June 28, 2013

Texas Tales..."I Found Summer Today"...

I found summer today. I knew it was here, but to me, it just wasn’t official yet because the official announcement hadn’t been made by the unofficial icon of summer. But today and literally out of the blue, summer made its official announcement and simultaneously took me back to my long, gone childhood. I walked outside at around 2:00 and the sun was directly overhead. It was blazing hot and a low-hanging, heavy haze filled the sky. Suddenly, there it was. Can you hear it? Can you hear the ratchety-cadence of summer? A Cicada, or as we called them as a kids, a “locust” was buzzin’ the “cicada serenade” in the top of a tree across the street. Yep, it's official now, summer is here. Welcome to Texas, Summer.

As a child, summer was the most welcome time of the year for me. The heat didn’t affect me at all and to this day I still love summer the best. Late sunny evenings, day fishing trips, long bike rides all over the county and swimming were the activities that awaited us as the last school bell of the year peeled out announcing our three-month stay from the doldrums of education. And almost in harmony, the cicadas would begin singing and buzzing their song of summer.

Up with the dawn, chores out of the way and a shiny quarter in our pocket, away we would go. As we rode our bicycles toward the downtown area of the little Texas hamlet I grew up in, our eyes were focused like lasers on the sides of the roads, anxiously looking for that tell-tale, sparkling glint, beaming off of the glass "coke" bottles, lit up by the blazing Texas sun. Just coke bottles you say? Well, as with most folks in Texas will attest, every carbonated beverage sold back then was a "coke". The conversation would go something like. "I'm going to buy a coke, you want one?" "Yeah, I'll take one." "What kind?" "A Pepsi."....

The bottles lay hidden in the Johnson and Bermuda grass that grew in and around the ditches on either side of the road. On a good morning, we could find ten or twelve bottles and at a nickel apiece that would garner another $.50 to $.75 to put in each of our pockets to help fund that days adventure. In 1968 a dollar in the pocket of a ten year old was a heap of money, considering an ice-cold "coke" was only $.15 and a Baby Ruth bar was only $.10.

After we sold our "roadside bounty" at the local grocery store, it was on to the square, where we’d feast on the fresh peaches, watermelons and cantaloupes that were being offered up by the local farmers and ranchers in the shade of the old Fleming Oak Tree. The Fleming Oak is a county treasure from the days of the Cowboys and Indians and a reminder of the squabbles that had to be won to settle the rough and haggard land of Comanche County. The story goes that Old Man Fleming climbed up in that tree and was not letting anyone cut it down when the county decided to clear a spot for the new courthouse. And if they tried, he would not hesitate to use his old “Number Ten” on them. No one was sure if it was the ten gauge shotgun that was laying across his lap, or the heavy leather, sized ten boots he wore on his feet. The folks decided that it just wasn’t worth the time or pain that might be inflicted to find out which of the two it was. So, the tree is still standing proudly as ever on the square.

The Fleming Oak had a special place in Old Flemings heart from his childhood. As a young lad living with his family on the wide-open Texas Prairie, he claimed that this very tree saved his life as he rode desperately to save himself from a blood thirsty party of Comanche Indians. He said he climbed up into the tree and scared his horse away and just in the nick of time, too. The Indians rode right on by and never knew he was up in the tree. I can imagine how many cicadas have made that old tree home over the centuries. Oh if their song could be understood by us, imagine the stories they could tell.

From the square, we’d head south to the lake that sat three or four miles just outside of town. I’m amazed that us kids made it through all of those summers, what, with the sun baking down on us at over 100 degrees most days, riding bikes on those old two-lane country roads dodging cars, trucks, tractors, motorcycles and any other object that flew around every curve and topped every hill. We’d finally make it to the lake and spend another quarter to cool ourselves at the local swimming pool. It was nestled at the edge of and old oak tree line at the southeastern side of the lake and it was surrounded by ancient pecan trees. And there was always a symphony from the cicada choir to keep us company as we swam the summer away. 

By the end of the day, we were all starving, worn out and charred by the sun and we still had to make that three mile ride back home on that old Farm to Market road we came in on. But the good part of the ride back is that it was virtually down-hill all the way. So, soaking wet from the afternoon swim we’d fly down that hill back toward home as the cicada’s cheered us on from the worn and gnarled mesquite trees that lined that old road in the dusty cow pastures. And even though it was 100 degrees outside, we’d be shivering for the first few minutes ride, as we were all soaking wet from the afternoon of swimming. But in no time at all, sweat would begin to bead up on us once again. As we rounded the last curve before the city limits sign, we would always draw a sigh of relief. We were almost home, only another mile or so, down FM 16 into town, past the square and a right on Walcott and we were home in ten minutes. 

As we coasted into the front yard and threw down our bikes, most Saturday nights would find the smell of fried chicken filling the air. Mama was working her magic in the kitchen and she would always shout out her disapproval of the sunburns we’d received that day. But in the end, she always offered up her prized Aloe Vera plants that she kept on the front porch to cool down the effects of the blazing Texas summer sun. Taking turns, we’d slather one another’s back with the gooey, cool gel that oozed out of the Aloe Vera and always brought immediate relief to our scorched bodies. 

With supper over and the night coming to an end, we would all go sit in the old red metal lawn chairs that were in the shadows of the carport. The cool metal always seemed to ease my burning skin and the heat of the day that was still hanging like a wet blanket on to the muggy Texas evening. The cicadas were still full of life and it was the sound of home and summer. We’d all sit and talk over the day, maybe play catch with a baseball for a bit or laugh at a colorful story mama always seemed to have at the ready. And then, one by one, the cicadas would end their daily performance. And almost on que, the lightning bugs would begin to light up the Texas night sky. Yes, summer was finally an official season now, because the cicadas were here and had officially taken over summer with their welcomed buzz. Everything good and right about summer was in place now and life was grand.

Welcome to Texas, Summer…

The Impulsive Texan