I wrote about taking risks when I started writing this blog in July. I mentioned that one risk I had taken was writing a book about the stories my father told me about his growing up years. Several readers (okay…it was more like two) said they wanted to read the book, so I thought I’d post one of the chapters in this blog post.
I know it might be a little weird reading a chapter from the middle of a book without any context, so it’s important to know the setting is San Angelo, Texas in 1950 when Dad was nine-years-old and his very best friend was Raymond. After reading it, leave me a comment.
According to my Site Stats Page, I do have some faithful readers. (Unless of course it’s just me getting counted every time I sign on to the Site Stats Page. Oh look, there’s another one! Somehow I clicked the “Like” button on my own post. Thanks blogger from Greece for clicking too. Now I don’t feel like such an idiot.)
So click “Leave a comment” below and tell me what you think. Good, bad, indifferent – I can take it. (If I don’t like what you say, I can always hit “Do Not Approve” button. Just ask my mother. She actually wrote something very nice.)
If you get to the end, there’s a chocolate cake waiting for you. Okay, it’s just a recipe, but if you make it, you will have a chocolate cake – a really good one.
Indigenous Plants or If It Looks Sharp, Don’t Touch It
While Raymond’s and my friendship was perfect, Raymond was far from it. Raymond had a real stubborn streak. Sometimes he just wouldn’t go along with my way of thinking.
One time we spent the better part of the day arguing over which plant native to West Texas was the most deadly. Here was a subject I was well versed in. One of the only lessons from Sunday School that ever really stuck with me was the one about Adam and Eve. After the great sin, God covered the land with thistled plants, making the land a burden to toil. I remember thinking the Garden of Eden must have been in West Texas, because I’d had my share of close encounters with most of Texas’s dreaded indigenous plants such as devil’s pincushion, goat’s head, prickly pear, and the agarita bush.
It was no contest. Clearly the most deadly, the most revered, the one to most be avoided was goat’s head. This was a vine that grew along the ground. Goat’s head had five sides with seeds that were about the size of a pea. Each side was loaded
with thorns. No matter how it lay on the ground, you couldn’t avoid a thorn. These thorns could easily, and often did, penetrate the sole of a kid’s tennis shoe
as well as puncture a bicycle tire.
Raymond couldn’t disagree more. His choice was devil’s pincushion. Devil’s pincushion looked like a small basketball buried with only the top third sticking out of the ground. He insisted that its inch long thorns could also spear a kid’s
I pointed out that devil’s pincushion also had a small marble-sized red berry in the center of it. You could take a knife and cut out this berry and eat it. Some ladies even made jams out of these berries. I argued that because devil’s pincushion had a redeeming quality – the berry- it could not qualify as the most deadly. Raymond made some ridiculous comment about the fact that a knife was required to retrieve the berry which added an additional dimension of danger.
We continued to argue until he shoved me, or maybe I shoved him. Next thing I knew we were throwing punches and then we were down on the ground wrestling. Mom, who always preferred peace and tranquility to conflict and war, came outside when she heard the raucous. She screamed at us, “Allan Ray Smith! Raymond Thomas Hodge! Let go of one another and act civilized!” Her words were useless.
Raymond and I had passed the point of no return and this fight would only be
settled once one of us conceded to the other’s way of thinking. So Mom did what
she did when she saw the neighbor’s dogs tangled up (only I don’t think they
were fighting, but Mom always made me go inside on these occasions). She grabbed the water hose, turned it on, and sprayed both of us. All the while she was shouting that we were acting like a pair of animals.
Dripping wet, we finally stopped and hung our heads. Mom made us apologize to one another and shake hands – as if that would settle the matter. We agreed to be friends and then waited for her to go back inside the house.
The hosing was only a short set back. We were more determined than ever to prove who knew the most about these pesky plants. What we needed was an experiment. This experiment would require a willing -or not willing was okay too – participant.
There was my sister, Loralee, but she’d never venture too far from Mom’s hip.
We thought about Raymond’s older brother, Frank, but chances were that he’d
just argue a third type of plant was worse than ours, suggesting that he was
the smartest in the crowd.
What we needed was a third, neutral party – someone who would go along with our plan and yet had a brain of his own. That left Ezra Franklin. He was perfect.
The Franklins were my neighbors. Ezra was nine years old like us. He wore a lead fishing sinker on a string around his neck. When I asked him about it once, he said it prevented nose bleeds. I never did see Ezra with a nose bleed. I started
wearing a lead sinker around my neck too and I didn’t have any nose bleeds. Come to think of it, I never had any nose bleeds before. Ezra was smart. He probably knew the cure for polio which was beginning to take hold in Texas.
The Franklins lived in a large house at the end of our road. They had a large piece of property and a several cows. They were really more like a clan than a
family. There were lots of Franklins.
The leader of the Franklin clan was old Mister Franklin. He was at least a hundred years old. He was very, and I mean very, religious. The rest of the clan often commented on his faith and said he had a gift from God. They said Mister
Franklin could touch a wasps’ nest and not be stung by the wasps. I was doubtful of this wild claim but one day when I was talking to Mister Franklin in the cow shed, he reached up and touched a wasps’ nest. I was witnessing a miracle! I personally knew how wasps could sting and how painful they could be. The sting would raise a welt like you would not believe. But these wasps just crawled around on Mister Franklin’s hand and didn’t sting him. He said God gave him the gift to tame wasps.
I was not well versed in the Bible and I really had no understanding of gifts from God. I didn’t mention it at the time, but I wondered why Mister Franklin wanted the gift of taming wasps instead of an indoor toilet. But I reckoned that you didn’t get to pick your gifts from God – you got what you got. I guess Ezra’s gift was preventing nose bleeds.
Raymond and I walked over to Ezra’s house and explained our predicament. Then all three of us hopped on our bikes and rode just a half a mile from my house. Fortunately, it was easy to locate a piece of land that had most, if not all, of these deadly plants.
We told Ezra we needed him to stick himself with the thorns of devil’s pincushion and goat’s head and tell us which one hurt the most. This seemed like a sure fire plan to settle our argument, but Ezra said he had
another idea. He suggested that I stick myself with one of the devil’s
pincushion thorns and Raymond stick himself with a goat’s head thorn. Ezra
would determine a winner based on the amount of pain we showed on our faces. Whoever looked to be in the most pain obviously was stuck by the most dangerous plant.
I looked at Raymond and Raymond looked at me. Then we shrugged our shoulders and set out to gather our samples. I positioned one of my fingers over a thorn from the devil’s pincushion and Raymond did the same over the goat’s head. Ezra counted, “one, two, three.”
Ezra stood there shaking his head at us while both Raymond and me tried to hide our pain. After what seemed like a really long time, Ezra shouted, “Stop!” He sounded all mad. You’d have thought he was the one getting stuck.
Then he suggested that we call a truce and declare both
plants as the most painful and deadly. We quickly agreed, deciding Ezra not
only had the gift of nose bleed stopping but also the gift of fight settling. I
liked Ezra – he was good to have around.
Texas Sheet Cake (this recipe is from my Mom’s family and has ALWAYS been a favorite)
Sift together: 2 cups of All Purpose flour and 2 cups of sugar.
Bring to a boil: 1 stick oleo (that’s butter in Texas talk), 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 4 tablespoons of cocoa, and 1 cup of water.
Pour hot ingredients over dry ingredients and mix well.
Mix in: Buttermilk mixture, 2 eggs (beaten), and one tablespoon of vanilla.
Pour into greased and floured pan 11″ X 16″ and bake 20 minutes at 400 degrees.