A star danced
July 17, 2011 by Bill
Stephenville, Texas, known today as the “Cowboy Capitol of the World” has more rodeo medalists from there than any other place in America.
People everywhere define themselves through the places where they are born and grow up. I know what William Faulkner meant when he said that early in his life, he realized he could write for a lifetime and never fully exhaust his “little postage stamp of native soil.”
Each of us carries within ourselves a “postage stamp of native soil,” a sense of place that defines us. It is the memory of this place that nurtures us with identity and special strength. The early lessons are usually where the deepest truth is found.
Memories of my own sense of place always take me back to the ranch country of West Texas. It is a country of shimmering horizons and the rugged canyons of the Palo Duro, where I have camped many times. If you travel south from the canyon you will eventually be in the Llano Estacado, the “staked plains” of West Texas that extend north into Eastern Colorado, that are filled with miles of unbroken buffalo turf and rich grama grasses.
The New Mexican comancheros named it and a road was staked out across its unbroken surface by Spanish travelers to guide hunters and traders across this vast land. On the Eastern side of the Llano Estacado is where I came into the world. Also there is the little hamlet of Jayton where my grandparents on my mother’s side had their little homesteading spread. In this month of July, what cherished memories I have of all my summer days from grade school through high school in that exciting place.
It was a magical place there in the 1920s and ‘30s for a young boy spreading his wings. With a population of maybe 150 people or less, it was surrounded by gigantic working ranches.
My days were filled with horses and riding with cowboys… REAL cowboys, not the play like it Hollywood types. My days included feeding chickens and cutting wood for my grandmother’s wood stove. There was no water… no electricity… no plumbing. A cistern and rain barrel provided water. Light was candles and coal oil lamps. Plumbing was the outhouse with Sears catalogs for you know what.
Heat lightning flooded the sky each night as every living thing waited for the divine blessings of water, the rain that seldom came. Watching the cowboys at night ride by the house on the way to the town saloon, or to visit a “woman of the night,” with the magnetic rhythm of their hoofs striking the hard packed dirt road. I can close my eyes and hear those wonderful sounds to this very day.
Approaching puberty, it was the older daughter of a rancher (she was about 16) who was my first girl friend and who showed me the secrets and mystery of life and desire.
Going out every evening to shoot a few cottontails, or doves, for my grandmother to cook for dinner. My grandmother lived to be 98 and was always in great health. Everything was deep fat fried with meat three times a day. My grandparents never heard of cholesterol and probably would not have cared. I remember, with great affection, my grandfather at breakfast eating cornbread broken up in clabber, which dripped off of his giant moustache.
Many days were spent sitting on the corral fence behind their house watching the cowboys “break” horses. That was before the days of a “horse whisperer.”
My study, where I am now writing, is filled with cherished items from this magical time in my life: steer and longhorn skulls… even a mounted raven skull reminding me that from about age 4, I have known, without a doubt, that the raven was my spirit bird. On the patio off my study are branding irons… a roll of barbed wire… and wagon wheels.
People define themselves through the places where they are born and grow up. Each of us carries a “postage stamp of native soil,” a sense of place that defines us. It is the memory of this place that nurtures us with identity. And so it is.
I came into the world on the shimmering horizons of West Texas near the rugged canyons of the Palo Duro. A star danced, and under that I was born.