A Porch of My Own

A Porch of My Own

Monday, November 28, 2011

There's a fire softly burning, supper's on the stove......

For 23 years we have spent at least part of the Thanksgiving week at our place in the Texas Hill Country. Sarah was 7 years old when we purchased the property and for the first couple of years Sarah and I stayed behind in the city to have Thanksgiving dinner with my parents and then we drove out that afternoon to finish the week with Rickie. It is unusual in my family to be absent at the holiday gatherings. But we soon realized we not only wanted to spend the time with Rickie but to spend as much time as possible here. 

(Photo - Sarah the week we bought the property) 

Rickie has always taken this week off from work to come out. It is a long drive and only at Thanksgiving, Christmas and summer vacation did we get to spend more than a couple of days at a time here. We didn’t spend much time here in the summer because of the heat.

For all but the last 6 years we stayed in a little travel trailer. It was in shape to qualify as a hunting camp but not much more than that. The many holes in the floor were patched and Rickie had to patch the roof every year where it leaked. It had leaked in the past before we had it and the kitchen ceiling was falling in and the cabinets were badly damaged. Much of it was held together with duck tape. We had only a small air conditioning unit to cool it and you could not stay inside during the day; it was just too hot. The A/C unit barely cooled it down at night.

So our favorite time of year to come was the fall and winter. When we all started coming out together we would eat Thanksgiving dinner at the one restaurant in town that had dinner that day. They prepared a turkey dinner with all the trimmings! We couldn’t cook much in our trailer. We only had a two burner camp stove. We found that we were not alone in spending this week out here! The place was overflowing with hunters who had come out to their leases. Most were from the Houston area, some from San Antonio and Dallas, and a lot of them brought their families since the kids were out of school that week. We had to make reservations to be sure we would get in!

One year we decided to cook at home and bring the food out here but that didn’t work too well. It was hard to heat the food up only using the stovetop. So we gave up on that idea. And one year when Sarah was in college we cooked and stopped by her apartment and ate then came out. And a couple of years we went back to have Thanksgiving with my parents.

But our hearts were always here. We long ago grew weary of living in the big city. What we found exciting there as young people had long since lost its appeal. We were held there only by our jobs which we needed to pay for the place out here. 

(Photo - Rickie makes his famous chili!)

We spent the time cutting cedar, Rickie running the chain saw and Sarah and I stacking the cedar to be burned later. Rickie would hunt and Sarah and I would go to Fredericksburg Christmas shopping. It’s a beautiful little town and was decorated and lit up for the holiday. It always got us in the Christmas spirit! At night we had a big camp fire and sat around it cooking, roasting marshmallows, and looking at the stars. When you live in a big city you have no idea how many stars there are and it was amazing to see the milky way overhead. We tried to learn the names of some constellations we didn’t know and we watched for meteors and falling stars. We learned where Orion would be in the sky as the seasons changed and where the Seven Sisters were.

Sarah kept a box of art supplies and she and I read when rain or snow kept us inside. At night we would put a Louis L’Amour audio tape in the cassette player and all lay in bed in the dark listening to his tales. We had a tiny television but you could only get one channel and that only if conditions were right. 

Sometimes our boys Larry and John (in photo), who were grown, would come out and bring the grandkids but they usually came when we weren’t here. There wasn’t room in the little travel trailer for more than 3 people so we would have to alternate when we came. Once when John and Natalie came it snowed and one of the little electric space heaters we used for heat went out. Nat remembers it as the time she almost froze inside the trailer and the time she made a little snowman on the picnic table! 

(Photo - Sarah and a deer rub)

Six years ago we built the little cabin. It was as if we had acquired a mansion! If we had been able to just come out here and buy property with a nice big house on it at the beginning I don’t think we would ever have appreciated it as much. It’s a small 464 square foot cabin, one big kitchen/living area combined where we also have our bed, at least for the time being, and a bathroom. We have a screened back porch and a front porch. It has a nice stone fireplace, which we usually get to use beginning the Thanksgiving week. I decorate for the holidays on a scale fitting the little cabin.

We keep a little tiny toy travel trailer on the bookshelf to remind us how it used to be in case we ever get to feeling sorry because we don’t have more room. 

This year Rickie took off early and we were here together for a week and a half. John and Zac and Cam came out the first weekend to hunt. They helped Rickie cut and stack cedar while they were here. One day Rickie and I went to visit Sarah and Justin and Bixby and have a late Thanksgiving with them. 

Rickie had to leave to go back to work just before the cold front blew in. We covered the tender plants in the garden and winterized the water system before he left. He filled the firewood bucket up for me and filled the hay rack for the longhorns. 

I grew up in a big family where relatives were always around. And yet I’m not generally a person who gets lonely. I like my own company just fine and I like to do solitary activities like reading and walking the woods and working on whatever project I am doing at the moment. I’m comfortable with myself.

But I felt a sadness when Rickie left this time to go back to work. I’m thinking on those days long ago we spent in the trailer when Sarah was small and we lay at night listening as Tell Sackett went where The Lonely Men go or Texas Ranger Chick Bowdrie followed the trail of an outlaw.

As I sit by the fire tonight with the temperature outside dropping and the wind howling, I look forward to the time when Rickie will be back. 

There’s all the news to tell him, how’d you spend your time, what’s the latest thing the neighbors say. There’s a fire softly burning, supper’s on the stove…..

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Shoulda Been A Cowboy........

When I was a little girl I wanted to move to Texas and be a cowboy. I didn’t want to be a cowgirl because Dale always had to wait outside on Buttermilk while the fighting was going on. I wanted to be in on it! I’ve since learned that there were and still are cowgirls that did real “cowboy” ranch work, like Hallie Stillwell in Big Bend. If you haven’t heard of her, read her book I’ll Gather My Geese. She was one tough woman!

(Photo - me and my trusty six-shooter)

Roy Rogers was my favorite and I also liked Gene Autry and Cisco and Pancho. While John Wayne made movies as a cowboy, Roy and Gene were real live cowboys all the time. They had ranches and rode horses and sang cowboy songs. They did things the “cowboy way”. They lived by the code of the west!

One time when I was about 7 or 8 I told my dad that I wanted to move to Texas and have a ranch. He said I could have a farm in Louisiana but I told him that was not the same thing! He didn’t understand.

As far as I know I was the only one in my family that did not like living in Louisiana. I didn’t like the muddy bayou, or the tall pines that blocked the sky out and suffocated me. I didn’t like to have my feet wet unless I was swimming! I didn’t like the humidity.

(Photo - David, me and Kathy)

And I didn’t like Louisiana history. I romanticized Colonel Travis, Jim Bowie, and Davy Crockett as they died at the Alamo.  When I heard that Davy said to his fellow Tennesseans “Y’all can go to hell, I’m going to Texas” I thought yes, here is someone who understands! I still cry whenever I read Travis’ letter from the Alamo. And the men from Gonzales that would not let their friends die alone and rode to join them knowing they rode to their death. These were the heroes I wanted to study. I wanted to learn about the Comanches and Apaches. The fierce men who rode wild and whooping through the open countryside!

I longed for the dry hills I saw every Saturday morning on TV. The big rocks and the small oaks and the cedars. The rolling hills and the limestone cliffs. The open spaces. The small creeks and rivers with clear bubbling water. The big starry skies and the far away views.

I learned that these shows were filmed mostly in California. But I also learned that the Texas Hill Country looks a lot like that area. I never made it to California to join up with Roy and Dale and Pat but I made it to Texas. My dad moved us to Houston when I was 14 years old.

(Photo - View from Shotgun Ridge at back of our place)

Eventually I made it to the Texas Hill Country, thanks to a farm boy from Mississippi who fell in love with the area when he came here. We don’t have a big ranch or a big herd of cattle. We have 54 acres and a small cabin and a couple of longhorns and lots of wildlife. We get around in a pickup truck not on a horse. We’ve stood together and fought life’s troubles and I’ve never had to go wait outside while the fight against hardship was going on. 

My favorite part of each western was when the heroes rode up to the ranch house. They always approached from on top of a hill that overlooked the ranch headquarters. They would pause and look down on the ranch house. Smoke would be coming from the chimney, the corrals would have a horse or two in them and the cowboys would be working quietly repairing a saddle maybe or maybe having lunch or taking a rest in the bunkhouse. It was always dry and dusty. Roy and the boys would always stop for a minute before going down. Just to look the place over and make sure everything looked alright. Then they would ride on in.
When you drive in on our road you top out on a hill just before you drop down to our place. If there weren’t so many oaks and cedars you could see my little “ranch” house.  For 23 years I have been pausing at the top of that hill and looking out at the great view of the hills and toward my cabin. Just to look the place over and make sure everything looks alright. Then I ride on in. 

(Photo - You can see the road that runs behind our place in this photo taken from Shotgun Ridge)