wolfdogs react better to females than males as pack animals often do. She would also like to have additional cabins available for religious teachers to stay in and teach the parolees and minister to their needs.

    They intend to teach life skills as well as concern for something other than themselves to the parolees. They can certainly use volunteer help, as well as donations to allow for feeding and housing, and Tia is always grateful to have assistance. Her target date for completion and grand opening of Villalobos Dog Rescue Texas, is June of 2021. Check their Facebook page for updates and ways to volunteer at Villalobos Rescue Center - TEXAS. We plan on being there to let you know what is going on. We will likely be revealing a new name for the Texas location that will still include VRC in the title but reflect the healing nature of the forest.

    If you would like to join in and help, contact the Louisiana location. Email them at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. If you wish to donate send a check to Villalobos Rescue Center P.O. Box 771127 New Orleans, LA. 70177 or go to their website at https://www.vrcpitbull.com/how-you-can-help/donations/ and send via PayPal. You do not need to make a reservation to come help but let them know you are on the way via email to the Athens or New Orleans center. You will love the reward of reaching out and giving a second chance to both pups and people.

  • A place to rest their heads

    EastTexan Spring2021

    Sleep in heavenly peace commits to ending childhood bedlessness

    By Chris Edwards

    In the classic song “The Weight” by The Band, a weary traveler’s lament known to every man, woman, child and beast, the late, great Levon Helm sings of someone looking for a place “where a man might find a bed,” to no avail.

    There are many who are in search of that same, seemingly basic amenity/comfort, including children, a fact that bothered Woodville resident Brian Smith.

    “I had no idea that children without beds was an issue, a problem at all. I simply never thought about it. I have always had a bed; everyone that I knew had a bed,” he said.

    Sleep in heavenly1

    Smith and his wife Deborah saw a story on a Beaumont television station’s news broadcast that reported on that particular issue and an organization fighting to end it, and it left a deep impression upon both their hearts and minds.

    The story was about a non-profit organization named after a line in the old Christmas time hymn “Silent Night.” Sleep in Heavenly Peace is a nationwide concern, and was began by a concerned church youth group leader named Luke Mickelson.

    Mickelson first encountered the issue of children without beds in his church and got a group together to build beds for a family in need. From that humble show of service sprung the organization, which became a non-profit with chapters around the country. Mickelson was even honored by CNN in 2018 as a “Hero of the Year.”

    The Smiths added an East Texas chapter of the organization to its growing roster on September 5, 2020, which was a quest of approximately 10 months.

    The couple investigated the practical aspects of getting a SHP chapter started, namely the cost of materials and the necessary non-profit paperwork, interest was fomenting, and several members of the community became interested in helping.

    With a group together, the “core team,” they had their first building event on that day in September, when they built six twin beds to donate to families in the county who were in need.

    Sleep in heavenly4

    “There are children in Tyler County sleeping on the floor, on a couch, in a chair, or are sharing an undersized mattress on the floor with too many siblings or otherwise in a less-than-optimal sleeping environment,” Brian said.

    The word got out quickly throughout the community, and Deborah said it was “an extremely rewarding experience” to see her desire to help the community pay off.

    Although the story on the news brought the issue into living color for Brian and Deborah, seeing folks who could use a hand-up was nothing new to Brian. He said he has done mission work in some of the poorer areas of Mexico, places “where one sees true poverty,” he said, and seeing how people lived left a deep, lasting impression, which came back in spades when he and his wife saw that broadcast.

    “Here, in the United States, to realize that our little county probably has hundreds of children without beds hurts my heart,” he said.

    Sleep in heavenly2

    “As a sentimental older man, I still get choked up when I think of the joyous reactions of the children we help. The feelings of peace and security that a real bed gives them gets me up for early morning bed builds,” he said.

    SHP currently has 240 chapters across the nation, and in Bermuda, and there are hopes to break into Canada in the near future.

    Anyone can volunteer at one of SHP’s bed-build events, and they do not have to bring anything, “except a desire to help others,” Brian said. The group will supply the tools, PPE, drinks, snacks and instructions.

    The Woodville chapter of the group hopes to be able to build sturdy, functional bunk and twin beds from dimensional lumber one Saturday each month during the 8 a.m. to noon time period. The volunteer-driven assembly line process allows most anyone to contribute.

    According to the chapter’s website, located at shpbeds.org/chapter/tx-woodville, anyone who wishes to volunteer can show up to the build day event or a delivery event, and those dates are available on a calendar on the site. There is also a link on the site to allow anyone who is interested in contributing financially to the cause, or to sponsor a build day.

    According to Brian, the cost to build a twin bed is $170 and $350 for a bunk bed, and all of the materials must come from donations. Each chapter of SHP must be financially self-supporting and entirely dependent on donations, which is all carefully accounted for, from local chapters through the national headquarters.

    The estimated monthly need for the SHP Woodville chapters is $2,500 to $3,000, which is enough to provide 14 to 17 beds per month, and this is the cost for the bare materials.

    The organization also needs tools, such as saw blades, drill bits and other items, such as gloves, safety glasses and many other PPE items.

    Brian added that for anyone who needs one of the beds, there is a place on the website to request a bed, and applicants can answer a few basic questions and submit. He and Deborah can also be contacted directly, at 844-432-2337 (extension 5757) or at PO Box 143, Woodville, Texas 75979, for anyone who might be interested in donating to the cause.

  • After the storm

    deadfish2021COURTESY PHOTO | TPWD Red drum killed by freezing temperatures in last week’s winter blast float in Pringle Lake, a backwater estuary along the middle Texas coast near Port O’Connor.

    Texas wildlife, fisheries experts reporting mixed bag of hits following frigid winter blast

    Story by Matt Williams

    The polar vortex that pummeled the south in February with snow, ice and record low temperatures caught lots of people off guard and wreaked havoc on life as we know it. Many who lived through Winter Storm Uri will forever remember it as a chaotic week when Texas froze over and all sorts of trouble came in the wake.

    The state’s power grid choked, leaving millions to fend off the ruthless cold in the dark without heat for days.
    Limbs snapped and trees toppled, taking power lines with them. Pipes burst, flooding countless homes and businesses. Roofs collapsed and ceilings caved in. Lakes and ponds froze over.

    At Lake O’ The Pines and Toledo Bend reservoirs, sections of two popular marinas sank under the weight of ice and snow.
    Excessive demands for gasoline caused long lines at pumps.

    Grocery store shelves were stripped bare and many fast food hubs ran short of meat for tacos and buns for burgers.
    For many, finding clean water to drink and warm water to bathe became a challenge.

    To make matters worse, all of this hardship and more fell on top of a lingering pandemic that refuses to go away.
    Texas’ fisheries, wildlife and habitat took some hits in the winter storm, too. It’s still too early in the game to know the full extent of the damage done in the outdoor world, but some of the early reports indicate it isn’t pretty.

    A panel of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department experts offered some thoughts on the situation thus far:

    White-tailed Deer and Exotics

    White-tailed deer program leader Alan Cain doesn’t foresee any significant losses with white-tailed deer with the exception of a few older animals.
    “Obviously, some mortality of the very old deer or those deer in poor body condition is to be expected — this is just nature, survival of the fittest,” Cain said.

    Cain pointed to possible damage to native habitat in some regions as a more pressing concern. He said some brush species in South Texas that had green leaves before the freeze are now parched or brown.

    “We’re also seeing some impact on the winter weeds which are critical for deer this time of year and into the early spring,” he said. “There are still some green patches of burclover, but we’re also seeing lots of it burned from the freeze. I’m hopeful the moisture from the snow and ice soaked up in the soil we’ll see a good start to the spring green up as temperatures warm.”

    Exotic animals didn’t fare near as well in the winter blast. Axis deer and black buck antelope were among the hardest hit. “Many of the exotics don’t do well with extended periods of extreme cold,” Cain said. “I’ve heard reports of axis deer seeking shelter in barns on some ranches in the Hill Country, which is completely unexpected. This just shows how desperate some of the axis deer were to find shelter from the weather. I suspect it will be several weeks before we know the full impact on the exotics.”

    Coastal Fish Kills/Shad Die-offs

    Sadly, widespread fish kills occurred along the Texas Coast when frigid air chilled water temperatures into the mid-40s in shallow bay systems. Reports of dead fish and cold-stunned sea turtles began coming in as early as Valentine’s Day. Quantification of the impacts are still ongoing, according to a Feb. 23 TPWD news release.

    Biologists and game wardens have documented mortalities along the entire coastline, but TPWD says it appears that bays south of Galveston were the hardest hit. Early assessments indicate the majority of fish impacted were non-recreational species, but game fish including spotted sea trout, red drum, sheepshead, grey snapper, snook, black drum and tarpon were also impacted. Experts will know more as gill net sampling and angler creel surveys get underway this spring. Freshwater sport fish aren’t near as susceptible to mortality in freeze events because they can usually find refuge in deeper water. However, shad populations that provide vital forage for game fish aren’t always so lucky, according to TPWD fisheries biologist Brian Van Zee of Waco.
    Van Zee said threadfin shad die-offs have been reported at lakes Texoma, Lavon and Graham.

    “It’s not that uncommon, especially at Lake Texoma,” he said. “Luckily, shad populations rebuild quickly. Once it warms up they’ll starting spawning like crazy.” Van Zee added the game wardens at Lake Falcon in South Texas scooped up numerous tilapia that perished in the cold.

    Wild Turkey

    Wild turkeys are big, hardy birds. Likewise, TPWD wild turkey program leader Jason Hardin isn’t expecting to see any major impacts from the big freeze.
    “Most of our turkeys should be fine,” he said. “They should have had enough fat and energy reserves to survive. That said, any birds that were in bad shape (malnourished, injured, or sick) going into this event would have a harder time and would be more susceptible to predators. This undoubtedly depleted fat reserves, so there could be an impact going into the nesting season with reduced reproductive effort, but if we can stay warm and green from now until spring they should have a chance to replenish their reserves.”

    Quail

    Texas bobwhites just can’t catch a break. The verdict is still out as to how hard the iconic game birds may have been hit by the cold blast, according to Robert Perez, upland game bird program leader.

    “Our Texas quail species do have adaptations to get through tough weather,” he said. “With the right escape cover available, the covey formation does an excellent job of heat retention. However, the snowfall seems to penetrate even good escape cover, so coveys may have been pushed and possibly weakened.”

    Perez added that icing events lasting beyond 3-4 days can spell trouble for the dapper game birds. “Bobwhite and scaled quail are only weak scratchers, so they are not really adapted to having to dig through ice,” he said. “Once the body fat reserve is gone birds have been found whole/frozen after prolonged ice periods in the Texas Panhandle and Oklahoma. I have not gotten any reports of that so far with this winter storm, but it is possible.”

    Doves, Ducks and Bats

    TPWD’s webless migratory program leader Owen Fitzsimmons said there have been reports of mortalities among white-winged doves, pelagic offshore species and various songbirds, but he isn’t expecting the impacts to be significant. He believes any dove losses will be quickly offset with a decent breeding season.

    “Birds need to consume a lot of food to generate heat and stay warm in sustained cold weather,” he said. “It only takes a day or two without food to kill a bird in extremely cold temperatures. The bad part was that all the snow and ice made finding seeds/insects impossible, so that’s why some birds didn’t make it.”

    Additionally, TPWD reported hundreds of dead coots and multiple blue-winged teal mortalities at state wildlife management areas, along with dead or cold-stunned bats beneath road bridges.

    Giant Salvinia Knocked Back

    The big freeze may have helped in the state’s ongoing battle against giant salvinia. The invasive plant is present in more than two dozen Texas reservoirs and several rivers, according to John Findiesen, TPWD’s aquatic habitat enhancement team leader.

    “I’m not completely sure what the long-term impacts will be, but short term looks good,” he said. “We had a cold weather event in January 2018 that was was not as severe as this one and had a shorter duration, but it still wiped out 98 percent of the salvinia in the state. Giant salvinia covered nearly 6,000 acres of Caddo Lake prior to the 2018 event. We found less than 50 acres of salvinia inour initial post-event survey in 2018.”

    Unfortunately, the plant has knack for bouncing back. “This event will definitely help reduce salvinia coverage again, but I don’t know how long it will be before we see it floating again on area lakes,” Findiesen said. “Even if it all dies in Texas, it could easily be brought from somewhere else by trailer, boat or other equipment.”

  • Everything old is new again

    image 2After being spotted by Buc-ee’s management at his Highway 19 shop and collection, Jimmy Cochran was commissioned to create display vehicles to use at various Buc-ee’s, the first of which is still displayed in the store in Ennis.

    By Tony Farkas

    Jimmy Cochran’s passion gives him such a great sense of anticipation that he relishes getting up each morning.

    That passion is restoring vintage vehicles, something he grew up with and continued throughout his life.

    The 71-year-old Cochran was in the used car business for many years, and he turned that experience into his hobby.

    “I’m semi-retired; I had a dealer’s license from 1978 to 2018,” he said. “I gave up the license, but not the love. The car collection became another business, where people either use them as backdrops or purchased them.

    “I like all old cars, but my real passion is for pre-war, wartime and post-war models — 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s,” he said. “They have the most unique body designs. I’m a ‘49 model, and that’s the reason I like those years.”

    Cochran said he grew up around cars — especially the older ones.

    “My father was a tractor mechanic by trade; we never could afford a new car, so I’ve been around used cars all my life,” he said. “I’ve always liked the old cars — I’ve had the passion since was I was a kid. I see potential in every one of them.

    “When I get it in the shop, I start dragging things in that will go with it,” he said. “I’ve only had one that I couldn’t figure out what to do with, and I traded that off. I’m a hands-on guy.”

    Even as a child, he had the bug. Starting out with four-wheel scooters, he began his foray into rebuilding and refurbishing vehicles.

    “I had a scooter, one someone gave me when I was in junior high school. I overhauled the engine, painted it, ran it all over the place,” he said

    The next step

    A 1936 Dodge 500 Business Coupe park ed on his lot northwest of Trinity about 10 years ago was the key to the start of his new venture of restoring old vehicles.

    “I kept (the Dodge) parked here, and it started drawing people to it,” Cochran said. “Those people would then ask me if I knew about this old car in the woods or over there in a barn, and I would go a check it out. Next thing you know, I’m dragging stuff in here left and right.

    Image 1One of several projects Jimmy Cochran is working on is a 1927 Ford Model T Coupe.

    “These cars are like a magnet drawing people in off the road; I have met people from other countries because of these old cars,” he said. “As a matter of fact I had a young couple in their 30s stop here, they were from Scotland. They had flown over here, got a rental car at the airport and drove around sightseeing, had a big time. They got around here, and did a U-turn and hung out with me, talking and taking pictures, and two hours later, they told me that out of all of the traveling they’ve done, hanging out with me was the highlight of their trip.”

    Cochran is not hung up on any particular model, and not on any particular vehicle; it would be like trying to choose a favorite song.

    “There’s something to love about each and every one,” he said. “I still like the old engines like the flathead V8. They’re just nostalgic — they sound bad, but there’s nothing bad about them. And it’s not just the sound, but the feel, the smell, everything.

    “You won’t see anyone using the current cars in 40 or 50 years, but you can take one of these old cars out of a field, and if they’ll turn over, they’ll run.”

    One of his first pieces was pulled out of a field with chin-high weeds; Cochran said he made it run again under its own power, and then started driving it to car shows. However, restoring a vehicle doesn’t necessarily mean creating a pristine piece.

    Cochran prefers that many of his pieces retain the patina of rust and age, and he’ll clear-coat on top of it to preserve that look — wanting it to look like it just came off the farm. He also likes to do most of the work on the vehicles, but does hire out the glasswork and pinstriping, as well as some of the welding.

    “I’ve sold them for people to advertise with, and I’ve rented them for people to advertise with, and I’ve now got people who call me when they find something, and if I get something good from it, I’ll give them a $100 bill. It keeps them looking,” he said.

    Famous finds

    Cochran’s cars attracted more than just people, it attracted a manager with the Buc-ee’s organization who happened to be driving by the lot.

    “He told me I have some stuff they need,” Cochran said. “He said they redo the old trucks to use as displays inside of a store. He looked around at what I had, and had me get together with someone who was rebuilding them. We met, and they picked out four trucks — two 46 Fords, a 49 Studebaker and a 49 Chevrolet.”

    Cochran was given an opportunity to build one on his own, and he went to work. An old parts truck was on the lot, and he began work. Eight months later, when the Buc-ee’s people came to pick it up, Cochran said “his mouth flew open like a two-bit suitcase.”

    The first one built is in the Ennis store, and the latest one is going to a new store that is scheduled to open in Georgia.

    “They were real pleased, and told me to get to work on the next one,” he said.

    Those builds, Cochran said, are not typical; the work is mostly cosmetic. There is no engine, or even axles, leaf springs or rear ends; the inside is redone, the bed and hood are repaired and painted, and the whole piece is mounted on heavy casters to allow it to be moved around.

    Barrels are used to mimic wheels; those are used to house display items such as small stuffed beavers sold by the stores.

    And if there’s no parts laying around, that’s OK; items such as shaving brushes, barrels, picnic tables and other items not necessarily car-related are repurposed into bed material, running boards, and even shifter knobs.

    It’s a process Cochran plans to continue as long as possible.

    “I like it so much I can’t wait to get in here in the morning,” he said. “I need to get out here and do something with these cars.”

    image 3Jimmy Cochran, a longtime car dealer and a lifetime car enthusiast, has a 1949 Ford Police Cruiser prominently displayed at his lot on Highway 19 north of Trinity. Cochran has a passion for cars and trucks from the 1930s to the 1950s, and if you make an appointment, you can travel down memory lane with his antiques.

  • Happy Days Diner & Tammy’s Country Kitchen

    EastTexan Winter2021 tammys 2EMILY WOOTEN | EAST TEXAN Fried steak fingers from Happy Days Diner.

    By Emily Banks Wooten

    “One, two, three o'clock, four o'clock, rock. Five, six, seven o'clock, eight o'clock, rock. Nine, ten, eleven o'clock, twelve o'clock, rock. We're gonna rock around the clock tonight.”

    When I heard that song during my childhood and adolescence I knew it was Tuesday night and time to gather around the TV with my family to watch the beloved sitcom “Happy Days” and see what the Cunninghams were up to. Oh, how we loved that middle-class family from Milwaukee and their idyllic life in the 1950s.

    While it’s not Al’s Diner and you won’t find Richie or Fonzie there, you will find some solid good food at Happy Days Diner in Shepherd, Texas. There’s a jukebox in the front corner and the walls are covered with pictures of Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and Humphrey Bogart, as well as a few classic cars.

    The menu is entertaining as all the dishes are song titles from the 50s and 60s.

    On a recent trip there, my 13-year-old daughter and I ordered the “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet,” which was hand-breaded homemade steak fingers with cream gravy, a choice of French fries or mashed potatoes, a house salad and a dinner roll. She chose brown gravy for her mashed potatoes while I preferred the cream gravy for mine.

    The plate arrived with four beautiful steak fingers that were each the size of the palm of my hand. I kid you not. They were first class. The meat was tender and the crunchy breading was perfect. I’d definitely order it again.

    the “Ooo Baby Baby,” which was two center cut pork chops, fried or grilled, with choice of French fries or mashed potatoes, a house salad and a dinner roll. He ordered them grilled and was a little disappointed. While they were seasoned perfectly, he said, they were so thin that they’d dried out during grilling.

    EastTexan Winter2021 tammys 3EMILY WOOTEN | EAST TEXAN Pork chops from Happy Days Diner.

    Our first experience at Happy Days Diner was in August of 2006. I was three and a half months pregnant with our daughter and we’d stopped there for breakfast on the way to Houston for a day of shopping and a movie. I had two scrambled eggs, bacon, toast and hashbrowns with a side order of chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes and cream gravy. I ate and enjoyed every bite and didn’t think a thing of it. My sweet husband didn’t say a word but just smiled and continued drinking his coffee. Several days later, I accidentally overheard him telling my mother that he’d never given much thought to that whole “eating for two” thing but that he’d certainly witnessed an increase in my appetite as my pregnancy had progressed. We still laugh about that today.

    We’ve had something of a family tradition evolve over the years at Happy Days. After we’ve placed our order, to pass the time as we’re waiting on the food to arrive, we each select our favorite picture of Elvis and Marilyn from the selection on the walls. There are plenty from which to choose and it’s not uncommon for our individual faves to change from one visit to the next.

    And once you’ve satisfied your appetite at the Happy Days Diner, you may also do a little shopping. There’s a rack with a selection of T-shirts for sale, as well as a large array of hair bows and $1 hair scrunchies. You may also replenish your stash of Scentsy wax bars or Avon Skin So Soft.

    Happy Days Diner is located at 6230 US-59 in Shepherd. It’s open daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. They don’t deliver but they do offer take-out. The telephone number is 936-628-6515.

    Some time back we received a circular in our local newspaper that was a menu for a place called Tammy’s Country Kitchen, east of Woodville. The menu touted the “best burgers in town” and “breakfast all day.”

    My husband and I decided to drive over one Saturday and check it out. I’d studied the menu pretty closely and had a fairly good idea of what I was planning to order. On the way over, however, I decided to look it up on my Trip Advisor app and check out the reviews. There were plenty and one after another raved over the burgers.

    EastTexan Winter2021 tammysEMILY WOOTEN | EAST TEXAN Cheeseburger and sweet potatoe fries from Tammy's Country Kitchen..

    My curiosity was definitely piqued so I changed my mind about my order once there. I selected a cheeseburger and sweet potato fries and my husband ordered a hamburger and onion rings. Oh. My. Goodness. The reviewers had not overstated. That may have been the best burger I’ve ever had. I’ve wracked my brain trying to determine what it was that made it so good and I still can’t put my finger on it. I do know, however, that there will be more Saturdays in our future in which my husband and I will drive over there for no other reason than to get those burgers again. We enjoyed both the sweet potato fries and onion rings too.

    Tammy’s Country Kitchen is located on 233 US Hwy. 190, one mile east of Woodville. Hours are 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. The telephone number is 409-331-9

    While they don’t deliver, they do offer curbside pickup.

  • Keep calm and carry on

    Free Farm VectorFILE PHOTO Free Farm

    There are days when I look at the world and all I see is a yard full of chickens – not cowards, actual chickens. Chickens start squawking and flapping around at the slightest provocation. Chickens always act like it’s the end of the world.

    When I start viewing the universe as a cacophonous barnyard, I take it as a sign that maybe, just maybe, it is time to seek some stability and predictability from a source who is, unlike a chicken, unflappable.

    It was on one of those days that I turned off the television, stepped away from the internet and picked up a magazine from a stack that, considering I was seeing farm animals that weren’t really there, had been ignored for too long.

    The teaser headline on the front of the magazine made me turn to the article right away: “Life Lessons from Queen Elizabeth.”

    Who wouldn’t want advice from Queen Elizabeth II? She is 94 years old and, as of this writing, still going strong. Long live the queen!

    I have always felt a certain kinship with the queen and like to think that we have a lot in common. She has an affinity for tea and for dogs. So do I! She loves horses; I once rode one. She likes things to be neat and tidy. I do, too! In fact, that is one of the top goals for my next life. She wears a royal crown; I enjoy the occasional Crown Royal. She is surrounded by people who wait on her hand and foot; I think I could easily learn to live with that.

    The article offered some generic advice about positive thinking, serving others, establishing a healthy routine… yada, yada, yada. With my vast knowledge of Queen Elizabeth, and with four seasons of Netflix’s “The Crown” under my belt, I had expected nothing else. The queen rarely weighs in, publically at least, on current events. During the nearly 70 years she has been monarch, she has been the picture of cool, calm consistency.

    She still adheres to that “stiff upper lip” and “keep calm and carry on” philosophy for which the Brits were known back in the day and that I used to find irritating. Not anymore.

    As odd as it might sound, when I start seeing chickens where people should be, I can also find solace in TV weather forecasts. Sure, you can go to some dot-com and get the forecast down to the minute, but I want to see a familiar face. Once a meteorologist makes it to the top spot in the weather department, they tend to stay for decades and, just like with my good friend the queen, I start to feel like I know them. They are stable, predictable and unflappable. No matter what may be bearing down on us, you can count on the chief meteorologist to project a calm demeanor and not go all squawky-flappy on us.

    When I was growing up, we had a choice of three local stations for our nightly forecast. My family’s go-to weather guru was a skinny guy with glasses named Bob Lynott. I lie not.

    I lived in Oregon for the first 13 years of my life and Bob was there for every one of them, although I was probably more interested in my belly button than the weather during his earlier broadcasts.

    In those low-tech days, good ol’ Bob would slap his magnetic images of puffy clouds, rain-dripping clouds and the occasional uplifting likeness of Mr. Sunshine onto a map to illustrate what was going to happen in our corner of the world the next day. Since we lived in the Pacific Northwest, the cloud with the dripping rain got quite a workout. He drew the warm and cold fronts on the map with a magic marker.

    I did a quick computer check to make sure I was spelling Bob Lynott’s name right (his last name; I was pretty sure I had nailed his first name) and found his obituary. It reminded me of why he was our weather guy. This is one of the stories it told about Bob: “One time, the day after missing badly on a forecast, he made his entrance to his weather slot by putting his hat on the end of an umbrella and sticking it in front of the camera before he came on.” He did that sort of thing fairly often; he was predictable even when the weather was not.

    Bob may not have always been right, but you could count on him to fess up when he messed up. No matter what, he was unflappable. We knew we would keep tuning in and that Bob would be there to greet us.

    The late author E.L. Doctorow once compared writing a novel to driving a car at night. “You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” He may have been referring to writing, but I think it could be one life’s great lessons. We don’t really need to know what is around the next curve or even our destination; we just need to navigate the road a few feet at a time. It sounds like something my peeps Queen Elizabeth and Bob Lynott might say.

    Keep calm and carry on.

  • Overcoming - recovery gave me back my son

    Overcoming 2021COURTESY PHOTO Kyle and his mother, Nancy.

    By Nancy Carr

    Becoming a mother was one of the greatest joys I had ever experienced. Kyle was a vibrant, exuberant child with a larger-than-life personality from the day he was born. Our family was truly blessed. He was always the center of attention and became friends instantly with anyone he met. He had this thirst for life, until he was about 12 years old. That’s when things started to change and fracture our family unit until Kyle entered recovery in 2013.

    Kyle was always precocious and outgoing, it was his defining character trait. So, when he started to isolate in middle school, I became extremely concerned. He began asking why he was “different” and why he didn’t fit in. As a parent, all I wanted to do was provide the best possible life for my child, so I looked into different therapists and psychologists to help him through this period. I thought, “he’ll grow out of it – he’s so personable and has such a bright future.”

    Little did I know that would be the beginning of a decade-long battle against addiction. Kyle began showing signs of depression and anxiety. He asked to see doctors, who put him on prescriptions. Kyle began abusing those medications, and soon graduated from pills to heroin. His father and I would have never guessed our child was shooting up heroin at just 15 years old.

    The next eight years would be filled with ups and downs. Kyle’s father and I were in complete denial of his addiction – we thought he would rebound every time he said “I’m done.” We sent him to multiple psychologists, therapists, treatment centers, and facilities. We were able to find centers in-network but we traded quality of care for cost. Finding a treatment center that treated all three aspects of addiction seemed nearly impossible. We saw him deteriorate in front of our eyes, attempt getting sober, then fall off again and again. Kyle would hide from the world feeling overwhelming shame and guilt, but continue using. He was a slave to the drugs.

    In 2013, something finally happened. After a string of failed career moves, arrests, overdoses, and increasing medical problems, Kyle finally told us he couldn’t keep doing this. We sought out a treatment center that worked on mind, body, and spirit. As parents, all Kyle’s father and I wanted for him was to be happy and productive. We listened to addiction professionals who had overcome the same debilitating disease of addiction.

    Our family experienced, what I like to call, “a collective enlightenment” as a result of Kyle’s recovery. Through intensive work, Kyle finally became open and honest enough to share with our family that he was gay. He had sat in fear for so many years, thinking we would turn our backs on him. He began coming out of his shell again and engaging in life for the first time in years. I saw the vibrant, social Kyle again. Our entire family started addressing issues we had glazed over for years. We became a true family unit.

    Recovery has completely changed our lives. As a family, we’ve begun to have direct and open communication with one another. Kyle and his brother are best friends again. Kyle’s father and I have never had a better marriage. Kyle’s able to show up for us and participate in his own life again. But what’s most miraculous is how those dark days are now the foundation of the strong family bond we’ve built.

    Almost four years later, our lives are completely different. It was through practicing honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness, that Kyle found himself. He’s since identified that “different” feeling he experienced was due to his addiction and fear of coming out of the closet. Today, he’s a proud gay man and is a respected member of his community. He’s engaged to a wonderful man and living the life he’s always wanted. There is no greater gift than watching your child live life to the fullest, and that’s exactly what’s happened since Kyle got sober.

    There’s no “right” way to prepare for a loved one’s addiction. This disease blindsides you, it hits you when you least expect it. Our family was able to overcome this disease by listening to our child, providing support any way we could, being cautious not to enable his addiction, and helping to find a recovery solution when Kyle became ready. My hope is that every parent who struggles with their child’s addiction is able to find the freedom we have, and to let them know that it gets better.

  • Remnants of Rockland (GALLERY)

    Remnants of Rockland 10CALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB Rockland, Texas Abandoned Railroad Trestle, completed in 1899.

    By Caleb Fortenberry

    Sawmill towns drove the economy of Southeast Texas in the 1800s. From topographical to abstracts, many of these forgotten towns can be referenced in early 20th century maps. One of the most notable towns that was forgotten and left to fall into ruin was the Aldridge Mill in Jasper County, just north of the Neches River and East of Zavalla. This is one of the only mill structures left standing in the area and for an unusual reason. Owner of Aldridge Mill, Hal Aldridge, had a fire occur on his mill in 1911 when it was fashioned out of wood. To avoid insurance rates increasing, he made the structures more fire retardant. He constructed the buildings out of concrete in 1912. With the buildings being made in this fashion, the structures are still standing to this day, and is a spectacular sight to see in the Angelina National Forest. Aldridge did not only operate just this larger mill. He actually started on a smaller scale in Rockland on the south side of the Neches nestled at the northern end of Tyler County.

    Remnants of Rockland 2 2CALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB Aldridge Saw Mill in Jasper County, Texas.

    Rockland is known for its stone, and various quarries that helped make the Galveston Sea Wall. Unknown to many, it also was full of longleaf yellow pines at one point and a mill was situated West, right next to the Texas and New Orleans Railroad. Many mills, such as the Rockland Mill, were placed near railroads for quick transportation to other towns, rather than letting the logs float down a river, which was not only time consuming, but problematic. Trams were built to bring logs back to mill ponds, which preserved them while they awaited to be sawn.

    Cary Ard with shovelCOURTESY THE HISTORY CENTER, DIBOLL, TEXAS Cary Ard and his shovel in the rock pits near Rockland.

    Education coordinator for the Texas Forestry Museum, Kaitlin Wieseman clarifies, “they would build little short lines out into the forest so then they could cut the trees and have the train bring them back to their sawmill. So, basing their sawmill next to actual prominent rail lines that were main lines, like the Houston East and West, was probably a better idea to do than building out in the forest, in the middle of nowhere. They did have capabilities to build a line but usually they would have teams of men that would build that short line out just into the forest, not necessarily out to their own sawmill, but they could have if they needed to.”

    Remnants of Rockland 28CALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB One of the only remaining track railings along the track bed.

    The Rockland Mill, also known as the Rockland Plant, was first owned by one of Rockland’s postmasters, John Delaney and others. Delaney, interestingly enough, worked with Aldridge at the post office. In 1890, Aldridge bought the mill and vast amounts of land tracts in the area. He operated the mill until 1898, when he sold the business to William Cameron & Co., one of the first forestry millionaires. It was burned down November 4, 1898, only a few short months after Cameron bought the sawmill.

    Remnants of Rockland 18CALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB Remains of the Rockland Sawmill. Steam wheel foundation, located West of most residents in Rockland and East of Highway 69.

    “If you can just imagine, we’re working with steam, which you have to have fire to be able to produce steam, to heat up the water, but also your working with wood around everywhere. So, some sawmill towns would build their sawmill only of wood. They wouldn’t build them, usually, out of stone just because that costs more,” said Wieseman, “most of the smaller ones, if it burned down, and they didn’t have enough money or area to cut down trees, then rebuilding wasn’t really in their thoughts of doing that because it would cost too much.”

    Woods Crew Near TrainCOURTESY THE HISTORY CENTER, DIBOLL, TEXAS A woods crew, possibly connected to the Aldridge Sawmill, stops for a photo.

    The plant was rebuilt with newer equipment and a water tower that measured 125 feet above the ground and able to hold thousands of gallons to transport water throughout the mill. Cameron operated the mill producing roughly 3,000,000 linear feet of lumber per year, until he sold it to John Henry Kirby in 1905.

    Remnants of Rockland 20CALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB Foundations at the Rockland Mill.

    One of the interesting details learned about mill towns of that time is that they had a form of currency for each company. In this particular mill, it could have had at least three different forms of coin being used for trade at the company general store and commissary. Aldridge, Cameron, and Kirby used these coins for the workers to make various purchases from the mill’s stores.

    Remnants of Rockland 1 2CALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB Bricks found adjacent to the Rockland mill pond and saw mill.

    One of the reasons Rockland became so popular, was not just the sawmill, but the fact that the railroad did not cross the Neches. It stopped in Rockland. That is, until 1899 when the rail road trestle was completed. Similar to the remains of the Rockland Plant, the bridge over the Neches still remains intact and unharmed by human vandalism, more than likely due to the inconvenience of getting to it. It is still a spectacular view if you can get to the bank near it. The engineering and man power that went into building it is perplexing.

    Rockland rail yard locomotive facing BeaumontCOURTESY THE HISTORY CENTER, DIBOLL, TEXAS A locomotive heads toward Beaumont, passing through the Rockland railyard.

    Remnants of Rockland 2CALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB Rail Road on the Jasper County side of the Neches leading to the Rockland Trestle.

    The main way to cross the river without taking the train was Dunkin’s ferry, which has been speculated that country singer, George Jones, once helped operate. Mac Dunkin’s well, barn and chimney are all that remain of the crossing. The old Lufkin – Beaumont Highway led to the ferry situated just Northwest of the mill. It operated until the 1930s when the US Highway 69 bridge joining Jasper and Tyler counties was completed. This left the town of Rockland off to the wayside and the mill eventually shut down. It wasn’t until rock quarries began to produce in higher volumes, that the town was revived for a period.

    Ferry Boat Neches RiverCOURTESY THE HISTORY CENTER, DIBOLL, TEXAS A group of well-dressed travelers cross the Neches River using a ferry near Rockland.

    Remnants of Rockland 6CALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB Mac Dunkin's well, located Northeast of the Rockland Mill site.

    The Rockland Mill site is on private property and unfortunately there is no public access to it. Because of this factor, it has remained in a healthier condition than the other structures such as the Aldridge mill, which has been defaced with spray paint graffiti for years. After being granted permission to locate different parts of the mill, many older bottles were discovered near where the general store or commissary would have been placed. What would have been trash, paints a picture of what life could have looked like back then. The concrete structure that held the steam engine still stands erect, but the steam engine itself is no longer on the site. Various concrete foundations lay in the dense underbrush. There are numerous possibilities of what they could have been used for, but it is safe to assume the boilers would have been located nearby and there is a good chance they would have been placed on foundations, such as the ones found. Trams that ran from the railroad are still built up around the mill pond. The pond is still holding water, but many trees have grown in it and around it, so it is not easily accessible nor noticeable.

     Remnants of Rockland 24CALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB The Rockland Mill pond's levee broke at some point, but still holds water and has traces of the tram surrounding it.

    According to Texas State Historical Association, Rockland has had a population of about 100 people since 1990. From 1900 to 1940 the population was roughly 300 and thought to have close to 500. The town included 150 to 200 dwellings for sawmill workers, a school and church building, three doctors' offices, two drugstores, a livery stable, a dance hall, and a railroad station. Now, only residential structures, rock quarries, and lumber tracts remain. Although, not much resides in the once bustling town, the remnants of Rockland are still there, underneath the earth being preserved in its once trampled grounds.

    Aldridge Home in RocklandCOURTESY THE HISTORY CENTER, DIBOLL, TEXAS The Aldridge family home in Rockland. Hal Aldridge built this house at the time of his marriage. The home was later turned into a hotel. The home was still standing in 2020.

  • Stronger than ever

    EastTexan Winter 2 2021

    By Debbie Robins
     
    Jeremiah 29:11. For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord; plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

    Because of Him, we are stronger than ever. Stronger than ever? That was the last sentence I typed when I originally wrote the article about the April 22, 2020 tornado that destroyed our home of 20 years. For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper and not harm? How could that be true after a devastating storm touched down and took 3 lives? Took homes away from families. Their belongings strewn into a careless wind tunnel, with no discrimination of age. No care for the people that would become homeless. No mercy for those who were already having their own struggles just trying to get through life.

    The struggles have been real. It has been more than 5 months since the tornado touched down. In short, the house is in the process of being re-built. We have been very blessed to have several amazing builders and contractors build this Ark. If we learned anything from this ordeal, it is to truly love your neighbors as yourself, and to trust in the Lord. This is where we obtained our strength. And this is where it all began….

    Living in a hotel for 2 months while trying to decide if we should rebuild or move on, was a difficult decision, to put it mildly. We spent most of our days collecting receipts, itemizing items for insurance, and doing laundry. I learned that if I bought totes, it was easier to organize our belongings while in the hotel. I had totes of food, toiletries, shoes, tools, insurance receipts, blankets, pillows. Everything we could salvage that we may need at the hotel. Except Kip didn’t have socks. So, he went and bought socks. Who would think something so little, such as owning a pair of socks would be important enough to write about? The little things really did matter. Friends and coworkers gave us totes of snacks for the kids, and we received gift cards to restaurants and Lowes. It was amazing and so very helpful. Hotel living with a family of 5, plus 2 dogs, and no real space to spread out, was starting to get to all of us. We had stopped living. All that we knew at that moment was stress and an unknown future. Kip surprised me one night and took me to a dinner in Galveston; hoping to bring back some of the happy times we have always known together. We ordered dinner from the waiter, and there we were, just sitting at dinner like we used to do. I looked up at him, watching as he stirred his tea. I remember we always loved to make tea at home. I started thinking about that word: Home. We didn’t have one anymore. Tears started swelling up in my eyes, and I looked away quickly, hoping he wouldn’t notice. I tried to ignore the huge lump in my throat as I struggled to fight back the tears, that appeared from nowhere. I couldn’t stop them. Tears rolled down my cheeks, and he saw. He grabbed both of my hands from across the table and held them firmly. He asked, “What’s wrong?” I sobbed, “I just want to go HOME!” The next thing I knew, we were holding hands across from each other with our arms on the table, and we both had tears running down our faces. At that very moment, our Pastor, Brother Randy Piatt called. We hadn’t spoken to Randy in months, but we had been messaging each other through all of this. How in the world did he know to call right this moment? Kip answered, and they prayed together, and after they hung up, Kip shared the conversation with me. We both felt a lot better, as this was just the little nudge of encouragement we needed at that very moment. This enabled us to look at the bright side of things, and we would see the sunshine through the clouds.

    EastTexan Winter2021

    Our day got a little brighter a few weeks later, when our daughter Jordan and our amazing son-in law (who we call our son), flew in from Honolulu, Hawaii to surprise us after the tornado destroyed the family home. Jordan is a sergeant in the Army, and Grant already served his Army time, after re-enlisting. During Covid-19, the military was extremely strict on allowing travel for their enlisted, so we knew Jordan and Grant wouldn’t be able to fly down after the tornado. But somehow, they got special permission, and showed up on the front lawn. I was inside cleaning up debris, while talking on the phone. I looked outside to see two people walking up. This was common, as people were always walking up to say, "Hi," or to pass out food or toiletries to tornado victims. I didn’t even recognize them, nor would I have ever fathomed they would be able to fly to Texas. It was them. Jordan and Grant were walking across our front yard. I kept looking at them, thinking surely I’m mistaken. I dropped my phone call and gave them a big hug. This was the happiest we had been in a while. To have our kids home during this tragedy was such a needed blessing. Our other kids couldn’t come down, and it would be far too emotional for them, not to mention they had work and weren’t able to leave. But we were extremely blessed to have Jordan and Grant home. We all stayed back at the hotel the week they were here, enjoying each other’s company. We made many trips to the house, and they helped us pack up and dishes and food that was salvageable in the cabinets. It was hard when it was time for them to leave, but I was happy for the time we got with them.

    After the kids left to go back home, we made trips to the house almost daily, to haul off storm debris, knock out walls, haul huge, heavy piles of wood, glass, and sheetrock to the curb, hoping the city would pick it up as promised. Many hours of difficult, manual labor were put into this, and working in 100 degree temperatures was extremely difficult and exhausting. We faced many challenges.

    It seemed that every time we went to the house, it was raining. Not just a sprinkle, but rain. It was almost like something was telling us to go away. Don’t rebuild here. It’s not worth it. The house is a complete wreck. It’s a wet, demolished, soggy mess. You could smell the rotting sheetrock, and the mold growing on the wood. Flies were out of control, chasing us around, dodging a swat. We bought a “fly salt gun” just to have some fun shooting at the flies. It looked like a toy rifle, but you load it with salt, aim it at the flies, and pow. It was oddly satisfying.

    We tried buying bug spray and fly bait at stores, but they were all sold out. Every time we went inside the house, it seemed to get worse and worse with the smells of the soaked wood, house debris, wet sheetrock, and the flies. As it rained, water poured from our ceiling above us, and soaked our heads and clothes. There were puddles of dirty water on the tile. When we went upstairs, all that existed was a staircase to nowhere. There were a few leaning walls, that were somehow still standing, and the sky. That’s it. (We always liked the open concept look, but this wasn’t exactly what we had in mind.) It was very disheartening to stand upstairs with no roof, no ceiling. You just felt vulnerable. We asked ourselves countless times, “What are we doing?” Why are we even pondering the thought of rebuilding this mess. It’s awful. Maybe we are just confused, or stressed out, and don’t know where else to go or what to do. God, we need a sign. Please, just give us a sign so that we know what you want us to do. Silence. The only sign we received was more rain. Soaking wet, exhausted, confused, stressed out, and basically homeless, we decided to head back to the hotel. I loaded Mikie and the wet dogs up in the car, while Kip was still inside rummaging through the house.

    I caught a glimpse of him standing upstairs, or what used to be upstairs, in the old “Beach Room.” (I had themed bedrooms). He was just standing there, upstairs, exposed under the open sky, while it rained on him. He was looking helpless and overwhelmed with confusion and doubt. I saw him look around, walk a few steps, stop, and just stare again. I felt awful for him. He’s the man of the house; the one with all the answers or solutions. But this time,
    he lacked both. He then disappeared out of sight, as I waited in the car; rain tapping on the roof. I just kept looking at that house thinking, “There’s just no way, this house is a huge mess.” I must have said those words a million times. A few moments later, he got in the car and just sat in silence, drenched. We just sat there without talking for what seemed like an eternity.

    Then, out of nowhere, he pulls out a photograph that he was holding. It was a photo of a double rainbow, that we had taken over 10 years ago.

    The double rainbow in the photograph was shining brightly across the lake, right in front of our home. It was not often that we would see a double rainbow, so we felt very lucky to have captured it with our camera. This was back in the day where we would develop all our photographs.

    EastTexan Winter 3 2021

    The picture was wet and faded. I just looked at him with a confused expression on my face. Typical these days. Kip explained that as he was walking around the house upstairs, he went to the laundry room. He told me he was talking to God, asking what to do with the house. He said he looked down at the floor, and he spotted something poking out from underneath the washing machine. He reached down to pick it up, and discovered it was the picture of the double rainbow. When he first showed me the photo, I was not sure why this photo was so significant to Kip. He then flipped it over and I noticed there was writing on the back
    of it. We had never seen that anyone had written on the back of" "this photograph before this day. There was no doubt, this was Victoria’s handwriting. The writing was more than just words written on the back of a photograph, scribbled by a 10-year-old child; these words would mean something significant to our entire family all these years later. Victoria, our 24-year-old daughter, had written on the back of this photo when she was about 10 years old. In cursive writing, it said, “A Piece of Home.” Oh my gosh. That was our sign. This is the sign from God we had been waiting for. An answer to our prayers. This rainbow signifies God’s Promise. Here we were, sitting in the car holding
    a wet photo, looking at a demolished house that was getting more soaked by the rain, and we just received our answer. God’s Promise. While sitting in the car in the driveway that rainy day,

    Kip and I looked at each other as tears swelled up in our eyes. We really didn’t have much to say. We sat in silence in the car, rain still coming down. We both knew what this meant. We took one last look at our house that was in shambles as we backed out of the driveway. We stopped one last time, looked at the house, and he exclaimed, “You see Debbie, this is God’s Promise. We are coming home, and we will rebuild.”
    We left that afternoon feeling content, feeling this was the right decision.

    After that day, we had more ambition, more confidence, more strength. We were stronger than ever. Kip worked for many days drawing out his own blueprints for the house. He isn’t an architect, or a builder. But he drew it exactly as we wanted it, and today, it is built exactly as it was drawn by him. I’m not sure how he was able to draw out a blueprint, demolish his home, rebuild his home, and work a full-time job. It was catching up to him though. The stress became too much, as the demands of his job and the builders were colliding in a force too strong for him to conquer. He decided to leave his job, as he had a home to build. So, I started calling him “Noah,” after Noah’s Ark. God had given him the ability and knowledge to draw up floor plans and manage a rebuild. It has gone rather smoothly, considering the size of this new “Ark,” and the amount of damage done from the tornado. Our daughter Victoria who wrote those words on the rainbow photograph, is also an artist, who lives in California with her amazing husband, (who we also call our son). She painted us a large painting of an Octopus for one of our themed rooms in the house, a few years ago. This painting was lovingly named, “Paths,” for all the paths that we take along the way in life. We treasured this painting, as it was from Victoria, and meant so many different things to everyone. We had Paths hanging in the media room, which was blown away by the tornado. Paths was found later, but he was mangled, wet, and damaged beyond repair. Since we lost that beloved painting, we asked Victoria to paint us another Paths. She obliged but she decided the new painting would be a little different. We now have “Octavia.” Octavia means strength, and eight. We are not sure what the “eight” will mean for us, but the word “strength” has a lot more meaning to us these days. Octavia is a beautiful Octopus painting in brighter colors, and her canvas is larger than Path’s canvas was. We are eagerly awaiting to adorn our walls with Octavia in our new home.

    The word “home” sounds very exciting to us, but this build would not be possible without the amazing workmanship of a dear friend, Jerry Foote. He was there for us several years ago when we were remodeling the house. He hung new sheetrock, paint, and all of the trim work inside. After the tornado, he called to check on us, and asked if there were anything he could do to help us. He is an expert at his job. He is now working on our house as if it were his own. He is very respectful, knowledgeable, and highly skilled. He has been there since the beginning, designing, and installing all the plumbing, he has built a retaining wall, hung doors, cut out concrete; the list goes on, and continues. He has been there every day as a consultant for us, as well as for the other contractors we have on site. He is working hard alongside them and making sure all goes perfectly. We honestly feel we could not rebuild this house without him. We look up to Jerry and will forever be grateful to him for helping to get our home back. He has sacrificed his days to work out in the dangerously hot Texas heat, in the middle of August. Walls have gone up, roof is now on, plumbing and electrical has been installed. Kip installed all of the electrical, as he loves electrical work. We started our search for a framer, to get the house framed in, but we ended up finding a builder and a friend: JC, with JC Construction. With his knowledge and contacts, we have been able to do a lot more than just frame the house. His expertise has given us a stronger home than we could have ever hoped for. His crew constructed our home from a single graph paper that was drawn and re-designed by Kip multiple times. But because of our newfound relationship, the house turned out better than if we had given him and his crew an engineered blueprint. There were many questions that came up during construction, and JC offered suggestions and guidance; never steering us in the wrong way. Without Kip, Jerry, and JC working together, it would not be possible to have our “Ark” as it stands today. We now have a roof, and I’m so grateful. We still have a long way to go.

    EastTexan Winter 4 2021

    This brings me to the HVAC system. The week after the tornado hit, and everyone was still scrambling for hope and sanity, Kip happened upon Roger, and didn’t even realize who it was until they started talking. Roger was at the front of our subdivision, with his wife Tammy. They were both grilling hamburgers and hotdogs on their barbeque pits, to feed all of the tornado victims. Roger and Tammy were the couple who came to rescue injured victims by their boat. They are the couple that were out boating the day the tornado hit and came by our peninsula to see if we needed any help immediately after it touched down. Since they were in a boat, they could boat people out to ambulances. They loaded up Taylor, Oma, and the young boy that was injured, and took us all to the Kickapoo Marina to wait on ambulances in the rain, while driving through a debris- filled lake. They let us put doors we used as gurneys on their new boat seats, not caring if we damaged them or their new pontoon boat. Not caring about their own safety, but the safety of those injured. After the tornado, they continued with their heroic actions. They spent countless hours that led into months, cooking hamburgers and other food from their bar-b-que pits and delivering them to the tornado victims. They spent their own money to feed those in need long after the tornado. When Kip first saw Roger grilling the food, he wasn’t sure who he was, until they started talking. Kip realized it was the guy and lady that rescued the victims that were thrown from their homes. Kip asked Roger, “Why did you do what you did that night?” Roger humbly stated, “It was just the right thing to do.” Kip later found out that Roger installed HVAC systems, and he never had any doubt that Roger would be our guy to do the job. When we finally had the house ready to install the system 5 months later, we called on Roger, and he came to the house to do a walk-through. When Roger and I saw each other, we just hugged for a long time, eyes swellingwith tears once again. We didn’t have to say a word; we knew.

    Tammy had canned some fresh jars of Cowgirl Candy, several amazing varieties of jellies, and divinity for Roger to give us. I treasured this and didn’t even want to open the jars, as they were such a precious offering. Tammy has her own story of the events of that awful evening, and I hope one day, she shares it. Oma keeps in touch with us. She texts us often and seems happy under the circumstances. She is with her son, as she decided not to rebuild on her property next door to us. She is still recovering but she is having a difficult time physically. In the process of all of this, Oma wanted us to take ownership of her lot. Kip has spent over 20 years taking care of this yard, even before she lived there. But now to purchase it, knowing there won’t be another Oma next door, is very bittersweet. So much of “her” is still on that lot. I remember her always being on her front porch. Her front porch isn’t there anymore. I remember bringing dinner to her front door. Her door is gone. Her house is gone. It is lonely without her here. I remember all of the pies she would bring us, now we only have the memories to cherish since she lives far away from us now.

    EastTexan Winter 5 2021

    Kip and Kalyn have since pursued their own dreams and started a new chapter. Kalyn is attending college, aspiring to become a NICU RN, like I did when I first became a nurse. She is currently living in her college dorm. She comes to visit us on weekends when she is able. Kip has been an avid fisherman since the age of 3. He has been a deck hand in the U. S. Virgin Islands in the past and is currently a deck hand for a charter company in Galveston. He just received his Captain’s license and aims to open his own charter business in the near future. We are proud of their resilience despite the adversities they have endured.

    Adversity is a word we know all too well. I learned on Facebook that it was Taylor’s birthday on August 28. That morning, I walked to the end of the peninsula and stood looking at the exact location we had found him on April 22. I relived the moment of seeing him on the wet ground, moaning. I relived the moment where we all stood around him as his own brother, and other men loaded him onto a door that was detached from a home, and carried him onto the boat; using the door as a gurney. I relived being by his side when he took his last breath, with tears rolling down my face as I watched helplessly, with no tools to help him and no ambulance in sight. Our only hope was to perform CPR on him, until Paramedics arrived. I talked to Taylor, as I stood looking over the lake towards what used to be his home, and I told him I was so sorry that I couldn’t save him. I told him I think about him and Brooke every day, and that we will always remember them. I told him I know he’s singing his karaoke up there with Jesus and the Angels, and that from this moment on, I will be happy that he is with Brooke in Heaven, and I will not be sad, but that’s easier said than done.
    Thankfully, the young boy, who I later found out is Taylor’s nephew, is finally home from the hospital after recovering from the broken bones and surgeries that he endured after being thrown from his house with his mom, Taylor, and Brooke. I won’t be sad any longer, as I know Taylor and Brooke are home together forever. There is a time and a season for everything. A time to be born and a time to die, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance. Ecclesiastes 3.

    These times of missing Oma, losing Brooke and Taylor, and remembering him on his birthday, are sad reminders of how quickly lives can change, and how the most important thing at that moment, is talking to the person right in front of you, right then. That moment might not be there again. That moment will soon be a memory. Now is the time to count our blessings, love more, and rebuild our lives. It’s time to be home.

    Cutline for art photo: Daughter Victoria Robins replaces the destroyed artwork she had painted years ago with a new painting titled 'Octavia.'

    Original story found in the East Texan 2021 Winter edition.

  • Turning ‘Time in Texas’ into Country Gold

    tyler dozier 2COURTESY PHOTO Tyler Dozier

    By Caleb Fortenberry and Chris Edwards

    The pandemic that seized the entire planet last year made for a drastic change in how humans live, work, worship and play. In the “blessings in disguise” category, many who had to re-invent their lives found new passions or re-discovered old hobbies.

    Spurger native Tyler Dozier is one such young man who managed to turn bad news into something positive. “As bad as the coronavirus is, I got laid-off from the plant, and jobs are slow,” he explained. “So, I decided to do something that I enjoyed.”

    Dozier took his God-given talent in music, which he’d honed through his young life, and blaze the trail that many talented Texans before him had taken. So far, he has gone gung-ho into his fresh start, with two singles already under his belt and a full-length album in the works.

    The young singer/songwriter has music in his genes. His father, Donald Dozier, is still known in the region for his prowess as a guitarist and played with many bands and artists through the years, including a pre-superstar Mark Chesnutt. Tyler said his father is his primary influence in chasing a musical career, although he did not get to see him onstage in his glory days.

    “I never got to see him play, because I was too young at the time that he quit playing out,” he said.

    Some other influences came by way of artists like Josh Ward and Cody Johnson, both of whom Tyler began following before they were huge regional acts.

    The young artist said he pretty much taught himself to sing and started playing music when he was eight years old, beginning with piano. Eventually, he also took to playing guitar and drums. His father helped him get started on the guitar when he was 12, and he added the elder Dozier will also play with him live. “I do have plans of getting a band together,” he said. “I have some guys right now that I’ve played with for a long time just around my house and stuff. The only thing I’m missing is a bass player right now but if everything goes as I hope then I will have a band to play out in the next couple of months.”

    Until he gets a band solidified for live work, though, he said he is content to play as a solo act, which he said is a good way for the audience to really hear him and his songs “as I am.”

    At present, even though the continuing efforts to curb the pandemic have slowed down consistent live performance opportunities for musicians, Tyler has been able to take to the road and play some solo acoustic shows in such venues as Conroe’s Red Brick Tavern. “It’s a blast to get out and play in front of live audiences,” he said.

    Before he even started getting into venues, he began laying down some of his material in the studio. His first single, “Doing Time in Texas,” a classic-sounding country tune detailing the heartbreak of a man’s willingness to wait for the woman he loves, went out to radio stations during last summer, when he was the tender age of 19.

    The song was co-written between three songwriters, one of whom was Tyler’s cousin David Reed. “First time I heard it, I was like, ‘Man, I really got to cut this song’,” he said.

    The song made enough of a splash in the Texas regional market that Dozier was able to score a management deal with Salter-Gann Universal Promotions and Management, LLC.

    A second single, “How Can I Get You Off My Mind,” also penned by his cousin Reed, is currently making its rounds in the radio markets, and to add to that excitement, Tyler said he has plans to journey to Nashville soon to record some songs he has co-written with Reed.

    Dozier’s performance of his new single, which is orchestrated by traditional country instrumentation, such as the whine of a pedal steel guitar and acoustic guitars, bares the influence of his dad’s old running buddy/bandmate, Chesnutt, but still sounds uniquely Tyler Dozier.

    Whatever happens for the young East Texan singer and writer of pure country songs, one thing is certain to anyone who meets him: he will remain the same grounded, yet talented, young man he has always been.

    “Man, it’s crazy how people have responded to my music. Especially when I play live. Man! People come up and talk to me and that’s just what this is all about. I’m just an ol’ country boy out here doing what I love and for people to enjoy listening to it as much as I do, it means a lot and it’s really inspiring.”

    Tyler Dozier’s singles “Doing Time in Texas” and “How Can I Get You Off My Mind” can be downloaded from all digital music retail platforms and can be streamed on Spotify or requested from radiofreetexas.com.

    Video interview with Tyler