THE TEXAS OBSERVER Published by Texas Observer Co., Ltd. Entered as second-class matter, April 26, 1937, at the Post Office at Austin, Texas. under the Act of March 3, 1879. Ronnie Dugger Editor and General Manager Larry Goodwyn, Associate Editor Sarah Payne, Office Manager Published once a week from Austin, Texas. Delivered postage prepaid $4 per annum. Advertising rates available on request. Extra copies 10c each. Quantity Prices available on orders. 10 EDITORIAL and BUSINESS OFFICE: 504 West 24th St., Austin, Texas. Phone GReenwood 7-0746. HOUSTON OFFICE: 1010 Dennis, Mrs. R. D. Randolph. We will serve no group or party but will hew hard to the truth as we find it and the right as we see it. We are dedicated to the whole truth, to human values above all interests, to the rights of man as the foundation of democracy; we will take orders from none but our own conscience, and never will we overlook or misrepresent the truth to serve the interests of the powerful or cater to the ignoble in the human spirit `His ideal of a balanced life was Greek’ could no longer read American fiction because it is so pallid and insipid compared to the great Russian fiction rammed to the breech with vitality: Turgenev, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy. He admitted Balzac into their company. During a long span of his life he read the greater part of Shakespeare about once every two years. THE WALT WHITMAN that he knew by heart and had obsorbed into his very marrow was not the sentimentalized “good grey poet” but the tough poet of democracy. “He is our greatest exponent of Democracy among the poets,” Bedi wrote me in a letter. “The reached hand, bringing up the laggardscould there be a more expressive phrase of the true inwardness of Democracy than that?” Along with Whitman, his favorite American writer was Thoreau, acid, with the wild taste, a rebel. Bedichek gloried in the influence that Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” had on Gandhi and India and is still having over the world. While he was writing Adventures with a Texas Naturalist, or maybe it was Karankaway Country, he made a habit of reading pages of Plato with his pre-dawn coffee. Plato helped start the day for him on a noble plane and put him into a creative mood. At this time he would not wilt the freshest part of the day with the littlenesses and banalities of a morning newspaper. For no man writing a book has morning ever been, to quote a 1945 note from Bedichek, a time to “stoke the furnace of indignation against numerous -manifestations of Fascism in this country.” He never learned the Greek language, but his ideal of a balanced life, of a just proportion of the elements that make up a human being. was essentially Greek. In reading Homer, he compared several translations. As hundreds of quo Those of us who saw Mr. Bedichek often knew his opinions, independently formed and independently expressed, on a great variety of subjects. The futility of trying to recapture his words or the curves of his extraordinarily mobile mouth as he spoke is downright humiliating. I recall very few instances of which I can report, “Bedi said …” It could never be judged of Mr. Bedichek that “he wrote like an angel but talked like poor Poll.” He wrote well; he talked as well over a wide expanse of reading, experience, and reflection. One time he admitted us to a secret of his good talk. “I always try,” he said, “to turn a conversation to a subject I know something about.” I can see now just how he looked when he said that. Afterward it was fun to watch him turn a conversation gently and adroitly, to a subject that interested himto bulldozing trees out of sites they had held for centuries; to the superiority in appeal of wild flowers over cultivated ones, all except roses; to the importance to health of food grown with organic fertilizer; to the martins living in a box he put up for them; to the arrival and departure times of the swifts that fill our summer skies with sound and movement; to the advantages of a vegetable diet; to the dull ordeal of watching home movies; to Voltaire, some of whose ideas he cheridhed in a little Haldeman-Julius blue book; to the letters exchanged tations and allusions in his books and letters would show, the immortal essence of the Greeks was in his veins. It seemed to me that the philosophy of Henry George had a more determining effect upon his economic views than any other writing. Henry George advocated a single tax and did not consider it just that an individual owner of real estate should collect the unearned increment given to it by population and labor. Bedichek believed in the single tax but would justify buying a piece of land by saying. “It’s better to run with the hounds for your dinner than with the hare for your life.” Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative was his golden rule: Do only as you would have others do; or, act only as if you would have the act become universal law. The categorical imperative is contrary to the ways of greed and lust; so was Bedichek. He was as unenvying and as free from greed and jealousy as any man could be. IN THE EARLY 1920’s he sufI fered from a rash caused, he was told, from eating too much of high proteins, especially eggs. He became for the rest of his life what Sam Houston called “a damned vegetarian.” He was not too rigid, however, to enjoy latitude upon occasion. As a guest he ate of the meat set before him. He took the lead many a time in getting a few men friends to go out in the country for a meal and talk. There was always a steak, and Bedi always insisted on cooking the steak over coals. Nobody could cook it better, and he was no slacker in eating his part of it. Cooking meat over an open fire mitigated in his mind any “protein poison” it might have; at a hotel table I’ve seen him dispose of an un touched steak to somebody else who could eat a double one. He between George Bernard Shaw and Mrs. Patrick Campbell; to Thucydides; to getting up at three in the morning; to friends whose humor or gaiety he enjoyed; to the ‘shallow or the profound over the range of human intercourse. He was as often called philosopher as naturalist. “Philosopher of life,” I think when I remember these words: “Many things that are true should never be said.” His philosophy had a homely quality, as in this, recollected by Edgar Kincaid: “There is hope for a nation that eats corn on the cob and thereby exercises its teeth.” When Mr. Bedichek was to be along on a picnic I always made potato salad. Always, that is, after the first time, when he told me, “All you need to do to get into Heaven is to take along a bowl of potato salad and then when Saint Peter opens the gate hold out a spoonful for him to sample and promise him the whole bowl if he lets you in.” Next to the last time I saw Mr. Bedichek was at the Town and Gown spring picnic. From down one of the long tables a scrap of talk drifted up to me. Someone said of the caterer’s potato salad, “It’s very gold.” “Nothing like so good as Mrs. Dobie’s,” Bedichek assured her. Actually my potato salad is only “pretty good.” But it suited Mr. Bedichek, and it suited his kindly nature to bestow praise. BERTHA McKEE DOBIE had a theory that the deeper down into the earth a plant puts its roots, the richer its fruit is. He positively gloated in dilating on the mineral and other virtues of pecans. He loved to mix a green or a fruit salad and would linger long and lovingly in detailing his recipe for such. In theory he was against doctors; I think he wrote considerably on a book intended to expose at least several sides of the medical professionthough he be `Along with Whitman, his favorite American author was Thoreau, acid, with the wild taste, a rebel.’ lieved very much in. his doctor daughter, Mary Virginia Carroll. He would quote an old proverb: “A man’s either a fool or his own physician after 40.” He said that a sick man should have as much sense as a sick cow: she quits eating and goes off and lies down. Sometimes it didn’t seem at all natural to me that Bedi should be practical. He was a productive gardener, as his table, his deep freeze, and many a mess of vegetables he gave to friends Showed. Yet he put a kind of ritualism into gardening that farmer folks wouldn’t and couldn’t bother with. When I drove with him in his pickup I constantly wondered how he made it through the streetsbut he always made it. He liked raw milk, believed in its virtues for himself and his family. He had a contempt for boiled and chemically treated milk, something taken out and something else put in. For years he milked his own cow. There were vacant lots not far distant from the Bedichek home on East 23rd Street in Austin, where a cow could graze. The last cow he had, about 1932 or 1933, was a four-gallon milker. She was very gentle and very much devoted to the Bedicheks, but keeping a cow and milking her became too much of a burden, and Bedi sold her to a man out near Deep Eddy on West Sixth Street. This man saw the cow being milked. Bedi told him that she wouldn’t give milk unless she were treated , gently and fed well. He got up at 2 o’clock in the morning to lead her to the purchaser, thus avoiding the traffic. The purchaser hadn’t had her more than two or three days before he complained that the cow wasn’t giving the milk claimed for her. He wanted his money back. Bedi went out there. The cow was shrunken and’ showed abuse. While the man was away for a minute, his wife told Bedi that her husband had beaten the cow. Bedi felt like beating the man but he left. He didn’t give him his money back either. Anybody who knew him would as soon expect apples to fall up instead of down as for him to misrepresent a fact. IN THE VIGOR of early manI hood Bedi drank some whiskeymaybe not too muchalthough after he married any drinking was bad economically. I don’t think he ever loved any man quite so much as he loved his college friend Harry Steger, with whom he went to Europe and who died young. He cried all day long, so Mrs. Bedichek has told me, after receiving word of Steger’s death. One of his favorite anecdotes was of meeting Steger on Congress Avenue in Austin one day. They both wanted a drink but before entering a saloon swore to each other that they would take only one and then get out. They took the drink, and it was good. “Well, let’s go,” said Bedi. “That drink makes me feel like a new man,” Steger said, and “now the new man has to have a drink..” I never did ask Bedi if he joined the new man. By the time I got to know him, he wasn’t smoking the pipe or cigar he had once smoked. He took real solace in a bottle of beer along in the evening or with a Mexican mealbut virtually never more than one. Along about 1954 or 1955 in the middle of a terrible drouth devastating much of Texas, I brought back about a dozen cases of Carta Blanca beer from Monterrey, Mexico. I had a devil of a time getting them past the customs ignoramuses at Laredo. I had to prove my right to pay duty on beer just as beer dealers pay it. I hadn’t more than got to Austin and got a few bottles cooled than I called up Bedi. For awhile I shared that Carta Blanca beer with other people, especially when Bedi was around. When only two cases were left, I cut off everybody, including myself, and saved it especially for Bedichek. Occasionally there might be two or three or half a dozen other men; I’d offer them what they wanted to drink, and if they wanted beer they had to take something else. Then I’d bring out Bedi’s bottle of Carta Blanca. He enjoyed that sort of petting. II Talker and Storyteller As newspaperman, chamber of commerce exponent, and director of the Interscholastic League of Texas, Bedichek had done a vast amount of hack work. Anybody who works for a living spends the majority of his energies in hack work. But though he was a university man, specializing in the humanities, he had never been deflected by the Ph. D. system into the inferiorities of literature. He had spent a lifetime reading the best before he turned author with seventy just over the hill for him. While H. Y. Benedict was President of the University of Texas, I heard him say that Bedichek should be teaching literature. “Why not put him to teaching it?” I asked. “Because every Ph. D. professor of English would have a colt if I did,” he replied. That was the truth! Sawdust never yearns toward vitality. We all learn with wonder of the feats in, memory performed by the Macaulays of history, but I’ve never known anyone else in the flesh who held in memory so precisely so much of what he had read as Roy Bedichek. He could have produced a magnificent anthology of English poetry solely out of his memoryas rich as Lord Wavell drew from his memory in Other Men’s Flowers. He had the added faculty, perhaps of a higher order, of always being able to draw from memory anything related to a subject brought up by conversation or in his own flow of thought. Sometimes he had to restrain himself from clogging his writing with allusions and “decisions that had from the time of King William come down.” Early in the summer of 1953 Jess Akin of Austin decided to paint the . portraits of Bedichek, Walter Webb, and myself. He had painted mine unsatisfactorily and wanted to make another attempt. If a person is being portrayed for his significance, every effort should be made to make that significance appear on his countenance while he is sitting for the painter. I volunteered to do my best to keep Bedi’s features illuminated while he was being painted. I knew that he would do more talking than I. for he was just naturally a better talker. I illuminated him for four half-days. After Akin was through with Bedi, he took me on, and Bedi came to brighten me. We had eight conversations amounting to perhaps 30 hours in less than two weeks. I can say of Bedichek as Johnson said ‘of Burke: “That man draws out all my powers.” Neither he nor I was empty or exhausted when the siaings came to an end. Sitting and talking had become a kind of occupation with us. Several times I thought I would make notes on the subjects of our talk. I did not. Naturally, we recurred occasionally to the same themes but without repeating. Now I cannot recall a hundredth part of what either said; if I could recall all, a book would be re quired to hold it. Little of it was trivial. It interested us, and that was sufficient. Will Burges, lawyer of El Paso, John Lomax, of cowboy song
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