Texas Standard » Stories from TexasStories from Texas are written for and recorded for the Texas Standard radio program. They're written by W.F Strong and edited for broadcast by Texas Standard producers.Texas Standard airs Monday through Friday on more than 20 public radio stations across Texas. Visit texasstandard.org/listen to find when it airs where you are. Texas Standard is hosted by David Brown, and infrequently by Laura Rice from KUT Radio in Austin, and Lauren Silverman from KERA Radio in Dallas.
Stories from Texas are written for and recorded for the Texas Standard radio program. They're written by W.F Strong and edited for broadcast by Texas Standard producers.Texas Standard airs Monday through Friday on more than 20 public radio stations across Texas. Visit texasstandard.org/listen to find when it airs where you are. Texas Standard is hosted by David Brown, and infrequently by Laura Rice from KUT Radio in Austin, and Lauren Silverman from KERA Radio in Dallas.
We Texans have long had a reputation for tall tales, for stretching the truth in entertaining ways. I wondered to what extent this cultural DNA has survived. So I asked this question of Texans on Facebook: What is the most outrageous white lie you ever told your kids? I got several hundred responses and chose these as the best among them. Cynthia told her kids: "Oh. The smoke detector is a Santa camcorder. How do ya think Santa knows if you are naughty or nice?" Jim said that his uncle taught them that windmills were cow fans. Kept all those cows cool in the hot months. Many wrote that they told their kids, "The ice cream truck turned on the music to signal that it was out of ice cream." This bum steer was so popular as a submission that it no doubt rates as an urban legend for kids. Tammy said that as she passed the cotton fields on the way to Port Arthur she would say to her northern-raised grandson: "See, we grow our snow here." And from Rose we have this: "To get my boys to let me trim their nails we would plant them in the window box and watch them grow." Rose actually planted one bean for each. Very clever Rose. Tammy P. said, "I had my kids convinced that I could see through walls because all moms had superpowers." Rhonda had a great one that she told her children. "Sorry kids, you can only go to Chuck E. Cheese if you've been invited to a birthday party." Evidently a company rule. David had his youngest daughter convinced he could see through walls. He told her to run to any part of the house and he'd tell her where she was. Dave just had to listen to her footsteps and never missed. His daughter was blown away by his omnipotence. Leah told her kids she was a retired ninja. She had an impressive large necklace that looked like an award and so that was her secret ninja badge. Unfortunately her ninja suit was always at the cleaners. Kris would tell his kids Twilight Zone stories as though they happened to him. It was part of his autobiography. I love this from Samantha: "When you go through the drive-thru they give you car fries and house fries." So once the kids had had a few fries, she'd say, "Sorry, that's all the car fries they gave us. Have to wait now until we get home." Glynda said her kid wanted to ride the elephant at the circus and she said, "You need an elephant riding license for that. Unfortunately, we don't have one." And we have this about a fish tank where all the fish died. Kristi recalls, "Well, we were cleaning the tank and its contents, and preparing the water for new fish while we waited for pay day so we could buy more. The kids were disappointed when they came home from school and there were no fish. So I convinced them that we had bought 'crystal' fish that are crystal clear. I told them if you watch real close you'll see the reflection of the lights on their scales occasionally as they swim by. Entertained them for days." Karen M. has the tallest tale I think, if not the most devious. She said, "My youngest refused to eat meat (or any protein) as a child. From 3 to about 12, my kids believed I would take them to the doctor for a 'meat shot' if their protein wasn't eaten. I showed them the meat shot injector, my turkey baster." So, like I said, I'm glad to see we Texans have not lost our talent for tall tales. Edward "Tex" O'Reilly, creator of Pecos Bill, would be proud of us.
Go east of Dallas on Interstate 30 until you reach Highway 67 near Mt. Vernon. Take that on east and about 30 minutes before you reach Texarkana, you'll arrive in a little town of about 1,000 people named Ingersoll. Well, it was called Ingersoll when it was founded around 1875. But the name was unofficially changed to Redwater ten years later and was made official by the Post Office almost a decade after that. How the name came to be changed is a story worth telling. Let's begin with the name Ingersoll, or should I say, Robert Green Ingersoll. That's the man the founders admired and decided to name their new town after. You may have never heard of Robert Green Ingersoll, but that's only because you didn't live in the late 1800s in America. Back then Ingersoll was one of the most famous people in the nation. He was friends with Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain and Ulysses S. Grant. He was a giant in the Republican party and any Republican who wanted to succeed at the national level needed and lusted after Ingersoll's endorsement – and his oratorical talents. Had he wanted to, he would have made a formidable candidate for the Presidency himself, except for the little problem of his nickname: he was known everywhere in America and abroad as "The Great Atheist" or the "Great Agnostic." There is, of course, a great deal of difference between atheism and agnosticism, but for fundamentalist theists, there is no difference because both groups are destined for eternal damnation. Ironically, it was the concept of Hell that Ingersoll most despised and likened to a vengeful fairy tale. In any case, such a label, whether agnostic or atheist, was considered too great a liability for a politician in that era to overcome. Might be still. Despite his reputation as a free-thinker and anti-religious zealot, he was well liked. Many religious people truly enjoyed his company and found him warm, engaging, charismatic, eloquent, even brilliant. Ingersoll attacked religious belief, but never the believer. From 1860 to 1899, he was one of the highest paid speakers in America – and mostly he spoke about the dangers of religion, even though he himself had been a Presbyterian minister's kid. The subjects he spoke about, like "Some Mistakes of Moses" and "The Frightful Dogma of Hell," were considered blasphemous by many, but he nonetheless packed the halls where he spoke with believers and skeptics alike. He called HIS religion "humanity." His central doctrine was this: "Happiness is the only good. The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here. The way to be happy is to make others so." Ingersoll was quite ahead of his time. He was an outspoken abolitionist and for voting rights for blacks and women. He said it was a shame to think that women were always restricted to the shallow wisdom of their husbands. People used to gather in front of his home in Washington, D.C., to pray for his conversion. One woman visited him in his home often to try to convert him, but she finally, after seeing him accept both the high and mighty and impoverished into his home with equal graciousness, gave up. She apologized and told him, "I do not care what you believe. You are leading more of a Christian life than I ever hope to accomplish." But Ingersoll's fame died with him, in 1899. It seemed he would be confined to the century that had defined him. So we return now to Texas. How did Ingersoll lose his town? Well, in 1886 a revival meeting was held there and it was a mighty successful one in terms of saving souls. There were 110 people from that region baptized, or – you might say – born again in that week. And given that the town only consisted of about 50 to 60 people then, it suddenly became thoroughly devout and could not suffer the indignities of living under the name of a famous agnostic. So they all agreed to rename the town Redwater, after a new well was found to yield red water. So that is how Ingersoll, Texas, became Redwater, Texas. And how Robert Green Ingersoll became, as The Washington Post called him in 2012, "the most famous American you never heard of."
Now that we're in the dog days of summer, I've been thinking about the long summers of my youth. We had longer summers then. It's not just an idealized memory. Schools would dismiss us in late May and we wouldn't return until September 2nd or so, generally the day following Labor Day. What I remember distinctly about those summers of more than 50 years ago, is that I was a free range kid. My mom opened the gate in the morning for me and my brothers and we'd wander out into the great pastures of our neighborhood and entire town – yes, it was a small town – unsupervised. We'd roam all over with all the other kids, also free range, and play games and sometimes watch TV at other kids' houses until we were chased out by a stern mom who'd tell us to "get- on-outside and play." I say we were unsupervised, but not really. The whole town had its arms around us and made sure we behaved, and were safe. About noon we'd meander back home and have dinner. That is what we called lunch then. The noon meal was dinner. Then we'd have a nap, with cicadas humming loudly, and go back out until supper time, about seven. We'd eat supper quickly so we could get back out to our friends where we'd play until well after dark, enjoying games like "kick-the-can" and "red light." The grown-ups were out there with us, sitting in lawn chairs, making homemade ice cream, listening to baseball games on small transistor radios and gazing up into the stars, marveling at the tech-savvy age they lived in, where they could see NASA satellites passing over. Yes, as kids, we were quite free. I remember one day me and my brothers were on our bikes with backpacks on, ready to head out and my father said, "Where are you boys going?" We said, "To the lake." He said, "To that one five miles east of town?" "Yes, sir," we said. "That one out there on the FM road with all the 18 wheeler traffic?" "Yes, sir." "That one you have to cross the rattlesnake field to get to?" "Yes, sir," we admitted. "All right. Just be back by dark or your momma will worry," he said. I like that my Dad would never admit to worrying himself. He just worried about my mom worrying. He was also big on the idea that boyhood shaped and toughened the man that the boy would become. Once I asked him for a ride over to my friend Gonzalo's house. He said, "It's only a mile over there. Walk. It'll do you good." I said, "But it's about 100 degrees right now." He said, "Wear a hat." Summers sure are different for kids now. The world is no doubt more dangerous now than it was then. But no matter the reasons I'm grateful for the boyhood I had, rather than these modern ones, with kids so often cooped up inside with high tech games. To be honest, though, I do have a tiny bit of cross-generational tech envy in me. I know that when I was 15 I would have loved to have had an Xbox. Still, I know for sure that I wouldn't trade my free-range summers for all the terabytes of RAM in the world.
By W. F. Strong Ever heard of the Gunsmoke Rule? It was created several years ago by TV ratings guru Bill Gorman. He noticed that sports cable channel shows like ESPN's "First Take" were being beaten by Gunsmoke reruns. In fact, Newsday found in a sample a few years ago that all but seven of the 276 sports programs on cable television one day were being beaten by Gunsmoke reruns, even though the show went off the air more than 40 years ago. So the message to sports show programmers was, "If you're not beating Gunsmoke, you've got little to crow about." And that's just Gunsmoke reruns. When Gunsmoke was actually on the air in prime-time during its 20 year run, it was often the number one show on television. It was enormously popular in Texas. As a kid I remember it being the last show I could watch Saturday night before being rushed off to bed. I always felt deeply connected to the culture of the show and I recently learned why. Not long ago I was I visiting with an old friend and colleague, Dr. Jack Stanley who wrote his dissertation on "Gunsmoke." We were discussing the show and he said to me, "Did you know that Matt Dillon was a Texan?" "No," I said, "I didn't." Dillon is the central character of Gunsmoke — the U.S. Marshal of Dodge City, Kansas. In the series, he often goes to Texas to bring back a bad guy. I didn't know, though, that Matt Dillon was from Texas. It's true. Jack told me that in the last made-for-TV Gunsmoke movie, which aired in 1994, "One Man's Justice," it was revealed that Matt was born in San Antonio. His father was, in fact, a Texas Ranger and was killed in the line of duty. But Matt didn't move immediately in the direction of becoming a law man. The movie reveals he spent some years in the Texas Panhandle where he sowed his wild oats and crossed paths with outlaws who tried to corrupt him. He resisted and moved on to Kansas where he followed in his father's footsteps and became a U.S. Marshal, the iron-handed law man of Dodge City. Another thing you might not know is that, originally, the show was on the radio. It opened with this line from the narrator: "Around Dodge City and in the territory on West, there's only one way to handle the killers and spoilers ... with a U.S. Marshal and the smell of gunsmoke." William Conrad played Matt Dillon on radio, but when the show moved to TV, another Texas favorite, John Wayne, was supposed to play Matt Dillon. He decided against it, though, and convinced James Arness, a man who was often his double in movies, to take the role. On TV, the show opened in its early seasons with no narration. It showed a quick-draw gunfight between Matt and an outlaw, which Matt won, of course. There is a close-up of Matt's post-fight grimace that seems to say, "Business as usual. Bad guys making bad choices." Gunsmoke still has enormous viewership, almost half a century since it quit putting out new episodes. It's on TV-Land these days and based on my own survey of Texans, including my brother Redneck Dave and his crowd of six retirees, it's on several hours a day in their households. I myself subscribe to the Western Channel just so I can watch Gunsmoke. And now that I know that Matt was a Texan, which I always suspected, I will enjoy all the more.
By W.F. Strong I like that Texas is so famous for certain things that those things carry the Texas brand all around the world. Like Texas toast, for instance. Or Texas Hold 'em poker. The Texas two-step. Texas-style brisket. And even within the specialized world of backyard chefs, the brisket has a sub-specialty technique known as the Texas crutch. This technique allegedly originated in Texas, and therefore carries the Texas name throughout the barbecue world. I'm going to teach you about this technique over the next three minutes. It may come in handy this summer when you are slow-smoking a fine brisket over the required 15 hours and suddenly need to hurry it along without ruining it. This is merely a suggestion. I know all too well that you don't mess with Texas and you sure as hell don't mess with a Texan's brisket. So I go gently forth with this option. Suppose, for instance, that you have invited people over to the house to eat at 8 p.m. You remember saying, "Y'all come on over for brisket at 8 p.m. and y'all bring the neighbors. Plenty for everybody." But now it's 5 p.m., the brisket has stalled and you realize it won't be ready until probably 10 p.m. or later. Time for the Texas crutch. The point of the Texas crutch is to speed up the cooking without losing the holy grail of tenderness. So what you do is get some foil or butcher paper and fashion it into a big, sturdy boat that will hold liquid. Put your brisket in the boat and then pour about a half a cup of apple juice into the boat – not over the brisket because it will rinse off the rub. Some people use bourbon or beer or red wine, but apple juice is preferred because of the enzymes that work diligently to tenderize the brisket. The next step is to cover the brisket completely with foil or butcher paper and put it back to cook. Crank up the heat to about 250 degrees or 275 degrees, and let the apple juice and heat work their dual-action magic until the core of the brisket is 200 degrees, or twice the outdoor temp of the average Texas summer. Then take it off and let it rest an hour. Now you will have splendid, tender, awesome brisket that all those friends and neighbors will rave about and beg for seconds. The only problem is they will want you to do it again next week. I love knowing about the technique and using it when I must, but I love even more knowing that in the book on brisketology, there is a chapter called "The Texas Crutch." I enjoy knowing that the Texas name is on things that travel 'round the world, serving as a kind of advertisement for our culture. It's our one-of-a-kind branding. And that branding is priceless. A manager at H-E-B told me that products sell much better if they have the Texas star or Texas flag or "Made in Texas" on them. And that branding works just as well in the Mexico H-E-Bs as it does here at home. And if we could trademark the Texas name and symbols, license and sell them, I'm sure we could make enough each year to buy a brisket for every family in the state for what I would call National Texas Brisket Day. Might need some beer and ice cream to go with it. Wonder who could help us out with that?
By W. F. Strong The Menger Hotel in San Antonio may boast of hosting more U.S. Presidents than any other hotel in Texas. George H. W. Bush stayed there. Clinton stayed there, as did Reagan. Nixon stayed there. So did Truman and Taft and McKinley. Even Ulysses S. Grant slept there. The most important name not yet mentioned, and if you know your Texas history you're already writing a letter to remind me, but don't hit send just yet because I'm coming to him: Teddy Roosevelt. He rates as the most important of the lot because the others just slept and left. Teddy did far more. He left a bar behind, or at least a bar named for him, and you can still get a drink at the Roosevelt bar to this day, 120 years later. How did that happen you may wonder? Well, you know all about the USS Maine getting blown up in Havana Harbor in 1898. At the time it was blamed on Spain with battle cries like "Remember the Maine; to hell with Spain." The loss of some 260 sailors in that blast marked the beginning of the Spanish American War. This is where Teddy Roosevelt enters. He was not yet President, but would be in three years. At this time he was 40 and Assistant Secretary of the Navy. He asked for and was given permission to put together a cavalry unit of 1000 men, cowboy soldiers he called them, to help push Spain out of Cuba. He didn't name them the Rough Riders, though, That was a name their public admirers gave them and they resisted it at first, but finally adopted it themselves. So where could Teddy recruit 1000 rough riders. Well in Texas of course. So he went to the Menger Hotel, right across from the Alamo, and recruited great horseman from across the Southwest – from Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona. Roosevelt said these were a "splendid set of men . . . tall and sinewy with weather beaten faces, and eyes that looked a man straight in the face without flinching." He said that in all the world there were no better men for this cavalry than "these grim hunters of the mountains, these wild rough riders of the plains." His challenge was to take these fiercely independent men and teach them military discipline. That's why he had a preference for ex Texas Rangers. He said, "we got our highest average of recruits from Texas because many had served in that famous body of frontier fighters, the Texas Rangers. Of course these rangers needed no teaching. They were already trained to obey and take responsibility. They were splendid horsemen, shots and trackers. They were accustomed to living in the open . . . enduring hardship . . . and encountering all kinds of danger." Native Americans too, such as the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Creeks were also Rough Riders. He did convert these independent men, with the help of General Wood, into a disciplined cavalry unit within a month. He even got most of the men horses from Texas, some of them unbroken, but that was no problem for these expert horsemen. Roosevelt named his own horse "Texas." As Roosevelt was always a showman, he had his commander's uniform made by Brooks Brothers in New York. He also introduced his men to the blue bandana with white polka dots, which became the distinguishing feature of the Rough Rider's uniform. To this day, in black and white photographs, the Rough Riders look impressively stylish in their khaki pants, blue flannel shirts, trademark bandanas, and slouch hats. The rest of the Rough Riders story is well known, but perhaps erroneously visualized. Most think of it as 1000 horses thundering majestically up San Juan Hill like a scene from War Horse. They did in fact charge up San Juan Hill and route the Spanish forces, but delete the horses from your mind. There were none. They did it on foot and on their bellies. Roosevelt was on horseback part of the time, shouting commands as they fought inch by inch through tropical brush and oppressive heat, dodging torrents of bullets to take the hill, but they did it as infantrymen. Despite all their cavalry training in San Antonio, they weren't able to get their horses to Cuba. Why? When they were ready to depart from Tampa to Cuba, the navy didn't have enough ships for the horses, so they were left behind. Those with military experience will just shake their heads at this nature of monumental snafu. Nonetheless, the Rough Riders and other U.S. forces pushed the Spanish out of Cuba and liberated the island. Teddy Roosevelt wrote the primary history of the campaign which launched him into national fame and a good way toward the Presidency. The road to the White House, for Teddy, started in Texas at the Menger Hotel, in the shadow of the Alamo.
When I hear the great musical theme of Lonesome Dove, I am immediately grateful to Bill Wittliff because I know we wouldn't have the deeply treasured miniseries if not for him. We would have Larry McMurtry's novel for sure, but we would not have Wittliff's equally brilliant adaptation of that masterwork if not for his undeterred resolve to get it done. Bill Wittliff died on Sunday. I was, like millions of his fans around the world, and especially those in Texas, sad to see his rare intellectual light and his beneficent genius leave us. He was a man who often worked his magic behind the scenes and so many people were touched by his artistic brilliance without knowing it. He wrote the screenplays for much loved movies like Lonesome Dove, Legends of the Fall, The Perfect Storm, Raggedy Man, and for highly Texcentric films like Barborosa and Red-Headed Stranger. Some say Wittliff launched the Austin film industry. Though Renaissance man is often overgenerous in its use, it fit Wittliff to perfection. He was a novelist, and a screenwriter, a photographer, a publisher and movie producer, a collector, an archivist, a historian and a lifelong professor who generously shared his knowledge of all things all the time. In more than a few instances over the past few years I'd fire off an email to him to ask for his insights on some obscure subject and he'd invariably surprise me with an authoritative answer within five minutes, sometimes less. Four years ago I interviewed Bill for his new novel The Devil's Backbone. Naturally we talked a good deal about Lonesome Dove and I want to share some of that interview because it gives us insights into the making of that masterpiece and into the mind and methods of Wittliff as well. I first asked Bill about how long it took to produce Lonesome Dove and if he knew it would be the huge hit it turned out to be? "For me Lonesome Dove was a solid two years," Wittliff said. "It was a year writing the script, and then it was another year from locations and casting and all of that, to actually shooting it and then editing and the scoring – all of it – and distribution. Here's what I did know. I knew, because I saw the dailies every morning – and I knew, you know, that what was going through the cameras was incredible stuff, incredible performances. What I didn't know was that the audience would take to it the way they did. That I didn't know. I knew it was going to be great and I knew it was going to be well really phenomenal. It was just incredible to watch – to sit there every day and watch Duvall and Tommy Lee and all of them deliver those lines. You simply could not be there and not know. But what I didn't know is that the audience would take to it the way the did." One reason for this surprise, Bill told me, is that in 1988 there was only one thing deader than Westerns and that was the miniseries. And, he said, "we were making both." I was curious about his method of adapting the novel for television. I asked him how, out of this tumultuous novel of nearly 1,000 pages, he could choose what to include and what to exclude. "Here's what I did," Wittliff said. "At that time I was driving a pickup. Suzanne, my partner, had someone read it on tape. We have a place on South Padre Island. It's six hours to drive down there. So I would strike out in my pickup, which is to say you were in a closed in space. And start playing that and listening to it. You could see it. In listening to it you would say oh I don't need that or oh that's too close to this. Because I was driving I could kind of see a version of the movie unfold as I drove along. In six hours, as it turned out, of listening to Larry's novel was just about one episode. So I'd drive to South Padre and when I got there I then I would start adapting that six hours, boiled down to two hours. Anyway, that's how I did it." Finally, since McMurtry had written a number of screenplays himself, I asked Bill why Larry hadn't written it himself. "When they asked me to do it, I called Larry and I said, 'Don't you want to do this,' and he said, 'no, I'm cooked,'" Wittliff said. "Larry's always been smart about movies and his books. I don't know what Larry had his thumb on when he wrote it, but boy it rang all the bells. And Larry got up from the typewriter and walked off from it at least three times maybe four times. He said 'well, no, that's enough,' but then he always came back. And Lonesome Dove, both Larry's book and now the miniseries, have absolutely become a part of the American fabric. It's just astonishing. I've got calls from Ireland, Europe and England, caught up in the Lonesome Dove thing as much as Americans and Texans are. It's just been astonishing." You notice there how he shuns credit for his success. He was a selfless man. That is why he created the Wittliff Collections with his wife Sally at Texas State University. There you can find the papers of great Southwestern writers like McCarthy, Dobie, Graves, Cisneros and some of McMurtry's, which will be his greatest legacy, because it provides a place and resources for young writers, and artists, and filmmakers to come and dream about works they might animate and worlds they might create. Steve Davis the curator there, said, "Bill embodied the best of Texas — he was incredibly creative and was very generous to others — as seen in this wonderful collection that he founded, which will continue to inspire others for generations to come." Finally, it is only fitting that we hear from McMurtry himself. Larry sent this touching note to me just yesterday. He wrote: "I met Bill years ago when he and his wife asked permission to publish IN A NARROW GRAVE, my first volume of essays under their singular and distinctive Encino Press. It is the most impressive of my more than fifty published volumes. He was an absolute genius photographer, as you can see from his Wittliff Collection photos. Bill skillfully adapted LONESOME DOVE into a beloved miniseries, and I know he will be deeply missed by Texans everywhere." Bill lived a beautiful, fun and inspirational life. I believe firmly that in thinking about his life he would agree with Gus McCrae, who said, "It's been quite a party, ain't it?"
On Mother's Day, I couldn't help but think of my grandmother, too, because she was also my mother. She was, and this remains true for many kids today, my second mother. She lived with us and was my back-up mom – my safety net of sanity when life got crazy. She was a grand-mother. Her name was Nonnie, which my mom told me was short of Eunice. Nonnie was my nanny until I reached first grade. To the extent that I have any talent as a writer I attribute to her. She taught me to read and write early. She was a role model as a disciplined writer. When she was 70 she bought a Smith Corona electric typewriter – a beautiful shiny blue work of art with chrome trim. To me, it seemed like a sports car for writing. In six years she wrote four novels at the kitchen table during my nap time. The tap, tap, tap sound of the keys was my lullaby most afternoons. She wrote under the name Sylvester Wimberley. Sylvester because she guessed a man was more likely to get published than a woman. Wimberley because she so loved that Hill Country town. I wish I could tell you that Simon & Schuster discovered her and she had a couple of best-sellers, but that was not the case. When she died at age 82, in 1969, we found the four novels – and journals and diaries – in her chest of drawers, neatly stacked in manila envelopes beneath the many tablecloths she had crocheted over the years. They were all moved up to the attic with many of her memories where they were out of sight, but not fully out of mind. When I was in graduate school ten years later, I went up there and found her manuscripts in an old suitcase behind Christmas decorations. The pages were yellowed and brittle, but still quite readable. Over the next few days I read them all. I had hoped to find an Atwood in the attic, but, truth is, Nonnie was more of a diarist than a novelist; more Aurelius than Atwood. She was, perhaps, like her grandson: good in short bursts, but not as skilled sustaining the long narrative. One journal entry especially moved me; it focuses entirely on her lifelong relationship with her hair: From my earliest memories my hair has been a subject of conversation. My father was the first to make me conscious of it. He thought it was beautiful. It was long and straight and heavy with a gold cast to it. My father would not let it be cut. Even as the younger girls were getting theirs cut, my father would not let me cut mine because he liked the length of the braid. My grandmother was on her deathbed and mother had to take time about with her sisters caring for her. So my father took care of us and he had his say about how I should wear my hair. When I went to school the boys would make fun of it saying it was the color of molasses candy that had been pulled. I am not sure the golden tint was still in it then. The boys delighted in sticking the ends of the braids into their ink wells which earned them my angry retaliation. When I was twelve I went outside with my grandfather McGee one summer's day. I went out on the front porch with him just after sunup. He turned to talk to me and he stopped and said, "Eunice, I didn't know that your hair was such a pretty red." I laughed and said that it was just the sun shining through it and lighting it up like that. I never forgot that moment. I had had so few compliments in my life and I was to remember that one always. My grandfather would sometimes pass behind me at the supper table and run his rough hand over my hair. He didn't say anything, but I found it as comforting as a compliment. Many years later, after I had married, I still kept my hair long and braided. It had become strawberry blonde. I wore it as a braid wrapped around my head. I took the pins [out] of my hair and wrapped the braid around my neck. It was as wide as a collar. Once I was wearing it that way when I went to call on Betty Graham and she asked me where I got a collar that so closely matched my hair. I told her it WAS my hair. She had to take it down to see the length of it and was surprised by its weight, too. I suppose that was the longest, and heaviest, it ever was. Once when my niece Guy Ann was five years old and she and I were standing out in front of the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio waiting for my husband Fred, a strange woman came up to me and said, "Lady, did you know that your hair and that child's hair are exactly the same color?" I had not thought about it but when we got home Guy Ann wanted to see for herself. So she pulled my hair down and laid hers over it. Sure enough, you could not tell where mine ended and hers began. As the years went by Guy Ann's hair got a little darker and mine got ever lighter until it was both blonde and white. In 1963, when I was in my late 70s, I ran into Sam Black, a man I had not seen for fifty years. He greeted me with these words, "Well, Eunice, you have lost some of the gold in your hair!" Indeed I had. Now that I am 80 years old, my hair is all white. White like new cotton. And I think it is just lovely. My grandmother wanted all her life to be published. I am happy to know that, now, by quoting her here, she finally is. Happy Mother's Day, Grandma.
One of the most important figures in Texas' religious history never set foot in Texas at all. She never in her life traveled beyond her tiny village in Spain, yet she stirred religious fervor from the Concho River to the headwaters of the Rio Grande. Our story begins in 1602 when Maria was born in the pueblito de Ágreda. She was a lovely child born to Catholic parents of noble rank. Barely beyond her toddler years, Maria showed an unusual devotion to a life of prayer and piety. When she was ten, she already wanted to join a convent. When she was 12, her parents finally blessed her wish to join the Discalced Carmelite Nuns of Tarazona. Before that could be arranged, though, Maria's mother had a vision in which God instructed her to convert their mansion into a convent. She and her daughter would both become nuns. Her father would join a local monastery, following in the footsteps of his sons who were already friars. In four years, this all came to pass. At 18, Maria took her vows and became Maria de Jesus – Mary of Jesus de Ágreda. The habit of her order was a dark cobalt blue. Now a nun, she spent more time than ever alone in prayer. Maria's religious devotions intensified. Her sisters worried about her frequent fasting, frail health, and life of extreme deprivation. Yet for her it was a glorious time: she said God had given her a divine gift. It was the gift of bilocation. She could be in two places at once. Through meditation she could appear to God's children in faraway lands and teach them about Jesus. She said she first appeared to the Jumano tribes of present day Texas in the 1620s. She did this for about ten years, from the time she was 18, to 29. And according to legend, the Jumano Indians of the time confirmed that the Woman in Blue, as they called her, had come among them. The first proof is offered in the story of 50 Jumano Indians appearing on their own at the San Antonio de la Isleta Mission near present-day Albuquerque, asking the Franciscan priests to teach them about Jesus. When asked how they knew of him, the men said that the Lady in Blue had come to them and taught them the gospel. She had instructed them to go west to find holy men who could teach them more about the faith and baptize them. They, as the legend goes, pointed to a painting of a nun in the mission and said, "She is like her, but younger." The priests were stunned because they had no missions or missionaries in that part of what is today West Texas. They certainly knew of no nuns who had attempted missionary work there. How could this be? The head cleric in New Mexico, Esteban de Perea, asked two priests to go home with the Jumanos to verify these claims about the Lady in Blue. They traveled to the region that is today San Angelo and found that many of the Jumano said she had indeed come to them many times over the years. The priests immediately baptized 2,000 Jumanos, they say, because of Maria de Ágredas. Historians Donald Chipman and Denise Joseph wrote that the Jumanos said Maria came to them "like light at sunset... she was a kind and gentle person who spoke 'sweet' words to them that they could understand..." The respected religious historian Carlos E. Castaneda – not to be confused with the one who wrote about the Teachings of Don Juan – said that Maria preached in Spanish but the Jumanos understood her in their tongue, and when they spoke in their tongue, she understood them in Spanish. Such claims resulted in the custodian of the Franciscans in New Mexico, Father Alonso de Benavides, traveling all the way to Ágreda in Spain to interview Maria to verify her authenticity. According to him, she told him of things in Texas and about the world of the Jumanos that only one who had been there could have known. Her bilocation claims were considered credible then, and even now, the Vatican seems to agree and is considering her for canonization. Chapman and Joseph tell us that, according to Jumano legend, "when she last appeared, she blessed [the Jumanos] and slowly went away into the hills. The next morning the area was covered with a blanket of strange flowers that were a deep blue" – blue like her habit. These were, they said, the first bluebonnets. And perhaps the Jumanos found comfort when these flowers returned each year, adorned in their blue habits, assuring them that the Lady in Blue was always with them. For a more complete history of the Lady in Blue, see "Notable Men and Women of Spanish Texas" by Donald E. Chipman and Harriett Denise Joseph, published by UT-Press, 1999.
The navigation apps so accessible in our cars and on our phones are to me, magical. Siri, Google Maps and the like save us collectively from hundreds of thousands of lost hours each day by saving us from, well, being lost. Siri also may have saved a few relationships by sparing couples from arguing about whether or not to ask for directions. In simpler times, the all-perceptive woman might say, "Just admit it, David, you're lost – been lost for an hour. Driving faster won't get you unlost. Stop, please, ask for directions." Then the man would say, "Just hold on and let me concentrate, Martha. Two more miles up here and I believe I'll know where we are." Yet for all that Siri offers in real time efficiency and guidance, there are things she can't do for you. She is not infallible. All of us have had the experience of being told "we have arrived" at our restaurant or hotel only to be welcomed by curious cows staring at us from a vast empty pasture. The other thing we have lost with these apps is the splendid, colorful conversations we used to have with random strangers we'd ask for directions, such as the gas station attendant, the woman walking her chihuahuas down the street, or the slightly drunk guy mowing his lawn. Siri and company are economical communicators, giving you the minimum information you need for maximum clarity. Most of your random direction givers over-communicate. They give you far more information than you need. For instance, I once asked a Deputy Sheriff, who happened to be giving me a ticket for alleged speeding, how to get to Highway 71 to Austin. He said, "Oh you don't want to go to 71 from here. Go back two miles and take that FM road west and it'll take you to Austin eventually. The best thing is it'll take you by Peggy's Cafe – just a ramshackle hut at a wide spot in the road – best peach cobbler you ever had in your life. Bucket list cobbler for sure. Take a bit of the sting out of this here ticket." See? Siri doesn't have that kind of empathy, or, passion for cobbler. Another example is when years ago, I stopped to ask a farmer on some country road near Abilene how to get to Highway 277 to San Angelo. He said, "Oh, just go down to that green house on the corner there and turn left. Go straight 3 miles, you'll hit it." I replied, "That house you just pointed to is actually yellow, not green." He said, "Yeah, well it was green for 30 years. They painted it recently. We ain't got used to it, yet. Most of us don't care for the yellow." As I was about to thank him, he leaned his arms on my passenger door and said, "That house there is the Miller house. Three generations of the same family lived there and farmed that acreage. Jimbo and Carolyn after 30 years farming sold out last year, moved to Alpine and opened a bed and breakfast out there. Young couple, McGees I think, bought that house and painted it yellow. Bad decisions all around in my opinion. But not my business. Irregardless, I'll wager right now that ten years from now that'll still be known as the Miller house. Well, you best get goin' 'fore the sun sets on you." You see? Siri can't give you that kind of local, social history with such authentic flare. Finally, Siri doesn't offer you the "gone too far" landmarks. She'll tell you to turn around for sure, but she won't say, "If you come to a rise in the road and see a Texas Flag gate on your left, you've gone too far." Or, "If you pass over a creek, you've gone too far." Or, "If the pavement turns to dirt, you've gone too far, but don't try to turn around down there – with all the rain we've had you'll just slide off into the bar ditch and you'll need a wrecker to pull you out. No, just keep going till you get to the frontage road and circle back and try again." Siri doesn't offer those kinds of extra, nuanced details.