The Barbed Wire Fence Is Down

It’s nine degrees in Austin. We’ve had half a foot of snow in the area, says the KXAN webpage. I haven’t looked out, so I don’t know if we’re in the area. I do know the electricity is out, so it must be our turn for the rolling blackout. And I woke before six a.m., couldn’t go back to sleep, and so got up so I could be bored here instead of in bed.

I’m not used to this. Few who’ve lived in Central Texas any length of time are.

In extra-cold weather,  my mother used to say there was nothing between us and the North Pole but a barbed wire fence. Somebody took the fence down.

When I was a child and the electricity failed, we used kerosene lamps. But we don’t have those, and our lease probably prohibits them, although not specifically. It prohibits candles, but I doubt anyone thinks about kerosene lamps anymore. I don’t know if you can still buy kerosene. I guess you can. I haven’t had a use for it lately.

David left a while ago ago for Home Depot (we pronounce it Dehpot), pushing a dolly (we pronounce it doily) for firewood. (Someday I’ll say those words in company where I’d rather not say them and be thought strange, but what else is new.) HD is in walking distance, if you like that kind of thing. I couldn’t dissuade him. He said firewood will be in demand so he’d better go as soon as they open (six a.m.). He didn’t mention that he never gets cold, or that’s the way it appears to me, but he’s from Illinois so this isn’t a big deal to him. I guess.

It’s a big deal to me. I worry about hypothermia and slipping on ice and breaking something and not being able to get up and a myriad of other possibilities. I suppose worrying keeps me from being bored. Writing a blog post keeps me from worrying.

After he’d been gone several minutes, he called to tell me to call HD and ask if they were open, weather conditions being what they are. I had to google for the number, and I can’t see the keyboard, so that took a while. Then I found his phone wasn’t on. He called a few minutes ago to say he might have to cut some firewood and so he’d be gone longer than planned.

I had visions of him having to buy a saw and find a tree, but the cutting would be done at HD. I still have a country mentality, for which I do not apologize. Sometimes it comes in handy. Country folk aren’t as dumb as is sometimes depicted. We just have a different concept of firewood.

David built a fire last night, our first in this apartment. Practicing, I guess, since we already all toasty. It’s working fine, if you’re sitting in the fireplace.

My father didn’t like fireplaces. He said when he was young and fireplaces were the main source of heat, there was always a dog lying right in front of the fire and everyone else froze. I can imagine my grandfather thinking that’s where the dog should sleep.

So far the cats are ignoring this one. Last night there was a fire in the courtyard outside our living room. I was about to sound an alarm when I realized David had just built one in the fireplace behind me and it was reflecting in the window. Ernest the Cat, sitting in my lap, was just as concerned as I was, about both. He backed away from the real one and ran to the bedroom. William seems unconcerned, but that’s his usual attitude.

We had a similar situation at our previous apartment. David got the fire going, the living room filled with smoke, our fire alarm went off, and Chloe the cat marched up the stairs. I met her when I was coming down. She was the only cat I’ve ever seen who could purse her lips in disgust.

We have nine hours of logs after this one burns down, plus embers. I like to think we’ll be in line for electricity by then. I thought David was  crazy to go out in the cold but smart to stock up on firewood. In Texas, you never know. As they say, if you don’t like the weather here, just wait a few minutes.

This time it’ll be more than a few minutes. According to the forecast, this will last for a while.

David and the wood have just returned. Scrap pine. Looks like boards to me. It doesn’t look like it’ll last that long, but it also doesn’t catch fire quickly. It does pop, as pine should. He read the thermostat and said the fireplace is working well–it was sixty-nine degrees in here. Not where I’m sitting, I thought. He reread and said it’s really fifty-nine. I think it’s thirty-nine. He also wonders if we’re part of the rolling black-out because it’s gone on so long (he gets up early). I’ve never been in a rolling black-out, so I wouldn’t know.

He also raised the blinds. Yes, we did get snow. A significant amount. No dead grass is sticking up through it. The local news website says six inches in “the area,” but we might not be in the area. I’m not going outside to see how much we got, and heaven forbid I should build a snowman. It’s pretty. It’s also time for it to go away.

When we were in Alaska, I bought a sweatshirt at Denali. It was summer–and amazingly comfortable to this Texan–and I thought the purchase an extravagance. When I went through my closet, tossing unnecessary clothes before last year’s move, I considered getting rid of it. How glad I am that I didn’t. I wish I had kept the huge, baggy turtleneck I gave away. The one I’m wearing is okay, but I could use more coverage. I wish I had some wool slacks. I wish my sweats weren’t in the wash. I’m wondering if I could get some flannel pajamas over the slacks I’m wearing. I wonder if I can fit into that heavy wool coat I bought in 1992. It’s sitting in the pile that needs to go to the dry cleaner after Covid lets up, but I’m willing to make allowances.

I wonder why I don’t wrap up in several of the throws David has given me, plus a couple of blankets. I wonder why I don’t get on my stationary bike and generate some heat. I wonder why I don’t retrieve the blanket that’s covering it to keep Ernest from chewing the foam rubber off the handlebars.

I wonder why I don’t take my Kindle and go back to bed. I could pull the covers over my head and read.

It’s fifty-nine in here.

It’s nine outside. I’m lucky. I hope everyone has shelter and warmth and everything else they need to make it safely through the cold.

The Lowdown on the Political Road

The gravel road in the picture below (and, for a time, in the header above) runs from Texas State Highway 80 just north of the town of Fentress to where it intersects with Farm-to-Market Road 20, about five miles to the northeast.

The sign at the intersection reads Political Road. The sign denotes Caldwell County’s approval, but the name existed about a zillion years before anyone thought about marking it.

And therein lies a tale. I relate it as it was told to me, but, in deference to the etiquette of small-town life, I omit names.

The Political Road
The Political Road

Once upon a time in the 1920s (or maybe the 1930s; I didn’t listen carefully enough), the formerly insignificant thoroughfare rose to prominence during a race for County Commissioner of the local precinct. The incumbent promised that, if elected, he would pave the road.

Hence, people in the area started calling it the Political Road, and the name stuck.

When I went to Fentress a couple of months ago, I drove the length of the Political Road. I expected to see it built up with new houses.

But there’s still not much out there.

I saw some cows resting beside a dying fire. That was a welcome sight. I love cows. I don’t see them often enough. They are superior to houses.

So that’s the story of the Political Road.

Except for one more thing: The incumbent County Commissioner lost the election.

The road still isn’t paved.


Backroads of Texas by Larry Hodge and Ed Syers is a good source of information about roads more interesting than I-35 and SH  130.

List of highways numbered 20
List of highways numbered 20 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)






It Doesn’t Rain at Night in June

Rain, Rainy weather
Image via Wikipedia

For anyone who hasn’t heard the shouts of wild rejoicing, here’s the latest weather report:

Shortly after 1:00 a.m., thunder rumbled and the skies opened.

And once more the humble little cenizo proved itself a prophet: a harbinger of rain.

Forgive the purple prose; I’m still a touch giddy.

A piece of lore I picked up in my youth went like this: In Texas, it doesn’t rain at night in June.

When I was nine or ten and had had several years to ponder the statement, I pointed out that I’d awakened in the night and heard rain falling on the roof.

Of course, someone would say. That was after midnight, which means it was morning. Because in Texas, it doesn’t rain at night in June.

Some parts of Central Texas had as much as 3.5 inches this morning. Austin proper didn’t get that much. The airport, several miles west, got an inch and a half. I don’t think my part of town did that well. But we’re grateful for what we got. It cooled things down.

In my family, rain always brought the same response. My father herded us into the car so we could drive around and see the results. Were the ditches full of water? Was it standing in the fields? Did it rain on York Creek as much as it did closer to town? We could spend hours on a Sunday afternoon, exploring the back roads, speculating on what the precipitation would do to grass, cotton, corn, maize…whatever happened to be growing at the time.

(Note: In those days, I didn’t always appreciate the finer points of rainfall. I usually sat in the back seat with my nose in a book.)

Once my family joined my uncle and aunt on a Sunday afternoon tour of the wetlands. We passed property belonging to one of the town’s more outspoken citizens–in fact, this citizen had for several months been saying some undeservedly nasty things about my uncle, day after day, in his presence (that’s another story). He was a public servant and generally mild-mannered, so he never responded. But his good nature was beginning to fray.

When we reached the gate, he stopped the car, hopped out, and made his way through puddles to the fence, where the rain gauge held a couple of inches of water. He took the gauge off its stand, filled it with water from the ditch, and set it back in place.

He came back to the car grinning. “Tomorrow old Soandso will come into the post office telling how she got over six inches out at her place.”

In other words, if you can’t–or are too much of a gentleman to–lick ’em, just play a practical joke.

That was over forty years ago. Some people I know are still laughing.

Day 5: Why I am not a journalist.

In one of my favorite scenes from the Mary Tyler Moore Show, news writer Murray Slaughter bets assistant producer Mary Richards that she can’t write a news story. Mary says she can.

Just then, a story comes in, something big, a scoop. It must be written up and rushed to anchorman Ted Baxter, who in just a matter of seconds will utter his sign-off:  “Good night, and good news.”

Murray, smiling, bows to Mary.

Mary rolls a sheet of paper into her typewriter. She types about half a sentence. Then she stops. She spaces down and starts another sentence. She stops. She spaces down and starts over again. She stops. She spaces down… Everyone in the newsroom is standing around her desk, watching…She spaces down…

Finally, at the last minute, Murray loads his typewriter, and, fingers flying, types the story, rips the paper from the machine, and hands it to producer Lou Grant, who runs for the anchor desk.

And that’s why I’m not a journalist. I’m not Murray. I’m Mary.

That, and because I knew that if I took a journalism course, I would have to talk to people: call them on the phone, request interviews, ask them questions. I had no intention of talking to people I didn’t know.

And then someone would expect me to write a lot and faster than I was capable of, or thought I was capable of.

I look back and wonder how I got to that point. Not the distaste for talking to people I didn’t know–I’ve always had that–but the difficulty with writing.

I grew up loving to write. By the time I was seven, I was writing long letters to great-aunts and aunts and cousins. Once when I was home from school, enjoying ill health, my mother let me use my father’s fountain pen.  Once I used a pencil with a point so dull I doubt the recipients could read the for smears on the pages.

The summer I was eight, I spent the month of June in Central Texas with an aunt and uncle while my mother stayed in Dallas with my grandmother, who was ill. My father, who remained in Del Rio working, visited one weekend and brought me a present: a ream of legal-sized paper.

On a scale of one to ten, most children would have rated a ream of paper at minus 3. I gave it a twelve. I wrote my own newspaper. Most articles covered weddings between various cats and dogs of my acquaintance. I had a talent for describing bridesmaids’ dresses worn by Blackie and Bootsie and Kitty and Pat Boone (my fox terrier). It was a devastating little parody of a small-town newspaper.

And then somewhere along the line, I did what my thesis adviser told me, twenty years later, not to do: I got tangled up in words. Writing was no longer fun. Confidentially, I think it had something to do with school and outlines.

It was years before someone said, “You can’t write an outline until you know what you’re going to say, and you can’t know what you’re going to say until you’ve written something.”

Write it and then fix it. And lighten up.

Sometimes I do lighten up. When I write the blog, I lighten up. I’m fluent. Words pour out. Unless I’m trying to be serious and sincere and profound. I cannot try to matter. I’m not a profound writer. I think profound, but I write shallow, and there’s nothing I can do about that.

And I would never put myself into the little journalism box. That’s pressure. And I still don’t want to talk to people I don’t know. I’d rather make up the facts myself.

I don’t like talking to reporters, either. I always tell them to be sure to make me sound intelligent. One young lady told me she didn’t have to fix anything because I talk in complete sentences. I told her that was an accident.

Now. It’s past my midnight deadline. I think I’ll still be okay for NaBloPoMo because it runs on Pacific Daylight Time (for another forty-eight hours).

But that is not, at this moment, of paramount concern. My dedication to adhering to rigid contest guidelines has lessened.

I’m lightening up.