Memorial Day May 28 (not exactly but…) ’23

Since it’s Memorial Day I always put up some remembrance of my dad’s cousin;

(this is not him; photo from Brave images of the landing at Anzio Beach)

James Marshall Jiles

Texas 36th Division

Killed at Anzio Beach Italy

March, 1943

5/19/23 The McMurtry book is out

U of T press has reached pub date on their collection of essays, Pastures of the Empty Page; Writers on the life and Legacy of Larry McMurty . My essay is the second one, ‘The Boy With the Lamp’. It’s a goodlooking book and George Getschow worked very hard on it.

Whistle story

So I keep my whistles in a wooden tall vase with blue glass beads in it to weigh it down (picture above with Mason Jar so blue glass beads can be seen) when we perform, so they’re sitting there beside the mike ready for when Mark or Kim lean over and say ‘Get your G whistle. This song is in G’ and I can just fetch it out and start tootling. So I had the tall wooden vase in the front seat floor passenger side.

I turned a corner and heard the most alarming rattling. I thought “Good God there’s a snake in this truck!”

I pulled over to the side and the rattling got worse. The vase had tipped over and was spilling its blue glass beads, sounding exactly like a rattlesnake.

Scares like that are not good for your blood pressure.

The ribbons are for quick identification. The C whistle has a purple ribbon, the D whistle a yellow ribbon, A has no ribbon, the B-flat is the only metal whistle I have, and the G is so big there’s no mistaking it.

It is the nature of pennywhistles that they play in only one key at a time so you have to have one for each key. Sometimes they forget to tell me or pastor John has a new song unidentified as to key and so I go tentatively through on or the other trying to find the key. Fun times.

Uvalde, a changed town April 7 2023

This was yesterday. The occasion; a speeding van full of illegals, mainly Hondurans, gunned it right through town and ended up crashing into several other cars. Nobody killed this time. this is the main square of Uvalde, and courthouse, this is where the memorial for the massacred children was set up. Pic from the Uvalde Leader-News.

This stuff never happened before. I mean before the last two years.

This happened on March 24th/23 (UL-N photo) on the Highway 90/southern pacific rail line on the way into Uvalde. Highway 90 was shut down for two hours. (I will learn how to do screen shots soon…) I used to go into Uvalde all the time to shop — the AT&T store, hardware and paint stores, Walmart, a good feed store, an HEB, a good hair and nails place…I never go there any more. You never know when 90 is going to be shut down, or suddenly you hear/see sirens/lights coming at you or coming up behind which means you really should get off the highway altogether because there is , somewhere near you, a madly speeding out-of-control coyote vehicle full of mainly Hondurans.

After the horrible event of last year, May 2022 — in fact four days afterward, there was a shoot-out of some kind on this very same town square full of flowers and memorials to the massacred children, and four people were shot dead. Three had Hispanic names, one had an anglo name but then a lot of people in Honduras/Guatemala have anglo family names. Somebody told me it was a drug gang fight. I had NO IDEA that this little town had drug gangs, much less gangs willing to shoot each other dead right in the town square. Among all the memorial bouquets.

(from the Texas Tribune)

This kind of overt, public violence is recent.

Then within days after that, June of 2022, yet another speeding out-of-control car full of Hondurans slammed into the back of an 18-wheeler, once again right at the square, and more Hondurans were killed. I think it was three deaths.

Sheriff Nolasco has said he is overwhelmed. It’s happening 24/7.

And by the way, think about the reporters at the Uvalde Leader-News. I think they’re extraordinary. They were small-town reporters before all this, with the news being mainly what the high-school sports team and drama club were doing, church services and activities, what’s happening at the rodeo and the Thursday cattle auction, events at the wonderful El Progreso Library. And now they’re plunged into the midst of international drug traffic, the unspeakable school shooting, shootouts in the middle of town, corruption in the Uvalde city and county governments revealed, and yet they maintain a strictly professional approach, as good as any reporting I’ve seen. They’ve risen to the challenges like champs.

Look at a map and you’ll see that highway 83 starts in Laredo and goes straight north. It crosses 90 in Uvalde. 90 takes you to San Antonio, where there are big markets for drugs and prostitution. Keep on north and it will take you to major highways leading to Dallas/Forth Worth. Stay north you’ll end up in Abilene and then on to Kansas, Oklahoma. 83 is an important, if somewhat narrow route to the north.

(Photo by me)

This is old Fort Clark, near Del Rio and north of Laredo, one of a string of forts which served to secure the border back in the early part of the 20th Century. My husband’s father and uncle were assigned to this unforgiving landscape with either the 3rd or the 12th Cavalry, I think it was the 12th, for a year or so. At that time there wasn’t any fentenyl or meth coming across by the ton, or children dragged across for child prostitution, or pedophiles skipping happily over the Rio Grande and into Texas. It was just revolutionaries escaping other revolutionaries, a few gun runners, illegal liquor. How innocent, how artless, how harmless.

Myself and the others hauled our horses to Fort Clark to ride the Springs and stay in the old Fort barracks (now luxurious hotel rooms) shortly after the massacre happened, and when we came to Uvalde, we were held up there just the other side of the square at the light. It was a funeral procession, and I could see a small white casket inside and I knew it was one of the kids.

More on Uvalde and it’s history in another post. So where do I go for supplies etc.? Well both Uvalde and Hondo are forty miles away, both towns in Highway 90 south of here in the flat country. Bandera is 30 miles away by a mountain road and Kerrville is 60 miles away, a much larger town, and it’s in the hill country north of here. So I usually go to Bandera or Kerrville.

This is not to slight our wonderful General Store! The best ever!

Volunteer Madness

Easter is two weeks away and already demands on musicians are piling up. There is an Easter Cantata group formed but I am not going to join it this year. Not just hip replacement post-surgery twinges and aches but my music group has been asked to play at Wayne Chism’s memorial service, which I am very happy to do, but it requires at least one rehearsal, Mark is having a memorial service for his parents, which again I am happy to be with the group and play for it, because I’ve met his parents and liked them a great deal, do and then Sunday services and then a lovely child is having a birthday for which we sing “This Little Light of Mine” and we’ve got to figure out something for Easter. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

We’ve been happy doing it and I think we’ve made other people happy, and lightened hearts and smoothed over hard times. I have learned so much about music. I think music is what makes human beings different from all other life on Earth, even more than language.

Wayfaring Stranger

It’s been so long since I wrote for this blog that I feel like a complete stranger to all the bells, all the whistles and the do-dads and new gizmos. It’s been four months since hip replacement surgery and am still not quite right. At some point, spending most of the day in bed, I just stopped reading the ‘news’ on my tablet. I gave it up.

At any rate, I will try to catch up. Last night did a performance with the music group and one song was ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ and as always Tom was terrific on the fiddle.

He had texted, “I am coming straight from work for rehearsal, no time to change, hope you’ll overlook this’.

So of course when he rushed in carrying his fiddle case everybody held their noses and gasped and staggered backwards. He’d been operating the big blade machine all day, the one that uproots cedar.

Above, Mark on guitar and Tom on fiddle.

Also work on the new book — finally the Harper Collins strike is over and so the novel is back in the pipeline again. Here’s the cover. Most people like it. At first the image of the rider did not have a hat and I insisted that they put a hat on him which they did.

I had wanted to complete my post on visiting the Contreras family last August, and so finally am getting to the photos from the Museo de Antropologia de Xalapa, a most beautiful building. Elvia and I went there and spent the day. It is a beautifully designed museum. Long terraces sloping downward, all under glass of course, and the collection of Olmec clay sculptures were amazing. Elvia talked the young ladies at the entrance into giving us a discount on entrance fees — she being a retired teacher and me too, apparently!

These are all so human, so personal and yet universal. So alive! They are the early Olmec sculptures, full of life and work and faces you seem to know. This old fellow is apparently the divinity of fire — he makes fire in the basin. This is why he’s wearing mitts. Observe the missing teeth and the jolly, jaunty do-dad on his hat. A world-wide figure, the one who makes fire, like blacksmiths the world over, he handles magic and sparks and light.

There is no way to know what these figures signify so one is reduced to wild guesses. The one on the right is clearly unhappy and looks savage with anger but who knows? Maybe it’s the dog paws instead of hands. The one on the left seems to be taking a deep breath, and the dog/human figure in his/her lap (the figure seems to have rudimentary breasts) has a peculiar little hat with ears, one up and one down. At any rate, you know people with faces just like these.

There is no way to know for what purpose this figure served but he seems to have just set himself down after a hard day’s work hauling rocks for the latest temple. He’s wore out. He could really use a big mug of pulque. But again, he is so alive, so vernacular and expressive. This was one of my favorites.

And here’s Elvia in one of the photographic opportunities provided! I made myself amazing and attractive in another one but she took it on her phone and has forgotten to send it to me.

Here is the text re; the Olmecs, it’s in Spanish but easy enough to read. And one of the famous ‘baby face’ stone heads.

I will try to keep up from now on.

Coatepec and Rain October 1/22

A return to that beautiful town in the eastern Sierra Madres of Veracruz state, and the amazing Contreras family. Jim and I met them when we went there in the early nineties — we had just picked out the town of Coatepec at random — up in the mountains above Veracruz — and rented a hotel room while we looked for someplace to rent. One day during the almost-daily rain Jim ducked into a doorway and Elvia (biology teacher, escuela segundaria) opened the door and said ‘Come in and get out of the rain’! This story has been told many times.

There are four brothers and a sister, all of them very accomplished —Julio the architect, Elvia, a teacher, Jaime with his doctorate in Electrical Engineering and Fermin, also an engineer, Jose Luis who has gone into insurance (I think). And Ramiro, also an architect, who died twenty years ago RIP. At any rate, back then we were all in our forties and fifties and now we are all in our sixties and seventies. Such a great reunion! They know all our family, we know all their family …I flew down with my stepson Jim Jr. and DIL Nadine

Dinner and Luz and Julio’s house —Luz in in orange, she’s a dentist, and Elvia to far left.

They had been many times to visit us in San Antonio, and this was a time when Jim and Elvia and I drove out to west Texas and ended up spending Christmas eve in the Catholic church in — I think — Van Horne — no it was Sanderson… the priest was Vietnamese and incomprehensible and I kept asking Elvia, is he speaking Spanish? many years, many crazy adventures …

Elvia and the brothers’ dad was alive when we first knew them and we ended up going to sit at his wake… a wonderful man..

Elvia inherited the Contreras villa and lives there now, Julio (the architect) designed this beautiful library and stairs for her

(Library above — Elvia with our picture below)

And their kids have grown up, our grandkids have grown up, all starting families of their own — Julio and Luz’ kids, Mariana is a lawyer and married with two kids, Julio Joven is a veterinarian working for Pfizer in Canada, also married with two kids, Cecilia is the principal of an elementary school in Coatepec … time has gone galloping on like a racehorse. Jaime’s daughters — one is in England and married to an Englishman with a new baby, the other is in banking — they were tiny when we first met them. Jaime worked on Mexico’s only nuclear power station at El Farallon, this was 20 years ago, we got to visit him there, very interesting, great people.

But, back to this visit — I got to stay in the beautiful Ortiz villa (Luz’s family) just across the street from the Contreras villa and Mariana told me the most delightful stories about the place.

This is it— repainted and reconditioned except for the second story which I will get to directly.

This was my room — so restful!

Here’s Julio, at the Ortiz finca. Julio Joven and I rode out of there twenty years ago up into the mountains, on a couple of lovely Arabs, pictures of which I will include another time.

This is Orizaba in the background — 19,000 feet, volcanic cone, exceptionally beautiful.

And Elvia found this picture of me in an album which I am including because it is so flattering and I am a sucker for flattery. There. I said it.

More tomorrow on the mysterious and ancient Ortiz Villa, The Pink Palace, which Luz and Mariana insist is salmon and in fact it is indeed salmon!

Beautiful Gala, Mariana’s oldest daughter. She was waiting while we were getting some coffee ground. It’s like a Vermeer painting.

Trapped In the House

and lots of time to mess around with this blog!

August 5/22

There’s this thing about wordless camping videos on Youtube.

It’s got to be about 60 days now with temperatures in excess of 100. No rain for two months and in the 100s since April and in the hot hours I have to stay inside, I can’t work in this heat. The hot hours means from about 10:30 to 7.

So at any rate, here’s something about the non-talking camping videos on Youtube. The ASMR videos. Peculiar! And interesting!

They are selfie videos about people going out in the wilderness and camping in the rain, or storms, or blizzards, building a shelter in the nick of time and you just watch them cope and survive. A great many of them advertise ‘no talking’. Sometimes there are comments in text but mainly the adventurer struggles in wordless silence except for chopping sounds as they split firewood, crackling sounds as they walk through leaves or snow, spitting and sparking sounds of a hot tent-stove, and many of the videos promise howling winds, rain and lightning and they deliver. Then there are the crispy sizzling sounds as they make supper and mmmmmm crunching sounds as they eat it.

I came upon them researching horseback travel for Chenneville.

At least one of these videos has hit 21,000,000 views. This is clearly a subculture of outdoors-type-stuff videos. And from the comments, most viewers aren’t adventurers themselves.

It’s absolutely hypnotic.

As I said, they advertise their video as “no talking” and “ASMR sounds” and “Comfort food” and “only natural sounds” meaning ‘this is the real thing, I never added fake wind noise’.

Every one of them has The Supper Scene — and some are clearly made for The Supper Scene and nothing else — I mean somebody has unloaded a cheap tent in a public park and proceeded to fry Spam and green beans while turning a sprinkler on the tent overhead, but these can be summarily dismissed for their pure and evident fakiness. But others, as above, are people who want your subscription and are willing to freeze their asses off to earn it. And they apparently love doing it.

Supper scenes; campers from Russia to Thailand to Canada to Oklahoma:

Rice and pot stickers and rib-eyes and borscht and King Ranch Chicken, it’s the Supper Scene! And It’s lovable because the supper-maker has fought wind and snow and rain to make his/her own little shelter in a cruel world and they deserve it. It is with relief that we see them fortify themselves with various national cuisines!

(Sorry — also breakfast. How a bear could not smell this is beyond me.)

This one above is an engaging young guy named Dima who camps out and builds shelters — and appropriates shelters — in the Russian forests and somehow he managed to keep those tomatoes in perfect condition.

What is the attraction? For one thing, the silence, the wordless solitude. They are all a kind of story or narrative without words. There is some talking to the camera if the person is demonstrating camping equipment for some company that has given him demos, but mainly they forge on in sweet untalking quiet. They have clever little campstoves, ingenious tents, brilliantly designed backpacks, and we envy them. They have no deadlines, don’t work in an office and their dogs love them. Their food is delicious. Their sleep is untroubled.

They don’t weigh us down with woke stuff, with disapproval, with negative takes on other people. And these aren’t glamorous people, they are un-made-up and are devoid of urban polish. They are not celebrities, so far anyway. It’s just them and the fire-starter and a galloping wind-driven tent that threatens to sail away into the blizzard. These are little stories about self-reliance, their main character is always Robinson Crusoe and Robinson Crusoe stories never fail to captivate.

And why are the sounds of chopping wood, cutting meat, stirring the soup, trudging through dry leaves, hypnotic? These stories are all images and sounds, no dialogue. You fall into a kind of timelessness. Deep attention is paid to the most ordinary things and every leaf and every dance of the lamp-flame is profoundly interesting; when the tent finally is erected everything is in intense close-up. Everything matters, very much, since all they have is what they can carry on their backs or drag in a sledge. So that’s why they get 21 million views, and ten million and fifteen million.

And so I also looked up what might be the most popular Youtube videos and it turns out that music videos are way, way down the list and of those ‘Baby Shark’ is the most popular by a long shot. I suppose these would fall into the DIY category? Or How-To? Don’t know.

So if he just keeps on there’ll be a cozy fantasy and a rib-eye at the end of his quest.

July 30/22

Another post same day

The publication of my next book has been delayed again, to a year from this October or November perhaps. The finished manuscript remains with my editor.


A Story of Loss, Murder and Vengeance

He came back from the Civil War both wounded and spent, only to find that his beloved sister and her family had been murdered in an unsolved and shocking crime. He is a tall man, quiet and watchful after three years of fighting. He is the son of a wealthy landowner of the old St. Louis French and had fought for the Union in Virginia. Now he must find his sister’s killer somewhere on the long road to Texas.

He rides into a land in chaos, but he is used to chaos now. He has forfeited his ancestral lands in Bonnemaison for this untethered life in search of a murderer, following the telegraph lines from St. Louis to Galveston. Using the new technology of the post-Civil War era in his search — the ambrotype and the telegraph — he is solitary and unshakeable in his determination to find justice for his sister and her family.

He travels light during a hard winter, his only friends a Remington New Model Army revolver and a Spencer carbine. When he asks for information he usually gets it one way or another. But as in any hero tale, the tall man accumulates companions along the way, including a redbone hound named Dixie, a plowhorse called Major, and the enigmatic Victoria Reavis, telegrapher, an unseen helper whose voice is made of dashes, dots and sparks. It is a bodiless voice, sane and comforting, and he is afraid to meet her.

Against the lush and forgotten background of the old French colonies of Missouri, the hard winter of Reconstruction in Texas in 1866 and the unsettled world of Oklahoma’s San Bois Mountains, a strange serial killer is tracked down to an astonishing conclusion.”

July 30/22

The cypresses along the Sabinal River are dying. I an see them from here, my house on the ridge. Long stretches of rusty-red color, dead trees.

I am trying to keep this little live-oak tree alive because it’s a kind of memorial to my friend Laurie Wagner Jameson. I wrote her about it and since she was an avid gardener, the care of any kind of plant or tree was pleasing to her. So I carry containers of water to it, as my hoses won’t reach that far. The blue planter has three holes drilled in the bottom so that the water soaks in slowly.

It’s a kind of little bonsai tree that has struggled mightily to stay alive and so I am helping it long.

Laurie wrote the most amazing memoir, When I Came West, years ago. I hope someday it is recognized for what it is, an ordinary girl somehow totally taken with the idea of living in the western wilderness with a writer’s skill and a poet’s eye. And so how do you do that if you’re not wealthy or well-connected or can manage an academic appointment at a western university? She just did it. Her attention to detail is amazing; she saw everything; goats, horses, pumpkin pies, bear hunts, mountains.

Rest in Peace.