The Singing Boatman Has Left The River

Boquillas Canyon I

Boquillas Canyon in Big Bend National Park will never be the same for me; Victor “Victorio” Valdez, who was better known as the “Singing Boatman”, has left the canyon forever.  The news says he died from heart failure.  I can’t imagine anyone having a better heart than Victor; he helped people in his very poor village and always seemed happy to greet the gringos that hiked down to the river’s edge:

The hateful rhetoric filling up the airwaves, the internet, the nightly news… that is not the reality of the people in Big Bend. When putting a face and a name to “those people” – it’s obvious a lot of Americans need educating and an attitude adjustment.  We all want good lives for our children.  We all seek a more peaceful and just world. Our neighbors in Mexico have the same dreams and aspirations.

Victor was a gentle soul; I will miss hearing his big voice welcoming me back to the canyon.





Auntie McGasser

You could hear the old ’60 Dodge Dart for several blocks before its ugly tan carcass rolled into view. The locals called it simply, “The Fart” – an apt christening for the deep bowel rumblings of its bailing-wired tailpipe. The trademark heavy overhang of the front hood and wrap-around side moldings gave the two-paired headlights a neanderthal brow arch; strategic rust streaks looking like old blood streamed from the concave toothy grill and the torsion-air suspension had long ceased to eliminate front-end dip, acceleration squat, and body sway.

The late Mr. McGassick never got around to roofing the wooden framed garage lean-to, and he sure as hell wasn’t gonna rise from his dirt nap to make good on his promises now. The years of west Texas sun bronzed the Dart’s super enamel skin and cooked the interior; opening the car door on a hot summer’s day gave a rush of nasty sweet gases from the decomposing nylon and foam rubber.

Every time Minerva McGassick had to push herself into the driver’s seat, crunching the old Kool Kushion into submission beneath her, she remembered her late husband’s penchant for ignoring her directives. She couldn’t for the life of her figure out where good Scots blood mingled into Mack’s DNA. It hid good, that hard-working Highlands gene. Even while playing a game of Forty-two down at the back room of Venus Earl Earp’s barber shop, Mack’s slack slender fingers made the dominoes appear to weigh 20 pounds apiece. His turn to shuffle the ivories allowed full time to prime up a pipe or roll a fresh Bull Durham smoke.

At least the Dart had held together these past twenty-two years. Once some Big Town Hotshot approached her at the corner Allsup’s store saying he would pay handsomely for the old car. Minerva wouldn’t have parted with her beloved Dodge at any price, but $100,000 seemed like a good starting point to haggle. The Hotshot called her a crazy old bitch and spun gravel out of the parking lot on his way back to Big Town.

Manly hair dressing no longer dripped with Macassar oil and housewifery had long since forgotten the need to drape those delicate little lacy-like confections over the backs of sofas and chairs, but Minerva refused to let her good  red chenille divan go naked. In fact, few surfaces in her formal parlor (it was once just a front bedroom in a previous life) were without their fancy coverings. She had made a couple of them herself, but most were tatted by a great grandmother long ago. So prodigious were these doilies, Minerva had earned her own special nickname that worked perfectly with her lead-footed acceleration treatment of The Fart: “Auntie McGasser”. The old biddies at Tinsey’s (pronounced with a long “i”) beauty shop thought their pet name for Minerva had escaped her notice, but she had 20/20 hearing in both ears. However, ignoring them was easier than confrontation;  Minerva knew they were secretly jealous of the intricate lace-work heirloom collection.

Being childless, the McGassicks kept to themselves. There was one nephew who lived up near Amarillo, but his last and only visit was as an infant years ago. He was Mack’s kin, and Minerva didn’t even feel a need to include him in the will. The years were piling up and the thought of strange people digging through her house was upsetting. Likely, her treasures and the Dart would be tossed to a rummage sale for the school or the Baptist Church. Degrading. Unthinkable.

The back of the old shed hid a large metal drum of kerosene, the ancient painted logo and warnings all flaked and faded.  Typical of anything Mack was once responsible for,  it had been there for a coon’s age – weeds grown up around the barrel like a cheap Hawaiian grass skirt. But the drum was made of the same strong American steel as the Dodge; showing no signs of leakage and standing solid against the elements. Minerva was counting on it when the time was right for disposing of her earthly adornments: automobile, antimacassars, flesh and bone – all would be reduced together, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

It would require some planning and more careful timing than a new Toni hair permanent, but Minerva – the Driver of Darts, Suffering Wife of Mack, Goddess of  Invention and Small-town Prowess, deserved no less of a funeral pyre than any Viking queen. The townsfolk would stand as close as they could for the best viewing, hands deflecting the fierce heat while the volunteer fire department fumbled with too-short hoses and a lack of water pressure. Big sooty flakes of Minerva’s substantial flesh intertwined with tatted smoldering lace, metallic chips of faded tan paint, and tiny flecks of old chrome would float twinkling into the night sky.

No more perfect departure imaginable, thought Minerva, “Auntie McGasser, indeed”.


Back In The Saddle Again!

Welcome ya’ll – old saddle tramps and new.  I’ve missed blogging and those special connections that make the world more interesting and colorful.  The old site has been taken down, although I have saved some of my favorite posts that might get a repost here from time to time.  Kman and I are still in Texas, traveling the backroads and discovering those little out of the way places we love. Come along with me, and I’ll buy the first round of Shiners!