I was unprepared for her and got up out of my chair and went to the coffee shop window to get a better look. I was in Brenham, having a late lunch. I’d driven to Houston and now I was corning back. On the way down, I had noticed Brenham as I drove through. I liked its old town square, and the crowded, gaudy , intimate streets that places like Brenham and San Marcos have: the farm centers, settled long ago, and still full of ambling, rolling, foreign-accented farmers, their wives, their young. It had been a hard drive corning back, lots of traffic, lines of outmoded trucks piled up on the slopes, laboring under loads of pipes and water tanks and machinery that their smoking motors could barely pull. It was a hot central Texa’s day, and I passed up some of the dirty-looking cafes in the smaller towns along the way , thinking I would stop in the St. Anthony Hotel Coffee Shop in. Brenham, Texas. There’s nothing better than a cool clean coffee shop in a small town; and somehow I looked forward to something coming out of the St. Anthony. What came out of it was Miss Annie and her horse, however; the coffee shop itself was nothing exceptional. The one in the Hotel Faust at New Braunfelsthere’s a German coffee shop for you; sprawling, shaded by trees outside the windows, the air inside stirred by ancient overhead fans, hardly a sound, and French toast that is worth travelling for. I was just sitting there in the St. Anthony, drinking a beer, still kind of dazed from the driving, listening to the old waitress talk to the beer man about having to make out separate checks for the beer the customers bought. The waitress was bent and cheerful; in fact, her back was so bowed that she reminded me of the character in Kipling’s “The Man Who Would Be King.” She was very lithe-stepping, though, and punctilious in serving me. She brought me the salad early, and a napkin, and said, “Oh! I didn’t bring you any tools!” And she put the silverware down. She was not really so old, and her blonde face had a wrinkling, amused, whimsical look about it that was pleasant. I sat drinking the beer and I saw the hack go by out the window. That was a little too much Old Brenham for me, and I got up and went to the window. WHAT I SAW was an old woman in the hack punching the horse with a stick. I thought it was some poor old wretch who was stalled. The hack was light and ancient, its black turned grey, its slight perky canopy slouching to one side. The old woman wore 6 pokebonnet that had a kind of fancy double crown to it. It looked like old-country workinanship. “That’s our curb service customer,” said the waitress brightly and she began taking her broadh i p p e d muscula .r unhurried strides to the door .as if she served this customer every day. “She probably wants her piece of custard pie,” she said. I saw that old womanshe looked so frail I didn’t see how she even sat in the buggyhad her coin purse out, her big knotty jointed hands and long fingers working slowly around the catch to open it. The waitress came back in. She brought me my steak. “She tickles me,” she said. “She calls it ‘crustard’ pie.” “Is that all she buys?” “That and a little meat that she can chew.” I had a picture of an old indigent who lived from hand to mouth. “Is this place her only source of food?” “I guess so. She comes by here almost every day.” “Where does she live?” I asked. “Oh, she lives on a farm, several miles out. But almost every day you’ll see her here in town.” She went out to the old woman again, carying a piece of custard pie in a sack. I ate some of the hot steak and the hot fried potatoes cut up in sort of homemade rough cubes. They were fresh and delicious. Then I went to the window again. The sun was high overhead. The old woman and the waitress were deep in discussion, as over a back fence. The old woman was talking vigorously. She had leaned over, and I could see her face under the bonnet. It was square a n d reddish, possibly Czech. Her mouth was wide and firm and strong, and her eyes were clear and piercing as she talked to the slumped, amiable waitress, who stood relaxed by the buggy in her white nylon uniform. Then I saw the old woman make ready to leave , sorting I things on the seat beside hera paper sack, a cloth sack, a wrap, the piece of pie. Then I heard her voice rise. I was surprised at her spunk. I thought, “Old and beggarly as she is, here she is raising hell about the pie.” “Can’t CARRY it this way!” she was saying truculently. “Go get me a piece of cardboard!” Obediently the waitress came in, went behind the counter, and tore off a long piece of wax paper and got a paper plate, and went back out the door with them. She smiled at me as she went out, as if to say, “Isn’t she something!” She came back in, carrying a dollar bill. She rang up the sale and took the change back to the old woman. When she came back again , I said, “What’s her income? Is she on a pension?” “No,” she said. “She farms a little.” She mused a moment. “Oh, they say she’s got plenty of money.” “And she lives out there on that farm by herself?” “By herself.” The waitress said this proudly. And her voice rose when she said, “And they can’t get her off that place. People have tried. She tells ’em, ‘I pay my taxes and you can’t make me leave!’ ” THE HOTEL CASHIER appeared from the quiet shady lobby and stood in the coffee shop, a medium-sized greyish man in his shirt sleeves. “No …” the waitress continued. ‘You know, she never argues about what I charge her. I tell her what it is and she just gives me her dollar without a word. She’s never without money.” “I wonder if anyone’s ever taken a picture of her,” I said, looking out the window. “Oh my yes. Some people were through here one day and saw her. She let them take pictures of her. She’d just sit up in that carriage and lo-o-ok at the camera. It tickled her to death. And the newspapers carried a story on her one time. I think it was this fellow that writes ‘Rural Route,’ he wrote something on her.” She turned to the cashier. “Wasn’t that who wrote the story?” “What was that?” asked the cashier. He had been staring out at the street. ” ‘Rural Route’ … wasn’t he the one that gave that write-up on Miss Annie and her horse?” “Yeah, I believe it was.” “She’s a sight ,” said the waitress. “She drives that buggy right down the middle of the street. She’ll make a U-turn out here in front. She’ll even stop traffic on the highway.” “I saw that this morning,” said the Negro bus boy. He was about 20, husky, clean-cut and. smiling; a little cocky. He was putting on his apron. “I saw that this morning,” he repeated. “Right out here on the hill. Six or eight trucks were lined up behind her.” The waitress laughed gently. “It’s bad out there on the highway. She goes to sleep, and the horse wanders out in the middle of the road. See, that old horse is blind. That’s what that stick is for. She uses the reins of course, too, but when she wants that horse to go somewhere, she pokes him with that stick, and he does just what she wants him to.” Curb Service Winston Bode Metropolitan Opera in Texas DALLAS Humiliating though it is to acknowledge it, what was probably the most important cultural event in the state for the month of May was not of the indigenous, or, if you prefer, “home-grown” variety b u t actually of imported stock. It was the spring tour of the Metropolitan Opera with its annual quota of four performances \(triumphantly among them, Dallas. The importance lay not in the rarity of opera in Texas. As surely an entire world must know by now, even Austin is occasionally treated to performances of Purcell. Rather, there has been such a spread of the art that we are badly in need of some standards, and it was these that the Met set so well that even the oftapplied adjectives of the critical vocabulary must be considerably qualified to make them stick. By far, the only one of the four offerings that could be evaluated with one, unqualified phrase was the performance of “La Traviata,” in every sense a genuine, if not e m p h a ti c, disappointment. To those who value Renata Tebaldi more than Giuseppe Verdi, the thing was a success. Mme. Tebaldi, superbly gowned by Rolf Gerard, was certainly a handsome Violetta, so lovely, in fact, that it almost seems unmannerly to point out that she never really suggested a fragile consumptive, as weak in the will as in the lungs, until the final scene on her death bed. There is no denying the beauty of her voice, either, but as she is no coloratura and proved unable to meet most of the demands of Act I without transposition, and as she is not above retarding Verdi whenever the mood suits her, she cannot be considered the ultimate Violetta, especially with Licia Albanese still about. The rest of the production offered considerably less satisfaction and proved even more dismaying. Giuseppe Campora, sometimes reduced to mere crooning as Alfredo, at least acted acceptably, while Ettore Bastianini, as Germont pere, possessed a fine voice but was dead on his feet. Tyrone Guthrie’s direction and Mr. G e r a r d’s costumes were pleasing. But Oliver Smith’s settings were either unsightly or mystifying. Faust Cleva, flailing away in the pit, had the music inappropriate to any mood but that of a wake or a stimulating hand of Old Maid. For what it’s worth, the performance was a sell-out, and during the curtain calls someone w a s throwing roses! Great shades of Adelina Patti! For Friday evening’s performance of “Il Trovatore,” though, the secret word was simply “traditional.” This term has its disreputable connotations, especially since To s c a n i n i, that great trouncer of tradition, called it a form set by “some idiot’s faulty memory of the last bad performance.” Here, however, it merely refers to a manner of doing things this is habitual rather than inspired. No other term could encompass the blinding accretion of claptrap that passes for acting. By now Kurt Baum has been responsible for so much coarse tone in the role of Manrico and Zinka Milanov has shied so often from the high notes in such prickly stuff as “Tacea la Notte Placida” and “Di Tale Amor” that these have become commonplace. And surely the Harry Homer settings, after 17 years of service, are a permanent fixture, though for the most part they were quite impressive. A traditional “Trovatore” at the Met, however, includes that consummate artist Leonard Warren as the unspeakable Count di Luna Harris Green cast of Daniele Barioni, Lucine Amara, Frank Guarrera, Laurel Hurley, Norman Scott, and Clifford Harvuot were an evenly matched and attractive group. I don’t know whether to credit Joseph L. Mankiewicz or Nathaniel Merrill with the staging, since the former’s treatment was considerably revised after shocking a couple of Guild members and outraging a few sopranos. But it was lively, making the Bohemians genuinely comic for once, and showed an admirable attention. to realistic detail \(including a vendor of “feel-thy peek-tures” came through once more with a production that, though it disacrded a couple of traditional fixtures such as that convenient tree in Act III, was attractive and in keeping with the contrasting moods of each of the acts. For a truly appropriate discussion of the final offering in Dallas of “La Perichole,” I would have to lapse into the almost impenetrable jargon of our fellow Working with Maurice Valency’s English text, Mr. Ritchard had such fun staging the show, as it shall henceforth be termed, that he could not resist joining in the act himself, acting the role of the Viceroy with great style and singing with horrid malevolence. Patrice Munsel and Theodor Uppman as the two young lovers were perfect. Alessio De Paolis, as An Old Prisoner, may well have been the hit of the stay. Whenever things got slack, Mary Ellen Moylan and the entire Corps de Ballet came bounding in to leap about to Zachary Solov’s wonderfully inconsequential choreography. The only criticism that one could lodge against this visit by the Metropolitan, with the exception of poor old “Traviata,” is in the company’s lack of manners. It was bad enough for even a routine performance to show more polish than one of those we generally receive at San Antonio during its sixteen-hour season. But when, with “Perichole,” it starts to usurp the field of the State Fair Musicals, the Met has gone too far! Ah, well, the standards are set. And Texas should be the same again. Let’s hope it isn’t! The Stump On Portia To the Editor: …. In your article abotit Barbara Smith you mentioned that a Negro girl was elected Portia but that it was given to a white girl. I have been in \(University of and during two of those years some of us voted for \(a Negro she won and this could easily have been so. But it was never more than a rumor. I resent your printing it as a fact. This has caused me to reflect on other stories which I formerly accepted as truth; I no longer feel that your paper “hews any harder to the truth” than the Dallas Morning News. Furthermore I have never read a “Stump” letter adverse to your views or your paper. I would like to see one which is … GEORGE BROWN 1600 Pease Rd., Austin \(The Portia report is a fact. Paragraphs “I wish you and Mrs. Randolph success in your new undertaking paper in Texas that I read and believe what I have read …” Phil Kleas, Wha rton. “Keep up the good work! We pass on each issue to someone else.”Charlie Staggs, 415-17 E. 3rd, Big Spring. “Please stopAm not in politics, especially your brand of socialism.”Kitty Crawford, Arlington. “Several of us here in Orange are subscribers and we like your THE TEXAS OBSERVER Page 6 May y, 1957 141 and Jean Madeira as the monumentally confused old arsonist Azucena, two of the most consistently satisfying interpretations that one could find anywhere. There is also some fine chorus
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