Old men cafe

Thirty years ago, this was a common sight in downtown Liberty Hill although the faces changed throughout the day. (Courtesy Photo)


A few days back I learned of The Independent’s planned changes in how it presents the news and how these changes are designed to better serve this community. I did pause for a moment as I thought back to how far things have come over the past three decades…I’m not sure the terms “text” or “e-mail” were in our vocabulary back when we’d call up the school on a land line and if we got a busy signal more than a couple of times we’d hop in our car and drive up to the school to track down whoever we were trying to reach.

After founding publisher Jim Linzy moved the paper’s offices downtown to what we called the Fowler building we seldom had to get out on Hwy. 29 as most of our contacts were along Loop 332. When it came time to put the paper together it was a matter of physically cutting and pasting copy that had been typed up on an IBM electric typewriter onto grid sheets. Along the way we had two or three different rooms that served as darkrooms where we’d carefully load film into a metal cannister and time how long each chemical that we poured into that cannister remained.

It would be an understatement to say it took a bit of doing to pull it off each week.

But perhaps what I remember most about the early years really had nothing to do with the actual production of the newspaper. The most memorable thing was the older fellows… “the spit and whittle” crowd who parked themselves in front of the café building downtown and observed and commented as life unfolded each day. There were several and I guess just about all of them have passed on. It was easy enough for us young folks to dismiss some of their observations and perhaps not pay enough attention as they recalled earlier times in Liberty Hill. 

Looking back now, however, one realizes these were the men who, through their votes at the ballot box and actions in everyday life, set Liberty Hill on a course for great things.

More than 30 years ago, the late Dave Roberts, who at the time was editor of the Pflugerville newspaper, wrote a piece that was an apt description of these older fellows and I believe, as you read it, you may well find yourself remembering some folks that influenced you:

There are a lot of men that everyone has known that aren’t our fathers by blood, but who have guided us and taught us. They are, in spirit, also our fathers.

Under the eyes of old men, young men work. The first paint stroke, first board cut, first overlapping swaths of the lawnmower, the first doctoring of calves.

Too old or too lame to work now, they watch from the stoop or the cab of a pickup, and work through the hands of young men.

Do it right. The proper way to do it is well, like I did it.

The motion of nimble fingertips mating nut to bolt or joining wood with an invisible seam; it’s a remembered dance in swollen joints.

Red eyes watch the work to be done. Work to be loved, cursed, bitched about and rubbed smooth. Wiping clean the beautiful tools in the musty shed, oiling them down to fight demon rust, hanging each in its place ‘til tomorrow, or next Saturday, or next summer.

The job ain’t done until the tools are put away. You kids got it easy today. Was a time when I worked 12 hours with a scythe in the hot sun.

Under the eyes of old men.

Watch yourself young man. How you walk, how you talk. How you handle yourself. That tells what kind of man you are.

Never so nervous as under the eyes of old men.

Are you honest? Are you just stupid? Can you win respect? Are you fair?

All under the eyes of old men. Old men in spotty shade with broken hats and iced tea.

Do you love the work? Or is only a chore to be rushed? They take your measure, these old men.

They’re watching what they’re leaving behind—the work, and the worker.

Is there respect in the turn of the spade in the garden earth? Is there care in the sides of the square? Is the line drawn and fraction measured? In the sound of the saw biting wood?

If it’s worth doin’, it’s worth doin’ right. If you don’t have time to do it right the first time, how’re you ever gonna find time to do it over?

Under the eyes of old men.

Stronger than the sun or the cut of the wind are the eyes of old men. Are you sure that board is sanded enough? Could that motor run a little quieter? Will the door hang like that next spring? Could that corner be mitered a little truer? Couldn’t you just try and be a little more perfect?

What would he think?

Look up for the familiar signs—the half nod or the slow shake—and this time he isn’t there.

So you cut the edge a little straighter, oil the hinge a little slicker, set the post a little deeper.

Just like your boy will do—under the eyes of old men.