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Remembering Ramona Peebles By Elroy Bode Kerrville RAMONA PEEBLES is dead. That’s it no more, no less: a friend died in December. At Christmas there was no large, smiling woman standing in the doorway of her Center Point home, welcoming guests inside to warmth and companionship. Who was Ramona? Her friends know, her former students know, audiences who saw her act know, and we who valued her intelligence, humor, talents, sheer human goodness will continue to stop short during the day transfixed, still not quite able to accept the fact that she is no longer moving about her kitchen, laughing, baking bread, serving generous whiskey sours, slicing home-grown tomatoes for an upcoming meal. Life seems less lived in. There is a sobering, unreal silence where Ramona used to be. Ramona grew up near Center Point in Central Texas, went to college in San Marcos, taught drama and speech, acted, wrote letters-to-the-editor \(to the judged Interscholastic League contests across the state, continually befriended artists, actors, loners, strivers, and at 54 died of Frequent Observer contributor Elroy Bode now lives in Kerrville and teaches in Bandera. liver cancer as she lay on the couch before her fireplace. We were born within ten miles of each other, but I did not meet Ramona until two years ago. I was living in El Paso then, and although on visits home to Kerrville I would see her from time to time for a drink or talk, it was primarily through her letters that I came to know her. She was a woman worth knowing, as the following selections from her letters reveal. On milking cows: “It has been a long time, but I can still feel the comforting warmth of those great bodies early on frosty mornings. There was a security in the pattern of drawing up the stool, placing the bucket just right under the teats, thrusting the head into the warm flank and beginning the rather mindless foamy white sweetness in the pail. There were, of course, the kicked-over buckets, the inevitable tail-in-the-face \(usually smarter-than-average cow who would feel the head in her flank and begin to lean, ever so slightly, on the milker. The joys of milking were dim to me when I was sixteen and much more interested in movie stars than manure. I find now, however, that the smells and sounds of that ritual are much clearer to me than Joan Crawford’s face.” On a piece of writing that she liked: “I could hear the creak of the windmill on soft summer nights at the ranch where I grew up. The strangled, wet ‘pop’ of the sucker rods as they pulled cold water from the depths of the secret earth. And could feel the comfort of sweet clabber milk from supper in my belly. And smell the hot earth perfume as it was sprinkled with a swift, summer shower. And taste the foolish tears of the girl I was, rushing in longing response to the night-cry of two whippoorwills in the oak trees near the house.” On judging a speech contest: “I really relished those junior high folk, solemnly expounding on ‘sensory deprivation’ and ‘the effects of video games on society. ‘ They were like minipoliticians with passionate pleas based on inadequate information.” On ‘deprived children’: “In the office the other day someone mentioned that I grew up on a farm, that I had milked cows, fed pigs and chickens, etc. I was amazed to find myself surrounded by a large group of students who wanted to know all kinds of things, like ‘How does it feel to milk a cow?’ and ‘How do you get butter and cheese out of the milk?’ and who were amazed to discover that there is such a thing as a brown egg. I felt I was talking to deprived children. Ironic, in view of the fact that I felt deprived during my growing-up years because I went to sleep to the creak of a windmill instead of the satisfying cacophany of city sounds. For a few moments I felt I should be sitting in a rocking chair on a wind-swept front porch, dressed in a neatly starched, made-from-a-feed-sack dress, with a snuff brush from the back-yard hackberry in the corner of my mouth.” On people’s reactions to spontaneous expressions of happiness: “I was ing and for no other reason than that I felt good and was enjoying the moment, I started humming some song or other. Suddenly, there were people looking at me. None of the looks communicated approval of my happiness; they all spoke of disapproval. I was not singing loudly nor in any way being rowdy, just singing. One woman even stepped away from me as if she thought I might be dangerous. I am not one to avoid a challenge or to explain such a simple thing as a grocery-shopping outburst so I continued doggedly with both shopping and song. At last a child of 8-10 years stopped, smiled, and asked, ‘Are you happy?’ `Yes.”Me too.’ That made it all O.K. But when I got home, I started to wonder if we have become people who can’t trust happiness. Or even song.” 22 JANUARY 28, 1983