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Bath Pond
A Heart-Warming Story of an Early Florida Family

Bath Pond
"Bath Pond" is a one-of-a-kind, heartwarming story of unspeakable sadness and enduring love arising from personal tragedy. The adversity, warmth, and determination of the Gregson family and their friends as they work their way through the Depression and its aftermath combine for a great, feel-good read.

These characters are personally bound to each other, not by choice, but by necessity. They are honest, dependable, never greedy, and, above all else, possess the stuff that commerce and great nations are built on. One of their premier qualities that can be taken to the bank is that "their goodness had power."

Everyone who shares memories of or knows people who came up during the late 1920s through the '30s and into the early '40s knows someone similar to every character in this novel. They are some of our closest friends and family members. On another level, for the businessperson, "Bath Pond" provides an excellent example of vertical marketing: a key to wealth in any age.

—Lowell Teal

The Beginning Years 23

The first full day of their lives together began with the sun peeping over the trees into the windows of the little house. A heavy fog hung low under the oak trees.

The morning stillness was broken by the sounds of a cow whip and cattle moving with a yelp that could only be Garrett’s dad. The other indication of who was coming up was Gator’s vicious bark. Gator was a “gather and drive” dog, not a “catch” dog. Even though she was taught not to catch, her demeanor had certainly fooled every cow with which she would ever come in contact. She conducted herself as if around cattle she were the meanest dog in captivity.

Jumping from bed, Garrett could not imagine what his dad was doing herding cattle there on horseback. It was barely sunup.

Just when the cattle passed the bedroom window, Mr. Gregson cracked his whip yelling, “Garrett, Mary Fran, come out and see what I’ve brought you.” The cattle congregated under oak saplings in the backyard and were satisfied with a few moments to relax and graze. The cattle, held by Gator, were bunched behind the little house. When Gator saw Garrett, it took all her discipline to remain connected to her appointed job. In fact, on a couple of occasions she came to Garrett for a visit. She looked at Mary Fran questionably.

The young couple could not believe this. The first day of their lives together . . . awakened at daylight with a cow whip and a herd of cattle.

Garrett was up and out quickly. It took Mary Fran just a little longer.

“I wanted to surprise you, son. This is your wedding present from me. Here is one heifer for each month of the year, all of which are with calf. You will have twenty-six cows in the near future, because there is also a bull for breeding purposes and a steer for the table in the bunch,” said Mr. Gregson, with an unmistakable sparkle in his eye. The old man was proud of his son, and it showed. He hoped this gift would give them a financial lift at the very beginning of their marriage. He considered Mary Fran a wonderful young lady.
“But, Dad,” questioned Garrett, “what in the world will I do with them? You know I don’t have any place to keep them.”

“Don’t worry, son. I’ve made arrangements with John Langford for you to put them in this pasture. You visit him and arrange some method of repayment for the use of the pasture,” he said. “He is looking forward to your coming.”

“I don’t know, Dad, I had not thought of anything like this,” replied Garrett. Mary Fran stepped out the back door with a look of total disbelief with her hand over her mouth.
“Look, honey, Dad has given us our wedding present from him. Twelve springing heifers, a bull, and a steer for the table,” explained Garrett. “What do you think of this?”
While Garrett was talking, Mr. Gregson got off his horse, carefully coiling his whip and hooking it onto his saddle horn. Turning to face them, Mary Fran walked up to him, giving him her biggest hug and kiss. Visibly shaken, she said, “Mr. Gregson, up until yesterday I never had a dress or shoes that were truly my own. These were my first new clothes. During the past twenty-four hours I now have Garrett, a home I can claim as ours, a beginning family of which you are a part, twelve cows, a bull, and a steer. I can’t believe this is happening to me,” she reacted.

As she spoke these words, Garrett moved beside her, taking her hand as she took Mr. Gregson’s, and the three of them moved closer to the cattle for a better look.

After a few minutes of silence, Mary Fran said to Mr. Gregson, “You know, yesterday and today means I’m accepted into this family, but there is something that bothers me,” concluded Mary Fran.

“What’s that?” asked Mr. Gregson.

“You already know I’ve never known my parents. Since I am a part of this family now, would you mind if I called you ‘Dad’? You see, I’ve gained a husband, a home, twelve cows, a bull, and a steer, and now a dad, which means more to me than anyone could ever hope for,” said Mary Fran.

“You just don’t know how good that would make me feel for you to call me ‘Dad,’” the old man said through tear-filled eyes. “I really don’t feel I’ve lost a son, but rounded out my family with you. This is a happy time for us all, even though I am reduced to living with Beau and Essay.

“Garrett, open the gap and let’s put these cows in the pasture,” instructed Mr. Gregson.
“When you finish with the cattle, come into the house and I’ll have a pot of coffee going,” Mary Fran said.

With the gap open, Gator started the cattle moving in the direction of the opening. All of them went into the pasture. Immediately upon their being safely inside the pasture, Gator came to Garrett as if he were a long-lost relative. She was still puzzled that Garrett wasn’t at home last night and then finding him in a strange place.

When Mr. Gregson and Garrett entered the kitchen, Mary Fran said, “You two sit down at the table. The coffee will be ready directly.”

Following her directions they sat down. Mr. Gregson noticed the pan Essay had fixed them for last night’s supper sitting in the middle of the table, untouched. With Mary Fran’s back to them, Mr. Gregson peeked inside to confirm his suspicion that they didn’t eat the food. Placing the cover back, he looked over at Garrett, who had a sheepish look on his face, very close to total embarrassment. He was embarrassed because he remembered the conversation his dad had had with Essay about being sure there was a pan to go with them from the Cobles. Mr. Gregson didn’t embarrass them further, but did get a personal chuckle from it all.

While they were having coffee, Garrett said to Mary Fran, “Let’s make a pact now. Unless we really get into financial trouble, let’s never sell a female cow until she is past bearing future calves. We will sell only the male calves. If we can keep them in pasture, we will always multiply. What do you think?”

“Sounds good to me,” she said.

“That’s the best news I’ve heard in a long time. A man with a cow and calf operation is hard to break financially,” Mr. Gregson said.

“Dad, do you know with all the good fortune that has come my way in the past couple of days, I feel next to a millionaire,” Mary Fran said.

“You just keep right on feeling this way, and one day you will be one,” Dad said.

While talking, Mr. Gregson was unbuttoning his shirt pocket, in which he was carrying a small tin box. As he pulled it out into plain view, Garrett immediately knew what it was and had the most pleasant expression on his face. When Mr. Gregson saw Garrett’s face, his began to assume the same appearance. Observing them, Mary Fran had a feeling the box had special meaning just for them.

The box was noticeably old and worn smooth. Not that it had had a great deal of use, it simply was an old tin box with a foldover top.

With an expressive voice, Mr. Gregson said, “Mary Fran, Garrett did not know I was going to do this, but I hope it meets his approval. This small box was his mother’s container that held what little jewelry she had. There aren’t a lot of items in the box, but what there is I know of no one I want to have them other than you. The total contents aren’t worth much in money, but in heart value they are priceless to me. I hope you will accept the jewelry and when the occasion arises wear it proudly.”

Handing her the box, she took it with a shaking hand. Her emotions were lodged within her throat. She actually couldn’t speak.

Opening the box, she found various little pins, a couple or three necklaces, and a ring or two. There was nothing of real value except to the family. Even so, it was the first piece of jewelry she had ever had, and the tears began to flow.

The tears were running freely as Garrett stood up and moved around the table to try and console her, “Hon, don’t cry. Daddy wanted you to have the jewelry so that you could have something that was dear to this family. Other than a picture or two, this is all we have left of my mother. It is right that you have the jewelry and wear it proudly when the occasion comes.”

“Oh Garrett, I will, I will. I just didn’t think there would come a time in my life when I’d be so proud and yet so completely without words. This is just wonderful. I will always cherish the thought and the jewelry,” cried Mary Fran.

As they finished their coffee, a wagon pulled into the front yard. It was a neighbor, Silas Smith, with four pigs for the newlyweds.

“Morning, Silas,” Garrett said. “Come on in for a cup of coffee.”

“Thanks, Garrett, but I can’t,” replied Silas. “The missus and I just wanted you and Mary Fran to have these four shoats for your pigpen. By hog killing time you should have some fine meat.”

“You mean you are giving us these pigs?” asked Garrett.

“Sure we are. This is about all we can give as a wedding gift, but we are proud to do this. I fixed up the old hog pen out back the other day. Why don’t you help me get them into it?” asked Silas.

The pigs were red and weighed about forty pounds each. They were not only tough to get hold of, but a real chore to get into the pen.

“Garrett, I couldn’t bring these pigs without some feed for them. I brought you these ten sacks of shorts, which will help you get them started,” said Silas.

“I can’t believe this, Silas. You are not only giving us pigs but also the feed for them. This is just about the nicest thing that has ever happened to us, and we really do appreciate it.”

“Well, we wanted to do something and this was the best we could. Besides the meat will come in handy in the fall.

“Hope you have good luck with them,” Silas said, climbing back onto his wagon. “The missus told me to come right back. I think she has some chores stacked up for me today. You young folks come visiting one day.”

“Thanks, Silas, we will, and you bring Mrs. Smith back over for a visit with us,” Garrett countered.

“If you don’t mind, Silas, I believe I will ride along with you. I was just leaving anyway,” said Mr. Gregson. With that he whistled for Gator to follow. A little perplexed, Gator didn’t know whether to go to Garrett or follow Mr. Gregson’s instructions. Reluctantly, she looked at Garrett, who motioned for her to follow Mr. Gregson. The dog obediently followed.

“Thanks, Dad. Thanks, Mr. Smith. You both have been more than generous this morning. What a way to begin the first day of our marriage,” said Mary Fran.

Watching them leave, Garrett said to Mary Fran, “Isn’t this a wonderful way to start our first day, even before breakfast? Speaking of breakfast, what about some?”

“Give me a few minutes, and I’ll see what I can do,” she replied.

Essay never allowed Garrett or Beau in the kitchen when she was cooking, so Garrett walked from the back fence to the hog pen, admiring his newly acquired livestock. He absolutely couldn’t believe what had happened to them. They were in business!

As they finished breakfast, another wagon came up the lane. It was Loretta Higgins, a neighbor of the Gregsons. She stopped in the front yard and stepped down from her buggy.

“Morning, Mrs. Higgins, how nice of you to visit,” Garrett said.

“Can’t stay, Garrett, just had a present for you two. I thought you might like to have these layers and a few fryers,” Mrs. Higgins replied. “I had your chicken pen tightened up a few days ago and felt like you could use these Domaniker chickens with a rooster.”
“Well, how nice,” responded Mary Fran. “Garrett and I will never catch up repaying all the kindness that has come our way today.”

“Help me get them into the pen, Garrett,” instructed Mrs. Higgins. “I also brought you some of my extra scratch feed and laying mash.”

Now the newly married couple had cattle, hogs, and chickens—all before lunch on the first day of their lives together. In addition, they still had their original fifteen dollars and twelve cents. With these kinds of friends, how could one lose?

Sitting on the edge of their front porch with feet hanging off, they were trying to comprehend the good fortune that had come their way this morning. It was unbelievable that so many good folks did so many wonderful things for them.

While discussing their bonanza, the sounds of people talking coming down the lane were getting louder by the second. They were laughing along with the sounds of horses’ hooves.

“Hi, Mary Fran and Garrett,” screamed Mr. Coble as the group came into view. Mr. Coble and a group of friends from the little church had come together with those who had been there already, and now the whole group came to complete another job. Up to this point, everything had been planned and executed perfectly.

“We’ve come to get your vegetable garden started, Garrett,” said one of the men in the group.

“That’s nice, but my ground isn’t broken.”

“Don’t worry,” Mr. Coble said. “It will be in just a few minutes.

No sooner had Mr. Coble said this than all the women and men were unloaded from three wagons. Two teams were unhitched from the wagons and hitched to plows the wagons were carrying. Just as soon as they were hitched to the plows, they immediately went to work turning the garden spot.

“I’ve never heard of anyone doing this for another except for those who were sick,” said Garrett to the entire group.

Mr. Coble said, “According to Brett and Alan, we figured you would be sick after last night and the action you’ve already had this morning. You can bet this will be one of the last favors of this kind you will ever receive from this group until you get too old to do them for yourselves. Just relax and relish your good fortune.”

The ground was quickly plowed and then leveled. The women removed their shoes and started to plant seeds of various kinds. They dropped seeds into the drill, carefully covering each with their bare feet.

This operation would have taken Garrett and Mary Fran a couple of days to accomplish. This group finished the entire job within a couple of hours and was gone.

Garrett said to the folks as they were loading equipment onto one of the wagons, “People, this is just about the nicest thing that has ever happened to me, except for Mary Fran, that is. It is doubtful I will live long enough to repay this favor, but you can believe we will certainly work trying to repay each of you.”

“Forget it, Garrett,” said one of the men. “If we had wanted thanks or pay for the job, we would have told you how much before we did it. We just wanted to help the two of you out, and this was about the only way we could. We’ve had a good time as if we had been at a party. In fact, this was a party, and we feel good about it. See you later, newlyweds. Come to visit when you are out of hibernation!”

There were many farewells as the group left. It was a happy group of loving folk to do such a nice thing for a young couple. But then, in the grips of the Depression these kinds of things were about all anyone could do for another. The young couple stood and watched them leave, thinking how nice to have friends like these.

When supper was finished and the kitchen clean, Garrett said, “You know, some way must be devised for us to take baths every day. We have only a shallow well with a hand pump, no tub, and only a washrag and a bar of lye soap some of the church folks gave us. We’ve got a problem!”

“Maybe we do have a problem, but only a small one. Think of all the good things that have happened to us today. What more could a couple ask on the first day of their married life? What has happened feels more like a fairy tale to me. I really think we can work out a simple thing like taking a bath,” Mary Fran said.

“Well, what do you suggest we do? Go out to the pump after dark?” asked Garrett.

“Why don’t we take the soap and go back to the little sand-bottomed pond in the pasture where our cows are and take a bath in the lake?” she asked.

The little pond was about one hundred feet across and very deep, indicating a spring-fed body of water, and was perfectly round, perhaps a sinkhole. It was a beautiful little lake with water as clear as drinking water. Fish could be seen around the edges.

Knowing there was no one around for probably three miles, Garrett screamed, “The last one in is a rotten egg,” stripping his clothes off and diving into the water.

“Well, I must be a rotten egg because I’m not going in this water without some sort of suitable clothing,” said Mary Fran.

“That’s what you think,” Garrett said. With this, he had already grabbed her and was wading into the water, and before she could stop him, he was taking her underwater.
When they surfaced, she decided there was no need to allow modesty to spoil a good time, and off came her clothes. Besides, how can one take a bath with clothes on?

From having been reared close to nature in the manner he was, and having Brett, Alan, and Beau as constant companions, Garrett was an excellent swimmer. Being tall and lanky, with sufficient muscle, his performance in the water was extraordinary. No person in the settlement could match his swimming skills. Friends in the past had recommended his entering swimming competition, but, of course, he never did.

Garrett said, “Coming here every night would be a good thing to do. We can keep it to ourselves and come for our baths. This is a super-clean little lake, and I think we should name it Bath Pond.”

“That is the best idea you’ve had lately, Garrett Gregson, I agree. But, if I ever get word of you boasting about our taking a bath ‘jay bird,’ it will be the last time it will happen. You got that?” Mary Fran announced firmly.

“Agreed,” Garrett answered. “It’s our secret.” Then the business of the honeymoon started all over again. When the bath and frolicking were over, the couple lay at water’s edge until the mosquitoes drove them home.