Archive for August, 2007

Labor Day Profit

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

This past Monday was a grand holiday; Labor Day. I trust you and your family had an enjoyable day off. Labor Day holiday is much older than I had thought. With a little research I found the movement started in 1882. Congress passed a resolution in 1884 making the first Monday in September a legal national holiday to celebrate the work force of our nation. In the beginning parades and speeches by dignitaries were the order of the day. It was a day of leisure, and picnics for the entire family. In the time of six days, 60-hour workweek, the holiday was eagerly anticipated. And deserved. As usual as time passed the parades and speeches became less and less and the picnics, water sports, and just watching the grass grow became the usual celebration.

I did a highly scientific, carefully designed study of the local folks plans for the day. Most often the reply was, “Just enjoy the day with the family.” Some of the more energetic planned a boat outing on the area lakes with the kids and friends. Most even planned to cook on the outing. That is the man’s macho way of proving he can take care of everything out in the woods. I suspect, however, instead of killing a bear or mastodon they will drive by H.E.B. for steaks and ribs. My how times have changed.

I did not find anyone that planned to work. I can’t score them on that count for that is my idea of the day also. Which brings me to my old friend Mel Ellison. Mel never worked. He was spoiled early on to avoiding work. I have always admired him for his convictions. I asked Mel how he came by that vocation. He said it was his mother’s entire fault. “Early on”, Mel said, “mother gave me a chicken to sell so I could go to the movie Saturday afternoon”. “I sold the chicken, went to the movie, and had enough left over to buy two more chickens”. This is pretty heady stuff for a young man to handle at such an early age. Well the chicken project lasted for a while until Mel needed more income, so he went into the buying and selling hogs. That lasted until he found cows were bigger, and sold for more and didn’t stink so bad. Mel shared with me his method of buying and selling for a profit. To buy the farmers steer Mel would guess the weight, which was always low, and offer market price. The farmer would guess the weight of the animal, which was always high. They would then split the difference and Mel would become the proud owner of a fine steer that was soon out of the pasture and into his trailer. He would then go to little towns in the area and park on the square, with the animal in a trailer. Soon another farmer, needing to add to his heard, would approach Mel to buy the steer. The weight guessing game was played out again and Mel would sell the bovine at market price. The secret, Mel said, was an animal in the field looks smaller that the same animal in a trailer. That is where the profit comes from, and the fact that Mel never had to work.

I don’t think Mel ever celebrated Labor Day; he didn’t know it was a holiday. I hope you enjoyed your Labor Day time off. You deserved it.

Sunrise with John Steel

Monday, August 27th, 2007

You remember John Steel don’t you? John lives north off County Road 200 on a little place he farms and raises a few cows, chickens and tomatoes. The white clap board house he lives in was built by his father in the 20′s high on a hill over looking San Gabriel River. The house faces east with a gallery running the length of the house. The building has only two rooms. The front room has a bed in the south end , and a sort of living room in the north end with a fireplace built of native stone. A few small windows let in the light and breeze on sunny days, and a view clouds and occasional rain on other days. A surprising number of books are stacked in wooden boxes, reminiscent of Thomas Jefferson’s library. The other room is a shed room attached to the back of the house that serves as a kitchen and dining room. Once there was a wood burning stove that was replaced by a kerosene stove in the 40′s. An oilcloth covered table and two straight backed chairs completes the kitchen furnishing.

The other morning I went to see John. When I say morning, I mean the country understanding of the word— before daylight. I was on a mission. I wanted to see again a sunrise with an old friend, sitting in a rocking chair, on the front porch , with a cup of boiled coffee in my hand.

I turned off CR 200 through a wooden gate that had seen better days onto a dirt road that has always been the same; rough. There is something about driving down a dirt road that makes a nice sound. The rocks, dirt and gravel play a lovely little tune as you ease forward. Sure enough, as I approached the house I saw John with a cup of coffee in one hand, and petting a spotted dog with the other. John stood, we howded, and he invited me in. The dog hardly noticed. A couple wags of his tail was all I got, or deserved from Old Spot.

I told John I had come out to watch the sunrise with him. His laconic reply was something like, “you couldn’t have picked a better time.” With a cup of coffee we sat on the porch rocking, watching the sky melt from a dark to a light gray. Down the hill toward the light fog shrouded river we could hear the wake up song of the cardinals and an occasional whipoorwill’s last call of the night. We rocked and sat quietly letting the sounds drift past us. Talk is not necessary with a friend like John.

Soon the sky began to show a light pink, like Mother’s favorite rose that quickly became bright pink like a ripening peach on the tree. A streak of low clouds far in the east turned red, then scarlet and the sun raced toward the dawn. The pink and red burst into a brilliant orange of a camp fire as the sun peeked over the ridge of cedar covered hills. The darkness fled as if in terror as the giant fiery orb popped up. Long streaks of shadows slashed across the yard making a delightful patten on the face of the house.

“Well”, John said as he stood, “that takes care of that” as if it would not have happened if we had not been there to help Old Man Sun get out of bed.
I left soon in spite of an invitation to stay for breakfast. If you ever have a hankering to see a real country sun up, go see John Steel. He would be glad for your help.

Old House Upon the Hill

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

I am a house and I stand upon a hill.
My windows are darkened and my halls are still.
My shingles have thinned and the doors are sealed.
The specter of Death lurks in the shadows of the eaves.

But once I was young – And I laugh to remember my Birth.

Foundations dug straight and true, by men who laughed and
Sweated and knew, that my very life depended upon careful use
Of their skill.

Stones hewn from quarries across the valley were dragged, carted,
Planted, plumbed and cemented.
From this skeleton etched in moist, black soil,
My body was to form as workmen began their toil.

Bright yellow pine, fragrant lumber from forest tall,
Cut, sawn, planed, and hauled over river, valley and rill,
Piled in decks upon the bosom of the hill.

Random lengths of lumber raw were recruited.
Cut and shaped into studs who soon marched around the
Perimeter wall.
Signaled the first beating, thumping, stirring of life.

Floor joist, ceiling beams, rafters followed fast in rhythmic
Windows boxed, doors jammed, decking nailed.
I soon felt the shape of life to follow.

Clay, wet and cold, clawed from earth’s depth, squeezed, formed,
And fired into bricks of red
Came stacked tall to ward against winters dread.
Siding carefully planed and sawn, soon embraced the studs to
Shape my body and exclude the hot, the cold, the wind, the sand
And the foe.

Shingles split from ageless cedars became my crown.
Their fragrance permeated my body, filled the air and spilled to
The ground.
Sturdy oaks, sentinels of eastern slopes, came to carpet my floors
With polished bodies unyielding.

Following in quick procession, doors hinged, windows glazed,
Walls painted, trim carefully fitted.
And I was spanked to life a new house, soon to become a home.

What joy, what exultation I felt when first he came with bride
In hand.
Their look of joy, their touch of love, their tread of respect, made
Each to know we were of the same strand.

Soon my halls were full of laughter, warmth and fun.
Then came two, but soon were three, then four, then six.
I held them all.
I shaded them from summers sun, in fall embraced them as
Winter’s cold crept close.

Of course nights came when lights burned low.
Hushed voices worried over some mysterious malady.

Sun burst through; laughter reigned as master of the hill.
Seasons swiftly slid by.
A ball exploded window replaced.
A new sweater of paint, a repaired stair marked the passing years.

One by one the fledglings feathered and flew the nest.
Yet love lingered long, with the two,….then one,…..then none.

Now I am a lonely old house.
And I stand on the hill.
My shingles have thinned and the doors are sealed.

I am old and my paint is peeled.
I hear a measured tread of my executioner who is coming still.

For I am a lonely old house upon the hill.