MARTIN ELFANT Sun Life of Canada Houston, Texas CA 4-0686 “BOW” WILLIAMS When Your Home Policy Expires, Check With Us About Special Savings On Our Homeowners’ Policy GReenwood 2-0545 624 NORTH LAMAR, AUSTIN ‘Let’s Abolish the Poll Tax! SirS: Some sort of recognition is in order for the executive secretary of the Migrant Labor Council for his fearless ‘and forthright statements about the migrant laTausch has dramatized for us the hardships faced by altruistic Texas farmers, struggling to better conditions for their help despite the indifference and contempt of the laborers themselves. How much greater would these hardships be, should bills such as those planned for the next legislaturebills designed to coddle these vagrants actually ‘become law. The executive secretary is to be commended for speaking up in between such salvations you lose ten Brazoses . . .” Graves has salvaged raudi what was his stretch ‘of Brazos, resurrecting the crazy savage Comanche and. Old Man Goodnight and Big Foot Wallace and the poor-white southerner. driven west by “a hot resolve not ‘to take no crap from nobody nowheres no more . . .” He wraps it up beautifully, and well before all that he and those others had known. “ended up down yonder under all the Cris-Crafts and the tinkle of portable radios.” BILL BRAIVIMER defense of a cause which has not had a just hearing since the early 1930’s. In the 1930’s, you may remember, other courageous men spoke up against the tragic waste involved in federal housing and slum clearance projects, pointing out that the people’ supposed to benefit were using the bathtubs as coal bins and the toilet bowls as drinking troughs. But their warnings fell on deaf ears. It is to be hoped that people do prick up their ears at ‘Mr. Tausch’s statements. What’s new, by the way, in the unemployment field? Has anybody gone on tour ‘and reported that the main problem is that too many bums just won’t work? Americo Paredes, 8 Kern Ramble, Austin, Texas. Do You Think Some Friend Who Thinks Might Want The Observer? THE TEXAS OBSERVER Page 7 Dec. 23, 1960 Over$133 Million lInns,uora rcnece Jizetre4 ttie,4 29e INSURANCE COMPANY P. 0. Box 8098 Houston, Texas HAROLD E. RILEY Vice-President and Director of Agencies Story of a Texas River Beethoven’s Birthday Some Night Noises Graves Distills Memories From Historic Stream Bill Brammer, political pundit and author of “The Gay Place,” prize winning Houghton Mifflin novel to be issued in March, will contribute reviews and opinion pieces to the Observer from time to time.Ed. GOODBYE TO, A RIVER, a Narrative by John Graves: Knopf; 306 pp; $4.50. Clamoring, chest-thumping testimonials rarely move merchandise, aside from soap or an occasional rock and roll barbarism or the canned and prefabricated miracles of the Rev. Mr. Oral Roberts. Such is my hopeful assumption, in all events, as applies to the book business. And since the objective here is to get the widest possible circulation of Mr. Graves’ marvelous account of floating his favorite piece of river, I search my head for tasteful, button-down soft-sell qualifiers. They do not come easily to mind. The world was a wild yell, and the redhead was first, and the third one, grunting, had molasses smeared over his chest and bed feathers stuck in it, *and water that she didn’t count; though trying hard she could not slip over into the blackness . . . Still conscious, and that part over, she knew when one on horseback held her arms up and another worked a steel-pointed arrow manually, slowly, into her body under her shoulderblade, and left it there. Knew, too, when the knife made its hot circumcision against the bone in her skull, and when a horseman meshed his fingers into her long hair again and she was dragged beside his’ panicked, snorting pony. But the hair was good and held, and finally, a stocky warrior had to stand with a foot on each of her shoulders as she lay in the plowed field before the house and peel off her scalp by main force. For a time after that they galloped back and forth across her body, yelling . . . and shot two or three more arrows into her, and went away. She lived for four days . . . tended by neighbor women, and if those days were anything but a continuing fierce dream for her, no record of it has came down. . . . The oldest boy had quit his stepfather and had circled back through the brush and had watched it all from hiding. No record, either, states how he felt about Comanches afterwards, or the act of love, or anything. . . . From Goodbye to a River by John Graves MR. GRAVES HAS WRITTEN a magnificent book written it with feeling and intelligence and a ‘real style that is conditioned and suffused by his subject: the hundred or so miles of Brazos River that spills down from the low mountains round about Possum Kingdom to the post-oak and shinnery landscapes of Lake Whitney’s ersatz Eden. Mr. Graves, who grew up in Fort Worth, knows this section of the river not only the sights and sounds and smells that are lodged in the consciousness of young men who have boated it, bathed ‘in it, ‘and bushwacked breakfast along its banks, but a rewarding and generous core sample of its history in addition. “The Brazos,” he notes, “does not come from haunts of coot and hem., or even from ‘mountains. It comes from West Texas . . . and from an equally stark stretch of New Mexico, and it runs for something over 800 miles down to the Gulf. On the high plains it is a gypsum-salty intermittent creek; down toward the coast it is a rolling Southern river . . . It slices across Texas history as it does across the map of the state . . .” Graves knows the whole river better than some of us know the lay of our own. backyard Victory Gardens, but it is that part he identifies as the Upper Middle Brazos toward its center on the fringe of West Texas that he knows best of all. It was to this piece of river that he returned in November 1957 after learning that much of what he remembered would be drowned by a series of dams between Possum Kingdom and Whitney. He tci .ok a canoe trip down it, for three incomparable, ,norther ravaged weeks, to say goodbye to such Huck Finn hangouts as he had known in his youth. THOUGH IT WASN’T mere senI timent or nostalgia . . . nor even the opportunity to exercise one last thumping flourish of man and boyhood against the vast discontent infecting domesticated male. There were better reasons, the best of reasons: “. . . The provincial who cultivates only his roots is in peril, ‘potato-like, of becoming more root than plant. The man who cuts his roots away and denies that they were ever connected with him withers into half a man . . . It’s not necessary to like being a Texan, or a Midwesterner, or a Jew, or an Andalusian, or a Negro, or a hybrid child of the international rich. “It is, I think, necessary to know -in that crystal chamber of the mind where one speaks straight to oneself that one is or was that thing, and for any understanding of the human condition it’s probably necessary to know a little about what the thing consists of . . .” Part of Graves’ “thing” is the Brazos and what is known of its history since the Spaniards pushed west in the early 1600’s and thoughtlessly allowed their strayed ponies to fall into the hands of “those squat pedestrians,” the Comanche Indians, who within a century became one of history’s great races of riders, existing, as it were, for pleasure, those pleasures being “war and hunting and ravishment and kindred proud patriarchal violences . . .” So another part of the “thing” is what passed when Comanche met white man on the frontier: the “partly unnecessary, drawn-out squabble between savages and half-illiterate louts constituting the fringes of a culture which, two and a half centuries before, had spawned Shakespeare, and which even then was reading Dickens and Trollope and Thoreau and considering the thoughts of Charles Darwin.” THE AUTHOR, during his three weeks on the river, searches for some revelance to “the murkier thing Americans have become.” He stalks himself and his kin as clearly as did Henry David on Walden Pond and as relentlessly as Graves seeks the fullthroated chant of the redbird or the eight or nine pounds of wild goose he cooks over walnut coals for a Thanksgiving feast along the riverbank. And here again Graves has the best of reasons: “. . . Possibly I’ll give up shooting again and for good one ‘of these years, but I believe the killing itself can be reverent. To see and kill and plucl. And gut and cook and eat a wile -reature, all with some knowledge and the pleasure that knowledge gives, implies a closeness to the creature that is to me more hon orable than the candle-lit consumption of rare prime steaks from a steer bludgeoned to death in a packing-house chute . . . Graves, who teaches creative writing at TCU and who made his way back to the Brazos country after wartime service with the Marines, graduate study at Columbia, and several years of “wandering and writing,” recently made an appearance in Austin to be one among a group of honoree Texas Bookwriters, 1960. He didn’t say much; in fact, there were some who mentioned that he rather kept too much to himself. If he did, it’s understandable, because he’s obviously a whole man, not so much disdainful of fellowship as infinitely patient, resourceful and self-.contained. “Few people,” he writes, “are willing to believe that a piece of country, hunted and fished and roamed over, felt and remember . . . There’s an old moonshiner aroundcall him Else . .. A long time back he got caught at his chosen trade . . . He was tried ‘and given a year or so in jail but, somehow, was allowed a little time out on bond before he had to turn himself in. On the night before his freedom expired, his friends gathered to give him a party. Everybody felt bad. There was whiskey, some of it even wood-aged for a month or so . . . They gloomed. “God damn it,” one said. “This ain’t it. We don’t want old Else to recollect us thisa-way, all that time. Like a funeral.” Another said: “What you gonna do, sing songs?” He said: “Let’s have a jury trial.” “Who you want to try?” “Else, that’s who,” he said. “I’m the judge . . .” They held it, drinking hard. At the end they had Else, Swaying with whisky, stand up before the bench and the judge said : “They done found you guilty of bein’ damn fool enough to get caught. What you got to ay?” “Sommidgin’ thang,” Else answered. “G’lty.” “All right,” the judge said. “I hereby by God sentence you to git beat up. Now.” And they all piled on . . . swinging and kicking. After a while they lost track of who it was they were after and just fought, a flailing mound of them, until nobody had any fight left in him. Old Else, who lost four teeth and had a thumb broken, still says it was the nicest party he ever went to. From Goodbye to a River by John Graves ed, can be company enough . . .” More important than the writer is the writing, and the prose of John Graves is as honest and important, graceful and unpretentious, as ‘any I have known in ‘a great long while. As for those dams along the Upper Middle Brazos . . . They are not yet the concrete and ‘earthen-fill realities envisioned by the engineers, though the author takes no part in the pro or con of their ultimate construction. “In a region like the Southwest,” he writes, “. . . electrical power and flood control and moisture conservation and water skiing are praiseworthy projects. More than that they are essential . . . Dams .re ipso facto good all by them.:elves, like mothers and flags. Aaybe you save a Dinosaur Monument from time to time, but in AUSTIN “Mosaic,” a radio program on KHFI-FM that runs from 12 midnight to 4 a.m. every Friday, has developed into the hottest thing in Central Texas show business, and largely through the imaginative explosions of the show’s creator and master of ceremonies, Mike Pengra, 22. It is one of the few radio show’s in the country on which anything literally goes, limited only by whatever vestiges of caution cling to Pengra’s planning. LAUNCHED AUNCHED LAST MARCH und er the good sport sponsorship of Lone Star Beer \(which has since twice renewed its shorted such weirdies as “Gullible’s Travels: The First in a 32-Part Adventure Series” \(only the first a remote control pickup of the annual “ground hog weighing contest” in Oklahoma City. Around Mosaic has grow up a solid falange of aficionados, a couple of dozen of whom follow the show right down to the 4 a.m. deadline and then, alerted by Pen gra over the air as to where he intends to eat breakfast, will show up to coffee with him and offer suggestions for the next zany session. This week many felt Pengra had reached the peak of his career. A part-time bass fiddler in a bass-piano combo, Mike some
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