Art and Life Say “Howdy” and Shake

I hadn’t meant to linger, but when Hazel caught me just outside the post office doors, there was nothing for it but to say good morning and fold up the to-do list.  Like everyone in town, I knew the truth Hazel freely confessed. She came to the post office as much for the socializing as for stamps, and when she bumped into you, she expected to be humored.

That day, it was my turn.  We covered her loss at the weekly domino party (“they cheated”), the small size of her figs (“not near enough rain”) and the relative merits of oilcloth versus paper table coverings at a picnic. She’d just begun dissecting the virtues and faults of her grand-daughter’s new boyfriend (“polite enough, but not much use on a tractor”) when a fellow I recognized but didn’t know by name parked his truck and ambled up the sidewalk.

Hazel fairly beamed. “Harlan!” she said. “Why aren’t you out with them cows?” Harlan just grinned. “Now, why would I be spendin’ time with a bunch of old cows when I can come here and spend time with you?” Turning my direction, Harlan touched the brim of his hat with a finger. “Mornin’, ma’am.”

Hazel always remembered her manners. “Have you met this young lady?” “I can’t say I’ve had the pleasure,” Harlan said. “I sure haven’t. We’ve howdied, but we ain’t shook yet. Pleased to meet you, ma’am.” The introductions made, we proceeded to shake hands, right then and there. (more…)

Published in: on April 22, 2012 at 1:42 pm  Comments (89)  
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A Little Nash Ramble

The guy running the front loader couldn’t have been nicer. “Look at this,” he said to his wife as she wandered up, shovel in hand, trying to shush the dogs. “She’s got the same danged map as that other guy.” Handing the map to the woman, he gave me a look generally reserved for well-intentioned but slightly dim folk. “Around here, we don’t call it a prairie. We call it a hay field.” 

“Well,” I said, “whatever you call it, I can’t find it. That map says it’s supposed to be twenty-six miles north of Highway 35. When I got to County Road 18 I knew I’d gone too far, but I sure hadn’t gone twenty-six miles. I decided I’d better stop and ask somebody who’d know.”

That made him smile. It made his wife smile, too. We stood around for a bit, grinning at one another while the dogs snuffled around my ankles and bumblebees trundled through the rising heat. Finally, he pushed back his hat and said, “Tell you what. Go on back down the road a piece, past the old Gibson place. Pass by the goat on the right and keep a-goin’. If you get to the substation, you’ve gone too far.”

Deciphering directions in Texas can take some skill, but there was no questioning the importance of “goat” and “substation” if I wanted to find the prairie. “Down the road a piece” and “over yonder” never translate into miles. If I’d asked enough times about the old Gibson place, I might have discovered it’s the Kutchka place now, or that the columns out front that made it recognizable aren’t there any longer since the Gibsons tore them out when they bought it. But, I might not have discovered any of that, so “goat” and “substation” it would have to be. (more…)

A Semi-Divine Comedy

I lost track of singer Ray Stevens years ago, despite my affection for his fanciful story about Ahab the Arab and his clunky little camel named Clyde.  That meant I missed his tale of the Mississippi Squirrel Revival,  another funny song and a cautionary reminder to children of all ages: don’t take your critters to church!

When I recently was introduced to The Squirrel Revival, I laughed myself silly and then remembered another story about members of a congregation, a clutch of Pentecostals from the Texas Panhandle who tried to outrun the Devil on their way to Florida. Long before they reached the Sunshine State, they ended up wrapped around a tree in Vinton, Louisiana, while local cops stood around trying to figure out why they were naked.

A few years have passed, but the story’s just as funny today as it was back in 1993. Even some Baptists and Methodists in the area – folks who tend to take their religion pretty seriously – have been known to keep their clipping of the story close at hand. I saw the article tacked onto a refrigerator in Idalou, torn rather than clipped from the paper and starting to yellow with age. But there it was, bearing witness to the best part of the story – that it’s all true, every living word of it. Well, except maybe for those conversations the preachers had with the Devil. But no one’s even sure about that. (more…)

Published in: on March 31, 2012 at 12:50 pm  Comments (66)  
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Sweet Abundance

Cooler weather and occasional showers have mitigated the drought in parts of Texas, and summer’s spectacular wildfires have ended. Still, dessicated pastures, disappearing herds, abandoned lakes and empty stock ponds make clear the continuing need for rain.

Hidden behind these more obvious signs of drought lie other consequences, equally troublesome if more personal.  Enjoying breakfast in a Hill Country kitchen last weekend, I heard a tiny sigh as I split a biscuit and reached for the glass dish holding my friend’s homemade preserves.  “That’s my last jar of peach, and close to my last jar of fig,” she said. “It’s only December,” I said. “Don’t you usually have enough to last ’til summer?”

Yes, she allowed, she usually did. But this year drought put an end to her gardens and orchards. With so little rain, the fig trees barely produced. Peaches were available from irrigated orchards, but they were expensive. Pears were the size of walnuts, and the walnuts didn’t make. Even the dewberries weren’t good, setting so little fruit she left it for hungry birds and animals. The sweet, succulent blackberries that overflowed her baskets in the past withered and died, offering up only a cup or two of tart, nearly tasteless berries. Without good berries an abundance of pies, cobblers and sauces disappeared, not to mention the brandied blackberries that always had been a holiday treat. (more…)

Keepers of the Light

After more than thirty years, the place names of South Texas feel familiar as my own. Boca Chica, Cavallo and Copano. Carancahua. Tres Palacios. Espiritu Santo. The bays and passes, the long southward slope of the coast, the gritty beaches and wind-bent oaks embrace and hold the history of a rich and complex world.

There are stories and legends, told and re-told by the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who lived them. Artifacts of an earlier time lie bleached and scattered like bones across the landscape. Spanish anchors turn up behind plows. French cannons surprise ranch hands in the field.  Tiny settlements cling to life, rooted in and named for the explorations of such men as René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, shapers of a land they barely understood.

At the water’s edge, the shadow of Indianola lingers. Wiped off the map by twin hurricanes, the port’s ghostly tide of immigrants ebbs away into forgetfulness.  Marvelous ships sleep mired in the bays and the Matagorda lighthouse, that great, silent sentinel, offers relief and guidance to those uncertain of their course. (more…)

Published in: on November 19, 2011 at 1:16 am  Comments (68)  
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