The Gathered Words

part 1:  Mulberry, Texas


    Mulberry only is home, yet the place

exists in but a few traces located in a bend

of Red River on the north edge of Texas.

This gathering of words, like leaves spread

again at the base of an oak relic, is to bring

back a place where we still live. When I first

looked even old-timers at the cemetery

dinner under the pavilion didn’t know when

“Hunter and Green” came, but discovery of

a newspaper clipping in the Davidson family

Bible told an approximate date of the shoot-

out, and “mistaken identity” led on to a

description of Hunter. Margaret Cain

mentioned a “girl with long black hair,” and

Ida Hair spoke fragments of her story; that

was all until one day on a microfilm reader

in the library came up—“Murder Most Foul!”

    For years I missed opportunities to hear

these stories. “Miss” Mandy as late as 1995

was emphatic, “You’ve wasted your life,

wasted it!” She didn’t mean I hadn’t finally heard her story, and her own proud house, empty, sags too. In 1905 Alva Cain was twenty-one. From him I heard only the question he asked me, “Do you know how this spring was dug?” Indians did it. And Mandy’s brother, Perry Parks, gave a glimpse of fallen logs he walked on as a child. The stockade. Where exactly? Young as I was then with my own Sunday afternoon “blues” in Mulberry, I didn’t ask again.

    In 1904 Uncle Auda left the Bugg farm in Texas for work in Portland, Oregon, describing his experiences in a letter. In 1905 and ‘06 the families of Thomas Escue, Frank Jackson and Hugh Thomas Bramlett departed Mulberry and their ancestors in the cemetery, but their memories were passed on. Why these families left, and why my family, the Halls, moved in 1908 from a black-land farm near Paris to a sandy-land farm in Mulberry, can still be told.


    Getting, holding, losing, getting back “land” is one large theme of this “book,” and that striving—seen first in the “arithmetic” of deeds and wills—has united, or divided, such forces that even this present lapping on the river bank may be imagined the passing of shadows long-since cast. Should it surprise? The record of a few voices preserves indeed that “poets” also came, creating the “myths” we must know to live, in this place, aware, alive.


photo: Lelia Hall with Unknown Figure on Red River

    Texas State Gazetteer and Business Directory, 1890-91:  MULBERRY. “A post office in Fannin county, 14 miles northwest of Bonham, the county seat, banking and shipping point. Population, 50. Mail, semi-weekly. Agnew & Smith, general store.” Milton, a son of  Gideon Smith, was first postmaster. Or was he? Another record shows: “Rosedale”—5 miles NW of Ravenna. William T. Spencer, appointed postmaster February 17, 1885; Milton Smith, appointed April 17, 1886.

     “Name changed to Mulberry June 21, 1886.” The 1884-85 Gazetteer included neither Mulberry nor Rosedale, but Ravenna....         

    It is easy to praise or blame the river, unlike when responsibility is our own. The land—“Let it go,” lawyer Lyday said to Forshee. The Red’s overflow is still the reason for our abundance. To north and west it is near, and Mulberry’s roads lead in or out, not through to other places.

    Yet the river did not always set a boundary for this place. If one crossed its waters in 1838, and rode west, Warren, the first county seat of Fannin County, not counting Jacob Black’s cabin, was but five miles away, and Kemp’s Ferry referred both to the Indian family of Mother Kemp and the place where she lived in the Territory. The Kemp family cemetery is on the opposite bank from Mulberry.


    The French novelist Balzac, at the start of Père Goriot, asks, “Will the story be understood outside Paris?” “It is doubtful,” he concludes, but I turn the page to read on because it is “Paris,” and I believe he can teach me to understand: The author asking again, “Who shall say which is more horrible to see, empty skulls or dried-up hearts?”

    But Mulberry? A visitor who no longer comes, asked, “Who will read this story?” The answer (and permission to read) is an echo from the prologue to an anonymous 14th Century guide to meditation entitled The Cloud of Unknowing:

I charge and beg you, with all the strength and power that love can bring to bear, that whoever you may be who possess this book (perhaps you own it, or are keeping it, carrying it, or borrowing it) you should, quite freely and of set purpose, neither read, write, or mention it to anyone, nor allow it to be read, written, or mentioned by anyone unless that person is in your judgement really and wholly determined to....


Unlike a novel, The Gathered Words may lack strong “plot,”

and only I am “editor,”

responsible for transitions and digressions.

“Like the river, let it flow.”

Observe: mood, tone, color,

and move on: with irony and compassion,

and let it go.


“Last Sunday in October 1917”

third seated figure from the left is “Zona”

And remember Mandy saying,

“Oh, they had more fun.”


“the Parks family parlor”

with Zona (left), Mamie (center), and Mandy’s small face between