Thursday, January 29, 2009

Texas Small Town Life

I have an email buddy that I met on a Homesteading website that lives in Central Texas. We started trading emails a while back and found out we both had similar interests and had roamed about some of the same towns in Texas while growing up. Just the other day we discovered that we graduated from the same University in West Texas and even admired the same girl while we were at the time in our lives that we spent too much time doing just that. Paul sends me these writings of his life in small town Texas which feeds my desire and hopes of someday returning to a small town for the remainder of my life. I so enjoy these windows into Texas country life and many of my readers have told me that they to are from small towns and miss that life. I am posting Paul’s emails to jog the memories of small town life. Thanks for the letters Paul. Wild Ed

Bah humbug! Sun woke me up a little after eight o'clock this morning (not being married, I get to get up whenever I want to). The skies were blue and clear, but it was windy because a norther came through last night. By 9:30 am and it had clouded over (meal planning tip--white gravy does not go with cold, cloudy days except for breakfast), the temp is 30.5, but with the gusty wind, it feels like 22.1 (according to the weather station).I keep scaling back what I am going to do today. I wasn't going to do all that much to begin with. If I scale back much more, going down stairs is iffy.Maybe the carne guisada and guacamole at El Flamingo in Brady would cheer me up. There is an official weather station in Cherokee, 6.5 miles by road, to the NE. They are showing 12.31" of rain in the last 12 months. I honestly don't believe I have had that much.Since a big part of the rain came in quick bursts during the night, there are younger children that are truly confused when the subject is brought up. Now that gas is cheap, some people are taking younger children to parts of the country where it rains as an educational experience. Most of the teenagers can remember rain but it is not something their peer group puts much value on. Dry is not suited for high definition visual entertainment.

Called Kirk. We talked about the old drought and the new wind turbines he is installing on his place. The conversation moved on to fruit trees and his success and my lack thereof due to cotton root rot.Kirk began to describe a grasshopper Vicky found impelled on a peach twig. I wouldn't relate to a grasshopper impelled on a peach twig, late night drunk, much less early morning sober.Kirk went on to say that when he was telling the same tale to Human, Human had an expression of a person who knows the answer to the inquiry, but is waiting for you to finish.When Kirk did finish, Human told him that it had been done by a butcher bird. Human said that when he was growing up he had seen butcher birds capture grasshoppers and impel them on thorns or barb wire. The theory being that butcher birds like their insects dry, as opposed to juicy.Kirk now believes if one drives in the country, one can see insects impelled on sharp, hard objects. Although Kirk allows it would be some feat to impel a grasshopper on a twig and another feat to make a grasshopper stay on a fence barb. Not to mention that the butcher bird would most likely loose his dinner to passing thieves.I decided to go to the barbershop for my usual cut and trim. It was the warmest thing I could think of that needed doing. And getting a haircut matched my ambition and mood.Lee and Chuck run a pretty typical west Texas barbershop. There are so many things to see, it is like walking in a Catholic church. Mirrors along the east wall with bottles of Jeris Hair Tonic and Lucky Tiger Hair Oil on the shelf on top. There are four mounted bucks with racks and one of those weird three horned sheep, whatever they are called. (I get the creeps looking at those horns. Anybody that raises them things is one odd duck). They had to take the big boar's head down, just getting to old. See that thing was worth a hair cut. The biggest wild hogs in this area are black, and just like people and other critters, they keep getting bigger. They can take a lot of the fun out of walking at night.There is the obligatory huge calendar with cowboys and cattle reproduction from Arrowhead Bank. Arrowhead has outstanding calendars, thinking seriously about moving my account.The is also a home artist painting of a rancher walking out the barber shop followed by his grandson. There is another painting of the ruins from the old Rudolph Baumann stone house over by Smoothing Iron Mountain.The back wall is all old photographs of early settlers and different events in Llano County history. One picture that caught my attention today was taken in 1907 of the busiest corner on Main Street. There was a small blurb about a telephone pole in the picture being wound in wire, eight feet high to keep horses from chewing on the pole.This was just one more of those things that are hard to believe. But a week ago Roland at the feed store said his father-in-law's sheep would eat mesquite shoots. And horses will chew on boards around a corral. So I wondered whether the horses were hungry enough to eat dead wood or if they were trying to get some needed mineral from the wood?

That was the question I posed to Lee when it was my turn to sit in the barber chair. Lee is the oldest practicing barber in the State of Texas. And I can't imagine anybody, anywhere, having more local knowledge than a barber who was raised in the county and who has been cutting hair in the same town for 56 years.Lee said he didn't know if the wire had any thing to do with the horses being hungry or seeking some mineral in the wood. 1907 was even before his time. But Lee went on to volunteer that the wire might have been tightly wrapped around the pole to keep men from whittling on it while standing around talking. That actually made some sense to me.Don't ever hardly see anyone whittling anymore. Pretty much a lost virtue. Whittling was once one of the popular and democratic activities of our country when it was new. Sam Houston has always been one of my heroes, as he has for many Texas lads. Probably the most frequent imagining I have, was his last couple of years. He had won some battles, and he had lost some. Some of the battles were military, some of the battles were political, and some of the battles were personal. The last political battle was to stand against the large majority of Texans as U. S. Senator and vote against secession. The informed populace sent him home to Huntsville for his courage. Houston's third wife, Margaret, was young, pretty, and devoted. She was also a proper, strict, and hardcore Baptist. It was a good morning when Margaret accepted his explanation for walking over to the Courthouse, or the blacksmith, or the general store, or anywhere. Sam would go past the wood pile, select a good piece of wood and he was off.Huntsville reminded Sam of his boyhood home in Marysville, Tennessee. Sitting around, talking and whittling with his friends, slowed down the pace of time and events and made them manageable.Last year, Lee, his son, and his grandson, went to Alaska. For a 79 year old kid who spent all but six of those years in Llano County, Alaska pretty well knocked Lee's socks off. The place inspired and energized Lee at a good point in life.Today, Lee talked about sitting around a fire in the evening in Alaska, and whittling a piece of spruce wood. Lee says spruce is the absolute best wood for whittling; not too hard, not too soft, and not too many knots.As I said earlier, whittling, like so many traditions, has all but disappeared. Businessmen and other respectable people got tired of men spitting on side walks, talking crude and walking away leaving piles of wood chips. We made spitting illegal. Maybe we belittled the whittled to where it no longer mattered a whit.I wondered what the reward was from whittling. Every voluntary act has some purpose and benefit; otherwise we wouldn't voluntarily do them. It does seem insignificant and silly at first, but then I got to thinking about stressful times in my life. I liked to mow grass. Actually liked to. It made me feel good. You see, there were a lots of things out of control, that in spite of my efforts, remained unmanageable, or even got worse. But mowing took some chaos and made it smooth and shiny. Mowing let me know, that if I kept after what I was doing, I could at least make a difference in some things.Maybe problems in life are like a stick of wood. Some are too hard for anyone to change by themselves. But there are problems that just one person can take on, and bit by bit, or whit by whit, eventually make disappear.The clouds moved back around Austin, and most of the Hill Country enjoyed a sunny afternoon.I also asked Lee if he had ever heard of a butcher bird or noticed impelled insects. Lee said that he personally didn't know of the bird or such bizarre tactics. Lee went on to allow that it all sounded a little far fetched, even for barber shop talk.Sure hope that Kirk, Vicky or Human don't have any alcohol or drug abuse issues.

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