Bill Hartman

My paternal grandfather’s name was Henry Hartman.

I never got to know him, because he died of pneumonia when I was six years old. Relatives told me his family was from Austria, but he was born in the USA.

The name Henry is of German heritage, and I’m told his family called him Heine or Henrik.

I long wondered how my side of the family could be Presbyterians, while the super majority were die-hard Southern Baptists.

I finally found out Henry was a traveling Presbyterian evangelist, as well as a traveling mercantile representative.

He and his family, including my dad, lived in Marlin, then Springfield, Mo. and back again to Marlin.

I’m also told it was through Henry’s family’s DNA that caused my father and me to be such butterfingers with home “fix-it” jobs.

To my knowledge, I never saw my dad repair or change anything around the house. I inherited his inabilities.

I learned early in life to make up for weaknesses by knowing people with strengths.

In Baytown, we lived on Pearce Street next door to Dude and Lela Mallory. Dude could build or fix anything, and he got a kick out of tending to the Hartmans’ needs as well.

My good fortune continued as I began raising my children. Across the street from our house on Fayle was the Howell family, headed by poppa Carson.

This is not an overstatement when I say Carson had as many tools as your average Ace Hardware store. He knew how to use them, too.

He was a lot like Dude. He’d anticipate when things were going to wear out, expire or otherwise be broken.

I got home from work one day and Carson was on a ladder changing an outside garage light at my house. Not the bulb, but the entire fixture.

“It looked like it needed changing,” was his answer when I asked what was going on.

With three small children in my family, it was also lucky that Carson had three teenage daughters. They were perfect babysitters.

Broken lawnmower or edger, Carson could fix or sharpen them in a jiffy. Repair a broken gate. Pshaw. No sweat.

I also had a great ace in the hole.

Carson’s back-door neighbor one street over on Olive was none other than Dude Mallory.

One day Carson ambled across the street and said, “I’m going up to Lake Sam Rayburn to see if the crappie are biting. Wanta go with me — I’ve got all the gear.”

Next thing I knew, we were headed to Jasper with a small trailer that held a strange-looking green box about 10 feet long by 5 feet high with a small runabout boat on top.

When we reached the lake, Carson picked a handy spot to camp. We hoisted the small boat and engine aside, then I watched magic happen.

He undid about four or five latches and lifted the top on the strange box. It opened and opened and opened.

Next thing I knew, we had what looked like a Motel 6 bedroom with a kitchen area and enough camp and fishing gear to outfit 10 people.

He had stoves, pots and pans, sleeping bags, mosquito nets, a grill, three ice chests and a welcome mat. I kept waiting for a stereo and TV to appear, but had to settle for a portable radio and lanterns.

No time to waste. We hit the water, paddled about 50 yards out, dropped anchor, and he connected the lanterns to a homemade pipe extender that fit into a boat notch.

Then it was a matter of drop hook, catch crappie — over and over. He, too, was one of those guys who only harvested what we needed.

When we got back to camp, he became a maestro at outdoor cooking. Fresh fish right out of the lake into the pan — delicious.

It was a weekend for the memory bank. When it was time to depart, he folded his magic box back together, and we headed home.

I was absolutely amazed how a guy could know that much about so much. He made it look easy.

I was still trying to figure out how a lantern works.

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