Category Archives: Recollections 1942-1966

A series of posts about origins, initial memories, often stated in a three-part style of universal, family and personal.

Sage blossom and sky noir

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A mid-morning rain fell on the place. The air is cool, almost cold, and the sky has not cleared and probably will not this day. This photograph shows a break in the clouds towards the south, the town of Stephenville, lying about nineteen miles away. My mother came to Stephenville–I tagged along–and bought plants at Wolfe Nursery. The nursery had a large sign of a wolf that signaled the entry to the nursery that encompassed acres and acres of tended trees and several hothouses.

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The rain caused an eruption of this blossom upon the sage near the house.

Fall has come to the place, the farm, the ranchito, the people of Sims Valley, and all the wildlife abounding.

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Filed under Life in Balance, Plants and Shrubs, Recollections 1942-1966, Uncategorized

Cedar of hope

I have a cedar chest in the living room, placed between the sofa and the armoire.  I store Pendleton blankets in it now, but it was my mother’s cedar chest or hope chest as it was sometimes called. Opening it up the other day, I came across the trademark on the lid with the scientific name of the red cedar used to construct the chest: Juniperus virginiana.  I don’t recall ever having seen that before.

I find it quaint, old-style, to burn the imprimatur into the lid.  Frankly, I am not one given to hope, but rather working for a desired outcome seems to pay off better than wishing.  Cedar chests, however, were storage boxes of blankets, sheets, pillowcases and fine dresses for young women in the 1920s and 1930s in Texas, my mother being one of those hopeful for the ‘right man.’  The Lane Company that manufactured cedar chests went out of business in 2001, after having started constructing ammunition boxes for the U.S. military in The Great War.

As I open the cedar chest today, the red cedar smell permeates the blankets and handkerchiefs I store.  The scent of cedar brings back the vignette of my mother leaning down, opening the lid of her hope chest and caressing white sheets and pillowcases as I sat on the bed and read comic books as a boy.  Cedar is a tree.  Cedar was hope.

______________________________

Notes, corrections and additions:

As the contents of such a chest would primarily be linens, construction in moth-repellent cedar, or at least a cedar lining, was popular. The Lane Company of Altavista, VA (1912, closed 2001)[4] were a notable maker of cedar chests. After developing production-line techniques for making ammunition boxes during World War One, they turned these production techniques and a patent locking-mitre corner joint, into vast numbers of chests. This was aided by strong advertising, using a teenaged Shirley Temple as a model, in a campaign targeted at GIs and absentee sweethearts of World War II. They were particularly well-known for their practice (since 1930) of distributing miniature (12″ long) cedar chests to high-school girls as advertising gifts.[3] The Eastern Redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) is the “cedar” used in making moth-repelling cedar chests and drawers, as well as pencils.

‘Hope Chest,’ Wikipedia, accessed March 15, 2012.

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Filed under Juniper, Recollections 1942-1966

My Little Bull

Little Bull in the far field.

We like, even love, our pickups.  The vehicle in people’s lives possess an almost life-like identity as we accelerate, speed and reach our destination, or for that matter, drive just to be driving — touring, it used to be called.  We remember our first car we owned, the first car or pickup we drove.  My first lesson in driving came in a 1950 Chevy pickup, green in color, in the sands of Sulfur Springs road, near Bend, Texas.  I was ten-years-old and the year was 1952.  My grandmother sat beside me and taught me clutch and foot-feed (accelerator).  I stalled it one time and then, off we went!  I loved that Chevy pickup, and, of course, the instructor who finally gave me a passing grade.

This month, December, I am selling my 2002 Ford F-150.  Its name is Little Bull.  His coat is gray.

Little Bull has carried me, my friends, my family and all things horsey and mechanical for nearly ten years.  He has 260,000 plus miles and is tired and broke, his transmission needing replacement.  The service department at Arrow Ford in Abilene, Texas, holds his remains and a repairman wishes to purchase Little Bull and use him for short hauls about the city.  For me to repair him costs $2,500.00 and that is beyond my budget.  The repairman can tend Little Bull back into health for way less than I can and he keenly wants him.  Little Bull is still wanted, still admired, and so I have made the choice to sell.

Chariots, wagons and pickups have carried commerce and people through the ages.  Vehicles have been spaces for conversations and monologues, carriages to weddings and funerals and platforms for hay and feed.  Little Bull has pulled trailers with injured horses to the vet, pregnant mares for foaling and newly-bought furniture from Dallas.

I shan’t grow maudlin about Little Bull for it is not good for me and he deserves better in his next life than to be sent away in sorrow.  He’s been a good boy, a fine man and now, in his later years, a helpmate for another respectful owner.  Little Bull may be cannibalized for parts, his wheels and tires going one way, the headache rack another, but I have cherished his life, his dependability and his character.  Like that Chevy in the sands of central Texas, I shall never forget my Little Bull.

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Filed under Life in Balance, Recollections 1942-1966

Grass: a side of oats with music

Back-lighted side-oats gramma grass in the far field (October 2011).

With recent rains, grasses re-sprout. Side-oats gramma grass yields its oats along the stem and when the sun back-lights the plant the seeds appear as golden beads hanging about a string. I see several broad patches of gramma in my far field. The gramma seems to congregate as a family, moving over the years a few yards to the northwest as if on slow journey to Salt Creek, a tenth-of-a-mile away.  I hear wind sough* through grass as it does through mesquite and oak.

When I shred brush in the far field, I cannot — though I thought I would — mow the gramma.  Gramma is now family, a natural plant that has created an art space in the far field, a sentient being that propagates and rears its young in front of me.  I see Star, my paint gelding, browse through the family, munching on a few stalks and oats, but not many stalks, for the far field is lush and verdant and full of life.

In the 1950s, as a high school student in agricultural classes, we identified gramma, johnson and bluestem grasses, among many others.  Above all, I remembered the gramma and bluestem, dreaming that someday I would have a field of these species that I could see and touch.  At the time I took the high school classes from Mr. Bell who could hold a scorpion by the tail, I thought I would use grasses entirely for grazing purposes.  That was then.  I now want to see the grasses first, and then allow a brief grazing of cattle and horse upon the gramma that blows in the wind and provides reeds for wind-music that I hear and golden beads that droop and sway with southern winds out of Mexico.

Odd it is, I think, that I have golden-beaded grass with a side of oats that sings.

______________________________

Notes, corrections and additions:

*sough (suf, sou), Middle English is swough, Anglo-Saxon is swogan meaning to sound.  Definition is a soft, low, murmuring, sighing or rustling sound.  I can’t remember where I picked up this word way-back-when, but lately my reading of Patrick Leigh Fermor brought it up again.  The definition herein comes from my first collegiate college dictionary, c. 1960.  I still have the dictionary and it is taped up with duct tape about the binding.  I must do a post on my old books someday.

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Filed under Plants and Shrubs, Recollections 1942-1966

Cool, clear water

Western edge of pond, Flying Hat Ranchito, north Erath County, Texas, July 2011.

Proust had his tea cake that extended memories to prosy heights that we all have started to climb, but failed to reach — my ascent stopped at Swann’s Way, but I’m not going to stay long on the ledge for I have hammered the next piton to assail the final page of Mt. Swann.  “Cool Water,” a country and western classic by the Sons of the Pioneers, a tea cake of sorts, takes me back to old Camp Bowie, near Brownwood, Texas, as I complained the lack of water on a hot summer day, touring with my parents in a old, non-air conditioned Ford sedan.  Why they weren’t thirsty, I’ll never know, but I campaigned persistently for halting somewhere, anywhere, for water.

I must have been persuasive for my step-father stopped the car along the highway and I crossed over a fence and ran to a pond of fresh, cool water in a green pasture.  I drank, cupping the water in my hands, not muddling the water as I scooped.  Even today, I still see that pond when I drive in the region, although it has been dug out and deepened countless times.  Both my step-father and mother laughed in sympathy and I was dubbed, “Chief Water Bucket,” a name I did not like nor wanted.

The drought in the Southwest descends brutally upon the landscape, in the news and by the mails; the only shade at times is under lovely junipers.  I look out upon brittle, brown grasses; the trees in the grove are turning golden.  The newspapers boldface the headlines that cattle are being sold through the night at local auctions as cattlemen line up two-miles long with moaning cows in their trailers.  In the mail, Barton Water Cooperative states that I can only water the yard twice a week and if the water usage exceeds tolerable levels, I will be assessed a fine, a surcharge.  I fill one water trough for my horse, Star, allowing an overflow into a pan on the ground for wildlife.  I dare a surcharge for that.

This summer I have thought often about “Cool Water,” and sung and hummed the melody and lyrics.  Each time I reflect on the music, I am back with my parents alongside the road, running for the cool, clear water in that pasture.  “Cool Water,” is my tea cake, my madeleine.

Here are the lyrics to “Cool Water,” followed by a current photograph of the ranchito’s only pond.

All day I face the barren waste without the taste of water,
Cool water.
Old Dan and I with throats burned dry and souls that cry for water,
Cool water.

The night are cool and I’m a fool each stars a pool of water,
Cool water.
But with the dawn I’ll wake and yawn and carry on to water,
Cool water.

(Chorus)
Keep a movin’ Dan, don’t you listen to him Dan, he’s a devil not a man
and he spreads the burnin’ sand with water.
Dan can’t you see that big green tree where the waters runnin’ free
and it’s waiting there for me and you.
Water, cool water.

The shadows sway and seem to say tonight we pray for water,
Cool water.
And way up there He’ll hear our prayer and show us where there’s water,
Cool Water.

Dan’s feet are sore he’s yearning for just one thing more than water,
Cool water.
Like me, I guess, he’d like to rest where there’s no quest for water,
Cool water.

(“Cool Water,” Sons of the Pioneer, RCA Country Legends.)

Flying Hat Ranchito pond, north Erath County, July 2011.

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Filed under Juniper, Recollections 1942-1966, Weather

Chocolate to mesquite

Several months ago in a previous post, I wrote that one of my field objectives on the Flying Hat Ranchito was to identify every tree species rooted about the pastures and Salt Creek.  Beginning with this post, I identify the mesquite tree.  Unless Southwesterners have been reared in a dark box, everyone recognizes the mesquite and usually such identification is followed with a curse word or two.   Except for the far pasture between Barton Creek and Salt Creek, mesquite erupts constantly about the ranchito and requires annual shredding or pruning.  I relate to the mesquite tree without impatience, finding it worthy of praise, not scorn.  But, first, from a objective point of view, then followed by subjectivity.

The mesquite tree…

Mesquite is one of the most widely distributed trees in Texas. It is a small to medium tree with an irregular crown of finely divided bipinnately compound foliage that casts very light dappled shade underneath. It is armed with thorns sometimes up to 2 inches long. In the spring, summer and after rains it is covered with fragrant white flowers, and the long bean pods are ornamental as well as providing food for wildlife and livestock. Mesquite is not a rancher’s favorite tree: it readily invades overgrazed sites and other disturbed land, is virtually impossible to get rid of, and the thorns injure livestock. However, the foliage, flowers and fruit are attractive, it adapts to almost any soil that is not soggy, it is heat and drought tolerant, it fixes nitrogen in the soil and provides many areas of Texas with shade, fuel and timber where otherwise there would be none. The wood is used in flooring, furniture, and as a cookwood for seasoning.

“Texas Native Plants Database,” Texas A&M University (2011).

The mesquite bean is also ground up and can be used as an additive to wheat flour or corn flour for making tortillas and bread.  I’ve not tried the recipe, but I shall from a Native American reference I have on file.

* * *

Objects that appear void of emotional affect to one person may be illuminated with soundings of deep, ineffable meaning to another.  The mesquite and juniper trees in my life resound with spiraling emotion that takes me to a different plain, evoking events in my memory that I never forget and can only begin to understand.   I shall write about the juniper another day.  Today my focus is the mesquite.

When I was a boy, about five or six years old, I used to play underneath a mesquite tree adjacent to my mother’s studio apartment in Brownwood, Texas.  It was shortly after World War II had concluded and my father had separated from us and was reestablishing himself in Pennsylvania, far away from Texas, the place he met my mother.  Across the street from mother’s apartment, my grandmother lived in a small trailer house and took care of me while mother worked at Southwestern States Telephone Company.  At the time, I did not know how close we were to destitution.  I was a boy and I played outside underneath the mesquite tree, thoughtless and innocent about money matters.

One day as I played under the mesquite tree, I heard the sound of the wind — a southwest wind — flowing through the trees as I had never heard it before, but have ever since.   The sound was of medium pitch, neither high nor low, and it persisted with a rising and falling velocity, bending branches, shifting the shade about me and my toys.  As I heard the wind, I felt lonely, really alone in the world.  My mother was in the house — I knew that — but I sensed a separation from her and a state of emotion that evoked a sadness, a sorrow that I found inexpressible at the time.  The moment remains clear and even the affect is still apparent.  It  never leaves me.

Years later I came to realize that under the mesquite tree I felt, for the first time, a separateness from other things, other people.  I realized I was an individual, distinctively apart from others, and there was no going back I came to find out.  Under a mesquite tree was the place  the affect of estrangement spooled out and bound me.  I’m not alone in that awareness and that is a comfort, for we all sense that estrangement and how we meet the abyss and gain unity or self-loss is the rest of our life.  These days, as I walk underneath and beside mesquite trees on the ranchito, I sense the mesquite as a companion one day and a intransigent master teacher the next.  It helped me grow.  I didn’t want to, but it threw me out of my Eden.

* * *

In Aztec mythology, Quetzalcoatl, the giver of knowledge and wisdom to the people was thrown out of his city, country and reign for moral turpitude.  As he went into exile, going east, he crossed the mountains to the sea, his dwarf companions died from the cold and the chocolate trees he passed turned to mesquite and great sorrow came upon the land.

[This is first of several posts on the mesquite.]

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Filed under Cedar, Life in Balance, Life Out of Balance, Recollections 1942-1966

Rough Creek drums

Rough Creek on the Parks Place, San Saba County, Texas, looking northeast, ca. 1970 (J. Matthews)

Relying upon memories of childhood can be misleading, even downright wrong in place and time.  As adults when we reflect upon last year’s vacation we may err in detail and conversations we thought we had.  Even so, memories preserve detail that can re-emerge with an almost preternatural force with a bit of reflection and musing, even to the point of re-evoking scents and cachets of the past that transcend the moment.

My mother and grandmother never hosted parties, but they hosted and partook of family celebrations — Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, birthdays.  And there were funerals, lots of them.  Funerals brought the Parks, McRorey, Morris, Ward, Millican and Ragsdale families together for burying kinfolk and re-establishing contact with distant relatives at Bend Sand, High Valley, Colony and Cherokee cemeteries in central Texas.  When I attended these functions, I had two sets of clothes, one for dressing-up and the other for outdoors.  Following the meal or funeral, I changed quickly into jeans and hiking shoes and explored and played with my cousins.  Having dinner at the Parks Place signified the best of all possible worlds because Rough Creek ran through it.

Rough Creek flowed through my great-grandfather’s place and formed the backdrop, foreground, side-scene and main-event for me.  Even today, still, Rough Creek continues to course through my mind and heart and its memory pacifies my days.  My great-grandfather’s ranch was called the Parks Place.  Not the Parks Ranch, the Parks Place.  Rough Creek cut the Parks Place in two parts, emptying into the Colorado River that bordered the east boundary.  For untold generations, Comanche Indians encamped at the confluence of Rough Creek and the Colorado, only to be driven away in the 1840s with the settlement of the area.  In the field north of the creek, after a hard rain, flint tools lay exposed.  A large midden revealed debris of hundreds of years.

I found stone tools, but my primary focus concerned the creek.  A county road ran through the Parks Place and at the creek, a large concrete slab had been poured, forming a stone-firm foundation for the road and continual pool of fresh water for perch, catfish and minnows.  Blue-colored dragon flies lit on green lily-pads and joined together in reproduction that I never fully figured out as to male and female flies.  Sycamore, cottonwood and pecan trees shaded most of the creek’s bank.  The water temperature was cold and it took a few minutes to become accustomed when as a boy my mother allowed me to swim and wallow with slippery moss on rounded stones.

I hiked up and down both banks of the creek.  When the terrible drought of the 1950s occurred, Rough Creek continued to run.  Neighbors in pickups with forty-five gallon water drums, came to the creek, parked on the slab and filled drums with water.  Their children swam and played in the water while the adults bailed water into the drums with buckets.  The elders were sun-tanned and strong, their hats crusted with dark sweatbands that bespoke toil and care for their cattle and family.  My great-grandfather never closed the road and I never saw the gates closed.  Cattle guards — steel-framed panels set in the ground — allowed trucks and pickups to pass over them unhindered, but kept the cattle in check and within the bounds of the Parks Place.

My great-grandfather gave me a branding iron, an iron with a capital “P” for the Parks Place, when I was a boy.  I have it hanging in the alleyway of my barn and see it everyday when I feed Star, my paint gelding.  I’ve not used it because our brand is a Running M.  I do not think of cattle when I see the the branding iron.  I think of Rough Creek on the Parks Place and I wonder how high the water is at the crossing.  Is it high enough that perch and catfish swim back and forth across the slab?  If another drought comes, will the present owners be patient with the neighbors who come to fill their drums?

In the early 1970s, I took the photograph of Rough Creek that sets the banner and feature photo of this post.  The Parks Place had been sold and passed into other hands.  The road remained open and I stopped at the creek’s edge and took this photograph.  I framed it with the sycamore on the left and the road and concrete slab in the foreground.  Behind the trees, on the upper left-side of the photograph is the grist mill, but you cannot see it clearly.

The photograph verified that my memory remained good and that cool, fresh water flowed over a concrete slab with lily-pads and bull rushes abounding.  After taking the photo, I drove slowly out of the Parks Place and up the road, past the mill and over the cattle guard I had seen when I was young and had most of my life in front of me.

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Notes:

The intersection of Rough Creek and the road is precisely 31.136°N 98.5468°W, elevation at center: 1,119 feet (341 meters), San Saba Quad map.

I have a true narrative I have written involving a court case between my relatives and the first owner of the Parks Place (not the present owners) after it was sold.  The first post-Parks owner attempted to close the road.  My cousins de-welded the gates, threw them in the pasture and smeared his brand on the portal with cow manure.  The owner sued my cousins in civil court — most upset he was about the cow manure.  My mother and cousins testified that the road running through the Parks Place had always been open for ranchers and their families living in the back country, and that closing the gate impeded the commercial and social intercourse, long-standing in history, of the community.  The owner lost the case, sold out and moved on.  The present owners of the former Parks Place indulge me and my kin when we stop and look at Rough Creek as we go into the back country.  My great-aunt Helen Tom, daughter of my great-grandfather, talks with the present owners about her growing up on the ranch and they allow my aunt to visit and see the place at any time she so desires.

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Filed under Bend Texas, Colony Road, Recollections 1942-1966, Recollections 1966-1990, San Saba Texas

Acequia and Rough Creek mill race

Acequia Madre of Santa Fe

Throughout the upper Rio Grande bioregion, from the uplands of the north to the more desertic and mesa lands to the south, watercourses and their tributaries stand apart as the most defining features critical to all forms of life, biotic and human.  For centuries, this region has been homeland to the aboriginal peoples, the Tewa, Tiwa and Keres (Pueblo) Indians, and the descendants of the first European settlers, the hispano mexicanos.  These cultures revere water, treasuring it as the virtual lifeblood of the community….Nestled within the canyons and valley floors, tiny villages and pueblos dot the spectacular, enchanting landscape.  Their earthen ditches, native engineering works known locally as acequias, gently divert the precious waters to extend life into every tract and pocket of arable bottomland….

But these systems have also performed other important roles…social, political, and ecological.  As a social institution the acequia systems have preserved the historic settlements and local cultures spanning four major periods….The great majority of acequia villages are unincorporated.  In these instances the acequia institutions have functioned as the only form of local government below the county level.

As biological systems, the acequias have served other important objectives:  soil and water conservation, aquifer recharge, wildlife and plant habitat preservation, and energy conservation.

Jose A. Rivera, Acequia Culture: Water, Land, and Community in the Southwest, pp. xvii-xviii (1998).

In 2007, I drove up Santa Fe River canyon from downtown to the iron gates of the reservoir that held water for the town, including the Acequia Madre.  The acequia no longer irrigated fields, but the channel held water for occasional diversions to small plots in the neighborhood.  For a distance of about two miles, I traced the acequia back towards the center of Santa Fe.  All along the way, I saw some neighborhoods had gleaned the acequia while others ignored it.  At the end of my search near the junction of the Old Santa Fe Trail, the acequia held little water, but it was visible and grasses sprouted about the narrow canal.  It appeared ready, at attention really, to carry water again.

* * *

I spoke with a vintner at Dixon, New Mexico, north of Santa Fe, who also superintended the annual cleaning of the Dixon acequia.  She told me that local inhabitants still work on keeping their canal clear of brush, even if it does not border their property,  a communal behavior extending back to prehistoric times.

* * *

On my great-grandfather’s ranch in San Saba County, Texas, the local inhabitants of Colony and High Valley constructed a grist mill for grinding grain in the late-nineteenth century.  They dug a mill race or channel to divert the water of Rough Creek to the wheel that powered belts to millstones.  My mother often told me she remembered her father coming out of the mill covered in flour, face smothered and sweaty.  As a boy, when I visited my great-grandfather’s ranch, I followed the channel upstream on Rough Creek to where the water diverted.

Today, the mill still stands sans roof, windows and doors; the mill race is visible, though eroded, and no water flows.  On the second story ledge of the mill, a prickly-pear cactus took root in shallow soil, erupting ten or twelve paddles of cacti clearly visible from the ground, its propulsion coming from the prevailing southwesterly wind from High Valley and warmer climes in Mexico that blew seed upwards onto the old mill’s second story.  To this day, picnics and family reunions congregate about the old mill and under the pecan trees nearby.

Although some acequias have fallen into disrepair and the old mill will no longer grind grain, no lament is necessary because these structures symbolize the communal efforts of people to work with the flow of water.  Acequias can be cleaned out and the mill race can be reconstructed to a higher ground so that its flow can be opened to a newly-planted orchard of plum and peach.  The mill race becomes acequia.

 

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Filed under Bend Texas, Colony Road, Recollections 1942-1966, San Saba Texas, Santa Fe

Gathering mistletoe in December

Oklahoma floral image mistletoe

In the 1940s and 1950s, I grew up in central Texas, playing and working about the counties of Brown, Mills, San Saba and Lampasas.

Although born in Brown County, my family spend a great deal of time visiting relatives during the holidays in San Saba and Lampasas Counties.  The Colorado River and San Saba River formed the backdrop of my childhood and early teen years.  During December, I often stayed a week or two with my grandmother who lived first in Bend, Texas, and then Lometa, a few miles away from Bend where she worked as a telephone switchboard operator for the communities.  The switchboard was in her living room.  Her name was Effie Morris Parks and she taught me much about living off the land, or at least using nature’s products from the original source, not a supermarket.

Grandmother Effie, as I called her, steered me in the month of December to harvest and collect two things:  mistletoe and cedar.  Cedar is still harvested, but the gathering of mistletoe with its poisonous berries to frock the door portal seems to have vanished from holiday culture.

She had a green Chevrolet pickup.  We would drive the pickup down dirt county roads and pull up next to a tree, usually mesquite, that would have clumps of deep green mistletoe with white berries.  We would knock down the mistletoe with long bamboo poles that we also used to gather pecans in the Fall.  Either that or I would climb up the tree and break off the fungus.  Then we would gather the mistletoe and place it in the bed of the pickup until the pile topped the rails.  We had to be careful to preserve the white berries because that improved the price we would receive.  We drove to San Saba or Lometa and would sell the mistletoe at the mohair and wool congregating store.  We would make upwards of twenty dollars and during the rest of the season, I often thought I saw what we had collected in small, cellophane packages sold in grocery stores in Brownwood.  I doubt that was the case, but I felt rather pleased that I had helped make holidays brighter for someone.

I chopped cedar only once or twice as a boy and it was grueling work, but during December the weather was cold and going into the cedar breaks to cut wood did not seem as brutal as it was chopping cedar in the summer.  Grandmother’s friends would take my cuttings — not very much, I’m afraid — and I would have a few dollars to spend during the holidays.  The cedar choppers I worked around were all muscled and strong and I envied their chopping expertise.  I learned how to cut staves versus good thick fence poles.

My grandmother Effie also gathered water cress, pecans, killed and plucked her own chickens, and during the late summer we would take the green Chevrolet and collect wild Mustang grapes that she would turn into jelly to consume on our breakfast table and give to friends.  The tartness of the Mustang grape is like no other.

But it is the memory of harvesting and gathering of mistletoe and cedar with Grandmother that stays with me today during the holiday stretch.  I scraped my arms and got stuck by mesquite thorns.  Despite it all, I grew up knowing nature intimately during the cold of December with my grandmother as teacher.

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Filed under Bend Texas, Cedar, Christmas, Juniper, Life in Balance, Plants and Shrubs, Recollections 1942-1966, San Saba Texas

My life defined in the kingdom of animals

Jack with Spot at 401 Congress Avenue, Brownwood, Texas (ca. 1952)

My life has been defined by animals.  All sorts of animals: chickens, dogs, cats, horses, cattle, birds, wild and domesticated beings. For whatever reason, I preferred to stay home as a child while my mother and grandmother worked and when I was older and my mother married J. W., I liked the fact that he had land in Mills County filled with cattle, raccoons, squirrels and wild, tall, native grass that I later learned was bluestem.

I was a latch-key kid.  And when I sped home on my Hawthorne, Montgomery-Ward bicycle, the first thing I did was play with the dog.  The dog you see in the picture is Spot and he was the second dog I ever owned.  He did not live long, for distemper took his life.  Before him, there as a chow-mix of a dog named Toy that mother had to relocate because he ate the neighbor’s chickens.  I loved that Toy and when he was picked up by a farmer that lived in Bangs, Texas, one world came to an end and I lost my innocence, not in the back seat of a Ford, but in the driveway of my home as Toy went away.  To this day, I can remember his fur and his dark, black tongue.

Many events force growth and sadden our days.  The loss of a loved one, four-legged or not, wounds us and we stagger into days and nights hating the loss and finding ways to forget it or ease the heart from the tear.

Many events bring growth and brighten the day.  The face of a loved one upon rising in the morning, the nickering of horses in the barn and the wagging of that tail.

At the end of this post On the left sidebar of the blog home page are photos of cats, dogs and horses that surround Brenda and me. All of the cats are gone now, from accident or predators.  I miss each of those kitties:  Fenster walked with me to the far fields like a dog, Bubbles talked to me on the road down to the barn and Painters never strayed from my side while I fed and tended the horses.  Painters would lie down in the middle of the corral and the horses would walk around him.

Lottie is a schnauzer and was my mother’s pet.  I brought Lottie to Mingus and she has run through every room in the house slamming her toys for attention and play.

Yeller is like Toy, my first dog, the chow-mix.  I first saw Yeller across the county road, staying on the Nowack place, our neighbor to the north.  Yeller loved children, but the Nowacks had several dogs already and Yeller had come from some other family or was abandoned in the country by a cold-hearted person.  One day Steve Nowack tried to shoo Yeller away.  Yeller crept off the property and went down the road, just out of sight of the children, and stopped.  Yeller turned around and sat on his haunches and looked over the grass towards the children, wagging his tail and smiling, wanting to go back and let the smaller children ride him.  I had already begun to like the old boy, but that was it: Yeller obeying to go off as instructed, but not far enough to lose sight of children.  I would not let another minute go by with him unattended by a human companion.

I called him to our yard.  As he saw me engaging him and then petting him, Yeller ran around in circles, merrily and merrily he went.  Soon, we took Yeller to the vet and had him brought to pristine health and today, tonight as I write this post, he sits on the floor beside me.  I walk him and Lottie three times a day.  He is always on leash.  I cannot dis-attach myself, nor do I want to, from the kingdom of animals.

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Filed under Dogs, Recollections 1942-1966