In Memory of My Dad #27

written by my dad, Bob Briggs 1943-2011

“Of course we’re going to Oklahoma City for Derby Day,” declared Val vehemently.  “Haven’t we always gone for the past several years?  It’s imperative that we go.  It’s our sworn duty!  I’ll call Doc for some cash tonight.  What ‘da ya think?  About 500 bucks sound right for this gig?”

Val was still feeding off his victory earlier that day when he and his long-suffering partner had taken the retired marine flyer and the long-knocking kid out on the ninth hole of the Sequoyah Golf club, and Val was bouncing around like a ping-pong ball.

Of course the twelve pack I brought along for the peace offering was down to  the last two beers and that wasn’t helping matters much either.

But Val is like a clam.  Open his head and put an idea in and watch it grow into a gem of an idea.  All I had done to bring forth this idea was to ask Val if we were going to OKC for the running of the Kentucky  Derby.

Doc is an old friend from our younger days.  But not wanting to bore you with the details of his misspent youth, I’ll just say that Doc listened to his body and slowed his activities (both legal and illegal) way down.  Doc is a song writer par excellence, and his trilogy about the outlaw Ned Christie is worth traveling many miles to hear. 

It has been several years since I have been to the Kentucky Derby.  I believe it was the year that Dust Commander, the 16 to 1 shot, won the run for the roses.  Silent Screen, the horse that I had bet heavily on was leading the race coming into the final turn faded badly and finished the fifth hole.

On Saturday morning of race day, the infield at Louisville will resemble a huge outdoor looney bin.  The whole grass meadow will be covered with people from all walks of life.  The cheap seats.  That slice of life that would invariably draw me to its confines like a moth to an open flame.

Fifty thousand people, most of them stumbling drunk, jammed backside to belly button.  It’s a fantastic scene.  What with people laughing, crying, fainting, copulating, and trampling each other.

People from all walks of life, getting angrier and angrier as they lose more and more money.  By mid afternoon they’ll be swilling Mint Juleps with both hands and vomiting on each other between races.

The regulars at Churchill Downs, serious betters included, spend most of the day in the paddock area.  They can hunker down with a tall glass of Old Fitzgerald, while watching the flashing lights and the many changing odds of the huge tote boards.

But I have seen the whiskey gentry in action.  Buy the ticket, take the ride.  The Age of Aquarius is over, now for seven years of healing and mending while the country gets back in shape.  To get quietly and pleasantly drunk and try not to offend anyone.  To get along, go along. 

I sure need to break even over at Okie City this weekend, because I need the money.

In Memory of My Dad #26

On a languid winter afternoon, hound dogs howl a mournful alarm at a visitors casual intrusion upon the Atkins Antiques barn a few miles south of Archer City, Texas.

The dogs take their afternoon nap under the porch of the fading paint flecked building, and are often called upon to sound the call to arms which includes a lot of barking and then an apologetic wagging tail before returning to their slumber.

Atkins Antiques was a ramshackle place that could sell you an Amarillo city bus that made its last run down Polk street, or an ice cream wagon made from an abandoned golf cart, or a bulldozer or a bent horseshoe.

Bud Atkins, 68, who owns the shop doesn’t mind all the modern intrusions, he is a man of all seasons.  Wearing starched Levi’s and a pearlsnap western shirt, he stands amid all the record albums, racks of old books and magazines, stacks of eight track tapes, old leather footballs, spurs that date back to the eighteenth century, mannequins, old paintings and a plethora of heavy iron tools.

“One time I had an old anchor here, it was probably two, three hundred years old, weighed about 700 pounds, some college boys from South Carolina bought it.  Don’t know how they got it home,” says Atkins.  People call me a junker, but every time I buy something, it becomes valuable.  Funny, ain’t it?”

The place sits on three acres of land, the Texas flatland.  The flatland stretches endlessly to the far horizon and this 90’s version of Sanford and Son hardly seems big enough to hold all the treasures accumulated over 35 years of junking.

Winter Texans browse through the property in search of items that symbolize Texas.  They come from Oklahoma, New York, Nebraska, New Jersey and elsewhere.  “I’ve been coming to this place since the early 80’s,” says one elderly man.  “There’s more mysteries here than the Holy Bible.”

The shop is awash with quirky items, like a small ceramic monkey perching atop a stack of books and holding a human skull and while scratching his head as if to ponder his very existence.  A caged light fixture near the front door with strangely stuffed rodents adorning the inside and outside of the cage and a rat with an extraordinary long tail.

Atkins, wears a black cowboy hat with a bigfoot logo pinned to the side.  He speaks slowly and laughs readily, as if sitting on a good joke.  He has a mental Rolodex of his own jokes, if others fail.

Atkins recalls when he and his brother inherited the house moving business from his father.  The brothers decided to expand the business into buying and selling furniture and antiques from estate sales.  The brothers split up in 1969—they weren’t mad or anything, they just decided they wanted to own their own separate businesses.

Cynthia Speer, an elderly lady from Oklahoma City, and her husband have come to the Antique Barn for the past twenty years.  They never fail to be amazed at what they find in the shoppe.

“One time I found an old campaign button here—about 15 years ago.  It was an old FDR button.  I bought it for about $5, and this friend of mine said it was actually worth several hundred dollars, but I wouldn’t sell it for anything,” she said.  “You can’t find things like that anywhere, it’s amazing.”

Among the items at the Atkins Antique Shop is a February 30, 1936 issue of Collier’s Magazine that sold for forty cents and a first volume edition of the music of Jerome Kern, with his legendary rendition of hits like “On Top of Old Smokey” and a song that the Platters made famous in the late fifties, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.”

Record albums of long ago sport icons of yesterday.  There’s Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” and a collection of recordings from a native of the big bend country, Freddy Fender.

“You never know what you’re going to find here in this crazy place,” says Atkins, fielding a question from another winter Texas.  “We’ll buy anything just so long as it’s old and interesting.”

Atkins pointed to a display case that had an empty bottle with the letters “OJ” embossed on the outside, “that doesn’t have anything at all to do with O.J. Simpson, I just recently found the bottle, I do have his football card and a  book on Simpson though.  By the way have you been watching the trial?”   Just goes to show you, you can’t get away from the trial even in central Texas.

Written by Bob Briggs April 1, 1995

In Memory of My Dad #25

Being a teacher myself, I found great joy in reading this story written by my dad on July 8, 1995.  How many of you have similar tales?

Why our little community was named “Briggs” by early settlers has been lost in the annals of time, but I was always ready and able to come up with a story as to why in my imaginative mind.

Briggs sits about three miles west of Eldon and about six miles east of Tahlequah on Highway 62.  Briggs lies on a relatively flat piece of ground not far from the Illinois River.  The pride and crowning glory of the community was Briggs School.

The school was a three-room affair, very small by today’s standards.  The first room took care of the first and second grades, and I’m happy to report my first grade teacher was a lovely young thing called Miss Jewell.  She was wonderful—pretty, young, and she smelled good.  What more could you ask for in a teacher?

I loved her so much that I had a hard time lining up with the others on my graduation from the second grade for a good-bye hug.  I remember running home and grabbing a huge piece of chocolate cake and going to bed to console myself with food.  (Having followed this practice religiously throughout my life, I can tell you that it’s a lot less expensive and easier on the body than tranquilizers and whiskey.) 

We were graduating on to the next room—a room filled with third, fourth and fifth graders, grizzled veterans of the school of higher learning.  Some said we were to find out what schooling was all about.  I had some trepidation about leaving the confines of Miss Jewell’s room because the third, fourth and fifth was taught by the toughest, meanest human being ever to embrace professional education.  It was gut check time.

We loved to hate this loathsome creature to whom the best-read of us referred to as “Miss Lizzie” (of Lizzie Borden fame) because it was rumored that she had hacked a couple of her charges to death.  In those days teachers chastised their students any way they saw fit, short of capital punishment and we weren’t sure that Miss Lizzie didn’t have special dispensation from the pope to invoke the death penalty.

Her favorite way of dispensing torture was to pull your hair.  And believe me it hurt.  Most of the denizens of the third, fourth or fifth grade had their mane rearranged by Miss Lizzie.  I myself had a head full of lovely brunette curls that seemed to daily catch the wrath of Miss Lizzie.

We had a couple of boys in the fifth grade who should have been in the 10th or 11th grade, but they had missed a lot of school time due to such things as hauling hay or driving a tractor.  These were just good old boys, meaner than junkyard dogs, and the rest of Miss Lizzie’s third, fourth, and fifth graders followed them slavishly down the path to wickedness.

Toward the last day of school, one of these guys came up with a foolproof plan which he felt in all probability would kill Miss Lizzie.  If it didn’t kill her, it would undoubtably result in her spending her remaining days in Eastern State Hospital at Vinita.  (He no doubt spent many hours praying about it, and received an answer from above.)  In those days breakdowns were not all that uncommon in the field of education.  As a matter of fact, they are not all that uncommon today.

Now the success of this plan hinged greatly on the fact that Miss Lizzie had made a deal with one of the few traitors in school to bring her a pint of raw milk each day to augment her sack lunch.  This was in the days before the school lunch program reared its ugly head.  Most of the kids had milk cows at home, but I would have rotted in Hades before I would have brought this teacher any kind of sustenance.

One day at recess the leader of this foul gang of reprobates filled us in on the plan.  It was beautiful—simplicity in motion, and in our own little black hearts we knew it could not fail.

The entire three grades were sworn to secrecy and the TREATMENT as we liked to call our project was to go into effect on April first.

On day one of the TREATMENT one of the older boys who thought of the scheme, surreptitiously dropped a small pebble into the milk.  Miss Lizzie choked and sputtered a bit, but she got the milk down and couldn’t proved a thing.

The traitor that delivered the milk was told to report the incident to her parents, who assured Miss Lizzie that they would be more careful in the future. 

Day two was a little worse, two roly-poly bugs were put into her milk, and while she was attacking our hair, one of the perpetrators removed the bugs, so she had no further proof.

Day three saw the end of the TREATMENT, and God help me, it was beautiful.  When Miss Lizzie opened the lid to the mason jar, she spied a small mouse frantically doing the breast stroke, trying to escape.

As we say in the hills, she cut and ran, straight to the principal’s office and fell into his arms babbling incoherently.

We liked the new teacher well enough, except for the part of writing Miss Lizzie get well notes up to Eastern State.  Finally we had to stop that because she kept screaming something about rodents in her milk and making a complete mess of the room by tearing the notes into a million pieces.

Our hearts soared at that bit of news.

Bob Briggs
January 16, 1943-February 26, 2011

In Memory of My Dad #24

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. 
No windows. 
Can’t see, don’t care.

Music starts up again. 
Return to dancing. 
New singer, a tall ugly man sings of unrequited love. 
Can’t sing. 
No one cares. 
Everyone claps and calls for more. 
Reminds me of Kane’s place on the Illinois River. 
Banjo solo. 
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.


In Memory of My Dad #23

You might think that with a family the size of the one I grew up in, we would eat anything that was put in front of us.  Not so.  Although we were avid partakers of our own favorite dishes, we had several idiosyncrasies that were unique to us alone. 

Steak was expensive, and I don’t remember eating much of it growing up.  But if we were lucky enough to have pork chops or something like that, you could bet that the fat was trimmed from the meat and it was cooked well done. 

Eggs were another thing that were fried well done.  It was difficult to fix eggs for us kids, because we wanted them fried really hard.

Mama used a heavy iron spatula and a cast iron skillet to fix breakfast in, and she cooked the eggs to the point that any nutritional value at all was cooked out.  They were black, tough, lacy edged, rubber-looking eggs, but man they were tasty.  You had to have a sharp knife to eat them and I had the debatable honor of being the only person at Briggs School to have broken a tooth on a fried egg.  I still like to eat eggs that way occasionally.

Once I went hunting with a favorite uncle of mine that had no children of his own, so I really took up with him because he talked to me like I was an adult instead of being only seven years old.  I think Ol’ Skeet was the favorite uncle of most of my siblings.  At times, my brother Leon will start a story with, “You remember when Skeet and Dude…..?” and then he’ll launch into an escapade from some long forgotten past.  Dude was another of my favorites, but that’s another story.

Anyway, we hunted all that day up on Badger Flats, I don’t remember what we were hunting.  I guess anything that stuck its head out of that shinnery brush.   When it came time to leave, Skeet blew long and hard on his horn to call in his dogs.  The horn was made from the horn of a cow or a bull that no longer had any use for the horns. 

The dogs all came to the sound of the horn except one of Skeet’s favorite hounds, Rock or Drum or something like that.  He allowed as how that was all right because we would come back the next day and pick the dog up.

Early the next morning Uncle Skeet, my dad, and I embarked on a quest for the wayward hound.  After looking unsuccessfully for the dog all morning, we arrived at a friend’s house, a long way back in the hills.  These hospitable folks invited us to dinner, which was what they used to call the noon meal.

Guess what was on the menu?  A huge platter of wide-eyed greasy, soft cooked eggs nestled on a platter of thick pink slabs of ham.  Great gobs of fat hung obscenely to the corners of the ham.  The crowning insult was a huge bowl of cream gravy that resembled wall paper paste.  I felt my stomach do a little turn at that point, not unlike the butterflies that you get when the teacher calls you to the blackboard and you haven’t been paying attention in math class.  Sort of a churning sensation that scares a seven-year old mind.

As the diners started passing the food around, a fat hen walked in the kitchen door.  There was no screen door and the chicken flew up onto the table and started pecking at the biscuits that were sitting by my elbow. 

I was unaccustomed to chickens walking about on the table, and it shocked me somewhat to see this happen.  The diners thought nothing of this and continued to eat.  Both Skeet and Daddy, living by the code of the hills, bravely placed food upon their plates and began to partake of the vittles.

I, being a weak-stomached child, did the only thing I could under the circumstances.  My breakfast came up the same way that it went down, in the most unpleasant way imaginable.

Daddy immediately grabbed me up, and Uncle Skeet started to castigate him for bringing a child out so soon after having the chicken pox.  (Daddy and Skeet could think fast on their feet when they had to, especially when faced with eating almost raw eggs and fatty undercooked meat.)  He told his friends he was sorry that his son caused so much trouble, and for them to stop in the next time they were down our way.

The search for the lost hound was over for the day.  Skeet congratulated me on the way home for my performance, and Daddy bought me an Eskimo pie for my trouble.

We got the old ’40 Ford pickup to about 35 miles per hour on our way home—-after all, we didn’t want to be late for supper.

story written by Bob Briggs


In Memory of my Dad #22

Momma’s older brother had a lot of cowboy in him.

He worked for a large rancher east of Tahlequah, and I can still remember him riding up to the house at Briggs.  I remember the stories that he  used to tell us kids also, especially when he got in his cups.  That seemed pretty often in those days.

He also owned the only .10 gauge double-barreled shotgun I ever saw.  The .10 gauge is a very serious weapon indeed.

Speaking of serious weapons, I received an invitation to the Illinois River Militia and Garden Club meeting later this month at the club’s heavy weapons and bomb range on a deserted gravel road on the upper Illinois river.

Membership in the club is so secretive that no list of members is believed to exist, and the club’s president is not known.  Members communicate with each other by using code names, like Mr. Green, Mr. Black, Mr. White, just like in the movie “Reservoir Dogs.”  Meetings are shrouded in secrecy and conducted in total darkness.  Many of the members are prominent women around town that are known for their beauty.  “Loose lips will be dealt with accordingly,” says a club member.  “Privacy is our dominant domain.  That is all you need to know and all you will ever need to know….”

But I digress.

As a boy I heard many stories designed to scare the bejesus out of a young boy.  None scared me the way that the panther’s scream did.  The panther, or “paint her”  always stood ready to leap upon the back of a man carrying meat, or upon a woman entering a shed or just a kid out late in the evening.  I know now that the panther was just a plain cougar or mountain lion.  There probably weren’t even any left in this country during the early ’50s.  Anyway this story has no date—just a long time ago.

My uncle located a turkey roost one day while riding fence in the Copeland bottoms.  Knowing that his family needed meat, he decided to injun up on the roost about sundown.

He rode up to the fence and tied his horse about a half mile away so that the horse would not frighten the birds, and went on foot the rest of the way.  About dark, he heard the turkeys coming in to their sleeping place.  He waited for the moon to rise so that he could skylight the birds against the moon.  The birds took a long time getting settled and they were blending into the foliage when my uncle got the birds lined up and emptied both barrels.  Six turkeys fell groundward.

The turkeys probably weighed 12 to 15 pounds each, and the gun was big and cumbersome, so it took him a while to make it back to his horse.  That’s when he heard the panther scream.  It sounded as if it were coming from the brush right behind him.  The scream has been described as a woman in fright or pain and to say that it curdled the blood of my uncle would be an understatement.  Right away he knew what the panther was after so he dropped one of the turkeys.

He had gone but a short distance when he heard the panther scream once again.  Another turkey was dropped and my uncle was able to pick up a little speed because of his lightened load.  The next time the panther squalled it was off to one side of him and so another turkey was dropped.

The man had no more shells for the gun, and the gun’s weight would make it a poor choice of a weapon, even as a club and the panther’s screams were getting closer all the time.

And now the screams became louder, more pronounced, nearer as he dropped the last turkey just a few feet from where his horse was tied.  The horse was plunging and rearing against the reins, but thank goodness by now he was mounted and the horse was tearing a hole in the wind as my uncle whipped him into a flat-out run getting home.

After hearing this story—and it always seemed to be told after dark—-I lay in bed and wondered what would have happened if the man had a mile to walk instead of a half mile, or what would have happened if he had shot four or five turkeys instead of six.

I can never look at a mounted cougar in a museum without thinking of this story.  It’s too bad the taxidermist couldn’t have captured the scream also.  The mere thought of it lent wings to my feet many times on some of my late night forays.

story by R.L. Briggs  1943-2011

In Memory of my Dad #21

Written by Bob Briggs on July 29, 1995 before computers had really taken over the world and everyone carried one in their hip pocket.

Computers will lie to you.  Computers never apologize for their mistakes either.  Believe me they make plenty of them.

I just recently got my finances straightened out with Sports Illustrated.  I did it by cancelling my subscription.  I still get letters all the time offering me a free video or a free sweatshirt with the name of my favorite NFL team emblazoned across the front.  I can even take the E-Z payments plan, $4.49 for four months.

Farmers and ranchers today would be lost without their Apples or their Macintoshs, or is that the same company?  Anyway they would be lost without their computers. 

Long ago city dwellers sought out the quiet peaceful life that was offered here in Cherokee county.  Soon the city streets were clogged with people driving to where?  At any time of the day you can sit at any red light in town, and you never have the road all to yourself. 

A photographer recently told me that the population of Tahlequah was 10,000 people.  Hell, there’s that may cars parked at Wal-mart on any given day.

But to get back to computers, I never thought that a computer would replace the hired man.  I’m sure my dad felt the same way about the jet age overtaking the automobile.  He figured that the horseless carriage was merely an invention to take an afternoon drive in at the then unheard of speed of 40 MPH.

How does this new contraption work?  It’s a mystery to me.

You can’t keep a computer in the barn because the chicken would roost on it, and you know what happens when chickens roost.  So it will have to sit in your living room right next to your VCR and CD player.

I know nothing of computers except that you shovel in a lot of info, press a button and out comes your answer in a  few seconds.  The computer has put more people out of work than the welfare program.

My main connection here in Hulbert with a computer is that it calls me a liar saying that I didn’t pay for my subscription.  After sending in copies of my cancelled check, I did get a manager to say he was sorry for the inconvenience but nary a word from the computer.

Say the gentleman farmer wants to go to the coast for some deep-sea fishing, so he starts feeding the computer.  The calf that he has been fattening up must have cow-cake kicked out to it morning and night.  The birds must be fed along with the chickens.  Milk must be left out for the barn cats.  The horses must be curried and combed.  The cow must be fed.  The electricity must be turned off except to the deep freeze.

And so he takes off for the coast where the waves are whitecapping and the big marlin are jumping and the flounder are fighting to get hold of his line and are begging to be broiled according to his guide.  Just a couple of days for doing nothing except lying back and watching his troubles roll past like floaters on the Illinois. 

But what happens when he returns Monday morning?

Something has gone wrong.

He notices a smell like rotting meat when he goes to put his founder in the deep freeze.  The machine is silent, no reassuring hum.  Melted ice cream sloshes around the quail that he was saving for Sunday cooking.  The horse is staring at a can of Puss ‘n Boots atop a 50 pound block of salt.  The calf is trying to decided what to do with the small bit of birdseed.  At least the barn cats have a curry comb to play with.

It must have been the laundry list that was entered into the computer, how else do you explain the cat moving into the master bedroom and delivering a litter of kittens?  How else do you explain the laundry ending up in the tool shed?

Further investigation reveals the birds screaming at a bale of hay while the tomcat tries to chew some cottonseed cake.

The gentleman farmer mourns for the good old days before computers when Charlie or Ted worked the farm from first light until dusk taking care of the animals.

But that was before they were retired to the nursing homes and Social Security.  He can imagine what kind of homecoming he would have had if he’d have left Charlie in charge.  The cow would have been milked and the eggs gathered.  The parakeet would probably have escaped into the woods, but Charlie would have been anticipating an owl/parakeet mixture or at least a crow/parakeet dabbling.

The cats would have been chasing mice out in the barn as all cats should and the horses would have been muzzling hay in the confines of the barn.  The calf might have been overfed—but just by a little.  Besides the vet only charges $25 as a special favor to his cousin Charlie.

Maybe we should all become a little more computer friendly. 

Or at least buy flounder at the grocery store.

In Memory of My Dad #20

written on March 25, 1995

Recently I traveled to west and south Texas on “holiday” as my Scottish friend Jody Taylor calls it.  Actually it was more of a couple of days off work and more of a “spring break”. 

I took highway 33 out of Sapulpa, Oklahoma intending to take the “blue highways” that William Least Heat Moon describes in his novel which was called by that same name.  The first thing I noticed was that the small highways today are colored in black, at least they are on my road Atlas.  On the older maps the two lane roads were always colored blue, so my trip started off on a horse of a different color but I swore not to let the little stuff bother me.

I used up all of highway 33 that I could before changing my route to travel south to Binger, Oklahoma, childhood home of former major leaguer Johnny Bench.  I stopped at a three calendar cafe for some chicken fried steak and cream gravy—no low cal diets for this ol’ fat boy during this jaunt.  I usually rate cafes by the number of calendars they have hanging on their walls—the most I’ve ever seen gracing a cafe wall was five, but I’m sure there’s a seven calendar cafe out there that serves biscuits that will melt in your mouth.

Anyway, after I left Binger, I took highway 152 which I recognized from my old traveling pipeline days and I knew this would take me fairly close to Pampa, Texas where I would pick up my two daughters Joley and Angel.

Angel is a sophomore at Clarendon City College located there in Pampa and she decided to go on Spring Break with me.  Joley, who is two years older and has the responsibility of taking care of her Golden Retriever “Mo” and hubby John, told one to take care of the other and she loaded up to embark on the trip with us.

I realized something while traveling with my daughters down the open highways of Texas.  Even though we are tied together by the blood coursing through our veins, the similarities stop right there when it comes to environments and preferences.

I am a product of the Illinois River and the Baronfork Creek, of cane breaks and oak groves.  I’m a product of marshes and mud, of muskrats and perch.  I’m happiest scrunching my toes in the sunbaked sand of the riverbed and listening to the chatter of the red-winged blackbirds.

Jo and Angel are products of sidewalks and buildings, of potted fig trees and the manicured grass of city parks.  The only time they enjoy being outside is when they are standing outside of the video store about to rent a movie while six lanes of traffic noisily pass on the streets.  They are most at home in a thermostatically controlled air-conditioned house where the outside lights come on automatically.

“So what of it,” say both Joley and Angel, “plenty of people have grown up without the companionship of raccoons and otters.  And a lot of great people never heard of a red-winged blackbird.”

I suspect the reason that we want our children to share the experiences of our childhoods is because of the memories that constitute many of the important lessons that we learned early.  I learned patience waiting on a fish to bite, respect from watching a wall of rain move in on our house at Briggs, Oklahoma, humility from listening to the thunder so strong, it shook the panes of glass from the window sills.

Maybe I’m just nostalgic for my own childhood, or maybe it’s just wanting to be included in the generation that my daughters belong to now.  Still, I have the uneasy feeling that the further we move from the everyday workings of the earth, the less we know of the values that have carried us through centuries of living.  Perhaps Kahil Gibran was right when he said, “your children do not dwell in the same house you live in….you can only visit them in your dreams.”


grannie and dad

R.L. Briggs

In Memory of My Dad #19

If you are shading the wrong side of 50, you are one of the unheeded senior citizens and you can always make an escape to your own personal hideout to get away from the witchy world of today by going into your own kitchen.

Here among the rich smells of good food cooking, and the sight of bottles cooling, you can surround yourself with blessed peace.  God Bless the American Kitchen.

We often revert to the things of our childhood to accomplish a task.  A favorite tree with the branches just right for sitting and daydreaming, perhaps we may have made a beach-head underneath the hanging branches of a cedar tree.  I can even remember digging holes to build an underground room so that we could get away from our parents or the preacher, or some other self-appointed guardian of our childish rights.

Today the aromatic and fun laden kitchen is the in-place to be.

The bombings, the train wrecks and the Republicans fighting it out in New Hampshire fade into insignificance when you unpack the latest gadget for your kitchen; the coffee bean grinder.  It will grind coffee beans coarse or fine, with several settings in between.  It was to be a gift for my daughter at Christmas but someway I ended up with the thing.  Now I must find a place for it.  This is not easy when your supposedly neat kitchen is already cluttered with coffee maker, automatic can opener, you sure can’t discard the ice bucket and the lasagna pans.  So where do we put this newest gadget?  We push the toaster aside making room for it and put it near the bread holder.  However, it’s nice knowing you are the gadget king of the county. 

These specialty catalogues that will mail you anything from Christmas cookies to salmon and fresh steaks, will fill your every need in the culinary closet.  In our kitchen, we have not one but two spaghetti combs.  How did the Romans build the coliseum and the Parthenon without ever inventing the spaghetti comb?  The reason would baffle the ancient scholars.  As a mess of spaghetti rolls and boils, the spaghetti comb is used to straighten the whole mess out until it looks as smooth as one of the Breck girls’ hair on the back page of Good Housekeeping magazine.

There is one item that I feel I should warn you about, and that is whiskey marmalade.  The ad asks:  “Do you have the blahs each morning?  Then have some whiskey marmalade with your English muffin.  It will put zip into your life.  Made from 80 proof Dewar’s Scotch whiskey.”

Now as you drive to work a man in uniform pulls along side and motions you to pull over out of the 65 MPH lane.  He will get out with a toy balloon and tell you to blow it up.  You can say severely, “When I was a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away my childish things.”  Then drive on and leave the trooper standing there with a toy balloon in one hand, as he scratches his head with the other wondering, what happened?  But I digress from my original theme, the kitchen.

Todays kitchen is a blessed retreat for those who wish to withdraw from the hurry-hurry of today’s world that is rushing by so fast.  You can sit beside the kitchen stove, watch the early morning sunrise and listen to a pot of wild plum jelly happily bubbling away on the front burner while you drink that third cup of coffee.  You can think back to your first presidential election when you first became eligible to vote.  You voted for LBJ because he said he didn’t want American boys fighting a war that Asian boys ought to be fighting, and you didn’t hanker to go to Vietnam.  But LBJ kept us into a shooting war with North Vietnam, to make the world safe for democracy.  But, that’s neither here nor there, and the wild plum jelly is about ready to be put into glass jars and capped with a seal of melted wax.

The only thing that ever came easy for me in securing food for a growing family was the gathering of wild plums.  They grow and hang in great clusters like grapes and you can take a machete and a couple of cardboard boxes and gather enough in five minutes that will make enough plum jelly for everyone from Eldon to Welling.

Now it is quiet and the kitchen is all mine as I listen to the purling and boiling of the plums, I can remember other days and other ways. 

I can see an older man ramrod straight and dressed in greasy buckskins bent over a small cooking fire.  He is turning bacon in a heavy cast iron skillet as his horse, a grulla dun crops grass in the background.  His keen blue eyes never look directly into the fire, but the man isn’t too worried because the dun horse would have given a signal if anyone had approached, and he is grazing contentedly.

He has three cooking tools at his disposal, a long-handled fork, a heavy spoon and a skinning knife that has done double duty when the buffalo were plentiful.  His name is not important, but he could be one of your ancestors, or mine.  He is a scout, guide, ranger or perhaps now he rides on the opposite side of the law.  Nevertheless he has led an adventuresome life with the trio of culinary tools and a coffee pot and the heavy iron skillet.

The coffee pot is rusting now in one of his many campsites, the fork and spoon just a memory, but on my kitchen wall, handy to the stove, hangs an iron skillet much the same as the one he cooked his countless meals in, fireblackened and about twelve inches across.

And that reminds me, the bacon is in the pan and store-bought biscuits in the oven, it’s breakfast time once more.

written by R.L. Briggs

In Memory of my Dad #18—Happy Father’s Day!

Although a week late, here is a delightful Father’s Day tribute written by my late dad. Enjoy!


A fellow that I know recently went home to West Texas and he can’t get over what his children did for him for Father’s Day, although it was Memorial Day.

It began with a surprise invitation.

His children, mostly grown, greeted him with guileful smiles and disclosed what was in store.  Even son No. 1 was there.  He had made an easy 11 hour and 40 minute drive from Houston, pulling a 17 foot Chris craft boat equipped with 120 HP motor.

“Dad, guess what?” said daughter No. 1.  “We’re going on a big outing and it’s all in your honor.”  The man gulped as the boys playfully cuffed him around, bloodying his nose.

“It’s true, Dad, anything you want to do, we’ll do.  Make it a huge Memorial Day/Father’s Day combination, since you’re not going to be here for Father’s Day,” chimed in daughter No. 2.

The young folks used this time to formulate plans, as the man looked around for an escape route that he knew was not there.

It was decided that Dad would get the biggest kick out of going to Lake McClellan, a small buffalo wallow of a lake that becomes a kinghell mess on any given holiday.  And this holiday would be worse than any.

“No use protesting, Dad,” said son No. 1.  “It’s all settled.”

The plan as outlined to this dude, was that he go down to the lake early and reserve a good spot, seeing as how there would be a crowd that you couldn’t fit into the Astrodome there on the morning of the 29th.

“Get a nice shady spot,” said son No. 2.  “Make sure you have a place for your folding chair, it’s your day.  Besides we need a place for a headquarters.”

Food!  What would Dad like most to eat on this day?  It was soon decided that hamburgers and ballpark hot dogs would suffice.  “Dad, are you writing this down?’ said daughter No. 1.  “We’ll need plenty of chili and chopped onions and melt some cheese to pour on just before the tabasco sauce.  You’ll want some fritos to crumble on top of that.  And oh yeah, dad, make sure the wieners are those big fat ones.”  Dessert would be double-stuffed oreos.

Dad said with the expensive drugs he was taking since his last stroke, and the small bit of progress he was making in his diet, maybe he shouldn’t.  But they stopped him right there.  “Make sure those are all beef franks, Dad.  If you can’t treat yourself on your own day, you’re going to ruin this for the rest of us.”

Dad apologized and said forget about him.  He would just have a small snack and then go on to the lake.  So Dad went to the lake early that morning, and purchased large quantities of food which he managed to unload in about six trips from the car to the headquarters table—all the while feeling very honored.

At about dark the children arrived, honking their horns and yelling ceremoniously and began unloading surprises—tape decks, loudspeakers, the neighbors’ kids and enough Black Sabbath and Pearl Jam to keep a Memorial Day concert going all night.

Next morning, everybody slept late in honor of Dad, who was allowed to fix breakfast for the whole company.  While clearing away the breakfast dishes, the young folks left to launch the boat.

“You just stay here and take it easy, Dad,” yelled No. 1 from the boat.  “We’ll feel out the water conditions.”  The feeling out was completed at noon.  All the kids returned famished from their feeling out.  While Dad cleared away the noon dishes, his children napped, tired out from honoring Dad so hard.

Then everyone went down and got into the boat, except for Dad.  “Give us a big push and then jump on.  Dad gave a mighty shove and then with a great leap landed knees first on the bow of the boat.  The boat never moved one inch from the bank.  The crunching sound practically made everyone sick as Dad rolled around there on the shores of Lake McClellan, bleeding profusely from both knees.

They were still yelling for him to get medical attention as they headed out to open water for an afternoon of water skiing.

“Dad, as soon as you can walk, have someone look at those knees.” 
“Dad, it doesn’t matter how you load my car, just be careful of those Pearl Jam tapes.”
“Dad, take it easy, and have a wonderful Father’s Day.”
But by then they were out of earshot, having done all that they could do.

They found him there in the late afternoon sun, both knees bandaged brightly, the blood just seeping through the bandages.  He was in a folding chair, head thrown back, sleeping in the thin sunlight.  He heard their voices as in a dream.

“Look at him.  He’s all worn out from all the fun.”
“Somebody get those flies away from his mouth.”
“I can’t wait until next year; it’s a lot of trouble, but Dad’s worth it.”