Circles of Commerce, Circles of Life

Like all great migrations it began slowly, in fits and starts, ebbing back toward the known, the comfortable and familiar before once again surging forward into uncertainty.

Driven by curiosity as well as by commerce, enticed by rumor or persuaded by reason, traders and caravaners, mountain men, shopkeepers and scouts followed in the footsteps of men like Zebulon Pike, overcoming first one obstacle and then another as they created the collection of loosely-bundled routes we know today as the Santa Fe Trail. (more…)

Published in: on January 13, 2014 at 7:55 am  Comments (78)  
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Tumbleweed Traveling

Out in western Kansas, tumbleweeds seem to outnumber gas stations by a million to one.

I was in tumbleweed country, with a quarter-tank of gas and who-knew-how-many-miles to go before I could sleep in something other than my car.  When I saw the metal building with its gravel parking lot and a pair of pickups out front, it might as well have had a sign nailed up saying, “Tourist Information”.  

I pulled in, walked over to the open doors and saw two fellows welding pipe. The one facing the door saw me, pushed up his helmet and walked over, smiling as though he’d been expecting me all day.

“What can I help you with?” he said. I explained my concern about seeing no gas stations, and asked where the closest one might be. “Well,” he said. “You’re about a tenth of a mile from it. You see those Co-op grain elevators across the way?” I did. “They’ve got gas pumps over there, too. Drive over and stick your head in the office and they’ll give you the go-ahead. Around here, we get our gas at the Co-ops. If you see an elevator, you probably can get gas.”

When I pulled up to the pumps, I still couldn’t find the credit card reader, so a trucker getting diesel across from me explained what no one else had thought to mention. Just one card reader served all six pumps, and it was hidden away at the end of the island.  As I keyed in my pump number, I noticed him grinning.  “Well,” he said, “I guess we’re gonna have to revise that old song.”

I must have seemed confused, so he added, “Looks to me like it ought to be ‘T for Texas, T for tumbleweeds“. Following his gaze, I turned to look at my car and started laughing myself.  “You saw that, huh?”  “Couldn’t help it,” he said. “Don’t often see someone driving around with a tumbleweed in their back seat. Where’d you pick it up?” (more…)

Published in: on November 2, 2013 at 9:41 pm  Comments (126)  
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Working Fools?

In the beginning, the word we used was “helping”.  Helping wasn’t a burden, a demand or an imposition. It wasn’t a curse or a condemnation, something to be avoided at all cost or valued beyond all reason.  Helping was something people did naturally, and it was the best way for a child to enter the mysterious and utterly appealing world of grown-ups.

Helpers garnered smiles of approval as they trailed behind Mother with a dust cloth or ventured into the yard to carry bundles of sticks for Daddy. Helpers cut flowers that made the house pretty and picked up their toys.  Helpers collected windfall apples in a bucket or pulled low-hanging cherries from the trees. Helpers set the table and dried the silverware, folded the wash cloths and put newspapers in their box. If a neighbor who’d been called away was worried about her thirsty geraniums, a good helper knew to borrow a bucket and carry water to the flowers.

Helping, I thought, was fun. (more…)

Daring to Make Our Own Groceries

She hangs in my kitchen, this nameless woman who holds a chicken in her lap.  She watches me as I move between stove and sink, and I return the favor. Over time, I’ve come to imagine I know a thing or two about her. The directness of her gaze tells me she isn’t afraid of being seen. She’s a busy lady – her apron tells me that, and her distinctly practical hair. She didn’t mean to be posing this morning, but someone came along and she cooperated, no doubt happy for a moment’s rest.  Surprised by her inactivity and suddenly wary, the dog presses protectively against her, but they’ve spent his lifetime together and her hand is enough to calm his fears.

Around her portrait, bits and scraps of ephemera hint at the realities of her life.  A letterhead from A.E. Want & Company, one of Ft. Worth’s premiere wholesale grocers at the turn of the last century, provides elegance to a simple invoice. The invoice is dated September 14, 1921, nine years after the company gained a certain noteriety by suing the Missouri,  Kansas & Texas railroad over a carload of frostbitten Minnesota potatoes.  The potatoes, valued at $155.87, were judged defective, and the railroad ordered to pay. (more…)

Published in: on November 4, 2012 at 10:23 am  Comments (84)  
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Follow the Muddy Dirt Road

Question: What do you get when you combine Italian immigrants, a bag of Louisiana acorns, some determined folk in a historically-minded Texas town and a California native who (along with his crew) moves trees with all the pride and competence you’d expect from an ex-Marine?

Answer: A feel-good story of the first order. Read on…

League City, Texas is growing. In the year 2000, the U.S. Census found 45,874 residents in the just-slightly-sleepy little town I call home, By 2010, I’d added myself and my mother to the new total of 83,560, and plenty of others have done so since.  Homes, schools and churches are popping up everywhere. New business is coming in, traffic is becoming an issue and we’ve earned the distinction of having the third-worst intersection in the Houston-Galveston area.

Road construction is a fact of life, particularly since so many streets no longer are traveled only by the people who live along them. Plans were well underway to convert such a street, Louisiana Avenue,  from an open ditch, rural roadway to a concrete-curbed storm sewer thoroughfare when some observant citizens realized a tiny obstacle stood in the way of all that progress – an uncommon and historically significant tree, the Ghirardi Compton Oak. (more…)

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