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Penland Family Memories


Photo courtesy of Eugene Penland

 So What's A Little Skunk?
 Sue Penland Hawthorne

On the south Texas bay ranch where I grew up excitement and amusement was just around the corner.  Being the big age of ten with golden blond hair and braids down to my waist, I found myself searching for something to do.  On this particular hot, humid summer day I decided on my favorite enjoyment, which was my golden Palomino horse named Tony.  I gathered my bridle and feed bucket and set out to catch my horse.  In order to locate Tony I normally would go into the house to the third floor and look out the windows.  There were two windows in every direction, North, South, East and West.  You could see for miles in every direction.

Yet, on this day I was in such a hurry that I decided to just go east.  That was the area the horses were usually in.  In crossing a pasture of grass and milk weeds that were over waist high, I noticed the tops of the weeds moving in front of me.  So being the curious girl that I was, I speeded up and pushed the weeds apart.  Good grief, to my surprise I came face to tail with a small skunk.  A baby I thought!  I had been told that skunks made good pets.  So, I gave chase to the little skunk who shimmered through the weeds faster than I could, all the while letting me have it with it's powerful fragrance.  Around and around we went.  The little skunk didn't want to be caught as he was scampering, dodging and hissing at me the entire time.  In the middle of this weed field we came upon a clearing free of weeds.  I took advantage of it and laid the little skunk out with my bridle and reins.  He was stunned just enough for me to grab his tail.  Wow!  I couldn't turn him loose now and I just knew that I could make a pet out of him.  I had been told that the skunks scent bag could be removed so that they couldn't spray anymore.  So that was my plan. 

We continued on our way back into the tall weeds.  I was beginning to have another problem because the little skunk came alive.  He must have grabbed every other weed top with his little claws.  I had been holding him high above the weeds with my left arm as high as I could reach.  Skunkie boy stretched his front paws and grabbed onto anything he could get a hold of.  Then every so often I would get a good blast of what he was made of.  He would let me have it with that awful smell.  Back and forth we went like this until my arm and hand began to get tired and weak.  He was a bigger skunk that I had realized, not a baby at all.  Yet, I was determined to not let go.

 I was about a mile away from the house when I heard a car motor start.  Looking to see whom it was I realized that it was Dad and Mom.  They were probably going to town, which was 30 miles away. 

 Being ahead of them I decided to try and cut across the pasture to catch them so that I could go to town with them.  Often we children would go to the movie theater while they shopped.  So with the excitement of the idea of going to town I started running.  Suddenly I came to an abrupt stop when I realized that I had to do something with ole skunkie boy.  So I just whirled around a couple of times and let him go flying through the air.  Then off I went running again in the opposite direction.  I set my eyes on the road and ran hard.  It must have been 100 degrees with no breeze blowing and I was getting really hot.  My over sized rubber boots were not helping in any way.        

Slowly but surely those boots were giving me blisters on my bare feet.  I never bothered to put socks on because being in such a hurry to catch my horse I didn't go into the house.

Lucky for me my parents saw me cutting across the pasture and stopped.  I came charging toward the car on my Mother's side in a full run hitting the car as I stopped.  Oh my, did my mother ever draw back.  There was no air condition in automobiles at the time and all four car windows were down for air.  When I hit the side of the car and my parents got a good dose of skunk perfume, up went the windows. 

 Mother cracked her window enough to tell me to go home and take a good bath!  As for myself, I had lost the sense of smell a long way back.  Probably after the first dose!  I really couldn't smell anything, nor did I realize how bad I smelled.  It was days before my sense of smell returned.

I then begged and persuaded Mother to let me put the oversized rubber boots in the trunk of the car for I was so hot and tired.  They then departed on their way to town as I headed home down that old dusty hot road barefooted.  I was hot and sick from running so hard, sad because I didn't get to go to town, and mad because I never got to ride my horse or keep my new found pet.  Meanwhile my parents had to stop about 15 miles down the road so that Dad could get the skunk boots out of the trunk and throw them as far as he could.  They said the heat and the saturated boots almost overpowered them. 

When mother returned home she said that I still smelled terrible, and that I didn't take a good enough bath.  So away I went and bathed again.  As was my custom in washing my hair, I would not unbraid the braids.  I was so tender headed that the less I did to my head the better.  My Mother entered the bath just as I was getting out and caught me with my braids still up.  Well, she unbraided my long hair and started scrubbing.  I thought she was going to scalp me for sure as she was scrubbing so hard.  She even mixed vinegar and water to pour over my hair, but not even that could get the smell out.  I couldn't go anywhere for days, and even my clothes had to be burned.  My poor little body and hair got scrubbed every day with the vinegar rinse until the smell disappeared.   For days my brothers badgered me whether I smelled like a skunk or not.

Now of course, I never told my parents or anyone that I had ran down the skunk and caught him, even carrying him.

After all, that didn't compare to killing a diamond back rattlesnake, which was longer than I was tall.  Then there were the times I dodged the alligators when necessary.  Once I ran barefooted across the marsh and smelling a terrible poisonous odor I came upon a huge coiled cottonmouth.  He had his mouth wide open to strike.  I even saw the white around the inside of his mouth.  I was running so fast that when I saw the snake I couldn't stop, so I had to leap as high into the air as I could and jump over him.  I hit the other side and kept running.  Being hot from running, if he had struck me I would not have made it back home.   I bet my guardian angel was happy when I finally grew up. So between the alligators and snakes,
                                                   what's a little skunk anyways?                        

The Alligator Day on the Ranch

By Sue Penland Hawthorne


We lived on a Brahma cattle ranch and rice farm laid on four hundred acres of flat Texas costal land.  A portion of the land lay along the bank of the Tres Palacios Bay.  Across the bay westward was the beautiful town of Palacios with its fish and shrimping businesses.  The Texas Baptist encampment was located there running along the bay front.  The encampment was a source of entertainment for us children during the summer.

On the Collegeport side of the bay where we lived, we and about 30 other children rode the school bus to Palacios for school.  Around 1948 Texas consolidated their schools and small towns like Collegeport were sent to larger schools.

To the south of our ranch were acres and acres of salt grass fields filled with Brahma cattle and rattlesnakes.  Beyond the salt grass fields to the south was the Intra-coastal Canal, then the Gulf of Mexico. 

Our family was a large family of ten living children.  Three had died making thirteen in all.  The first little girl born, after several boys, died of diphtheria at the age of three.  This was before the vaccine came out.  Then one boy drowned in the bay at around 5 years old.  Mother's last baby boy died at birth due to mother's age of 42, and other complications.

The eight boys and two girls were like two different families.  The first four boys were already living on their own by the time I came along.  I witnessed their service in WW II and prayed often for them.  We went to church four times a week, and it was there that we would all go down to the altar and pray for my brothers and the others.  God blessed our family by bringing them all safely home to us, and to their families.

My job as a ten year old was busy, busy, busy.  I helped in the house with my older sister of two years.  Being the outdoor child that I was, I managed to be blessed by chores of feeding chickens, turkeys, gathering eggs and feeding rabbits, all 200 of them twice a day.  My mother would breed the rabbits.  I had the joy of feeding them and my brothers would kill and skin them.  The rabbits would be cleaned and put into the freezer for later use.  I helped wash and hang clothes on the clothesline.  It was usually my job to churn butter with a glass Sears and Roebuck churn.  This was done by hand which was a hard job to do in the Texas weather of 90 degrees.

On any summer day, as chores would allow, I spent my time tracking down and catching my horse, Tony.  He was trained for working cattle.  Tony was a golden palomino with a white mane and tail, and he could run!  I rode many miles, sometimes in the bay, or racing along the sand flats, marshes, and sloughs.

It just so happened on this hot summer day that I decided to check the cow herd, which were grazing on the other side of the marsh and slough.  The slough proved to be a natural habitat for alligators and cottonmouths.  The gators were known for getting baby calves and sometimes our farm dogs--as my dad would say, "A gator must have got it."  The slough was a fresh water stream that emptied into the saltwater bay.  It ran for about three miles across the ranch.  So, in picking a place to cross I looked for a narrow place, and also for signs of alligators.  I looked for places where glass was laid down or belly signs.  Not seeing any of these I charged my horse Tony straight across clearing water, brush, and snakes.  I continued on at a fast pace.  Coming to the cattle, I scattered them everywhere.  After settling down my horse, I rode on among the cows checking for any that might be sick or hurt.  Not seeing any sick cattle, I continued on making sure to always maneuver around and away from the huge Brahma bulls, never, not ever crowding them.  Once I was clear I rode on to the rice fields.  Here was a field that had laid out from planting and had last year's rice field levees still standing.  I entertained myself there by having Tony jump the levees.  Tiring of this, Tony and I headed home coming to the sough again.  I rode along the winding path of water looking for a narrow place to cross.  I then came upon a strange hill of mud and grass right next to the water.  This hill was about three feet tall and looked like it had just been rained on as it was very wet.  This was impossible as the weather was in the 90s and had not rained for days.  I had not seen anything like this before.  Dismounting Tony I decided to inspect it a bit closer.  I took a good swing at it with my cowboy boots knocking off the top.  To my surprise there were large white eggs planted ever so neatly into the hill of mud and grass.  A mystery to me, but the sense of danger was there.  So very easy and carefully I mounted my horse and moved away slowly.  I continued on my way searching for the right crossing.  I came across a narrow place and stuck my spurs into the side of Tony and away he jumped, clearing the water and landing well on the other side. 

Upon arriving home I saw that my brothers were working at the barn.  Coming to a sliding halt and throwing dust all over them, to my delight, I explained to them about what I had found.  The boys assured me this was my lucky day!  They explained the stack of mud and grass was the nest of a mother alligator, and that she had probably just splashed water on the eggs for cooling.  My brothers assured me that the mother alligator was in the water watching my every move, and that most likely the only thing keeping her from getting me was my big palomino horse that was between the water and me. 

 These brothers of mine were James who was 16, Paul who was 14 years old, and my youngest brother Johnny who was only 8 years old.  They decided to go and get the eggs, just to see if they could hatch them.  So with guns, shovels, and buckets they jumped into the truck and headed out for the gator's nest.  In order to see how this would all turn out I kicked Tony in gear and joined them.  Not getting off my horse of course, I kept looking for the mother gator to surface.  I noticed my little brother Johnny with a long stake that had a large root system on the bottom.  Johnny was poking this into the water hole of all things.  I yelled at him to stop and to get away from the gator hole, but my warning came too late.  The mother alligator grabbed the roots of the stake with such force that Johnny became airborne.  With God's protecting hand, he was able to stretch his legs enough to barely land on the edge of the other side of the bank.  It was a close call!  The mother alligator took the stake and never came up again.  The boys took the eggs in the large bucket back to the barn.  They put them into an empty water trough and arranged the eggs in mud and grass like the pattern of the mother gator.  There were about 30 eggs and out of those only 16 little gators hatched out.  Several died of course, and the rest were given away to friends. 
Johnny learned a lesson that day, as we all did!  I'm just thankful that my father didn't have to say about us,
                          "The gator must have gotten them!"


A 'Gator'  Hunted by the Penland Brothers in Collegeport Texas

(as told by a younger Penland, Susie, who heard it grow and grow several ways,

by several Penlands, over many, many, many years)


One Spring when your Grandpa Penland (A. B., Sr.) and his brothers were almost all already married young men, a gator was eating all your Great Grandpa (A. A.) Penlands' new born calves. It was so large it was swallowing the babies whole leaving no remains. AND it was so smart it followed young pregnant cows while they were in labor and grabbed the calves as my Grandpa (A. A.) Penland said 'fore they hit the ground.'

Straight out and around  from your great Grandparent's three story house near the bay were "the thickets. "  The thickets was a place where low growing shrubs/trees grew closely together in most spots. In other areas there were bare spots with various grasses, cactus's,  and further back were places with water where a big gator could easily hide. The herd of cattle would go out there to graze. It was here the young men began their search for the culprit. I never heard much about the search or the capture for it was the story after the search which was told over and over again and I'm sure added to at family gatherings. Here it is as I remember......All the men who were on the search had lined up along side the 16 foot 'gator'. (Did it get larger as  the story was told?( Yes ) I really don't know for gators were extra large in those days.) My Uncle Paul who was one of the shorter Penland brothers (but not short) stood next to your Uncle James who was one of the taller Penland brothers. Uncle Paul was smoking a cigarette. Your  Grandpa (A. B.) Penland was also standing  next to Uncle James . They were at the head of the huge  'gator'.  Your Grandpa (A. B.) Penland who happened to be a great prankster in his day made a deep low growl and grabbed Uncle James' leg. It scared Uncle James so badly he jumped up  and kicked Uncle Paul's cigarette out of his mouth without touching his face...They say the laughter from my Dad and his brothers could be heard all the way across the bay in Palacios that day.

Children on top


Bob and Susie Penland

(could be Pam Mize)

son and daughter of
A. B. and Marguerite Penland



Penland wives l to r


Ruby Sanders Penland


Marguerite Dabelgott Penland


Nell Penland Mize


Colleen Talmadge Penland



August 1956

(photo developed Sep. 1956)



Story courtesy of Susie Penland Genck daughter of A. B. and Marguerite Penland, granddaughter of A.A. and Vannie Penland

Picture courtesy of
Marie Penland Dorsett

by Susie Penland Genck

  Memories of Aaron and Marguerite Penland

I always loved hearing about the first moment my parents saw each other. I especially loved hearing them tell it together. They both swore it  was love at first sight! My father, Aaron, was attending Texas A&M at College Station and decided to come home one weekend to Collegeport to visit his parents Vannie and Bud. When my Dad entered a dance with a friend my Mom saw him in the doorway and she told her girlfriend "That's him, that's the man I'm going to marry." At the same time my Dad was looking around from the doorway to see who was there and he saw her and he told his friend "I'm going to marry that girl." They danced the night away in each others arms... that night and forever. They both loved to dance. (The following day my father broke up with a girl he had been seeing seriously). Even when we were little they loved to dance. They both loved waltzes. One night when I was 4 or 5 I woke up to "The Blue Danube" being played. I got up to see who was up in the middle of the night and there were my parents just swaying not really waltzing in each others arms and smiling. Even as a little girl I knew not to disturb their moments so I pattered off to bed. To this day when I hear "The Blue Danube" playing I can see them smiling and swaying together. Later on when I was in my 20's I went home to live for a year. My parents and I had many, many talks. In all my years living with my parents I had never heard them fight, not one cross word. So one night when Dad and I were talking I asked him why they didn't fight. He told me they had one fight in their whole lives. He said when he and Mom fight wars start. My dad was married and in the Army. One morning my Mom asked him to take her to the movies, he "told" her to shine his brass for the next day and he'd take her. She refused. Sometime later that day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and they knew he'd be leaving soon. They held each other and both vowed that they would never fight again. And my dad said they never did!  Their children can attest to that. Everyday when he got home Mom was waiting with the biggest smile and as soon as he saw her he got the biggest smile too. They were always hugging or touching each other like they hadn't seen each other  in a long while, and always with smiles for each other and eyes connecting. My dad said to me while I was little and at home again as an adult, " The best gift two parents can give their children is a happy marriage."  

And we children at the Penland household got just that from our parents ...The Best Gift.

A. B. Penland, Sr. at his rice farm in Collegeport.                                              Pictures courtesy of Susie Genck

Memories Part 1     Memories Part 2     Memories Part 3     Memories Part 4

Memories Part 5     Memories Part 6     Keechi Scrapbook     Old House on the Bay

Penland Veterans     Penland-Huffhines 2007 Reunion


Copyright 2006 - Present by the Penland Family
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This page was created
Jul. 13, 2006
This page was updated
Mar. 26, 2009