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Saturday, May 8, 2021

Texas notes: Severed

     Soon to be Ex-Austin-Bureau-Chief Caren Jeskey shares her journey home to Chicago.

     Skeeter Sims. Mule Clark. Hoot Owl Hatcher. Turkey Beckham. Baby Beef Chandler. I stepped gingerly around faded Texas stars emblazoned into a sidewalk in Cooper, Texas. As I read the names memorialized in the middle of each concrete star, I thought “how beautiful. This town really loves their animals.” Then something inside of me (I hear her a lot these days, my inner intuitive voice) spoke up and said “Those are the names of people.” I was touched. Imagine your name preserved into a sidewalk of the town where you lived. What an honor.
     I did not know why these particular names were chosen. Were they veterans? I surmised that my question would be answered when I got to the starting point of the display. I made my way down, photographing each and every name since they were all too good to be true. Foxy Roan. Pig Choate. Bat Poteet.   
     But no. All I got was a marker for a Miller’s Pharmacy, and more names. I learned that Goebel Templeton was from the nearby town of Charleston. He seemed well loved and had extra signage. Hubster Doctor Lawyer Teacher Preacher From The Holy Land. He’s someone I might have liked to meet. We could have sat down and had a soda or a whiskey and cigar on a bench near a cobblestone street. I could have listened to his story and marveled that his life was so different than mine, even though we are both “American.”
     I’ve learned in my time here in the Country of Texas that people are more like snowflakes—in a good, individualistic way—than I ever knew before. I have a soft spot in my heart for almost everyone I’ve met, especially countless seniors I spent time with along the way in the hospitals where I worked. There was the man who wanted to set me up with an oil guy. That was before he got pissed at the doctor and went to his truck to get his shotgun. The crisis was averted with the help of local law enforcement, thank goodness. What I will remember about him, more than the threat of feudal violence he displayed, was the time he recited a poem he’d written for his wife when she was 12 years old. At the time of this reading she was in her late 80s without much mental capacity left. As he recited the poem she sat up in her bed & came to life. She murmured the words she could remember along with him, and we all cried. (I won’t get into the fact that I was disciplined for crying at work when a stone-faced bitchy nurse reported my “lack of professionalism.”)
    I reached out to the host on the ranch I am staying on to ask about the names. “They are people who have animal names that have lived in the community. Wolfe Lowery is my husband’s uncle.” Goebel may not be an animal name per se, but it’s the name of a company that makes animal figurines. I am starting to get it.
     As I researched more about Mr. G, I learned that a 500-pound meteorite fell to this part of the earth during the passage of Halley's Comet, bringing some publicity to the community of Charleston in May of 1910, 111 years ago. Mr. G would have been about 3 years old at that time. How did that affect his life? What did his folks think about this comet that fell from the sky?
     It’s not lost on me that I am in the land of flat-earthing non-masking Ted Cruz-loving folks. Did they think the Lord sent the comet for a reason? This land is my land, this land is your land. Staunch Pentecostals and atheists alike are invited! So here I am, exploring this land that belongs as much to me (well, the public lands and thoroughfares I traverse, and sometimes the places I rent) as it does to anyone else. My mind is being blown over and over again in the Big Star State that I am going to leave behind later today.
     So far on this jaunt in Cooper, I got spooked by a horse who was probably more scared than me. I met teens fishing for crappie who’ve never been out of East Texas, the same horse doesn’t like cucumbers and spat the one I offered him back out to me, opting for flowering clover instead, and I almost stepped on a severed drum head. I huddled and quaked under blankets and pillows the other night while 87 mph winds raced across the plains and lightening was continuous. I was terrified. Friends in Louisiana and California followed the radar and texted me with advice and comforting words during the tornado watch, until it passed.
     Tomorrow I will go find the tiny house community I was told about today, and perhaps visit another small town to learn of its charm. Yes, this is the South and I am always aware that certain people are far from being welcomed here, are far from safe, and that makes me sad. I’ll be back in Chicago soon enough where I can continue to do my part to affect social justice while enjoying my “one wild and precious life” in the words of Mary Oliver. Wishing you the same.


  1. Texans are a hard lot, Caren. My Navy unit in the early '70s had a couple dozen Texicans, all but one friendly as could be. Half seemed to own guitars, most had Latigo belts with two names stamped in the back but were nicer to this Yankee than most New Yorkers I met in the service.. But today they seem increasingly racist and definitely anti-democratic. Not surprising from the State that gave us the clueless George W. Bush. Good to see you making your escape, as an article in the SunTimes today reports on the new restrictive Texas voting law. All lovers of freedom and democracy should cease to travel to, or conduct business of any kind with the Red States presently subverting democracy. Glad to welcome you home.

    1. Yes, I have been hearing about that. Seems a very good time to leave. Glad you were treated well when you were down under. :)

  2. Caren, you seem to have encountered far more than your share of Texholes in the "helping professions" (yeah, right) while living in that benighted state. Stone-faced bitchy nurses, obnoxious bastard doctors who called you a "Socialst Worker" (I sure as hell haven't forgotten that one), and POS administrators who denigrated you for handing out bus passes to black patients. A carload of clowns who demeaned you, belittled you, vilified you, insulted you to your face, crucified you, and flat-out bullied you. Especially while you were cornered in elevators.

    Naturally, you had no recourse. I'm sure Texas employment law, and employee rights, are either non-existent or a joke at best. And enslave you at worst. Why feel any regret or remorse upon departing such a shithole country? I say country, rather than state, because one of their tourist slogans (back in the Eighties) used to be "Tex-ass: It's a Whole Other Country"...damn betcha it is. And it ought to be. Let them secede, if they so desire.

    I will never forget the Thanksgiving...less than a week after JFK bought it...when my drunken uncle began ranting about how Texas, and Texans, should be expelled from what was already becoming the Untied Snakes. I was just sixteen, and had never been down there yet. That changed. In just a few more years, I had a few Texas experiences that I won't go into right now. Other stories, for other times.

    You are leaving just in the nick of time, Caren. Austin is now a "hot city" (gag, retch)...and among the fastest-growing places in the country, with just under a million people.Soon to be among the top ten largest cities, if it isn't already (Of the top twenty largest cities, six are in Texas). Now with almost four times the population it had in the early Seventies.

    Your frequent descriptions of Austin's homeless population are a sobering reminder of how nearly all the fastest-growing cities of the West now share this same problem. Cleveland doesn't look so bad to me these days. We have our homeless, but not to such a degree, thanks to our winters. And I'd rather sidestep piles of slush and dirty snow in a shrinking city than human wreckage in a growing one.

    Caren, I hope you find less bigotry and bitchiness, and more caring and compassion, in what Norman Mailer called "The last of the great American cities." Welcome back.

    1. You and I see eye to eye on many things. Look back at the piece and you'll see I called it the Country of Texas. Things feel so complicated these days and yes, there are many reasons for me to want to leave Texas. At the same time, the beauty and the good people who are here among the less emotionally intelligent, more close minded folks will be missed. Thanks for the welcome home!

    2. I was going to correct that to closed-minded then realized I don’t have to. 🙂.

      “Some of you are going to hate this, but both closed-minded and close-minded are acceptable.”


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