Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Toughest Horse Trader Wore a Sunbonnet

Sally Scull learned early that frontier life demanded toughness of its women. American Indians in 19th century Texas used the tactics they knew, violence and fear, to drive out the white man stealing their land. Only young Sally and her mother Rachel were home when Indians attacked their cabin. Mother and daughter at first seemed safe behind the boarded door. Then one brave tried to lift the door from its hinges by sticking his foot in the gap beneath. With one swing of an axe, Rachel separated protruding toes from foot. As another brave tried entering through the chimney, Rachel thrust burning down pillows into the fireplace, sealing off entry with smoke and fire, the brave hastily escaping back out the top Frustrated, singed, and dismembered, the Indian braves quickly departed.

The frontier was no less harsh when Sally reached adulthood. The grit and perseverance acquired from her mother served Sally well. Surviving a succession of five husbands, Sally showed Texas that this 125 pound woman could remain independent even in a dangerous world.

Sally and third husband John Doyle began the livestock trade for which Sally is remembered. After Doyle’s death, Sally continued to trade horses and cattle across the most threatening and lawless regions of Texas. Accompanied by only three Mexican-American vaqueros and the two six-shooters on her hips, she remained fearless as she moved livestock from town to town.

Rumors persisted that Sally’s vaqueros stole the horses they sold. She did buy livestock from Indians, and it’s likely that some were indeed stolen. But no one could be certain because Sally would never allow her livestock to be inspected.

Six ranchers once blocked a trail where Sally was herding horses to market. They complained that some of theirs had gone missing, and wanted to look through her herd. Astride her horse with hands resting on both pistols, Sally quickly shot back:

“Get around those horses. You don’t cut my herds”

Sally’s steely gaze and her two revolvers convinced the ranchers their horses weren’t so important, after all. They parted to the sides of the trail, and Sally in sunbonnet and chaps drove her herd on by.

Though hardened by the harshness of the life she chose, Sally Scull found time for merriment. South Texas men enjoyed her company as she drank, played cards, and danced the fandango, delighting them till late in the night. Their women, no doubt jealous and suspicious, claimed an ulterior motive: while Sally partied with their men, they said, her vaqueros and her Indian suppliers were stealing the unprotected livestock.

Sally Scull was the product of her environment. The dangers of 19th century Texas required toughness and cunning, and this small but determined woman delivered both for over fifty years.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Sundance Walk on the Wild Side

We weren’t aware our department’s awards dinner in Fort Worth coincided with the nearby Gay and Lesbian Film Festival at Sundance Square. Circumstances caused me to arrive an hour earlier than everyone else. So I killed time by strolling around the large square, reading the menus at restaurants, peering into store windows, picking up a coffee somewhere, and just looking unoccupied. The friendliness of fellow pedestrians surprised me, but I made an effort to smile back to even those looks that seemed to linger just a little too long.

Then I realized it was only the males who were smiling at me. That puzzled me, until I saw the signs about the film festival, Now it made sense. While I was checking out the retail scene, they were checking me out. That was unnerving, but actually a bit flattering.

I’m straight as an arrow, and I had no intention of pursuing any attention I received. But it does help one’s ego to know that someone finds you attractive. Not sure why gay men would, though. I buy my clothes from the clearance rack at Kohl’s. I’ve never had a manicure. My haircuts are basic Fantastic Sam’s. Do you think I was being viewed as a project?

In any case, I walked into our dinner that night with a little extra bounce. After a couple of drinks, I decided the whole department should know why I was feeling good. Naturally. I’ve been teased a bit since then about my Sundance Square ego stroll.

My advice is this: if you need positive reinforcement about your looks, don’t worry about where it comes from. But be a little cautious about sharing the details with coworkers.

Note to Betti ...

No need to bring up the drag incident from our college days. Please remember that:

- I was drunk;
- It was just a joke;
- The Willson sisters could always talk me into anything;
- That my act was able to fool Joe Bonesio and your brother, Bill, doesn’t indicate anything about suppressed desires, OK?

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Streakers' Tails

Sonny Hennegan’s nude two minute romp across the student union shocked the city of Lake Charles and the campus of McNeese State in the spring of 1974. Streaking was a new college fad in far off California and Minnesota. But how could such deviant behavior have reached conservative Louisiana so quickly? When Sonny’s front page backside cracked a wicked smile to readers of the next student newspaper, university officials could hardly contain themselves. Streaking was an intolerable offense, they announced.

Within two days, a dozen defiant exhibitionists had followed Sonny’s lead, to the delight of the student body. The stage was set for large scale confrontation with authority.

On a warm Thursday night, as hundreds of college women returned to their dormitory, the assault on propriety was unleashed by the uncovered. At two to three minute intervals, the mostly male streakers dashed across the dormitory parking lot, turned left at the bayou footbridge, and disappeared into the darkness. A huge crowd gathered, mostly the female dorm residents in pajamas and gowns.

Campus police were on the scene in minutes. The streaking has ended, their bullhorn bellowed, and everyone must return to dorm rooms.

Just when it appeared the show was over, student body presidential candidate Joe Bonesio arrived. Joe never missed an opportunity to further political ambitions, and he quickly seized control. Pulling aside the police, Bullshit Joe somehow convinced them the offenses could be overlooked. Turning to the crowd, he announced the compromise he had gained. If the women would climb down from ledges and awnings, the police would find another crisis that demanded attention far across campus. Following wild cheers from the lusty crowd, Joe then offered free beer that had mysteriously been iced down in the back of his car.

As police cars faded from view, the streakers returned. For a solid hour, the women of McNeese enjoyed beers and rears, with rock music booming from the custom stereo of Joe’s Toyota.

In the election the next month, Joe Bonesio received overwhelming support from McNeese’s on campus women. Sonny Hennegan is rightly remembered as the most famous streaker in south Louisiana history. But for one night in April, the hero was Joe Bonesio, the man who talked off the police and brought back the butts.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Bullets of a Liberated Woman

Sofie Herzog arrived at the frontier town of Brazosport, Texas, in 1893, and gave the locals much to talk about. In the first place, she was a physician – a FEMALE doctor. And she rode astride her horse, wearing a scandalous split skirt. If that were not enough, this outrageously liberated woman had the audacity to cut her hair short and wear a man's hat.

Doctor Sofie, as the citizens came to call her, appeared at first the opposite of the 19th century woman, but she was in other ways typical of her era. Like most American women, she was a devoted mother, raising seven children to adulthood. She was a loving wife until her husband died in 1893.

Seeking a change in widowhood, Sofie boldly abandoned comforts of New York City, and moved to a new life in the frontier West. She faced an uphill battle to gain confidence of the Texans she wished to treat. Brazosport was a rough town, and a female doctor just seemed out of place. But Doctor Sofie quickly won them over with her ability to heal.Many patients were victims of brawls and shootouts. Sofie's skillful removal of bullets gained her fame. Sofie had a necklace crafted that was sure to generate publicity. Twenty four bullets she had removed from men were linked with gold wire. Sofie wore it proudly, and the amusing tale of her necklace spread throughout Texas.

The St. Louis and Mexico railroad was being built through Texas, and Sofie's work increased. Construction accidents were common. A railway handcar driver often raced to the scene carrying Sofie, her dress billowing in the wind, her medical bag clutched at her side.Sofie applied to be chief surgeon of the railroad. Already doing the work, she wanted the full pay that was rightfully hers. Local railroaders hired her quickly. Railroad executives back in New York then discovered, to their chauvinistic horror, that Dr. Herzog was a woman. When they asked her to resign, Sofie's answer was simple:

"No, thank you. I'll keep this job until I fail to provide service."

Dr. Sofie Herzog remained the railroad's chief surgeon for thirty years. The brave and brash doctor died in 1925. Photos and belongings of Dr. Sofie can be viewed at a small museum in Brazosport. But visitors will not see her necklace of bullets. As specified in her will, the necklace was placed in her coffin, where it has remained ever since.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Troop welcome at DFW Airport

Over 150 U.S. soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan arrive each day at DFW airport. These soldiers are just beginning their two week R&R, a well-deserved rest after six months in war zones. As they emerge from international customs, on their way to family or to connecting flights home, the soldiers are greeted by hundreds of cheering and thankful Americans. VFW members shake every soldier's hand, cub scout packs hold hand-painted signs, church groups wave flags, and nearly everyone in the building sheds tears. This is the soldiers' first glimpse of home, and it's a moment they will surely never forget.

I've welcomed troops at least twenty times over the past two years. I get choked up at the scenes I witness with each arrival. A private from Kansas leans on me as she breaks down and sobs, totally overwhelmed by the emotional release of wartime stress. Young mothers hold out to fathers the tiny babies born while they served their nation halfway around the world. Older mothers scream and cry as their uniformed sons emerge tall and erect at the door of the walkway.

It is difficult to put into words the pure joy this simple welcoming act has brought to soldiers and civilians alike. For a brief thirty minutes every day, all come together in rejoicing the return of our heroes.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Illegal immigration in Texas, 1819

After 1803, two groups of Americans migrated into Spanish Texas. Legal immigrants received land through grants from Mexican officials. Illegal squatters simply crossed the border and found good farmland

Looting and small insurrections in 1818 and 1819, led by Americans James Long and the pirate Jean Lafitte, alarmed the Mexican government. The Mexican army drove American settlers back across the border into Louisiana, successfully removing 20% of Texas's total non-Indian population.

Mexican authorities overlooked that its towns were dependent on the immigrant farmers it removed. After the deportation, San Antonio and east Texas faced several years of food shortages.

I find it ironic that the situation is exactly reversed today. 12 million illegal immigrants are integrated into our economy, 8 million of them as workers. Pro-immigration advocates argue that many agriculture and food processing enterprises depend heavily on these workers. Some fruit growers in California are already feeling the impact of crackdowns on illegal immigrants, unable to harvest some of their crop.

Immigration foes point to the crimes of a segment of today's immigrants, just as the Mexican government pointed to the insurrection of Long and Lafitte 190 years ago.

I don't know what to do with illegal immigrants, or whether a guest worker program makes sense. I just found the parallels from 190 years ago to be interesting.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Diabetes gonna kill me? No damn way!

Two years ago my doctor told me I was diabetic. That's a scary thing. My first thought was about how much my dad suffered, as first his eyesight failed, then his kidneys, and finally his heart. I'll admit I'm afraid of dying at 65, as he did.

My second thought, though, was about all the money J. and I have been saving for 25 years. We've built up a nice nest egg with IRA's and 401K's. I'll be damned if I'm going to die young and let her be a rich widow for 25 years! Spending my retirement money on some young stud!

Now, when I go to the kitchen for a snack, I first close my eyes. I can see this Fabio dude sitting in my big leather chair at Christmas time. He's opening the gift box my smiling wife just gave him, and taking out a Rolex watch.

Hell no! No Fabio is getting a gold watch in my house! Forget the snack!

When I pass a Mexican restaurant, luring me with burritos and quesadillas laden with fat grams. I close my eyes briefly. And there's Fabio again, walking across my driveway to his shiny red sports car.

Not gonna happen! No funds for Fabio's Ferrari! Begone burritos!.

Those mental images have saved me. Over two years I've lost 35 pounds. My doctor tells me I'm going to live a long life. My wife can dream all she wants about Fabio, but when she opens her eyes, it's still going to be my old body beside her. Screw diabetes!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Grownup golf

Sunshine and 50 degrees today in north Texas, so I headed for the golf course. Only a few brave souls on the course, so I joined up with strangers. Dan, 51, is a pilot for an international airline. Bob, 60, was just laid off after 20 years from his corporate sales job, and worried about job prospects for a senior.

As we talked, I found Bob to be a decent guy. I wondered if I knew someone who could help him. Maybe I could arrange a golf match with the one of the sales executives in my neighborhood. Or perhaps with that company president in my Saturday golf league.

Bob spoiled it for me on the 12th hole. Unable to escape a steep sand trap, he threw his sand wedge far into the greenside pond. I couldn’t believe it! It was a new wedge, one I’d seen priced at $140 in a golf shop. Who throws away $140? Certainly no one I’m going to recommend to my friends.

Dan joked later about how Bob has done that a few times over the years. So Bob’s outburst didn’t seem related to his recent layoff.

Am I expecting too much? that fellow golfers not have temper tantrums? I make allowances for the high school kids I meet on the course from time to time. But shouldn’t a grandpa have learned a little self control?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Austin, my beagle, loves me

I learned this morning how strong are my little dog's feelings for me. For twenty minutes after my wife left for work, Austin could not keep his adoring eyes off me.

As I shaved, he lay on a nearby rug, patiently watching every flick of my razor Austin followed me to the closet, soulful gaze affixed as I selected and ironed my shirt. Needing neither praise nor a pat on the head, he remained comforted by my mere presence.

How did I deserve such devotion? How can another species come to love a human so much? that his only desire is to sit and worship my existence?

Austin patiently watched as I brushed my teeth, even closer to my feet than before. As I turned on the shower, and slipped off my boxers, his gaze never left me.

As the shower door closed behind me, a glass barrier now separating master from beast, I turned to catch one more glimpse of my adoring pet. At just that instant, Austin leaped from the rug and sped to the kitchen. His fifteen minute excavation of the garbage can was uninterrupted, his patience finally rewarded.

A great man

My sister's husband died last year after a serious car wreck He was comatose the last ten days of his life. I was never able to thank Mark for being so devoted to my sister, and for being a strong and caring father to their kids.

Life seemed ominous at the start of their marriage. Both were teenagers. Neither had steady jobs. Mark earned minimum wage repairing shoes part time. Denise raised their new boy in a tiny mobile home. Relatives helped from time to time, buying groceries and dropping off other necessities. Mark and Denise struggled, but their love for each other carried them through.

After years of low-paying work, Mark landed a job with an oil company. He slowly proved his worth. Armed with only a high school GED and his own abilities, Mark rose from oil rig roustabout to mid-level executive by age 48. Undaunted by lack of formal education, he studied business and economics textbooks at home at night. Mark was truly a self-made man.

Last June, Mark and Denise were poised to move to Russia. Mark was to take over all human resources for the company's Russian operations.

And then he ran over an embankment on a rural road, and the unfulfilled dreams of Mark and my sister Denise were over. But they did have thirty wonderful years together, and raised two fine sons to carry on Mark's name.

I'm not sure if blogs can reach all the way to heaven, but just in case: Thank you, Mark