Trying to think of a good Christmas story.
Oh I don’t need much prodding. I was thinking back to the time when my third son Julius was just born. 1982 it was, I had about $3,000.00 saved and had just bought a Dodge Dart cheap, the plan was to sell it, to turn it into more money. Bonnie and I had been planning on moving somewhere, for a fresh start, someplace where we didn’t know anybody, clean slate. I had about $2,400 left after buying the car. I rented a U-haul trailer, hooked it up to the back of the Maverick and loaded up my family, new born and all, left the Dart at my buddy’s car lot, then headed to Texas, destination unknown.
My sister Glenda and her family had decided to do the same thing, about 2 weeks before us, they got as far as St. Elmo, Alabama, not too far from Tillman’s Corner. I don’t remember if they broke down or just ran out of money, but we stopped for a visit. I remember helping them get some of their stuff out of the pawnshop and being fearful of running out of money myself, I started to build a small shed to sell, out of the scrap lumber laying around in the yard. After the third day, Bonnie told me that I was gonna get her out of there. Glenda and her family had a small camper, with me and mine, it just made it smaller, the money we had was disappearing fast.
So we headed back out on the road, Glenda said she would be behind us in a week or two, going west, still no final destination. We drove through Houston and Bonnie freaked out when she saw all of the overpasses and bypasses and stuff. She didn’t want to live there, so I headed towards Victoria, I just liked the sound of the name. When we got there, it was a miserable desolate looking place and we were getting short of funds. We were eating baloney sandwiches in the car to stretch out our bankroll and I was looking at the map and decided to go check out Corpus Christi. After all it was on the ocean, we had honeymooned on the beach once upon a time and it sounded like a good idea. We got to Corpus in the late afternoon, the beach wasn’t all that, but to make it worse, we didn’t see any trees. What kind of landscape doesn’t have trees? There were bushes I guess they called trees but Bonnie was from Georgia, she liked to rake leaves for fun. I looked in the newspaper for available jobs and a cheap place to rent and didn’t see either. It was getting dark and I remembered that San Antonio had trees, the streets, highways and byways weren’t all that bad.
It looked like Bonnie was fixing to cry. I told her that they had pecan trees in San Antonio, there were lots of car lots, we could be there before daylight. I promised her, that I would get her a place to live and get out of that 4 door Maverick before lunch. She was ready to agree to anything to get out of that car. Julius was less than a week old and had been sleeping in a carrier on the floorboard of the car for most of his short life. San Antonio it was, make it or break it, that’s where we were headed.
The road leaving out of Corpus wasn’t that bad, four lane highway, it was just a desolate, lonely out in the middle of nowhere kind of place. It got dark on us quick. I was going kind of slow because the car was running hot, off and on. I would stop, let it cool down and then drive some more. Afternoon turned into evening, then finally, around midnight, I heard a spewing sound and hot, hot steam came rising out from under the hood. The flashlight was buried in the back of the U-haul and this old lonesome highway didn’t have any street lamps. I knew I needed water, so I grabbed a 5 gallon bucket out of the trailer and told Bonnie I was going to hitchhike to get some water.
I opened the blade to my pocket knife and gave it to her. “It’s for protection.” I told her, “Just in case you need it.” She shook her head and told me that she didn’t know how to use a knife, wouldn’t if she could. I went around to the back of the car and told my son Michael to follow me to the rear of the car. I gave him the knife and instructed him that if any trouble came up, he was in charge of security; he was about 9 or 10. I gave him instructions on how to use it, if needed. Just get up close, shove the knife in as far as it will go and twist it. I told him to be sure and grip the knife like you mean it, and to be careful not to cut yourself.
I saw approaching head lights coming towards us down the road and turned to face the oncoming traffic. I saw that it was a semi-truck and told Bonnie, “It’s a trucker, they don’t ever stop to help anybody.” Just about that time, talking about needing to eat crow, the trucker slowed down, pulled over and came to a stop. I told Bonnie that I would be back as quick as I could and ran to the cab of the truck and told the driver my problem.
The truck driver was nice, he told me to get in. He told me that the next exit was about 20 miles, but everything would be closed when we got there. Looking at his Rand McNally Road Atlas as he was driving, he told me that at the top of the hill about four miles up the road, the map showed that there was a small lake off to the bottom left side of the road. He said that I might be better off, since I had a bucket, to get off there and check it out. It sounded good to me, before he stopped, he asked me if I had a flashlight, after I told him no I didn’t, he gave me a bic lighter resting on the dashboard. Just in case, better than nothing and I agreed. I thanked him for the lift, he said he’d look for us on his way back tomorrow, I saluted him, in a puff of diesel smoke, he was gone off into the darkness. It was just me, the bucket and a bic lighter on side of the road in the middle of nowhere.
Standing in the moonlight on top of the hill, I could tell that the truck driver was right. Over the top of the trees, down the bottom of the hill, I could see reflection of the moonlight on a small body of water down below. I climbed the fence and made my way through the brush and live oaks until I came upon the water’s edge
It was plenty dark, even in the moonlight. I thought that I could just go to the shoreline and dip the bucket in it and get what water I needed and be on my way. Oh, so wrong. The bottom of the lake was muck, thick, gooey, sticky mud. I walked out a couple of feet and tried to fill my bucket, but even though I was standing up to my knees in muck, the water was only a couple of inches deep. I kept going, I knew Bonnie and the boys were depending on me to get back and I figured they were pretty scared; being broke down on side of the road in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by darkness and unfamiliar territory.
Looks can be deceiving sometimes. The moon’s reflection on the water’s fooled me. Under the water’s edge was nothing but muck, every step I took required a lot of effort. The suction from the mud pulled the shoes right off of my feet. Finally I got to where I was standing almost crotch deep in the mud searching for deep water.
Now the distance between the mud and the water surface was deep enough that I could fill the bucket at least three quarters full. That’s enough I thought, hell I got to carry it about 4 or 5 miles, yeah, that’s plenty of water.
The moon went behind the tree tops as I turned to make my way back to the bank. I sloshed my way slowly, step by step. It was harder coming back with the bucket full of water, than it was going out I promise. I kept hearing noise all around me, and I got uneasy, a queasy feeling in my stomach that I wasn’t alone. The closer I got to the water’s edge the hairs on the back of my neck started to rise up. I reached in my pocket for my knife but grabbed the lighter that the truck driver had given me instead. I was thankful then, that I hadn’t needed to walk out so deep that the lighter got wet.
I held the lighter up like a torch and clicked it, until it lit and with the faint glow, I could see I wasn’t alone. There completely surrounding the water’s edge and facing me were what looked to be about 300 head of Texas Longhorn cattle. Standing shoulder to shoulder, staring at me like I was intruding into their domain They were about six foot high at the shoulder and their horns were at least six feet wide, interlocking with the steer standing next to them, knee deep in the muck.
It was an all of a sudden kind of thing. The creepy part was seeing a vapor cloud, coming from their urine after it hit the ground, rising up behind them, in the moonlight. I knew better than to act scared, even though I was. If something happened to me, it might be days before I was found, if ever. With the moon playing hide and seek with the clouds, the going was slow, plus dragging the bucket and trying to lift my feet from the suction of the muck.
Being from Dinsmore, I had been around dairy cows after dark before. Going with the premise that they were just curious in the dark, they didn’t know me from Adam. I just walked right through the middle of them lugging that bucket saying softly, “Soo Boss” and they made way, giving me an opening to walk through. I felt like Moses parting the Red Sea. I kept talking to them as I walked among them making it look like I had something for them in that bucket.
Finally, I was out of the muck. They kept me surrounded but made way for me to walk up the hill and through the trees and brush and then the mesquite “ouch” that stuff hurt through my stocking feet. It took me some effort, walking up the hill with a bucket filled with water and mud, me barefoot, with muddy britches and soggy drawers. Can’t tell you what a relief it was when I finally got to climb the fence and put those longhorns behind me. They were big enough to scare you in the daylight, but when it comes down to it, they are still just cows.
I walked down the highway back towards Bonnie and the boys and that bucket got heavier and heavier. I started swinging it back and forth to use inertia to carry the weight, it didn’t work. I counted the stars in the sky in Spanish to take my mind off of how much my arm hurt. “Uno, dos, tres”…..Every once in a while I would step on something painful in the dark, just to remind me that I had lost my shoes in the mud. “Cuatro,cinco, seis.” I didn’t see the first car, in either direction. It took me a while, but I made it.
I poured the water in the radiator and using the lighter I could see that there was a little split in the hose, about an inch below the hose clamp. That was easy to fix. In no time at all we were back on the road. When we did get to the next exit, all the stores were closed, but there was a light good enough that after I raised the hood to the car, I could tell that it wasn’t leaking anymore, so we got on our way to San Antonio.
When we got to Old San Antoine, we were down to counting change in our pockets. I took a shower at the car wash for a dollar. Bonnie even gave me a shot of the “hot wax.” After my visit with the longhorns, I needed it. We passed a “Woolco” that was opened early in Universal City that was going bankrupt, selling stuff cheap, so I went in and bought a new shirt, pair of dress pants and a tie, for $5.00. A new pair of shoes cost $4.00. I got spiffed up and went to answer and ad in the newspaper, for car salesmen at Jordan Ford.
It was 9 am when I got there, the sales force and managers were all in a sales meeting. The receptionist gave me an application which I filled out and I noticed a lady looking at a car on the showroom floor. A nice dove gray Crown Victoria Landau. She was a retired school teacher from Missouri. She was on vacation alone, her LTD station wagon had broke down. Sensing the moment, I knew I had a “live one.”
I grab the keys from over the sun visor, got the porter to give me a hand and drove the car off of the showroom floor. I took the lady for a test drive and found out that she didn’t owe any money on her trade-in. Her car was in the shop, it had and extended factory warranty and it was suppose to take a few days to get the parts in to fix her car. Being a retired school teacher, she had excellent credit. I had the buyer’s order and credit app filled out; just about the time the sales meeting was breaking up. I introduced myself to the credit manager first, he took my application, the buyer’s order and the teacher’s credit application. He disappeared for a minute then came back and told me I was hired, to keep the woman busy then, he and the used car manager went back to the shop to appraise the trade in.
Okay, long story short. We made the deal. She drove off in the owner’s wife’s grounded demonstrator, with 8,800 miles. It paid a cash bonus, 10 cent a mile, plus “cash in fist”, 50% commission. It was a $1400 dollar deal. I had made over $800.00 plus a finance and Accident and Health commission. Oh, did I mention that I got paid cash, all cash? Then they gave me a light blue Escort wagon for a demo and 5 gallons of gas (they gave you 5 gallons of gas every time you sold a car), and the rest of the day off to get settled. Bonnie and the boys were still in the parking lot, sitting in the car, waiting for me to finish filling out the job application. Happy, happy, happy. Felice Natividad. Two days before Christmas, we were happy. Things were starting to look up for us.
I found an ad in the paper about a guy that had a trailer for rent in Cibolo for $300 a month. It was north of town up on the bluffs that over looked San Antonio, about 35 miles from the north of town. When you got off the exit ramp on I-35 go right about 5 miles. If you went left, there was George Strait’s Night Club, “The Blue Bonnet Inn’. I told the property owner my story, he gave a me a break on the deposit if I would keep an eye on his property. He lived 30 miles away. He got the lights cut on for me and a tank of gas to heat with. We were out of the car, before noon.
We bought a Christmas tree, a ham and the boy’s Christmas, we were set. I called my friend in Jacksonville about the Dodge Dart. He said he had sold it for $1,800, I told him to keep 25% and he sent me the rest. I loved living high up on the prairie, sitting under the stars at night over looking the town, looking at the thousands of lights. It might sound kind of lonely but to me, it was true Peace on Earth. We had a very Merry Christmas.
Glenda and her family showed up about a week later. Her husband Bug had sold the shed I was building to two different people, before he could be found out, they pulled up stakes, using the money from the sale of the shed, came on to San Antonio.
We lived there and prospered for two years. Glenda and Bug went home to Jacksonville for Christmas and her husband Bug died of pneumonia, two weeks later, my little brother Duane passed away from cancer. It was too much all at once. We packed up and moved back home, to be near our kin.
There has been a lot of water under the bridge since then. I miss San Antonio sometimes. It reminds me of Jacksonville because of the thriving economy and all the military bases.
When I think about San Antonio I look up in the sky, see the stars and start counting, oucho, nueve, dias.