Checking in from Benjamin, TX …
“Waltz Across Texas” is a 1965 hit song by Ernest Tubb, the Texas Troubadour, and a blog title suggested by our new friend, Donny Palmer of the Texas Bankers Association. Am I the only one old enough to remember when Ernest Tubb had a Saturday evening television show in the late 50’s and early 60’s? Came on right before Lawrence Welk. My grandparents would never miss it. I remember watching with them one evening when Ernest’s guest star was Porter Wagoner and his new protégé, a pretty buxom girl named Dolly Parton. From that day on, my grandfather, George Wood, was a Dolly fan. Sometime in each show, Ernest would turn around to his accomplished steel guitar player and say “pick it out, Butterball.” Ernest was born in Crisp, TX (now a ghost town), lived for a while in Benjamin where we are currently and claimed Fort Worth as his home.
I would never describe my trip across Texas as a waltz — maybe a walk, a trek, a hike or a trudge. Regardless, both Brenda and I are thoroughly enjoying our time in the Lone Star State. So far, we’ve traversed the Piney Woods section of the state, the Prairie and Lakes section and are now in the Panhandle Plains section. This is truly a huge and varied state. We love the changing terrain. We’ve just crossed a crest area known as the Narrows, which is scarred by gullies, ravines, canyons, ridges and buttes. This crest separates the drainage basins of the Wichita River, which flows into the Mississippi River and the Brazos, which winds towards the Rio Grande and Gulf of Mississippi. The area is a rich ancient hunting ground with fresh springs, plenty of buffalo grass and, for many years, herds of mustangs, which provided mounts for Indian tribes including the Comanches, Wichitas, Kiowas and Apaches. As a fan of the Western movie genre, I am really enjoying being in Texas and the West.
The small towns of this part of the state are pretty far apart, requiring Brenda to drive long distances just to ferry me to and from my start and ending point for my walks (generally two a day). We stayed three nights in an RV park in Seymour, owned by Judge Glen Moss and his wife Myra, while I covered 30 plus miles both east and then west of the town. That may become the norm for much of the rest of our journey through West Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. While in Seymour, we enjoyed a meal at the Rock Inn Café, which has been named one of the 40 best cafes in the state. The food was good and the atmosphere was unique at least to us. Each table came with its own flyswatter to keep the pests at bay.
In Megargel, TX we came across a cemetery dating back to 1910 when it first interred a two-day-old son, Arza, buried by his father. Many of the buried were born back in the 1850’s and of Bohemian descent, with names including Kulhanek, Bohac, Kunkel and Pechacek. One grave had a concrete 6-inch wall around it with a decorative weathered wooden fence on top and a tin cross with no name. Others buried here include military veterans of conflicts dating to the Civil War and some veterans had coins on their tombstone. But a couple of gravesites stood out with such messages engraved on the tombstone that read, “loved to dance at honky tonks; the man that loved to cook for everyone in the family; dadgumit was his favorite word”. On the backside of the tombstone it listed all of his loved ones, including sons, and brothers and sisters. Several tombstones had oilrigs, trucks, racecars, charcoal grills and campers etched on them.
Insects have begun to “bug” me on my walks — buffalo gnats, mosquitoes, biting black flies, even an occasional deerfly or horsefly. My legs are apparently target number one. So I’ve had to break out the insect repellent. Now if you meet me along the road, I am surrounded by an exotic aroma that is a mixture of Coppertone Sport, Skin So Soft, Sore No More (an analgesic gel) and sweat. And that’s the good parts of the odor surrounding me.
Most all of us are proud of our home states. Regardless of where we have lived, Brenda and I have always proudly defined ourselves as North Carolinians. But Texans are fiercely proud, and rightly so. Almost every home or building is adorned with the Texas flag, the distinctive five-pointed Texas star in a circle or some emblem evidencing Texas pride. After crossing a good part of the state, it is easy to see why. The land is beautiful and varied. Big is the order of the day. The people are friendly, hospitable and often generous. While many don’t live extravagant lives, they work hard and have a strong sense of accomplishment. In the small towns, outside distractions are limited, and family and friends become the source of both entertainment and solace. Texas may represent American values at its best. God bless Texas.
In the last couple of days, the purposes of my walk and our trip have been reaffirmed for me. Our friend, Myra in Seymour, a heart bypass survivor with a family history of heart disease, informed us that she has reactivated her daily exercise regime after being inspired by my walk. And late on Wednesday afternoon, a lady named Natalie who was driving from Georgia to Lubbock flagged me down. She was traveling with three children (Ruthie, Liam and a baby whose name I didn’t get). She dug in her pocketbook and pulled out $11, which she asked me to give to the American Heart Association in honor of baby Reece Martin, a friend’s child who died of a heart defect. Then young Liam handed me four quarters, all the money he had. Generosity like this makes every step of my walk worthwhile.
In the next few days, we head into what the locals call the big ranch country (though the ranches we have already encountered look huge to me) and slowly climb the CapRock Escarpment to the high plains around Lubbock. The schedule for the next few days has me walking on US Highway 82 through the towns of Guthrie, Dickens, Ralls and Crosbyton.