Donald Sanders: LoBell is coming to Winters

“If anyone knows of a small apartment here in Winters would you let me know please?”
Graphic: Winters Express
Graphic: Winters Express

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My cousin LoBell is coming to Winters.

Yesterday I received a letter from my cousin LoBell. He is the last of the Sanders relatives living in, or rather just outside of Cookeville, Tenn. where I was born as a small child. I don’t remember much about that but it is a different story anyway. The letter was crammed inside a brown envelope with several greasy fingerprints, front and back.

The envelope had been cut open on the end and someone had re-taped it shut. There was a black stamp on the back saying, “inspected by Insp. 6257.” Another black stamp on the front said, “Return to sender-insufficient postage.” There was a 5 cent stamp, a Kroger trading stamp, and a first class stamp in the upper left corner. It was addressed to: Cousin Donald Sanders, General Delivery, Winters CA. (No zip)

A spell came over me and the letter sat on the desk for several hours before I felt I had gathered my wits enough to open it. Inside it read: “Dear Cousin Donald, The Putnam County man says the farm has been taken by the government so I have to get out by the end of this month so I am moving out to be with you, my last living kin. Will you find me a place to live in your town? I’ll see you in a couple of weeks.” Signed: LoBell Sanders. There were two $5 bills inside the letter.

I met Cousin LoBell in September 2004 when I journeyed back to Cookeville for my father’s funeral. I remember him because he was the most unkempt person I have ever met. He sat down the row from me, staring at me like I was a child and he was a molester. It gave me the chills. At service’s ending he walked up and introduced himself.

He said, “Hello. I’m your cousin Lobell.”

To which I jokingly replied, “Oh, so where is HiBell?”

Without hesitation he explained that he was buried out back with his kin folks on the farm that the county was taking. He assured me that the county was going to keep the little Sanders burial plot intact and they in fact were going to raise a cast iron fence to enclose it for the public to view. He said he was sorry about my Pa’s passing and that after the funeral we could go out and view HiBell’s grave.

It was an all-too short funeral after which my wife and I found ourselves in LoBell’s old GMC pickup traveling 70 mph down a dirt road somewhere out in “Who knows where.” Anyway, the farm was severely overgrown but I could see the roof of an old barn and on the left stood the roof of the farmhouse. LoBell said the eye-level grass came from some seeds in his brother’s pockets when they brought him home from the Vietnam war. I recognized it as what we called “Elephant grass.”

The screen door slapped shut as we passed through. Lobell asked us to excuse the mess because he was moving. On the kitchen floor stood a row of five mouse traps that we had to step over. These weren’t small traps either. They had to have measured 8” across in what he called his rat barrier. My wife Therese said she would wait in the truck. The rest of the visit was short and very emotional because LoBell cried the whole time.

LoBell showed me the graves and his mother’s bell collection that she would use to call her children to dinner. A big bell for LoBell and a little bell for HiBell. He rang the little bell and smiled as he said, “HiBell ain’t coming.” He went on to show me an old picture of his mother and said he didn’t have a picture of his Pa picture because Ma burned it up.

So if anyone knows of a small apartment here in Winters would you let me know please? The only one I know of is right next to the Winters Express office so please keep me in mind as you wander around town.

I need all the help I can get with this one.


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