A Million Ways to Die in Texas

Dont-Mess-With-Texas-350x288

Two weekends ago, the husband and I saw the Seth MacFarlane comedy-western movie, A Million Ways to Die in the West. It’s all about how completely batshit crazy-dangerous it was to live on the Western Frontier in the 1800s. Basically, if a gunfight didn’t kill you, cholera would. It was good for a few laughs … but mostly just a great excuse to sit in the air-conditioned theater and eat buttered popcorn. (Real butter, people! Thank you, Alamo Drafthouse.)

It got me thinking, though, about my beloved (sometimes) home state of Texas. Because let’s face it. It’s not that much different than the Wild West, even in 2014.

Now, I won’t list the full million ways to kick the proverbial bucket in Texas, because I do have a life. (And I won’t even go into the whole open-carry, everyone-ought-to-have-an-AK47 gun thing because I prefer not to get hate emails.)

But here’s a start:

  1. You could be killed by one of the 15 different kinds of poisonous snakes that make Texas their home. Seriously, there are 15 … and 10 of those are rattlesnakes. There are also three kinds of copperheads. And then there’s the cottonmouth water moccasin and the coral snake. Basically, if you go outside in the summer, whether on dry land or near a body of water, and you’re not wearing boots, you’re dead.
  2. You could succumb to heat stroke. Texas is a huge state, but one thing is pretty consistent whether you’re in North, South, East or West Texas: It gets damn hot. As in hitting 95 degrees in February and staying above 100 degrees for most of the summer. You can actually get five-degree burns on the bottom half of your ass (I made that up; the degrees only go to three) just by sitting on a tailgate in shorts in August.
  3. If you choose to lie down for a nap in the cool (ha) green grass, you might never recover from the fire ant stings. We used to lose more baby calves to fire ants than to coyotes. And if you do get stung by a thousand fire ants, and you don’t die, you’ll likely wish you had. So it’s a wash.
  4. Should I also mention spiders? There are FIVE different kinds of brown recluse spiders and all of them live and love the Motherland of Texas, and also the dark interiors of boots. Of course, there are also effing black widows. BLACK WIDOWS EVERYWHERE. There are jumping spiders and also tarantulas. And while those last two aren’t really all that venomous, if they take aim and jump at you, you will probably die of a heart attack. (To those people who say that jumping tarantulas are a myth, I say you are wrong. I have witnessed it myself, and the only reason I didn’t die of Freaking Out Syndrome is that I was 10 and my heart was still strong.)
  5. Here’s one not many people think of: You could get hit in the head with a rodeo belt buckle. These are large, heavy metal objects that, when sent flying through the air, can be lethal in a severing-a-major-artery kind of way. Please don’t ask me how I know this. Also you may be asking yourself, “How often does a belt buckle go flying through the air?” Doesn’t matter. Only takes once.
  6. One phrase: The Mexican drug cartel.
  7. If you’re allergic to dust, oak pollen, cedar, scorpions or bee stings, and you don’t have an inhaler or epinephrine injection handy, you might as well kiss breathing goodbye.
  8. Finally, drowning’s big in Texas, too. From flash floods or being drunk on a boat on a lake, or simply playing in the Guadalupe River with its magical sink holes and mystery vortexes that suck you under in Gonzales and spit you out in the Gulf of Mexico, your odds of going down are pretty high.

I could go on, but I’m getting homesick.

Texas friends, what would you add?

And Colorado friends, should we make a list of our own for this fine state? I think there may be even more than Texas: blizzards, mudslides, I-70 in the winter, hypothermia, mountain lions …

What about other states? Come on, it’s morbid fun.

 the_texas_chainsaw_massacre_image

 Despite its content, this blog post was not brought to you by the Texas Tourism Board.

 

River Days and Swamp Coolers

This is my new best friend, the portable swamp cooler I call, “Al.”

I haven’t been updating this blog as much as I’d like (and not near as much as my publisher would like I’m sure!) Life has been exceptionally crazy of late, though, so I have a good excuse. Let’s see … we moved from the mountaintop to the foothills of Denver, and I’m slowly emerging from grief mode. I have purchased a portable swamp cooler and drag it around me like some folks drag around their oxygen tanks. I also left the job I’ve been at for six years (the longest time I’ve ever been in one job) and started a new job that I’m loving. My son started first grade at a new school, and my husband lost his job. Yeehaw! But things are settling down now. Or will soon.

So until I have the ability to write more than a paragraph, I thought I’d go through some of my old stuff and post a short piece of my previous work.

Following is one of my favorite little mini-essays that I wrote about my childhood, growing up on the banks of the Guadalupe River. Much of my third novel I’m working on right now takes place along the river. Thanks for reading! (And my apologies if you’ve read this before.)

RIVER DAYS

The South Texas Guadalupe River in all its muddy loveliness.

Patterns exist in every childhood. Eating warm oatmeal for breakfast. Going to church at 9 a.m. on Sundays. Catching the bus after school.

Well, I rarely ate anything as healthy as oatmeal, only went to church on Easter and Christmas, and rode the bus just once, to see where it went. But the one pattern that stands out most in my years of growing up in South Texas is this: for about 10 years, every other Sunday, my two sisters and I piled into the back of my father’s 1979 green Ford truck with the camper on the back, sat on cattle feed sacks so hard we could feel every cube inside, and sang Tammy Wynette songs until my parents had driven the 20 or so miles to our bi-weekly destination.

My parents owned a camphouse on the banks of the Guadalupe River in South Texas. The cabin sat high on a grassy hill, just a stone’s throw from the river, and looked like it was put together with wood glue and a roll of aluminum foil.

Early on, my father had tiled the concrete floors with free, leftover linoleum squares from the lumberyard, so each one was a different pattern. Rusting iron beds lined the front room like an army’s hospital ward, the mattresses thin as slices of Wonder bread and holding fast to the mildew that only river air can provide. The bathroom’s toilet and sink showed only hints of ever being white; the well water’s sulfur had painted them brown and yellow and red, making them look like something fit for a horror movie. The kitchen was an old school bus, attached to the back of the camphouse by a welder’s hand. The kitchen-bus ran the length of the back of the house, the floors slanted down so much you could lose your balance bending down to pick up a dropped potato chip.

Our first chores when we arrived on Sunday mornings were the following: open the wood shutters that covered the screened windows in the front and back, securing them with baling wire. Check the bathroom and kitchen for water moccasins. Help Mom unload the brown grocery bags and stay out of Daddy’s way as he lit the barbecue pit.

After that, we were free.

Unlike at home, where my mother kept a tight handle on cleanliness, we could come and go as we pleased, river mud and all.

We could eat greasy burgers on buttery Texas Toast.

When a rain shower would develop, we could spend time inside, jumping from one iron bed to the next—a highly developed form of chase.

We could play on the tires that hung from century-old pecan trees as swings, and land on our knees, not worrying a bit about the grass stains.

We could build mud castles next to the swift currents of the Guadalupe and walk around all day with streaks of dried, clay-like dirt on our feet, arms and legs.

My sisters and cousins and I swang on a rope swing like this one out into the river. I wish I had photos of ours, though, because it was way better.

We could dangle from a thick, rough rope tied to a sturdy oak branch and let ourselves fly like birds out over the river, then fall from the sky with our stomachs in our throats, into the deep water, then float on our backs, feet first, down to the boat dock.

And we could run back to the camphouse, hair dripping wet, swimsuits filled with river silt, and walk straight into the kitchen to grab a cold Dr. Pepper, leaving footprints while hopping from a green paisley tile to one with sunbursts of orange.

Something about those days on the river has stayed with me through the years, as have the raised white scars on my knees—from landing on rocks in the river or cracked pecan shells near the tire swing.

I was at my best then, I think, when there were few rules and even fewer moments of doubt. I, along with my sisters, didn’t just live out the hours on those Sundays, we attacked them, like something fleeting. Like chasing dragonflies in waist-high weeds.

Risks seemed inevitable, even expected. We were wild. We were tomboys. We were fearless. We were laughter and dirty cheeks and sunburned noses.

We were our truest selves.

The Best Comfort Foods, Texas Style

We all have them. Those favorite foods that we turn to when we’ve had a fight with a significant other, when the work day was like walking through a war zone, when you feel like you’ve been beat up one side and down the other, when things are just not going well at all, when we need a little bit of warmth for the soul. Yes, I just used the phrase “warmth for the soul.” Next thing you know, I’ll be planning office parties and wearing Christmas sweaters. It could happen?

Seriously, I found that when I moved away from Texas, my favorite comfort foods from home became even more important to me. So, here are some of my top Texas comfort foods and the memories they stir up like a nest of Yellow Jackets. (Or something much nicer that warms the soul but that I can’t exactly think of right now.)

Mmmmmm. Rings of Texas pit sausage. Can you smell it?

  1. Real Texas barbecue– I spent my childhood Sundays soaking up the smell of mesquite wood from my dad’s barbecue pit and smoker. Mom would make her magic marinades, and Daddy would man the pit. You haven’t tasted perfection until you’ve had their barbecue, whether it’s brisket sealed with that crisp black goodness of flavor or ring sausage that literally bursts with juice when you take a bite. No sauce needed. It’s rare for me to find good barbecue up here in Colorado, but every now and then, I’ll chance upon something that’s at least edible. And even mediocre barbecue takes me back to weekends on the Guadalupe River, trying to avoid the water moccasins, and swinging into the river from a rope tied to an old oak tree. And river mud. Lots of river mud between my toes.

    These turtles are called Texas River Sliders, and you can see them everywhere along the Guadalupe. And no, I don't eat them and they are not a comfort food. But they are cool.

  2. Texas chili – It has to be my mom’s recipe, of course, with just a kick of spice. My mom always seemed to have a pot of chili in waiting, and now we celebrate the first snowfall at our home at the top of a mountain each year by making a pot of Mom’s chili. Secret recipe hint: It has cornmeal in it. (Funny side note:  When I first reread this, I had left out the “a” in front of “My mom always seemed to have a pot” … so it read “My mom always seemed to have pot.” Frankly, that would have been a way more interesting childhood.)
  3. Potato soup – I know it’s a common theme here, but my mom makes the Best Potato Soup Ever.  She always made it for me when I was feeling under the weather, no matter how busy she was as a working mom of three crazy kids.
  4. Beer Nuts– Yes, I’m talking about those sweet-salty nuts you find at convenience stores next to the Slim Jims and teriyaki jerky. My dad loves Beer Nuts, and they remind me of him.

    Beer Nuts

    Admit it. You're jonesing for some of these right now, aren't you?

  5. Peach ice cream – Nothing says summer to me more than peach ice cream. One of the real treats of visiting my Mammaw and PawPaw back in the day was fishing for catfish in their tank (let me know if you non-Texans need a translation of a tank) and then cooling off with their homemade peach ice cream … with fresh peaches and lots of cream and the perfect amount of sweetness. I have yet to find a commercial brand that makes the cut, but I keep trying. (Sorry, Blue Bell. I’ve known Elizabeth Hart’s ice cream and sir, you’re no Elizabeth Hart.)

Now (maybe because I have a problem?), I also have Colorado comfort foods — but I’ll cover those in another post, because I’ve made myself really homesick and hungry now. Where are those Beer Nuts when you need ‘em?

What’s your favorite comfort food? What does it remind you of? I wanna know!