Friday, July 20, 2007

Round and Round

Whrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrclunk…whrrrrrrrrrrrrrrclunk…whrrrrrrrrrrrrrclunk whrrrrrrclunk…whrrrrrrclunk….whrrrrrclunk…whrrrclunk.. whrrrclunk whrrclunk. whrrclunk…

I grew up in a town of five hundred people, almost as many dogs and about half as many horses. I think the horses have gained ground since I left. Seasons were marked as much by events as by temperature or the length of the days. Winter had basketball. Fall had the start of school and the cotton harvest. Spring brought baseball. Summer brought with it two events to which every kid in town looked forward. The snow cone stand opened and the roller rink arrived. Yes, I said that the roller rink arrived.

The town had one main street where all the businesses were located. It was separated from the highway, a farm to market road actually, by a row of low posts with rounded tops and silver paint. Beyond the highway was the railroad track. The track ran through the middle of what had once been a park but now belonged to the railroad and provided a huge right of way. It was on this right of way that the skating rink was set up every year.

It was a circus tent type of structure with a canvas top the color of a paper bag and chicken wire sides. The floor was put together in sections and the skates always made a clunking sound when they rolled over the seams. At night, people pulled their cars up and sat on their hoods to watch the skaters and listen to the jukebox. Couples whirled around arm in arm or took turns skating backwards so that they could face each other. It was as close as you were allowed to get to dancing in that part of the Bible belt. I recently had someone ask me if I knew why Baptists don’t have sex standing up. Of course I do. Someone might see them and think they were dancing. The other day I heard Bill Moyers say that there are more Baptists in Texas than there are people. He is right. Of course, the couple could not get too close together skating. It would have interfered with their balance.

When the rink was open in the afternoons, my brother and I would get to go skate without parental supervision. Of course, no one really needed your own parents to look over your shoulder in a town that small. Everyone else did it for them if they weren’t around. One afternoon when I was about ten or eleven years old and my brother about eight, he got stung by a hornet while we were at the rink. His arm began to swell immediately. I told the owners that we had to call our mother. There was no phone at the portable rink and the owners did not know why I was so upset. “He is allergic!” I cried as we got to a bench and began taking off our skates. “He has to have a shot.” I got him across the street to the drug store hoping that the old country doctor who sometimes kept office hours in the back was there. By the time we got there, his arm was twice its normal size. The owners of the drug store called my mother, who hurried down to pick us up. Luckily the doc was there and gave my brother a shot of antihistamine , which stopped the swelling and made him rather sleepy.

One summer, the skating rink failed to arrive. It seems that the railroad execs had decided that it could no longer be set up on railroad land. There was really no other place for it so it was gone forever. The railroad is gone now as well and the old right of way is again used as a park. Things do to seem to go ‘round and ‘round, don’t they?

Monday, July 16, 2007


He was married to my grandfather’s oldest sister and I called him my uncle. He was as big an influence on my life as anyone else has been. He cut quite a figure in his overalls and straw hat, throwing his stiff leg out in front of him as he walked. A horse had thrown him onto a catclaw bush in New Mexico when he was a young man. The only available medical practitioner was an army doctor who split the patella to get the thorns out. My uncle told him to set the leg so that he could still ride so his leg was permanently fixed into a forty-five degree angle.

By the time I knew him he was an old man. At least he viewed himself as one. He and my aunt had a few acres in northeast Texas. He raised sheep but still kept his old horse, Trixie, even though she was almost to old to ride by the time I can remember her at all. (I am sure that she lived to be over thirty years old.) He never quite got the difference between a horse and a truck. He had four or five heifers and a habit of chasing them around the pasture in his truck. One day, one of them tripped and ended up with a ’60 Model GMC stuck high center on her carcass.

He also kept bees. He did not have a big honey operation like some of his neighbors but he had the most colorfully named bee yards. He kept bees on a piece of land where a man had killed himself in a horrible way. My uncle called that place the Suicide Yard.
He also had the Tyra yard, named for a nearby community. I know there were a few others but their names escape me just now. He certainly had the most interesting honey house. It was built on the side of a terrace. The supers (the frames filled with comb in which the bees had deposited the honey) were unloaded one level and taken up a few steps to a trough where a hot electric knife was run over them to remove the comb from the frame. The frame was then placed in the slinger, a centrifuge which slung the honey out. The tub of the slinger drained into a large tank which was on a lower level. The tank had a spigot and the honey could be drawn into square five-gallon cans or into sterile glass jars and labeled.

I spent quite a bit of time in and around the old honey house when I was small because my parents would help with the honey harvesting. I don’t remember ever getting stung.

As far as I know, nobody keeps bees in that area much anymore. In the mid to late ‘60s, a mite invaded the bees and killed most of them off. Bees were quarantined and the people I knew who used to haul their hives north with the blooming of the wildflowers were out of business. The old honey house still sits in the pasture. My brother and father use it for storage.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Fond Farewell

I shot this picture of bluebonnets years ago near Brady, Tx. Brady is very near the geographical center of the state and bills itself as 'the Heart of Texas.' I am publishing it as a tribute to one who was also part of the Heart of this state and our nation and who loved wildflowers.

A couple of days ago, we lost a true Texas and national treasure, Claudia Taylor Johnson. She was known far and wide as Ladybird. She worked tirelessly for environmental as well as social causes. Her legacy includes many things that we now take for granted....wildflowers planted along highways and limited billboards to spoil our views. She was responsible for creating our beautiful park along Town Lake here in Austin as well as the National Wildflower Center that bears her name.

She was 94 years old and had lived a full life. We will miss her physical presence but her memorial service will be more of a celebration of a life well lived than a mourning affair and that is how it should be.

Still, we grieve. We have lost Molly Ivins, Ann Richards and now Mrs. Johnson in the last few
months. I still half way expect to see Molly or Ann around town every now and then. They both had a propensity to turn up where you weren't really expecting them to be.

We are fortunate to have had such strong women among us for so long. They will remain roll models for women everywhere.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

The Parade

My grandparents lived in the tiny town of Pecan Gap, Texas. (That is pronounced pucahn, not pee can.) There was a main street just one block long lined on one side with a feed store, grocery store, a dry goods store, a washateria and a gas station. My great aunt owned and ran the washateria. It had washing machines with no tops. You ran you clothes through wringers consisting of two big rollers placed nest to each other. They looked a lot like overgrown pasta machines. My great uncle owned the gas station. It had one of those tall pumps with the glass globe on top.

On the other side of the main street sat the post office and the local garage as the mechanics shop was called. Between them was the croquet court. It was the men’s place. In most of the little towns around, the men gathered at the feed store or the domino hall, but in Pecan Gap, it was the croquet court. Women did not even like to walk by on that side of the street. They crossed in front of the post office if they needed to go there. I don’t think they were afraid. They just felt extremely unwelcome.

There was another grocery store at the north end of the street where it made a sharp curve to the east. At the south end, it made a sharp curve to the west. Just past this curve sat on old arts and crafts bungalow. It had at one time had beautiful gardens but no one had taken care of them for years and now they were overgrown with bushes and vines. The house appeared to be abandoned. However, it was inhabited by an old man who had become the town hermit and a small flock of peafowl.

In order to lure people into town on Saturdays, the local merchants decided to pool a small amount of money each week and have a drawing for it. This was done at four o’clock sharp and you had to be present to win. If you had ever put you name in the hat, it stayed there unless you died. (It may have been in there anyway, but I am sure they did not call the names of the deceased. They most likely threw the slip of paper away so that they would not accidentally draw it again.) The town was always full off people just before four o’clock. They would be sitting on cars, standing on the sidewalks and crowding the streets. Everyone was waiting for the drawing. I was waiting for something else. Some Saturdays, the air would be pierced with a jarring screech. The crowds would part to make way for the parade of the peafowl. The largest male would spread his tail and lead his strutting flock right down the middle of the main street until they became startled and scattered on the way back home. Although I once won four dollars in the drawing, it was nowhere near as exciting to me as the peacock parades.

When I was seven years old, my grandparents bought the old bungalow. They cleaned up the garden and made a proper yard of it. I don’t exactly remember what became of the peafowls. I remember that they looked for someone to take them several miles away because it is well known that once peafowl establish a place as home, they own it and must be taken far away or they will return.

The same cannot necessarily be said for the human species. In 1910, the Gap as we called it, had 600 residents and seventeen businesses. The railroad removed its tracks in the 80's.It has had a steady delcine of population with only 214 in 2000. I don't know if there are any peafowl or not.

Peacock photoo from