No matter how many times I leave Tahlequah, I’m always ready to return to the old hometown—but first, I had a commitment to some friends in another town to take care of before my departure for home. I had already said goodbye to my two daughters, and after a rousing night in Donny Duree’s bar, I said adios to the Golden Spread and headed southward toward where my friends live.
3:00 a.m. is what the digital read out on the clock beside my bed said in bright bold numbers—the drinkers hour. Drinkers all over America were coming awake at this hour, staring at the shadows as they prepared to do one more dance with the demons. I was no different as I went into the bathroom, washed quietly, then went into the kitchen to prepare a huge pot of coffee prior to leaving.
The morning breeze was cool on my face on that morning drive south. The eastern sky was turning a pale salmon pink, when all the coffee that I’d drank teamed with the beer from the night before and told me it was time to stop and check the atmospheric pressure–I lifted my foot from the accelerator and let the pickup coast to a stop beside a wild plum thicket.
I was standing there admiring the sunrise when an uncommonly amount of noise came invisibly through the shinnery. Whatever it was I felt vulnerable standing there dressed in nothing but a pair of cutoff wranglers with a twosome of ratty flip-flops on my feet.
Squinting into the semi-darkness and trying to walk backward and keep the loose shower shows on my feet and fumbling with my zipper, I sat right down in a patch of sandburrs. Sandburrrs are God’s bane to the barefoot traveler. They pierce the skin so easily and once they’re in the flesh they curl into unforgiving hooks that bring grown men to tears when they’re being removed.
I was glad for the darkness as I removed my shorts and tried to get the miniature hooks from my hands, feet and posterior. I was working diligently on my hands and feet, when something that resembled a basketball tumbled down the embankment and started making its way toward my pickup.
“Hey Bob, that’s an armadillo.” I said. I had seen plenty of the little creatures dead alongside the highways, but in my short lifespan this was my first encounter with a live one. The creature moved like a live steel helmet snuffling and poking its small nose into every nook and cranny until at the last instant my scent must have wafted gently on the morning breeze and the little armored one veered off and unhurriedly made its way down the bar ditch.
I stopped at a roadside park and hour or so later and who should pull up but a member of the Fish and Wildlife Division. so I thought why not do a little impromptu research on the little critters.
I found out that the armadillo was named by the conquistadors as they made their way through Mexico and the Southwestern United States. But most Texans today simply refer to them as diggers because of their penchant for digging for larvae and grubs. My Dad used to call ’em ‘borers” and swore that they fed on the newly buried. I never knew he was talking about armadillos though. I’m certain that armadillos looked for grubs or what have you in freshly dug graves, but going down 6 feet and through a couple containers for your dinner seems a little far-fetched and the game ranger assured me that it was. There goes another old wives tale out the window.
The game ranger, while admitting that he was no expert on the subject of ‘dillas, said that it would be fitting if they did feast on the dead because poor whites cooked the ‘dillas with a mess of greens and cornbread where during the Depression they became known as “Hoover Hogs” or “Texas Turkeys’ and graced many holiday tables. Even today, some poor blacks still barbecue the soft meat of the ‘dilla and consider it a delicacy.
Ancient Mayans refused to eat the armadillo because they believed that common vulture did not die but metamorphosed itself into an armadillo. Smart people, the Mayans.
But the young ranger assured me things were going better for our Cenozoic cousins now. Texas law protects the hardy reptile from the exploitation of commercial hunters and that means it would be harder to find a lampshade or a purse made from the skin of one of the tiny varmints. The main concern of the armadillo today is to keep from getting its remains pressed into the asphalt by passing cars as they amble myopically down life’s highways.
It was coming onto noon by now and I just passed the outskirts of Quanah, Texas when I thought that I’d stop for a quick bite to eat. Quanah is named for the great Comanche war chief Quannah Parker, born of mixed parentage. Parker, a self-styled hellion, made things tough for the Texas Rangers just before the turn of the century. His name means “fragrant flower” in Comanche and was said to be the cause of many-a-fight with Quanah’s boyhood pals. But writing about him would take up a whole column, so we’ll let that slide for now.
The Dairy Queens and the drive-in parking lots were filled with cars and pickups and the few promising looking steakhouse lots were filled also, so I opted for one of those plastic, laminated looking places called the Brewbaus or Der Schnitzel Palace or something like that. I knew I was in trouble when the menu read “order by number please”. I ordered number whazzit and received a grey-colored wiener covered with sauerkraut and a mixture of slurry that was supposed to be German potato salad. The wiener squeaked like I was chewing on rubberbands and the potato salad had the consistency of and tasted like wallpaper paste.
I sat there chewing this untasteable mess and found myself wishing I had a hunk of that barbecued Hoover Hog and a good mess of turnip greens.
~ Written by Bob Briggs