Roses in December

Roses in December

“God gave us our memories so that we might have roses in December”. J.M Barrie

He was “Uncle Zeb” to his friends and neighbors, “Papa” to his children and grandchildren. A good steward of his land, Papa lived as harmoniously as one man can with nature. Peanut farmers from miles around would come to hear his horticultural wisdom, much more valuable than any almanac. The sun was his taskmaster; he rose early before Sol could catch him a slumber, and went to bed with the last fingers of light still streaking across the low horizon. It’s been said he could work magic with rain; sitting patiently on his front porch stoop silently coaxing angry clouds to loosen their tears upon his fields then returning indoors when his vigilance was rewarded.

The Old Home Place in 2003

He raised his family in the old homestead; no indoor plumbing or electricity. In the late 40’s his son-in-law and a grandson built a new house for Papa and Mama just a half-mile or so from the old place. Mama moved up right away -the luxury of water at the easy turn of a faucet handle instead of a cranky hand pump a most welcomed gift. Papa sat it out for three weeks, refusing to budge from the place he knew as home. Late one evening, just about dark-thirty, Mama saw him slowly walking up the dirt lane, an ancient trunk filled with his few belongings hoisted on his shoulder and a look of stubborn pride in his face. Whether it was from loneliness or the lack of hot supper, the old fella had moved to the offending new abode. Some things wouldn’t change – Papa thought having a toilet indoors was heathen and unclean thus took his daily constitutionals in the outhouse by the mule barn.

In 1947, Papa planted a red rose bush just off the edge of the front porch, his one frivolous gardening concession. Like his peanuts and his orchard, it thrived in the sandy soil.

Papa and his roses in 1963

Years have passed and the clouds have no more magic; Stagg cemetery has grown with headstones and families are rejoined under the same loam that once provided their sustenance. The new place is now in as much dishevel as the old homestead; plaster falling from the ceiling, birds roosting in the top of an old lamp, and deer sleeping in the tall weeds of the once neatly mowed front lawn. An ancient pear tree still bears a few small fruits and the berry vines struggle through the briars. No Sleeping Beauty here, just the land’s remembrance of its once more cultivated self.

A couple of weeks ago, Kman and I spied something bright red up near the front porch of the “new place”. Gingerly, we made our way through the hip-high weeds and patches of poison oak. A lone rose blossom was bravely clinging to a spindly stalk, stretching towards the few rays of sun that found a way to shine through the overgrowth. Taking a sharpshooter from the back of the Expedition, Kman very gently dug up the rose bush, keeping as much of the dirtball around the roots as he could. Driving back to Cowtown, we planted it in our backyard garden next to the antique fence railing on the upper terrace. With a little dose of Miracle Grow for Roses and a lot of kind words, we are hoping to keep this small memory of Kman’s grandparents alive. Perhaps a tiny spark of that magical farming spirit remains deep within the tough fibers of the old rose and we will be successful in our transplant attempt, much as Mama was those many years ago with Papa.

When the blossoms come again, I will remember the hardscrabble life these people lived and the image of a late afternoon when Papa trudged the path to the new house with a trunk on his shoulder and a begrudged acceptance of change.

Truly, He’s No Fool

Long ago I blogged regularly and had a terrific bunch of online friends who were brilliant and a joy to communicate with.  I occasionally run across some of them in the blogosphere. I am delighted to see my old friend, Fool in the Forest, is still blogging slogging away.

Love his poem, “Vitriel”

So many things have changed in the gap years of my blogging; life turns on a dime still.



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!