When Ondy, my dad’s younger brother, tells a story everyone listens. Not only can he command your attention and make you laugh, but his stories are usually a reply to something you said or a perception he has about your life. He communicates through stories and dispenses advice and observation in this manner.
As a child and an adult, I never get tired of hearing what he has to say even if I have heard it before. I ask him to repeat stories about when he witnessed one Texas Ranger stopping a prison riot somewhere east of the Colorado River with nothing but a bullhorn or to repeat the story of the nose dive he took in a plane outside of El Paso when he was playing baseball in the Mexican League or the one about the time that my grandmother went hunting with him. He always says, “You haven’t lived until your ma goes hunting with you on Thanksgiving and cooks a 30 pound turkey in your tent.”
Each time he talks I concentrate on new details I hadn’t noticed before. And sometimes he tells a brand new story. Brand new stories are usually told once, never to be repeated, sacred.
From time to time my family gathers on the Medina River (pictured above). It is a beautiful stretch of heavenly perfection away from the majority of civilization. I must have said something to warrant the story I heard. Rather than try and remember what I did or said to summon a new tale, I chose to focus on the value and the meaning. He started, “Arlis Ann, I’m going to tell you something.”
When most people hear their first and middle names put together followed with “I’m going to tell you something,” the eye rolls and the sighs set in. Not me. I immediately stop whatever I am doing and give him my undivided attention. I love his stories as only the daughter of his brother can. I hang on to as many words as possible. His style and humor of storytelling cannot be replicated. Try as I may retelling one of his stories is like eating cold pizza on Saturday morning; it’s good but never great.
In the 1940s my grandparents, father, and uncle were sharecroppers somewhere out near Winters and Ballinger in Runnels County. These tiny Texas towns are somewhere between San Angelo and Abilene. If you don’t know where they are, then looking at a map might help.
Life in a share cropping family was hard. I knew my family was very poor. I knew the stories of my dad walking several miles to school with his shoes flung over his shoulder. He wanted his only pair to last. I also knew that my grandmother would load them in a wagon and knock on doors asking to clean houses and if her babies could play in the front yard. I am proud of these stories because I see how those two little boys became men who worked their way through hardships. The Hinds men have always lead by example finding hope under each stone in their path.
On the farm, the mailbox was a mile or so away from the house. My grandmother would walk up the road a few times a day to get her exercise. One day when she checked the mailbox a small sample box of cereal was inside, Post Toasties. I am sure she was relieved to find a small meal for her two growing boys. As I recall Ondy saying, there was nothing to eat in the house that day.
As she walked back to the house, she developed a simple plan. She went inside and found a few coins that she had been saving and announced they were all going to walk the five or so miles into town to buy a quart of milk for the cereal.
Their long walk began. As they crossed a small stream or creek, perhaps Bluff Creek, my uncle noticed a hobo camp beside the water. He said in that moment he knew for the first time that someone was poorer than he.
Just as he had this epiphany looking down at the homeless men huddled around a fire a car drove over the bridge. Someone yelled “Hey,” and threw out a loaf of bread. Maybe the bread was meant for the hobos or the family walking to town for milk. My grandmother and her sons scrambled to pick up the pieces separated from the bag.
After they bought the milk, they started home again, bread in tow. Once home, they ate like kings, a small box of Post Toasties, a quart of milk, and a loaf of bread. He told the story as though it was one of the best meals of his life, and in many ways it was for all of them.
He taught me my best lesson in gratitude that day where the water percolates over the rocks. His voice drifted through the cypress trees like the wind caressing the grass. I closed my eyes and filled my lungs with cool autumn air. My biggest source of gratitude is being grateful for the incredible people that I call family. I have worked hard most of my life to appreciate and cherish each of them. I don’t even have to try anymore; adoration overflows and swells my heart. I think I am the luckiest girl in all of Texas, but that’s just me.
One Comment Add yours
I love this . . . you should send it to Ondy