Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Texas Tough, Part 1

(I am not sure if this picture is my dad or grandpa- it actually could be either. I am pretty sure it's my grandpa's tractor)

My grandfather was perhaps the toughest man I have ever met. Rumor has it, his father was tougher, but I only knew him as a mellowed old man who gave us kids peppermint, so I can't judge that. On the other hand there is the story of the trick that he played on one of my cousins that supports that conjecture. It seems someone (I am not sure who, probably my grandfather), had been hunting and had bagged a deer. This being a farm in Texas, there was no thought to taking it into town to be processed. No, They dressed it out, then skinned it. Since the weather was cool, this being fall in Texas, they hung the deer carcass on the windmill to let it cure a bit. The windmill was the best location as varmints would not attempt to steal a easy snack that close to the house. 

That afternoon, my uncle and his family arrived from Kentucky for a visit. As they got out, my cousin Alison noticed the deer hanging from the windmill. From what I understand, she had never seen a deer carcass.  An important element to this story is that my uncle has always had very large dogs of the Rhodesian Ridgeback variety. Therefore, the shape of the thing hanging from the windmill defiantly raised her her 6-8 year old suspicions. My great grandfather, in response to her query of “paw-paw, what's that hanging from the windmill?”, had the perfect setup for replying “Why that's one of them dogs that's been wondering around here that we killed. We are going to eat him a little later on today.” That was enough to send her away crying, refusing to eat any of my grandfather's delicious Angus beef at dinner, just in case it was “dog steak”.

No, I have always thought of my grandfather as a tough man. Even at 60+ the amount of work he would do in a day was enough to pole-axe a healthy teenager. It is not unusual for a Texas farmer, but for the kinda of people I see and know these days, it is an impossible amount of work. I didn't even know that he had a softness or any weakness until I spent a summer with my older brother working on his farm. 

That summer we had been sent down to 'help' with the chores, and to provide the additional muscle to assist with building a fence bordering a road he had graded around the edge of his property. It seems that the property behind his place was a 'closed in' farm that did not have any road access except through his property. Now normally this would not have been an issue, but the people that bought the place after he started farming there were a wild lot. There was a lot of drinking, poaching, leaving gates open, and gas stealing. Unfortunately he had to let them drive through as they had an easement that guaranteed them access across his land. Grandpa's solution to this was to use his road grader to plow a road around the edge of his property, then put up a fence to keep them on the road and his cows off of it. 

While the grader and the dozier made to road easy enough to establish, the real problem was building the fence. The problem with building a proper fence (and my grandfather never did anything halfway) was that for a fence, you had to have fence posts – solid wood interspersed with metal: big holes for the wood post, smaller for the metal. Now as anyone from that part of Texas will tell you, you rarely have plain ground to sink a fence post in. Mostly you have a 1-3 inches of dirt on top of a incredibly dense sedimentary rock called Caliche. We started out trying to use a chisel and sledgehammer to bust the holes in that rock so that a post could be cemented into it. Eventually, grandpa brought in a guy with a jack hammer that we used to make the holes. It was hard, dusty, and backbreaking work, but we did it. I have no doubt that unless that land has been subdivided, that fence still stands there, 40 years later, as tight and unbroken as the day we put it in.

One day we got started, but then storm clouds rolled in so we had to quit. I remember we rushed back to the house to get there before the storm broke, as Texas summer storms can be pretty violent. We left the truck at the gate to the yard, and had an impromptu foot race to the house. I remember seeing my older brother quickly pull away and reach the porch on the house before my grandfather and I got half way to the house. Seeing him there, I then looked back to see my grandfather laughing and running behind me, unable to catch up to me with his stiff leg (he had injured it some time earlier that year – the real reason I think we were sent down to help that summer). I had never seen him truly laugh before, and I had never seen him show weakness before either. In that moment, my young mind was blown by seeing both at the same time. To the day that he died, I don't recall ever seeing either again. And yet, when I think of him, I think of him in that moment, and remember him fondly.

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