Monday, January 13, 2020

A Country Girl’s Introduction.....

Most writers are dreamers, I know I am. I can’t walk outside, or listen to a song, or ride down the road without my mind going crazy with ideas and fantasies. The inspiration for my books comes from so many places – a picture I see on the internet, a historical marker on the side of the highway, even the teaser for an unrelated television show. As a hybrid Cajun Cowgirl, with both Texas and Louisiana blood flowing through my veins, I have lived in places where the very ground seems to cry out with tales from days gone by. Over the coming months, I plan on sharing with you a myriad array of interesting things, bits of folklore, and a behind the scene look at my world.
To kick off our relationship, let me tell you about the area where I spent most of my childhood – the Piney Woods of East Texas. My hometown was tiny, less than two hundred people. The total number of graduates in my senior class was an astounding – 35! We farmed and ranched, raising Beefmaster cattle. Not for beef, I couldn’t handle that. Although, let me clarify something…my father used to raise beef cattle…until his little princess grew old enough to throw an absolute lay down crying hissy fit about the very idea of sending our cows off to some feed lot to be hamburger meat. After all, I named them. I ran around among them and played with the calves. I watched the mama cows take turn babysitting their young and I befriended the lead cow, Spot, who wore a bell and would bring the herd into the barn whenever my dad would call her up.
The highlight of my year was calving season. I can remember my dad telling me and my mom that he was going out to ‘dig up a calf’. This was his way of saying a calf was about to be born. Looking back, I shouldn’t be surprised that he’d use such an obscure reference to hide the facts of life from me. After all, my parents assured me that they’d found wee me in the cabbage patch.
The prospect of a new calf would send me into a spell of ecstasy. I would wait up till all hours, until my dad came to get us to introduce me to the little one. I would go out, holding his hand, anxious to greet the newcomer. If the cow was friendly enough, I would shower the new baby with kisses. Well – one day, my pop found me in the pasture with a shovel digging a hole. He almost died – “What are you doing? The cows/horses will step in those holes and break their legs!” I looked at him all big-eyed and innocent. “I’m just doing like you do, daddy. I’m trying to dig up a calf.”
Anyway – our bovine babies were breeding stock and I personally worked with the bulls when I grew older. My all-time favorite was a big one-ton boy named Red Warrior. I trained him from the time he was born, brushing his coat and teaching him to eat from my hand. Anytime he would see me come into the pasture, he would pound across the way at full speed, sliding to a stop mere inches from the end of my nose. I really liked doing that when I had company over. Several of my friends lost it at the sight – some wetting their pants and running as if the devil himself were after them, thinking they were about to be trampled. I would laugh, enjoying myself.
All in all, I loved growing up around the animals – as you can tell.
Of course, we raised horses as well as cattle. Most of them would be sold to be trained by others or as rodeo stock. My dad didn’t really have time to break them all for the saddle. Eventually, I got a horse of my own, a quarterhorse named Comanche. He was gifted to me by our local mortician, Squeaky. Yes, there’s a story there.
You see, I had two great loves in my life (this was before the writing bug bit and before I discovered boys). These obsessions were music and horses. I desperately wanted a piano and I also desperately wanted a horse of my very own. Near to my birthday, my father told me I had to choose – I couldn’t have both. Each one of those things cost a lot of money for poor country folk. Now, I was taking piano lessons at school and showing some talent for it. I could play a few tunes already. On some Sundays, the choir director let me play for the children to sing some simple songs. All of this came to a head one weekend after a sad event. Our regular church pianist suddenly passed away. We were at the funeral home to pay our respects when the subject of my birthday came up. Our choir director had informed my family that I needed to learn more piano quickly, because I was the only other person in the church who could play at all. I can remember my dad telling me to make a decision – and he reminded me of my obligations. I thought about it – long and hard – and finally told him my answer.
The piano.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want it, I did. But I wanted a horse a little bit more. Little did I know, but Squeaky overheard our conversation. The next day, my father bought the piano and I was happy. But imagine my surprise when a pickup pulled up in our drive towing a horse trailer. I was stunned to see Squeaky leading a horse out to me with a big smile on his face – Squeaky’s face not the horse’s. He said he wanted to give him to me because I made an unselfish decision. To say the least, I was thrilled. I named the horse Comanche and he was my dearest friend for years and years. 
As for Squeaky, I had a long association with him at the funeral home. When I learned to play well, I was called upon many times to play for the services. In the country, folks thought ‘canned’ music was crass, they wanted a real person tickling the ivories and singing the mournful tunes. I did both of those things more times than I can count. In fact, I learned to play well enough to be the church pianist for years and years – as well as to perform in three bands. 
By my description, you might not see where I grew up as being cowboy country – but it was. There were cowboys in East Texas just like there are cowboys in Central and West Texas. Everybody wore cowboy clothes as their normal attire, even the pastor wore a western suit and boots in the pulpit. Most every family owned a pickup and most of them had guns hanging on a rack over the rear window. Hunting was a pastime. We attended rodeos, went on trail-rides, and our dates with boys often consisted of a trip to Dairy Queen and a mud-hogging expedition – this was where the guy would take us down dirt roads after a rain and drive fast in the mud, slipping and sliding and spinning around. Of course, we might park under the moonlight before going home...
So, yes there were cowboys. Most of them weren’t full time ranch hands, they held down other jobs to support their family – but they still came home, tended the cows, and sometimes fixed the fence by moonlight. This dual identity didn’t make them any less of a cowboy, that’s for sure.
Nowadays, I no longer live in East Texas. I’ve moved to the Austin area. Most of my books are set in the Hill Country near here, but some of them take place in East Texas and others in Louisiana. I might have moved on, but I haven’t forgotten my big house in the river-bottom with the wrap around porch, surrounded by thick green forest. I thought I was in hog heaven with beautiful pastures to scamper in – and if that became boring, I could stroll down to the palmetto swamp and catch crawdads. Of course, I had to watch out for alligators and snakes the way other kids watched out for traffic and kidnappers.
There are so many memories I want to share with you, all the things that defined my life and gave me fodder for writing. And I will. I’ll tell you about Dead Man’s Hole, the Saratoga Lights, my ghost hunting experiences, why I was investigated by the FBI – and the time I got the microphone hung in my mouth. Today though, I’ll remind you of an event that shook the nation and me almost as much as 9/11. For all of us, certain happenings define our life, marking our days. One of mine was when the Space Shuttle Columbia was lost – February 1, 2003.
Look at that date – the anniversary is fast approaching.
When the shuttle failed and crashed, it fell over my home territory. I can still remember the noise it made as it went careening overhead, breaking up all the while. We had a steel roof and it sounded like someone was dragging metal garbage cans across it. It took a while for us to figure out what had happened. Soon, the news was full of the tragedy. I can still remember the newscaster, Dan Rather’s reaction. He’d grown up in Houston and he was familiar with East Texas. After hearing Nasa and the government speculate on how quickly the debris and remains would be recovered – he challenged their assumption. “They don’t understand,” he said. “This thing has fell behind ‘the pine tree curtain’.”
His description was apt. The majority of our woods and swamp are so thick with vines and undergrowth that a machete would be needed to get through it. What he said proved true, it took three and half months to complete the search and even though they recovered all of the astronauts, only 38 percent of the shuttle was ever found. It wasn’t for lack of trying, either. All in all, twenty-five thousand people took turns walking day after day in grid formation to search two-hundred fifty miles and 2.3 million acres of land. I remember they found some of the science experiments in our pasture and part of the engine across the road.
This was a terrible time, but what I’ll never forget is that everyone stopped what they were doing. Businesses took turns shutting down so people could volunteer in the search. We cooked for the volunteers. We did their washing. The whole community and surrounding small towns pitched in daily for over 100 days to honor those men and women who lost their lives, endeavoring to gather all the information and pieces of the shuttle so questions could be answered as to why this horrible thing had occurred and insure nothing like it would ever happen again.
Many people came in to help – National Guard, 500 FBI guys, even a group of Native Americans from Oklahoma who were expert trackers. But many of those twenty-five thousand were local folks – farmers and ranchers – country cowboys who displayed some of that cowboy mentality – the readiness to put others first and go the extra mile to lend a helping hand. It was this and other happenings that taught me the kind of person I wanted to write about – heroes.   
I guess I’ve rambled enough. I can’t wait to visit with you again. I think I have an excerpt ready for the 19th from one of my historical novels – King’s Fancy. I’ll tell you all about it then.
Until we meet again – be safe, well, and happy.


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Julie Lence said...

Hi Sable and Welcome to Cowboy Kisses! You've had quite the exciting childhood, and the Space Shuttle. God Bless you and your community for all you did in helping with the recovery. You truly are an inspiration to many. Hugs!

Alicia Haney said...

Hi Sable , very nice to meet you. Wow, Thank you for sharing your beautiful memories of your childhood with us. And the Space Shuttle was a very sad happening, God Bless you and all the people who helped. I bet you write some very awesome books.

Sable Hunter said...

Julie - I look forward to getting to know everyone. While writing is a reward in itself - therapeutic, fulfilling - the friends we make along the way is the icing on the cake.

Sable Hunter said...

Alicia - Thank you so much. I can't wait to get to know you. I'm sure we have much in common. I hope you have a great week.