Back in 76 we were needing something to do. (That is what we say in the construction business when our inventory of work has been depleted) An acquaintance of ours, a competitor, had landed a big project up in North Texas, in the Possum Kingdom Area. It was more work than his crews could adequately handle, so we contracted for part of the project. We would be laying a 10 mile long segment of 24” water line. I was only 24 years old at the time. Madeline, our not yet 2 year old son Matthew and I relocated to that area for a six month time, the first half of that year.
As the project got underway, I thought it would be a good idea to go along the route where the pipeline was going and meet the landowners and try to get some goodwill started. I told the owner’s rep and the inspector of my intentions. They said that was a great idea, but cautioned me about the third landowner up the line. I would just need to go easy with this one, walk softly. Her name was Mrs. Little.
In the negotiations for the project, no one thought to bring up that everyone that came close to Mrs. Little’s property had been cussed at, threatened, even with a gun and made to feel unwelcome. She didn’t want the thing coming through her property and they had even resorted to going to court and using condemnation to obtain right of way.
Nervously I approached the front gate of her place, cautiously making my way to the front door. I was met by an angry old, leathery skinned, short, squatty woman that I guessed to be in her early 80s. With introductions out of the way, I explained, the best I could how we were going to be wanting to enter her property and clear a bunch of brush out of way and blast out a big ditch to lay this water line in. She didn’t say anything so I kept on talking. By this point we had already made our way from the little stoop at the front door to the living room. I explained that we would do everything possible to minimize the disturbance to her life. I guess I hadn’t figured out exactly how we were going to accomplish that, since the line was no more than 50 yards behind her house. But I guess we would figure out something.
I noticed that as I talked, she reached over to a little box of chocolates a couple of times and had one. She didn’t offer me any, but I was so busy talking I wouldn’t have taken the time to eat it anyway. Somewhere along the way she mentioned that it was here birthday. She also told me how her husband had died young, she and a son were estranged many years before. “He just wanted money”. She had single handedly operated that ranch most of her adult life after her parents has passed on.
Madeline and the baby were yet to relocate there so knowing I’d be eating out that night, I ask her if she would like to go with me out to the Hubbard Creek Steakhouse for dinner that night? We could celebrate her birthday and besides it would keep me from eating alone. She said she thought that would just be great. She hadn’t been out like that in years.
When I got there to pick her up at the appointed time, I walked up the sidewalk with a huge box of chocolate candies. I had found them at an old timey drug store in Breckenridge. I’m not sure I’d ever seen a box of chocolates that big. I was very pleased with the find.
She was dress and ready to go. She was real short, so I helped her up into the pickup. It was a 4-wheel drive that was a way off the ground. I was extra careful to not touch her inappropriately as I assisted her. We made the 30 or 40 minute drive to the steakhouse. We walked into the huge dining room and seated at a big table was Dave (the guy we were subbing from), the inspector and about 6 of the land men and executives for TP Oil, the company we were working for.
The hostess seated us across the room from the table of the group I knew. I made sure I had full view of the table. There was a buzz going on over there for the rest of the evening. That became a night that was remembered and talked about for the rest of that project and maybe well afterwards.
I got to know Mrs. Little even more over the course of the next few months. We rode her ranch together, helped her feed cows and she even became our gate sitter. When she would hear a truck or a piece of equipment coming, she would high tail it out and open the gate for them. She didn’t want those men losing time getting out to open and close a gate.
She complained that she didn’t have a stock tank on one section of her property so I sent a bulldozer over to make her one. He got started and hit rock a few feet down. I could tell she was disappointed. She was so happy to finally be getting water in that pasture, only to have those hopes dashed because of geology. I sent a track drill over and blasted a giant hole out for her new stock tank and we hauled clay harvested from another area to line the blasted rock with so it would hold water.
I only saw her angry once, and that time was reminiscent of the stories I’d heard from all the guys in the beginning. This is what happened: I had and old ornery loader operator, Bill Deets and he was coming down the ROW one day. When Mrs. Little heard him she ran out to open the gate. The version of the story varied depending on him or her telling it.
He said every time he’d come along she would climb up on his loader and want to talk and never shut up so he ask her “Mrs. Little, do you ever get the hungry’s for a man”. To which she almost fell out of the cab trying to get away from him.
She said she went to open the gate and he made a pass at her. She demanded that Mr. Deets never enter her property again. While I couldn’t promise her that I told her to watch and if it was that piece of equipment coming, just make him get off and open the gate himself. That appeased her and that was the end of that.
I think she was a little old woman that just wanted to be heard and not pushed around, but for sure she didn’t need Bill Deet’s companionship.
I was back up there a few years later. Everything was grown up around the house. I never did figure out what happened with her. I always wondered if the son inherited the place our how she handled her will.