Notes From The Cactus Patch

Tall tales from Texas about characters I know and have known. Who knows, you might be one of them.

Author Archive

Trashy Juanita’s


This will be my 5th installment of childhood feel-good memories to take your mind off the present situation that greets us every morning. It always starts with the “we are all in this together ” the horror movie called “The Evil Bug From the Continent We can’t Name Because It Will Offend Someone And Make Them Cry Or Tear Down A Statue and God Help Us If That Misunderstood Sock Cap Wearing, Birkenstock stepping, Back Pack Toting, Green Haired, Pierced Eyebrow Unemployed Young Person Is Squished.” It’s a long title, but you get the message.


Childhood memories are like teeth, we all have them, good ones, and rotten ones. If you grew up in Texas in the 1950s, you will identify with some of mine, or maybe not.

I was nine-years-old before I dined in a Mexican restaurant. I knew they existed because my father and mother enjoyed them, bringing home little mints and matchbooks touting the restaurant’s name. I got the mints, my parents put the match books in a jar in the kitchen. I dreamed that one day, I might visit one.

In Texas, Mexican food is part of life. It’s one of the major food groups, and a boy cannot grow into a man of substance without it. Looking back, not having real Mexican food at that young age affected my evolution into a healthy young specimen. I harbored a nervous tick, I stuttered at times, and one leg was shorter than the other. All those maladies were cured, once I ate the real-stuff. The medicinal qualities of Mexican food is amazing.

I had for many years, eaten tacos at my cousin’s house and believed those to be authentic Mexican food. Sadly they were nowhere near the real deal. A few times over the summer, my cousin Jok’s mother, Berel, would cook tacos and invite the families for a feast. Cold Beer and Tacos. Pure Texas.

Berel would stand at her massive gas range, a large pot of ground beef, and a cauldron of boiling grease heating up the room to cooking temperature. She would drop that Taco in the witches cauldron, pull it out and toss it to the pack of wild African dogs sitting around her breakfast table. The dogs, of course, were my cousins and me. My poor mother would leave the room. She could not bear to see her son eat like a feral child: growling, biting, snarling as we consumed the tacos like they were a cooked Wildebeest. That is what I considered to be Mexican food and proper behavior when consuming it.

If you drove northwest of downtown Fort Worth on Jacksboro Highway, right before you come to the honkey tonks, you would find “Trashy Juanita’s” Mexican restaurant. Legendary for its Taco’s, frijoles, and cold Jax Beer. It was also legendary for other things that my father would not mention until I was older. Gambling, shooting dice, and in general questionable behavior was part of the after-hours entertainment. It wasn’t on Jacksboro Highway for the view.

Juanita Batista Carlita Rosanna Danna Esposito, the owner, was not a trashy woman, but a middle-aged Latin beauty with a bawdy laugh and sharp wit. It was the restaurant’s front yard adornments that earned the name. Offended at first, she finally accepted her crown and wore it proudly.

Two old rust-eaten pick-up trucks, one painted blue, and the other yellow sat abandoned in the front yard behind a cyclone fence. Pots of flowers decorated the fenders while the beds were overflowing with vines and small flowering trees. Fifty or more chickens strutted and pecked around the yard, giving the place a barnyard atmosphere. Some saw a work of art, while others called it a junkyard that happened to serve great food.
In an interview in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Juanita claimed to be related to General Santa Anna, Pancho Villa, and the Cisco Kid, making her royalty in Mexico. The people of Fort Worth loved her, and she was considered a local character.

Trashy Juanita’s was my first introduction to real Mexican food, and all that comes with it.

My father sold a fiddle to a buddy, and with the profit, he took the whole fam-damly to dine at Trashy Juanita’s on the Fourth of July, 1958.

Juanita had gone “whole hog” on this holiday. American flags hung from the front porch and draped the cyclone fence. Two small children sat in the front yard shooting bottle rockets at the cars driving on Jacksboro Highway, and the chickens were wrapped in red-white-and-blue crepe paper streamers. Very patriotic, and also very redneck Texas.

A jovial Juanita escorted us to a large table next to the kitchen doorway. A waiter delivered tortillas, salsa and two Jax beers for my father and grandfather. Large, frosty glasses of sweet iced tea for the rest of us. There was no menu; it was Tacos or nothing at all.

The unfamiliar aroma of exotic food floated on a misty cloud from the kitchen, filling my young nostrils and activating my juvenile saliva glands, causing a torrent of spit to drip from my mouth onto the front of my new sear-sucker shirt. My mother cleaned me up and wrapped a napkin around my neck. I was ready; I had my eating clothes on.
We decided that the family would dine on a medley of beef and chicken Tacos, frijoles and rice, and guacamole ala Juanita. The waiter rushed our order to the kitchen.

The evening was turning out great. My father was telling jokes, the Jax beer was flowing, and then a waiter walked past our table into the kitchen. Under each arm, was one of the patriotically wrapped chickens from the front yard. My grandfather must have forgotten that there were two young children at the table and remarked, ” there goes our Tacos, can’t get any fresher than that.”

His remark went unnoticed until I chimed in, asking my father, ” Dad, or we going to eat the pet chickens from the front yard?” He didn’t offer an answer.
I got a big lump in my throat, and my eyes got misty. My sister whimpered and cried like a baby, and my grandmother, seeing her grandchildren in such distress, shed tears in support. Mother gave the two adult men the worst evil eye ever. The mood at the table went from happy to crappy in a minute or less. So much for a joyous family celebration. We might as well be eating Old Yeller for supper.

There was a ruckus in the kitchen, yelling, pots and pans clashing, and the two chickens, still wearing their streamers half-flew and half-ran through the dining room, and out the front door. The cook was right behind them but tripped over a man’s foot, knocking himself out as he hit the floor.

Juanita, standing in the middle of the dining room, announced that there would only be beef Tacos tonight. The two doomed birds had escaped the pan, and my sister and I were happy again. My father breathed a sigh of relief that the night was saved, and my grandfather bent down and polished the new scuff on his size 12 wingtip.

Defending Texas 2.0


I am, by my own admission, a proud Texan that will go toe to toe with anyone that diminishes the history and heritage of my state. I haven’t needed to do that in many years, but the piss and vinegar is still there if needed.

Statues are inanimate objects. They can’t shoot you, slap you or speak to you. The only way they might cause harm to one, is to fall on you as they are being pulled down by an uneducated mob of hoodlums wielding ropes and ladders.

Texas has more statues than Forest Gump has shrimp. There are brass, bronze, metal and stone statues of the defenders of the Alamo, various animal hero’s, horned toads, our founding fathers, soldiers from all wars, questionable politician’s and scores of others. I saw a statue of Flipper the dolphin in Galveston, so I guess everyone that has their own statue is not bad.

In Granbury, where I live, the town is named for a famous southern general named Granbury. He served in the confederate army and lived in Waco, where he practiced law. He has a statue of course, and the town carries his name, and has for over well over a hundred years with no complaints or problems created by the inanimate object.

Now, in Granbury, like the rest of the state, and country, people want them removed because the site of a statue hurts’ their feelings or makes them think of injustices, either real or imagined, committed centuries ago in a country that was far different than the one they are now attempting to ruin. With young men and women that depend on Google for information and education, can we expect less? Our education system has failed them. Texas history is barely touched on and smoothed over with a pacifist brush.

Our state history is not pretty: It is rough and tumble with a lot of bloodshed and dying by all. Indian wars, The Alamo, Goliad, San Jacinto, hand to hand knife fighting musket shooting battles that were horrific. In those hard scrabble days, people were tough: life was tough, and a young Texas ranch wife would kick your butt as good as her husband. My grandmother was one of those gals.

The Alamo mission, in San Antonio, is the most sacred piece of history in our state. It is a shrine held in reverence by Texans since 1836, when the mission, held by volunteers and led by William Barret Travis, fell to General Santa Anna and his army. Most of our counties and many of our towns are named for the defenders. Now, there are mobs and hooligans that want to tear down the mission because it hurts their feelings. Fortunately, our Texas Rangers and other patriots are guarding the Alamo to keep this from happening. Texas history will not go down without a good fight. God bless The Alamo and Davey Crockett, and God Bless Texas.

Entertainment Is But A Phone Call Away


This past year or so, I noticed that phone calls from friends and family had dwindled drastically. Not that they were that frequent in years past, but now, the calls have almost ceased. The holidays count for a few, and if there is a surgery or accident, that will bring one or two sympathy or curiosity calls.

One can assume that as you age and become a seasoned person, your friends and family are in the same boat, and you can talk about medical issues and health only so much before your head explodes. My sister, bless her heart, does call every few days to chat about nothing in particular, but she is down from four dogs to one and is easily bored. She watches a lot of Netflix.

My multi-tasking son rarely calls. He lives in North Padre Island, by the beach, surrounded by an impressive collection of “man toys.” He and his wife own a business that keeps them hopping, so I get it. The rest of his time he divides between Cub Scouts and baseball games with my grandson. He is a busy young man and appears to have broken all his fingers on both hands, or lost my phone number. I am considering sending him an amazon package with my picture and a burner cell phone.

My generation X grandson keeps in touch via text, the preferred form of communication for people in their twenties. Sometimes he will answer his phone, and it takes me a second to remember his voice. He sounds much like his father, who passed away seven years ago, and if I am melancholy, it unnerves me a bit, so texting is alright for now. As he ages, actual speaking will replace texting.

My late-late mother, ever the geriatric comedian, in her golden years, remarked on how lonely life can be, and she wouldn’t have anyone to talk with if the telemarketers and scammers stopped calling. I laughed at how ridiculous that sounded, but alas, I may be in that same position.

Medicare enrollment is upon us with a vengeance, and I receive a dozen calls a day, most of which my spam app catches and disperses them back into cellular orbit. I did answer one a few days ago because it displayed a number with fourteen digits, and I was curious who has that many digits. What the hell, have some fun.

The youngish man on the line started his spiel about Medicare, and I could tell he was either “in” or “from” India. I listened for a minute then asked him where his call center might be? he answered, ” Indiana.” Then I asked his name, which he replied, ” Ronnie.” I politely told him that was bull crap, you are in India, and your name is not Ronnie.

He was busted, so he fessed up. Speaking in a pleasant accent, he said, ” yes sir, I am in India, and my name is Aakash. I work at the call center for American Exploitive Insurance.” He seemed like a polite young man, so I continued the conversation.
“Tell me, Aakash, do you have Netflix and Amazon Prime in India, and if you do, have you seen Jack Ryan and The Kaminsky Method ?” I enquired.
He was quiet for a few seconds then responded, “yes, we have those, but we watch only Bollywood movies here. Our movies have much drama, love love, and shooting guns, then everyone dances and sings happy songs. It’s joyously entertaining. India is a happy place, mostly.”
” And what do you mean by mostly?” I say.
I could sense his hesitation and the frustration in his voice, but he needed to vent to someone, and I am three-thousand miles away, and that’s as safe as it gets.

This young telemarketer begins spilling his guts to a stranger, in America, over the telephone, hoping to receive a form of absolution from a non-Catholic, even though I am wearing a black t-shirt and eating Mrs. Pauls fish sticks for lunch so that counts for something. Speaking in a comforting voice, I urge him to continue. He lets it all hang out.

In a desolate cracking voice, he wails, ” my girlfriend lives with me in a tiny, tiny, tiny apartment, and all day, she plays this Brittney Spears person’s records and dances about like a hoochie lady. It is making me a crazy man. Last week for the evening meal, I try to make American Texas Terlingua chili using Indian spices and goat meat, and it gives us both the running bathroom visit for days. We have more nuisance monkeys in our neighborhood than residents. The little mean shit animals dismembered my moped, and then they break into my apartment and eat my James Taylor albums and raid the food closet leaving my home a mess. I have no gun, so I can’t shoot them dead; the mean monkey has more rights than me. I have applied for citizenship in your country, but it takes two lifetimes. I have four degrees from a university but make little money. My life is a hot fresh cow pie residing in the middle of the road.”

I am bewildered by his predicament but yet amused at the absurdity of it all. We exchange pleasantries, and I tell him to call me again next week for another chat, to which he agreed and wished me well.
Who knew telemarketers could be so exciting.

Little Audie Murphy


A third installment of “feel good” stories from my childhood. Virus’s, Riots and Looters…Oh My! The only thing missing is the gang of Flying Monkeys terrorizing Granbury.
With all the mayhem now in our small towns, I should take my firearm when shopping at H.E.B. for groceries. You never know when ANTIFA will come down the aisle and set fire to “Uncle Bens” and “Aunt Jemimah” products. This recount should take your mind off of the bad stuff and hopefully leave you sedate and smiling.

The farm. Santa Anna, Texas. July of 1955. My two uncles, Jay and Bill, need more to occupy their time. I need them away from me. I’m a six-year-old kid, and their influence is ruining my childhood. They told me Howdy Doody is not real, and Captain Kangaroo hates kids. I cried for days.
The chaw of Red Man chewing tobacco behind the smokehouse was the last straw. Seeing a kid puking for two hours seemed funny to them.
My grandfather told the two grown kids that a man in Coleman has a pig that won the ” Purple Paw” award. Every year, the governor of Texas bestows the prize on an animal that has performed a heroic act. Who knew there was a hero nearby?
Of course, my two uncles have to see this pig, so they head for Coleman with my cousin Jerry and me in tow. Arriving in Coleman, we stop at the feed store for directions and a coke.
The owner tells my uncles to be very respectful of the pig since he saved the farmer and his family’s lives. In appreciation, the farmer named the pig “Little Audie Murphy,” after the famous WW11 hero and movie star. I am more than impressed. This pig is the real deal.

Arriving at the farm, we are met at the gate by the proud farmer. My uncle Bill has a $10.00 bet with Ray that this is a load of bullcrap. They never stop.

Ray wants to hear the pig’s story, so the farmer is more than happy to recount.

The farmer takes a chaw of Red Man and begins, ” I was plowing one day, and my old tractor hits a stump and tips over, trapping me underneath. I’m yelling for help for an hour, and finally, my old pig shows up. The pig grabs a timber and scoots it underneath the tractor, then stands on it so’s the tractor tilts up, and I can scoot out. That porker saved my life.”
I can tell by the look on my uncle’s faces that they think this is B.S.
The farmer continues, ” about a week after that, I’m in town at the domino parlor, and my house catches on fire. My wife and kids are knocked out by the smoke, and the pig pulls them out of the burning house and revives them—a true porcine hero, that pig.”
Now my uncles are impressed. I see a tear trickle from Bill’s eye. I got a lump in my throat.

At this point, we want to see this pig for ourselves, so the farmer takes us to the barn. He stands outside the corral and yells, ” Little Audie, come on out.”
A huge Yorkshire pig wearing a ribbon and gold medal around his neck makes its way out of the barn. I’ve seen pigs before, and this wasn’t any normal pig. He was missing an ear and a front and back leg. Where the legs had been, the pig now sported homemade prosthesis. He seemed to walk fine and was friendly.

My uncle Jay was shocked and asked the farmer what the hell happened to the poor pig?
The farmer took a minute to answer that question. Then he smiled and said, ” well, a pig that special, we couldn’t just eat him all at once.”

The End of The Innocence


A perspective and opinion from a proud Texan. I’m not sure what is going on with WordPress, but I am re-posting this. The first post was an un-edited version. My apologies to my readers. I blame ” The Rona.”

Dazed and Confused ?

The death of George Floyd is a turning point in our United States of America. I have heard many times from mystic sources of the unknown, that “out of tragedy comes good,” but not always. I believe Churchill spoke these wise words, but it may have been the captain of the Titanic, or perhaps William Travis, and we all know how that ended for him.

The weeks of peaceful protest is gone. We now have groups of anarchists that hi-jacked the Black Lives Matter movement for their use.

America’s soft spongy underbelly lies exposed while thugs and criminals lay waste on our cities and society. Parts of our pristine city blocks look like a war zone. Protesters, bystanders, and business owners that wish to make their point peacefully are attacked and beaten by the infiltrators if they intervene. These hoodlums even had the nerve to destroy and loot a Starbucks in Portland.

It’s a tough pill to swallow when the people that want and need the change in our police departments and city governments or the ones seen on television carrying a shopping cart full of flat screens or a pair of $600.00 Nikes from a looted store. Nothing builds the bridge of peace and brotherhood like looting.

In Austin, Texas, the capital of my home state, a black American capitol policeman, was mobbed and attacked by a group of “keep Austin weird” type of folks. My apologies to Austinites that do not wish to stay weird. They appear, on television, to be young, white, and likely students from our prestigious University of Texas, and they are damn lucky they weren’t shot. Knowing UT, I’m sure there were a few Antifa kiddies in the group to add flavor and support. One can assume that the food trucks on South Congress didn’t do much business that day. All there customers were busy at the capital.

My parents taught me a valuable lesson when I was a young’n. You don’t assault a police officer: in any way, or it is likely to turn out bad for you. Do these young people not have parents to teach them right from wrong? The “everyone gets a trophy, and I want it for free” generation has a lot to learn.

Thank you, Austin, for showing us what you are, pulling back the tye-dyed curtain for us to see the wizard. The “hippy-dippy live music capital of the world persona” you have pushed for decades has soured and gelled into a smelling heap of Whole Foods dumpster refuse. I have friends that live in Austin, so this doesn’t include them unless they were at the dust-up, as mentioned above.

“Keep Austin Weird” was once a fun slogan that the city was proud of owning. I wonder now if that slogan is appropriate? God Bless Davy Crockett and The Alamo.

The Father of the Austin Music Scene


I wrote this story in 2012 after a visit to Threadgills on Barton Springs Road. I was in, and out of Austin in those Armadillo Headquarters days, and knew many of the musicians that were responsible for it’s progressive music scene. No one can remember who, what, or how it started, so I figured, why not make it an Armadillo.

A. Dillo was the influence of a generation of Texas musicians and tunesmiths. This precocious little Armadillo was found on the lawn of the state capitol one hot day in September 1970, by a group of hippies lounging on the grass sunning themselves, and smoking pot.

He was a sad little armadillo, lost, searching for his family unit, after being separated from them in Zilker Park a few days earlier, during a vicious thunderstorm and flash flood. A happy reunion was not to be. His mother and father were tits-up on Congress, and his siblings had been lunch for a pack of wild dogs. He was an orphan.

The dazed but kindly hippie’s were drawn to the friendly little tank. They took him back to their pad just off Congress and proceeded to raise him as one of their own. They christened him A. Dillo.

One of the girls in the house was majoring in animal behavior and journalism at the University of Texas and was soon tutoring the ardent little critter in reading and writing.

Within six months, A. Dillo had mastered penmanship and was writing prose. Within a year, he was writing short stories and speeches for the university’s professors and prolific student protesters.

He experimented with strange substances and started hanging out with artist types and deep thinkers. He could write about current events, political science, theology, and music with the best of them. He was, in a sense, humanized.

A. Dillo’s popularity grew off the charts, and he was invited to give readings of his work at private parties and student gatherings. He was, in a sense, a critter version of Alan Ginsburg.

But, being an armadillo, he couldn’t wear human clothes, so he employed an artist friend to decorate his shell to resemble a fashionable tie-dye t-shirt. He took to wearing round, rose-colored sunglasses and a variety of peace symbols and buttons. He was beyond cool and a perfect fit for Austin.

His popularity, rapidly spreading beyond the tribal bounds of the Congress neighborhood, and into the local community of aphorism, infuriated his adopted bohemian family. Jealous, though silently envious, they accused A. Dillo of ” selling out” to the man.

The bad vibes from his former adoring family were bringing him down.
Unable to create in the hostile atmosphere, he packed his sparse belongings in a Piggly Wiggly shopping bag and headed for Barton Springs and Zilker Park, to find some peace and tranquility among the woods and good water.

While shuffling down Barton Springs Road, he happened upon a recently opened venue called Armadillo World Headquarters.

Delighted to find a place that so openly celebrated his kind, he immediately scurried through a hole in the fence and took up residence beneath the beer garden stage. Enjoying the clamorous musical atmosphere and the continual supply of spilled Lone Star beer that flowed through the cracks of the stage floor.

A group of guitar picking musicians that frequented the club’s beer garden eventually befriended the little fellow, and soon he was anointed as the “official mascot” of the headquarters. He was cool again, but he didn’t understand this new scene where long-hairs wore cowboy hats and listened to country music. He just assumed it was not his to follow.

The little poet was soon inspired by his energizing surroundings, once again, began putting his thoughts and prose to paper. In a moment of trusting innocence, he exposed his talent, and shared his library of work with a few of the beer garden musicians, hoping for a morsel of recognition.

The musicians were so impressed, they immediately confiscated his poems and lyrics and made them their own. That this library of written work came from an Armadillo, at that time, to this group, seemed utterly reasonable. After all, it was Austin in the early 70s, and it’s a well-documented fact that if you remember that time, you weren’t really there.

Within a few months, the musicians and wailers at the headquarters were singing songs about Austin and everything Texas. A handful of the local artist was drawing A. Dillo’s likeness on their concert posters to promote the rapidly changing musical landscape.

Willie and Waylon took up residence at the headquarters and became the shaggy royal ambassadors of Austin music. Heady times they were.

A. Dillo was heartbroken. He had been bamboozled by the “love your brother and sister” preaching musicians, who were nothing but scoundrels, thieves, and false profits. His trust had been violated. His soaring soliloquies, his enlightening prose, his ramblings about his Texas, all stolen or plagiarized, with no hope of recovery, in a hundred different tunes. One cruel musician, blatantly and without remorse, took his favorite poem and made a song about taking himself “Home with the Armadillo.” That was the deepest cut of all. He was a broken critter. ” Oh, the pain of it all,” he wailed.

He soon left the headquarters, again packing his Piggly Wiggly bag and stealing away into the night.

A. Dillo returned to his home burrow in Zilker Park. He reconnected with the park’s inhabitants, giving nightly readings of his poetry, to an enthusiastic and adoring crowd. He was elevated to star status among the park’s animal population, and his name was known to all creatures for miles. He was finally at peace with himself and his life.

A. Dillo was the real spark of inspiration for Austin’s progressive music scene of the 1970s. Without his influence and the spread of his stolen words, tunesmiths, musicians, and vocalist all over Austin would still be writing and singing those dreary Three-chord hillbilly songs.

Jerry Jeff, Willie, Waylon, and the boys would have had to seek inspiration elsewhere, and the city would not have evolved into Austin as we know it today.

It was rumored that some years later, on a stormy night, much like the one that started his journey, A. Dillo was hit by a vehicle while attempting to cross Barton Springs Road.

An old lady that lived in the Shady Grove trailer park scooped up his remains and fed them to her two Chihuahuas, using the painted shell as a planter to adorn the steps of her small Air-Stream trailer.

That little shell, its colors faded from time, sat on the steps of that old trailer for decades, and, Couples with gray hair, walking to one of the many restaurants on the street, grandchildren, and dogs in tow, would sometimes notice the little shell full of colorful flowers. The ones who had known the little poet, or knew the legend, would approach the small shrine and pay homage by explaining to their grandchildren, the true story of the “real” father of Austin music.

“Let Go of My Lego”


If you raised kids, then you have lego’s in your home.

A Danish company invented these small interlocking blocks 87 years ago. The Lego playsets are considered the staple toy of one’s childhood. My two sons and now my grandchildren love these things. Having stepped on a few in the dark, barefoot, I consider them small weapons that masquerade as an educational toy.

The Dane’s, besides giving us Lego’s, introduced the world to Toaster Struddle Danish, Swedish meatballs, modern teak furniture, Ericson phones, Ikea, and of course, my favorite, the Vikings. They view themselves as a modern progressive save the world and planet type of folks.

Blond, fair-skinned, healthy, and a bit too educated, the populace of this country believe that a 16-year-old girl is an expert on climate change and world affairs. She dressed down the poor folks at the United Nations with an epic screaming and crying fit. The bewildered world organization was crushed. They had no idea the U.N. destroyed her childhood.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from NBC news this morning. Lego is ceasing production and sales of playsets that feature first responders or police because of the ongoing brutality against the poor, misunderstood rioters. The company is afraid that it may be targeted for violence if it gives the impression they support law and order in the United States. What the hell? I guess there is no law and order in Daneland? I don’t think ANTIFA is going to take a plane over to Europe and blow up Lego headquarters, but then, they might, loot and pillage the Lego Land installations in our high-end malls.

Don’t be surprised for this Christmas season, Lego introduces their new line of ” Protest and Riot” playsets. Wow! The kids get two choices: a peaceful protest with little mask and signs, or a riot set, complete with Lego figures equipped with spring-loaded arms that throw small Lego bricks and bottles into Lego block built Macy’s, Neiman Marcus and Target stores. For an additional charge, you can purchase the electronic and Nike displays for looting. Our kids have a penchant for violent video games, so my guess is the riot set will be the best seller.

I have a suspicious feeling that a 16-year-old girl has been talking to the Lego folks.

A Beach Day in Texas in 1969


Port Aransas 1969

The hint of daylight gives enough lumination for me to find my way down the steep steps of my family’s beach house. Grabbing my surfboard, wax, and a few towels, I load my supplies into the back of the old Army jeep and leave for the beach. The old vehicle takes time to wake up, and it sputters down E Street, doing its best to deliver me to the water’s edge.

Port Aransas is quiet this morning. Fisherman and surfers are the only souls moving on the small island.

As I drive to the beach, taking the road through the sand dunes near the jetty, the morning dew on the metal surface of the jeep, pelts me like fine rain. The salt air is heavy and I can see the cloud of mist rising from the surf long before I reach the water. The seats are cold on my bare back and legs. The vehicle lacks a windshield, allowing bugs to hit my face and chest. Texas is a buggy place. That’s a fact we live with.

I park near the pier and see that two of my friends Gwen and Gary are kneeling in the sand, waxing their boards. I am usually the first to arrive but today they beat me by a few minutes. I join them in the preparation. We are quiet. This will be a good morning and making small talk might interfere with our zone.

The Gulf of Mexico is glassy and clear. The swell is four feet, with a right break. We enter as a group of three and paddle out past the second sand bar.

Sitting on my surfboard, I see the first half of the sun rising over the ocean and feel the warmth on my upper body. A tanker ship is a few miles offshore. The smoke from its stack gives us a point to paddle to.

Today will be hot, and by noon, these beautiful waves will evaporate into a slushy shore break full of children on foam belly boards. But this morning, the three of us are working in concert with our beloved Gulf.

We ride for hours. The ocean is feisty this morning. The waves are doing their best to beat us, but we show them who the boss is. The beach fills with other surfers, and now the line-up is crowded,, and we ride into shore. Gary and Gwen leave, and I make my way home to go fishing with my father. The Kingfish await.

This day and this moment in time, we are young and selfish in our happiness: blissfully oblivious to what lays ahead.
Life will take an unhappy turn for some of us. There is no time or interest to ponder the meaning of our existence. Life to us is this moment.

Gary and Gwen are gone now and have been for some time. Gary lost in Vietnam, and Gwen from an auto accident the next summer on his way to the island. If they were still here, I would like to think that we would have kept in touch and shared our surfing stories around a good glass of bourbon at Shorty’s Bar. Three old men telling lies.

Honor and Duty In 1918


My Grandfather, in 1917-18, served in the Army and the war to end all wars: World War 1. He fought in the mud and bacteria filled trenches in France: wounded twice and gassed once. He killed Germans in close hand to hand combat with a bayonet and a knife, never forgetting the look on the faces. He lost friends in vicious battles. There was no time to grieve or pay respects. That would come later in life.

Looking back through my childhood relationship with him, he likely suffered from what we now call PTSD. My Grandmother said he was a different man after that war, and at times, not a good one.

He refused to talk about the fighting and killing until I was around ten-years-old, and he was dying from Lymphoma cancer, likely caused by the gassing he received in the war. He knew that I might someday go to war, so he wanted to let me know it was not like the movies.

We sat for a many hours one afternoon a few weeks before his passing. His descriptions of battle and the things he had done for his own survival was beyond anything I could imagine. I was young, and war to me was black and white movies. James Cagney in “The Fighting 69th,” or John Wayne and a host of others playing army, like my neighborhood friends and I did. No one really died, and when shot, there was no blood or screaming.

The last few days of his life were spent in and out of reality, reliving those battles as he lay in a veteran’s hospital in Dallas. My Father, a veteran himself, was the recipient of my Grandfathers horrors.

John Henry Strawn made sure I knew what real honor and duty were about. It followed him for a lifetime.

Bobblehead Dogs


On a rainy morning not long ago, while searching for elusive Christmas decorations, I stumbled across a box of family photographs. When I opened the lid, the room filled with that distinct smell of “old memories.” Black and white images of family members long deceased, smiling into the Brownie camera, knowing that they would never be a minute older than that particular moment.

One particular, faded picture, made me smile. My late Uncle Ray leaned against the trunk of his 1957 Cadillac, dressed in his best Sunday suit, holding a shotgun, and a can of Pearl beer. I’m not sure how those odd ingredients came together for that picture, but it was nice to see his face again. He smiled a lot-and drank more Pearl than anyone I have known.

As I studied the photo, remembering Uncle Ray and the joy his car gave to him, a small object sitting on the rear deck caught my eye. It was barely visible and obscured by the sun’s reflection on the glass, so I placed my magnifying glass over the picture, and it popped into clarity. There it was, Uncle Ray’s long lost Bobble Head Dog – Mr. Pooch.

Ray loved that plastic mongrel as much as that Detroit battleship of a car, a fact that his eight ex-wives grudgingly affirmed.

As family stories are told, I recall the night a wandering opportunist, broke into his Cadillac and stole his precious Mr. Pooch; leaving a loaded shotgun and a cooler of Pearl beer in favor of the faded plastic ornament. Uncle Ray, beyond consolation, moped for days, sitting at his dining room window, stalwart, praying that the thief would find remorse and return Mr. Pooch. His hope diminished by the hour, and that happy reunion never materialized, Uncle Ray, saddened to his last bone, mourned his Mr. Pooch until his end day.

That evening, I made a trip to the pharmacy to collect a prescription. My errand accomplished, I turned for home, and while stopped at a traffic signal, found myself staring at the rear end of a well preserved 1957 Cadillac. I marveled at the rocket tail-fins aerodynamic design, the beefy rear bumper, dual tailpipes, and the glaring chrome appointments. An excellent machine representing the best efforts of an era past. Seeing that old car reminded me of Uncle Rays cherished Caddie and the lost bobble head dog, Mr. Pooch.

As I followed the Caddie in the slow traffic, I glimpsed something odd, sitting in the car’s rear window. Pulling closer, I identified the object like a small brown dog, happily shaking its head, perched on the back deck. The driver, worried that I was following too close, tapped the breaks to warn me off, and, with that warning, the dog’s eyes “flashed” like red lasers. Startled, I slowed and gave the Caddie a wider berth.

After a few blocks, my curiosity won over safety, and again, I closed the gap between our vehicles. Mesmerized by the dogs blinking eyes, I failed to notice the old Caddie had stopped, and I rear-ended the beautiful machine.

At 20 mph, you can’t do much damage to an old tank like that, but my “thin-skinned” foreign auto was in poor shape.

Gazing through the cloud of steam that spewed forth from my radiator, I saw the door to the Cadillac swing open and a “white-haired gal” way shy of five feet, exited the car.

“Dressed to the nines” in designer duds, all the way down to the required white Rockport’s, she was the perfect poster girl for “Sun City.” My golfing buddies had warned me about these old gals. “Little Pit Bulls with lipstick,” as they were known, and they all had at least one offspring that was an attorney.
I concluded I might be in big trouble.

Exiting my ailing vehicle, hat, and insurance firmly in hand, I attempted a half-baked explanation for the accident. The dog with the piercing red eyes, the memory of my Uncle Ray, and his long lost Bobble Head Dog- Mr. Pooch, my poor driving skills. The more I rattled on, the more it sounded like “mental ward gibberish,” so I ceased the blabber and politely inquired if she and her little dog were alright?
She said she was excellent, and the dog, absolutely “felt no pain.” All was well and good. Minor damage, no harm done.
I noticed the collision had un-seated her little dog, and he was feet up on the rear deck.
“I really think your little dog may be hurt, he’s not moving,” I said.

She chuckled, and explained that: her old dog, “Giblet,” had been dead for 20 years or more, and that her late husband Murray, who had been an electrical engineer with an “off-kilter” sense of humor, missed the little guy so much, he had the mutt stuffed. Then as a nod to his own electrical wizardry, he installed red lights in the dogs’ eyes that light up when you mash on the car breaks. I suppose my Murray turned my little Giblet into a real-life bobblehead dog.”

Her story was so outrageous, I couldn’t control my laughter, and neither could she. Crazy people laugh the loudest.

Relieved that she was uninjured, I accompanied her back to her car to exchange insurance information. Finishing the exchange, she opened the car door, and there, in the passenger seat, illuminated by the dome light, sat and an older gentleman. Startled, I asked, if her passenger was okay, did “he” need to see a doctor? She shushed me off with a wave of her hand, and she exclaimed that he, “didn’t feel a thing.”
Now, having just heard that morbid explanation regarding old Giblet, I asked,” why didn’t he feel a thing?”

With a twinkle in her eyes and a saucy wink, she replied, “oh, that’s just Murray, he and Giblet go everywhere with me.”

On that parting note, the little gal gunned the Caddie, pulled into traffic, and faded away, while I stood staring at the departing Bobblehead dogs red eyes blinking back at me.

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