I’m away on vacation. I know my blog has been dead this week, more dead than usual. I hope to pick up the pace soon. I’m afraid I’ve let the lazy, hazy, dog days of summer have the best of me. But in the meantime, enjoy a story written by my late dad, Bob Briggs, that he wrote as a commentary way back in the 1990’s.
Roaring Springs is east of Lubbock. I went there with Donnie Duree to pick up a fiddle player that he knew when he played in a country band.
As it turned out, the fiddle player had already caught a ride for parts unknown, but Donnie grew up around there when his daddy was the chuckwagon cook for the Matador Cattle Company, so Donnie could talk the language and he knew a lot of the people.
We traveled down I-27 to Plainview, and if there’s one thing I have learned, it’s life doesn’t happen on the interstate. It’s against the law. We made a left off I-27 and took one of the blue highways over to Floydada. Highway 62 is left to farm pickups and kids on horses. It is a road for the dawdling traveler with a lot of open space. The billboards have followed the traffic.
It was early afternoon when we came on the two men drinking from a quart of whiskey and eating cheese crackers.
“They get mad if you don’t drink with them,” Donnie said bringing the pickup to a halt beside the two men.
Donnie took the proffered jug and drank mightily. He tried to cough and couldn’t. He gasped and wiped the tears from his eyes, closed them, shook his head and gasped, “Damnation, what is that stuff?”
“Kentucky Gentleman,” said the man taking the jug and offering it to me. “Five bucks a bottle. Short’s closing out his liquor store over in Lockney, and all of his whiskey is on sale.”
It didn’t taste as bad as it smelled, but I could feel the headaches starting at the base of the brain and slowly working their way around to the frontal lobe.
“Five bucks,” mused Donnie. “Perhaps I’ve been too hasty. Maybe I’d better have another slash.”
So there we sat, four men eating cheese crackers, spitting, telling lies and drinking 100-proof whiskey until a bloodshot moon came up as only it can in West Texas. A slight breeze came up with the moon and someone said, “Al’s Place.”
Al’s Place was a huge clapboard building with a Lone Star beer sign that kept blinking off and on. The band had three guitarists, a fiddle player, a tall rangy woman playing the standup bass and they had a five-string banjo player.
There were men in straw cowboy hats, their shirts and Levis freshly laundered and starched, their boots stitched and scrolled with fancy designs. The women wore tight Levis and fancy shirts or plain print dresses. But one thing in common in the room was the huge trophy buckles, real or imagined, that adorned almost everyone.
The ladies all had the faint sheen of sweat on their upper lip that I find so attractive in situations like this. (It’s a wonder that I don’t wind up engaged or married at every country dance that I ever attended.) Yee-Haw! A Saturday night dance in a country saloon just outside Roaring Springs, Texas.
Room vibrations keep the foam jiggling on the beer glasses. The tall woman playing the bass fiddle pulls off of a Mason jar. She has to hold the jug with two hands to keep the jug steady. She uses the back of her hand for a chaser.
We began to dance. Donnie is doing a song called “Rambo, Where Were You in 1969?” I must remember to get the words to the song for my brother. All join hands, follow the leader, heel to toe, change partners, intermission.
Catfish stew served on metal pie plates.
Chase stew with cold beer.
Chase beer with 100-proof.
Then back to stew.
Donnie says stew is as hot as a weasel’s backside in a pepper patch.
Sounds of a fight outside.
Owner locks the door so no one can get out.
Can’t see, don’t care.
Music starts up again.
Return to dancing.
New singer, a tall ugly man sings of unrequited love.
No one cares.
Everyone claps and calls for more.
Reminds me of Kane’s place on the Illinois River.
Same chords only louder, flatter, madder, worse.
More stew, more 100-proof, more dancing.
Hot, cold flashes.
Donnie comes over and slaps me on the back. “Tell me the truth, have you ever had so much fun in your life?”
I can’t answer. It wouldn’t have mattered because I can’t speak, either. Dragged back out on dance floor where the room takes on a spinning glow.
Sneak out back door, past table where catfish were cleaned, held on to tree, on to head, on to stomach, stared at that old bloodshot moon through a tangle of mesquite branches.
Swear I’ll leave for Tahlequah in the morning.