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Send $5.10 to: THE TEXAS OBSERVER 504 West 24th St., Austin, Texas City, State Name Address SUBSCRIBE TO THE OBSERVER It was a fong trip we had to take that day. From my grandfather’s ranch we had to go out by Pete Stevens’ and then over to the Reservation Road and down the highway and up to Sunset to the cemetery. Mrs. Cottle had died. It was cold and crisp outside a nd the October sun was filling the window when my grandmother brought my sausage and egg to the table. My grandfather sat, red-faced, cross-legged, hat back and sweaty hair pasted on his forehead, rolling him a cigarette and waiting for a cup of coffee. He had done his first work of the morning. MY GRANDMOTHER came in pursing her lips as she watched the coffee threaten to spill from the cup into the saucer and she put the coffee in front of my grandfather and stopped and looked at him. “Annie Fay called just a little hills. I can’t talk very much about it because they were not something you wrap up in one piece. You saw them whenever you walked out on the front porch. They stretched in a thin blue line. I do not know why, but you didn’t notice them, or pay any attention to them, except when you walked out on the porch. They were over on the Guadalupe River. They were low and serene and the distance is what made them blue. They looked cool, I suppose, being part of the river. That was the far-off for us. My grandfather liked the house berause he would walk out and look over and see the hills. Someone who lived over there aeemed to live a long way away. And that was where we were going that day. The Cottles at one time had ranched near Harper. Mr. and Mrs. Cottle and my grandmother and grandfather had known each ether, though they did not see each other when they went to church. My grandparents were Methodists and the Cottles were Presbyterians. They had been together.. at. .gatherings in their younger days. But the Cottles had moved out of the Harper community and gone to a place above Hunt. They had left the flinty flat country and had gone into the Hill Country, with its heavy green cedar and its white streams and deep green water. Mrs. Cottle had come from that part of the country, and now she was going to be buried in the Peril family cemetery. She was a Peril. WE GOT THERE early and it was shaded in the church. Some men were bringing in some more benches from the school house up on the highway, and outside the door you could hear men talking in the bright quiet fall afternoon and see them stepping briskly in the bed of the red pickup, lowering benches almost politely to the men who were bringing them inside. Behind them were the cedars, growing right up close to the church, with the ground clean beneath the trees. Inside the church the men were walking lightly, setting down the heavy benches. My grandfather took off his hat, his face respectful and blank and his forehead white, and he and my grandmother walked up and looked at Mrs. Cottle in the casket. She was thin and grey-colored and she lay with her nose and chin pointing skyward. You could not help but think of the funeral home when you saw the way she was made up; you might say stiffly prettied up for the occasion. Annie Fay was there and she was tiptoeing around too but she was a short dumpy freckled muscular little woman who once was kind of pretty and she looked kind of pretty now with some rouge on and a black dress with a white collar and she was moving all the time and she smiled with big spreading lips and did not seem downcast. She was putting the flowers around and she was there to play the piano. During the service it was crowded. I stood outside the door on the porch with my grandfather and the other men who were looking in. It was dark up front where the preacher was talking by the casket. I stood and now the hills we saw from the ranch were near. The leaves on them were red and brown. The sun was bright on the bare slope of the church ground. A squirrel was switching his tail, and he stood upright out in the middle of the rocky ground, turning his head quickly, moving forward, taking an acorn to a hole. Beneath the heavy shade of the live oaks by the fence a rusty cultivator stood. There was a scuffling of feet inside the church building. The benches rumbled and the people got up and sang. I heard them sing “In the Sweet Bye and Bye,” hearing the women mainly, and in between you could hear Annie Fay playing the piano. Their voices rose and fell. Then it was quiet and_ the _men on the porch made way and -some relatives came out bent this way and that, the women crying. This began the drive to the cemetery. The cars pulled out from where they were parked in the grass and rocks, and dust rose as the procession moved through the cattle guard and across the highway over to the cemetery down by the river. They had put up a low green. canvas for the people to sit under. The hearse was parked by the grave. It was bigger than any other car. It was a funny color of blueit had a purplish cast to it. It looked funny out there in the country. A mound of red fresh dirt was alongside the grave. They had put the flowers from the church on racks and stood them out by the grave. You could see the mound behind the bright red and yellow flowers, the green ferns which blew a little. The people sat under the tent on folding chairs, and in front the preacher stood. Before him was the casket. The people sat close together. They looked solemn and respectful and washed up. But they looked too brown and weathered and used to work to be cooped up and still for very long. “That’s the Sunset preacher,” my grandmother whispered to my grandfather. “Brother Spellman didn’t come?” my grandfather said in a muffled voice. “I think that’s him on the bench,” my grandmother said. Mr. Cottle was a very tall man with a long neck and his head was bent forward all the time. A sister or cousin or someone in a small black hat held onto his arm a lot and patted his shoulder now and then. Mr. Cottle sat on the front row, on the seat next to the aisle. The casket was right in front of him. The people who wanted to took a last look at the body. The men in the grey suits moved quickly when the service was over. They closed the lid, solemn but busy-looking, and they rolled the casket out to the grave and they took the flowers away showing the hill of red dirt. Thle preacher stood at the head of the grave, and the men were trying to be dignified but were quivering and straining a little as they let the casket down on the straps –the men from the funeral home helped by two rancherswith the members of the immediate family standing around the graveside, the preacher praying, “Our heavenly father, we are happy for the soul of this woman, for she has gone to the place of eternal rest, where all of us shall be joined together again after this short journey on earth.” Most of us stayed inside the canopy, standing, and then we heard the rock, surrounded by smaller stones and earth, strike the casket lid in the grave and I thought I heard Mr. Cottle say, “Oh, Beulah,” as the men began shovelling. IT GETS GLOOMY up in that hill country when the sun gets low. I don’t know what it is. River country is always sort of that way. Out at my grandfather’s ranch, the land is flat and the sun seems to get brighter and more golden and more stabbing as it falls in behind the tree trunks and blazes on the white plumes of needle grass and catches in the quartz of the hard dry rocky terrain: The dying of the sun on the Edwards Plateau is a glorious thing and it warms you. The sun goes behind the hills early up the river. Then everything begins to get damp. On the east side of the hills the cedars get heavy and dark-looking and the lone birds begin to whistle over, going to some faraway nest for the night. Other birds give single rasping mournful calls from the timber. To the rancher or person from the dry plateau the river country seems a little strange. You have your deep-floWing water coming from the ground up at the springs and from streams and washes and flowing through the country and going down to other rivers and through them to the sea. The river with its secret holes and fish and moccasins along the bank and the high old sad cypresses has a life of its own. And flowing like it does, it gives you a sense of the rush and unsteadiness of life that you do not get on hard high ground among the spaced forests of dry post oak with their varmint nests. MY GRANDMOTHER had to go back to the church to pick up some vases, and when we got there Annie Fay was back straightening things up and taking down the few flowers that had been left in the church. My grandfather stayed outside, talking with Floy, Annie Fay’s husband. I stood around while they talked. “Didn’t Genevieve take it hard,” said Floy. “Sure did,” said my grandfather. Floy talked fast and in a confi dential tone. “Well, you know she practically raised that girl after her mother died.” Floy was a stocky quick man with well shaped hands and he was trimming a stick. When the bark was all off the branch and he had shaped it into a small round thing, he said, “Here, Carl, see if you can spin that.” It was a pretty good top, and, though wobbly, it spun on the plank floor of the church porch. “You know the deer’s just ruining my oats,” Floy was saying to my grandfather. I walked in the church. The last sun was coming in a west window above where the choir sat. Annie Fay said: “Aren’t these Old Maids pretty?” “Them’s Georgia Brights,” my grandmother said. “I’ve had awful good luck with them, way up into October.” Annie Fay grinned wide. “You know I planted some Old Maids last spring and they was comin’ up real good. Then Donnie left the gate open. That old mare he rides just tromped ’em to smithereens.” She laughed, then she held up a vase. “This green one is yours, isn’t it?” Annie Fay closed the lid on the old piano and its strings sounded a faint fading chord. I have been sitting here thinking about Sunset. I’ve got the name and the day we went there and what we went there for all mixed up. It has been that way for years. I keep thinking of the day as one in which things will never change. I think of the late sun lighting up the inside of the churCh and my grandmother and Annie Fay working together quietly. I think of our trip, and driving around the hill that had turned dark with the light showing only at the top through the trunks of the trees. IT HAS BEEN many years since that day. My grandfather still tries to ride and to rope and to doctor sheep, though he cannot see the limbs that endanger what is left of his eyes, nor hear the calls of the Mexican telling him the sheep my grandfather cannot see are getting away. I still go to visit them, and my grandmother comes out and smiles, and we pass the flower beds as we walk up the walk to the front porch. When I am at the ranch, I walk out on the porch and look at the hills. They never change, the distant blue line of them over there by the river, waiting. SUNSET . . . a story of the Hill Country by Winston Bode bit ages and said Laura Cottle died.” “Did ?” He drank a sip and said, “When are they gonna have the funeral?” “They’ve set it for 2:30 today at Sunset. Smith has the body.” My grandfather said, “I had those’ sheep I wanted to take over to the windmill pasture this morning.” Then he said, “I reckon we ought to go.” “Oh, yes, poor old soul. I never will forget how good she was to us My grandfather was looking off. He said, “That’s going to go hard with old Oscar.” “That leaves him by himself on the place now.” “Did Annabelle leave?” “Oh my yes. She went to Fredericksburg two or three years ago to work in the bank.” My grandfather finished his coffee. “Well,” he said, getting up. “I better get those sheep over there and get back.” “I.. thought just fry .some chicken and we could eat a picnic lunch along the road. We ought to be there by at least one. Annie Fay said she wanted me to bring some flowers and help decorate the church.” “Wonder who they’ll have to preach.” “I imagine old Brother Spellman.” I call it a long trip. Any trip is long when you dress up and leave the ranch and go somewhere and come back. It is a journey. But in those days it wasn’t unpleasant, even when you went to a funeral. The roads were not too good then and this made it seem longer. And it made it seem longer to travel a stretch you did not usually travel, and turn down a lane, and go over to another road you didn’t usually travel, and then enter onto the highway. Any time my grandfather went on the highway, it was a trip. It was different from working on the ranch. And both he \\ and my grandmother were usually tired when they got in at night. But they would have lots to talk about, eating Post Toasties in the kitchen maybe with the groceries, if they had gone to town, still in the fresh-smelling sack \(the canned goods and so on; my grandmother would put any fresh meat in the not be tired. I would have enjoyed riding with them. I liked to take journeys back when I was nine and ten. I WALKED OUT on the back screen porch after breakfast the morning of the funeral, and I looked out at the lilac bush and