Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Short Short Story

While driving to the ranch one afternoon with Evan he looked off into the brush and noticed the crumbling remains of the old Benavides Oil Company. What is left of it was reclaimed by the brush a long time ago.

"What's that," he asked, pointing to an old pump house.

"They used to process oil here a long time ago," I said. He did not know what that meant, but was satisfied nonetheless with the answer and quickly turned his attention to something else.

His curiosity got me to thinking about Benavides and the better times it once enjoyed. I wrote this short story just to exercise my imagination. The premise came from an article I read online sometime back.
Made Me A Living

As far as towns go, Electra was fading fast. A far cry from being a tourist stop as one could imagine on the sun-scorched plains of northwest Texas, every now and then someone would pull in to the One Stop to fill up their tank, walk in to pay, then ask the clerk behind the counter, "What's that our there?" They'd be moving their hands up and down.

"They're pump jacks, missy. Just pump jacks."

Old Tom always knew what they wanted to ask long before they stepped into the One Stop. Tom was a retired oil field supplier who furnished many of the old oil company's pump jacks back in the day. He'd always thought the town ought to have put up a pump jack museum of sorts so curious folk could pull off the road and inform themselves, instead of asking at the One Stop. It was not so much that he minded answering the same question time after time, it was just that it got old after a while.

Old Tom and a formidable group of retirees spend the better part of the morning drinking coffee at the One Stop, so when the curious stopped by he was close and ready with the answer. Once informed, invariably the next line of questioning would be, "What are they for? What is it they do? Why are there so many of them?"

"They're just pump jacks, missy," he'd say if the curious happened to be female. He used "sonny" if they weren't. Anyone younger than Tom's eighty was a sonny. "They're just pump jacks, missy. They suck up oil out of the ground, is all."

Like the mesquite trees that dotted the landscape, the pump jacks were a permanent fixture. Most of the locals paid little or no attention to them. Passers-by did, however, and Tom thought their number was growing.

"More reason the town ought to put up a museum is what I think."

When the accidental tourists inquired at the One Stop about the profusion of pump jacks, naturally, they'd ask the clerk behind the counter, but the youngsters employed there knew little to nothing about them. They lacked the background and experience of the oil field that their fathers and grandfathers had before them. The oil patch wasn't what it used to be when Tom was in his prime. Electra had fallen on lean times. Production levels had dropped steadily since the seventies. Oil was no longer king and the youths enjoyed no sense of connection between the town and its history in shaping the oil business in that part of the country.

"The pump jacks are monuments ..."

Old Tom wouldn't wait for the kid behind the counter to say a word. From his place in the booth he'd bellow out proudly, "The pump jacks are monuments of perpetual motion, monuments to our heritage." Tom had borrowed that line form an old Life Magazine article he'd read back in the 60s and claimed it as his own and repeated it often when the opportunity arose. If the party seemed interested, he'd add, "Electra's the pump jack capital of Texas."

He'd turn back to his group and his coffee, quietly stare into his cup and with lament in his gravelly voice pronounce, "Oil was king in these parts. Yes, sir. Oil was king."

The oft-repeated remark would be followed with a round of yes sirs, you bets and it sure wases, by the old men seated, the inquiring tourist soon forgotten.

Tom would take a sip of the coffee and through the window at the One Stop look out at the plains and remember, "Pump jacks made me a living. Yes, sir. Made me a living."

Monday, March 30, 2009

In or Out

A few yards outside my office window a heavy-equipment crew was working the dry sun-baked ground. They were preparing for a new fence on the company's southern perimeter. The temperature was in the high nineties, but the humidity was low by South Texas standards. A person could stand outside comfortably, provided they did not move too much and were willing to brave the swirls of fine dust the wind kicked up. Every surface, flat or otherwise, is covered in a fine layer of the stuff. The air smelled of it.

Funny, I wanted to be outside with those guys. I wanted to take in the natural air. I wanted to feel the breeze on my sweaty skin. I wished to stand under the sparse shade of the mesquites. I wanted to exert brute force with my chest, arms and legs against seemingly immovable objects. I wanted the sun to bathe my back and shoulders. Men like that could enjoy their breakfast tacos of bacon and egg and never give a thought to their waistlines. That sort of work burns calories. I sit at a keyboard most of the day.

What is odd is that I am certain those same men laboring in the heat probably imagine being in the cool clean comfort of our office building and working in the company of perfumed ladies. That's crazy. When we are in, we want out. And when we are out, we want in. The soul is insatiable.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Political Sunday

Today was such a nice bright sunny day in this part of the country, but there is an ominous dark cloud approaching from just over the political horizon in the direction of Washington. God have mercy on America. The politicians don't know we even exist down here in the borderlands, nor do they care, but what they thoughtlessly dictate from their ivory towers affects us profoundly here in the hinterland.

Alan Lee Keyes is an American conservative political activist, author and former U.S. diplomat.

-B.A.Government Affairs, Harvard (1972)

-PhD Government Affairs, Harvard (1979)

-3rd Degree, Knights of Columbus

-State Department's Policy Planning Staff (1981)

-United Nations Ambassador (1983-85)

-Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations (1985-87)

-Ambassador to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations

-National Security Council-American Enterprise Institute (1987)

-President of Alabama A&M University (1991)

-syndicated radio show (1990s)

-television political commentator

-Presidential candidate 1996, 2000, 2008

How does this resume measure up against that of the "community organizer" from Chicago?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

In Real Time

Ronda is on Continental Airlines Flight 7 from Houston to Tokyo. Technology makes it possible to track her flight in real time from your home computer. We have come a very long way since the days of Christopher Columbus. The folks at fboweb.com and Google Earth have partnered to offer this amazing application. Ronda's flight is identified as COA7 in these graphics.

After Marissa's phone call from Ikego yesterday, and today with Ronda jetting off back to her family in Yokota, the small longing for Japan that I nurse in my heart swelled up just a bit.

A few days before leaving Benavides Ronda posted a personal reflection of her 3-week visit to her hometown. It is honest, at times sharp, and tinged with a shade of sentiment. Click HERE to read.

This technology is simply too amazing.

Friday, March 27, 2009

It's A Small World

It is TGIF and after work we are on the road to Kingsville. Melba's cellphone rings. It is Marissa, a good friend and former school co-worker of hers from the Yokosuka days. The time is 5:30 p.m., but at that instant Marissa's watch reads 7:30 a.m. on Saturday. She is calling from her home in Ikego, Japan. The world is indeed a small place.

Marissa misses us and I miss her and all things Japanese. She makes it a point to remind us to make an effort to pay her a visit and that as long as she is there we have a place to stay. She is wonderful.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Encantado de la Vida

Estoy encantado con mi nueva vida. Es la clase de libertad que siempre he querido. Que lindo trabajo me encuentro cada dia de la semana y le doy diario las gracias a Dios.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Open Borders

These days when news of the law chasing down a truck or van filed with illegals hits the papers or the airwaves the story hardly raises an eyebrow. The border with Mexico has become so porous that it surprises no one that the situation is out of control. There is real danger to life and property these days when it comes to illegals coming through this part of the country. What to do?

Call la migra. That's how César Chávez handled them. The following is taken from a March 30, 2005 article in the San Diego Union-Tribune by Ruben Navarrette, Jr.

"Despite the fact that Chávez is these days revered among Mexican-American activists, the labor leader in his day was no more tolerant of illegal immigration than the Arizona Minutemen are now. Worried that the hiring of illegal immigrants drove down wages, Chávez – according to numerous historical accounts – instructed union members to call the Immigration and Naturalization Service to report the presence of illegal immigrants in the fields and demand that the agency deport them. UFW officials were even known to picket INS offices to demand a crackdown on illegal immigrants.

And in 1973, in one of the most disgraceful chapters in UFW history, the union set up a "wet line" to prevent Mexican immigrants from entering the United States. Under the guidance of Chávez 's cousin, Manuel, UFW members tried at first to convince the immigrants not to cross. When that didn't work, they physically attacked the immigrants and left some bloody in the process."

Navarrette calls the incident "disgraceful," but what is actually disgraceful is how poorly our government has worked to secure our border to the south. Those of us who live down here suffer the consequences of this disgrace.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Mas Cervesa Por Favor

We have so little out here in the sticks. One of my few comforts is talk radio. Sometimes, however, there is a problem. If I want to listen to sports radio I will look for it, but I don't appreciate having it shoved in my ear. That is one beef I have with local commercial radio. If I happen to be driving on long stretches of South Texas highways I prefer to tune in to talk radio. It is informative, thought-provoking, and most certainly entertaining. I find the discussion of current events more substantial than listening to a couple of wannabe jocks carrying on about some steroid-laden slugger's batting stats.

In the middle of talk radio programming these stations are pulling the rug out from under one demographic of listeners, slamming the door in their collective face. In the blink of an eye they switch to a sports format to draw in a totally different audience. Where is the sense in this? Is it the advertising dollars, the testosterone, or the vicarious nature of some self-professed sports experts in a broadcast booth?

I think it's the money. It is always the money. I suppose the sports radio audience purchases more beer than does the talk radio crowd.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Time On My Hands

One of my co-workers brought out a great photograph of themselves at the last company Christmas party. Having yet to come aboard the organization, all that was missing from the picture was me, but I took care of that with some help from Photoshop and a little time on my hands.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


My wife bought a hanging basket of verbenas. Their bright lavender blooms cast everything around in a more lively light. Hanging it from a hook on our porch I then poured water on it to replenish the moisture in the pot. The initial shock of Benavides water on its root system was a concern.

Bottled water? That got me to thinking. Had someone told me thirty years ago that my personal drinking water would be 100% store-bought I would have said, "I don't think so. It won't happen." Today, the only water I drink that doesn't come from a bottle is from the ranch well. I will gulp that down right out a garden hose. It is that good. It is that sweet. I cannot remember the last time I drank a glass of water out of the tap here in town. The only time I drink water that has come from a tap is when I'm out of town in a city that is noted for its exceptional drinking water.

As far as I am concerned, drinking bottled water is a health issue. This town, Benavides, has the foulest water supply in the area. Holding a glass full up to the light tells the whole story. It is murder on house plumbing. It shortens the life of water heaters, kitchen and bathroom faucets, and probably the kidneys. It stains your clothes. It is difficult for any kind of soap to lather up. Worst of all, it leaves hard water spots on your vehicle after a wash that are difficult to buff out once dried.

The taste? Awful. I feel sorry for the cats and dogs in town and I pray for the people who have to drink the stuff.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

El Sereno

Early this morning the fog reminded me of how a milky white veil works magic on the face of a once-young beauty. The veil works to hide the tiny lines around the mouth, nose, and corners of the eyes. It masks the imperfections and acts to make her appear more mysterious and alluring. The fog that the rising sun worked to shine through this morning was like a veil, masking our little town, hiding its flaws. For a short while this morning Benavides was beautiful until the magic of the fog lifted.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Talent On Loan

This kid can draw very well. He is six and he stays inside the lines when he is at work with his Crayolas. I enjoy watching the look of concentration on his face. Drawing is serious business for a six-year-old. For him it means time, labor, and accomplishment and I will encourage it at every opportunity. A mind like that will never say that "there is nothing to do," or "I'm bored." It is amazing how a child can take a set of crayons and capture a moment. Even more amazing is the story that is depicted in his work. The narrative he spins from pointing to the scenes in his drawing is a wonderful thing to hear. It is a miracle that dispels any notions that there is no God.

I should have had the initiative to have saved all his previous drawings and colorings. A treasure like that ought to have been preserved. I will not make that mistake again.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Media Bias

If anyone but he would have made that remark it would have been the lead story on the news for days and "they" would not be satisfied with an apology. They would be calling for his resignation.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Towns, like People, Die

Small towns die. Just as people do, they live their lives, fade away, and die. Benavides has been in decline for as long as I can remember; its life slowly ebbing away. The old-timers mark the beginning of the decline to two events; one, the end of the oil boom in the early fifties, and two, the extension of U.S. Route 59 from Freer to Laredo. The new highway provided a more direct route from points east along the Texas gulf coast to the markets in Laredo and Mexico beyond the Rio Grande, thus bypassing tiny Benavides. The shift in highway traffic and the bust of the oil field are a fact, but certainly other factors played a role in the town's slow demise.

In this and many other places great and small of the United States Southwest, the post World War II generation of Latino war veterans came home and vigorously stressed the education of their children. Their efforts paid off. In pursuit of better lives and more lucrative opportunities, their children left their tiny hometowns in pursuit of the American Dream; many to a degree their fore-bearers could only have begun to imagine. That exodus of brain power left a void that could not be replenished. Brain drain will kill a town as sure as a gashed artery will bleed the life out of a person.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

No Muero de Hambre

Should one day I be discovered dead at work, I guarantee it will not be due to starvation. Depending on the week, the autopsy will reveal evidence of bacon and egg taquitos, biscuits, doughnuts, empanadas, slices of cake of every description, candied apples, chocolate-covered strawberries, nuts of all varieties, enough candy to fill an army of piñatas, chips big and small, too many carbonated drinks, tasty strips of beef jerky, I had some sushi once, and lots and lots of Folger's coffee. But if you walk in and find me alive and well, you will not hear me complaining. Just pass the hot sauce.


I was teased for not wearing green today.
My response...
"The day I see merry throngs of the Irish dance to "Viva Jalisco" down 5th Avenue on the Upper East Side on el Cinco de Mayo, then I will be more than happy to adorn myself as green as a pea."

Monday, March 16, 2009


Personally, Texas State Highway 339 is comparable to Route 66. It is my Mother Road. Its length is dotted with gems of memory stretching back from my early childhood to the present. A leisurely cruise on Old 339 through the rolling brush country jars loose both fond and bitter recollections. Like rosary beads bumping along -- slowly slipping between thumb and forefinger in prayer, the memories are nudged to consciousness

It was designated in 1941 as the highway from Freer to a point ten miles south of Benavides, a distance of approximately 34 miles. It was extended in 1954 to its present configuration with its southward extension reaching a point midway between Falfurrias and Hebbronville on Texas State Highway 285. Today it runs 45 miles in length.

Much of the terrain along the route is covered by sparsely populated ranch country. 339 is completely contained in Duval County, Texas. It is as familiar to me today as was the well-worn path to my grandparent's outhouse two generations ago. I could find my way to that nasty thing in pitch-black night in order to take care of business. That is probably why I never learned to be scared of the dark.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Dog House

This post is directed at my siblings. They are the only souls on this good earth who will appreciate its significance.

The old Dog House has been uprooted and relocated to a wooded spot by the Lake. The powers-that-be of the Agua Poquita West Corporation had planned to demolish this familiar ranch icon to make way for improvements on the property where it sat, but James Miller saw value, or perhaps a little sentiment, in the old oil field relic and stepped in to save it.

It now rests six-tenths of a mile east and south from where it sat for probably more than seventy years. It is pretty much empty, but I did find where Dad had scrawled his name on a wall God-knows-how-long-ago. Had he been standing next to me and seeing what I was seeing he would have said something along these lines. "Nomás los recuerdos quedan."

A Walk in the Brush

You cannot simply park a kid in front of a television and expect their little brain to grow in knowledge and experience. Our brains are not wired that way. Each of the five senses has to be engaged regularly. That is how it works all of our lives and it is important that the mind of a six-year-old be occupied in this manner. The right kind of television is wonderful, but its value is limited. Evan and I went for a walk in the woods today to exercise a little of our muscle and a bit more of our gray matter.

Our hike took us down a creek bed. It has a smell all its own. We experienced a black snake slithering and then swimming across a muddy pond, a barn owl swooping low over our heads before coming to rest high on a tree limb , a paisano making a quick dash across our field-of-vision, a couple of tom turkeys scurrying for cover, covies of quail exploding before our approaching steps, the yelps of coyotes echoing through the creek, birds of every description, their chirps and calls filling the air, the soles of our shoes mashing small smooth stones, producing a unique pebbly ring. Evan came upon the top of a buck's white skull; the eight points of its antlers still attached. It was a great adventure for him.

I did not want to tell him, but I wanted to say the hours we spent exploring the brush was time better spent than watching hours of Sponge Bob. But then, he is such a big fan of that silliness. In the long run he will figure out for himself which experience was better and which worked to build life-long memories.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

From Here to Eternity

"From Here to Eternity" was on cable today. I always drop what I am doing to watch it. This classic is in my DVD collection, but that does not prevent me from watching it if it is on TV. Of course, it reminds me of our trips to Hawaii.

The last time my wife and I vacationed in Hawaii was June 2001. This time around I expressly wanted to step foot on the deck of the historic battleship U.S.S. Missouri anchored in Pearl Harbor. We'd been to the islands twice before so this visit was primarily one of total relaxation; no hula shows, helicopter tours, dinner cruises, or hikes across lava fields. We spent a good bit of the time sunning ourselves on Waikiki Beach.

Back in 1993 we stayed at the Outrigger Reef Hotel. It's a great location; right on the beach with a wonderful view that stretches to Diamond Head. We opted to stay there again in 2001. In the evenings they had live shows in the lobby. This was good because we did not care to hop around Honolulu in the evening looking for a good restaurant. We were there for escape and total relaxation. I only wished the beaches in Hawaii were like those in Mexico. As you soak up the rays on the beach there, a cabana boy makes certain the drinks keep coming.

... I am only a tourist on vacation in paradise.

On each visit I've always made it a point visit a little beach immortalized by Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in Fred Zinnemann's film adaptation of James Jones' novel "From Here to Eternity." Deservedly, it took the Oscar for Best Picture of 1953, the year of my birth. When I've stood there on the sand, with the sound of crashing waves in my ears, for a fleeting moment I am 1st Sgt. Milton Warden having my way with Karen Holmes. Ah, to dream. But with the next crash of waves I am brought back to the real world and I am soberly reminded that I am only a tourist on vacation in paradise.

Friday, March 13, 2009

I Love Tortillas

One thing I miss about my childhood years is suppertime. The ritual, as we practiced it, no longer exists in today's homes. Back then we did not "graze" like cattle all day, nibbling on snacks. There were not any. Instead, the family observed a set meal time and supper was the best. Mom would be busy in the kitchen. I remember the glazed navy blue platter she served her delicious tortillas on. She would stack them high. Sometimes she would bury a small coaster-sized tortilla at the bottom of the stack. It was made from the last of the tortilla dough. We were permitted to take our places at the dinner table, but out of deference to the man-of-the-house, we did not reach for any food until Dad had washed, been seated, and had served himself. Then it was every man for himself. Dad's place was at the head of the table, and as was the custom, Mom ate last. Supper was a good time.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

La Lluvia

"La lluvia del cielo no es triste. Solo nos recuerda que debemos seguir viviendo."
I heard this adage somewhere, sometime, someplace... the moment escapes me, but its angelic poetry stayed with me. I cannot forget it.

Ol' Nick Cantu's rosary was celebrated tonight. I met up with some good people there; a handful whom I had not seen in forty years. We all loved Nick and never was there a more noble or genial spirit. The simple goodness of the man was on everyone's lips this evening. We should all be so well-considered when our time comes.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Promise of Rain

It had been too long since my nose was treated to the distinct cool smell of damp earth that precedes a rain. It is a wonderful sensation that has a peculiar sweetness. It makes you feel new and fresh. That distinctive smell has a name. It is petrichor. A couple of Australian researchers named Bear and Thomas coined the word back in 1964 in an article they contributed to Nature, the prestigious science journal. They took the Greek word petros, meaning "stone", and paired it with ichor, "the gods' blood", to name the scent of rain on dry earth. That sounds pretty romantic. Wish I had thought of it first.

This is how the two explained it.
"...the smell derives from an oil exuded by certain plants during dry periods, whereupon it is absorbed by clay-based soils and rocks. During rain, the oil is released into the air along with another compound, geosmin, producing the distinctive scent. The oil works to retard seed germination and early plant growth."
Pretty smart fellows.

With a cold front blowing through this evening the promise of rain is strong. God knows we need it. It is going to take a downpour worthy of Noah to break this drought. But, rain or no rain, the scent was welcome. The article in Wikipedia went on to describe the smell as especially strong during the first rain after a long dry spell in desert regions. I guess we are in a desert now. What with climate change and all that s#!+, that must be the case. Generations ago gringos called this contested strip of land between the Rio Grande and Nueces rivers the "Wild Horse Desert." Today the wild horses are gone, but the cast of the desert remains.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Measure of a Man

Pictured above is Evan Ray, my 6-year-old friend, happily washing my mom's car from end-to-end.

A kid learns by doing. And in doing, he begins tracking in the footsteps of a man. A real man, a man who counts and has worth is a man who works. And a true man is measured by the quality of his work. It all begins for a boy by doing.

My dad may not have articulated this truth in the King's English, but his sons got the point. He was the ideal model of this philosophy. I was lucky as a boy.

Monday, March 9, 2009

El Pueblo

About the only sight that is minimally attractive to the eye when I pull away from the parking lot at work are the whitewashed walls of the old Cash Store and the Faria's stylish concrete fence that separates its owner's property from Highway 359. That only happens when the light falling on them is just right. From a distance the concrete wall comes off like rows of white caps rolling onto a non-existent beach that would spread out just about where the old boarded-up Cash Store now stands. For an instant my brain flashes me an image of the island of Santorini. Everything is whitewashed there.

In all our travels my wife and I have yet to set foot on the Greek island, but there is still time. I am only 55 and she is younger still. The attractiveness of the whitewash effect is only good when the angle of the sun is high, after the lunch hour. It does not last long though, just like the post card image that flashes in my mind. It sounds peculiar to make the absurd connection to that exotic rock in the Adriatic Sea. I let out a lot of rope for my imagination to run with. It trots freely for hours before I rein it in. But then, I always leave the corral gate open.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

God Have Mercy

There is no ambulance service in Benavides, Texas. God have mercy on us and pray that He clear the highway to San Diego because that is from whence comest our help.

This afternoon a long-time family friend and his wife were visiting with us at the Ranch when suddenly his arms went limp and dropped by his side right where he sat. His eyes closed and then he bent forward at the waist, his chin coming to rest on his chest; his whole body trembling mildly. The old man appeared to be weeping, or so it seemed. Standing at his side I reached down and placed my hands on his shoulders to comfort him.

"Nick, are you all right?" A minute before he was saying to us how increasingly difficult it was becoming to care for his wife. She suffered from Alzheimer's. Anyone could tell it was very trying for him. The stress and burden were evident in the tone of his conversation. He was 87 years old.

"Nick? Nick?" I gently patted his shoulder a couple of times with my hand. ¿Que te pasa, Nick?"

He said nothing. Instead, I saw that he was beginning to drool profusely and shaking more. The man was suffering a seizure. This was not good. The nearest ambulance was in San Diego, twenty-one miles from where this drama was taking place.

Mom said it almost before I could think it. "Call 9-1-1."

The time was 4:44 p.m. Amazingly, at 5:11 p.m., like angels descending from Heaven in answer to prayer, two EMTs had arrived and were rendering aid. God was merciful to our old friend, Nick, but we who choose to live and remain here are in dire straits without an ambulance service. I pray that God has a steady supply of guardian angels standing guard over this parched country.

(God called our dear friend home around noon the next day. Descansa en paz, Nick.)

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Que Lindos Pies

God did not bless me with Hollywood good looks, but He did give me great feet. They serve me well. No corns, fungus, or calluses and they operate perfectly with or without footwear. I am very happy with them and in the long run the latter will do me more good than the former. My feet never tire. I can stand on them for hours. They don't perspire much. I can't complain. Too bad I can't include them in my organ donor card. I think they will outlast me.

Friday, March 6, 2009

El Frutero

He sells good fruits and vegetables; better than what we can get at H.E.B. or Wal-Mart. And business must be good in town for the vendor, a grandfatherly man nearing seventy. Short, but stout, his strong arms and barrel chest point to decades of physical labor-- a lifetime of honest work. For years he has been faithfully plying his produce on this sliver of real estate off the main drag. Except for the heat laved on him from the sun-baked pavement, his is a enviable trade.

At the start of his day he pulls into what will be the shady side of the old establishment. Its concrete slab and the steps climbing up to it serve as his store front. In the blistering hours post noon it will be a cool ninety in that shade. He drops the pickup's tailgate and sets out his boxes of goods in orderly rows. The more delicate of the fruits and vegetables he lays in the shade underneath the awning that appears as though it will collapse with the next gust of hot dry wind.

He takes the gallon jug of water that's been sitting on the floor of the floor of the truck cab and sets down just underneath the building. There is a cool draft of air down there in the crawl space; cool enough to keep the water tolerable for drinking in the course of the day. He will not waste his profits on a cold bottled drink from the store a couple of blocks away. He is here to make money, not to squander it away on something cold and sweet. The water will quench his thirst just as well.

A palo blanco he parked under is flush with new leaves. Spring does not officially begin for another three weeks, but the trees do not know that. The shade will be welcome. His merchandise is only a few short steps from the U.S. Post Office ensuring a steady stream of potential customers. God in His heaven is benevolent, he thinks to himself. He sighs a prayer of thanks as he locks eyes with his first customer coming up the walk. It will be another good day for el frutero.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

You Look Familiar

Even under normal circumstances the brain is a funny thing, but the brain suffering from Alzheimer's is truly bizarre. Longtime friends of the family came by the ranch to visit with Mom one day; good folks I've known all my life. They're in their eighties and his wife is afflicted with Alzheimer's.

We step outside to greet them as they drive up. We had seen their familiar Chevy pickup approach from a distance. I walk around to the passenger side to help her exit the vehicle and as I take her hand she looks straight into my eyes and says, "You look familiar."

I introduce myself and she responds by proclaiming her maiden name."Yo soy Garza. Nena Garza." She does the same with Mom and my older brother.

Taking in the pleasant surroundings at the ranch she reacts as though it was her first visit when in fact she has been there many times in the past. "Esta tan tranquilo aqui, muy agradable." (It's so peaceful here, so pleasant.) Mom smiles politely in agreement and says that she enjoys it too.

We moved over to the screened porch where we could sit to talk and enjoy the cool afternoon breeze. Mom was inquiring about their grown children, focusing on their oldest, Irma. On hearing the name his wife says, "Que curioso. Yo tabien tenjo una hija que se llama Irma." (How peculiar. I, too, have a daughter named Irma.)

A few minutes later she says, "Esta tan tranquilo aqui, muy agradable." Mom smiles and again agrees.

Turning to everyone again she says, "Yo soy Garza. Nena Garza." Then she looks at me and says, "You look familiar."

For the next hour, while normal conversation took place amongst us, she repeated this pattern off and on until her husband, the old family friend, announced that it was time to leave. I hate Alzheimer's.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


The ground is so dry and hard a rancher cannot drive t-posts into the ground. How hard is that? There is so little moisture in the soil even the drought-resistant mesquites look "triste".

This is March when the dry winds only work to draw the moisture out of living things, and April is not known for abundant rains. May is still seven weeks away. We are in serious trouble.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


I work for a fine local outfit in the home health industry, and the whole blessed day I am surrounded by equally fine people. Today our fine organization grew even 'finer' with the addition of a young man named Julio Briseño. In an estude business decision the company placed this talented fellow on the payroll to serve as the resident technician.

Julio is a graduate of Laredo Community College and is a Cisco-trained network specialist. What an excellent human resource. I hope to glean a lot of valuable tech information from this fellow. My life just got better at work.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Cookie Monster

A thick spread of cold refried beans in the fold of a hot tortilla is the food of the gods, and for dessert it must be chocolate chip cookies. What a treat. Of all the fundraisers school kids participate in, the cookie dough sale is the best. It tops T-shirts, mugs, raffles, candy, etc. There is a good bit of frozen cookie dough in our freezer right now. A freshly baked chocolate cookie enjoyed indoors when the weather is cold outside makes the stomach glad. The problem is there was no winter season this year and the odds of a cold day in the near future are nil. The box of dough was only taking up space in the freezer so I pulled some out of the box, spread it out on a cookie sheet and baked them at 350°F for fifteen minutes. After they cooled I nearly ate them all. I am the cookie monster.

Happy Birthday Danny

Today my youngest brother turned 44. He was a great little kid growing up and today is an equally great guy growing "upper". Happy birthday, Danny.

I can remember taking the picture above when he was about five. Dad had come in from work one hot afternoon and the water in Danny's little pool looked so inviting that the ol' man stripped to his briefs and plopped in to rinse the day's dust off.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Burn Ban

For five counties in any direction the country is a tinderbox. We must be in God's good graces because we are only one wayward spark away from going up in flames like Nero's Rome. Any plume of smoke on the horizon is cause for concern. We have suffered under drought conditions before but never has the country been so fueled with tall dry grass and equally dry brushy undergrowth. It would be inadvisable to burn trash in ranch pits right now, but it is evident that it is being done regularly. We are fortunate to be in the middle of a one-acre track with not so much as a bush in it.