Sunday, December 12, 2010

Tacho Mercado Enterprises

My older brother's brief account of our maternal grandfather's enterprises.

Tacho owned and operated a small beer joint in Concepcion, Texas. The structure was just a stone's throw from his house. It was nothing fancy, just a few tables, cold beer and sodas, a jukebox, a pool table, a small selection of salty snacks and lots of large wall calendars picturing lusty women, bullfighters, and other manly interests. No women patronized the place, though. I never saw one, but then, I was only allowed in there during the day.

The beer joint took up only a small corner of the establishment. Years before, my grandparents had operated a small grocery store, meat market, gas station and picture show in the building. When one-by-one the enterprises went bust, the seats to the movie house were removed, set along the walls, and the place became a popular dance hall. Tacho was an enterprising soul. Otherwise, most of the building sat vacant. It was a great place for me to explore.

In the backroom of the beer joint, we'd dust off empty beer bottles and place them in thick sturdy cardboard containers that held twelve bottles each. These, Tacho redeemed when the beer vendor stopped on his rounds.

I never realized a monetary profit for my assistance, but I did get my fill of soft drinks, ice cream cones and Fritos from the establishment. Summers were good there. I would have those days again.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Fall of 73

One hot Thursday in the summer of 1973, Danny broke his arm. He describes that day at Las Lagunas corrals as "pleasant, 98 degrees or so." Cattle were going to be separated with calls of "keeper" and "sell it" that weekend and the operation called for the pens and driving chute to be in good working order. Dad, Dick Shimer and a 15-year-old Ricky were replacing broken and rotted boards in the long running chute. The cutting gate had to be repeatedly swiveled to the open position to allow for the traffic materials in and out of the work area. Danny was managing as much help to the men as an 8-year-old could. He perched himself up on the gate's cutting deck to observe the activity. It was an education for the boy. To look down at the work the men performed offered him the opportunity to pick up good and practical knowledge. Presently, Danny claims to retain much of it.

He credits Ricky with one ill-fated idea that day. He suggested the task of manning the long handles of the cutting gate. The boy was roosted on the platform anyway. If he operated the heavy swing gate, those working below would not have to bother pushing it open every time they entered or exited the chute. Good little brother Danny, anxious to be a part of the work, agreed, wrapping his small hands around the bars that passed back and forth across the elevated platform he occupied.

The repairs proceeded uneventfully until Dick Shimer, on his way to fetch another 1x6-inch plank, pushed on the cutting gate. Not in sync with Dick, Danny pulled hard on the handle one way. Below, Dick pushed with much greater force in the opposite -- each unaware of the other's intention. Unwilling to relinquish his hold on the handle, Danny was pulled over the edge of the platform, falling about six feet. He landed on a board lying on the dusty corral earth. The impact caught his right arm between his small frame and the point of contact. Enraged by the mishap, he leapt to his feet, and took off after Ricky, thinking he was the culprit that forced him over. Danny caught sight of Ricky and began to chase him around Dad's work truck. After a couple of heated laps around the pickup Ricky got him to stop. He called to Dad and asked that he look at Danny's arm.

The three men stood there looking at the boy. (At 15, Danny considered Ricky a man. In his estimation, on a working ranch, a boy as young as 13 is doing a man-sized job.) Danny's forearm appeared bent like a Chiquita banana. It was broken. Dad drove him home. Danny suspects that Dad was more worried about how he was going to explain all this to Mom, than he was of his break.

After sharing the details with Mom, Dad loaded Danny into the red 1969 Chevy Nova, a two-door he had purchased from Gloria. He drove to Dr. Gonzalez' clinic in Benavides. The old physician said there wasn't much he could do other than wrap and tape a piece of cardboard around the forearm. He directed Dad to Alice P & S Hospital to have the boy's arm reset and cast in plaster. That would be the first of many unscheduled visits to Alice P & S Hospital for Danny in the years to come.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Lake - 1957

One spring day in 1957 Dad turned on his heel and stepped away from the spot where his young family was enjoying the cool of the afternoon. He wished to gain a broader perspective of the outdoor scene his loved ones were enjoying. In his mind, he had framed a picture. Making his way up the gentle grade, away from the earthen stock tank that was referred to as "the lake," he carried his Kodak Brownie. When he judged the distance satisfactory, he turned, surveyed the scene once more, then half bent at the waist. Cupping the camera in his hands, he brought it near his chest, focusing an eye into the prism viewfinder set atop the camera's body. Pleased with the composition he saw in the glass, he pressed on the shutter button with his right thumb. That simple action froze a fleeting moment in his young family's life.

For years the grainy black and white print lay sandwiched and forgotten in the aging sleeves of an old photo album. I had no memory of the image. It was one of thousands in the montage of Salas photos. An archiving project 53 years later brought it to light and the chasm of time separating the present from that afternoon long ago was bridged. Gently pinching a corner of the glossy three inch by three inch photo, studying it with reading glasses, the tiny figures on the print fascinated me. Until then, I had not realized it was us. The image moved me. I got misty-eyed. It pulled me in. I was transported to that time and to that place, standing in my father's shadow on that afternoon, seeing what he was seeing.

His appreciation of picture taking, both in front and in back of the camera was immeasurable. Beginning in the late 40s, his picture-taking efforts through the decades chronicled a collage of visual snippets that captured his growing family's life. The collection is telling and undoubtedly priceless to our parents' progeny.

In this picture by water's edge, the Salas squat, kneel, stand, and straddle a mother's hip; all seemingly in repose. You can easily imagine that Gloria has plucked white-pedaled daisies from off their stems and is watching them bob away after tossing them one by one on the water's surface. Humberto believes he may have a bite on his line. He has baited the hook with minnows that he worked hard to scoop up from the lake's shallows with a can. Esperanza is content clinging to mama. Mommy smells good. She likes watching her sister and her brother. They do interesting things. Mother is content with the world. Tano is a good provider; handsome and strong. Her children are beautiful and healthy. The future can only get better. She knows the promise of more babies lies ahead. Atilano Jr. stands alone. Humberto had cautioned him not to go near him or his fishing pole. The pointy fish hook will snag him if Humberto casts the line too far over his shoulder and he stands too close. He'll stay back to be safe. Gratified in the moment is Atilano, lording over this picture of serenity he has just snapped.

I think this is one of the best pictures Dad ever took. It shows me that I used to live in a corner of heaven and didn't even know it. That wonderful sliver of an earlier life is lost to me, but I still have the Kodak Brownie.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Kill of 1978 Illuminated

The storied Salas Family photo album holds one particularly bloody set of images snapped during the 1978 deer season. They chronicle the serendipitous conclusion of a hunter's foray in the brush country.

That morning, Dad, Ricky, Ovidio and Danny climbed into Ricky's new jeep. The four headed into the ranch interior. Winding south on the dirt road leading from the old Sinclair plant to the Herberger corrals, Dad asked to be dropped off at what he called H.L.'s blind (named that because the man had commissioned Dad to fabricate it from scratch and set it up in the brush). Because the boys were only going to make a quick round of the ranch, to the Pamoranas and back, Dad had no qualms being dropped off alone at that location. It was 8:30. The boys said they would pick him up on their way back. Two hours, they estimated.

Five hours ticked off before they returned from their "quick round" and pulled up to H.L.'s blind. Dad was sitting patiently underneath it. Off the ground, tied to the blind's framework were two good-sized javalinas. When the boys asked if that was all Dad had seen worthy of shooting, he said no, pointing to the brush. He said he had dropped a little deer on the sendero along the brushline. They walked over to the kill to find a very nice "little deer." Dad had bagged an 11-pointer with an 18-inch spread. Dressed out, the animal came to about 195 pounds by Danny's estimation.

Dad explained that he had tired of waiting for their return and was ready to walk home when he spotted a troop of javalina trailing along the sendero. For fun, and to kill time, he shot two in quick succession before they could scatter. He dragged his kills back to the blind and when he climbed back up to his perch he spotted the buck on the very ground the javalinas had been shot minutes earlier. He took aim and dropped the buck.

For many years, the exact time of each kill could be noted where Dad scrawled them with a ballpoint pen inside the blind. He penned l p.m. and 1:15 pm. Dad bagged these kills with a Marlin 30/30 presented to him for Christmas by his children.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Thirty Falls Ago

One fall morning in 1980 Dad drove up to the Peninsula/Miller Well #1. The ranch was blanketed in fog. "Una mañana baja" is how Dad would have put it. He discovered the well location quiet. It should not have been. Sometime in the last 24 hours the compressor had quit. Dad checked the machinery's vitals and attempted a restart. As he would soon learn, leaking natural gas had collected around the compressor during the overnight and early morning hours. When he pulled on the air starter handle to crank the compressor engine, an ignition spark touched off the natural gas. Instantly, the location was enveloped in a ball of fire with Dad at its center. Making a quick retreat from the flash area he recovered his wits, climbed into the pickup and headed for home. The adrenaline had temporarily numbed the effects of the burns to his face and arms. On the ranch road he met up with one of Joe McGuffin’s operators and asked him if he might have a balm or cream to apply to his burns. The operator took one look at Dad and suggested he would do better to go directly to a doctor. When Dad got home and walked into the house Mom looked at his scorched ragged shirt and asked what had happened. “Pos no miras que estoy quemado, mujer?” was his ingredulous response. Ignoring his protests, Mom insisted he climb into the gray Chevy S-10 so she could drive him to Dr. Gonzalez' office in town. Once there, the doctor could do little. The burns were too severe. They exited the small clinic and proceeded at 80 mph to Alice P&S Hospital, 26 miles away. She had never driven at such a speed. Dad was told that it was lucky he hadn't gasped for air at the instant of the explosion. Otherwise, he may have charred the tissue in his lungs.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Invest Some of the Profit

The last time I sat down to a well-done 16-ounce T-bone steak at Frank's Cafe was in May of 1991. Back in those days my wife and I used to tout the food and ambiance of this Hebbronville eatery to friends and family. Way back then, we treated a couple of friends of ours to steaks on that last visit. The four of us left disappointed. My jaw ached for three days from the savage mastication. That beef was tough.

Before last night's visit, I had not stepped foot in Frank's Cafe in nineteen years. On this occasion the food was palatable. The decor had faded somewhat over the years, but little of the interior had changed.  However, gone were the many witticisms scrawled by ol' Paco himself. Paco owned the place. He used a black Magic Marker to pen bold block lettering on 16 by 20 inch poster boards; tacking the finished product to the restaurant/beer joint's walls. Reading them helped pass the time while your order was prepared. Most probably, the old posters had succumbed to the years, the humidity and the silverfish. Sadly, somewhere in that 19-year time span, Paco had succumbed to old age.

Business was booming on this Saturday night. With the food and beer sales alone, that cash register drawer popped in and out like trick-or-treaters' little hands. The management would do well to invest some of the profits on the restroom facilities. We're talking third world conditions here. What the present proprietor tried to pass off as a urinal for the male patrons proved something of a minor challenge in the pissing arts for my five-foot-six frame. I almost had to employ the soda crate conveniently set on the floor to deliver the necessary angle of deposit. This was one nasty setup. These folks need to spend some money. Guys can rough it, but the ladies are an all-too-delicate matter all together.

On a more positive note, the live music was outstanding. The Palacios Brothers are one talented trio.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Classics in Concepcion

An undulating population center for over 130 years, Concepcion, Texas is fixed in the South Texas brush country like a grass burr on a blanket. Its name is all that remains of the Santa Cruz de Concepción land grant deeded to the haciendero Francisco Cordente by the Spanish Crown in another age so long ago. According to the census, when my father was a five-year old, 500 souls called this hamlet home. These days, a count of 60 would be optimistic.

My oldest brother first attended school there nearly sixty years ago. Sorting through bits and scraps of childhood memory, he can just piece together a role he performed in a school play organized by the small staff there. The details have faded like an old photo, but he can recall being driven 30 miles to San Diego for music lessons to prep for the performance. That was his first exposure to classical music. It made an impression. His admiration of the great composers took seed and remains with him to this day.

The little school in the white building? No more. As my dad used to say, "solo quedan los recuerdos."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Star

Atilano and Maria were fortunate to have their children attend the schools in Benavides, Texas. Mrs. Peña, the music teacher, was on the faculty to teach, enlighten and make a child's world more wonderful than they could imagine. In the Christmas season of 1955, Mrs. Hector Peña would stage a costume-fested Christmas program extraordinaire: and she continued to do so to the joy and benefit of all of Atilano and Maria's children. In this photo a beaming Gloria is constumed as a Christmas Star for her second grade class number in the program. She primps for the camera by the front screen door of her childhood home that stands only as a memory 55 years later.

Monday, October 25, 2010

My Parents

Of Easter Sunday, April 5, 1942, Mom says that she fell in love with Dad as soon as she set eyes on him. They spent that day together at an Easter outing. In those days the ranch communities around Concepcion, Texas customarily congregated in the shady mottes of elms along Concepcion Creek for holiday gatherings and such. The natural settings were ideal as cool picnic areas and for young romance.

My mother was 15 and my dad was 19.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Corona de San Diego

Leave nature to its own devices and in time it can beautify anything in this unattractive town.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Mandola Estate Winery

Looking south at the wooded hills from the gardens of the Mandola Estate Winery, it takes little effort to imagine that it's Tuscan ground your feet are standing on and not the Hill Country of Texas.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


I am writing a book of fiction. The effort is two-thirds done and requires my full attention for completion. This blog, "the new old life," is going on hiatus so I can focus my energies on my fiction. It is difficult to entertain the both, book and blog. It's much like trying to balance two love interests at the same time. Eventually, you're going to upset the both and be left empty-handed.

Should something exceptionally postworthy come up in the days and weeks to come I'll share it here.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Rubber Teat

After a few missteps in the thick mesquite mother and calf became separated. Survival for the little heifer now depends on the care and patience of the landowner and a plastic bottle tipped with a rubber teat.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Plenty to Eat

The county highways are so littered with roadkill that if the turkey vultures could piece together thoughts like humans they would call this summer "the season of plenty."

Thursday, July 15, 2010

High Definition

Slow to anger. That can be the only reason that a year and a half passed before I called for a Time-Warner tech to come see why our TV picture lacked high definition quality. It wasn't much trouble to resolve. A new set of RCA cables and tweaking the controls for a couple of minutes was all it took him. As a bonus, he programmed the remote to "do it all." Our second remote was retired to a drawer in the lamp table.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Too Much Pull

Al flojo lo ayuda Dios. The time is 5:30 p.m., an unforgiving sun hangs in the west, and nearly 28,000 square feet of real estate is thick with pesky grass burrs that have never known a day of thirst this growing season. They reach well above the ankles. It has to be mowed. The gas tank is filled, the engine is readied with three depressions of the rubber primer button, and all that remains is to hold down the starting lever with the left hand and to reach down for the pull cord with the right and perform a steady, but forceful, yank in the direction of my right hip.

SNAP! POW! slack...

The nylon cord comes away limp. Busted.  Al flojo lo ayuda Dios. The work stops before it begins. Por eso se hizo el mañana.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Slit of Light and a Monitor

The natural world is a small and silent place from behind his desk. Quality was not sacrificed on the narrow double-paned window that teases him with a muted glimpse of blue sky, cut grass, and the crinkled blooms of a lone crape myrtle. On the flat screen monitor mounted high on the wall twelve feet away, the clear color images of the same are mum too. The camera just outside the door is not equipped for sound. Busy with his work, hour after hour his eyes dart from the keyboard to the display, occasionally stealing a longing glance at the summer scene outside the walls that insulate him. Some days he is reminded of solitary confinement; only a slit of light and a monitor for comfort.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Faux Titanic

The last time Melba and I stood on the Grand Staircase of the faux RMS Titanic we were dressed like slobs; outfitted for manning the casino slots and touring The Strip. A year later we returned in more suitable attire so we could have our picture taken.

The Luxor Las Vegas has housed 'Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition' since 2008. The displays are fabulous.

This photograph of Titanic's original Grand Staircase comes courtesy of Francis Patrick Mary Browne. On the Titanic's final stop, before steering across the North Atlantic to the Port of New York, Browne stepped off at Queenstown, Ireland. In his possession were his priceless photos of the ill-fated ship's last days.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Summer Promise

"How do they make those lines?" The boy was looking up at a cloudless sky etched by a lone contrail arching miles overhead from north to south. He was not hesitant to ask questions. The boy was confident the man would have the answer.

"It's called a contrail. The engines on that jet up there shoot a stream of hot gas out the back. The gas cools very quickly because the air is so cold, high up there."

"How high?"

"I guess that jet is flying about five miles high. You know how far five miles is, buddy?"


"From here to the ranch," the man said. "That's how far above us that jet is flying."

The boy continued to look up.

"The gas cools and leaves that long trail of ice crystals that you see. It's just like the breath you blow out of your mouth on a cold day. Understand?"


"I'll tell you what. This summer we'll fly on a jet. We'll fly up there as high as that contrail. Okay?"

"We will?"

"We will. This summer. I promise. We'll go to the Grand Canyon. You have to see it. Okay?"

San Antonio International Airport

En route via jet to Arizona

As promised... the Grand Canyon

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Five of 5

Continuted from yesterdays's posting.

After dropping the tool box lid Laredo turned to face the red Dodge. The weight of the thirty-four-inch aluminum bat felt assuring swinging from his right hand. In the stark light of the area light he could see that Suzie was already standing behind her driver side door. She had a .45 gripped in both her hands and was pointing it at the red Dodge; its occupants paralyzed.

Laredo smashed the SUV  like a piñata before he quit swinging the bat. "Don't any of you ever fuck with any of my shit again," was all he said.

In the red Dodge Rudy had barfed all over his glass-sprinkled lap and the girl had quit her screaming and was only crying now. Carlos looked out through the smashed window to where Laredo was standing. He showed no emotion.

Laredo took a few steps to where Suzie had moved around  to the front of her car. Without releasing his grip on the bat, he reached around her waist with his left arm and pulled her close to his face and kissed her.

He took the gun from her and turned to Carlos and said, "Get out of the car right now and hitch the trailer."

The End

Friday, July 9, 2010

Four of 5

Continuted from yesterdays's posting.

It was getting close to 8 so Laredo decided to leave Rudy's place and head for the intersection where they were supposed to meet Ricky and Carlos with his trailer. Before leaving he asked Rudy for either Carlos or Ricky's cell phone number. He gave him Ricky's. Laredo dialed it immediately to ask where he was. Ricky answered saying that they were waiting "en donde esta la persona que tiene la traila." Laredo asked him if he was at Rio’s place. He said no. The trailer was somewhere in the Ramirez area. Laredo told him he was headed that way right now and that he would be at the Ramirez School waiting on them. Rudy had told him that Rios lived in a trailer house somewhere in the Sejita area, but he wasn't going to waste time looking for it right now.

Just then Chuy said he needed to get back home. He had been with Laredo most of the day and had not eaten. Laredo drove the 30 minutes to Falfurrias to drop him off. On the way back Laredo stopped in Premont to speak with Suzie Treviño about the situation. Suzie and he talked about the ongoing "waiting" and the return of the stolen trailer. She said when this was over that she was going to talk to the Premont Police chief about it.

Laredo said, "Okay, but it won't do you no good. This happened in Duval."

“They need to hang these cabrones by the balls,” she added.
Laredo didn't care what she said or did. He just wanted his trailer back. He then said he was leaving for Ramirez to wait for them and she said she would follow in her vehicle. It was up to her, he said. A half hour later they pulled into the Ramirez School faculty lot where Laredo parked his truck and got into her car. They moved to go and park a couple of blocks away by the small church.

Laredo called Ricky again. He answered. Laredo was concerned about it getting late and he told him so. "It's getting dark and that's when shit happens."

Ricky said, "We're here waiting for Manuel. He's driving back from work. He'll be here soon."
Laredo asked if he was at Michael’s house and he said he was. Ricky handed the phone to Carlos and he said, "Yes. We're here at Manuel Jose Rios' house waiting for him."
Laredo told him, "Why wait on him? You go pick up the trailer if it's there."
Then Carlos said, "Manuel is the only one that knows where the trailer is, so we have to wait on him." Again Laredo repeated, "It's getting dark pendejo, and that's when shit happens."
Carlos again asked that Laredo wait, adding "No los pongan las manos," meaning that they did not want to be harmed. Laredo said okay. "You just make sure I get my trailer tonight." All these crack heads were pussies, Laredo thought to himself.

At 9:30 Laredo called again telling Carlos "I'm not going to wait anymore."  Carlos then said, "Manuel is on his way already and should be here any minute." Laredo ended he call. A few minutes later Ricky called saying that Manuel was picking up the trailer and for him to wait a bit longer. At 9:45 Laredo called Ricky, but Carlos answered. "We're on our way already with the trailer," he said. Laredo advised him to "leave the trailer next to my truck. It's parked across from the school and we're watching your moves," Laredo warned him.

Laredo had been watching the highway leading to Ramirez when he saw headlights coming from the north. They were headed in his direction. When the lights grew closer he could hear the rattle of an empty trailer being hauled. It had to be his. The twin lights did not slow to turn into the school parking. Instead, they stayed on the highway, following the long curve, bending the highway to east. It was not going to stop. Laredo told Suzie to start the car and follow them. In less than a minute she was on their tail. Laredo recognized his trailer in the light ahead of them.

The first thing Laredo noticed was that the tires were missing off the trailer's rear axle. The ramps were also gone. Suzie proceeded behind the SUV. Laredo's phone rang. It was Carlos calling to say that there was a car following them. He was afraid to stop.
"Never mind the car following you. Just leave the goddamn trailer by my parked truck like I told you," said Laredo. 

When the vehicle pulling the trailer began to slow Laredo instructed Suzie to pass them. A red Dodge SUV was pulling the trailer. After a while both vehicles where headed back to the Ramirez School. Laredo didn't like that it was now totally dark outside. This shit had been going on too long.

They slowed and  red Dodge SUV arrived at the school and Laredo watched Ricky and Carlos climb out of the Dodge and work to unhitch the trailer. Laredo and Suzie waited in the car until they were done unhitching the trailer, leaving it next to the pickup as Laredo had instructed. When they returned to the SUV Laredo asked Suzie to pull up with her car and block their exit.

"You stay here," he told Suzie. "and cover my ass."

He then stepped out of the car and walked straight toward the SUV. Ricky was in the driver's seat. Carlos was in the back with a female. Laredo tapped on the driver's-side window and Ricky rolled it down. Laredo told him that the rear axle tires were missing as well as the ramps and that they needed to "return the missing stuff. You're going to pay for the rims, tires and ramps, or it's coming out of your ass." From the backseat Carlos called out, "Manuel returned the trailer in this condition. We will pay. Just give us a few days. We don't even have money for gas right now."
"Bullshit," Laredo growled. He then walked to his pickup and unlocked the stainless steel toolbox.


Fifth installment mañana.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Three of 5

Continuted from yesterdays's posting.

Laredo made some calls to find this Rudy Sanchez and learned that his place was somewhere on county road  440 over in the next county, Jim Wells. He and Chuy climbed back into the Ford and took off for the Palito Blanco area, leaving Sanchez in the center of a dust cloud in the road.

After a few misses they came on Sanchez' place.  Chuy got down and went over to knock on the door of the main house. No one answered. A nortenio tune was coming from somewhere in back so they drove around where a smaller building stood. Chuy again got off the truck to go knock. Laredo got out and stood by the pickup. There was no answer at the door. A few seconds later a fellow came from around back, stopping in the shade of the building when he saw Chuy standing standing in his yard.
Without looking away from the Sanchez, Chuy motioned for Laredo to come closer. They both came up to the fellow and introduced themselves. The small man identified himself as Rudy. Laredo told him he was there to recover his stolen trailer. Sanchez said that he did not know what they were talking about. Laredo made it known to Rudy that Carlos had just called him not less than an hour ago from his own cell phone and that he knew that the two had discussed the theft of the trailer and also that Carlos had asked for somebody by the nickname “Gordo.” Laredo told Rudy to quit the bullshit and tell him who this Gordo was. Sanchez hesitated to identify the person, and then Laredo told him that neither Chuy nor he was leaving until they got some answers.
He first looked at Chuy and then at Laredo, then said that Gordo was his little brother, Ricky Sanchez. They continued talking about the theft of the trailer from Las Colmenas Ranch believed to have been stolen by Carlos and Ricky. Rudy denied any knowledge or involvement in the theft, but did not discount the fact that perhaps the stolen trailer could be somewhere in the bushes around his property. "Ricky's always leaving his shit around here," he said.

"Agui son puras ratas," Laredo said out loud. "Tu y tu pinche congal son nada mas que pinches ratas."
He walked past Rudy to have a look around and see if the trailer was there. Chuy stayed put by the Ford. After searching a while Laredo found no sign of his trailer. He did come across three four-wheelers, a saddle, some tires still on the rims, and three young goats tied to a small mesquite out back. Rudy was very nervous now. Again Laredo told him that no one was going anywhere until he got some answers. Rudy then placed a call from his cell phone to Carlos Sanchez saying, "You better return this man's trailer right now." After the call, Rudy said, "You have to wait for them at the Ramirez School around 8 or 8:30" Laredo looked at his watch. It was 7:30.

Rudy continued talking about Carlos, Ricky and the theft, but he was the only one listening. Laredo interrupted him to say something about Carlos's appearance, saying that it seemed to him as if Carlos was under the influence of coke. "I know that ‘look’,” Laredo said. He suggested to Rudy that they probably sold the trailer for cocaine. Rudy nodded in agreement. Laredo continued talking about drugs and the likelihood of Carlos and Ricky Sanchez breaking into other people's places to maintain their drug habit. Laredo stated that Ricky and Carlos were trying to sell the trailer to buy an ounce or two of coke. Rudy said "probably for an eight ball or two of coke." Laredo told Rudy that his trailer was probably with some coke dealer right now.

Rudy then mentioned a person's name unknown to Laredo and something about "mi conección." After more conversation about Ricky and Carlos and dealers, Rudy indicated that they, meaning Ricky and Carlos, would not have "jumped his connection." Laredo reminded him that they had already done so, judging by the condition of Carlos at the time that he and Chuy had seen him.
This Rudy character was also pretty fucked up with coke, as far as Laredo was concerned, and was probably the guy who supplied Carlos with coke in exchange for stolen goods. Rudy went on to mention "Mi amigo, Manuel Jose Rios, has changed. He's all business now; no fuck ups."
Laredo told him that he knew Manuel Jose Rios, calling him no good coke user and thief; the same as him and Carlos and Ricky. He pointed a finger directly at Rudy, telling him to his face that they were the type that stole from people’s homes and ranches to feed their sorry-ass habits. "You're all fuck ups," he told him.

The words did not seem to register on Rudy and he continued talking about Rios, and then Laredo told him, "I bet my trailer is at this asshole's place. Where's he live?"
Rudy replied, "No. They (Ricky and Carlos) wouldn't have "jumped mi conección," meaning the two would not have bypassed their primary source for coke to get it from someone else. Laredo said he didn't know and didn't care, but he told Rudy that they had already "jumped tu conección" judging by Carlos's condition when he’d last seen him. Laredo repeated that they had better show up with his trailer or he was going straight to Rios' place.
“No. I’ll go get it,” he pleaded. “I don’t need no more trouble with him. I’ll go get it.”

Forth  installment mañana.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Two of 5

Continuted from yesterdays's posting.

“Chuy,” he called out, “let’s go get my trailer. Let’s go find this Carlos Sanchez.”

Laredo had purchased the trailer, with ramps, at the Big Tex dealer in Pharr, Texas -- shelling out $2500. When he’d got it to the ranch, he had gone to the expense of replacing its original tires with 8-ply heavy-duty radials. That had set him back another $500, plus the $400 for new rims. With these improvements the trailer was a pricey investment.

Laredo knew where this Carlos Sanchez fellow lived, so that afternoon he and Chuy drove to his place in Tienditas, a sad scattering of trailer houses and old homes that stood in a tiny ranching community that was decades past its prime.  When they got to Sanchez' place he parked along the makeshift privacy fence surrounding it. The fence, such as it was, was a collection of old corrugated tin and weathered 8X4 plywood panels. The impression it gave was that of a place that had something to hide.
In an effort to see into the property Laredo opened his driver’s side door and stood on the running board. Sanchez’ woman must have heard or seen them because a few seconds later they heard a woman's voice call Sanchez' name. He opened the front door and walked to the front gate and motioned to Laredo and Chuy to come over. Initially, Carlos did not recognize Laredo until he got up close. He said, “I know you,” then asked what it was he wanted. Laredo told him the reason for the visit was to "purchase" a trailer he heard he was selling.
“Yeah, I might have a trailer if you want to buy it,” said Sanchez.
“I want to buy it. I have the cash right now... right here with me” said Laredo.
“Yeah, I think I might have a trailer to sell... maybe.”
“I want to see it,” said Laredo.
Sanchez had yet to meet his gaze. His eyes were focused on empty space and then he went silent, but every now and then he would turn to steal nervous looks at Chuy.
Laredo wasn't sure Sanchez had understood him. He appeared nervous, looking pale and sweaty, and seemed unable to respond. This was going nowhere. When he still did not say anything Laredo made it known that he was the owner of the trailer.

“That trailer is mine, cabron,” he said, matter-of-factly. “You stole it from my place.”
Sanchez suddenly found his tongue and denied having any knowledge of a theft, any theft at all. Again, Laredo told him that the trailer he was attempting to sell had been stolen from him and that he had knowledge of Sanchez’ involvement. Laredo strongly suggested that he come with Chuy and him to recover the trailer from where ever he had it stashed. Additionally, Laredo edged an elbow in the direction of Chuy, telling Sanchez that he would spare no effort to recover his property.

"Okay," said Sanchez. "I… I…might know something about a trailer. I didn't know it belonged to y... you. I need to call s… s… somebody."

"Call whoever you have to right now, but get my trailer," Laredo said, slipping his cell phone from its holster and handing it to Sanchez.  When he started to make a call Laredo asked who he was calling.
"Mi tio Rudy," said Sanchez, “he knows more about the trailer than me.” Carlos wasn't making sense, or else he thought that Laredo was stupid. During the call Laredo heard him ask the voice on the other end, "¿Tio, esta Gordo alli?" Carlos then said that a "buyer" was at his place to get the trailer. He sounded desperate, then flipped the phone closed. He turned to Laredo and told him that he would have to wait until 8 or 9 to pick up the trailer.
Again, he said, "I did not know the trailer belonged to you. I will take it back to you today." Laredo just looked at him, then asked why the long wait. Sanchez said that according to his uncle "the guy that has the trailer is working a backhoe near Palito Blanco. We need to wait for him." Laredo told Carlos he was leaving and would be in the Concepcion-Rios area and that he expected to be kept informed by phone. Laredo looked at the man and told him, "Don't think for a minute, asshole, that I'm going to let this go."

Third installment mañana.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

One of 5

Back in April of '09 a good story reached my ears. It was testosteronically invigorating because it was true and inspired the following fiction. It is presented in five bite-sized pieces. I only hope my mother does not  read it. She did not raise her kids to use the kind of language I peppered this thing with.


Don't Call the Law

One April morning Suzie was brushing a glossy red on the toes of her small feet with tiny strokes of nail polish. Her husband wouldn't be home for three days, so she was smoking, too -- Virginia Slims. Suzie's cell phone rang, interrupting the delicate work of beautifying her little toes. The call was from Marcos, her son, and he had bad news. She told him to stay put until she got there and hung up. Suzie put down her cigarette and capped the polish long enough to telephone her brother-in-law with the distressing news. At the receiving end was Baltazar Laredo. He was in Edinburg. She was in Premont, seventy-five miles to the north, where she recounted what her teen-aged son had told her minutes before. Someone with a good set of bolt cutters had busted the chain on the gate to Las Colmenas Ranch, 120 acres of sparse pasture mixed with prickly pear and mesquite near Concepcion. Suzie's husband and Laredo ranched it part-time. The property lay in the middle of dense brush country, one county away from where Suzie sat on her bed, beautifying the toes of her small feet. The lock and chain were gone, too, she explained.

“They stole your trailer,” she said. “Your brother's gonna be pissed when he gets back from El Campo and finds out. I’m not gonna call to let him know. He's already mad at me. You tell him.”

“What else did they take?”

Nothing else seemed to be missing from the property according to Marcos, she told him, but he had better come up quick and take a look for himself, she added. “Your nephew doesn’t know half the shit you all keep out there. They probably took more shit than just the trailer.”

Today was Wednesday. He suspected the theft had occurred over the weekend. The ranch was in one of the more isolated parts of the county and there was no one around to watch the goings-on except lizards, snakes, coyotes and turkey vultures high overhead, and they didn't talk, take notes, or snap pictures.
“I’ll take care of it,” he spoke into the phone. “Don’t call my brother, and don't call the law. I’ll take care of it.” He hung up.

A few minutes later Laredo’s phone rang again. It was Marcos, Suzie’s son, calling with new information. Some guy named Carlos Sanchez was trying to sell a trailer that morning to a couple of guys he knew in the area. It was now noon. Laredo had a quick bite, climbed into his Ford and headed north from Edinburg. On the drive up he called a friend in Falfurrias, Chuy Lopez.  He was going to need backup. The oilfield was down and his friend Chuy was without work. Laredo could depend on him to come along to watch his back. Chuy stood six-two and probably weighed two-hundred and seventy pounds. His sun-burnt hulk would project the right message.

When the two got to the ranch gate Laredo saw that the chain and lock had already been replaced. He figured it was Marcos who had done it. He was a good kid. Marcos and Suzie were waiting at the ranch house when they drove up. After a good look around, Laredo said all that was taken was his 16X8 equipment trailer, just as Suzie had said, but nothing else as she had suspected. It did not register on his face, but he was pissed.

Second installment mañana.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Impossible

NOTHING. NOTHING shall be impossible to those that believe.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, July 4, 2010

El Cuatro de Julio

People were never so happy to have the weatherman err in his prognostication for the chances of rain this weekend. Happy too, are the fireworks stands. The countryside is so green you couldn't start a grass fire if your life depended on it. God bless America.

I love being an American -- proud of it, too. I relish freedom. My citizenship is an accident of birth and I make no apologies.

The Founding Fathers had such a hunger for liberty that they risked everything to satisfy it. In the process some lost their fortunes. Some lost their lives. They plotted to resist a tyrannical government possessed of the greatest military force in the world at a time when Revolutionary America had no army and no navy. It was madness to think of resistance, much less act on it. That was suicide. They had no money, nor any authority to stage a revolution. The British Empire possessed far superior manpower, experience and firepower. Americans' only earthly advantage was their lust for freedom -- for self-determination. They succeeded.

Today, to honor the sacrificial harvest of all the blood, sweat and tears they shed to secure the blessings of that hard-won liberty, we spend the day eating, drinking. listening to music, shooting off fireworks and generally having a jolly good time. So before you call it a day on this Fourth of July say a little prayer of thanks for the brave Americans who founded this great nation and another prayer for the equally brave Americans in uniform stationed around this wonderful world who stand vigilant against those who work to deny us our hard-fought freedom. Be reminded that the United States of America is... the home of the brave.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Here's Mud in Your Eye

The ol' man and cool wet mud  come to mind when I come across a nest of yellow jackets. Their sting hurts plenty, but I'm not afraid of them. My first recollection of a sting goes back nearly 50 years. Dad and his fellow ranch hand, Andres, were clearing brush from a fence line. My job was to keep a safe distance from the swing of their axes before reaching for the cut bush with gloved hands and pulling them clear. These I piled some distance away for later burning.

One limb of brush must have had a wasp nest in it. The yellow jackets were soon on me and I got stung on the brow of my right eye. It hurt plenty.

"¿Te picaron?" my dad called out.

I answered yes. He dropped his ax and rushed over to take a look. Soon, my eye begins to swell. We're in the middle of a long stretch of barbed wire fence in the middle of the brush and Dad's on company time. There isn't much that can be done. It's only the sting from a wasp. I still hurt, but remain stoic.

Dad places his hand on my small back and ushers me next to the old Willys jeep that served as his and Andres' wheels on the ranch. With one hand he reaches down and scoops up a palm-full of dirt, then straightens up and with the other reaches to the galvanized steel water cooler and sets it down on the narrow panel of the jeep's rear fender.

"Con un zoqetito se te compone," he tells me.  Dad jams his thumb into the button dispenser of the cooler and lets a trickle of cold water fall into the hand with the dirt. With a little swirl of his finger he soon has a pasty mud that he begins to dab on the area of the wasp sting.

That was that. I'm told to sit in the shade until I feel better and Dad gets back to where Andres is dropping the silver edge of his axe on the mesquite and huisache. Wasps make me think of the ol' man.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Stay on the Road

This would be a better country for living if only Mother Nature would parcel out her gift from the clouds more evenly throughout the South Texas growing season. No one or no place needs it all at once.

On a long stretch of Highway 141 it was imperative that motorists do their best to stay on the road. Its grassy shoulder took on the nature of parallel canals cutting a beeline to Kingsville. The danger of drowning was greater than that of breaking your neck if one ran off the road.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Weather Event

In the middle of a hot summer last year God heard his children in the pueblito pray for the heavens to open up and pour 10 to 12 inches of relief on the drought-stricken land. He not only heard, but He answered in the affirmative, blessing them with a relatively wet 2010. The pueblitero's cup runneth over. This afternoon they clenched their fists and cursed the rain-laden clouds they once dreamed about and took to shouting basta! The far-reaching effects of Hurricane Alex slogging far to the south in Old Mexico dumped eight inches on the town in the last couple of days. The same pious bunch is now praying that it stop.

A sound bit of advice to follow is to study carefully what you pray for. God is true. He honors His Word; generously, as witnessed by the puddles, ponds and plethora of charquitos on every horizontal plot of real estate for miles around Benavides, Texas.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Lost to the Ages

Mom will turn 84 this summer. She has so many stories, facts and figures in her head, but she will not make the effort to commit them to paper. Some time back I managed to get the following account. If I don't make more of an effort to draw them out of her they will be lost to the ages.

Recuerdo cuando estaba Humberto chiquito y vivíamos en la primera casita. Estabamos recien cambiados al rancho. Se le acabo la leche a mijo para la tetera, y ya noche fuímos aqa La Luna y abrió para vendernos leche para que este joven comería.

La Luna refers to a mom and pop drive-inn grocery that was operated many years ago in Benavides by Domingo "La Luna" Ramirez and his wife, Tencha. Domingo passed away in April of 2003 and Tencha is an old lady now with severe arthritis. She just can't work behind the counter much anymore. Writing, lifting, stocking and labeling with her knurled fingers is too painful. Her two girls and their husbands gave running the business a go, but it just wasn't in their blood. The Ramirez Drive-Inn closed its doors in April of 2004.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

By the Water

The boy stood at the edge of a narrow strip of sand mixed with broken bits of shell and threads of dead seagrass. Without turning back to look at the man, he asked what the gray expanse of water before him was called. Baffin Bay, the man answered.

Is it a lake? The boy asked. The man said no, telling him that what he was looking at was called a bay.

The word was new to the boy and he asked what a bay was. The man answered by asking him to recall their visits to the beaches of South Padre Island. He told him that the large body of water that produced the waves the boy enjoyed crashing into was the Gulf of Mexico. The gulf cut into the land around here, forming the bay, miles from the pretty beaches and the white-capped waves. That is what a bay is he explained. He told him that there were thousands like it around the world.

The boy accepted his explanation and turned his attention back to his sandaled feet, inches from the lapping water.

Are there fish in it? The boy was in a curious spirit. The man was not a fisherman, but he knew drum, trout and flounder were harvested from the bay, and he told him so.

The boy's eyes grew wide, saying he knew about those fish. He had seen his dad catch them.

The fish they were going to have for dinner in a few minutes came from this bay, the man told the boy, but his little friend was not listening. His attention was on the warm sensation of the water on his toes. The days had been hot over Baffin Bay.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Lucky Shot

My little brother Ricky is a talker and not a writer. To date, this is the only story ever squeezed out him that he committed to the written word.

With much encouragement and prodding, I the fifth child of Mr. Salas Sr., have relented and put to script this first documentation of a single snap shot in time to my recollection.

The night was a cool one as the six year old made a request of his busy mother. "Can I? Can I? Can I go with Chapa to the planta?" At the time Mother was charged with keeping the family going as Dad lay in a hospital bed recovering from the accident that broke his neck. We all were active and life was good to us despite Dad having been away so long.

Chapa was in charge of the Sinclair gas plant south of Benavides. To clarify his job description is to say his work required him to maintain and operate numerous natural gas engines driving a variety of compressors. I know this now because my present day job requires me to do about the same.

These units were noisy; 120 or more decibels. (OSHA today requires much, much more protection for one's ears, eyes and body.) But back to the point. I convinced mother to let me ride with Chapa (who was one of Dad's closest friends) and he would later return me home after checking out the plant for the night.

We pulled into the southwest gate on the back side of the plant. Due to the dangers of the outdoor environment of machinery and high noise levels I was told to stay in his car. Chapa stepped out again after entering the gate and driving the auto closer to the compressors. Once again I was told to stay in his car and he exited to make his adjustments and final rounds to be sure the plant would stay on line though the night.

Being the curious child that I was, I opened the glove box of the car. Within its confines lay a small .22 caliber pistol. It fit my hand quite well. I removed the toy-looking revolver and instinctively pulled the trigger. To my surprise there was a very loud BANG! Immediately I knew I had done wrong. I should not be found out. I placed the evidence back and acted innocent before Mr. Chapa returned. Mr. Chapa opened the driver side door and the interior light came on. At six I could not know that the smell of freshly fired gun power would remain in the air of the car. Probably smoke too. Mr. Chapa asked what I had done. My response was nothing.

He came around and opened my door to the car and pulled me out. Instinctively he opened the glove box and found the pistol that had one discharged chamber. He told me, "You shot my pistol!" I said no. Chapa was very excited and walked me to the back of the car and in the dim light could see that I had shot myself in the right knee.

Chapa drove me to the middle of the ranch to where my mother and the rest of my family were home. My eldest brother, Humberto, carried me into the back bedroom. As I lay on the bed he informed me that I had shot myself and that there was a bullet in me. This news shocked and made me cry.

Sure enough it was true, and to this day I do not recall the pain, if any. Nor do I recall anything after the news that my brother told me, "You have a bullet in your knee."

This is the account that I probably have never told anyone until now. Today I have the deepest respect for firearms and have taken great effort to teach my children at a very young age about firearm safety. They will not be ignorant of them, or not own them.

Be of good cheer. The best prevention of firearm accidents is to teach your children about them and not to be afraid of them. Knowledge is power!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Who's Up There?

Force your gaze into the heart of a cloud-filled summer sky and sense the timelessness of the earth. Year after year the brilliant blue and white envelope lording over the countryside serves to remind mortals how temporal the human condition is. A summer sky populated with fleecy white is a constant; a sure thing -- never changing. It cannot be swayed by the proclivities of people.

I can change. Underneath my garb I am coated in a wrapper of  pale skin; a tell-tale trail leading back to the seed of European ancestors from a half millennium ago. I don't hold the color against them. There is no sin in the sober white, but a warm coat of olive is all so pretty. To achievement that end I basked in the sun today; exposing my skin to the burning sun as though it was raw leather prepared for curing. It feels good; almost aphrodisiac-like. Slowly, the burning rays of the sun roast the skin until the desired effect is realized. First the back, and then the front, day after day until I'm done. It is such silliness and so superficial, but I cast caution aside to realize the satisfaction of a darker pigmentation. I will be brown.

Through dark lenses I look up at the summer sky, just as I did as a young boy on the Ranch. There is pleasure in watching clouds slowly morph into recognizable shapes. I am captivated, ignoring the hot sensation to my skin. This is pure silliness. It is vanity, but am I not human?

My ears alert to the drone of an engine to the southwest . It cannot be mistaken for anything other than a propeller-driven plane. Instinctively, my eyes scan the sky to spot the source. I oscillate my ears like radar.

Bingo! It's a Cessna... maybe. What do I know about single-engine planes?

I call to mind the same questions I asked as a kid. Who's up there? Where are they going? What must they be thinking? Do they look down and realize that there might be people down here living in the middle of nowhere?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Few Good Men

It is hard to gauge which is hotter, the heat radiating from the roasters or the oven-like temperature pouring off the blacktop. These are good men, braving the summer sun to raise a few dollars to send a good kid to the USFA World Series in Panama City Beach, Florida. They have brisket plates for sale. The helping of rice and beans is equally tasty and the food is guaranteed not to turn cold before you dig in.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Where are your manners?

My kid sister, Esperanza, wrote this account some time back.

This took place April 1972.  One summer afternoon we were all sitting in the front room watching TV. I remember wearing some red shorts that were very short. Suddenly, we heard a vehicle honk.  Dad turned around and told us not to go outside. He would take care of this. I had to see who it was, so I looked outside and saw that it was Louie and Johnny.

Dad explained to them that this wasn't a drive-inn and he didn't appreciate them honking. He told the boys that they were welcome to come in and visit, but if they wanted to see his daughter they had to step out of their vehicle and come knock at the door. Both Louie and Johnny were afraid of Dad so they went back into town.

Once they were back in Benavides they made one small mistake.  They told everyone about their visit to the ranch and everyone made fun of them. The following morning my friends asked me why my dad was so mean. I remember answering them, "I don't think my Dad is mean. He only told Louie and Johnny that our home wasn't  a drive-inn where they could just pull up and start HONKING.  They could get down to visit with me."

It took Louie and Johnny a whole year before they spoke to me again.  Like I told them that morning,  they should have kept quite and no one would have known about the honking incident. Today, they both have daughters and they remembered my dad when boys started coming around and honked instead of coming to the front  door. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Number 4

A few years ago my kid brother Danny wrote this account of his slice of ranch life a long time ago.
I remember the old #4 oil well/pumping unit. Dad took care of that well for many a year. It was his first stop every morning. The well only produced for about 4 hours a day, pumping out about 8 to 20 barrels of oil, depending on its mood. Because it only produced for a short time each day, Dad used to have to turn on the pumping unit in the morning and come back around 4 hours later to shut it off.

Now Dad may not have had a lot of classroom schooling, but here is a sample of how intelligent a man Dad was. Dad took an old Nixon chart clock, (Don’t ask. It would take too long to explain what that is.) then mounted it next to the unit's engine and grounded it to the frame. Next, he ran a wire from the engine's coil to a spot near the clock's time wheel. Now he could start the unit in the morning, wind the clock and set it to shut off the unit at the desired time. The clock would turn the wheel and at a certain time the wheel would come into contact with the coil wire, thus shorting out the current to the spark plugs, causing the engine to shut down. This now eliminated the need of having to come back and shut the unit down. Dad may not have had formal schooling, but his IQ was a lot higher than most so-called educated people. Imagine if this man would have had a more extensive education. As it was, he had engineering skills, oilfield skills, mechanic skills, ranching skills, and even some veterinary skills. WOW! I like knowing that he passed on many of those skills to me as I was growing up.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Word to the Wise

Rene Henry Gracida
Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Corpus Christi
"I thank God that I had the opportunity to defend my country from National Socialism and Japanese Imperialism even though it meant engaging in a war. War is indeed ‘hell’, but a nation that is not prepared to defend itself is a nation that is doomed to live on only in history books."
Based in Molesworth (Bedfordshire) England during World War II, Rene Gracida was a Flight Engineer aboard a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber in the 303rd Group of the 8th Air Force. He flew his 32nd mission over Dresden, Germany on April 14, 1945. Gracida is 87 years old.

Monday, June 21, 2010

First Date

My big sister wrote this personal account a few years ago.
Sweet sixteen and never been on a date. Note that I was not a wallflower and our parents encouraged us to be active in extra-curricular activities, and I was. I also had a boyfriend. But, maybe I’d never been on an official date because we lived in the interior of “the ranch”. Our house was ten miles south of Benavides on Highway 339. You turned off and drove through a cattle guard and then proceeded three miles west on a dirt road that passed corrals, oil pumping units, lots and lots of mesquite trees, and a deep creek before getting to the house. Maybe I had never been on a date because I had never asked my parents if I could. My parents were probably “holding their breath” hoping it would never happen. The day finally came when my boyfriend asked me if he could drive to our house to pick me up and go to a dance in Benavides at the old junior high school gym. My boyfriend’s sister was going to let him borrow her 1963 copper colored Chevy Malibu. It was 1965, the end of my junior year in high school. I asked Dad and he agreed, BUT I had to invite a girlfriend to go with us. I invited Gloria Peña who lived a few miles from us toward Concepcion. She got off with me at the bus stop on Friday after school. The next afternoon, Gloria and I excitedly got dressed and eagerly waited for our ride to the dance. Finally he drove up. He walked up the sidewalk that leads to the kitchen. We had a sidewalk that led to the living room door, but we never used that door. He came in through the kitchen and into the living room and sat on the sofa in our sparsely furnished living room. I don’t remember the conversation between my Dad and my boyfriend, but I’m absolutely sure that my Dad was specific about what he expected my boyfriend’s behavior to be towards me. Then my dad announced that he would be sending my oldest brother, Humberto, to the dance with us. It was probably Dad’s way of making sure that my boyfriend would fulfill my dad’s expectations after their conversation. It was not a double date for Humberto and Gloria and I suspect that Humberto wasn’t too happy with Dad’s order, but off I went on my official first date with my boyfriend and my two chaperones in the back seat.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Las Flores

"¿Mijo, quieres llevarme a dejar flores a los camposantos?" Of course, the answer is yes. Mom has spent $50 for assorted containers brimming with pretty plastic flowers. They are bound for their final resting place at the cemetery. Both sets of my grandparents get some, as well as my dad. I tell her I will be there in 20 minutes.

The lady who parks her van at the ruins of what used to be Nap Chandler's Texaco full-service gas station 40 years ago makes a killing this time of year. She sits in her chair catching the scant shade of a small bush and silently bears the incredible heat of June in South Texas. Her colorful wares are set on the cracked concrete of what was the old Texaco's service bay.  Deceased or otherwise, everyone remembers their dads on Fathers Day.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Crème Brulee

If you ever find yourself hungry in Rockport, Texas get on over to Latitude 28°02°; good food, good service, and my wife liked it.

Latitude 2802 Restaurant & Art Gallery
105 N. Austin St., Rockport, Texas

Friday, June 18, 2010

Two Cups of Coffee

It came naturally to them that evening. Drinking their coffees, seated at the small table against the wall, they felt comfortable and at ease. She took hers with two packets of sugar and one cream. As always, his took his black.

Minutes earlier, the two had walked into the Walmart just to kill time. Why? He had asked. Because that's what we always do on Fridays, she said, annoyed because he already knew the answer to such a foolish question. He looked back at her and only shook his head. Not feeling like following behind as she pushed the near empty cart through aisles stocked with bath products, toiletries and cosmetics, he said he would go over to the McDonald's in the back of the store to sit and have a coffee. Not one to strike up a conversation with strangers without provocation, he could entertain himself with his iPhone for a half hour, then later track down his wife when she neared the dairy aisle across from the McDonald's. Indoors or out, he was more inclined to walk fast than to stroll about lazily. He wasn't going to be towed about like a calf in a barnyard with a rope around its neck. Making his retreat, he heard her call out for him to order her a cup, too. She would join him shortly.

There they sat at the small red table against the blank white wall; making idle conversation over their coffee. They were not alone. Twenty-five feet away, seated at the corner table they too would have preferred, was one of the ladies from the deli. It must have been break time. She was speaking loudly into her phone; much too loud. The discussion was one-sided. As they continued to enjoy coffee they saw a young fellow come sit two tables away. His tray had a burger, fries and a drink. In the span of three or four sips of their coffees the boy was already pushing away from the table. For him, time was more important than healthy digestion. Farthest from them was an old man; alone at his table, except for his cup of coffee. Tall, white hair, bushy mustache and dark complected, the man was a long-tome regular. He usually sat with a couple of other compadres, but he was presently alone. At their red table the husband turned to his wife and smiled. That's me in twenty years, he thought, alone with a cup of coffee.

Other patrons took positions at tables for two, three and four; a young couple with too many tattoos and too many kids, a trio of confused boys with crooked caps with flat bills, cocked low to one side. They weren't talking, but the obscenity stamped in bold black letters on one's shirt spoke loud enough. One kid had spacers the diameter of nickels in the lobes of his ears. It was better not to look. The man and his wife turned their attention back to their coffees.

"We used to make fun of people like this," she said. "Now look at us."

He asked what she meant.

We made fun of people who came to sit in this little McDonald's to kill time, saying that they had nothing better to do, she explained to him. "Now look at us."

He looked around, then back at her, and said that it didn't bother him. This is who they were now.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Dull the Pain

The quantity of beer guzzled down daily in the pueblito is only equal to the measure of melancholy nourished by its inhabitants.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Old Bank

Only pigeons were making deposits this afternoon in the old bank. The former Merchants Exchange Bank closed its doors about fifty years ago. The details are sketchy, but as the story goes, a significant number of bank customers withdrew their deposits believing the bank was nearing insolvency. As the bank run progressed, it generated its own momentum. More and more customers withdrew their deposits, increasing the chance of a real default. This in turn encouraged even more withdrawals. Inevitably, the bank went bust. Deposits were not F.D.I.C. insured and many people lost their nest egg. The old timers tell of an underlying tale of subterfuge, but its retelling would ruffle the few plumes of political feathers still flapping about. The incident had a depressing  and lasting effect on the pueblito.

It is still a grand looking building, enclosed within an impressive mantle of sandstone that is accented with magnificent 24-inch-diameter reliefs of the classic 1913 buffalo nickel.  The main entrance is heralded on each side with towering 30-foot Doric columns. It presents a seductive facade, drawing the occasional passerby to pull one block off the main highway to park in front of it. They step out of their vehicles with a upward gaze, wondering how could such a once-beautiful edifice have come to be built here, what history lay behind it, and how could such haunting architecture have been allowed to deteriorate so. There is no doubt that they drive away with a tinge of sadness for the old Merchants Exchange Bank.


My older brother retired on June 9th. Long before he became a retiree, he used to be a ranch boy. Here is a personal account he put to words a few years ago. Es que se me fue el tiempo, y yo no escribí nada.

Although I don't believe I actually have the gene, as evident by my body's complete and total resistance to "buck fever", every winter growing up on "the ranch" did, nevertheless, occasion a jaunt into the nearby woods for a cottontail or two. (Resistance, here, may not be the appropriate word. Void of, indifference, or complete apathy may be better suited.) Back then there were fewer grass fields (suitable for bailing), more wooded areas, and certainly , if memory serves correctly, an abundance of rabbits. Today, it is the rabbit's ungainly cousin, jack, that reigns supreme.

A brief observation here regarding "buck fever." Dad had it. (It was either buck fever or necessity. There were, after all, six kids! So, the Salas' were not strangers to game food. It was a staple, not a treat or curiosity, which, incidentally, gives new meaning to the phrase "living high on the (wild) hog.")

As the first born I was spared the malady, but my first born has it. He thinks nothing of rising at 4:30 in the morning to post himself at a deer blind in glorious expectation of some unsuspecting buck's appearance. Gloria, with the whole world beckoning to her, was indifferent. Atilano, Jr., was also spared as was Esperanza, although, her husband is infected with a moderate case, going so far as to convert a golf cart into a mobile deer blind. (I don't know if he plans to modify the clubs.). Ricardo was spared the illness, too, but did come down with a healthy dose of a related malady ... gun fever ... and has passed it on to his offspring. It is not uncommon for the kids to turn a 55-gallon steel barrel into a sieve in a matter of minutes. It was the youngest, Daniel, that got the full brunt of the illness. His eye sight is so sharp he tells stories of downing buck at 1,000 paces ... in freezing, drizzly weather ... without a scope ... in the evening twilight ... one bullet and, finally, a well placed bullet right between the eyes with his trusty .22!

At any rate, on "the ranch" it was a natural thing for anyone of us to take the old, bolt-action .22 and walk a short distance along any of the various dirt roads that converged on the old Bowling house and shoot one or two rabbits. Dad taught us to eviscerate the kill by first, taking it by the front paws and giving it a slight shake in order for the insides to settle to their lowest point. With that done one would simply squeeze beginning at the point immediately behind the front legs (the upper thorax), hand under hand sequentially down to the abdomen, squeeze under squeeze, until the bunny's rear end exploded with a squish and a splat, expelling its inside organs on the ground. It you did it right, even the heart and lungs were expelled. It was quick, neat and efficient. Having good strong hands was a plus.

One late afternoon in particular I took one such trek and not more than half mile from the house. It was my habit to walk very slowly by placing my feet in such a fashion as to make as little noise as possible. This was done by placing the weight of the body on the outer toes first and then following by distributing the weight along the outside edge of the foot every so quietly, ever so slowly and finally supporting the weight on my foot in a normal manner. I was stalking. As far as I was concerned, I was hunting Indian style. Isn't that the way the Indians hunted? Wasn't that the way I learned to hunt as I watched all those westerns on the Salas' first Philco 19" black & white TV in shows such as Zorro, Gene Autry, Hop Along Cassidy, The Cisco Kid and his sidekick Pancho, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, and, of course, Walt Disney's Davy Crocket? Wow! Take me back! Take me back to yesteryear! (Maybe I do have a touch of the fever after all.)

The afternoon's hunt took me west to the far northern end of the old planta (which has since burned down), around in a wide loop to just north of the Bowling house (101 Lodge). We were living there then. There used to be a road that ran from the the planta straight east and about a hundred feet north of the Bowling house. A short distance thereafter it turned northeast and continued to the Huffman house (The Huffman house was bought by Flumencio Garcia and is now in Concepcion, on the west entrance of the town.) which was by the creek and then on to the Lagunas. I remember lots of rabbits along these areas.

Now rattle snakes are a part of South Texas and a part of growing up on the ranch. We were not, necessarily, afraid of them, but we certainly had a healthy respect for them. In other words ... you saw one, you killed it. Simple as that. Dad would hang them on the fence line "para que llueva" ... so that it would rain. South Texas needed all the help it could get. Anyhow, Dad taught us to scan the trail and to watch where you stepped. Especially on a winter's afternoon when the woods were dressed in their winter color ... grayish brown!

Step by step ... ever so slowly ... scanning the trail ... watching my step ... looking for rabbits ... avoiding the cow patties ... scanning for snakes ... STOP! In my spirit, it was unmistakable. It was clear, firm, urgent but not harsh: STOP! LOOK! Three or four inches over a coiled but sleeping rattler my foot hovered? The snake was coiled. The coil was about ten to twelve inches in diameter. Difficult to see because it rested in a depression on the ground, the coil mirrored a similar shaped, adjacent cow patty. You might ask how I know it was sleeping. Simple: It didn't rattle! It didn't even know I was there ... not usually the case.

The voice of my dad's training solidly in command, rifle barrel an inch from its head and pow and pow for good measure! Situation remedied. I saw it: I killed it. It turned out to be about three-and-a-half feet in length. I left it on the ground, but might have hung it on a fence had there been one close by. The most I ever said about it was, "I killed a rattlesnake." I said nothing about the warning. After all, aren't things like this normal?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Yes You Can

When he was a chavalo the man's knees could absorb the vertical compression of his body mass, spring it back up, and repeat the process again and again and again. These days he did not dare even hop off  his pickup's tailgate. The distance to the ground was too great. The man's ability to absorb inertial shock on contact from even so modest a height had devolved into the certainty of injurious collapse. More than once had he groveled like a wounded animal on the ground because he had "popped his knee." Owing to injury and stupidity, the knees were shot to hell. A nineteen year chasm separated the injury to the left one from the application of stupidity to the other, but each knee had been the recipient of an equal insult. Earthbound, he could no longer fly like the boy, but vicariously, he still sailed through the air after him.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Sorry. I didn"t see you.

The man would just as soon kill a snake as casually as he would slap dead a mosquito off his arm. If it slithered on its belly, it ought not to live within a thousand miles of where the man breathed, but there were rules of prevention in place to hold his prejudices in check. Solamente se matan las vivoras de cascabel, time and time again his father had said. It was a lifelong rule the man followed loyally. He had loved his father, and fathers did not lie to their sons in the generation that the man had been a boy.

Accidents did happen, though; even to the belly-crawling snakes the man despised. Pushing a 22-inch gas-powered mower into knee-high buffel grass mixed with a thick tangle of weeds could produce undesirable results. Seeking respite from the summer heat, there could be a harmless rat snake coiled up in the dense mat of vegetation. This afternoon there was one.

I'm sorry. I didn't see you.