Christmas in June

At Howard Days this year, Dennis McHaney brought along a copy of Skull-Face and Others and the Howard-signed Christmas card posted above, both of which had once belonged to Lenore Preece. There aren’t any markings on the reverse of the card, no postmark or address, so it was probably included with a letter or submission to the Junto, circa December 1929. Perhaps later. These items were on loan to McHaney thanks to a former neighbor of Lenore’s, Brian Clifford. He wrote the following:

STATEMENT FROM BRIAN CLIFFORD, FRIEND OF LENORE PREECE—JUNE 12, 2014

I met Honey Lenore Preece in the spring of 1994, when she was living on Avenue F in Hyde Park in Austin.

I’m a native Texan, but I’ve spent a lot of my life traveling in other states and countries, and during one return home, I was staying with a neighbor of Lenore’s. She caught my attention one afternoon as she was puttering around her porch. Something about her intrigued me. Not the least of which was that some of her neighbors called her The Cat Lady, and I have a soft spot for animal lovers, eccentrics, and elderly people who live on their own and who seem to be just fine with that.  I walked over, and we struck up a conversation. That conversation quickly evolved into a very close friendship that would continue over the next four years, until she died on December 7, 1998.

Lenore and I had a great rapport, that’s the only way I can describe it. During my visits back to Austin, where I had spent important chunks of my youth, we would pass the afternoons together talking about old Austin, old Texas, and the way society had changed since she was a girl. She was particularly pleased to show me her books and ephemera collections, and I often went to the grocery store or ran errands for her; I also brought her back small tokens from my vagabonding. The entire time I knew Lenore, she rarely mentioned family, and to my knowledge, she never had family members check on her. This always worried me and it saddened me greatly.

One particularly special encounter with Lenore was in 1996, after I had finished fixing up my fire-engine-red  ’67 GTO. When I rumbled into her driveway, she came to her front door, admiring the car. I asked if she’d like to take a drive out to Lake Travis. Surprisingly, she agreed. This was only one of a handful of times I saw Lenore leave her house. She piled in, and we took off to Travis. When I asked her when she’d last been to the lake, she thought for a moment and said, “Oh, sometime right after World War II …”  50 years! On the way back to town, she asked that we try to find the old Preece Family Cemetery off 2222, but we never could. (I found it after she died—it’s on Vaught Ranch Road.) On another occasion, I convinced Lenore to venture out to the Omelettry off Burnet Road. We had a great time.

During the years I knew Lenore, I fretted over her health; I thought of her frequently while I was on my travels. I sent her post cards, and she occasionally wrote me in care of my mother in Houston.  Whenever I hit Austin, she was always the first person I would go see.

The last few times I saw my friend, I’d become increasingly concerned about her physical health, her mobility. On one of those occasions when I returned to visit, I found her house empty. I learned from the police that she’d fallen and broken her hip and had been taken to a nursing facility in Northwest Austin. I managed to locate her. I went to see her several times before she died, which sadly happened when I was in Europe in late 1998. She was buried at a pauper’s cemetery in Austin, instead of at the family cemetery. This fact has always perplexed me, because I assumed that someone in her family would have been notified.  More than that, it haunted me, and it still does. I’d like to see her laid to rest in her proper place, somehow.

Over these past 16 years, I’ve held the memory of this exceptional Texas poet very close to my heart.  I still think of her often, and I have lugged from city to city and country to country many of the items Lenore gave me during our four-year friendship—cards, books, little mementos from her house, her life. Over the time we were friends, she frequently gave me items that she treasured and didn’t want to see tossed when she passed away. I still have some beautiful antique lace handkerchiefs, some hand-embroidered linens and table throws, some vintage crockery and china serving platters, several antique and collectible books, and her scrapbook, which I retrieved from the abandoned house after she died. What remained in her home on Avenue F was put out on the curb or thrown away.

So, whatever Howard letters or issues of The Junto which might have remained with Lenore, if any, are in a land-fill in Travis County. We are lucky, however, that Mr. Clifford was able to retrieve Lenore’s scrapbook: It is there that the Christmas card was found. Also this photo of Lenore’s brother, Harold Preece:

This is no doubt the same photo that Harold sent to Robert E. Howard, who, in a letter postmarked March 24, 1930, said “Thanks for the picture.” Also, in an early April letter, this: “I don’t know if I thanked you for the picture in my last letter. If I didn’t you can take it that I do now. It’s a good likeness of you.”

Many thanks to Mr. Clifford for sharing these items with us, and for being a friend to Ms. Preece at the end.