Birthday Letters

On January 16, 1943 my dad was born.  I don’t know anything about his birth.  Whether he was born in a hospital or at home.  Whether he was a good baby or a tyrant.  How much he weighed or if he sucked his thumb.

Today if he were still living, he would have turned 70 years old.

He wrote himself a birthday letter a fews years back.   I happen to have a copy.

Jan-1998

Happy Birthday, Bob—–Happy 55 years.  A real milestone.  I feel like celebrating this b.d.,  unlike my 30th, which went by unnoticed.  Unlike my 40th which went by with hardly a ripple or even my 50th, supposedly the biggie, hardly made a dent on my psyche.

But 55 is the short side of the century mark.  So that makes it a milestone in my books, and I’m finally at the age where it makes not a tinkerers damn about anyones books but my own.

A brief synopsis—–I was born into a family of five siblings, a bootlegger father, and my mother was a housewife.  My family was mildly dysfunctional to say the least, my parents divorced when I was 11 and my mother struggled to keep her brood together.

I went to High school here in town, finally got laid, got drunk and enlisted in The Marine Corps just a few days after graduation.  Spent four years in The Corps, traveled around the world, went to work for various construction companies in West Texas and never once let college cross my mind.  Made a lot of parties—-a few friends and generally went around with my heart on my sleeve.

Anne, my wife and I had a wild, roller coaster, wonderful relationship from day one when we met in The Crystal Lounge bar, a downstairs dark, dank place where people drank, fought and loved with equal fervor.

Anne had two boys from a previous marriage that I was too young and dumb to see the joy in.  We later had two daughters that have remained the light of my life to this day.  The boys have forgiven my shortcomings and remain friendly toward me, too.  Thanks boys.

55 years—-that must seem like an eternity to someone in their 20’s or thirties, but to me it has been but a short journey on this meandering train we call life.  Meandering, wandering, everlooking for the path of least resistance, just like the nameless creek near Hoover, Texas where I gathered clover blossoms to plait into a braid for Anne’s hair.

                                                                                                                                                  ~1998~

Happy Birthday Dad—-happy 70th.  Two birthdays have now passed since you left us.  And lots has happened.  I miss you, but it does get easier with time, but there are still days that sadness is all around me, thick as fog.   I love you more than I ever have, and I’m so thankful for your writings that you left us.  I feel I know you better now than I ever did in real life.  I wonder why we feel like we can’t open up to others, and especially the ones who love us most?  I know I’m just as guilty.

You were a good dad.  That’s probably all  you  wanted to hear while you were living, and I don’t know if I ever told you.  But you were.   I wouldn’t change it for anything.

You tried your best, I know that now.  It’s certainly not easy being a parent, I know that now too.

I never realized just how tender you were.  You were always so tough and big and strong, that I guess I didn’t think about your feelings much.  I’m sorry for that.

Thanks for being a number one dad to me.  Thanks for supporting me in everything I ever did.   Thanks for taking time to spend with me, even if it was laying in the floor taking kissing bets during a bowling tournament on T.V. or skipping rocks on the Illinois.  I have fond memories, and those are what I carry with me now.  It’s all I’m left with, the memories and your stories.

You’d really love Emma.  Sometimes I imagine that you are here and see you laugh at her or hug her close.  She reminds me of you sometimes.  Especially now as she’s learning to walk.  She’s got this stumble about her, that’s very Grandpa-esque.  Or sometimes they way she lays while she’s sleeping or a look on her face makes me think of you.  You are a part of her.

I know you’re in Heaven and I’m going to be there someday too.  It’s good that this life isn’t all we’ve got, isn’t it?  So, until we meet again Dad, enjoy yourself, and I’ll do the same.  There’s much happiness here still, and memories to make with others.

I love you bigger than Hog Eyes and Sauerkraut Mississippi.

Until then……

Love,

Angel

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In Memory of my dad—number forty something

The green spiraled journal draws me in.

It belonged to my dad.

The very first thing I bought when I became an adult was a storage building.  It sits on my mom’s property (once upon a time it was my grandmother’s property) and my dad put a few boxes of belongings in there nearly twenty years ago.   In one of the boxes was this journal.

On the cover he has printed:
The Journals of Robert Lee—-soldier, statesman, author.

It is filled with his thoughts, his hopes, his disappointments, his memories.
Stuffed between the written pages he has a few cards from loved ones, pictures of my sister and I, and bills from the IRS.

I love this journal, although it is mostly sad.  He wrote when he was going through a very difficult time, of which I was completely unaware, but heck I was a kid then, barely out of high school, and completely wrapped up in my own life.

I discover that I didn’t really know my dad.  But who really did?

He hurt more than I know, and I don’t mean physically.

Today is the 15th of April, 1996.  Tax Time for most folks, but to me it is different.   Today I join the ranks of the homeless.  I haven’t learned a lot in my 53 short years aboard this planet, but I’ve learned this, we are just a short journey from this predicament that I find myself in right now.  It’s a feeling that I don’t wish on friend or foe, but I’ll come out of the water bushed and gasping of air, out of breath and hoping for a low hanging limb from which this wrecked body needs just a minute to catch it’s breath.  Then I’ll fight onward, searching for new friends, looking in familiar haunts for a few old compatriots, who’ll say—welcome ol’ shoe, come sit awhile and rest.

April 18, 1996—
It’s not good being homeless, but I have been getting reacquainted with my mother.  Before I was always in a  hurry when I went to see her, but now we are taking the time to talk to each other.  Today we spoke of my grandparents, the last who died in 1975.  I wish that I could have gotten to know them.

As I reread this journal, no as I pore over his words, I get the “missing my dad blues”.   The “If only’s”  The “I wish”.  It doesn’t help that its a rainy day in July either.  Much like my dad wrote on the page he titled, “July or is it June 27?”

I moved into my new digs yesterday.  Went to the store and bought boloney and beer.  It’s a cloudy, dismal day, in fact I’ll call this place “The Dismal Swamp”  It’s a dump, held together with spit n’ glue, but at least the neighbor’s are nice—which means that they don’t bother me or even come out of their own hovels.  I’m into Charles Bukowski, poet, short stories, novels, drinker extraiordinairre.  Life is good as we let it be.

He was phenomenal with the written word.
Dawn comes on a silvery black flash that gently turns to a pale blue as the sun makes it’s ascent into the morning sky.  Departure time is steadily approaching and I feel a twinge of excitement as the clock ticks onward toward the time of making my exit.  My brother warned me about this happening, he said, “don’t let one year turn into ten” when I first moved here for just a year.  Well, June marks the 10 year span that I’ve spent here in Green Country.  I can see the changes here in Okla.  that have occurred since coming here.  Mainly, traffic flow, the driving here is atrocious.  But that does not take from  the few close friends that I have made here.  I’ll always appreciate them.

He was funny.
“Guess I’ll go by leon’s house and see if he wants to go fishing with me n’ doc tomorrow—-it is the fourth of July and we do live in the bosom of democracy, so why not fish.  Uh Oh.  Outta beer.  So I’ll take to task the advice of my ol’ mentor and friend, Horace Greely—-Go West—-about 2 miles—–the have Busch on sale.” 

11-19-96
Keeping a journal and trying to keep sounding interesting is so boring.

Yes, dad I agree with that one whole heartedly!  He continues…..

My life is boring, but the mundane way of life is peaceful.  Living quiet has it’s own reward.

He got lonesome and had regrets.

Nov. 24, 1996
I dreamed of Jo and Angel night before last.  They were small and cuddly and we laughed and played.  I awoke all discombobulated and out of sync.  It’s good to dream old dreams.  I miss the girls so much.  I hope Angel is doing all right out there in the west.  She is so private it’s hard to find out anything from her.  Joley has John so I don’t worry about her so much.  Joley is my little mother.  I know that she will see to it that I am taken care of.  I hope that I never need it tho.  I’m sorry now that I didn’t know how to love the girls’ mother.  Hindsight has perfect vision.  But I just didn’t know, and for that I am sorry. 

Jan. 13, 1997
I’m lonesome and being broke don’t help.  I’d visit an axe murderer if he’d stop by my digs. 

Although these notes are sad and some remorseful, I receive peace when I read them.  I know how much my dad loved me.  There was never a time I doubted that.  He wrote of it many times.  His heart was full of love.

I am the proud father of 4 children.  Two boys and two girls.  How this mixed blessing came about, I’m not exactly sure.  It just came at me out of the blue, kinda like a fighter with a good left hook.

I also receive comfort knowing I’ll see him again.

Feb 7th or 8th
I know God is my friend and I hope he lets me hang around for a few years.

Thanks God for the years.

There’s more.  There’s lots more.  But I’ll leave you with that for now.  I don’t think my old pop would mind me sharing this.  It helps me, and I know there are family and friends who miss him terribly.  I hope it helps them too.  Sometimes we just want to hear from our loved ones one more time and this is the way that I do that.  When I read these words, I hear his voice.  I see the twinkle in his eye.  I see him throw his head back when he thought something was funny,  yet keeping his laugh inside and quiet.

I see him in my baby girl too, little bits of him.  There are times I wish he could see her, but then I remember…..I’m pretty sure they’ve already met.

In Memory of My Dad #41

 

I haven’t shared a story from my dad in several weeks.  There’s a good reason for this.  I’m out of stories by my dad; that I know of.   I haven’t gone through all the old newspapers, but it appears all that is left are sports news.   I’m confident no one cares to read the score of the Little League game from 1993.

My mom and I have been digging through shoeboxes looking for baby pictures of me to see if EK has any resemblance to me at all.  She doesn’t.  But I discovered a picture I’d never seen before.

My uncle Leon said my dad used to tell him, “I miss my little girls.  I mean, I miss my girls when they were little.”

I miss him too.

We had fun.

 

In Memory of My Dad #42—Neighbors

“Wish I could move my family, live up on Highway 10, where the beavers chew on sycamores and the neighbors are your friends.” Highway 10 by Dan Garber

Once upon a time here in the wooded hills of Eastern Oklahoma the word neighbor had special meaning. But that was before the days of moon shots and divided highways. Before speed became of the essence and everyone was in a hurry to make it to the local discount store. Before Tahlequah became a Mecca for canoeists and rafters, and highway 10 wasn’t as dangerous as an impact area.

Your neighbor was a strange duck, and they all seemed to be cut from the same bolt of cloth. He not only came by with his help when some catastrophe struck, but he also showed up to help with the celebration of any event that you deemed important. He would sit in church with you listening to the message, or he could pull a cork with you with equal aplomb.

He came by during the long evenings of summer and gossiped with your parents about the going on’s in the community of which we all were a part, while his kids chased lightning bugs and dodged bull bats with you in the long shadows.

If you took sick, your neighbor could always find time from his own busy schedule of hoeing corn or the many chores that go with living on a farm to check on your health. If your sickness lingered, your neighbor also took his turn sitting up with the patient, giving medicines and plenty of TLC. He was a good guy, your neighbor.

If your family suffered a death, your neighbor didn’t just come by with the usual flowers and the old “call me if you need me” before hurrying off on a sojourn of his own. He helped prepare the body for burial, opened and closed the grave and generally made himself handy around the place. He was also the first if called upon to heap praises on the newly departed, even if it was only a “I’ll say this for old Claude, he was a good ol’ boy.”

The neighbor showed up early on the chilly mornings during hog killing time. He had with him his favorite butcher knife and whetstone and he knew just how hot the water should be to ensure you a good scald. He could trim hams and shoulders, and he could look at a hog and tell you how much meat you would have that winter.

Your neighbor didn’t count his visits nor did he wait for an invitation to dinner.  Many times I’ve been sent out to catch a couple of fryers just because the neighboring family showed up. While I was chasing fryers, Mama was going through her canned goods, looking for that jar of green beans that was so pretty or that half-pint of strawberry jam that had that special clarity. Now it seems that if we have unexpected company, we head for the Colonel’s for a bucket of his extra crispy.

If your house was destroyed by fire, as ours was back in ’53, nobody asked about insurance, there wasn’t any. Neighbors just went quietly about the community gathering clothing for five growing kids without the benefit of any money changing hands.

Sunday was sort of a Roman Holiday at the community of Briggs back during the 50’s. The grown ups sat and talked while the littler children played about their feet. The bigger boys flirted with the older girls while some of us might have sneaked off to take a swim in our birthday suits, flashing and frolicking like young seals in our exuberance.

Today we don’t wait for our neighbors to come for a visit. In fact, many of us leave the house in fear that very thing might happen.
We hurry through the day to get on the road ahead of traffic to go nowhere and to do nothing when we get there. We join a caravan of cars, cussing and calling the other drivers imbeciles for slowing down the traffic in our lane. We hermetically seal ourselves in our own vehicles, insulated and air conditioned against our neighbors while the latest tunes waft from our stereos. Nobody comes aborrowin’ anymore. No one can find the time from the everyday rush to sit a spell and whittle. Night time finds us down at Ned’s where we might find escape from the misery that is eating us alive, or we sit and stare at the boob tube.

We don’t have hog killings anymore because we find it simpler to drive down to the supermarket. The discount center is a short drive away so we don’t borrow a cup of sugar anymore and not many people even know what a framing square is, so there’s no reason to borrow one of those from your neighbor.

If things get too tough we can take a valium and make another appointment with the shrink.
The thought makes me sad that we don’t need neighbors anymore, because we all need to be needed.

Written by R.L. Briggs on July 20, 1996

 

 

 

In Memory of My Dad #41—All About August

The last week of July was uncommonly cool, but we’ll still have the fragrance ridden nights that are filled with the smell of honeysuckle. Nothing stirs the memory for me quite like the odor of honeysuckle and lilac.

I recall crushed and faded flowers in the old family Bible, maybe alongside a curl clipped from the head of a loved one.  And, the old Sycamore tree that has my initials, with hers, carved into the bark.  That old tree is still standing.  How many families of hawks have lived there in its lofty branches?  How many times has the old tree heard the raucous cawing of crows or the first chatter of a fox squirrel’s young during the passing years?

July is a fine time to go about cherishing all your favorite memories so as to build a cushion for your coming old age.  Now here comes August with her full, lazy, warm days and star-studded nights, filled with the rasping of the Cicadas.  August is the old age of summer, it is a good time to plant a rocking chair in the shade of a live oak tree and let the last month of summer lull you into contentment.

Recently while fishing the upper Illinois, I watched canoe after canoe filled with partying teenagers and young people float past my fishing spot.  I inquired of my fishing partner, “wouldn’t you like to trade places with those young ‘uns?”  He stared thoughtfully at the water a little while then said, “No, I don’t believe I would.  They have yet to climb all those rugged hills that we have already climbed.  They think life’s all peaches and cream, bu they’ll have more trouble in an hour than I’ve had in my whole life.  Let them have the youth, I’ll be perfectly content to just sit here in the shade and watch them rush through life.”

August is also the time for school to start.  At least that’s the way it was in the country schools when I was attending school.

Country schools let the students out earlier than the schools in town, so we always ended up starting back in the middle of the dog days of summer.

My first grade teacher was one of my heroines.  Well, let’s put things in a plainer light—I was head over heels in love with her.  She was a petite woman, soft and she smelled cuddly.  She taught me to read and write, and to cipher my numbers.  She was awfully proud of my reading prowess because she would take me into another room filled with older students and have me read to them.

Grades 1 and 2 had one room in elementary school, grades 3, 4, and 5 were in the second room.  Grade 6, 7, and 8 were taught by a male teacher and that’s where the elite were firmly entrenched–the softball team.

I swore that I would make that ball club someday.  Little did I know that to make the team all you needed was a warm body.  School attendance was at such a low that we even played girls on our team, and as I recall they were pretty good players, too.  One thing that I learned about girls by playing ball with them, was that softball is just a game and not a life or death situation.  And that an 8th grade girl certainly fills out a softball uniform better than a guy

But back to my first grade teacher.  She used to capture all the guys and comb their hair just before the school photographer took our pictures every year.  I didn’t fight too hard on these occasions, just a small token struggle to let the other guys know that I was all he-man.  She would pull me to her breasts, comb my hair into a big pompadour all the while telling me how cute I was.  I was determined to marry that woman and put her in such a nice place that she wouldn’t have to look at anyone else but me.  I don’t know which was the bigger heartbreak, finding out she was already married, with a daughter near my own age, or the fact that she told all the guys how cute they were.

*******************

Gypsying about the backroads of Eastern Oklahoma I recently saw a sad sight.  A motorist had run over a small mongrel dog while hurrying on his way to get nowhere and to do nothing when he got there.  A small waif-like boy weeped by the dog’s side.

Having raised two sons myself, and helping them to bury at least nine of their pets, I could empathize with the young boy.  I thought of a line from a poem that my own sons used to read at the funerals of their pets:
“Don’t worry master, I am here, out in the backyard under the bright grass where you left me.
It’s been a long year since I drowsed at your feet.
It is good now to feel them pressing the earth above me, like a warm quilt.” 

*******************

August is a good time to start neglecting your garden that you worked so hard to get started.  The sun is like molten lead and if you stay out in it too long it will cook your brains.  The weeks and long grasses are firmly ensconced in good old Mother Terra-Firma and need a most firm hand to discourage them to grow another foot or so overnight.

*******************

Art Webster is a first class Water Witch.  He has drilled hundreds of water wells and has yet to come up with a  dry hole.  I will be his witness on this, since I have helped him drill at least a dozen or so, and we hit water on everyone.

I’ve tried witching but can’t seem to get the hang of it although my brother claims to be able to feel the pull of the water.  He said it feels like a hand reaches up from the ground and gently grabs hold of that stick and pulls it down.  “It’s eerie,” he says, “you can’t hardly pull the stick back up.  You have to back away.”

No doubt water witching is almost as old as time itself.  If you are a non-believer you should hurry to the nearest library and pick up some information on the subject.  You may be a first class Water Witch your own self and not even know it.

Have a good August.

written by R.L. Briggs on August 3, 1996

In Memory of My Dad #39

“What’s old Duane doing now?” I asked.

“Seventy-five years.”

“Say what?”

“Yep, 75 years in the Huntsville pen.”

“He must have done something heavy.”

“Yeah, it seems Duane got mixed up with some dope dealers down around Houston and they leaned on him a little, and you know ol’ Duane, he started to shove back and—well there you have it.”

“That’s way uncool man.”

“Say, did I ever tell you about the time that Duane and I stole a U-Haul trailer?”

I sat back and relaxed while he got his thoughts in order.  This man was an excellent story-teller, so I hit on the extended bottle of Jack Daniels and prepared to listen to a a good story.

“It was about 25 years ago, give or take a year or two, me and Duane were running wild there in West Texas.  We were runnin’ the bars, playin’ guitar for beer and whatever the kitty would bring in.  When all of a sudden one day, Duane said he had us a gig over in Borger. 

Now the only wheels we had was that little 1958 Metro that I used to drive.  You remember it.  It wasn’t big enought to cuss a cat in.  We needed something bigger so ol’ Duane says, ‘heck , we’ll steal us a U-Haul.’

I was young and dumb in those days, so I jumped right in there on a deal like that.  So I agreed to a midnight run on the Depot Service Station, they had the local U-Haul concession, and we’d just pick us up our U-haul and be on our merry way.

We picked the trailer up around two or three in the morning and we took the thing over to Lefty’s Garage and painted the trailer.  We only had two colors of paint, a sort of institutional green and a day-glo orange.  Duane had a few purple stickers, so we put them on there for a touch.  We painted stars and bars, and a big ol’ half-moon, then we got ready for the gig that night by drinkin’ a half-gallon of Black label and eatin’ fistfuls of pills.

‘We’re doing it just like Hank Sr. done it,’ Duane kept saying.  We partied from the Pair ‘O’ Dice lounge on out to Rocky’s and back–then we was eating more pills and drinking more whiskey.  Duane was in a jovial mood and I wasn’t feelin’ no pain as we loaded the guitars and amps.  The only thing we were worried about was some oily holding knuckle drill on us that night.

So with the evening star twinkling in the western sky, and the little metro tying every bundle, me and ol’ Duane set out to make our name in the country music business.

We were laughin’ and drinkin’ and just having a big ol’ time when up ahead you could see these flashing blue lights.  ‘Insurance check’ Duane says ‘let me do the talking’ and I readily agreed as we pulled up to a stop opposite the state troopers.

“Hey officer, my names Duane and this ol’ outlaw’s my sideman, and yeah, we got insurance papers on this trailer but we just borrowed it from my brother-in-law.  We got us a country music show.”

It didn’t impresss the highway cop one bit.

One trooper walked to the back and pretty soon he came back and whispered something to the cop that was talking to us.

No kiddin?  I heard one say.  Then he said, “better unload boys, we got something we need to talk about.”

They arrested  us and took us to the Gray County Jail where we pled the grand larceny charge down until we didn’t have to serve but ninety days.”  Old Rufus was the high sheriff then so he’d let us wash the county cars and keep the courthouse grounds lookin’ neat.  So the ninety days passed pretty fast.  Saturday nights he’d let us take the guitars out of the evidence room and pick for the prisoners and we kept in practice that way too.

“But I’ll tell you this, Shoe”, he said standing up and dusting off his pants before heading back to where his dogs and parrots slept in the shadows.

“If you ever steal a U-Haul trailer, make sure that somebody paints the back of the damn thing.”

Written by Bob Briggs
August 24, 1996

In Memory of My Dad #38—-Random Thoughts of Bob

It is 3:00 a.m. here in Stonebroke Acres.  I sit at a small table, my trusty Smith-Corona paused on ready, a steaming cup of java waits for my first sip as my weekly stint at observing the world around me takes shape once more.

It is a good time, for quiet has descended.  The night feeding animals have stopped their everlasting search for food, and the night birds have warbled their last refrain and my light is the only one in the neighborhood.

I have the same old shaggy feeling on awakening, a kind of inner warning says that if I don’t sit quietly for a few minutes then I’ll fall down.  There’s a flicker of indecision as there seems to be nothing so important as to rouse me at this hour, yet for some reason, a compulsion pries me from the comfort of my crib and a second cup of hot coffee prepares me for the day ahead.

*****************

The highway that fronts Sequoyah High School is finally nearing completion.  While you are motoring along, especially on highway 82 or scenic highway 10, death is just a few feet to your left.

The thought has occurred to me many times while driving out to the lake or up to Kanesland.  I have often been conscious of what could transpire if the approaching car should swerve over the center line just a little bit.  It is not a pleasant thought I assure you, but one that creeps into the thinking of us that traverse the highways frequently. 

Motoring can of course be pleasant and reasonably safe, but the driver of an automobile should at all times have in mind the tremendous responsibility of his own safety and the safety of others.  Drive defensively.  It isn’t a pleasant thought but one well worth keeping in mind—-while you’re motoring along, death is just a few feet away.

*******************

My dog Gus was not a hunting dog, nor had he won any ribbons for show jumping or any of that other such nonsense that we hear so much about on TV.

Gus was a great brush hog of a dog, he was part Blue Heeler and the other part alligator.  He lived in the back of my pickup for about 14 years, and woe be on the person who put his hands into the back of my truck while Gus was keeping watch.

Though he wasn’t a hunter, he was a pretty good fishing partner.  He would lie there in the sun on some flat rocks while I played whatever game it was that I would play with the fish there in Lake McClelland.  Every now and then he would raise his shaggy head, and the stump that served as his tail would thump the ground a couple of times, then he would return to his siesta.

One day I missed him while at the lake.  I whistled and called for him several minutes and then got a good bite and forgot all about him.  After a while, Gus sashayed on down to the edge of the lake, with that particular dog grin on his face.  In Gus’ mouth was about a two-pound channel cat, alive and all wriggly.  You didn’t want to fish much with Gus, he’d show you up.

I cried the day Gus died, my wife cried too. 
Gus was a gentleman’s dog.

********************

Why is it that the line you are in at the supermarket or bank is always the slowest?  The thing that makes it all the more trying is that no matter which line you choose, it is always the slowest one.

You enter the main banking room in any major banking institution in town. hopeful that you can walk right up to a teller and transact your business, receive your small pittance and be back on the street momentarily.

So, you eyeball the lines that you may join.  Off to your left is a very long line, moving at a snail’s pace, while off to the right there are two or three people with a sharp, efficient teller dealing money like playing cards and all but pushing people out the door.

“Aha,” you say.  “I’ll hook up with this short line and be out of here in a jiffy.  I wish I’d left my motor running and the AC on.”

But in reality, you are four spaces from the teller.  Naturally, that leaves three people in front of you.  You wave to an old friend who is 9th in line on the left.

It’s almost your turn.  The person in front pulls out a paper sack.  The teller picks up the phone and hold a lengthy conversation with someone in the back.  The conversation is over, the person in front of you produces more documents for the teller.  The teller then leaves to confer with the powers that be in the banking room

“Kinda stuck in line there, ain’t cha?”  It’s your old friend who used to be ninth in the other line.

You become desperate.  You hop into another line, a faster line.  It then slows down.  Now the other line moves faster.  You wished you’d stayed there but you’re too embarrassed to return.

Finally rescued, spying an empty teller’s cage, you transact your business.  You look at your watch.  A minute has passed.

********************

No matter what you may have heard in the past, there is no such thing as a friendly game of cards.  Truer words were never spoken than, “Where gambling begins, friendship ends.”

People with first hand knowledge of such things know that the kindly, considerate man becomes an insensitive machine when you place those pasteboards in his hands.  His face tells you nothing, and his eyes become as hard as stone.  His entire demeanor changes and you no longer know him.

Devotees of a game known as penny-ante poker have known people who were fast and true friends to leave a card table never to speak to each other again after a night of friendly poker playing.  They say that the size of the wager doesn’t mean anything, but the competitive urge to win over your fellow-man is there whether you are playing dime limit or table stakes.

So the more you look into a friendly game of cards, the more convinced you become that there is no such animal and anyone that thinks he is getting into a friendly game should have his head examined.  There’s an old saying, “Winners talk and losers yell, deal the *&@# cards.”

Written by Bob Briggs on July 27, 1996

 

In Memory of My Dad #37—the bear and the bob

Merry Christmas Eve, friends.  I hope this evening finds you all blessed with love and family.  It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, due to several reasons that I won’t bore you with, but hopefully you aren’t holding it against me. 

I’ve had my supper consisting of grilled cheese, sweet pickles, and Classic Lays potato chips, which coincidentally is not  pregnancy related.  It’s just the way I roll.  I’ve got a steaming cup of hot cocoa excluding marshmallows beside my computer, the Christmas tree is aglow, the presents are wrapped, the pie remains unbaked and I have a Saturday story to share with you written by my dad in September of 1996. 

The weather was seasonably cool as I started my morning run.  The Doctor had told me to exercise a little bit, so I had started to do a small bit of roadwork.

I had been immobile for the last three weeks due to a summer cold.  A medico that I saw on morning television had said there was no such thing as a summer cold, only allergies.  Well, I know the difference between allergies and a summer cold, and Doc, I had a summer cold.

I used to run out on the Bertha Parker bypass but that was before I met Crazy Jack.  We’ve all had dealings with old C.J.  He’s the one that thinks the four-lane is the Indianapolis Speedway and the speed limits don’t apply.

Mama used to tell me, “Son, you’re going to get run over on that four-lane.”  So after  hitting the bar ditch a half-dozen times or so, I thought maybe Mama knows best and found me another route to get my morning exercise. 

Crazy Jack—he could be anyone.  Maybe he’s the teenager that Daddy let borrow the keys and he’s out to impress his friend.   He might be the harried young mom trying to drive while corralling three small children.  He could be the man who had a fight with his wife and is late for work,  he could be the young wife talking on her cellular phone, or he could simply be “blue hair driving in my lane.”  Truckers ain’t no day at the beach either.

Anyway, I was ready to resume my exercise regime after the hiatus.  The morning was gray and cool.  The night birds had stopped their calling and had given way to their daytime cousins when I struck out. 

The first quarter-mile or so would be the toughest, it’s uphill before making a mad dash across the four-lane, then a leisurely down hill jaunt before turning and heading back uphill and taking it to the barn. 

My breathing comes hard as I set out.  I must find a rhythm, I tell myself, and stick to it.  The traffic is fairly light at that hour so I don’t break a stride crossing and by now the beta-endorphins are pumping in my brain and my breathing evens out as I head toward the creek.  I feel strong.  I feel free.  I wish the route was three, four miles instead of just a shade over two.  I feel as if I could run forever.

“Pfft, Pfft, Pfft,” go my ragged Reeboks against the pavement.  The perfect measured stride of a long distance runner.  “Pfft, Pfft, Pfft,”  I want to shout with great exuberance because I feel so good.

I reached the cul-de-sac that marked my turning point of my measured run, when a light stitch started in my side.  I tried to ignore it and concentrated on the pain that started in my trick knee.  Is that the shuffling of the bear I hear?  Am I bear-caught so soon.  I wavered a bit in my stride. 

The bear was hungry and gaining on me.  I hit the steepest part of my route, and thought “only one-half more mile and it will all be over.”  My breath rasping deep in my lungs, I sounded like a wind-broke horse and I struggled up and onward.  I leaned into the run and tried to ignore the aches and pains that returned many-fold.  My ancient legs quivered as I struggled to put one foot in front of the other.

The bear has now become full-grown and  his growls give me a little strength as I continue my task.  My nose starts to run and I’m back on my heels at this point.  The bear catches me and jumps on my back as I hit the corner turn.  I’m ready to quit.

That’s when I saw her.  She was a winsome young thing, unaware of anyone being around.  She was dressed in nothing but a pale blue negligee with midnight blue panties.  I tried, unsuccessfully, to still my rasping breath and quiet my plodding feet as she ran through the dappled grass to retrieve the morning paper. 

She appeared to be reading the headlines as she stood there in the early morning sunlit yard.  Then she must have heard me—-she looked up and gave a startled yelp as she saw me approaching in my tattered running shorts and shoes.  She reminded me of a deer caught in the headlights of a poacher.  Then she made a dash back indoors.  I think an old man’s thoughts as I approach the four-lane.

My run, for all practical purposes, is over.  Then I think of nothing at all because I’m back in Crazy Jack’s territory and he could be out there, loaded for bear.

Bob Briggs 1943-2011

In Memory of My Dad #36–relatives

I’m so glad to have discovered a story from my dad to share with you today.  Months ago, my sister sent via her husband, a large canvas box filled with Tahlequah Times Journal newspapers from the years my dad worked there.  I thought I had shared all the “stories” and was left with sports articles of how the Tulsa Hurricane Little Leaguers won the Championship or Arnold Palmer’s hole-in-one.  But today, I uncovered some more commentaries.  This one was written on Sept. 14, 1996 by my dad Bob Briggs.  I miss him dearly.  I wish he were here with me this morning, stoking the fire, listening to some classic rock, drinking coffee on this frosty December morning as we look forward to little Miss Emma Kate to arrive in  six short weeks (give or take a day or two).  He would’ve liked this day.

She was always a heroine of mine.  I admired her from day one when we were attending a small country school there at Briggs, Oklahoma.  We walked the long miles to school together and talked of many things, of the many dreams that two country kids knew the outside world held for them.

She, being a couple of years older than me, always took my part when I got into a skirmish with the older boys.  You know how kids on kids are?  That’s the roughest kind of play there is and the girl was also a pretty good rough and tumble fighter herself.

She never had much time or even the chance to be a child herself.  Her mom worked at many menial jobs trying to hold her small family together after the girl’s father left.  She was regulated to the task of caring for her younger sisters and brothers—so there went her childhood.

Then, one day, the girl was gone from the small house on the south side of town where she had lived with her siblings and hard-working mother.

She had married a young man and moved out of state.  She was 16—so there went her teenage years.

When she could have been readying herself for the prom and having fun with her friends, she was busy having children of her own and keeping house for the man she chose to be her lifelong mate.

I don’t recall seeing the girl smile much as a child.  There weren’t many occasions for her to smile in later years either.  The man she married, though a boy himself, drank to excess and was generous to a fault.  But I’ll say this for him, he never missed a day’s work.

The three children she and her husband produced, grew into teenagers and faced the typical teen problems of today, but she went the extra mile to see the kids were raised up with Christian values.

I guess I was always proud of the girl that became a woman more out of necessity than the process of growing.  She went back to school and earned her diploma and learned to drive a car after she was married.  She worked for a newspaper in west Texas and stuck with her husband until he quit the whiskey.  And mightily fought the drug demons along with her son.

Now she and her husband have a house full of grandchildren and three well-adjusted children.  And when she should be kicking back and enjoying the fruits of their labor, she is girding her loins for a battle the doctors have no name for.  She’s been religious most of her life and I hope it carries her through these trying times.

I’m writing this on her birthday so she’ll know that my love and prayers go with her.  Happy Birthday, sis.  May you have many more years of happiness.

****************************

Speaking of relatives, my brother surprised me a couple of weeks ago by inviting me to his place for a T-bone dinner.

Being the type that haunts fast food places and convenience stores I readily accepted.

He put the potatoes on to slow bake and the corn-on-the-cob went into a large pot on the stove.  Then he peeled the lid from a bottle of Jim Beam and we retreated to the patio where the coals were just beginning to turn a nice shade of grey and plopped two inch-high steaks on the grill.

The hour we waited for the steaks turned into three and we talked of new cars and old friends.  Relatives make good fodder for conversation when you’re in the process of getting into the cups and non of ours (except unknown grandfathers and our three sisters, who are saints) escaped unscathed.

Cousins, uncles, aunts and brothers-in-law all were praised or caught hell with equal zeal and fervor as the levels dropped steadily on the bottle.

About mid-night, I was treated to one of the finest charcoaled steaks I’ve ever laid into.  My brother rummaged through his lower cabinets until he found a long forgotten six-pack of Busch and we talked on and on till the early morning.

My brother became so adament on one point of the conversation, he said, “That’s the truth, brother, and if it ain’t, I hope that moon up there comes flying through the air and crashes into the earth.”

Later on we slept.

I was awakened by the pattering of rain of a passing storm.   My brother slept peacefully in his chair as Sissy, his chowdog, slept at his feet.  I looked through the branches of the huge evergreen that graces his bakyard and saw the low flying rainclouds as they made their way toward Adair County.  The clouds broke a little and there was that moon—-that sucker hadn’t moved a bit.

 

 

In memory of My Dad #35

Written November 25, 1993 by my dad Bob Briggs while writing for the Tahlequah Daily Times Journal

It’s almost December and pheasant season is about to open the panhandle of Texas.  Pheasant season only stays open for two weeks there, so you’d better get out and get some while the season is open.

Pheasant are hard to see if you don’t know what you are looking for.  I’ve seen the brightly colored birds disappear in a field of green winter wheat, and not flush until you’ve nearly trampled the beggars.

My old buddies, P.J. and “The Sarge” used to load up in Sarge’s Bronco, with a bottle of “lying Whiskey” and road hunt for these wily birds.

Now I don’t recommend that you road hunt because it’s highly against the law, but when you’re young and living in West Texas, outfoxing the game warden is just a part of the game.

We were crazy about shooting these birds.  One time P.J. had me stop in downtown Waka, Texas, jumped out of the vehicle and killed a rooster pheasant in broad daylight.  Now I’ll admit, Waka isn’t much of a town but it’s big enough to have a local constabulary of some sort that could put a man in the  for some little time.

I tripled on a covey of pheasants once up by the town of Spearman, Texas.  I was hunting alone down in a wet lands draw that had dried up and was overgrown with weeds.  That is sort of like making a hole in one without a witness.  It don’t do any good to tell anyone because they say, “Yeah, right.”

I sure miss those days.  This cold weather snap just makes it worse.  Getting up early in the morning, putting on your hunting coat with the peppery smell of blood on it, the weight of number 7 shot weighing on your shell loops.  If you’re going to be legit that day and hunt on land where you already have permission, your dog seems to sense that he’ll be going with you and he’s excited as any athlete before a game.

I don’t know about P.J. or how the hunting is around Chicago, but I know “The Sarge’ will have somewhere to hunt this year.  I hear the hunting’s pretty good out around Farmington, New Mexico where he’s been said to hang his boonie hat. 

As for me, I’ll just kick back and think about those long ago days when a walk in the field or a slow drive down a section line meant meat in the pot.

Good hunting, fellows.