Archive for the ‘Short Stories’ Category

Burning Pear

Friday, February 10th, 2012


Dry cold winter days on the ranch can be a real chore. It is
especially so if all of the summer, grass is gone and the winter grass is
scarce. Those cows can get a little lean and hungry. But if you live here in
central Texas, you probably have plenty of prickly pear on the ranch. That has
saved many ranchers and their livestock.

 The day was crispy
cold with a gentle north breeze. I decided I had better check on John Steel. I
drove up to his little shotgun house and that spotted dog didn’t run out to eat
my leg off. I saw John’s battered pickup parked under the live oak tree near
the yard fence, so I knew he was not far away. I beeped my horn, but got no
answer. I listened carefully and made out a roaring sound from out in the
pasture. I moseyed out that way. There John was, burning pear for his little
bunch of cows. The spotted dog came to meet me, but the cows did not look up.
They just kept eating with gusto the freshly burned pear leaves. John noticed
he had company, and he shut down his flame throwing, thorn burning, propane
pear burner. “About time for a cup of coffee,” he said.

Back at the house, John put another stick of wood in the
kitchen stove. I knew then we were in for warmed over breakfast coffee. It was
plenty strong, a bit bitter, but hot. I knew he liked it that way. I pretended
to agree. We sat around the stove in his two rawhide bottomed straight-backed
chairs, and sipped the black brew. I said, “John tell me about burning pear.”

“When I was just a kid Dad and I burned pear one winter from
November until spring grass finally came up,” he said. “We would hitch the
mules to the wagon and go over to the Howard place and get a load of pear. We’d
done burned all of ours. We cut the leaves off the plant with a long handled
ax, and loaded them on the wagon with a pitchfork. We’d bring them home, build
a brush fire, and burn all the stickers off the pear leaves and feed them to
the cows. They sure loved those green, juicy pear leaves. It took from 50 to a
hundred leaves to fill up one cow, so you can see it was a lot of work feeding
all the stock. Then we got a kerosene fired pear burner. Man was that a relief.
It was a tank that held a few gallons of fuel with a harness to carry it on
your back. We pumped it up with a tire pump to give it pressure. It had a long
pipe with a burner on the end so you could walk around a pear plant and burn
all the stickers off real easy.” We walked out to the barn and he showed me the
old kerosene pear burner hanging from a nail on the wall. “We got through that
winter with that old burner,” he said.

“What kind of a burner are you using now to get the stickers
off the pear leaves,” I asked. “A few years after the kerosene burner came out
Dad heard of a new kind.  He found it
advertised in the Sears and Roebuck catalogue, and he ordered one. Now that was
a honey. It used propane for fuel and you didn’t have to pump it up, nor carry
on you back. It had a long hose you just dragged behind you from the tank. It
rarely gave you the trouble the old kerosene burner did,” he said. We finished
that pot of black stuff he called coffee and he went back to burning pear

I talked to my cousin Barney Baker, who lives on the home
place, way up Morgan Creek in Burnet County. Said he was burning pear himself
these days. It is not cold but it sure is dry. He burns pear most of the day
and then puts out range cubes for the cows to supplement their diet. His cows
are doing well, and the market is good for the rancher. “You can borrow my
pickup, or my shot gun, but you can’t borrow my pear burner,” he said.

Fishing Trip on the North San Gabriel

Sunday, December 5th, 2010


            John Steel stopped by a few days ago.  The sun was shinning brightly with a gentle southeast breeze, and a forecast of more to come.  He drove across the little bridge in his battered pick up truck with that old spotted dog helping him steer.  As the dust settled the dog cleared the yard of cats and John eased his bony body down from the truck.

            “What brings you out on such a pretty day John?  I asked.  You need another cup of Alice’s coffee?”

            “No I don’t have time for any coffee.  You and me are going fishing.” 

            I didn’t remember promising him I would go fishing with him any time soon, but he easily convinced me I had.

            “I have everything loaded in the truck and time is wasting.”

            I grabbed my tackle, kissed Alice a quick good bye, and jumped into the already running truck.  I thought I would get to ride in the passenger’s seat, but that spotted dog had other ideas.  When I found John had not brought any breakfast fixings I was able to get him to stop by H.E.B.s for bacon and eggs.  John scooped up five pounds of bacon, three dozen eggs, and a big can of Folgers coffee.  On the way to the checkout counter he managed to grab a ten-pound sack of potatoes.  It wasn’t hard to get my billfold out and pay the tab before John could find his money.

            I was able to trick the old spotted dog to ride in the bed of the truck so I could sit in his place in the cab.  We turned south off county road 1174 onto a dirt road.  Well it looked like a dirt road once upon a time.  The county had not graded it in years and rocks and ruts littered the road.  Sure enough John managed to hit a rock and blew out a tire.  We were able to remove the flat tire, mount the spare only to find it was flat also.

            “Don’t worry about that.  I have a hand pump here some where.”

            I didn’t say anything, but I noticed there was a different look to the sky.  A low dark streak of clouds lay way in the northwest.

            John picked out a campsite and we put up the tent.  Well, it was once a tent.  He built a fire and put the coffee pot on.  I watched the streak of clouds turn dark blue and began its approach at a fast pace.  The storm hit in all its fury with rain, wind, mixed with a touch of sleet.  As the tent tumbled down the riverbank we raced to the truck.

            The three of us, cold and wet, filled the cab.  The spotted dog decided he wanted the middle of the cab after all and commandeered it.  Some how we managed to catch a few minutes of sleep, through the night.  About daylight the storm blew its self out and the sun broke clear, but cold.

            We managed a fire, but found the coffee can had spilled and scattered the contents over the ground.  Looking for the bacon and eggs we found that old spotted dog had already found them and ate them all.  We still had ten pounds of potatoes.  I guess dogs don’t like raw spuds.

            Alice had the coffee perking and bacon frying in the pan when we dragged our cold, wet bodies into the house. 

            “I’m leaving my spotted dog out there on the porch.  I only wish we could leave the weather bureau out there too,” said John Steel.








Monday, August 23rd, 2010




            Our shop worked Austin and surrounding cities.  This put us on the road a lot of each working day.  One misty cold November day, returning from Manor, I witnessed a near fatal accident.  Crossing the road ahead was a small rusty colored dog.  Passing my pickup on the left was a sports car driving at great speed.  Almost in slow motion I could see the dog and car meet in the middle of the road.  The car sped on, but the dog was knocked into the ditch at the side of the road.  I stopped, backed up and ran to the dog.  He lay quiet, still, and bleeding.  I sensed he was alive, but in dire shape.  I picked him up from the wet, cold grass and lay him gently in the floorboard of my pickup.  He was still breathing.

At the shop we placed him near the fire on a mat.  In a few hours he moved, opened his eyes and gave us that look of, “What happened?”  He then lay still and we knew his life was in the hands of fate.  Fate won.

The next day he was awake, lapped up some water and a bite of food.  Looking at him lying on the mat of shop towels, we agreed he was one lucky dog.  And that is how he earned his name.

            Lucky was a small dog, hardly fifteen pounds, golden in color and frisky.  He became our “Shop Dog,” and was good at his assumed task.  Each morning he waited at the pickup to ride to the shop with me.  At the shop he would find the coolest spot in the summer and the warmest in the winter, to take up his task of being a shop dog.  Lucky greeted all guests that came to the shop with a sniff and quick tail waging, then resume his post.  Deliverymen were given the same hearty greeting, but with a more guarded personality.  A gentle pat on the head and he wagged his little tail and resumed guard duty.  Customers got the full warm treatment.  Lucky always had a friendly bark with plenty of tail wagging, which made them feel properly welcomed.

            Lucky had one annoying habit.  He refused to eat dog food.  The only thing he would eat was table scraps.  I guess he felt he was human, and we soon came to understand he possible was; Alice always fixed him a plate as if he were a guest at the house also.  He didn’t seem to mind taking his plate on the back porch, which was a surprise.  He even ate the green beans and carrots on the plate.  Often, when Alice wasn’t looking, I made sure he got an extra serving of vegetables from my plate.

            Those were idyllic times.  Lucky enjoyed riding with me to the shop, watching the traffic whizzing by and growling at fast sports cars.  Keeping his post guarded at the shop seemed to be a pleasant time for him. At about 4:30 in the afternoon, Lucky would stir from his nap to announce it was time to go home.  I usually agreed with him. He would happily run to the pickup and wait for me to open the door.  In he would hop and assume his stance by the window to watch his world slide by.

            But large, mean, dogs roamed our neighborhood.  Lucky tangled with one to many.  We buried him beneath the giant oak in the back yard with all the pomp and ceremonies a sad family could muster. Even Lucky’s streak ran out.  We still miss him.









Cold Snap

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

            I went to Winkley’s Hardware and Feed store Saturday morning.  The parking lot was nearly full of pick-up trucks, cars, and SUV’s.  Something BIG must be happening I thought.  I pulled in, found a parking place, and soon found what the celebration was   about.  It wasn’t a celebration at all.  They were there for the same reason I was there; plumbing supplies.  

            With all this talk in the papers, magazines, and the Internet about global warming you wouldn’t think we could still have a cold snap that would send us scrambling for plumbing supplies.  But it happened.  It happened Saturday morning about 4:PM.  Saturday morning the temperature dropped, around our place, to 13 degrees.   Of course no one knew it had happened until it began to thaw.  With the sun warming things the first cracks in the frozen pipes began to trickle water that quickly turned into a full-blown stream of water.  That was when the scramble really started in earnest.  Where is the water cut-off?  What wrenches will I need?  How can I find the leak and what will I need to  repair the break?  That sort of demand really gets some of us old men out of our rockers and going.  Hey, we can still move!

             All I needed was a few PVC elbows, PVC glue, and some insulation.  But that store was full of folks getting all sorts of supplies.  One fellow had a box of copper connections and solder to weld the joints together.  He said he had all the equipment needed to take care of copper plumbing problems.  I felt lucky to only have PVC problems.  I was also lucky that my frozen pipe was easy to get to.  Some folks were having to dig water lines up to repair them.  One neighbor had a frozen water pipe in his attic.  You can imagine his problem with water dripping down the sheetrock walls and running out of light fixtures.   The worst problem may be having to crawl under the house to repair frozen pipes.  Mud and broken pipes just naturally go together.

            I remember when Dale Monroe had a hardware store here and his famous axiom about repairing plumbing.  Dale said, “You can never get all the supplies to repair a plumbing problem in one trip.  You always have to come back the second time.  And sometimes the third time.”  Well I thought I had found the time that disproved Dale’s axiom.  I got home with my sack of stuff and went to work repairing the damage the cold had brought and quickly found I needed one more thing.  A hacksaw blade to cut away the old broken pipe.  So it was back to Winkley’s again for more supplies.  Dale was so right.

            So much for “Global Warming.”  It hasn’t arrived here in Liberty Hill as of now.  If you find it hanging around the pool hall, let me know.  I am not sure ‘Global Warming’ might not be better that repairing frozen water pipes.



Andice, Texas

Friday, August 28th, 2009


            Williamson County has many small villages and communities scattered across the expanse of the area.  Some are gone with few signs of life to show their place in history, but some are still vital, and growing.  Richard Wear and I visited his hometown of Andice a few days ago and found it alive with memories of the past as well as faith in the future.  I asked Richard how the village got it name.

He replied with a sly grin, “The store had a sign on the façade that originally said ‘Beer and Ice,’ but the Beer part fell off and that left ‘and Ice,’ and that is how it got its name.”  I didn’t really fall for that story, even though it is a good one, so I dug a little deeper.  I found the real story just as interesting.  The area was first called Stapp for an early settler who built a church/school building in the 1850s. (The Stapp family still own property in the area.)  In the 1870s the storeowner, Andrew Jackson, applied for a post office which he called Berry’s Creek.  It closed three years later.  In the 1890s William Isaac Newton applied for a post office with the name of his son, Audice.  The postal service in Washington miss read the name and granted a post office with the name of Andice.  So there are two stories, both charming, we can take our pick.

            While in the area Richard pointed out old farms, schools, and events of the past.  One school, Whitehouse, which was once filled with the laughter and lessons of 30 or so students is now gone without a trace. Another school, Smart, has a few rocks showing the foundations of the building.  This was Richard’s first and second grade school.  He said his teacher, Mrs. Stapp, required all her students learn to read at an early age.  This gave them an advantage as they moved into the higher grades.  Mrs. Stapp was an excellent seamstress.  Should a kid come to school with a torn garment, she would let them go into a closet, hand out the offending shirt or pants, and she would repair them.  We drove by Richard’s folks home place and admired a new structure, St. Catherine’s Chapel, built by his brother James.  This handsome building, paying homage to their mother, gives family and pilgrims an opportunity for prayer.  Just a way down the road Richard pointed out the large stock tank Mr. Wear had built for his cattle as well as a swimming hole for all the kids in the neighborhood.  Further on, we opened a gate, drove through, and were quickly into a field of cedars and mesquite.  Richard said when he was a kid this was his fathers cotton field.  He said it still made him sweat just seeing the place.  Stapp and Berry’s creek come together here with a few pools of water still showing in this dry, hot weather.  And sure enough where there is a creek there were campsites for the Indians.  We searched the ground and found many flint flakes where the original owners had worked their projectile points.

            We returned to Andice and the local store and café.  We ordered hamburgers.  Now if you haven’t had a ‘real hamburger’ in some time, this is the place to go.  The buns were hot, the lettuce crisp, the tomatoes ripe, pickles tart, and the meat cooked just right.  A perfect meal for a couple of old guys making a trip into the past.


Hollis Baker  17 August 2009



Squirrel Hunting

Thursday, June 18th, 2009



            Roy Edward, my childhood friend, got a new rifle.  A brand new lever action, Winchester 22 caliber that looked the world like my uncle’s 30-30 deer rifle.  He cut a handsome figure carrying that gun, looking a lot like John Wayne.  He even developed a swagger and walk like the Duke.  I carried my dad’s old Remington pump 22 caliber.  I must admit to a little jealousy.  However my old gun worked well, and was accurate.

           With all that firepower now in our control, we decided it was time for a squirrel hunt.  Saturday morning found us walking through old man Wingren’s pasture, over Long Mountain and down into Morgan Creek with all its pecan bottomland.  There, under those towering trees, we just knew there would be a world of squirrels.  We hunted, as best two 14 year olds knew how, until noon without even seeing our quarry.  I think our casual stomping up the creek may have warned the world of our coming.  We sat, leaning against a tree trunk in the thick leaves on the ground, disappointed and hungry.  As we sat there quietly, a squirrel peeked around a limb, high in the tree.  Roy Edward eased his gun to his shoulder, took careful, aim and shot him.  His first victory with his new gun.   We were both ecstatic.  We quickly dressed the squirrel, built a fire, fastened him on a green stick, and begin cooking our lunch.  We cooked and cooked for at least 10 minutes.  The flesh began to change color, especially after being dropped intro the ashes a couple of times.  We decided our feast was ready.  Roy offered me the first bite.  I demurred.  He bravely took a tiny bite.  He quickly passed the lunch to me.  With the first bite I realized that a meal cooked without salt and pepper, and such a short time, takes a stronger hunter than me.  It was not the tastiest dish to set before the king, and was hardly like our Mother’s Sunday chicken.

           Next Saturday found us at the city dump shooting cans and bottles we lined up against a old log.  There was no shortage of targets.  We didn’t have to field dress them, or try to have them for dinner.  And we could shoot till our hearts content, and be home in time to enjoy Mom’s fried chicken.

           I don’t know where Dad’s old Remington gun is today.  I know I never killed a squirrel with it.  I do know that was the last time Roy Edward and I went squirrel hunting.  As we said, “Busting bottles, and bouncing tin cans was more fun.”   








June Vacations

Monday, June 8th, 2009


            I guess June is our favorite month of the year.  Vacations for one thing.  A whole week to do whatever we want to do; sleep late, drive to some far and distant place just to get sunburned, work in the garden, and celebrate the end of the school year.  Kids especially enjoy June. The kids are drawn like a magnet to the pools, and lakes around the area.  They can’t seem to get enough of splashing, swishing, laughing, pushing and swimming in whatever water they can find.

            I looked up the reason we call this the month of June.  It is named for the Roman goddess Juno, the wife of Jupiter.  I guess that is about as good a reason and any we might come up with.  June is also the favorite month for weddings.  Wedding bells ring out all across the area. Think of all the rice and confetti that is wasted this time of the year.  June the 6th is the anniversary of D-Day, when the Allied forces landed on the Normandy beaches to finish of the horror of World War II.  And June 21 marks the summer solstice, the beginning of summer.

            But vacations are the main activity of June.  I remember one vacation our family took all too well.  I rented a small camper to pull behind the family car and we headed for the beach.  The kids were ecstatic, I looked forward to the few days from the daily grind and Alice steeled herself to cooking in that little camper.  We swam in the salty water, dodged jellyfish, and picked buckets of pretty seashells.  Alice did a marvelous job of cooking and enjoyed wading in the edge of the ocean.  The kids and me were all covered with salt and sand, and sunburn.  The salt and sand we washed off easily, but the sunburn stayed.  I felt I was encased in a wool blanket that itched and scratched my tired body.  I asked Alice to drive us home.  She demurred.  I insisted, explaining my physical bodies plight.  She relented.  I explained the ways of driving with a camper hooked to the back of the car.  I retired to the camper.  I removed all my clothes except my shorts and went to bed.  Alice drove north towards home, gritting her teeth all the way.  Somewhere along the road we came to a small town with signal lights.  By now I have merciful gone into a troubled sleep.  A signal light flashed red and Alice slammed the brakes, coming to a sudden stop.  All the cooking pans in the camper were thrown to the floor with an enormous clatter and crash.  I awoke from my troubled sleep, fearing Alice had hit something expensive.  I leaped from the bed and out the door to see the wreck.  At that time the light changed to green and Alice sped quickly away.  Now here I am, standing in the middle of the street with nothing on but shorts and sunburn.  I gave chase and would have caught the runaway camper if the police had not caught me first.  He was kind and took me in the squad car and stopped Alice miles down the road.  She was surprised to see me sitting, nearly naked, in the police car.  I think she blushed as red as my sunburn.

            We did make it home.  The kids were exhausted, but happy to have splashed in most of the water at the coast.  My sunburn healed, but the memory of that vacation lingers on and on. 



Summer Swimming

Monday, June 1st, 2009


Summer Swimming



            What beautiful weather we have been having these last few weeks.  Summer is on its way.  When we were kids we started testing the temperature of the water in our swimming holes sometime in March.  The grass was greening, and wild plum tree buds were swelling, surely the cold had drained from the pool.   Still cold?  Hoo boy, you bet.  Even April, with the bluebonnet’s flowering, showed little improvement in the feel of the water.  Some of the bigger boys, to show their bravery, would jump in.  We noted they just as quickly jumped out and hurriedly dressed.  The Merry Month of May came with the glory of spring and the water began feeling less painful.  But marvelous June soon came and we knew our time had arrived.  The rest of the summer our address was Old Man Wengren’s stock tank. 


   Now when I say swimming holes I didn’t mean swimming pools.  We did not even know what a swimming pool was.  A place to swim was usually a stock tank up in someone’s pasture. Our favorite was Mr. Wengren’s.  It was hidden away from any road by live oak, and cedar trees and other brush.  That allowed us to swim the way young boys were meant to swim, in the buff.  The stock tank covered at least half of an acre and was plenty deep.  The dam holding the water back was tall, grassy and plenty broad for us to get a running start to jump in with a big splash.  We kept one kid on ‘look-out’ for Mr. Wengren, for he would sometimes come chase us out.  When the look-out saw him coming we would grab our clothes and scatter like rabbits into the trees and brush.  I think that added to the adventure of the swim; forbidden fruit.  And I think he may have gotten a kick from watching us run in all directions.


            But the water was not as you might expect.  It was a light creamy tan tank of water, somewhat the color of fresh milk from Mother’s cow.  You could not see into the water at all.  And some times the smell was not all that good either, but it was water and we could swim in it.  I have seen stock tanks in other areas that were reddish, and stock tanks that were grayish.  But our swimming tanks were all a beautiful creamy tan, with a muddy bottom, and we liked it that way.  We had heard of pools in the big cities where the bottoms were cement and the water crystal clear.  I’m not sure we even believed those stories.


            Well we all grew up and went our ways, chasing our various fortunes.  Some of us found them, some of us didn’t.  I fear most of us found the cement pools with clear water really did exist.  To bad.  However, this summer, as I am driving around and I find a stock tank just the right color, with a muddy bottom, I might just stop, crawl over the fence, and take myself a real swim.

Roping Wild Bees

Saturday, February 21st, 2009

One warm, late spring day I was with my uncle way up North Morgan creek in western Burnet County. Here the water runs clear between shear canyon walls riddled with natural holes and small caves. These openings in the rock walls make perfect homes for the wild bees that inhabit the area. Building their hives here protect  them from most of the animals, including men, that pray on their sweet honey. On top of the canyons, the land spreads out into level meadows, covered with bushes, clovers, and wild flowers loaded with pollen and nectar. These meadows were a perfect place for bees to harvest their needs.

That day we were in one of these meadows called Mud Flats looking for strayed cattle. The old pick-up bounced along the trail that we pretended was a road. Suddenly Uncle Luther slammed on the brakes, and pointed to an unusual looking something hanging from a sumac bush. It was a swarm of wild bees, out looking for another place to build their home. Uncle Luther explained that in spring, when everything was in bloom, and the bees were making lots of honey, the hive would split and the old queen and thousands of bees would leave the group, looking for a new home. In their search they would light on a limb to rest. This is what Luther had found.

There were hundreds of bees flying around and making me a little nervous, but Luther explained when bees were swarming they were very gentle and rarely sting. He got a burlap bag from the pick-up and carefully eased the open sack over the hanging bunch of bees. He closed and tied the top of the sack and had me cut the limb from the bush. Luther then had me take an ax and cut a cedar pole about eight feet long and tie it to the pick-up and sticking out the back. He then tied the sack of humming bees to the cedar pole. We drove hurriedly back to the ranch house and Luther put the bees into a box hive. He said that was what the bees were looking for and would stay there.

The next day Uncle Luther sent me back to Mud Flats to look for those missing cows. I saddled Pacer, a big paint horse gentle enough for a kid to ride. I was excited about the real cowboy assignment. As I was looking for the strayed cows, I spotted another swarm of bees. I remembered how excited Uncle Luther was with the first swarm of bees, I figured he would be proud of me if I brought one in by myself. I rummaged through the saddlebags and found some string and a burlap bag. I held my breath and eased the opened bag up and over the hanging swarm of bees. I tied the top, and cut the limb from the bush and stood there with a hand full of sacked bees. How am I going to carry this sack on a horse? Pacer, my horse looked at the sack and wondered nervously what I was going to do. I cut a stick about four feet long, tied the sack of bees to one end and the other end to the saddle. I mounted the now wide-eyed Pacer and started for home. We were doing pretty well, going down the trail until the stick came untied and swung under Pacer belly. In spite of Luther’s statement that swarming bees are gentle, several bees were able to sting Pacer’s tender underside. I dismounted, very unceremoniously, but was able to grab the sack of bees as Pacer hurried home without me. I needed to walk anyway. I boxed the swarm of bees in an unused hive and they lived happily ever after. Years later, when I was in college, Uncle Luther sent a jar of honey from ‘my’ hive. How sweet it was.