Saturday, May 3, 2008

Heart of Texas

Like many others that live in the city I dream of being in the country for the retirement part of my life. It is sort of unfair that many get to the country when they are older and can't really handle the physical part of living in the country. I spend a little time reading about others dreams of country life on a few homestead and country life forums. The following story is by a fellow member of one of those sites that already lives in the country but still comes to town for work. He has a skill of making you feel as if you are right there with him as he goes about country life. I hope you enjoy his story. Wild Ed

Heart of Texas

My life is cycles. Some things cycle everyday, such as sleep, work and gasoline price increases. Some things cycle weekly, such as laundry, worship and funny papers. Some things cycle monthly, such as bills and house cleaning. And some things cycle yearly, such as spring and sheep shearing. It is curious that as one gets older, the time periods seem to collapse into each other so that the differences and distinctions continually diminish.

I learn from this that it is the experiences, and not the length, that give life its significance.

Thursday evening at work in Austin, I got a call from Ed Flores, asking if it would be okay to shear late the next morning. Getting sheep sheared is like getting a broken tooth fixed, it just gets worse if you postpone it. So I said "Sure."

Most of the time "sure" is a seductive, almost unnoticeable word that causes me endless grief. But, inexplicably, the next morning, the ram, the ewes and the donkeys did exactly what I wanted. It was almost unnerving. Somewhat like kids doing exactly what ones asks of them without complaining or resentment.

That was good because two older, brown skin men arrived early in an older white truck. The men are remnants of a profession as old as civilization. Initially, neither they, nor the truck seem propitious for the occasion. The back of the truck is full of things such as dirty six by six plywood squares, steel pipe, electric fans, motors and shears and cans of lubricating oil.

Sheep shearing certainly is a significant event for me. It is a little magical and a little mysterious; it is both religious and reverent. If it is not sacred, it is at least Biblical. I can share the same fascination and feelings of fathers, brothers and sons of ancient religious tradition. Sheep shearing does seem to be a guy thing. For the most part, we enjoy hair cuts. It is probably worth noting here, that men get hair cuts, whereas women get their hair cut. It just amazes how one chromosome can change the diagramming of a sentence.

Placement is crucial, whether one is outfitting a church or temple, or shearing sheep... The space is also crucial. The area should be small enough to let the sheep bunch to facilitate ease of acquisition, but large enough so that the unsheared sheep are not in the way of the shearers.

Sheep shearing is a time of much silence and little movement in the audience. The lead shearer catches the biggest ram by the hind leg. The ram outweighs the shearer by 70 to 80 pounds. The powerful rear leg makes staccato kicks. But the grip does not relent. The two men combine to move the ram over the plywood and throw him down. A sheep is most vulnerable on its side where it cannot obtain thrust from its legs. With one knee pinning the sheep, the shearer first shears the legs and then ties them together with a pigging string much like a calf roper at a rodeo. After that, the wool comes off somewhat like a person getting out of a jump suit. I suppose it is a kindness that the sheep cannot see themselves. White creatures in the buff tend to overdo whiteness.

Getting sheared is kind of like getting a hair cut. The young ones tend to cry or fight while the old one tend to relax and enjoy it.

For the audience, the shearing, like a good book, ends too quickly. For those shearing the sheep, not soon enough.

I don't know if it is lucky to shake hands with a sheep shearer, or for that matter, sanitary, but, among other things, you do get a goodly amount of lanolin from the activity.

Ed had a big herd of sheep waiting to be sheared over by Florence. I gave each man a couple of sodas for the road and bestowed a "God bless you" as the truck started moving. Ed hollered, "He always does." and drove away.

Today, I took the wool to a buyer over at Eden. Because lots of people are selling wool now, the price is low. The buyer holds the wool several months. When he thinks the price is good, he sells it. I will get a pro rata share based on weight.

The new Wal-Mart Super Center was open in Brady. The Wal-Mart over at Marble Falls is 50 miles away and one has to drive through Llano and Burnet to get there. The new Wal-Mart in Brady is only 46 miles away and one doesn't have to go through any towns big enough for a stop light. A new Wal-Mart is sensually exciting somewhat like the smell in a new car. Really enjoyed the new restroom. Bought some heat tolerant tomato plants and some plastic boxes for bank records.

Brady calls itself the "heart of Texas" based on its location. Brady is not pretty, but it does have the attractiveness that comes with strength of character. There are a goodly number of brick buildings, many empty, that suggest more prosperous times. These buildings have modest, but tasteful arts and crafts architecture.

The train station is both charming and unpretentious. It makes me wish I was sitting on a bench 60 to 70 years ago, waiting to go on my on journey, or waiting for someone to return from theirs.

The predominant tree is the pecan. This is very appropriate for a town that calls itself, "the heart of Texas" since the pecan is the state tree. It is interesting that the homes where pecan trees were planted are not only strong and sturdy, like the trees that shelter them, but in good repair. Whereas as the homes that planted fast growing tress like ash or mulberry are often in decline like the trees struggling in front of them. Passing by an old, worn-out home without any trees is like observing one grandparents in their underwear. Horticulture is a courtesy.

Trees say a lot about the people who plant them, and a lot about the people who don't plant them. Anyone who plants a pecan tree is betting on the future. These people are altruistic enough to let the future collect their bets.

Brady, for some reason, has a lot of old pomegranate bushes which are blooming now. Spitting out pomegranate seeds is almost as enjoyable as the pulp. I wonder why women never do seem to enjoy spitting like guys do. Probably due to some genetic defect or chemical imbalance.

Nature loses its luster quickly when one heads west away from Brady. The area produces decent wheat, sturdy sheep and some really nice thistle. (The very best thistle is in the foothills of the Sange de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico).

The water standing in the fields and pastures was quite unusual. A couple of super cells came through Saturday night. Super cells have a God-like quality; they can strike you dead or leave you blessed. One is just not pleased with the heavy rains (I got 2.45") but one is equally happy to have gone unharmed.

When I arrived at the wool buyer's place of business, I was greeted and then asked how much rain I got. Mine was the more common amount. The buyer, sure that I was eager to know, informed me that the reigning rain champion was the community of Melvin, coming in at 5.1".

The wool buyer will weigh the wool at a later time, and send me a receipt then. Business dealings are not all that formal. If a person is not a banker or a lawyer, one does not question another's honesty.

I took a brief detour on the return trip and stopped by the Jacoby Cafe in Melvin for lunch. The special was hamburger steak, scalloped potatos, buttered broccoli, salad and peach cobbler. Everything is made from scratch.

The owners have blowups of family event photos around the cafe. One gets to see five generations. Young women of the 1950's were marrying some dorky-looking guys. Guess a young lady growing up in Melvin in those days couldn't be all that picky.

The recent rain had everyone in a good mood. The rain came at the right time for cotton, wheat and range grass. Even the people who got hailed out were going to do better with crop insurance than they would have done paying for the harvesters. Living in Melvin has taught the people to laugh when they can. A fellow who didn't know me came over to visit on his way out. He was more than willing to share his good mood and would be glad to accept any of my own.

Melvin has a new "Welcome to Melvin" rock monument. This monument seems a bit pretentious for a town of 300 or so. Precious little to do or see. Reminds me of a story my grandfather used to tell. When Grandpa was a youngster, there was another boy just his age whose family also attended the Methodist Church in Homer, Texas. Now this boy's family was evening poorer than Grandpa's family, which is a poverty deserving recognition. Yet the boy was always inviting Grandpa over for dinner. Grandpa, mindful of the family's limited resources, always declined as tactfully as possible.

One Sunday after church, the boy was especially insistent. And to close the deal, he stated that they would be having coconut cake that day. Now Grandpa was a sucker for a coconut cake. Perhaps a rich uncle had died and the family's situation had reversed Grandpa thought. No need to offend people if one could avoid doing so by eating some coconut cake. So Grandpa relinquished his claim to the fried chicken, homemade biscuits and gravy at his own home to share a meal with the boy's family.

Well, the boy's family did have a coconut cake that day. Twelve slices, one for each of the family and their honored guest. But besides turnips and greens, that was all the family had that day. Grandpa hated turnips. Grandpa used to say he never could figure out why the boy wanted him to come eat so badly.

There's always two types of people in every situation. In this particular case, there are them that have almost nothing but are willing to share it all, and them that have much, but not enough to share. Additionally, there is one large group of people, who, when they show up for a meal, appreciate what is on the table. But there is a much smaller group of people, who, when they show up for a meal, appreciate what is around the table.

The major recreational industries in Melvin are boxes of dominoes used to play "42" and lawn chairs to sit in and watch traffic going back and forth on Highway 87, a little over a mile away. Both of these activities involve the highly refined art of "visiting." Visiting is what country folk do repeatedly to keep present people and events correctly related to past people and events. When people give words and sound to past friendships and relationships, people bring those friendships and relationships into the present. I think visiting tends to make most people feel more connected and grounded.

I guess if Melvin has a coconut cake, it would be the Swedish Evangelical Free Church. The white, wooden church is about 100 years old. It is plain and ordinary on the outside, but there is beautiful, quality workmanship on the inside. I know some people like that.

A group of Swedish people settled in western McCulloch County in 1907. They came from a cold place with breathtaking forests, lakes and mountains where the crack of thunder was rare, to a hot, dry, almost treeless prairie, with storms so violent Thor himself would flee their wrath. And as extra treats, scorpions, rattlesnakes and cactus were thrown in for no extra charge. Their only link to a more comfortable and tranquil world was the church, where services were conducted in Swedish into the 1940s, and perhaps the sheep. I can imagine the early women settlers arriving at church, hugging each other, and crying for long periods of time. Knowing Hell so well, it is logical that they would have a strong belief in Heaven.

I took one more small detour on the way home, turning off on Farm to Market 386, to go by the Fredonia Peanut Co. They not only buy and sell peanuts, but have feeds, veterinary supplies, snacks, and odds and ends. I want to stock my pond with catfish and wanted to get information about the next delivery from the hatchery in Dublin.

The sandy soil in this area is not only very good for peanuts, but, unfortunately, for the bits that drill for oil as well. This sand is so good for this particular purpose that it is delivered all over the world. There are presently two pits going, and they are fixing to open a third. The pits are like big pock marks on the face of the land. The oil companies themselves don't mine the sand, they pay someone else to do the dirty work so that some day, if the need to, they can say, "Tsk, tsk."

About a mile further south, the paved road makes a right turn and heads west briefly, straight towards Spyrock, a significant granite outcropping. I turned east onto the dirt road that goes to Oak Grove community and back to Highway 71. A little over a half mile there is a significant hill. I stopped at the top and got out of the truck. One can look west and the eyes can until the earth curves away. The mind can see as far as it wants to travel, not only in space, but time as well. The bluebonnets that had survived last year's drought were still deep blue here. The prickly pear had started to blossom and the bees seemed to be having fun at every bloom. A nearby dove was calling. I think what I have always liked about Native American wood flute music is that it reminds me of a dove's call.

People at work in Austin are always asking me why I live in the country and what will I do to keep from being bored out of my mind when I retire. I excitedly begin to tell them why I live in the country, but their eyes quickly start glazing over. I guess it is not so important that others understand why I live in the country; the important thing is that I understand why I live in the country.

By Primrose Path

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