By Baxter Black: PNT columnist
I made the trip to Texas this fall and was able to revisit a couple of monumental memories, just to see if they were real.
When I was going to veterinary school in Colorado I worked summers in the feedlots managed by Diamond A Cattle Co. The second year I hired on at the 50,000 head yard in Thermal, Calif.
Yes. Thermal … a summer job. I was batchin’, eating greasy tacos and renting a room with no air conditioning. Occasionally one of the men on the doctor crew would take me home with him for lunch. I’m sure his wife thought of me as a stray dog … “Can’t you feed him out on the porch, Simon!”
But he and I sat at his little kitchen table with bowls of chile colorado, using homemade tortillas she handed hot from the stove, which we used as spoons. It is still one of my finest dining experiences.
He moved to Rockport, Texas. I went by to see him for the first time in 30 years. It was important to me to let him know that, to this day, I have never forgotten his kindness.
I also swung by the little town of Schroeder. Several years after working for Simon, I had fallen on hard times. Red Steagall, western singer and Texas treasure, invited me to go with him to play a dance at Schroeder Hall. It was humbling for me. I was kinda star struck.
We loaded in his new Cadillac. During the five-hour drive from Fort Worth, I soaked up his wisdom and companionship. When we arrived at Schroeder Hall, we could have been in Kenya, for all I knew. I’d not paid any attention to the road or the scenery. Red said, “Bax, do me a favor.”
I said, “Anything.” It would give me a way to show my gratitude. He dug a ball of car keys out of his pocket bigger than a hippopotamus cud.
“Would you mind holding these while I’m singing? I hate to carry this big wad around.”
“Of course,” I said obsequiously. We walked off.
Well, I didn’t want to go to the dance with that big wad of car keys in my pocket either. I peeled off the Cadillac key and threw the wad on the car’s floor mat.
At midnight I hooked up with another ride who was going to San Antonio. I went into the dance hall and said my goodbyes to Red and went to get my bag out of his car. It was then I realized that Cadillacs had two keys — one for the door and one for the ignition. I had kept out the wrong one.
It was 3 a.m. before the locksmith arrived from Victoria.
On my Texas tour I hunted up Schroeder Hall. It was still there and still had a dance hall. I stared at the light pole in the gravel parking lot and had a nostalgic chill.
I remember, in my embarrassment, that I insisted on paying for the locksmith. I also remember he said “OK” just a little quicker than I’d expected.