Thursday, November 11, 2010

Not enough time.

Looking around during the veteran's Day program at Andrews High School today I noticed that several of my father's generation (WWII) were in attendance.

Reflecting back in my writing, it's obvious that I've spent quite a lot of words on this particular generation. I've always admired them and I guess it shows in my writing.

They conquered polio. They kept communism at bay. They took us from AM radio to color television to walking on the moon. They tried to make sure we had a better life than they did, and for the most part, they succeeded.

They grew up in the Great Depression and many had to grow up way too fast during World War II. They survived one and won the other but it seems to me it was the war that defined them as "The Greatest Generation" as Tom Brokaw put it in his book of that title.

My interest was piqued in them when I was around ten years old. I was prowling around in some boxes stored in my parent's closet one day and found a cigar box, inside of which were several Navy medals and other military paraphernalia.

I took them to my dad (William Heston Redwine), who served in the US Navy, and asked him what they were. "Just things that showed I was doing my job", he said.

"What's this one for?"

He told me the story about how he was an amphibious landing craft operator and how, after he had delivered a group of US Marines to their destination, some discarded wax paper grenade wrappers had clogged his boat's pumps. He found himself alone and adrift in the ocean, without power to return to his waiting ship...that would only wait so long. Then he pointed to the faint "souvenir" scars on his hands and fingers that showed the fevor with which he cleared those pumps...and got back to the ship...just in time. This, and his other war stories (the few he would tell) were scary, and still are, even after 60 years.

Later, when I was older, he showed me a documentary hardbound book, filled eith black and white pictures, graphically depicting the horrow and death associated with WWII. In retrospect, I think it was his way of telling me what he went through...without talking about it.

I remember once my dad putting on his US Navy dress uniform and taking our whole family to the cemetery. It turns out he was one of seven service members selected to fire 3 volleys over the gravesite of a fallen Navy veteran. My father was a macho type man and rarely, if ever, demonstrated emotion in front of us kids. But I still envision the expressions of pain and sorrow on his face as he stood at attention after firing his last volley.

Since then, I've read as much as I could, and listened to as many stories as I could, of those people who fought in WWII...and were willing to talk about it.

As such, the reason I am writing this memoir is because this 'greatest generation' is leaving us now at an alarming rate, and we should hear and appreciate such stories. We should remember a time when the neighbor next door, the farmer down the road and the mechanic at the local garage, all put aside their lives so that we might live in freedom.

We must remember, and instill in our children, of a time when ordinary men (and women) went off and did extraordinary things to preserve something priceless.

They weren't the Admirals or the Generals and they seldom got the headlines. And often, if they did receive a medal or commendation, such things ended up stashed away in a desk drawer or cigar box, because, as Heston would put, they were just: "doing their job."

Like saving the world!

So, I've humbly spent a few more words, saluting all our hero veterans of this "greatest generation."

In a small blog.

From a small town.

Because there's not enough time to thank them all.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Class of '64

Most college graduates have proud memories of their alma mater and each probably has at least one story to tell about those days gone by which connects them to their respective universities. Recently I noticed that more than 3000 students received their Aggie Rings in September during 'Ring Day' at Texas A&M. The Aggie Ring is the most visible symbol of the Aggie Network that connects Aggies around the world. Every Aggie has his/her own story about their Aggie Ring, and if all my Texas Tech friends, including my own son, TT grad Chad, will spare is mine.

I may leave home without my watch or wallet but never without my Aggie Ring.

Countless times I have been among droves of strangers and almost every time, if I really pay attention, without fail, I can spot an Aggie Ring in the crowd. In addition, countless times, I have been approached by a complete stranger who inquires, after noticing my Aggie Ring, what year I graduated from Texas A&M. This unique band of gold is the most recognized symbol of Texas A&M University and is the ultimate embodiment of the tradition and history that is so deeply rooted in the Aggie Spirit.

My own 'Ring Day' was one of the most important milestones in my young life; perhaps even more so than the day I walked the stage at Reed Arena. I well remember the day the Registrar's Office notified me that I had accumulated 92 hours hours of college credit (magic number for Senior status and Aggie Ring elgibility). I immediately called my parents and lobbied mightily for the money to order my senior ring.

That summer of 1963 I waited impatiently for the news to come that my ring had been shipped, and when it came I was camped out at the Colorado City US Post Office at sun-up for five straight days until the parcel finally arrived. I opened the maroon box and there it was, the exact symbol that I had been so aware of on other student's fingers that announced, Wow, he's (girls weren't at A&M yet...darn) a senior at Texas A&M University.

The Aggie Ring, first introduced in 1889, seems to be the ultimate goal of every Aggie that sets foot on A&M's campus, sometimes even more so than their diploma. The current ring was redesigned in 1894 and has had the same basic design for every Aggie owner since, the only change being the Class year, mine being 1964. Ironically made in Austin, Texas, Texas A&M University is Balfour's largest client, crafting almost 10,000 Aggie Rings per year, four times as many as Notre Dame, A&M's closest competitor.

For anyone having a Texas A&M connection, if you have never had the opportunity to visit the Clayton W. Williams, Jr. Alumni Center to view the expansive ring collections, I highly suggest you add it to your bucket list. One collection that begins with the Class of 1899 has a former student's single ring donated and displayed for each year since to present. The only exception being the Class of '95; where there are two rings displayed togather, a husband and wife who died in an automobile accident.

Behind every Aggie Ring is an incredible story to be told. While my own 'original' Aggie Ring was somehow lost in 1978 (requiring an immediate replacement) I was touched by the story of Bob Palmer '69, who lost his Aggie Ring while serving in Vietnam. After returning home from his tour, he made a trip to College Station to replace his ring. Sometime later, he received a letter from The Association of Former Students that his original Aggie Ring had been returned. It seems another Aggie had noticed a man wearing an A&M ring and asked the year he had graduated. The fellow replied he had never attended Texas A&M and had bought the ring from a Vietnamese maid. The Aggie reimbursed him for the ring and returned it to the Former Students Association.

It's hard to explain to an outsider the significance of the Aggie Ring, that gold band that so adamantly ties each of us to one another; but as Bob Palmer so aptly put it, 'that my ring found its way home is not astonishing to Aggies.'

Many who have not experienced a bond to Texas A&M are baffled by the loyalty and camaraderie we have for our fellow Aggies long after we step foot off campus, but as every Aggie knows, 'From the outside looking in you can't understand it, from the inside looking out you can't explain it'.

It's been almost 47 years since the day I slipped on that prestigious band of gold; but hardly a day goes by that I don't remember the classmates, laughter, 'good bull' and the spirit that filled my years at Texas A&M.

As the memories of my own history at A&M unfold in my mind, once again, emotions begin to flood my soul, knowing no matter where or how far I may go , I will forever be linked through this unique ring of gold on my right hand.

And when I soon return to the sacred grounds of my old alma mater, Texas A&M University... with young grand kids in tow toward Kyle Field...there amongst a sea of gold rings...I'll feel right at home.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Football Two-a-days-1956-The week from hell!

I got the bright idea to try out for my high school football team (Loraine Bulldogs)sometime in July 1956. Save for the occasional backyard tussles (balled up newspapers for shoulder pads)with fellow kitten-armed pre-pubescents during elementary school, I had little experience with real, organized football. I'd never worn real hip pads or helmets (mainly because nothing was made to fit my wee frame), and to me, cleats were something found on my father's Minneapolis Moline tractor tires.

The main reason to play football, to my 13-year-old mind, was because most of the other guys in my class (12 of them) were playing, or perhaps to get in shape for spring sports; like baseball. It was a dream of mine to star for the high school team as the scrappy, spunky catcher.(Ultimately, I would be known as the scrawny, puny second-string catcher/scorekeeper, but I was entering my freshman year in high school, and was still allowed to dream big.) But, for football, I felt like I might need to add some muscle. I was right. I bet I weighted maybe 90 pounds.

Something about being a football player appealed to me. Just the uniform was compelling. It was like wearing that coveted catcher's gear...all the time. And real men played football. I imagined it would be like big time football, caked in mud or snow, and blood, and sweat, smeared with grass stains...and pain. It was a brotherhood of men, and this was a time in life where I was eager to be considered a man. After all, I'd be driving in a couple of years.

My mother was not exactly pleased. She made me promise I would not "get yourself paralyzed." Also, she was none too eager to start carting my bruised carcass back and forth to two-a-day practices.

Speaking to that subject... back in my day, I wondered who was the weisenheimer that came up with the idea of two practices in a single day. Ask a football player, any football player, whether he loves the game - the hitting, the tackling and the touchdown making - and he'll likely say, "Oh, yeah."

Ask that same player whether he loves two-a-day practices, and he'll probably look at you like you've just grown a third eyeball in the middle of your forehead. As I remember, off season weight training was grueling enough. Two-a-day workouts had to be the worst, the scourge of the gridiron; more cruel than Vince Lombardi with a toothache.

Back to Mom. I made her a deal. We lived about 10 miles from the high school, so Daddy would drive me in for the 8 a.m. practice. I'd ride my bicycle to my uncle's house, not too far from the practice field, around 11 a.m., have lunch, pack myself in ice, then head back at 2 p.m., practice for two more hours before riding the bicycle back to Uncle John's to wait for Mom to pick me up. This seemed like a perfectly logical plan at the time.

I showed up for my first two-a-day practice to the shock of my former junior high classmates. I was not the type of guy expected to play high school football...much too small they would say. Also, I was in most of the smart classes, won the spelling bee, and recited Latin scientific names of insects...a real geek! I introduced myself to Coach Everett. He was the varsity head coach. He asked me what position I wanted to play. I had no idea. Hadn't really thought about that.

"I don't know. Quarterback, maybe?"

He looked at my tiny bones and non-existent deltoids. "Can you throw?"

I could not. But we were off.

Before we started learning plays, it was time to run. Sprints. Many, many sprints. The first lesson of high school two-a-day's raised its ugly head. Football two-a-days makes you, and all those around you, vomit. I think half the team left their innards on the sideline that day. We ran till our hair fell out, we ran till our pores bled. We ran for what must have been two straight hours, and then Coach Everett blew his whistle and said, "Okay, that's it. I'll see you all in three hours. 2 p.m., don't be late. I then crawled to my bicycle and found I could not lift it.

Somehow, I survived, and even made it to the third day of two-a-days when we were assigned pads. True to form, nothing fit my 4'10" frame. We raided the junior high equipment room and found pads and a practice uniform that would do. Coach made me feel special when he ordered a helmet and shoes that actually fit me.

I finally made it through the first brutal week of practice and excruciating bike rides. I was even assigned a position: third string strong safety. This was notable not only because I must have been the weakest strong safety since the inception of the pigskin, but also because we barely had enough players for two strings. School started, and the Bulldogs won their first three games. I played in none of them.

We had a game scheduled against Hermleigh, about twenty miles from Loraine. We built up a huge lead, and when the fourth quarter came around, all the scrubs were playing. Finally, when even the scrubs were tired, Coach Everett turned to me. "Redwine...get in there. And do try not to get yourself paralyzed."

I was assigned to the wide receiver. The Hermleigh quarterback must have noticed how scrawny I was, because on the second play I was in he threw the football to my wide receiver. There he was...coming right toward me. What to do? I hadn't tackled anyone who wasn't a blood relative before.

On instinct, I ran toward him and WHAM! I just drilled him right on the shoestrings and down he went with a thud. Hermleigh's coach ran onto the field.The guy had landed on the football and it had knocked the breath out of him. I jumped up...stunned. I didn't even know how to celebrate.

The next Monday's practice I was fired up and ready to go. My peers had even dubbed me with a nickname...Shoestring Dave," and Coach Everett took special notice of me. He even promoted me to second string. I was breaking through. The heck with baseball. Who needed baseball. I was Bob Lilly.

I went to two-a-days and played football all four years in high school.

I loved to wear that Bulldog uniform.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Andrews receives a son lost to Iraq war.

Here is one who Andrews sends off to war and what happens when he doesn't come walking back.

In a packed building just off Highway 176, with Maj. Gen. John Defreitas and dozens of US Army personnel present and a flag-draped casket front and center, a slender young woman in a black dress, a widow at 19, sits with thoughts about her husband, her hero, her everything.

Brooke Bevel's demeanor is strong, stronger than you'd expect from one so young. One senses she wants Ray to be proud of her.

She shares from one of his letters displayed at the McNett Chapel. Apparently he had a wonderful, fun-loving sense of humor, and it comes through in his letters from Iraq. Then there was the serious side, as he constantly assured everyone that he would be fine, fine, fine...and that everything would be okay.

He likely promised her, like most self-assured young military patriots, that he would come home. And he did; for Cpl. Ray M. Bevel lives in each and every heart of the one thousand plus Americans gathered to honor him and his family at The James Roberts Community Center on this Monday afternoon.

One of the photographs he sent her from Iraq showed him close-up, sitting probably in a Humvee, grinning, and one could just imagine from the expression in his eyes..."I luv U, Brooke." Another showed him signing autographs for youngsters while home on leave, confirming his status as a true hero to the youth with whom he so loved to interact.

It all began when a knock came on Saturday evening, 21 April 2007, and a United States Army Sergeant stood in a doorway on Northwest 11th Street. Almost immediately Jerry and Lonna Bevel's home was crowded with neighbors, co-workers, friends and family who rushed there when they heard. American flags suddenly bloomed in the front yard and at every home in the Bevel's neighborhood; indeed from the SE to the NW, from the NE to the SW, Andrews soil sprouted the Red, White and Blue.

When the time came to meet a chartered military aircraft at Midland International Airport, it was soon apparent that the entire Permian Basin must be aware of the police-led motorcade's procession route to bring Ray home to Andrews. Before the hearse could even exit the airport there were large groups of people along the roadside, with hats off, hands over hearts, salutes, hand-painted signs and American flags waving.

When the motorcade finally approached Andrews' city limits, led by fifty plus Patriot Guard motorcycle units, the crowds became much more dense. When it turned up North Main Street the vehicles were forced to slow as hundreds pressed forward to reach out and touch the hearse, as well as the family's limousine. Auto-focusing lenses were much appreciated now, as it would have been impossible to manually focus through tears.

Corporal Ray Bevel was just a few months past his 22nd birthday when he was killed by an IED roadside bomb on April 21st in Yusifiyah, Iraq. He was serving with the 10th Mountain Division, Air 1, Charlie Company, based in Ft. Drum, New York.

To date (April 21, 2007) 298 soldiers with Texas connections have been killed in the Iraq war, Cpl. Ray Bevel is the first from Andrews.

A significant mentor in Ray's youth, Doug Kello, officiates at the service. Everyone smiles when he mentions Ray's caring for his comrades by sharing Lonna's SOUTHWEST CARE PACKAGES, and they chuckle when it's revealed the soldier's favorite item was the 'Rip It' energy drink, which they were convinced could only be found at Porter's Thriftway in Andrews, Texas.

It occurs to me that it has been just over 60 years since the anniversary of D-Day, and am reminded of the sacrifices of those who died abroad then to save the world from tyranny.

The war in Iraq is different in many ways, but no matter your stance on this war, it seems there are two enduring similarities. First, our soldiers, like Ray Bevel, are the best and the bravest, because the values they fight for are the most highly prized.

Second, the cost of war is borne most heavily by the young and their families.

Another thing comes to mind. In the Bible, it seems as if angels show up every time something important happens. Then we can be assured that for Ray, and for our other valiant soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice - when the call came from God - the angels were right there, right there.

It may appear on the surface Ray was defeated -- not so -- he was not. The people who brought harm to him...I doubt anybody will remember their names for two minutes.

Ray's extended family sings for him. Projected on a large screen are snapshots from a young man's life: birth and childhood, church and baptism, soccer and middle school, high school graduation and marriage to Brooke, military service.

The huge crowd files out behind Ray's casket, several raising the small American flags they have been carrying with them for days.

Army Honor Guardsmen escort the casket to Andrews North Cemetary, where Ray joins the many other war veterans from Andrews.

Rifle volleys, Taps follow. Six pairs of young, practiced hands fold Ray's American flag with precision. Brooke already has his Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Good Conduct Medal and other Distinguished Service Medals.

They give her the flag that covered his casket.

My eyes are drawn to the heavens, where in my mind's eye, Black Hawk helicopter's fly formation.

One peels off and is gone.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

By our side.

Margaret called this morning (October 12, 2006) from Colorado City.

Our "shared" family dog, Laci, has been happily residing with Patti's mom for about two years, romping freely in the wide open spaces of her countryside farm. Laci would always greet Margaret's many visitors as they crossed the entry gate's cattle guard with an inquistive, but protective "what's your business here?", bark.

My cell phone revealed a deep level of concern and urgency in her voice. "Something's wrong with Laci."

Colorado City is 100 miles away; so I instructed Margaret to rush Laci to her local veterinarian, Dr. Alfred Vardeman, for immediate attention. I would be on my way shortly to bring her back to her own doctor, Charlie Mohr, here in Andrews.

We'd had Laci for almost exactly eleven years. She was a full blood Blue Merle Australian Shepherd with a snow-white neck mane and tan points in all the right places. Her pedigree is impressive, as both her parents were championship show dogs. Laci was one of a kind, and everywhere we took her we always got the same response: "Oh what a beautiful dog."

In November 1995, a puppy was delivered to 1300 NW 4th Street by a private breeder from Grapevine, Texas. The pup was an early Christmas present for Patti, as she was still suffering the "empty nest" syndrome; what with youngest son Brent at far away Texas A&M University.

A cute little thing... as they all are, eight weeks old and just a wiggly fluff-ball of fur. With the biggest eyes and the silkest ears, and a tiny pink spot on her jet black nose. Though we had picked her out of the litter from pictures, up close and personal translated to love at first sight for all of us.

Since we were a tennis family, and that puppy would chase and tumble after rolling tennis balls...and chase and tumble again, we decided to name her "Laci," after the brand name 'Lesse' tennis apparel we wore during that time. So, Laci was ours to raise, love and adore till death do us part.

Unfortunately, Margaret was right. Before I could even get ready to leave for Colorado City, the phone call came from Dr. Vardeman that Laci was gone. If you are an animal lover and have ever lost a pet, you probably know about "Rainbow Bridge"...our imagination tells us that's where Laci is now. [Enter keywords - Rainbow Bridge]

Dr. Vardeman suspected that a pancreatitus attack was the most likely cause of Laci's sudden and unexpected demise. It all started that morning when she refused to eat for only the second time in her life, and Margaret knew at once something was not right. Laci was mostly a healthy dog. We did have a few scary times; like when she somehow ingested something at the farm that made her seriously ill, and she had to spend several days at Dr. Vardeman's clinic. Other than that there was never a time for real concern regarding her health...until this day...when it all fell apart.

A consoling circumstance was that Patti's sister, Bren, had snapped a picture of Laci and Margaret sitting together on Sunday afternoon, and Laci looked perfectly normal, healthy and happy...but then again, she was always content when she was at Margaret's side.

After the shock phase of Laci's death had run it's course, my inclination was to immediately begin this article for my 'Speakin' of Country' column. As I reviewed her AKC papers to access pertinent information, my gaze was drawn to her birth date... October 12, 1995. Unable to speak, I handed the papers to Patti, and a wave of emotion flooded my soul as I finally managed to express myself, "she died on her birthday." The first major eruption of grief and tears engulfed us both.

Before she went to live with Patti's mom, Laci loved to go to our farm (Heston's Haven) south of Colorado City. When the pending trip was announcd with "wanna go to the farm?", she would immediately do a whirling dance and race to our front yard and "do her business" , before jumping into the back of the Toyota 4-Runner.

It was at the farm that we first noticed her 'herding instincts', as she would try to herd anything that moved...including our pen raised chuker quail, cottontail rabbits, butterflies, chickens, goats and even our visitor's cars.

Her most favorite thing to do was to chase down golf balls that we hit from an elevated tee box on our farm's lighted driving range. We kept wondering why our golf ball supply was noticeably dwindling from day to day. We finally discovered that Laci's herding instinct was so strong that she would snatch up the rolling golf balls, run them to a small watering trough in the pasture, and drop them in. There must have been 200 golf balls in the bottom of that tank.

When Patti and I arrived at Dr. Vardeman's clinic the next morning to carry her to the farm, the fact that she was really gone hit us hard. Alfred is such a caring and sensitive being (veterinarians are like that), as he calmly explained his sense that God gives us pets that we might be more aware of our own mortality, since we can normally witness their birth, growth, maturity, decline and eventual death during our own lifespan.

As Laci was gently placed in the back of our 4-Runner for her final ride to the farm, a second wave of emotion rushed through us, and we felt it all the way to Heston's Haven's gate.

When we passed the golf shed at the crest of the hill facing east, 200 yards west from our country home, we knew where we would lay her to rest...right beside the tee box...where she always layed down after she had herded all the golf balls she cared to for that day.

It is there that she will always be "by our side."

Laci 10/12/1995 - 10/12/2006

Monday, October 09, 2006

The dryer factor.

I suppose the good news is that I got our dryer working again.

The bad news is that, like all major appliances getting up there in working hours, it's bound to sooner or later need replacement - and at a cost I'd just as soon not think about. They, like we humans, get old and stop working. It seems to be one of the main laws of the universe - like grandkids never tracking mud across a clean floor, or, if the shoe's ugly.

One of the more simple lessons my chemistry/physics students had to digest was the cause of things wearing out; something called "entropy", which is, in this case, a scientific term meaning "expensive".

The "things" I'm referring to are all the modern machines designed to make our lives less complicated - washers, dryers, computers, cell phones, stoves etc., etc! They're all subject to 'entropy' and they're all expensive to fix or replace. I won't even mention automobiles. There, the cost of even a seemingly simple repair can be right up there with a monthly mortage payment.

Wearing out is not an unexpected event. Happens all the time. It just seems these "things" always tend to surrender in groups. Consequently, when you experience the apparent last struggles of (in our case) a dryer, it's probably a good idea to check the pulse of freezer and water heater too.

If they don't all die at once, then their other forte is timing.

Example: Home remodeling is so in vogue...has been for at least a year and a half around our homestead. Remodeling translates to new ceramic tile and hardwood flooring, completely redone kitchen and bathrooms, new plantation shutters, new furniture, new deck and landscaping, and far worse, the walls and ceilings (read "paint"). Painting means something, according to artistic Patti, that we can do ourselves (unfortunately including yours truly) to save some green.

So, appliance failure never happens when you are flush with cash. Nope. Appliance death is always inconvenient. When you combine, let's say, a clothes dryer kicking the bucket along with house remodeling, the checkbook starts wheezing like it's going to cross the river Styx too.

Still, I did get the dryer working again. However, that didn't happen without some pain.

Like most married adult males, I've become accustomed to various vocalizations from the significant other and the likely interpretations for such. Be that as it may, when I heard a loud "pop", followed immediately by a startled mini-scream, I rushed into the utility room to find the dryer lid flopped open and the acrid smell of electrical smoke...and Patti with both hands over her mouth.

When I asked her what happened her breathless response was, " We need a new dryer".

I wasn't convinced, although the last thing I wanted to do was to disassemble a dryer to see why it's making "funny noises" and taking twice as long to dry the clothes we generate for washing every few days.

That being the case, instead of calling the repair man, I told 'she who must not be made mad' that I would check it out tomorrow and take appropiate action.

Reluctantly, the next morning I gathered my socket wrenches and other tools and got started.

I'd have been making funny noises too with what I found inside. $.87 in assorted change; an ink pen cap (red); a plastic flash card case (go figure); a large paper clip; an unmatched sock(dryers really do eat them); one very dessicated cricket and enough lint to clog the Disney tunnel.

Two hours later, I had all the parts cleaned, kinked and too long exhaust hose cleared and shortened, fuse replaced, motor oiled and everything back togather generally the way it was before the dryer had been pronounced dead. It didn't even make funny noises when I started it. I felt pretty good for having not succumbed to what could have been an expensive sojourn to Sears.

Still, I'm not too optimistic. The silly thing is still pretty old and the fix is probably only temporary. I'm just hoping to get another year or so out of it before it really does die in some cataclysmic event and takes the dishwasher and refrigerator with it.

No real moral to the story here. Juat another country boy horror story avoided, and 400 or so dollars amount that's a mere drop in the bucket compared to what's going into remodeling.

Never really ends, does it?

Things I've Learned.

During my lifetime I have always managed to spend considerable time out of doors getting away from whatever needed getting away from.

Over those years, I have learned a few things about communing with nature that never seem to get mentioned on any of the "outdoor" programs I occasionally watch on TV.

Some of these gems are remembered from my childhood days (not necessarily outdoors related), but most are things I learned from hunting, fishing or photographing in the great outdoors, and all have happened to me...either directly or indirectly.

Learned at an early age.

* Smaller brothers don't always stay that way.

* A second grade teacher who cries when we sing "silent night" is a keeper.

* Our dog didn't want to eat my vegetables either.

* Almost anything can be used as fish bait.

* Caution comes in handy when skinning catfish.

* A balogna sandwich taste better the farther you are away from civilization.

Learned during high school.

* Always assume the electric fence is working.

* Sometimes the path less traveled is that way for a reason.

* Always watch your backcast.

* No one ever owned too many Coleman lanterns.

* Rod tips and truck doors are best kept apart.

Learned during college.

* Gates and truck doors make more noise after dark.

* After falling from a boat, try standing up before panicking.

* Fish that make your heart pound should be landed with a net.

* Animals are animals, and humans are humans. Be wary of those who confuse the two.

* Sandy roads are better when wet...dirt roads are better when dry.

Learned after college.

* Dad was right.

* Size rarely matters. Largemouth bass fishing is one exception.

* Never throw away the instructions to a new tent.

* Whoever said "never touch the inside of a tent when it's raining" wasn't kidding.

* Waterproof usually means water resistant. Water resistant usually means nothing.

Learned as young adult.

* No one has ever sold anything below cost.

* The more tags on something the more it cost.

* Anti-hunters are merely one coyote-eaten pet cat or pet dog from seeing the light.

* Whatever the weather report says, be prepared for the opposite.

* It's true...duct tape, bailing wire and a pair of pliers are your best friends.

* Always pack the alarm clock, flasklight and toilet paper first.

Learned as older adult.

* Always duck when testing the corn feeder.

* Regardless of your relationship with your parents, you miss them terribly after they are gone.

* Firearms are only an investment if you plan to sell them.

* Never completely trust that the drain plug is engaged in your boat.

* "Cabela's" likely comes from a Latin word meaning "world's largest daycare center for men".

* A GPS isn't worth crap unless you know how to use it.

Learned as outdoor photographer.

* The West Texas sunrise doesn't happen on it's own.

* Don't drink caffeinated beverages or coffee before you put on three layers of clothes and insulated coveralls.

* If you build a photo blind in a prairie dog town, make sure it is snake proof...and bring a flashlight to check before crawling inside...just in case.

* Yes, a snake can fit through a crack that small.

* New camo clothing and barbed wire are naturally attracted.

* Don't try to slide through a barbrd wire fence with a fanny pack on if you are alone; actually, don't try to straddle over one either.

* If a rancher says it's just over the hill, pack a lunch.

* If he says you can't miss it, make darn sure he goes with you.

* Don't set up your photo blind in a bull pasture.

Learned as a grandparent.

* Grandchildren and grandparents are natural allies.

* An hour fishing with grandkids will teach them more than a week of television.

* The world's best babysitters are Zebco rods and reels and Daisy BB guns.


Saturday, July 01, 2006

Walking the Loop

The loop is one and one-half miles long. I know. I've measured it...and walked it many times. We began calling it the loop because it makes a circular trip.

We would leave the front door of our Heston's Haven country home, walk a half mile along a south fence row, then back across Kiowa Mound hill (old Indian campsite), onto a trail following our north fenceline. We would walk down that path for another half-mile, cross the earthen dam of the stock tank, then back through the woods and over a dry creek bed toward our country cottage, and return to the screened-in back porch. The complete circuit was almost exactly one and one-half miles.

Whether we were at Heston's Haven for a weekend, a holiday, or a family vacation, walking the loop was a regular part of our daily activities. Maybe in the morning Patti and I would strike out together, or if we had guest, they were always invited to hike along. As always, Laci, our Australian Sheppard pup, would happily lead the way.

The landmarks along the way all became so familiar...the yellow cactus flowers in May, the honeybee tree, where son-in-law harvested his first whitetail buck, where we always saw the covey of quail, where arrowheads were found on Kiowa Mound, where we disposed of the five-foot rattlesnake, where the mother bobcat had her den...and where yours truly got the tractor stuck one winter. All these places and events have become a part of our family's fokelore. They are the props and scenes in stories we all know by heart and repeat to each other season after season.

When grandkids were with us, walking the loop became a grand adventure. They loved to run on ahead as scouts and then hurry back to Grandave and Grams and report what they had found, what had changed, and what was new. They grew adept at spotting different kinds of insects scurrying around the country landscape and identifying the tracks of animal neighbors that had passed that way during the night.

What a delight to weave together a story for them about how the fawn had followed its mother down to the waters edge, or how the cottontail bunny had run away from the coyote. And occasionally we'd be ever so lucky and see a doe standing off in the meadow, looking at us; or we'd spot the hoot owl perched on his telephone pole, waiting for nightfall.

The little ones were startled when the quail flushed, and would jump aside when they came upon a garter snake sunning itself on the pathway. Grandave would show them pointed deer tracks imprinted in the soft dirt. Grams would help them find ripe argarita berries, often picking enough to bring home in their hats and hands for an afternoon snack...and I'd laugh when the tart juices would pucker their little lips.

There will come a day when the grandkids will want to walk the loop alone, just them...without us grownups along. With much trepidation we'll probably say, "Yes", and then spend the next hour or so trying not to appear too anxious. They'll be fine, I'll convince myself...and so they will be.

I can hear them now, laughing and running, getting closer as they shuffle through the carpet of fallen leaves and then skip down the hill behind Heston's Haven. "Grandave," they will yell. "We saw a rabbit...and little frogs in the tank...and we have to tell Gram's about the berries...and we got our feet muddy...and we heard a woodpecker.

Then they will be off to swing on the tree rope or to play in the sandbox...and we can relax.

It was 1991 when Heston's Haven 250 acres came to me through my parent's estate. Now all these years later I did this happen? How did this little walk around the loop become such an important part of our lives? How can you become so attached to a place?

Over the passing years Heston's Haven's landscape has changed somewhat, too quickly it seems...but you can still make it around the loop if the John Deere's shredder keeps the paths cleared.

Is it ritual or habit? Maybe it's a little of going to church on Sunday. You come to Heston's 'walk the loop'.

It's become a measure of our health and the growth of our family. There was a time when someone had to drive the Kawasaki Mule, as the little ones were too young to go all the way around the loop without being carried. Then we remember when older grandkids could walk most of the way...and finally make it all the way.

And then we think about how the loop trip is taking more and more time as aching muscles and sore backs and ailing knees catch up.

But there are grandkids still babes, and hopefully someday great-grandkids, who have yet to see the pointed deer tracks...or be startled by the quail...or see the yellow cactus flowers in May. Someone must lead them around the loop and along the paths and pass on the stories about the honeybee tree, the garter snake, Gram's argarita berries and where Grandave got the tractor stuck.

Walking the loop has seemed to let us know where we are in life. It's a common experience we can always share with each other. It seems that only as we've become grandparents ourselves have we begun to realize this little stroll's importance in our lives far exceeds the simple act of walking along our country trails.

It's only one and one-half miles long. I know. I've measured it... but the significance of "walking the loop" in the life of our family is way beyond measuring.