There are some evenings during my drive home from post that I roll down the windows in my car just to smell the sunflowers. To me, they represent summertime in Texas and this is where I start to ramble, so y’all bear with me. Sunflowers make me get all sentimental about my dad. I smell ‘em and I am reminded of walks with my father in a pasture during summers spent in Greenville, Tex. On these walks, my father would expound at length about all things liberal arts or natural sciences.
I think I got more education walking through those pastures with Daddy than I did on my January Terms at Austin College. I learned about cottonmouth and copperhead snakes, trust, cows and calving, common sense finance, skunk risk assessment, dairy bull psychology, the hygiene habits of hogs (they’re not what you think), good dogs and bad neighbors, milkweed, the combined physics of firecrackers and cow patties, tractors, mules, ticks, Johnson grass, possum forensic science, Uncle Doc, forgiveness, God and feed store politics.
And then there was the bull.
Domino was a Hereford bull my father and his brothers inherited when my grandfather died. He was my first recollection of cattle up close and personal. For reasons known only to them, beef bulls appear to be a bit more tolerant of people than dairy bulls. Domino never seemed to mind my sitting on his back while he grazed, so I didn’t take it personally the one time he decided to get a closer look at me via his nose and smeared bovine snot all over my clothes.
Domino was a sweetheart; his girlfriend, a Charolais heifer aptly named Stupid, was not. Word to the wise: when a cow has a calf it’s not an occasion for a baby shower.
As a little girl, I went fishing for catfish in a creek with a cane pole and raw bacon for bait. I went digging for crawdads in a muddy pasture. Incidentally, this is where I learned about the particular adhesive quality of North Texas mud on boots, which can make you a whole head taller than when you left the house that morning.
Our summers weren’t always as hot as the one this year. There were early mornings in the summer when the breeze was so cool I needed a sweater just to walk outside. That was usually a good morning to go dig a post hole, so out Daddy would go with a post hole digger, some bois d’arc posts and a roll of barbed wire (pronounced “bob wahr”) to fix a fence. By the way, if the fence is wood and barbed wire, the rancher’s income is supported by ranching. If you see a fancy fence on a ranch, his income is supported by something other than ranching. And the smell of cow manure is the smell of money. All this wisdom is courtesy of my father and the time we spent doing things I once considered horribly boring and terribly unglamorous.
It got pretty exciting, however, when the cows got out. You haven’t lived until you’ve jumped up and down, waved your arms over your head and shouted, “WOO!...WOO!...WOO!” in your pajamas like an idiot to drive a bunch of cows down a dirt road and back into a pasture.
Canton First Monday Trade Days, the self-proclaimed world’s largest flea market, was a tradition for us and not just during the summer. But I associate it with summertime. It’s also where I developed a fondness for bluegrass gospel and ballpark nachos. First Monday almost always had an improvised bluegrass ensemble playing somewhere on the grounds; they usually were good. The nachos? Not so much.
For me, summers in Texas also meant horses. The smell of horse sweat and leather remind me of going on rides with my aunts in Tyler. I can’t remember how old I was when I first “sat a horse,” but I do remember hours spent on them. I also remember picking out a lot of hooves, digging mites out of ears and shoveling a lot of poop. It was good prep for a career in journalism and convinced me not to own a horse.
My childhood best friend, Kim, and I would visit her cousins, Manonne and Lindy, in Lufkin every August, from the time we were in junior high school until about our freshman year in college. We’d spend a week riding horses with Manonne, sometimes in a saddle and sometimes bareback, in rural East Texas.
Kim had a 1972 convertible Volkswagen Karmann Ghia, and we’d ride to Lufkin with the top down and turning up Journey, Golden Earring, Jerry Clower, AC/DC and sometimes a little Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys on the car stereo.
We thought we were the zenith of cool.
One visit to Lufkin involved watching a marathon of Friday the 13th slasher flicks (on VHS tapes; it was during the 1980s) at Lindy's house with his friends. One of the boys had to get home before midnight and not long after he walked out the door to get in his truck, we followed. You see, Lindy's house was way out in the country, and the sandy driveway to her house was a good quarter mile in length, winding around tall, East Texas loblolly pines. It was really spooky at night, so when this kid got about half way to the main road, we all jumped out at him. He didn’t hit any trees on his way out, but I’m pretty sure he had some serious upholstery cleaning to do when he got home.
I went to vacation Bible school, camp, and swimming lessons during the summer, like most children. But I’m pretty sure I’m the only one that got detention in VBS. It involved cow patties and firecrackers…and I promised my mother I’d never speak of it again.
The morning I wrote this column, my three year-old twin daughters bid me goodbye as they headed out with my mother on their own summertime adventure, and after work is done, I'll go with 'em. We’ve been going with Mom to visit her brother and his grandchildren in Tyler off and on this summer and it is all Lisa and Katie can talk about. I can see the next generation of summertime traditions has begun.
I hope they stop and smell the sunflowers along the way.
My daughters are nearly 10 years old now.