The House By the Side of the Road - Part 1
"Let me live in a house beside of the road and be a friend to man."—— These words come washing in upon the sandy shore of my memories from that old sea of the distant past—a past so far distant that I cannot remember where I first heard them. Are they from a poem I was forced to memorize in school or from a reading I heard and was impressed with in the declamation contests of the 1920’s?
Odd, isn’t it, how images can come unbidden from the past and bring back a memory so familiar yet long forgotten.
The incident bringing these particular words to mind was a recent visit I had with Wayne Spiller at his home near Voca. Wayne lives, and has lived, in a house beside the road for the major part of his life and listening to him reminisce of the many times both night and day when he was called upon to help travelers in trouble, the recall feature of my mind stopped at the burned in memory of those words.
During the visit Wayne offered me a drink from a bottle of champagne he’d had for over 20 years and which was given to him by a traveler he helped some 30 years ago. The traveler had not forgotten Wayne’s kind deed and about 10 years later he stopped by to thank Wayne again and at that time gave him two bottles of champagne. Having forsaken the "devil drink" Wayne nevertheless accepted the gift and proceeded to place the bottles in storage where they remained for 10 years before he had the opportunity to give one bottle to friends celebrating some occasion.
True to his friendly roadside hospitality developed through his years of "being a friend to man" Wayne offered to open the other bottle for me. I thanked him and refused, not on the basis of being a non-drinker but on the long held belief that champagne is in fact just a highly refined by-product of vinegar.
We sat in Wayne’s study, or work shop, surrounded by enough memorabilia of the past to cause a mountain of envy in a person writing a column entitled "Mostly Memories". I learned that Wayne, in addition to writing the Volume 1 and 2 Handbook of McCulloch County History, had written other stories of the past, three of which were published in the Old West Magazine.
His first story, published in 1972, bears the title of "His Brothers Long Shadow" and is about the life and death of two brothers Jim and Bill Longley and takes place in the late 1800’s and the early 1900’s. Many of the events of their lives occurred in McCulloch County and surrounding areas.
His second story, published in 1978, bears the title The "Cuter" and relates happenings in the life of Newton Worrell who some folks called "Cuter". The story begins and ends in Voca, Texas but narrates tales of this old bachelor cowboy’s life in this area and in the northwestern Arizona territory.
This story also tells that in his youth "Cuter" was forced to go to church so often and remembered the sermons so well that he soon was able to play the preacher in games with his playmates. He used this ability on one occasion to preach to a camp meeting that was in progress, thinking that he might raise some money for himself. When asked years later by his cousin (Wayne’s dad) about the contents of the collection plate he answered that he got about six-bits. "Wasn’t that damned poor pay, Cuter?" asked Mr Spiller. Cuter grinned and said "Yeah, Ed, it was. But you know, it was also damn pore preach!"
On another occasion when asked why he had never married he said that he had considered it and had gone so far as to advertise for a wife once. But upon receiving a lot of replies from husbands wanting to give him their wives he decided that there must be defects in that age-old institution and gave up the idea altogether.
Wayne’s third story "San Saba River Folk" was published in the 1979 Fall issue of the Old West Magazine and relates a time in the lives of two Miller brothers who settled in eastern McCulloch County in 1861. The hardships encountered by these early pioneers in their efforts to conquer this tough and untamed land they had settled makes interesting and historical reading. In 1880 one of the Miller brothers (Marion) was elected McCulloch County’s second sheriff and served through 1892.
During our hours of conversation I sensed that some of the greatest joys of Wayne’s life came from writing about events of the past. Although he has permanently lost 90% of his eyesight he continues to write with the aid of a magnifying glass and a light bulb beneath his glass top desk which throws a light through his lined writing paper. Thus he persists in what one might call "his dim light of desire" to carry on the prime pleasure of his later years in writing as best he can in spite of the handicap of his vision.
He holds on to a great desire to finish two more works: his life along the San Saba River and his 50 odd years of "living in a house beside the road and being a friend to man".
Let it be known, however, that he is not always friendly to those seeking help from his house beside the road. For those who have oft times at night sneaked in to steal gasoline from his storage tank without asking, he has ended their adventurous thievery by firing shots over their heads.
He recounts another incident in which he came to the aid of a traveler in trouble: A young college student on his way home to Brady knocked at his door and asked Nell (Wayne’s wife) if she had a pair of old panty hose she would give him. Nell obliged and Wayne went with the lad to his car and discovered that he had a broken fan belt. Using the panty hose as a substitute the boy tied the hose in place and was able to drive on into Brady without further trouble.
To be concluded next week.