Page 13


BOOKS AND THE CULTURE Journal Entries Kerrville IT IS ALWAYS SUNDAY afternoon in Mason, Texas. Trees are there, and stone houses, and sheep grazing in vacant lots. It is a place of shaded streets and shaded bridges, and the countryside still edges into the heart of town. Men sit in their side yards on late summer afternoons with windmills rising behind their garages. * * * * IHAVE TURKEYS of my own now just two, white and long-legged and inelegant but whenever I listen to them calling in the heat I hear the turkeys of my grandparents’ ranch, the first turkeys of my childhood. They were there in the woodlot a string of them wandering disconsolately among the woodchips beneath the tall pecan trees. I paid them no attention as I roamed through the ranch house yards, but like the doves in the late afternoon they gave a voice to the ranch. It was a turkey voice, to be sure a thin, querulous, minor-key complaint but it was like insistent dots and dashes of a woodlot Morse Code, informing all of us on the ranch that life was proceeding normally at its 12 o’clock pace. * * * * y ES-SIR: As Tony the Mexican cafe owner moves about behind the counter he speaks mindless, agreeable, rhythmic Yes-Sir’s to a customer who stands in front of the cash register, holding a paper bag. These Yes-Sir’s are the same camouflaged verbal hand grenades that master sergeants toss, with flawless military courtesy, to young second lieutenants. What Tony is really saying to the man if the man would listen is this: “Jesus, what a pain. . . . You think you’re so friendly and buddy-buddy and human, but who do you think you’re Elroy Bode ‘s. latest book is This Favored Place: The Texas Hill Country Baldwin and Wendy Watriss. By Elroy Bode kidding? . . . The thing is, you’ve got it all nicely knocked in your comfortable little Anglo world so it does your soul good to come down here and play niceguy-next-door to me me, a small potatoes cafe operator who doesn’t have anything knocked. And this baloney you’re bending my ear with about having to take an extra doughnut home to your dog because if you didn’t, he wouldn’t let you ‘come in the house’. . . . God, do you think I give a rat’s ass if he never lets you in the house? . . . Such a Mr. Friendly you are, such an ace. . . . Hell, none of your other retired buddies will give you the time of day any more so you think you can come down here and leech on me, saying ‘Tony’ this and ‘Tony’ that and standing there with your skinny elbow on my cash register like you owned it. Mr. Very Big Deal, passing the morning with the Lowly-Fat-Mexican. And I’m supposed to be grateful. Overwhelmed. Well, sure, don’t you know it; I am. But next time, for Christ’s sake, just save the air. Buy something else besides a twenty-minute cup of coffee and one lousy doughnut for your Cocker Spaniel.” * * * /CAN STILL SEE a line of print in the San Antonio Light: “Good News of 1940.” It was the Baby Snooks radio program with Fanny Brice and Hanley Stafford. The newspaper is spread out on the front room couch and the 1940 sun is streaming through the living room window. It is five o’clock in the afternoon and my mother is in the kitchen, my father is still at the feed store, my brother is at a friend’s house. The five o’clock, sun-filled lawn is out there under the oaks. Yes. Once upon a time it was 1940, and I was somebody nine years old looking at the daily newspaper. Now I am somebody sitting here thinking about it. . . . it, of course, meaning time. The passing of it. The phenomenon of it. The recording of it in my mind. Time buried within me but always unfinished. AT DUSK I stopped at a small roadside garage in Lampasas, hoping to get someone to stay open long enough to fix my generator. I found the mechanic working at the back of his shop, in overalls and greasy baseball cap. As we talked he went on cleaning the small engine part he held in his hand gazing past me into the doorway. He would not commit himself to friendliness or discourtesy: he just kept on wiping the engine part, weighing the trouble I had brought him at closing time and the money he would make me pay against his desire to go on home. I was at his mercy we both knew that so he didn’t hurry. He fiddled around a while longer with his piece of metal, looked down occasionally to judge his progress, spat tobacco juice toward a stack of tires, let the silences grow between us. I stood there in all my obvious mechanical incompetence and bookishness; he looked out the doorway at the darkening winter cold. Finally he spat and jerked his thumb toward the grease rack. Just that a movement of the thumb. I got into my car and drove past him into the garage. I got out. We stood there, wordless, in the cold. He kept polishing the engine part. * * * * ONE NIGHT, in wintertime, in Juarez, a dead baby lay in a box inside an adobe house near the downtown railroad tracks. I was walking along, trying not to stumble against the random mounds of dirt beside the tracks, when I looked in and saw the baby. A boy was walking about in the room; a woman was seated in a wooden chair, looking into her lap. Three small children were sleeping together on the floor in a corner. Just another scene among many: a poor neighborhood, a poor family, a baby dies suddenly at night and is put in a box. The father is gone, the mother sits, the young son walks aimlessly about. 24 DECEMBER 23, 1983