Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Trailer Trash Adventures

In September of 1972 Paul Craycraft and I rented a two bedroom trailer in the Virginia Avenue Trailer Park in Nacogdoches. We had lived in the dorm at Stephen F. Austin the previous year, and now it was time to assert our independence. Living in the dorm and eating meals in the cafeteria was the closest either of us had ever been to living on our own.
After registering for classes on our first day of living in the tornado magnet (the trailer for those of you not from Texas), we realized we hadn't bought any food. That was understandable considering neither of us had cooked much of anything in our lives. We decided to put it off for at least a day and go have a gourmet foot long chili dog at the Sonic.
We sat in Paul's Trans Am eating supper and watching other students circling through. We were pretty sure a carload of beautiful girls would recognize us as being independent studs with our own place and beg to go home with us.
A car pulled up beside us and someone called out to Paul. It was Robert Gayle, Paul's next door neighbor in Crockett. Robert was several years older than us. He had graduated from Texas A&M a couple of years earlier and was working as a salesman. We visited with him for a few minutes, and just before he left he asked if we needed anything? Paul said some beer would be nice. The legal age to buy alcohol was 21 at the time, and we were nowhere near it. Robert drove across the street and bought us a case of beer; something cheap. He then wished us well and went on his way. We headed back to the trailer with our adult beverages.
Up to that point in my life I had consumed a total of one can of beer, and I didn't finish it. Paul wasn't exactly an expert either. Robert got us a cold case, so it was ready for consumption when we got home. We pulled up two chairs and placed the case of beer on the floor between us, turned on Monday Night Football and started drinking.
Whether it is tea, water or Coca-Cola, I have always drank it fast and have never slowly sipped anything. I consumed the beer that night in similar fashion. I woofed down six in a short period of time, then settled back to enjoy the game. Paul went to bed shortly afterward. I don't know how many he had because by that time the case was pretty much a blur. Paul wasn't real clear either.
Twenty minutes after the last beer I had to pee in the worst way. When I stood up I knew things weren't right. I somehow was able to get to the bathroom and pee in the correct facility. Then, being the football fan that I am, I headed back to finish watching the game. Just before reaching my chair I dropped to my knees and knew I was about to blow chunks. There was no way I could make a return trip to the bathroom, but the front door was only three feet away. I lunged for the door and got it open. I fell forward and ended up with my head hanging over the steps. I threw up continuously for a few minutes then fell asleep. The next thing I remembered was Eugene May and John Harold Allen driving up the next morning. The sight of our steps nearly made them puke. I swore if I didn't die that day I would never drink another beer, and I kept that promise for several weeks.
When Paul and I actually went grocery shopping we made the mistake of buying a lot of things that had to be cooked. Our experience to that point in our lives was making bologna and cheese or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Sometime that fall we bought a dozen eggs. All either of us had ever done with an egg was throw it at someone. The carton did look good in the refrigerator, and people who didn't know us thought we knew how to prepare them.
Our Mothers had made sure we had pots, pans, dishes and silverware for our kitchen. Maybe that is why we made a few feeble attempts to cook in the first few weeks. We usually ended up going to the Sonic or some other fast food place, or just tossing a tv dinner in the oven. This was before the microwave, so even cooking a tv dinner was a pain in the ass.
We had a deep double sink in the kitchen that we filled with dirty dishes and pans within the first couple of weeks. Neither of us had considered that they would eventually need to be washed. Once that fact sunk in we started using paper plates and plastic knives and forks that could be thrown away after each use. After both sinks were filled with utensils we filled them to the top with water and let them soak. We would check them periodically to see if they were clean. After two months they were starting to look better. When a thick layer of scum would form on top of the water we would drain the old water out and fill it back up. One of us would squirt a shot of dish soap into each sink once or twice a day. This is a method I believe in to this day, but my wife refuses to let dishes sit for days until they clean themselves.
We never got around to buying a trash can for the kitchen. It was much easier to double up grocery sacks and toss in the trash. When a bag filled up we would put another bag next to it. After a few days there were so many bags side by side we didn't have to be very accurate. We could toss trash in the general direction of the corner and it would stick on top of a bag somewhere.
Needless to say, our friends who visited us on a regular basis began to call us pigs and seemed to actually be concerned for their health when they were there. As for the pile of trash, we started spraying it with Lysol twice a day to keep it sanitary. This was much easier than putting it out to be picked up, and we were used to the smell by then.
Before our trailer was put on the list of federal hazardous waste sites we got lucky. A friend of Paul's wanted to know if some friends of hers who were going to be visiting could stay in our trailer over the weekend? She knew we always went back to Crockett on Friday night so we could cruise the strip and try to impress everyone since we were in college. We told her it was fine with us, but the place might need a little cleaning. She said it wouldn't be a problem. Paul gave her his key on Friday morning. When we returned Sunday evening the place was spotless. The dishes and pans were washed and put away, the floors swept and mopped, and all the trash was gone. She called us later to first thank us for the use of the trailer, then to tell us what pigs we were and that we were going to catch something and die if we continued to live like that. We never let it get that bad again.
Our friend Bruce Bennett was a freshman at the University of Texas in the fall of 1972. He was pledging a fraternity and was involved in a lot of activities. Every now and then they would have a match party with a sorority. This would ensure everyone would have a date. The girls pledging the sorority would have to go with the person they were set up with, and were duty bound to act like they enjoyed it. Bruce invited Paul and I down to a couple of parties and we had a blast. It was our chance to be in the company of and be seen with a pretty freshman coed, even if they were being forced to be with us. We didn't care if they would rather have their eyeballs plucked out with a spoon, we had a good time. Our account of the party would be greatly enhanced when we got back to Nacogdoches.
In late March of 1973 the University of Texas was out for spring break, so Bruce drove up to visit us for a couple of days. We asked him what kinds of things he had to go through for his fraternity initiation in January? Initiation week had been marked by a rare snowstorm, which had covered most of the state of Texas for a couple of days.
Bruce said it hadn't been that bad. They had to go outside in the snow, clad in only their underwear and do exercises. They were made to eat butter and baby food and gargle raw eggs. He said the baby food was the worst part. I said gargling the eggs sounded far worse.
While Bruce was relating his experiences we were all drinking beer. I was sipping mine slowly having learned a valuable lesson. When we started rating the initiation events on their degree of revulsion, Paul and I both voted for the raw egg gargling. Bruce said it was by far the easiest. He said he would gargle one for us right then if we had any eggs. We still had the original carton that had never been opened.
Bruce took a drink of beer, then cracked open the egg and dumped the contents into his mouth. He gargled for a few seconds and foamy egg bubbles came out of his mouth. He then swallowed it, took another sip of beer and said "See, nothing to it."
Paul declined to try it, so I was next. I stood in front of the sink in case I decided to spit it out. I cracked the shell and emptied it into my mouth. I gargled a few seconds, then swallowed. It slipped down my throat faster than warm snot. It wasn't nearly as sickening as I had envisioned.
After another beer I decided it was time to gargle another egg. I retrieved one from the carton in the refrigerator and stood in front of the sink once again. I cracked the egg, held it over my mouth and split it apart so the contents could drop into my mouth. With my head back and my mouth open I could barely see the egg as it came open. For a split second before it dropped I saw a black blob falling from the shell. A horrific smell also hit my nose, but all this happened too fast for me to react. A couple of beers had no doubt slowed my reflexes a bit.
The black stinky mass of rotten egg landed squarely in my mouth. It was the most disgusting thing I'd ever seen or smelled in my life. I immediately spit it into the sink. I ran for the bathroom and began to rinse my mouth out with Lysterine.
For the next fifteen minutes I alternated between intense teeth brushing and rinsing with mouthwash. My gums were bleeding when I finally stopped and returned to the kitchen. Paul and Bruce were nearly sick, but they were sick from laughing.
There were many other things that happened while we were in the trailer. Once our pipes froze, so we crawled under the trailer and poured whiskey on them, then set them on fire. Fortunately we didn't burn the trailer down. We put some ground meat in a can and hooked up an extension cord to it so we could shock the dog that kept getting into our trash. The dog got away with the meat after letting out a single yelp, and we blew all the breakers in the trailer.
We moved out at the end of the spring semester. Our parents never thought it was a good idea for us to live together. They weren't that concerned about us individually, but they always thought together we were dangerous. They were probably right.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Funeral of Harry Truman

 As I have mentioned in several stories, there weren't a lot of things for young adult males to do in and around Crockett, Texas. After my friends and I went off to college and were exposed to campus life, it was even worse when we were home in Crockett for any length of time. We would get together and circle the strip and whine about the lack of activities.
In December of 1972 former President Harry S. Truman passed away at his home in Independence, Missouri. You might be wondering what prompted a couple of East Texas college students to drive 700 miles to a funeral. Here is the reasoning behind it all.
Eugene May, Bruce Bennett and I were riding around and generally bitching about being in Crockett for several weeks. I was constantly changing radio stations for something that would come in for more than two minutes. The only local station on that time of night was KIVY-FM, and it didn't offer anything of interest. I stopped on KLIF, a radio station in Dallas, which happened to be in the middle of the news. They were running a report from Kansas City, Missouri. President Truman's casket was on display in his library in Independence. The funeral services were to be held the following afternoon.
A shuttle was running throughout the night from the parking lot of Arrowhead Stadium to the library for people who wanted to file by the casket and pay their last respects.
In March of 1972 the basketball team from Stephen F. Austin was in the national tournament in Kansas City. After they won their first couple of games it appeared they might make the finals. Eddie Driskill, my roommate from Crockett, and I made the trip to Kansas City and attended their quarterfinals game. We spend one night in Independence and drove by the stadium complex a couple of times. Before leaving Nacogdoches we had stopped by to ask Eugene if he wanted to go with us. He had refused. We had a great time and had come home with many great tales -- a couple of them true. We had given him hell about not going and he had been regretting it ever since.
While KLIF was reporting the activities in Independence I was again telling Eugene what he missed by not going with us. Then, for some unknown reason I said, "We should go to Harry Truman's funeral!" Eugene and Bruce just gave me a disgusted look and the subject was dropped.
A few minutes later Bruce said he needed to go home, so we dropped him off. He asked if I wanted to play tennis the next day and I said okay. Eugene and I continued to ride around.
We were so bored we stopped at the Pit Grill for a cup of coffee. It wasn't a safe place to eat unless you had at least three beers in you. A chicken fried steak could be lethal unless there was a little alcohol in your stomach to kill off the parasites. We were at our lowest point when we resorted to a visit to the Pit Grill.
It was then I started in on Eugene about going to Harry Truman's funeral. After five minutes of prodding he changed his mind. I went to the pay phone and called Bruce and asked him to go with us. For some reason he thought we must have consumed a few beers after taking him home. He just laughed and declined. We were off to my house to tell my parents.
I woke up my parents and told them our plans. They loaned me some money and told me to be careful. They were used to my impulsive trips. Telling Leonard May was going to be another matter.
Eugene was supposed to help his dad with a painting job the next day. His dad was not going to take the news of our trip very well. We stood in Eugene's kitchen for a few minutes while he tried to work up the courage to tell his dad. He finally chickened out and decided to leave a note. The note said simply "Gone to Truman's funeral, be back Thursday. Eugene." He decided that would be a satisfactory explanation when his dad had to do the job by himself the next day. He stuck in on the refrigerator with a magnet and we were on our way.
We decided to take Eugene's Chevy Impala. It was a tank and a gas hog, but gas was 30 cents a gallon at the time. It would be a more comfortable ride than my Pinto. It was nearly midnight when we left Crockett.
Even though it was December, the temperature in Crockett was very mild. Since we were heading so far north I picked up a heavy coat before leaving my house. In his haste to get out of his house Eugene grabbed a lightweight jacket out of the closet. It was little heavier than a lined windbreaker. He would be sorry later.
We drove north through Dallas, Oklahoma City and Wichita, Kansas. We then turned northeast and headed for Kansas City. The weather was getting progressively colder and there was snow along the ditches and under the trees. We made it to Kansas City, Missouri in the middle of the morning. It was cold and miserable.
We stopped to eat just east of Kansas City, then drove a short distance to Independence. There were signs along the interstate giving directions to the Truman Library. It was apparently the number one tourist destination in town.
The actual funeral service was private and attended only by family and a number of dignitaries from around the world. Hundreds of people were gathered outside the walls that surrounded the library and lined the streets on all four sides. We could only imagine how many people would be there if the weather hadn't been so nasty.
Eugene found a spot to park about half a mile from the library. We put on our coats and started walking down the street. At that point Eugene began to realize he had picked the wrong coat in his haste to get out of the house. He was shaking like a wet dog. The service was underway by the time we got to the street in front of the main gate of the library.
Unbelievably we were able to go to the front of the crowd with no trouble and stood at the barrier across from the main gate. There were television cameras on top of the wall to get shots of the mourners as they left the service.
We stood at the barriers for about twenty minutes freezing our asses off. Just about the time we thought about heading back to the car, limos began to line up across the street. Within a couple of minutes the doors of the building opened and people started coming out. Bess Truman and other family members got in the first car. Next came General Omar Bradley in a wheelchair, being attended by at least six other generals. A few more people we recognized came out; followed by many we did not. As usual, I didn't have a camera with me. A little old lady was standing a couple of rows behind us. She tapped me on the back and asked if I could take some pictures for her. I told her yes, and I then took a couple of dozen shots with her camera. She thanked me and when I said "you're welcome" she immediately asked me what part of Texas we were from? I told her we had driven up from Crockett to attend the funeral. She turned and started telling a bunch of other ladies in her group where we were from. After the story made it to the back of the pack it had turned into us riding to Independence on a motorcycle. She got my name address and said she would mail me copies of all the pictures. It has been over thirty years and I'm still waiting.
We turned and headed for the car in a dead run. I was very cold, but Eugene had to be near hypothermia by then. We turned up the heater all the way and headed out of the neighborhood ahead of the crowd.
We consulted the map and decided to drive directly south along the western border of Missouri and Arkansas to East Texas. As we crossed under Interstate 70 we stopped at a Stuckeys for lunch. We had been up for well over twenty-four hours and we were getting tired. We bought a box of No-Doze and hoped they worked like it said they would on the box.
Eugene was dating a girl from Lovelady, Texas named Becky Driskell. While at Stuckeys he decided to call her. She answered the phone and immediately told him she had tried to call him that morning. He told her he was in Independence, Missouri with me and we had just been at the funeral of President Truman. She said something like "Bullshit!" Then she said, "You are at the Dairy Queen aren't you? Don't go anywhere, I'm coming to town." She hung up the phone. I'm not sure she was ever convinced of the story until after we returned home and Eugene explained it all to her. Of course, she was a high school student and also lived in Lovelady. At that time of her life the world felt like it ended at the Trinity and Neches rivers.
We picked up a few trinkets that said Kansas City, Missouri on them, and also a copy of the Kansas City Star newspaper. I wish I had kept something to remember it by. I think Eugene turned his over to Becky as proof positive he actually went. We drank a couple of cups of coffee each to fight off the fatigue and hit the road.
The drive through western Missouri and the Ozark Mountains is probably a beautiful one if it isn't cloudy and overcast and it isn't going back and forth between rain and snow. Before we got to Joplin, Missouri, it was dark and still raining. The only thing noteworthy was when we passed through a little town called Tipton Ford. Since the Ford dealership in Nacogdoches was Tipton Ford, we decided it would be neat to steal the city limit sign and take it home with us. Eugene had a crescent wrench in his trunk, so we went to work on it. It was so cold and messy we were making no progress at all. A car passed by and we ran to the ditch and pretended to piss. We gave up and continued our drive south.
The drive through western Arkansas was even more wet and nasty. The narrow mountain roads were muddy and slushy. We stopped on more than one occasion to wipe the crud off the headlights so we could see the highway. Being scared for our lives at least was keeping us awake.
We pulled into Crockett around 6 a.m. on Thursday. Eugene took me home, then headed for his house. He was hoping to get home and into bed before his dad woke up. He had missed work the day before and knew his dad wasn't going to be happy. I wished him luck.
I woke up in the middle of the afternoon and drove to Eugene's house. He had just gotten out of bed. He had put the copy of the Kansas City Star on the table along with some other items of proof we brought home. About that time Leonard May walked through the door. He stood and glared at us for what seemed like an hour. He then told us what was the funniest part of the tale.
When he got up on Tuesday morning he saw Eugene's note on the refrigerator. He read it a couple of times. He kept thinking, "Who does Eugene know named Truman?" He never had a clue that it was Harry S. Truman. He was a little pissed that Eugene wasn't home, but he had never suspected where he was. He went to work, and in the middle of the morning he took a coffee break at the Royal Café.
Now Crockett is a small town and stories tend to travel around at lightning speed. Mr. May was sitting at the Royal working on a cup of coffee when two ladies walked in and sat down nearby. One was looking at a newspaper, and naturally the headline was about the funeral of President Truman. She turned to the other lady and said, "Can you believe Jimmy Beasley and Eugene May are at Harry Truman's funeral right now?"
Mr. May nearly spit coffee all over himself. He said when he realized who Truman was he walked straight to the door and left the café before anyone recognized him. He said, "I didn't want anyone to know that my son and his idiot friend were stupid enough to drive to Missouri to a funeral!"
Apparently Bruce Bennett and Smitty Dean had stopped by my house earlier that morning to see if I still wanted to play tennis. When my mother told them I was with Eugene at Harry Truman's funeral Bruce realized I wasn't kidding when I called him the night before. My mother was in town later in the morning and told a few people, and Bruce and Smitty spread the word as well. By the time Leonard May took a coffee break later that morning half the town knew where we were.
Mr. May stood there looking irritated while we started giving him a fast version of our trip. We would laugh about things we thought were funny, but his expression never changed. After we finished he continued to stare at us for another minute or two. Finally he shook his head and said, "Well, I hope like hell Nixon doesn't die!" With that he left the room.
LBJ died the next month. We stayed home.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Early Years

Some of the incidents I am about to relate happened when I was very young, and I have little or no memory of them. I have heard these stories told by my relatives over the years. I hope my recollections are fairly accurate.
My father, mother and I lived in a little garage apartment on South Grace Street in Crockett, Texas until shortly before my fifth birthday. My father died in an auto accident and my mother and I moved in with my grandparents. Events happening before we moved I only know about from friends and relatives.
I'm sure my parents were proud when I finally became potty trained. When your child starts getting up to go pee in the middle of the night instead of soaking his sheets, it is time to breathe a sigh of relief.
My dad wore cowboy boots everywhere. There are still family pictures of me wearing a pair of them when I was about three. The tops of the boots hit me in the crotch when I tried to walk. I don't know if my dad was in the habit of leaving his boots in the bathroom at night, but he did it at least once. My parents surely had a warm fuzzy feeling that night when they heard their little boy go into the bathroom. They probably didn't think anything of it when they didn't hear the toilet flush.
The next morning, my dad went to the bathroom and pulled on his pair of favorite boots. Only then did he realize why the toilet hadn't flushed the night before: I had peed
in his boot and it didn't have a handle to flush it by. Boots were made well in those days, so there was quite a bit of pee still puddled up in the toe.
There wasn't a lot he could say to me, but I'm pretty sure he put his boots in his closet after that. He did walk back to the bedroom and tell my mother, "I never thought I'd have a kid that didn't know how to pour PISS put of a boot." I've never actually poured piss out of a boot to this day, but I think I could figure it out.
Behind our garage apartment lived the Satterwhites. They had two sons, Smitty and Stephen. Smitty was quite a bit older than me, but Stephen was one year my senior. Stephen and I would play together a lot and got along most of the time. He was a lot bigger than me at that age and naturally when we got into a spat he would always come out on top. I would run home whining to my mother. She would hear my story and usually give me the try to get along talk. Sometimes it would be more along the lines of me standing up for myself. I was always nonconfrontational and would get shoved around sometimes.
One morning Stephen was playing in his sandbox and I wanted to go play with him. It long before we had some confrontation and I ran home crying. I was told yet again that nothing was ever going to change unless I showed a little courage. At long last the message had sunk in.
The next morning Stephen was in the sandbox again, and apparently I opted for the preemptive strike. I put on my little pair of cowboys boots and walked down the stairs. My mother must have been thinking, "Here we go again."
Stephen was sitting in the sand playing with his toys. I walked directly up to him, and without saying one word, I swung my leg back and kicked him right in the nose as hard as I could. He screamed and blood began to flow down his face. My mother heard the screaming and realized it wasn't coming from me for once. When she got to the door I was already at the top of the stairs. I came running in with a big smile on my face and yelling, "I got the blood! I got the blood!" She started to say something to me about my timing, but decided it wasn't a good time to spoil the moment. I was lectured later in the day.
From what I have been told, my father had a wonderful sense of humor and always enjoyed a good prank, so I must have come about it honestly. He had an industrial uniform supply business. He rented uniforms, rags and other items all over East Texas, so he was on the road practically every day. He was always coming in with some new trick or prank item he picked up in his travels. His favorite place to try them out was at my grandparent's grocery store. My mother worked there with them and I was always around bothering everyone.
One day, my dad came in with a jelly jar. The glass was purple and appeared to be full of grape jelly. When the lid was removed, a rubber snake with a compressed spring inside would fly out the top and give someone a good fright. He put it on the counter with a spoon and some crackers and made a little card that read "FREE SAMPLE." He then waited anxiously for someone to take the bait.
As a point of information, back in the '50s and '60s most flour was sold in 25-pound and 50-pound white cotton sacks. At the grocery store, all the 50-pound sacks of flour were standing on end across from the counter the jelly jar was sitting on. This will be significant shortly.
After a few minutes, one of the regular customers came in. She was a large lady and she weighed several hundred pounds. It only took a few seconds for her to spot the jelly and decide to try a spoonful of it. She slowly twisted the lid off and was ready for a taste. When the lid came loose and the snake flew in the air my dad howled with laughter. The lady screamed and jumped up and back at the same time. She flew through the air and landed directly on top of several 50-pound flour sacks. She was screaming uncontrollably and bouncing up and down. She was yelling, "Oh, lordy! Oh shit! Oh, lordy! Oh shit!" It was hilarious for a few seconds until she lost control of her bowels. The situation was worsened by the fact that she wasn't wearing any underwear. Each time she bounced, pee and crap splattered across the top of the sacks of flour. Of course, a cotton flour sack soaks up moisture like a sponge, so the market value of the flour went down every time her big ass made contact with a sack. It took them a few minutes to get her calmed down. My dad apologized profusely. The jelly jar was immediately tossed in the garbage can. After she left, my dad had to haul out bag after bag of stinky poop and pee stained flour. I'm sure my grandparents weren't too amused when they were out of flour so quickly. In later years it became one of their favorite stories, but it took awhile.
Much of the time, when my mother was working in the store with my grandfather, I was with my grandmother. They lived next door to the grocery store. There was a white picket fence in front of the house to keep me incarcerated. My grandmother was always sewing or piddling around the house, but she kept an eye on me most of the time.
One day I did decide to try to escape the confines of the yard. I climbed up on the fence and made my way over the top. I was wearing shorts, which turned out to be my downfall. When you are three years old, pickets on the top of a short fence are just as effective as barbed wire. As I cleared the top a picket went up each leg of my shorts. When the screaming began everyone came running from the house to see what was wrong. I was suspended backward from the fence, pickets up my shorts, yelling like hell. I was very wary of the demon fence for years afterward.
My grandparents had a canary named Pretty Boy. He was kept in a small birdcage on a stand that was about eye level to a three-year-old. Occasionally my grandfather would take Pretty Boy out of the cage and let him sit on his finger. He would whistle and the bird would whistle in return. I always wanted to hold the bird, but my grandfather always said I had to wait until I was older. When Pretty Boy was in his cage, I would stick my fingers through and try to touch him, but he would move to the back and avoid me.
One day, I surprised him and caught his tail. He spun around and pecked me. I let him go, but I wasn't going to let it go unpunished. I went to the kitchen and got a paper grocery sack. I opened the door to his cage, which I had never done before. I covered the door with the sack and started shaking the cage. The stupid bird flew right into the sack. I folded the top of the sack and sat it down on the floor. I found a copy of the Houston Post rolled up on the couch in the living room and took it to the sack. I began to pound on the sack with all my might and the bird began to scream with all his might. When my grandmother arrived I was raising the paper above my head and raining blow after blow down on the grocery sack. She yelled, "Stop that! What do you think you are doing?"
I looked her in the eye and calmly said, "I'm going to kill Pretty Boy. He pecked me." She took the paper from me and opened the sack. Pretty Boy was alive and well but very freaked out. He died of natural causes a short time later. He probably had a bad heart. The incident must have happened during the week, because I'm pretty sure I would have killed him with the Sunday edition.
It seemed like my grandfather was always mowing the yard. We got a lot of rain and I never remember seeing him water the grass. Being three or four, I constantly begged him to let me push the mower, but he always said no and sent me inside before I lost any fingers or toes. I would stand at the screen door and watch him the entire time he was mowing. I also recall a few years later when I asked to mow the yard and was finally told yes. It only took a couple of times cutting the thick grass in the heat and humidity for me to realize what an idiot I was for whining about wanting to do it.
My grandfather was well up in years when I was little. He had Parkinson's disease and it was getting hard for him to do very much, but he always insisted on mowing the yard against the advice of family and friends. It was one activity he could still manage. My grandmother was dead set against it and let him know it all the time. One day I was standing by the door watching him hard at work mowing. My grandmother walked into the room. I turned to her and said, "Look Mama, that old shit is out there mowing again." She was shocked at such language coming from a three-year-old. As soon as my grandfather came inside she told him what I had said, figuring he would scold me. He simply looked at her and replied, "He just said what he has heard you say." She just glared at him and walked away. I went unpunished.
We moved in with them after my father died and my mother began running the grocery store full-time. The following year I started kindergarten and was able to start getting into trouble outside my white picket prison.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Great Rabbit Hunt

 As I have mentioned previously, I spent a great deal of my youth on the Mustang Prairie Ranch. While in high school, I worked there every summer and spent many weekends in the fall and winter hunting dove and deer. I killed my fair share of dove over the years and always gave them away to other hunters, since I don't care for their taste. Deer hunting takes a lot of patience and discipline, so it is no wonder I never shot one. Just being in the solitude of the woods and armed to the teeth in case I was attacked by a savage coon or crazed armadillo was enough for me.
One evening Eugene May, Charlie Jackson and I were riding along the dirt roads of Mustang Prairie. We hadn't intended to do any hunting, but we had a couple of shotguns with us for personal protection. It was just after dark and we were driving around whining about having nothing to do. About then a jackrabbit ran in front of the pickup and proceeded to stay in the headlights, keeping pace with us as we moved slowly forward. Such a bold act couldn't go unpunished, so Eugene grabbed one of the shotguns, leaned out the window and blew the rabbit into the cotton field along side the road. We tossed him in the back and kept going. A few hundred yards down the road another jackrabbit appeared and was dispatched with extreme prejudice. After the second one we decided shooting jackrabbits was no challenge at all.
We drove another mile when a cottontail rabbit ran into our headlights, zigzagged back and forth a couple of times, then ran off into the darkness at top speed. Obviously this presented more of a challenge. For the next hour we took turns blasting cottontails. One would drive while the other two sat on the toolbox in the back of the pickup resting the shotguns on the cab. When we finished we had ten dead rabbits bleeding all over the bed of the truck.
Near the highway lived an old man and his wife. He was about eighty years old and had worked on the ranch most of his life. He was allowed to live there rent-free and his utilities were furnished. He could no longer drive so they didn't get into town very often. I would stop by and visit with them when I was in the area. On the way to town we stopped by his house and asked him if he wanted the rabbits. He said rabbits were his favorite food. He got a butcher knife and started skinning the first one before we got the rest out of the truck. He said he would take as many as we wanted to bring him, anytime day or night.
We went hunting three more times over the next couple of months, and each time we would get close to a dozen rabbits. We would drive up to the house and the old man would be sitting on the porch with a pan of water and a butcher knife waiting for us. He always told us to bring him more when we could.
When school started in the fall, we were involved with football and other activities, so it was late October before we found the time to go rabbit hunting again. The rabbits weren't as plentiful in the cool, crisp fall air. After a couple of hours we had only six rabbits to show for our efforts. We drove up to the little house and honked the horn to let the old man know the rabbit delivery service had arrived. He wasn't home. There was a note on his door saying they had gone to Madisonville to visit their son.
This presented a problem. We didn't want to waste good rabbit meat, but we sure as hell weren't going to eat them. We couldn't think of anyone else to give them to. You know the old saying "All sick and twisted (or is that great?) minds think alike." Suddenly all three of us had the same idea; we would take them into town and throw them at people!
We had a hard time cleaning the blood and dead rabbit ooze from the bed of the pickup the night of the first hunt. On all the subsequent hunts we carried a large metal pan to toss the little, furry, blasted-to-hell bodies in and cut down on the mess. Eugene stopped the truck and retrieved the pan and put it inside the cab just before we got to town.
You have to be selective when you throw dead rabbits at people from a moving truck. There is always a chance, especially in Crockett, someone might not see the humor in it and start popping away at you with a Saturday night special.
We circled the courthouse square and threw the first two rabbits onto the windshields of parked cars. In both cases the rabbit landed spread eagle in the middle of the windshield with a big "SPLAT," and stuck like glue. We made sure we weren't spotted leaving the scene.
There was an area of town out near the high school that was fairly run down. Very few street lights were still working. Most had been shot out or broken with rocks. After replacing them over and over the city finally quit bothering. As a result, we could drive down the primary streets and not be readily identified. Within a few minutes, we had passed a couple of groups of people walking along the street in the dark toward us. We would speed up just before we got to them and toss a bloody rabbit in the air which would land in the middle of the group. We would hear screaming and cussing as we drove away.
We had two rabbits left. The smell inside the cab of the truck was getting pretty rank. It was getting too cold to keep the windows rolled down, and when we turned the heater on it only made matters worse. Finally we pulled over and returned the metal pan containing the rabbits to the back. We drove to the Dairy Queen and got some Cokes and tried to think of what to do with the last two rabbits. We considered leaving them in the parking lot, but we didn't want to take the chance of getting them served to us the next time one of us ordered a steak finger basket. We decided to drive around a little longer and maybe a good opportunity would present itself.
The traffic in front of the local picture show, the Ritz Theater, was always heavy and slow on Saturday night, at least by Crockett standards. It was the only place in town to take a date and therefore the most popular place on the weekend other than the Dairy Queen. The weekend ritual was to drive around the square, out the Houston highway, circle the Dairy Queen, return to the square, then drive past the Ritz to see who was coming out with who so you could talk about them.
As we eased slowly past the Ritz Eugene saw someone he knew. He rolled down the window and threw a paper cup at them. They laughed and yelled at him. The traffic came to a stop for a few seconds, and just as we were driving away some guy who had just came out began yelling at us and insinuating he would whip our asses if we stopped. We continued on down the block and made a slow right turn so we could make a second pass by the picture show. The guy remained out front which is what we were hoping for. A small group of little junior high assholes sporting a fresh crop of pimples were gathered behind him.
After we turned the corner and were out of sight of the theater, Eugene pulled over. Charlie got behind the wheel and Eugene got in the back of the pickup and lay down. Charlie drove slowly around the block and made a right turn to pass in front of the picture show again. Miraculously the guy was still out front with his mob only inches behind him. We couldn't see what he was holding for sure, but it looked like a big cardboard popcorn tub. He was walking toward the pickup with the intent of throwing it on us. When he was about four feet away he drew back the tub and was ready to toss the contents. Eugene jumped up and threw two bloody rabbits straight for his chest. To say he was surprised would be an understatement. One hit him in the middle of his chest and the other hit him on the shoulder and sent blood and other bodily fluids flying into his little band of homies. He jumped back on impact and fell into the crowd. We were laughing so hard we cried. We didn't drive back by for about an hour. We circled past in my car later. There were the two dead rabbits in the gutter and nobody was out front.
That was the last time we went rabbit hunting. We knew we could never top that night without the possibility of going to jail.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Kansas City, Here We Come!

  Crockett was and is predominately a football town. Baseball has been a distant second since the Bulldogs have won state championships over the past few years. The basketball teams were always competitive but rarely advanced past the district level during my years in school. The home games were well attended, mostly due to the lack of anything else to do.
In the fall of 1971, Eddie Driskill and I moved into the dormitory at Stephen F. Austin State University. Paul Craycraft and John Harold Allen lived in the same building but several rooms down the first semester. The second semester they shared the suite with us. Eugene May and Charlie Jackson lived in a rooming house a couple of miles from the campus, but one or both of them came by our rooms on a daily basis.
Through the months of September and October, we would all talk about staying in Nacogdoches each weekend to participate in the many social activities, but in the end every one of us would end up in Crockett driving the drag around the Dairy Queen and the courthouse square. All of us usually attended the home football games, mostly out of habit.
The SFA football Lumberjacks were a pitiful group. Our freshman year they served as the doormats of the Lone Star Conference. We would make an effort to attend the pep rallies on Friday in order to look at the cheerleaders. It was hard to get very excited about any of their games. That fall I attended several high school games in Crockett, but not a single Lumberjack game in Nacogdoches.
As football season wound down and basketball season neared, everyone started getting excited. The SFA men players were the celebrities in those days. Each year they were in the thick of the hunt for championship. We had never been exposed to quality basketball in Crockett, so initially we weren't caught up in the moment.
As is the case with most good basketball teams, the first few games were scheduled against smaller and less talented opponents. The aim was to work on the game plan against someone you can beat the crap out of and build up your confidence. After being apathetic to the game through high school, we were hooked when seeing the Lumberjacks play like a well-oiled machine, destroying a couple of marginal adversaries. Besides seeing some great games, we were where the action was on campus. We started feeling like we were part of the school.
The team was led by a senior named James Silas. He had been an All American guard his first three years and was expected to lead them to the promised land. We had never seen a player of his caliber. We never missed a home game that fall and couldn't wait until the conference games started in January.
One of our favorite pastimes at the games was to sit around and insult each other and make insensitive comments about everyone else. Since the noise level was high, most of the time we had to raise our voices to be heard by all of the Crockett Rockets. One night, we were smarting off to one another at halftime. A popular student named Larry was walking up the steps and, was coming our direction. He had a muscle disorder and had a terrible time walking. He was draped over the handrail and sort of pulling himself along. For some unexplained reason, for a couple of seconds the place got quiet. At that exact moment we all happened to be watching Larry laboring up the steps while wrapped around the steel railing. At the precise second the arena fell silent, one of the Crockett students (not me, I swear!) said in a loud voice so we could hear him over the background noise, "Here comes the halftime show!"
Everyone in the general area looked in our direction. They were no doubt wondering what callused bastard would say something like that. All of us began to look around to see if we could spot the jerk who would say such a thing. We moved to a different area of the gym a few minutes later.
When we returned to Nacogdoches after the Christmas break, we were hit with some disastrous news. James Silas, superstar, had flunked out. Some professor did not understand how the college sports system operated and had held him to the same standards as the rest of the student population. The team would have to enter the conference season without him. For her own safety, the name of the professor was kept quiet. Had this happened with any other athlete, the average student would have been overjoyed to see academic standards enforced. But this was the heart and soul of the basketball team, so nobody was happy.
When conference play started, the Lumberjacks continued to play to packed houses and kept on winning. The games were closer than they had been when James Silas was scoring his usual thirty points per game, but other players were stepping up. They won the Lone Star Conference and the NAIA regional playoffs and were going to the national tournament.
At the time, the NAIA national championship tournament was held in Kansas City, Missouri. Prior to their departure, a massive pep rally was held on campus. Everyone had gotten into the spirit and felt we had a good chance of winning it all. Even the Crockett Rockets had gone from basketball apathy to being rabid fans.
With no ESPN and limited local cable channels, it was impossible to see a game from the NAIA tournament. We all listened intently to the local radio station as the Lumberjacks easily won their first couple of games. Suddenly they were within three games of the national title. Most of the students on campus were now talking of a trip to Kansas City.
Eddie, Paul, John Harold and I were sitting around the room bitching, whining and lying, as was our custom each evening after eating supper in the cafeteria. From a distance we could hear a loud chant of "Kansas City here we come!" We went outside to investigate and were met by the sight of several thousand students on the march. Eddie And I joined in like lemmings marching to the ocean and began to chant along with the mob.
I saw Jerry Kemper, a classmate from Marshall, Texas, moving along with the herd. I asked him where everyone was going? He said the crowd was headed to the residence of the university president, Dr. Stein. The purpose of the march was to request a suspension of classes for the next three days so students electing to make the trip to Kansas City wouldn't suffer any consequences from any commie pinko professors that didn't fully appreciate the importance of basketball.
In 1972, most university presidents would have called out the national guard if such a mob were approaching their house at night. Dr. Stein was well liked, and the student body of SFA was by and large a conservative bunch, so there was no cause for alarm. Dr. Stein informed the gathering he could not suspend classes, but he made another proposal that met with approval. Any student returning from Kansas City with a ticket stub from the tournament in hand would get a personal excuse written by him. We returned to the dorm all fired up and ready to leave town.
Everyone was excited for the first few minutes. Eddie and I started packing our bags and preparing to hit the road. John Harold and Paul quickly backpedaled and remembered a number of reasons they couldn't make it. After throwing a few supplies into my Pinto, we decided to wake up Charlie and Eugene and offer them the opportunity to go with us.
It was nearly midnight when we banged on their door. We quickly related the story of the gathering on campus and Dr. Stein's guarantee of amnesty. Like the other two Crockett Rockets, they wimped out on us. We took off to Crockett to borrow money from our families before heading for Kansas City.
Being young and stupid certainly worked to our benefit. We left Crockett with about sixty dollars between us and an Exxon gasoline card that belonged to my mother. In those days, several national motel chains accepted gasoline cards, so we knew our rooms and fuel would be covered.
We arrived in Kansas City in the middle of the afternoon and quickly found Memorial Auditorium. We found a parking place half a mile away and sprinted to the ticket window. We had no idea when the Lumberjacks were playing. We were informed the SFA game had just ended and the Lumberjacks had won. We were also told there were no tickets available for their semifinal game the next evening. Our panic lasted only a moment. Some students from Augustana University, the school SFA had just defeated, were trying to sell their tickets to the semifinal game. They were about five dollars each, so we scarfed them up.
Since we missed the game, we had some time on our hands. We walked for several blocks around Memorial Auditorium to take in the sights. We loitered in the lobbies of several large uppity hotels; the kind we had always seen in the movies. After an hour we decided we needed to find a place to stay.
The Exxon card could be used at a Ramada Inn, Howard Johnsons or Best Western. We were told there were no available rooms anywhere near the auditorium. After consulting the phone book, we found there was a large Ramada Inn across the river in downtown Kansas City, Kansas. I gave them a call and found they had quite a few empty rooms. Their rates were considerably cheaper than their counterparts across the river in Missouri.
A lot of university students had been staying there and had started leaving as their teams were defeated in the tournament. We crossed the river and located it without any problem.
We were given a room on the tenth floor of a fifteen-story hotel. Had we been a little older and a little more experienced, we would have been in hog heaven. The rooms on the eighth through the thirteen floors were rented by college students. Most of them were drunk and rowdy. We opened our door and our window to get some air circulating. Every now and then a couple of students would wander in and ask where we were from. Being a couple of bumpkins from Crockett we were mostly concentrating on not embarrassing ourselves.
I was sitting near the open window when something flashed by just outside. A split second later there was a loud crash. As I looked out to see the source of the noise, another object flew by on the way down, followed by another bang. Each time there was a crash, it was followed by a cheer from the rooms above. The flying objects turned out to be full cans of beer being tossed into the empty swimming pool one hundred feet below. The pool was fiberglass, which made the noise more pronounced. That occupied our attention for the next few minutes. Hotel security was summoned by someone in one of the lower floors, so the excitement was quelled in short order. The fatigue of a seven hundred mile drive began to set in and we finally crashed.
We slept late the next morning and awoke ready to do some exploring. The evening before, we had parked in the large garage at the hotel. There had been an attendant that pointed us to a general area when we drove in. The floor we parked on was starting to fill up as people returned from last basketball game of the day. As we exited the elevator the following morning and entered the garage we noticed the attendant stand up and look in our direction. When he saw me unlocking the door to my Pinto he stomped out of the office and headed toward us.
Eddie made some remark to me about the wild look in his eyes as he approached. He immediately started chewing me out and I had no idea what in the hell he was talking about. He pointed to a sign by his office door and started babbling about me not obeying it. I read it for the first time. It said, "Please leave your vehicle unlocked with the keys in it so our attendant can move the cars when necessary. This is a secure facility." My first thought was "BULLSHIT!" There was no way I was going to leave my car unlocked and the keys in it with that Sammy little prick in charge of it. He kept ragging on me as we got in the car. I think I said something like we don't do that kind of crap in Texas, but I don't remember now. I was pretty pissed off when we left. We had been talking about staying somewhere a little cheaper for the second night, and the encounter with the attendant helped make up our minds.
We ate lunch and hit the freeway toward the east side of Kansas City to see the sights. Arrowhead Stadium and Royals Stadium had both recently been completed. The freeway passed both of them and we were impressed. We had seen both arenas on television, and they looked even better up close. Later in the afternoon, we found a Ramada Inn at a much lower rate in Independence, Missouri. There was no parking attendant.
SFA was playing the first semifinal game against Kentucky State. The second game was to be the number one ranked University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire against someone I can't recall. We had met a lot of UW-Eau Claire students and we were pulling for them. The feeling seemed to be mutual and we were all hoping to meet at the championship game.
We got to Memorial Auditorium about an hour before game time. A lot of students had made the trip from Nacogdoches. Up until then we hadn't seen many other SFA students. The atmosphere was electric by the time we got to our seats. It was far and away the most excited I'd ever been at a sporting event. We were sure the national championship was in our grasp.
The students from Kentucky State were very obnoxious and taunted everyone throughout the game. Their big cheer was, “Yeah Austin! Yeah Austin! Yeah Austin! Sheeeeit!” Real classy. The Kentucky State players weren't much better. The SFA players kept their cool and led the game from the start. They never trailed until the last three minutes of the game. Suddenly they went stone cold and Kentucky State took advantage of the situation. Kentucky State took the lead and pulled away at the very end.
Within a span of a few short moments we went from wild excitement to deep dejection. The Kentucky State fans jeered us as we left the area. We had planned to follow the SFA crowd to some of the nearly clubs and celebrate, but with the crushing defeat we decided to trudge back the cheap motel and crash. The next morning we headed back to East Texas.
By the time we left Kansas City, Missouri we were flat broke. We had no desire to stay in town to see SFA play in the consolation game, which they won. Our gasoline and lodging had been charged on the gasoline card. Our short supply of cash had been depleted quickly buying tickets to the game and food. The shortest route home was down the Indian Nation Turnpike through Oklahoma, but that meant we would have to pay a toll at several locations. Oklahoma makes you drive all over the place to punish you for not driving on the expensive turnpikes. Our food by then consisted of Cokes, chips and cheese crackers we could put on the credit card each time we bought gas. The trip to Kansas City had flown by due to the excitement of what was to come. The drive home seemed to take forever. We arrived in Nacogdoches tired and very hungry.
I made several more road trips over the years, but that was the first and one of the most memorable. We arrived home feeling more a part of the SFA student body than when we left. Students we would have likely never spoken to would say hello and say they saw us in Kansas City. The campus newspaper published a letter from the student editor of the newspaper at the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire. He praised the SFA students in Kansas City for their character and class and said he made a lot of friends. For the most part that is the impression most people get when they meet a bunch of Texans for the first time -- even when a couple of them are from Crockett.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Mustang Prairie Days

 Shortly before my fifth birthday, my father was killed in an automobile accident and my mother and I moved in with my grandparents. They were both getting on up in years and were beginning to need a lot of assistance. My grandfather operated a small neighborhood grocery store and my mother worked for him. As his health deteriorated, she had to completely take over the operation, which was a twelve hours a day, six days a week job.
My parents' best friends were John and Dawn Rials. They took many vacations together and spent lots of time with each other. The Rials had no children and they treated me as if I were their own. After my father died they became my second parents. My mother had to work long hours and my grandparents couldn't always keep up with me. John was the manager and part owner of the Mustang Prairie Ranch near Crockett, and he began to take me with him to the farm when I was a very small boy. I must have been in the way and a pain to have around, but he never seemed to mind.
Mustang Prairie was around fifteen thousand acres at the time. There were several hundred head of cattle, lots of forest land and five thousand acres of cotton. John was busy keeping things running with lots of projects going on at any given time, yet he took the time to watch after me.
In the late fifties a lot of the modern day agriculture chemicals were not in widespread use, and most had yet to be developed. Today's cotton fields are sprayed to take care of weeds, but when I was a small boy the job was done by workers in the field chopping them by hand. An operation the size of Mustang Prairie would have two hundred or more for several weeks each summer. It was a big job in itself to keep everyone in the right field and especially on the right row. During this time of the year John was busy from daylight until dark. Dawn would fix a picnic basket and drive the fifteen miles from town to the fields and eat lunch with him. When he had several hundred workers hoeing weeds, he would ride his horse so he could move along the end of the field and direct workers where he needed them. As a five-year-old boy I wanted to ride with him in the worst way, but he was too busy and I was too small.
One hot day I was staying with Dawn. She was taking John his lunch and I was excited -- I always loved to be around when John was riding the horse. After lunch I begged John to take me for a ride, and for the first time he said okay. I was thrilled! Dawn held me up to John and he placed me on the saddle in front of him.
I was wearing shorts and a tee shirt due to the intense East Texas heat and humidity. I had a death grip on the saddle horn and was having a blast. The horse was a big one and so was the saddle, so there was nothing holding me on except my grip. John started the horse off at a slow walk, and of course I started to whine because I wanted to go fast like they did on television. To shut me up he increased the pace to a trot, which had my butt bouncing high up in the air with each jolt. After a minute of this, physics began to have an impact in my little body. In a split second my bowls let go. I began to mess in my pants as I approached the top of my bounce, so on impact it spewed in every direction. My shorts directed it down each side of John's best saddle as well as his trousers. It kept coming and I kept bouncing. It took John a few seconds to see what was happening. I'm sure his first thought was he had ridden through an old cesspool. He hooked his arm under mine and swung me off to the side to keep me from doing any additional damage to his saddle. Dawn had to have wondered what had happened when John rode up with me hanging by his knee and crap all over everything. I'm sure he wanted to whip my ass, but he knew I was five years old and full of crap, so what could he do? It was several years before he let me get on the horse again.
By the time I was eight I could help out once in awhile in a small way. During the few weeks of cold weather each winter we would feed the cattle hay and range cubes. John would lower the tailgate on the truck and drive slowly across the field, and the cattle would trail along behind the truck as I dumped the feed on the ground. I was still too small to do anything productive, but I could ask a million stupid questions until John would ask if I wanted to ride in the back. I always did.
Most of the cattle pastures were accessed through gaps. These were crude gates made with strands of barded wire and small fence posts. I was much too small to open a gap, so I would sit in the truck while John got out, opened the gap, then drove the truck through. He would have to walk back and close the gap before we continued on. This process was repeated over and over when we were working with the cattle.
One cold Saturday morning in the dead of winter John took me with him to feed the cattle. It had rained heavily the day before, and the roads on the ranch were very muddy. At our first stop the gap was at the bottom of a small slope, and the ground below and on each side of the gap was standing in water. John knew he would have to drive through the open gap fairly fast to keep from getting stuck in the mud. He parked the truck at the top of the slope and set the emergency brake. He left the motor running while he walked down the hill to open the gap. I was sitting in the seat enjoying the heater and the radio.
As I mentioned before, John and Dawn had no children of their own. John apparently didn't understand that an eight year old tends to take what people say literally. He unhinged the gap and pulled it open. He then turned toward the truck and yelled "Okay boy, you can drive it on through!"
I can't tell you how excited I was! I'm sure I peed on myself just a little bit. In a flash I was across the seat and behind the wheel. Being an eight year old I couldn't see over the dash, but I was determined. John expected me to give him a stupid stare, but never to actually try to drive the truck. I slid off the seat and planted both feet on the gas pedal and pushed with all my weight. The motor began to roar and I continued to push. John was yelling for me to stop and was running toward the truck through the mud. I couldn't see or hear him. He was halfway there when the engine threw a rod and began to make all kinds of clanking noises. Smoke began to pour from under the hood and I kept my foot firmly on the accelerator. He had to open the door and pull me off the pedal. We had to walk a mile up to the shop to get a couple of mechanics to tow the truck in for repair. We went home in another pickup while they began rebuilding the engine of the truck I had just "driven."
When John dropped me off at the grocery store at the end of the day my mother asked him if something was wrong with his pickup. He told her the story and she glared at me and was about to give me a scolding. John just held up his hand to stop her and said, "He was only doing what I asked him to do."
A few years went by and as I grew up I was able to be a little bit more help. Each summer when John rode the horse while the workers chopped weeds in the cotton fields, I would ask if I could ride with him. It had taken a couple of years to get the stains and the smell out of his saddle from the last time I had ridden. When I was big enough to ride on my own he finally agreed. He figured I would only be crapping on myself this time and he gave me an old saddle.
I was excited to finally be on a horse by myself. I was only going to be there until noon, then I would ride home with Dawn after she brought John his lunch. I had ridden a few horses, but I wasn't very comfortable on one. John didn't expect me to do anything but ride around and stay out of the way and hopefully not mess on myself. I was twelve by then and hadn't messed on myself in several months.
I climbed into the saddle and tried to look like I knew what I was doing. The workers were gathering around as John began to tell them the plan for the day. There were people standing all around my horse, when all of a sudden he began to walk backward. I knew how to make a horse stop, go, and turn left or right, but not how to take him out of reverse. I jerked my head around to make sure he wasn't about to step on anyone.
There was a short, stocky man standing directly behind the horse. I yelled to warn him as the horse approached. He turned his face toward the horse just as it stopped. The man had bangs that hung over his eyes like a sheep dog, and he was at eye level with the horse's butt. The horse stopped six inches from the man's face, raised his tail and blasted a tremendous fart directly at him. The force of the fart was such that it parted the man's bangs as if a fan had suddenly been turned on in his face. The man just stood there and stared directly into the horse's ass and never moved an inch. I was laughing so hard I almost soiled another saddle. I gave the horse a short kick and moved off to the side of the crowd. I dismounted and laughed until I cried.
After lunch, one of the ranch hands rode my horse back to the pasture and I was about to ride back to town with Dawn. John was preparing to ride his horse to another field and see if it needed any attention. The workers had finished their lunch and were back at work. John also needed to move his truck to the new field, so I asked him if I could ride the horse while he drove. In spite of my past history he said yes. I climbed into the saddle and he drove slowly down the dusty dirt road.
I was riding alongside the pickup when John slowed up to speak to one of the workers on the side of the road. As usual I wasn't paying much attention and I bumped the side of the pickup. The edge of the truck bed caught the horse in the flank, which startled him and caused him to jerk his head and jump straight up in the air. The reins flew out of my hands and I grabbed the saddle horn. The horse continued to buck and I was freaking out. John jumped from the pickup and ran for the horse. He didn't stop the pickup or take it out of gear, so while he was chasing the horse the pickup was making it's way across the field and scattering workers as it went. Someone finally chased it down while John grabbed the reins and settled the horse down. I climbed down off the horse and headed for the car. I had my fill of riding the horses on Mustang Prairie.
Later that summer it was time to round up the cattle to a central area to vaccinate and tag them. Because of the large number of cattle involved, it was necessary to hire several cowboys to help with the roundup. Most of the cattle were "horn trained." When John honked the horn of the pickup and drove along slowly, the cattle would follow for miles. They knew they would get some range cubes as soon as the pickup stopped. We were able to get the majority of the herd to the corral in this manner. The cowboys kept the stragglers moving along and kept the young calves from wandering off on their own. Obviously this didn't leave much for me to do.
The main corral was on top of a long hill. There was a large gate at the bottom of the hill, and it was my job to close it after the herd passed through. I really wanted to be riding a horse behind the cattle, but everyone thought that was a bad idea. As the last few calves passed through I swung the gate shut and locked it. I started walking up the hill toward the corral.
Most of the cattle were in the corral by the time I started up the hill. I was a little pissed off that I hadn't been given a role in the actual roundup. I picked up a large stick and began knocking the tops off the tall weeds as I walked. A small calf was well behind the rest of the group and came to a stop a few yards in front of me. The cowboys hadn't noticed it, or just didn't want to bother. I walked up behind the calf and whacked it hard across the hip with the stick. I was determined to drive one cow to the corral, even if it was a little one.
I was smiling when the stick broke across the calf's rear end with a "whack!" I can still see the hind leg flying through the air as if it were in slow motion. It caught me squarely in the balls and dropped me like a rock! I fell flat on my face and moved quickly into the fetal position. A minute later I caught my breath enough to cry, but there was nobody around to appreciate my misery. After about fifteen minutes I got to my feet and limped up the hill. That was the end of my one and only great cattle drive.
The fall of that year was memorable because I hunted dove for the first time with a 12 gauge shotgun. Up until that time I had a small .410, which is pretty lightweight in the world of bird hunting weapons. My uncle had an old single shot 12 gauge he no longer used and asked me if I wanted it? I felt like a stud walking into the field with such a powerful instrument of death and fowl destruction. I had never fired a 12 gauge shotgun before, so I wasn’t remotely prepared for the experience. The first time I jumped a dove in the maize field I jerked the gun to my shoulder and fired a blast right at it. My aim was true and the dove was blown to pieces before my eyes. Unfortunately I didn’t get to enjoy the thrill of the kill. My shoulder felt like it was out of socket and a foot behind the rest of my body. It would have been fine with me if I didn’t see another dove all day. Unfortunately I was with several friends, so I was duty bound to show my toughness. I cried that night as I took off my shirt, but I never told anyone. My shoulder was black and blue and stayed that way for two weeks.
I started doing real work on Mustang Prairie during the summer I was sixteen. I could drive a pickup or tractor without running over any of the workers. My favorite job only lasted two days, but it was something none of my friends had done. The job was being flagman for the crop duster while it was spraying the cotton for boll weevils. The main requirements for the job were to run fast enough to get the hell out of the way as the airplane bore down on you, and to be too stupid to realize it was dangerous.
I would stand in the field, positioned so the wind would blow the poison in the opposite direction I would be running. The rows of cotton were long and the plane was visible from quite a distance. I would stand and wave a large white flag over my head until the plane lined up on my position. At that point I would run into the wind, counting my steps as I went. I would quickly step off the distance twice the wingspan of the plane, and if all went well I was out of the way by the time it passed near me. The pilot would fly about twenty feet over the cotton, but as I stood in the field it looked to be three feet above the ground at most.
The first time the plane lined up on me and the flag, I started a slow stroll to the side and counted my steps. The airplane, moving at over 100 miles per hour, arrived at my location a lot faster than I expected. The steady breeze in my face kept me from getting a dose of poison on my head. From then on I started moving long before the plane got there. After a couple of passes I had the distance and my pace calculated, so at that point a monkey could have done the job.
It took about half an hour for the plane to empty the tanks. It took at least twenty minutes for the pilot to fly to his airstrip in Austonio and take on another load of poison. Trees were few and far between in the cotton patch, so I stood in the hot sun wearing my pith helmet and sun glasses waiting for the plane to return.
At about 4 p.m. of the first day, I was getting pretty tired and I was burning up. Worse yet, I needed to take a dump in the worst way. The plane was on the way to Austonio for the final load of the day, and I was looking for some cover. I saw a couple of small scrub oaks several hundred yards away and I headed for them in a dead run. After I finished with my business it struck me I had no toilet paper. I had always heard about people using leaves when they had to wipe in the woods, but there were no suitable ones to be found.
Suddenly, I had a brilliant idea! The large flag was on the ground beside me. I took my pocket knife and cut a one foot square off the end and put it to necessary use. I discarded the scrap of cloth and ran back to my position and waited for the plane to return. John picked me up an hour later. His first question was, "What in the hell happened to the flag?"
I just gave him a blank stare and asked "What flag?"
My last adventure at Mustang Prairie occurred in December of 1970 when I was a senior in high school. I was deer hunting with Eugene May and Charlie Jackson. We had spent the night in a large unoccupied house on the ranch. It had rained all night long and it was very cold. We built a large fire in the fireplace and kept it going all night long. By morning I couldn't care less about going hunting, but Charlie and Eugene were determined.
We were hunting in an area of approximately 700 acres. During deer season John kept a few cattle in the area, assuming we could tell the difference and not mistake one for a deer. He was giving us a lot of credit.
Charlie and I had hunted there many times, but Eugene had never been with us. It was impossible to give directions to the deer stand he was to use, so I decided to walk with him and point it out. Charlie went off in the opposite direction.
It was pouring rain by the time we reached the deer stand. Eugene climbed the tree and got settled. At that point all I wanted to do was get back to the house and sit in front of the fire to warm up and dry off. The ground was soaked and muddy and each step felt like there were five pound weights on each foot. Thirty minutes later I was a quarter mile from the house and too tired to take another step. My rifle felt like it weighed fifty pounds and my arms were aching. I had to sit down and rest for a few minutes.
I was standing at the base of a small earthen dam on a two acre-stock pond. The dam rose to a height of about ten feet behind me. The side of the dam was pure mud after a week of steady rain. I sat down on a stump to catch my breath and rest my sore muscles before hiking the last stretch to the house.
It was foggy that morning and there was a thick cloud over the water. As I sat and gazed over the water I noticed a large cow standing in the pond no more than twenty feet away. As my eyes adjusted to the fog it became apparent the cow was dead. She had walked into the pond until the water was up to her stomach. He legs became stuck in the mud and she died there in a standing position. Her head was turned to one side and her stomach was extremely bloated. I observed her for a few minutes when a great idea came to me. I'd always wanted to shoot a cow. Besides, Charlie and Eugene would think I finally bagged a deer.
My rifle was a military style 303 British Enfield, which is basically a small cannon. I put a bullet in the chamber and took aim squarely at the bloated side of the cow. I squeezed the trigger and the kick of the rifle almost knocked me off the stump. My ears rang for a few seconds, then things were back to the quiet calm of the cold and foggy morning. As I sat there looking at the hole in the side of the cow I heard something that seemed out of place. It was a hissing sound, but I couldn't identify it. About five seconds later I knew what it was. The gas from the stomach of the bloated cow had found a release. It was blasting through the bullet hole under high pressure and heading my direction. The smell hit me in the face and I was instantly sick! It was the worst smell I'd ever encountered. I turned and tried to run up the muddy bank of the dam directly behind me. My hands and feet were sinking in the mire and my gun was turned into a heavy stick of goo. I gagged and wretched as I climbed onward and upward. When I reached to top I fell on my back and gulped in the fresh air. When my head cleared I walked the final leg to the house and sat in front of the fire until the other mighty hunters returned.
A few months later John Rials passed away and my Mustang Prairie days had come to an end. It had been a great place to spend a large part of my childhood.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Lost Ring

A few years ago Teresa and I begin to notice the wedding rings we bought many years ago were getting tight.  We concluded the altitude, low humdity and colder climate in Colorado had caused the metal to contract.  That seemed more likely than any other explanation.  Kohls was having a jewelry sale so we bought some new ones that fit a little better.  A year later mine was getting pretty loose.  I thought I had lost some weight, but I looked behind me and found it.  It had obviously been redistributed.

At least once a year we drive to Canon City, then along the Arkansas River on Highway 50 to Salida.
From there we go along the continental divide and the collegiate peaks to the beautiful community of Buena Vista.  We return home over Trout Creek Pass, Wilkerson Pass, through Divide, Woodland Park, down Ute Pass and back home to Colorado Springs.  It always renews our appreciation of the fantastic place we live.

Not long ago we got up early one morning in September and started on our familiar journey.   We stopped at Taco Hell in Canon City for lunch.  The weather began turning cold and it started to drizzle.  By the time we passed the entrance to Royal Gorge and neared the Arkansas River it was foggy and started to drizzle.  We were dressed for the conditions and didn't mind.

The Colorado Lottery designates their profits to go to the preservation of open spaces,  modernizing the parks and generally improving our quality of life, or so the theory goes.  The parks are very nice, but obviously the millions that pour into their coffers each year fall far short of what they need.  I came to this conclusion when observing the string of locations along the shore of the Arkansas River.  They each have a pit toilet, a few picnic tables and occasionally a spot to launch a raft.  A permit, which can be purchased at each location, one is good for all for a day, is required to pull into any of the areas.  It is sort of a fee to pee in a scenic location.  Anyway, I digress.

We stopped at the first area, bought our permit and I donated some Diet Pepsi into the appropriate facility.  It was getting colder and the wind was picking up.  A few miles down the road the next area had a viewing stand that extended out over the rapids.  It is a great spot to take pictures and view the rapids.  Due to the dropping temperatures it didn't take us long to appreciate the view and get back in the warm car.

We stopped in the small town of Cotapaxi for a snack and another Diet Pepsi deposit, then continued through the canyon until we reached the town of Salida.  We stopped at a convenience store for some gas and snacks.  I went to the restroom again.  Okay, I have a tiny bladder.  We were standing in line at the register when Teresa asked, "Where is your wedding ring?"  Oh crap, it was gone!

I dug through my pockets, no ring.  I searched the restroom, the surrounding area, then the van.  No luck.
We retraced our steps back through Cotapaxi, both parks, and finally the Taco Hell in Canon City.  At the last park area we met a ranger who took my name and phone number in case anyone found the ring and turned it in.  We returned home and didn't complete our planned trip.

As soon as we got home I began searching the house.  I was positive I was wearing it when we left, but
I might have been mistaken.  A crappy end to the day.  Finally it was time to give up and get a shower.  As I loosened my jeans I felt something fall down my leg and hit the floor with a clang.  My ring rolled away and came to a stop again the wall.

Suddenly it became clear.  While making the Diet Pepsi deposit at the convenience store in Salida I had a positioning problem brought on by a problem with my ten year old underwear made by peasants in some third world village.  The elastic just doesn't hold up like it should after 500 wash cyles.  When I was adjusting myself the ring had slipped off in my shorts and rode comfortably along while we spent the rest of the day searching.

The story doesn't have a happy ending.  Three months later, in the snow covered parking lot at Wal Mart, I removed the glove on my left hand in order to fish the car keys from my pocket.  My ring flew high into the air and landed somewhere in the deep snow, never to be seen again.  I told you it was a sad tale.