We used to own some property near Brazoria. It was a lovely place to take our two girls on weekends, a little get away from the big city and work. It sat next to a creek and was shaded by dozens of native pecan trees. A tiny house with two rooms and a bathroom was the only shelter from the heat and mosquitoes that always seemed to be waiting for us. Big ceiling fans kept us reasonably cool in the summer and an old ceramic gas heater warmed us when the weather turned chilly. We had no phone or television there. It was always quiet save for our conversations and laughter and an occasional song from a bird.
The land had once belonged to my husband’s Uncle Bob. He used it mostly for fishing and hunting. He built the tiny house as a concession to his wife who didn’t really care much for the primitive conditions and the work that being there always seemed to entail. Still, she knew how much Bob loved his little piece of heaven and so she was always a good sport about spending time there and often invited other members of the family to gather for barbecues and card parties. My husband spent many a weekend there when he was a boy with his extended family and his uncle’s friends and so he dearly loved being at the place that everyone knew as Bell Bottom.
The little plot of land sits in the heart of an area once inhabited by the first Texans. Just down the road there is an archeological dig unearthing implements, tools and everyday items that the pioneering people who lived there might have used. Stephen F. Austin’s grave is not far away. He was responsible for encouraging settlers from the eastern United States to build a colony in northern Mexico. The Mexican government wanted the wild and unsettled land to be developed and had agreed to give plots to anyone willing to meet their terms. Along the way bitter disagreements between the people who had come and the Mexican government lead to a revolution and ultimately a split that created the Republic of Texas.
My husband never knew the exact history of the place which he eventually inherited from Uncle Bob. It was bottom land with rich soil made even better by the deposits of sediment that the creek made whenever it flooded over its banks. We enjoyed exploring along the usually shallow waterway in a flat bottom boat that we tied to the hood of our car when we came for visits. It was quite lovely floating along the quiet water under a canopy of trees that arched over our heads like gigantic umbrellas. We saw fish ambling beneath us and snakes skittering to safety. We heard the tap tap tapping of woodpeckers and the screeching of owls. Mostly though it was silent down in that little secret paradise.
Sadly the county flood control district came without our knowledge and scarred the land and the creek in ways that made us cry. Instead of having a gently sloping access to the water there was now a drop off of several feet making it virtually impossible to launch our boat. Much of our land was taken under the guise of helping with flood problems. The deep cuts along the sides of the creek were ugly and many of the beautiful trees were gone as well. The abundance of wildlife was no more. Instead there lay a kind of unsightly shrine to the folly of humans. Our protests fell on deaf ears. It was what it was and had to be done according to government officials. To us it felt like an attack on something precious.
We enjoyed some of our best family memories at Bell Bottom both before the rape of the land and after. Every other November the grounds were littered with pecans. We brought boxes and sat on the grass meticulously moving through every square inch of the property and filling our containers with thousands of nuts filled with tasty meat. Sometimes it was quite cold as we harvested our bounty but we didn’t seem to mind because we knew what deliciousness lay in store.
In the warmer months we had to mow the lawn around the house. We purchased a small tractor from Sears and rode around and around trimming the greenery that seemed to grow even as we were cutting it. I became quite adept at guiding the mower around trees and over gullies and even down the steep slopes. It had been easier to drive the tractor before the “improvements” from the county but I soon enough learned the trick for staying away from the dangerous drop off near the water.
We took walks on summer days and played baseball in the yard. At night we built fires and sat in the glow of the burning embers. Sometimes we stayed up late playing board games or telling stories. I always slept like a log but my daughters tell me that they were often frightened by the tiny mice sneaking through the house after the lights had gone dark. Their imaginations overcame them but they didn’t want to admit to being a bit scared.
Eventually our girls were grown and Mike and I found that we were spending most of our free time after working all week just keeping things clean and repaired down at Bell Bottom. Ours was an incessant routine of working on the land and I for one began to understand why Mike’s aunt had so often expressed a lack of enthusiasm for being there. Somehow it just wasn’t as much fun as it had once been. After considering whether or not we might want to settle there after retirement we realized that we really didn’t want to be that far away from our family and friends on a permanent basis. The land that had once brought us so much was just one more bit of responsibility that was draining our energy. We reluctantly decided to sell it.
A great sadness still envelops me when I think of letting our beloved Bell Bottom go. I wonder if we were a bit too hasty in deciding to end our history there. Now that we are retired we have nothing but time and I suspect that we would have truly enjoyed bringing our grandchildren there. I especially think about the old place when the skies become a bit gray in November and the temperature drops just a bit. I wonder if the pecans have fallen to the ground and if the new owners are collecting them just as we once did.
Not long ago Mike and I drove by to see how things looked at Bell Bottom. We were happy to see that the people who bought the land had built a lovely home and had even dug a little lake. The lawn was beautifully manicured and it was apparent that the new landlords are quite proud of their little bit of heaven. I felt a bit better just seeing the love and care that was on display. Long ago Bell Bottom stole a corner of my heart that will remain on the land but my memories will always be mine.