If you have been on a tour here or read Water From Stone, you know about HES’ COUNTRY STORE. Originally built in 1980 to house “stuff” I inherited from my mother and since the ranch needed income. I thought this “stuff” would create an atmosphere that would spark interest in families who would rent it for a few days.
Photograph taken by J. David.
My mother’s name was HESTER, but everyone called her HES. Financially, she had just enough to get along on but spirit wise she was rich! She taught my two older brothers and me how to do without things, how to make work interesting and fun. She was a total naturalist eating nothing that was manufactured. We picked a lot of wild berries in those summers and sometimes sneaked into a neighbor’s orchard and got a few apples. We learned which mushrooms wouldn’t kill us, what nuts were good and we dug a lot of sassafras roots that we bundled with string and sold to passerbys. They make a wonderful tea.
Along the railroad tracks we discovered wild strawberries growing and picked quart after quart. But that backfired on us as the soot from those coal fired trains rendered the strawberries inedible when the grit from the coal ground on a customer’s false teeth! We fed those strawberries to our chickens. I remember our visions of riches with all those strawberries. Also, along the railroad tracks we discovered all kinds of iron that had broken and fallen off the trains. These were Depression Years, the mid 1930’s. You did what you could to make a dime. The train tracks were a good mile from our shack but many a wheel barrow load of this fallen iron was slowly brought home where we waited for weeks for Butch, a junk buyer, to come by as he always did. If you think three boys were thinking of riches from strawberries it was delusions of grandeur with this pile of iron. Butch eventually came by as he knew the Bamberger Boys would have something for him. Well, when Butch saw our stack of iron he informed us that he couldn’t buy it because it was a criminal offense to pick up these obvious pieces of a train! We had to carry it all back to the tracks!
I’ve been asked in my adult life if I ever did anything that wasn’t successful – I should have remembered this. . . . . But you know now as I reflect on life, the strawberries and scrap iron capers were successful after all. It taught us how to accept adversity, these things kept us busy, kept us dreaming and allowed us three brothers to work together. In spite of our poverty it was a good life ~ Tootsie Rolls were big and only a penny back then!
Country Store Backyard. Photograph taken by J. David.
The building architecturally is copied from an old, old store building at Welfare, Texas, a community northwest of San Antonio. I had been gathering old boards and materials for years. I had some help scouting out old barns, chicken coops and sheds. We tore down 14 buildings and cleaned things up for people just to get the material. Some I bought, but most were given to me. This was possible then, but not now as old barn wood has become a popular item by decorators and architects. Most of the exterior is long leaf pine. It’s coveted, rare and hard to find. Most of these boards are 100 years old.
Stove & Counter. Photograph taken by J. David.
I’ve never inherited any money. Here you see the material part of my inheritance. 95% of everything inside the store came from “GRANNY HES’ ” (as my three children called her) home. She lived a very simple life with no radio or television and was on a 7 party phone line, but did get a weekly newspaper and a lot of visitors who sought her wisdom on various issues, particularly healthy foods.
Interior. Photograph taken by J. David.
HES’ COUNTRY STORE is a sacred place to me. I sometimes go there to meditate and surrounded by things from my youth I quite often feel her presence. I also have melancholy and regrets. My dad was killed in an industrial accident in a war plant. I was thirteen, my brothers were in the Service. I didn’t fill in the void for HES, I just didn’t understand. Within a year my older brother was shot down over the English Channel and never returned home. I live with my regrets.
So, how did I come to title this blog as “CONSERVATION OF ANOTHER SORT?” Actually, my own philosophy was developing ever since the passage of ESA – Endangered Species Act in 1973 – But shortly after the COUNTRY “STORE” was opened and visitors were taken in, I learned that adults appreciated the experience of seeing many things they once knew and the environment in the “STORE.” Sometimes, they wouldn’t leave. Then the really wonderful thing emerged. Kids were so curious about all this collection of kitchen tools, work tools and just stuff. I developed stories around various items and somewhat like the adults the kids didn’t want to leave. . . . . . . The idea of renting the store to make money went south. - - - - - The store became an unusual classroom in which the kids were asked and challenged to conserve their family history, their culture by visiting, calling upon or writing their grandparents and keeping a journal. The best letter of my entire life came from a man who said, “Dear Mr. Bamberger, My granddaughter never gave a hoot about me until she came back from your place. I now thank you, sir, she comes once a week with a clipboard and pencil asking me all kinds of questions.”
Bedroom – Slightly more modern. Photograph taken by J. David.
Yes, we gave up on making money from the store, but to me as well as everyone here at Selah we gained so much more. . . . Everything begins with philosophy.
Building a Forest. Photograph taken by J. David.
Across the road from the STORE – I’m planting a forest. I may be the only one to call it that. GRANNY HES taught me about trees. I love trees! We planted many together particularly apple trees. My goal is to have at least one sample of every tree species that grows in Blanco County in the forest. I have a good start with 47, but still have a long way to go and, of course, the trees also need time to grow. I am so delighted today to see so many 30 and 40 foot trees I planted 35 years ago.
HES’ Picture and Poem. Photograph taken by J. David.
I’d like to share with you not only GRANNY HES’ picture, but also a poem written by Donna Bamberger, the mother of my three children. We were married for forty-five years. The poem captures HESTER CAPITOLA KEGERREIS BAMBERGER, my mother, perfectly.