Archive for June, 2008

Old Men on a Park Bench

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008


I have a favorite niece, Susan, that lives in Ft. Worth, and we go to see her as often as we can get away. Her home is always open and there is plenty of food, soda pop, and books. Lot of books. She and I enjoy books of all kinds and find pleasure sharing tidbits from whatever we are reading at the present time. However this time she wanted to introduce me to some one across town.

If you haven’t driven around in Ft. Worth in awhile you might be surprised. The town is abuzz with growth and excitement. Houses have been built in fields that a few years ago were planted in cotton. Between the clumps of houses businesses have sprung up to serve the communities. Downtown Ft. Worth is harder to find these days. We drove toward the old city on fine streets, crowded with cars searching for their own destinations. We passed Will Rogers Coliseum, past Southern Methodist University, and even the old “stock yards.” The yards don’t look the same, but I fancied I could still smell them. We soon entered an expansive, wooded park filled with climbing toys for kids to enjoy. Walking trails, for us more sedate, went in many directions, some skirting the Trinity River. Benches were scattered throughout the park, and it was easy to see this was a comfortable patch of nature to enjoy, nestled in the middle of a great city.

We parked and I spied a man sitting alone on a bench near the river. I was surprised when Susan, my niece, approached the man. He sported a mop of unruly hair, a baggy suit of some indistinct color, and slippers on his feet. He was reading from a small book, poems, I fancied. Susan introduced us. “Mr. Clements, this is my uncle I have spoken to you about.” I could see all of this was a well cast blob of bronze, but the magic of the moment swept me up and carried me back a hundred years.

We shook hands and he invited me to sit on the bench with him. Still in shock I sat and stammered a question. “Mr. Twain, what are you doing here in Ft. Worth?” “Well, he stated, I came to speak to the citizens of your fair city.” He continued, “I am waiting here for the steamboat, ‘Texas Belle’, to take me down river to Galveston.” I was surprised at how well he looked. He must have been near 75 yeas old. I asked him about his age. He said, “Age is a issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” This seamed to fit my question quite well. In my eagerness to keep the conservation going I asked if he might tell me about the famous Calvarias County jumping frog. You remember this is the story that ignited Mark Twain’s fame across the nation. Did that realty happen? He smiled and said, “Well, it might have happened, but if it didn’t, it should have.” He could see with his piercing gaze that I had another question and he answered it in advance. “A lie can travel half way around the world, while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

About this time we heard the unmistakable steam whistle of the “Texas Belle” as it rounded the bend and sided up to the loading wharf. Mr. Twain stood and proffered his hand in a cordial good-bye and walked to the waiting side-wheeler. As he reached the ship he turned and said “Son, always do right. This will gratify some people, and astonish the rest.”

With a shout from the Capitan, a blast of the whistle, and the boiling of black smoke the “Texas Belle” pulled away from the wharf and headed down river towards Galveston. Mr. Twain faded from view; leaving me standing on the bank of the Trinity River, with heart pounding, mind whirling, and totally exhilarated. Thanks Susan.

Family and Friends

Sunday, June 8th, 2008

Some wag once said, “God gives us our kinfolks, we can pick our friends.” Well it looks like you folks did well on both counts. Do you have a family? Most of us do and we are very thankful for that fact.
Families are the building blocks of civilization. Without the structures these blocks build, society would cease to exist.

You and I are fortunate to live in a time where we have a close association with our families. We have the means of having family in or going to see family, regardless of how far away they live. It has not always been that way.

John Webster came from Virginia in the 1830′s and fought in the Texas War of Independence. He was given land just west of here on the San Gabriel River for his services to Texas. In claiming his land, Webster encountered a band of Comanche Indians. He and all his men were killed, and his wife and children were taken captive. Mrs. Webster was able to escape, and carrying her 4-year-old daughter walked over 200 miles to San Antonio. The child grew up, married, had a family and built the village of Strickland, on her father’s land, on the banks of the North San Gabriel River. That is an example of how strong the family is.

Then more settlers came to this land walking, and in wagons loaded with homebuilding tools. They found the land fertile and well watered. With their families, they built the towns and villages of Central Texas, almost with their bare hands. Together they fought weather, Indians, and desperados. But the families held firm and made this land into a productive and safe place to live.

Our families are the building blocks of our society. As strong as these building blocks of family are, there is another ingredient. It is friends that make the mortar that binds the stones of family into a strong structure. It was neighbor friends that came in the dark of night when some dire sickness stalked the land. It was friends helping each other’s families that made it possible to build the houses, and build the barns. It was friends that came in time of plenty, and a time to celebrate that made life worthwhile.

And today, we celebrate our ease of life, knowing whatever we decide to try to accomplish, we have family and friends to lend a helping hand, and cheer us on.