All I wanted

by Randall Beaird

My cousin Joe worked for the Highway Department. A few years back they were “shooting sealcoat” early one morning, a process of spraying oil on the road before dropping rock on it. The oil has an enamel base making it very sticky.

An older man parked his truck across from a marina and didn’t hear Joe shouting to stay clear of the hot and sticky oil. He took two steps across the black molasses and was stuck, wobbling back and forth. By the time Joe and his crew reached the man he had stepped out of his shoes and was pasted to his knees trying to crawl to freedom.

He was screaming, “What kind of darn stuff is this anyway!” Joe said, “He was like a fly on flypaper.” The more they struggled to free him, the more stuck he became. It was soon clear something was going to have to give. Joe heard something rip and thought it was the man’s overalls coming apart at the knees. If only the old man was so lucky. Everyone soon saw the overalls coming apart at the straps and he was coming on out! Was he ever–the frantic situation turned to sheer desperation as the man screamed out, “I aint got any drawers on!”

Before they knew it the guy was standing beside the road with nothing on but a T-shirt. Joe and his crew were trying hard not to laugh, and definitely not to stare, but the smiles were thick chiclets across the board.

Shaken and frustrated, the man walked back to his truck hollering, “ALL I WANTED WAS A DADBURN NEWSPAPER!” Well, Joe bought him a paper and sent him home wearing only his Tshirt.

Think of the story he told his wife showing up wearing that. We’ve all had one of those all I wanted was a newspaper mornings. My worst was a rooster dancing on my head before breakfast. But, being pasted onto hot oil is hard to beat.

Shirley the lawnmower

by Randall Beaird

Shirley, nephew David, Johnnyboy

Shirley, nephew David, Johnnyboy

There are lawnmowers, and there is Shirley. A few years ago (1996)my little farm (Jacksonville) had a little grass. Around April it was growing muscles and nursing a forest. I flashed lawnmower specials from the mail and waved my fist from the backdoor. There was a little choking going on. Maybe the grass, maybe the weeds or baby trees–I couldn’t tell who, but someone was winning.

The battle was ten feet high when I pulled into the Tri-County Livestock Auction to buy my secret weapon. Shirley was the last goat sold and at sixteen dollars, I knew her eight teeth would send anything green to its knees.

She was a beauty when it comes to mowers, but she was still a baby, only about two weeks old. I put her in the pen after a disastrous attempt at giving her a bottle. She was probably hungry, definitely wild-eyed and nervous; I would try again later I thought.

I was so proud of Shirley’s new pen, so pleased to have my mower, and so surprised to see Shirley gone. I turned around for two seconds, and the cattle panel pen was empty. I raced around the perimeter beating back the jungle,only to spot her bouncing up the hill. There was an hour of daylight to catch Shirley, or something faster would.

With hands in the air, I tiptoed after her. She spotted me and took off like a deer. I’m fast, but never was a great hopper. Nephews are great for catching goats, and I was off for reinforcements.

Shirley, David and Johnnyboy

Shirley, David and Johnnyboy

Upon returning, we found Shirley and eased her into a corner. With only barbed wire to stop her, I asked Matthew, Jake and David to stand guard as I inched closer. I knew my frightened mower would bolt; if only I was close enough for a saving dive.

How far I dove, I don’t know, but my body was stretched flat for a while as Shirley shot from the corner. The subsequent crash, I do know, left me breathless as I bounced off the turf. I couldn’t breathe but had a leg. I had Shirley, and a nice portion of whiplash to go.

I could have used a neckbrace for three days as I improved Shirley’s pen. The bottle was tried again; things can change quickly. Shirley found her long-lost mother and it was me. I never was a mama, much less a super mama. All it took was a bottle, some milk and a nipple.

I bought Johnnyboy, a Great Pyrenees puppy, to protect Shirley. I knew it was a good sign when I found them sleeping in the doghouse together. You might remember Sara; I called him Sara by accident for a while.

Reader beware–Shirley was contagious. Goat fever is real; I had it. You become intoxicated at the thought of finding a good deal. You sit at the sale barn with a motley crew and wave hands to win the goat. After three months, I had won thirty.

They were all in heaven as my farm’s grass, leaves and vines began to quiver and feel the heat. It was amazing to see them chomp down the poison ivy that only weeks before had my arms ripped with blisters.jacksonville

Goats have Houdini blood. After a little hog wire here and some electric wire there, they only got loose about once a week. They know follow the leader well–crazy pilot goats that jump and wiggle; everyone follows. I kept staring wondering who as I rattled come home feed. Walking papers were handed to three. Do not pass go; do not make Mr. Beaird shake corn against the setting sun.

Springtime rolled around as baby goats hit the ground. You can deliver different things on the run before dinner–the mail, a message, a great pass, but when you help deliver a tiny goat, you better have a little lemon scented joy to grab and lather.

Finally, I shook the fever and sold half the herd. Some were invited over for dinner by honkers at my gate; others made the trip to the sale barn for a wild-eyed trot in front of the auctioneer and waving hands. When I moved, Shirley was in the last bunch to go. I made sure she wasn’t going as dinner, but as foundation stock for a Boer goat rancher.

Lawnmowers come in all shapes and sizes, but you can bet my next one will be named Shirley, even if it has ten horses and is painted red. I’ll just make sure no one is watching when I pat the hood.

Old houses

by Randall Beaird

Most of us have lived in houses older than our parents. You know the bathroom floor is ripe for a redo when you have to warn visitors, while pointing at the wobbly commode, “Think butterfly, not buffalo.” They usually got the message as I crossed my fingers, tiptoed away and tried not to listen.

My search for shelter a few years ago landed a 1939 model at my feet (in Dayton). Vacant for two years, it was thirsty for more than just paint. Several of the floor joists were ripped with rot and hung like the tired arms of Atlas; they were bent but had one last push to hold up their world.

I bought two six ton jacks and slipped into the mode of a mole. After ten minutes, I adopted two methods of snaking my way back and forth under the sagging giant. The belly crawl was good, but I stumbled into the tortilla roll. I found I could make great time by rolling back and forth like a tortilla.

Afterwards I was the living dust bag, but my forehead kissed less spider-ridden wood. New joists were soon riding piggy-back on the old while strategically placed concrete blocks, with varying degrees of wooden hats, saw the low parts rise with each rickety click of the jack. Finally it was their turn to carry the load, as the jack inched down in retreat.

Meanwhile the old tin roof was begging for attention. Maybe thick and leak free, but the tin was wearing an ugly jacket of rust. After mopping one can of roof paint on, I opted for the efficiency of a four inch brush. But with the brush carpal tunnel started to strangle my right wrist. I busted my left one out of the pen with such fervor I was giving demonstrations the next day. But by now daylights saving time had left town. Looking up at a roof needing work had me feeling down–darkness slapped my plans hard.

However, there are lights and there are airplane lights. We need a law outlawing darkness before eight! Two five hundred watt work lights and myself were soon perched atop and painting. Everything was fine until I went to fetch some more paint. Down the ladder….got fresh paint….up the ladder, I was excited–the tin was turning into a giant silver nickel!

Well, as I tiptoed back across the roof to continue, I forgot and walked over a painted portion in the shadows. Four feet across and about the time I said uh-oh, I slipped and was sliding down the roof like a startled toboggan rider. My options were limited, even more so because each hand held a gallon of paint. I thought this is a little funny but could be painful.

My first plan was to cradle the paint to my chest like a baby, protecting it from a fatal spill. But as I went airborne off the roof, holding two cans of paint, my self-preservation instinct kicked in– the cans went sailing. I wish I could say I landed like a cat or hit the ground running. But the cans did the flips while I landed like I left the roof. Faked out of my skin by the absence of injury, my heart twisted, the thud was impressive, but the pain never came.

There were other injuries. I rushed over to one can of paint. Like a car wreck, the can was on its side bleeding profusely. When you buy high dollar paint with special fibers, there’s a special attachment. I paddled it back into place thinking and thankful I was due a nice landing. (Broken legs and ribs once painted my name on hospital hill with football, horses and boats gathered on the brush, while little cotton stitches belted out a medley on the dangers of wood railings, barbed wire and sliding glass doors.)

I never rode a sled down a icy hill, but for several days, until I painted again, there was a rusty trail up high saluting my late night ride.

Back to my roots

by Randall Beaird

I visited a childhood friend during the summer of ’94. Doug’s family was living on a farm, a place where I spent much of my childhood. With their animals and solitude, my mind drifted back in time. The grass is always greener, and theirs was a thick, plush carpet of peace. Deep down inside something snapped; I had to get back to my roots.

I traded life in a Rockwall condo for life on a Caddo Mills farm. The hard life began with a real battle to place utilities and driveway on the blackland prairie.

I sold my townhouse, bought a used mobile home, and waited for a break in 94’s fall monsoons. Finally, a slight respite from the rain, a small dry window came, just large enough to lodge the trailer in my neighbor’s ditch. With the ditch posing as my winter home, white knuckled luck struck; my dying tractor coughed to life as the blood red sun dove behind the trees. The gasping tractor limped along, pulling my new life to a virgin homesite. My flashlight stabbed the dark as rain swollen clouds circled. Utilities rose out of a muddy trench; my new life began.

While moving my furniture out of storage, I did hand to hand combat with an evil rat family. They ate my couch cushion and left me little presents everywhere. I was charged up enough to make a barbecued rat kabob; running for their lives, they safely dodged all manner of projectiles and dinner plans.

Two nights later, the Royse City cyclone almost whipped my trailer to the next county. Hooked only to the tractor, while faking sleep on the floor with the moved-in rubble, my trailer shook and shimmied like the hula girl on patrol. I had no tie-downs and figured I was a dead man. A recurring thought, as I pulled the blanket over my head, was “Lord, what have I done?” I woke to discover dozens of trailers destroyed in the area. Mine’s spastic bob and wobble dodged the wind’s vicious grip, or I had a few points with the man upstairs.

Chickens barely edged out a dog for my first barnyard addition. Visions of crowing roosters, fried egg sandwiches, and a grasshopper patrol, bounced me into the feed store. I bought the only chicks left, four, and they began farm life in the extra bedroom.

It was time to add a watchdog. A secretary was giving one away where I worked. A black and tan mutt puppy, I thought Fred would blend right in; there was peace for two months. In a cloud of dust, the savage pecking order rode naked and bareback onto the farm.

One of my roosters, a small red bantie, turned into a cold blooded teenager. He learned to crow, to pick fights, and act like the toughest thing alive. Big Red began to bully Fred who was being as polite as a Sunday School teacher.

I encouraged Fred to be nice, to turn the other cheek, while I chased the psycho rooster away. Big Red jumped on Fred like a mad kick-boxer. Fred tried to run, to lie low, but Big Red’s hobby was finding him. After a week of spurs slashing at his back, Fred had had enough. One day I found Fred and what was left of Big Red in the doghouse; a foot and some feathers, Big Red was dead.

I gave Fred a half-hearted lecture on not eating the chickens. The rooster must have been delicious, as Fred made an innocent hen his afternoon snack two days later. After one more casualty, I sent Fred packing. He taught a bully, tasted heaven, and had hell to pay. No more juicy chickens–I gave Fred away.

To replace Fred, I bought a Chihuahua. She was a tiny one, so I named her Tina–too small to eat chickens! My good friend Mark came over with his new bride, Tina. My new dog Tina was hard to explain. I think he thought I had a thing for his Tina. Wrinkled brows canceled any farewell hugging.

Normally, a Chihuahua is too wimpy for my taste. Two things: The fiasco with Fred, and by this time I also had three pigs. My pigs were always hungry; I knew Tina would be satisfied. I loved Tina, but to balance things out, I needed a motorcycle to grind out laps around the trailer.

Driving Ms. Paula

by Randall Beaird and Paula Hancock

My mother wrote a novel and attends a writer’s group to help sharpen it for publication. A couple years ago (1998) she told me about Paula, some sort of genius writer. I always wanted to do an article with another writer so I wrote her a short note. “Your sagacity and prose made some sort of large impression with my mother. Can we go out and write a story afterwards?”

This was one for my personal record book. When Randall asked me out on a date, I couldn’t help but be surprised. Jana and Jodi, my co-workers behind the desk, perked up as he explained that his mother had met me at a writers meeting and said he should comepaulahancock1 by and say hello. I was mostly impressed with the fact that he came in, prepared to ask me out, having never laid eyes on me. It was a sort of fresh, new age chivalry that I immediately warmed up to. In this fast moving world of electronic everything, most communication seems to be On-line in the form of email. It is handy at times, but lacks that special personal touch. For a day or two, Randall and I sent “mail” back and forth. I sent him a few things I had written and he wrote some creative anecdotes about me as a banker. Sometimes I wonder what swims around in that mind of his! We decided to take a ride down to my family’s farm in Timpson, a tiny suburb of Nacogdoches. Nacogdoches has been the source of some wonderful times for me. Randall seemed to think I had some strange fixation with the college there, Stephen F. Austin. He made the suggestion that while we were there I might want to touch the school building. He is full of those crazy ideas. I decided that I could will myself not to touch the building, if I could attend school in the spring or fall. It is something I have always wanted to do.

After reading Paula’s stories, I knew I was in for a treat. Her words drip emotion to the door, then down the drive halfway to the street; your mind doesn’t know if it needs a towel or its been scorched by the tip of a golden candle. I knew it would be tough not to stare too much on the date. Once underway, thunder crashed and the drops came in wicked sheets. The rain soaked roads kept my eyes strapped in straight ahead; we practically surfed down to her great love and my alma mater, S.F.A. I liked how Paula raised it to the glory of all academia.

The trip to the farm got rained out. It’s mostly dirt and gravel roads; I was afraid we’d slide off the road and into the ditch. Randall would make me push the truck out of the mud if we got stuck, and I didn’t want to risk it! I am, of course, kidding, but we postponed that little adventure just the same. Instead, we had lunch at a quaint little place I used to eat at as a child, The Bar-b-que House, right off the loop in Nacogdoches. The hickory smoke almost knocked us down when we walked in the door. Randall made sure to rake me over the coals about that one. He joked, “Don’t hesitate to add another
vent or two.” I couldn’t help but laugh. Lunch was nice. The bottled sodas and rustic atmosphere brought back innumerable childhood memories. There was rusty plow tools and ancient horse tack on the walls, and a kind old wooden Indian waiting to greet you at the door. I told him that at one time there had been sawdust on the floor. He didn’t believe me, but when the cook confirmed my story I had to gloat a bit.

Yes, Paula was right. But walking in you could’ve yelled fire!, until you realized it was just your dinner taking one last puff before being drug off the grill. You could hardly see your fellow diners. “Uh-oh, we might want to drop and roll to get to our booth.”

We continued down North St., looking for the Sterne-Hoya house. I know I was rambling on about growing up in the woods on the outskirts of Nacogdoches, but Randall listened like a champ and only made fun of me a couple of times. Unfortunately, the Sterne-Hoya was closed for the holidays, so we made a run through the historic district of town. Those old homes are fascinating and quiet haunting. I enjoyed the drive. After lunch and an exciting ride, we headed home. Randall wanted to stop by his house in Jacksonville. He has a great place. The house is a unique little home place with lots of room and glorious fresh air. A huge herd of horses ran free close by in the back. The trees stood in quiet solitude and guarded the back yard. Randall knows the place well, and it agrees with him.

My house was marginal; my trees incredible. Three trees would bounce any arborist across the yard like a hard rubber ball. The Post Oak is fourteen feet around with an 85 foot spread. The Cottonwood is sixteen feet around, hollowed out in the middle and near death while the Black Walnut spreads out like a giant sea fan. Some lecture to cut the old Cottonwood down before it kills me in its fall. Others beg to let it die in peace.

On the way home, I was quiet, perhaps for the first time. I know Randall was glad. He had heard me talk almost the entire trip. His ears were probably ringing. There was a certain fulfillment in my heart. I was content with the company and the beauty of the fall colors streaming by the road. There was a sweet peace and smile on my face. I hope Randall and I can go out again.

On the way home, I felt a little guilty obtaining such cute company in the pursuit of a story. But driving Ms. Paula around was worth the verdict.