Cleburne Times-Review, Cleburne, TX

Larue Barnes

January 22, 2012

Larue Barnes: Carving out memories

Local artist’s life experiences recreated in wood form

Editor’s note: This is part two of a two-part story about Ralph Garrett. Part one published Jan. 8.

By Jan. 1, 1946, Ralph M. Garrett was out of the Army, happily working on his family’s Hood County farm. Housing there was primitive, but luxurious compared to a foxhole.

“The farm was historic, in that it was originally a land grant awarded to Elizabeth Crockett,” he said. “I raised 900 turkeys there — killed, dressed and delivered them.

“On a delivery to some friends in Fort Worth, their daughter, Gloria Echols, was home from Lawton, Okla., where she was executive director of Camp Fire Girls. On our first date I learned that she had graduated from TSCW [now Texas Women’s University] and had been editor of the annual her senior year and had majored in journalism.

“Gloria had spent her summers during college as counselor at YWCA camps at Wimberley. She was outdoor-oriented and adventurous. She would fit on a farm — or anywhere.”

That was Thanksgiving 1950. After their marriage on March 4, 1951, Gloria joined him on the Hood County ranch where they lived for six months with no modern conveniences. Ralph soon established his own drafting service and they bought a farm at Sand Flat.

 By 1956, Ralph and Gloria and their three little girls, Judy, Jill and Sybil, enjoyed country living. Gloria taught at Friendship School for two years.

 Then disaster struck. They lost everything when their home burned.

“Well, not everything,” he said with a grin. “We were OK and we still had our land — plus, we still had the diapers on the line.”

They bought a home on North Robinson Street in Cleburne. In 1959, Gloria began teaching at Adams Elementary School. She retired in 1986. Ralph studied real estate appraisal and real estate construction management at TCU’s night school and studied real estate law at UTA.

“I purchased old homes and remodeled them for 20 years,” he said. “My parents bought some and carried the notes with all profits, interest, etc., going into an education trust fun for their grandchildren. The most houses I had at one time was 11 — I did 95 percent of the remodeling work by myself.”

After being certified to teach drafting by East Texas State University, Garrett was drafting, architectural and mechanical drawing instructor at Cleburne High School’s Career Center from 1977-84, taking many students to state competition.

“The last year I taught only a half day, just so that the juniors I had instructed the year before could finish the course their senior year. I didn’t retire — I’ve never retired from anything.”

In 1984, he drew plans for a new country home where their first one had burned. Ralph and his son, Ralph Jr., who needed an internship for his TSTI building construction major, built a new one — by themselves. Ten inches of insulation on all sides of the home keeps his electric bill low.

Ralph gave up his real estate license in 1992. Always eager to read, observe and learn, he became intrigued with pictographs (images painted on rocks and cave walls,) and petroglyph sites (where images are incised in rock, usually by prehistoric people) as he and Gloria began traveling to New Mexico, Arizona and Utah to explore. They canoed for miles.

“I was fascinated with everything related to various American Indian cultures,” he said. “While looking through a Time-Life book with pictures of antique kachinas (carved cottonwood root spirit dolls,) I told myself I could do that.”

Indeed he could. He uses only cottonwood root wood, as do the Indians.

“I’ve always wanted to learn all of the many types of woodcarving,” Ralph said. “I’ve converted part of my garage as a carving sanctuary and invite anyone interested to attend each Wednesday from 9 to noon. I have many carving patterns — all of which I have carved so that I am able to furnish a ‘go-by’ to anyone. I teach only if I am asked and am able to suggest easier or better methods and techniques from time to time. I’ve studied with many outstanding instructors.”

At 88, Ralph’s eyes are clear, he hears well and his hands are steady. He has dealt successfully with diabetes for more than 50 years and has been dedicated to care for himself.

His mind is full but keeps reloading.

Family has always been important to him. The Garretts have four children, Judy McMahon of Cameron, Jill Goodgion of Cleburne, Sybil Fisher of Flint and Ralph Garrett Jr. of Burleson. There are 11 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. The family was active in Camp Fire, outdoor fun and worshipped at First Christian Church in Cleburne.

When Ralph was buying and selling real estate he saw the industrial park at its beginning. He watched as some made their fortunes and others lost theirs. He saw humor in one public election.

“Remember when we voted on whether we wanted to build Lake Pat Cleburne? It was a testy one,” he said. “The no’s wanted a recount since the yes’s won by only three votes. They had a recount and picked up two more yes’s. Wonder what those naysayers think about their votes now when it’s our water supply?”

Ralph enjoys a creative joke — sometimes like editorial art of sorts.

On the shelf is a little man carved in motion, leading with his nose and his hair flowing back. He carries an attaché case with an amount of money printed on it and holds a miniature McDonald’s golden arches emblem before him.

No doubt the caricature represents the attorney who won millions for the McDonald’s customer who burned her legs with hot coffee.

Ralph and I taught together at Cleburne High School. We often shared a coffee time before school began.

He smiled and admitted to me, “I observed you and I figured out your pet peeve pretty quick.

“One teacher had been in before you and had left two cabinet doors open when she left. In a few minutes you came in and quickly closed both the doors before you poured your coffee.”

Wasn’t that what anyone would do? I wondered. But then, I’m not a frontiersman, I don’t carve and I wasn’t born 200 years too late.

Larue Barnes may be reached at laruebarnes@yahoo.com.

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Larue Barnes
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