A Town to Experience Life and Death

In Wellington, Texas, as with so many other small towns, everyone knew everyone or knew something about everyone, or heard from someone they knew that someone had heard something about someone. Nine times out of ten it’s gossip from little old ladies and young ladies learning how to be little old ladies. The funny thing is the ranchers and farmers are just as bad, if not worse. When they gossip they include quality adjectives to build upon and embellish the tale. Those sweet little old ladies and the young ones in training simply adjusted their tone to peek a deeper interest from the fellow gossipers. These fine church going citizens would be ready and willing to start a tale at the drop of a hat, it was funny. I do believe it would start just like this: One lady makes the drive to the Dairy Queen to meet her friends in waiting. As she drives down the road she sees two young boys playing in the dirt and grime at the rodeo grounds. She’s taken back to when she was a little girl, oh how she loved it when the rodeo came into town, all those cowboys looking so lean and fit. She remembers one she had a deep heart breaking crush on, she could never work up the courage to speak to him, plus that wasn’t lady like. Time went on and season after season the cowboy’s came and went until one day there were no more cowboys. The chutes were empty and the stands no longer filled to the top with everyone from the four corners of the county. A bit of sadness fills her eyes, time has weathered her though, no need for tears. “Damn them kids for messing up the rodeo grounds”. “Just wait till I get to the coffee shop and tell Dolorous”, and off she goes speeding at twenty-three miles on hours.

The rodeo grounds were a sanctuary for me. A place I could be free and live out my dreams and prepare for the future. See it could be as simple as; let’s say me playing at the grounds with my friend Doug, just a couple kids living it up and working on becoming world champs. During the summer the ranchers would bring their cattle into to town and use the rodeo grounds to pin up the cattle and run them through the chutes to check on each one, or tag them, or give them shots. It was a perfect relationship. The ranchers do their business and we keep them steers busy. If it was a crime I pretty sure one of the many ranchers would have had us haled into the police station, I mean police room. They watched us run down a steer and guide them into the chute of our choice. Grab our rope and wrap it around the front belly area of the steer. Take a good seat and then either Doug or I would jump over the chute fence and pull open the gate. One or two things would generally take place. One, the steer would run and kind of buck. We’d hold on tight, one hand waiving in the wind, doing our best to focus on the steer, count to eight and fall off. Or get to some number between that and one. YEAH! Doug and I would slap hands and if there were any rancher there them and their crew would laugh and/or applaud. Two, the steer would rattle and kick in the chute until we’d fall off, land in a pile of shit, not mentioning hitting our head and every other body part on the chute walls on the way down. The steer was also so polite as to give us a little kick to inform us he had enough of our games and just wanted to feed. The rancher’s would still laugh and applaud. I find it rather impressive how neither Doug nor I ever got our teeth kicked out, no broken bones, heads in tack, and no worse for wear day after day, just a bit dirtier than the day before. As the day began to show signs of turning to night Doug and I’d part ways. “Good riding today cowboy” “Back at you cowboy” and we’d part ways and without so much of a simple plan we knew tomorrow brought new dreams and challenges to ride. Walking back Grandma’s I relived each ride, only a bit bigger and every ride lasted until the buzzer sounded. Get the buckle, a check, and down the road to break some other bronco or show that bull who’s ranked.

No harm right? Hell, I never thought so, but in the world of small town U.S.A. it’s a source of news. “Did you see Treva’s grandson all dirty and loitering with that colored boy by the cemetery?”, “No telling what them boys were up to?”, I can hear them lovely ladies and grouchy ranchers and farmers say. I would like to clarify their version with my version. Notice how two boys were loitering around the cemetery? I won’t say they’re fibbing, but they are surely stretching the facts a bit. Yes, I was by the cemetery, after all its right next door to the rodeo grounds. Hell, I can spit and hit a tombstone, not that I would. I really like how playing turned into loitering. I can’t ever remember a time when my grandma ever told me to run a long and go loiter in the yard. As for the colored boy, that’s my best friend Doug. I guess even in 1982 time has yet to fully catch up with some. I don’t think they mean any harm by it. It’s Wellington, Texas and everyone seems to be accepting of who and what they are. I hope time catches up to everyone here.

So needless to say, when I had a fun filled day at the rodeo grounds playing in the dirt and mud, along with the fresh aroma of cow manure coming off of me, word has already made its way back to my Grandma and around town. Feeling like king of the cowboys, on top of the world, no one to answer to. A world champion at the age of twelve, how impressive, must be a record for sure. I’d unfortunately have to come on back down to reality and face my Grandma and what was to come. No story needed, she knew what I was up to without me telling her. She simply hadn’t heard my version yet.

The funny thing about it all was hearing all the tales from my Grandma, how I was seen jumping off tombstones to stealing cattle. I think of myself as a wise young fellow, full of spit and vinegar, however stealing cattle and disrespecting the dearly departed place of rest is beneath me. I maybe only twelve but, I know better that to mess with a man’s cattle and to screw around with the man’s place of rest. Fortunately, my Grandma knew all to well about the happenings of her town. She would give that quirky Texas grin and just ask, “What you’d do today son?” I simple told her and all was good. Except for me being dirty as a pig and carrying a stench worthy of an award. There was no way on God’s green earth I was coming inside looking and smelling like that. This is the part I am so very thankful that my Grandma lived on the edge of town, no visibility from spying eyes and kids just waiting to follow in their gossiping parent’s footsteps. Naked! Naked I say, she made me get buck ass naked right there on the side of the house. “Toss the clothes off and get the hose”, she’d say. Damn it! I knew this was coming, wasn’t the first time and I was pretty darn sure it wouldn’t be the last. That water was cold as ice from the deep freeze. I think I saw ice chips coming out the end of the hose and that not even right, hell it’s July for Christ sakes! Thank God for being spazzy, I soaped up faster than you could get up and change the channel to check the evening news. Grandma would spray me down and ensure not one bit of dirt and/or cow manure was brought into her house. Once completed she’d toss me a towel and I’d get on in the house with a quickness, just in case those spying eyes were lurking about.

Like many small towns in the panhandle or other flat areas of the U.S. you can see to the end of the earth. God presents it to those desiring to move beyond the horizon, challenging them to go forth and see what lies beyond, yet they are so unsure of themselves, they stay to only continue to look out their windows and gaze at the horizon. Dreaming of moving on, maybe out to the west coast and watch that sun set over the ocean. So many tales and wonderful things taking place everywhere but here, or so they think. Instead, they watch the soft glow of the setting sun in the panhandle turning their world golden, casting shadows on the fields and gardens, making the crops look lush and long, plentiful, just waiting to be harvested. Funny how shadows can play tricks on you like that. I like to think its God’s way of showing what will be with hard work and determination.

I for one like the sunset here. Gold, red, orange, yellow, and shades of blue disappearing as the night takes over. I like seeing forever and knowing what’s out there. I can add to it as need be and imagine all I what to. Believing tomorrow will bring new joys and perhaps another world championship, perhaps I will rustle some cattle, no plans to play on tombstones though. At night it was time with my Grandma that I cherish the most. She let me help her cook and didn’t mind if I added something new to the mix. Making biscuits with my Grandma is a treat. After we’d have dinner it was off to the living room. What day was it? Maybe we’d watch Dallas or Texas League Wrestling. I’d plop on the couch and she would be in her recliner crocheting away. I swear she could make a blanket overnight, every time I’d ask her who’s that for and she’d say a friend. My Grandma had a lot of friends.

As our night ended and the sleep monster climbed upon me I would stroll off to my bed. Laying there I could see out my window and I found myself thinking like those wondering what’s beyond the horizon. A soft breeze danced in the air tonight, carrying the smell of freshly plowed dirt. It’s a bit earthy with tones of prairie grass and I don’t think I could ask for a better smell to fall asleep to, maybe a hint of cow manure would be nice too. I lay there dozing and pray to the Lord. Asking him to keep me safe and watch over my family, give my mom strength, and keep my Grandma with me forever. A sleep I go, off to different cities that challenge my riding skills. No bull to tough or bronco so wild that I couldn’t take hold of and spur the beast into submission. Eight seconds, hell I’ll give’em sixteen and get the crowd ripping and roaring for more. Dreams…..a place you can be…..be anything…..be anywhere……be anyone.

On October 9, 2010 I got a call from my Uncle Kenny. I was driving along I-20 making my way to Big Spring, Texas to visit my mom and family. He told me that Treva had passed away. I wasn’t driving thank goodness, my heart broke, my mind went numb, and I was mad at myself. I had kept putting off a visit up to Wellington. I now know I didn’t want to face one of life’s dirty little tricks; that it comes to an end. I didn’t want to fill my memory with my grandma being old and dying, I couldn’t, mentally or physically.

As we made our way into Big Spring I became mad and sad. A sad anger is one of the worst, two negative emotions fueling one another and they take turns stabbing you on the inside. A distasteful competition between the two, which one can make this man break first. I told Deeann, she could tell something was wrong. It was hard to get the words out; I still don’t think I made a complete sentence. I said what I could and used the anger to hold back the tears. I had to found out when the funeral was. I wanted so bad for my girls to meet my grandma, see the Wellington I played around in, share my childhood, just have them taste my grandmas cooking, I guess it wasn’t meant to be, was it?

Bright and early the following weekend we got up as a family and loaded up the van to head on up to Wellington. It would be about a four hour drive. I challenged my mind to remember the happy moments. This is not a bad trip Brendan. This is a trip to say I love you and thank the Lord for taking away my grandma’s pain and bringing her home. As we turned north on to highway 83 the sun was rising in the east and the sky was golden, the cotton fields were looking great and reflecting the sun. I stopped to get some pictures and to take a deep breath.

At the intersection of highway 83 and FM (Farm to Market Road) 338 you enter Wellington, Texas. Go right on 338 and you’ll pass the old city pool, VFW, and where once upon a time they had the fair at. Today the pool is empty and the VFW is an old building playing possum with time. No fair has come to town in a while. Go left and you’ll now be on 15th street going pass the hospital and the high school, home of the Rockets. We went straight. Pass the Dairy Queen, trucks still out front, parked in no particular order and nowhere near or between the parking lines. I can see in the windows and there sit three old cowboys. I imagine the same conversations about cattle, cotton, and women taking place just as they did almost thirty years ago. Across the street is the place I got my first pair of boots. I wore those to school the next day and felt proud, tall, and straight up country. Today the store is boarded up and not even a for sale sign has been placed out front. I guess they realize the truth and that old building will gradually become part of the landscape.

We made a left on FM 203 and went by the new rodeo grounds, the only new thing here in town. A couple years ago I made my way out here to see my grandma and stopped by the grounds to where I once played and was quite surprised to see the grounds. I walked around it and visualized what used to be. In the arena area a lady was riding her horse. I stopped to look and she came over to say hello. Turns out she knew my grandma, this is Wellington after all. She also told me how an old rancher had died and left his money to the town to build the new rodeo grounds.

Driving past the cemetery and only a few blocks until we get to my grandma’s house. On the corner of FM 203 and Bowie Street sits the house I have some of my greatest memories. This is the house where in the kitchen I found my appreciation and love for food and the making of a meal. This is the kitchen where on the north side of the room I can stand tall and touch my head to the ceiling. This is the house where I would come to visit and just as the sun rises and sets there would be a meal fit for a king waiting for me on the table. Chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, green beans, biscuits and gravy, and nothing but love floating in the air. This would be the first time I walked into the house and the table would be empty, stove not even semi warm, no little grandma for me to tower over and hug the hell out of.

Knocking on the back door I stood there waiting, no answer, Jerry (my grandma’s oldest son from her first marriage) must be still asleep or out running around. I decided to drive around town and show my girls Wellington, Texas.

I went back towards the center of town. One thing I’ve always appreciated about a small town, and you see it a lot in southern town, is that the court house is the center of town. Around the court house you see the town square, usually a nice small sprawling community of activity taking place. Not so much here, the town square of Wellington had long ago said good bye to the economical impact it once had provided the people still hanging on here. The corner store where I once bought, or to be more precise placed on my mom’s store credit line, bottles of shoe polish. Mostly white and some black, I still wish they would have had red. That night a couple friends and I went around to all the cars in town for the high school football game and decorated their windows. It made the local gossip blotter the next day. Quite funny and the store clerk from where I acquired the polish, on older man who could have been an older uncle or perhaps grandpa as far as age goes, never said a word. After all how many kids in the metropolis of Wellington, Texas came in that night and purchased numerous bottles of shoe polish? I’m guessing only one.

On the other side of the square is the barbershop that used to be where my Great Uncle Ruffis gave the one and only style of haircut he apparently knew how to give. Short on top, very tight on the sides, and the little uneven chops and nicks were at no extra cost to you. I mostly remember him sitting there with some of the town’s men talking and each taking turns to go back into the storage room. Each would return lightly licking their lips and smelling of a new scent that would not constitute as after shave.

The streets are brick, all around the square and outward about a block or so. Once in a while a car would pass by, the driver would wave or give a tilt of his hat to us, then keep on moving through the square as his tires made the soft rumbling sounds tires make going over brick roads. It’s a sound that makes you feel safe, a small town feel you get from it, gentle and slow sounding as it moves from your hearing to your memory.

As we made our way around town I told mini stories to the family about what was once there or the thing I did as a kid there. I find it hard at times to realize here I am forty years old, married with three girls showing them what seems like only yesterday in my mind. Each childhood memory so vivid, as if there I am now and there is Brendan from years gone by. Together we’re walking, me now walking and remembering, me then walking and day dreaming. Each of us making our way to where a young boy can make his dreams come true and have the time of his life. The Rodeo grounds.

The grounds have changed. From old wood framed out stalls and chutes to steel surrounding me. Even with the new set-up I feel the youthfulness rush back to me. God I loved this place, it was my sanctuary, regardless if Doug and I were working the cattle together or I was by myself pretending to buck off an old fat bull and fly off into the dirt. Rolling and rolling, making my version of snow angels in the dirt. I watched as my two youngest girls run around and climb all over the stalls and chutes, running across the arena, calling out to one another to come see this or do that. It warms my heart and soul that they too can find the joy and appreciate a good rodeo grounds. I took some pictures of the new place and was happy that Wellington got something new in it.

I went back to my grandma’s place and Jerry was there now and we spoke for a bit. I introduced the family and we reminisced about years gone by. Waiting for me there was my grandfathers flag and some discharge paperwork from when he was in WW II. I had asked my grandma for them years ago and it was her plan all along anyways. The only difference I was hoping to have her give them to me in person. I placed them in the back of the van and went back inside to talk a bit more. We had a little over an hour until the funeral was to start. Nothing big, she just wanted a grave side ceremony. Jerry said I should probably go on over the funeral home and pay my respect. I did and didn’t want to. He added in that the lady lying in that casket wasn’t his momma nor my grandma, the cancer had taken its toll on her.

How do you prepare yourself to say good bye to one of the most important people in your life? How, regardless alive or dead? One town, one funeral home, and one cemetery (not counting private family sites) is strange way it flows. I didn’t need directions to the funeral home, after a quick trip around Wellington a complete stranger could have the where abouts of things in town down good. At the corner of 13th Street and East Avenue is Adams Funeral Home. It looks like a large home from the outside, but then again most homes don’t have a large sign in the front yard with Funeral Home painted all fancy on it and a hurst parked out back, some, but not all.

As we parked on the side of the building and thought for a second a bird house built out of old coffee or soup cans painted red, yellow, green, and white caught my eye, both of them actually. I could see that the years have gradually weathered it, just like many houses in town. I guess bird dwellings aren’t exempt from father time either. I took a couple shots of it and hoped that the birds still lived there; there were signs, some twigs and straw sticking out of random holes here and there. They must be on vacation.

An older lady sat behind the desk with a friendly smile as Deeann and I walked in. She knew who we were here to see and politely directed us to the front visiting room. As I made my way towards the casket I could see pictures displayed and some flower arrangements strategically placed to accent the casket and give a feeling of warmth to the otherwise dreary feeling. I guess it’s hard to find a good interior designer to charm up a funeral home, not the place you really want to feel comfortable in and say “gee lets hang out and have a bit of tea and catch up on old times.”

The lady occupying the casket was no one I recognized. Sure it was my grandma laying there, arms gently folded it over, make-up done in a dignified manner. The life had been taken out of her for sure. All I could think of was if I should cry. In my mind I debated with myself, don’t cry over this figure, your grandma has long left this capsule of a body and moved on to heaven. Be sad Brendan, its ok to show emotions. In the end no tears came to surface and run down my cheeks. I stood there for a couple minutes gently speaking to her pictures and the soul I knew that was listening. I placed a story I had written in the casket next to her, a tale of my youth and the part she played in a little boy’s life. I turned and took Deeann’s hand and we walked past the friendly lady, the paneled walls, and back to the van. The girls were waiting in the van and teasing one another, nothing new there.

Have you even been driving and as you make your way down the road realize you have been in deep thought and don’t actually remember driving, the route you took, or things you pasted by? I have and did again. I ended up at the cemetery, parked, walked over to the grave site, and stood there with my family. Family came, friends arrived, and the hurst pulled up. Together with my Uncle Billy, Jerry, and the funeral home director we carried the casket to the grave stand. We maneuvered around a couple of the permanent residents and carefully got the casket on the appropriate part of the stand so it could be eventually lowered below. I went back to the rear of the area with my family, standing, hands crossed, and following along in prayer.

Grandma would lay next to my grandpa now. On the edge of a town that time is forgetting about. The steel mill no longer exists. It became the peanut plant that no longer processes peanuts or any kind of nut for that matter. I can’t imagine that there will be another little boy or girl placing liquid shoe polish on their parents store credit. After a brief lunch with some family and friends we said good bye and gave false farewells’ of really seeing one another again, maybe we’ll see.

At the corner of Highway 83 and FM 338 or 15th Street, depending on which side of the blinking light your on, I made a right turn to head south on highway 83. My eyes filled with tears and I looked out the driver side window so as to not be seen. Would this be my last trip to Wellington? My window was cracked and I could smell the fresh air, a hint of plowed dirt and prairie grass, add in some cow manure and I’m in an aromatic heaven. The sun was making its way west and preparing to tell Wellington good night. In the rearview mirror the water tower become smaller and smaller, over one more hill and all I see in the rearview mirror is road and fence lines on each side of me. Straight ahead of me is mile after mile of road and fence lines on either side. The cotton began to take on the evening glow. I don’t stop for any pictures.