I awoke to another gray day, and after taking advantage of the indoor facilities to wash up and shave, I made my way over to the ranch house where I was greeted by a small team of rather large dogs. As I entered the kitchen, Mary was just finishing feeding several of her feline friends, which prompted me to say, “Sure looks like it’s an on-going, all day chore feeding all your four-legged friends.” She corrected me by replying, “You’re somewhat mistaken, Bill. I consider it a pleasure rather than a chore, if you know what I mean.” She then proceeded to feed her two-legged pals by rustling up a batch of scrambled eggs, sausage, and toast. As we sat around the breakfast table, I asked them, “As I was pulling out this morning, I was curious about those wooden boxes sitting on legs out in the front yard.” Lewis explained, “That’s our miniature version of a honey farm. There are bees in there busy as bees making honey. You know, honey is nature’s purest form of food. I’ll fill up a gallon jar for you to take home.”
Lewis and I spent the better part of the day just lollygagging around the ranch, helping him feed his two horses and twelve head of cattle, toting 50 lb. sacks of grain to the feed troughs. At one point, as we were resting against the top rail of the corral fence, I looked up at the quilted cloud cover and said, “Louie, this is the kind of day (cool, cloudy, and calm) the Irish call a “soft day”. In contrast, the Indians had their own word to describe a cold, windy, clear day, which translated into “hard day”. All he said was, “Very interesting.”
We took a break from our chores and retired to the kitchen for a tall glass of ice tea. I was really enjoying having the company of so many dogs and cats to the point of being envious of the Chandlers for having all that companionship. I thought to myself: “I would be overjoyed if only I could take that Border collie home with me.” I said to Lewis, “Before I leave, I advise you to take a nose count of your dogs, because if you don’t, I’ll be halfway to Houston before you realize that I’m guilty of dognapping. Just kidding. I wouldn’t subject any of these dogs to the confines of apartment life. By the way, what’s the name of that collie?” He replied, “He answers to the name ‘Roundup’.” I said, “Well, that’s an appropriate appellation for that breed. Border collies are renown for their incredible sheep herding instincts.” He added, saying, “A few Border collies around these parts are actually enlisted for cow herding.” I believed him, but with a slight hint of doubtfulness, I still had to say, “Get outa town.”
It was getting close to feeding time for us humanoids, so I suggested we drive into Kennard and allow me to treat them to lunch at their favorite diner. Mary said, “That’s very sweet of you, and besides, I was going to make a trip in anyway to get some groceries for tonight.” As we meandered along Farm-to-Market Road 256, I was prompted to say, “This is one beautiful part of Texas with all these pine trees. I can see why you chose this area to settle in.” Lewis succinctly responded, “Yeah, without dreams, what do you have?” That really put things hi perspective.
We easily found the eatery of their choice, “Billy Bob’s Bar-B-Que Pit”, and chowed down on some delectable ribs. As we indulged ourselves in the greasy, sloppy meal (a lot of napkins were in order), I finally couldn’t resist bringing up what could have been a touchy subject. I said in jest, “Louie, when I hadn’t heard from you for 30 years, I was wondering if when we last saw each other (back in 1970), was it something I said (echoing Alan)?” He amiably replied, “Naw, of course not. You know me; I’m basically a recluse when it comes to keeping up with our old friends, like Alan Anderson and Austin Lewis (a high school chum), so don’t take it personally. Anyway, I’ll say this, I’m sure glad our old friend Alan found me on his Internet.” I replied, “So am I, Louie, so am I.”
Having gotten that off our chest, we drove to the nearby Brookshire Super Market, exclusively an East Texas chain. Lewis had his mind set on steak for dinner, so as he was panning the T-bone and sirloin section, I intervened, saying, “Whoa, Louie, since I’m springing for the steaks, let’s splurge and go for filet mignons. You’re a great chef, but not even you can guarantee the sirloin won’t be a little tough. Trust me, I know from experience.” He retorted, “I can’t let you buy us dinner after you treated us to lunch.” I said, “Sure you can. I’m a rich man now after you shock-mailed me the $1,000. You knocked my socks off with that more-than-generous check.” He replied, “Well, it was the least I could do after 30 years of accumulated interest.”
After driving back to the house where Mary could finish her feeding ritual, we again retreated to the backwoods bungalow for a farewell dinner. Lewis slowly pan-fried the filets while overseeing the broccoli in the steamer. He was again in his own element. As we were dining, Lewis had to say, “Come to think of it, it’s nearly impossible to screw up a filet. Thanks for your timely intervention at the meat counter.” Changing the subject, I said to Mary, “Thanks for the offer to stay in the bedroom, but I prefer sleeping in Ol’ Blue. I figure it’s a shame to waste these beautiful cool nights sleeping indoors when I can lay down in the van bed gazing up at the stars. Besides, I just saved you the time and trouble of changing the bed linens.” She replied with an understanding nod and smile. After helping with the dishes and bidding goodnight to the Chandlers, I slipped under the blankets for another super night’s sleep.
Another gray day greeted me the next morning, which suited me just fine since I wouldn’t be bothered by the low-in-the-sky, glaring-in-your-face, late-autumn sun. By the time I arrived at the house, Lewis had left for Houston where he was still holding down his accounting position for the mega-gas and oil corporation, ENRON. I took a seat at the kitchen table and talked with Mary as she dished out bowlfuls of cat chow for five famished felines. After concluding her cat chores, she then asked me what I wished for breakfast. I unhesitatingly said, “Mary, I don’t wish you to go to any trouble. You two have done enough cooking for me. A bowl of cereal and milk will do just fine.”
From the breakfast table, I was able to look out on a panorama of open pasture land that extended about a half-mile away to a forest of pine trees. It was quite a view! I also noticed about half of the dogs seemed to be “quarantined” to the back yard. Mary explained, “Those are our “misfits”. We can’t expect all these dogs to get along together. It comes with the territory. On the other hand, we have no problem with the cats. They’re all very compatible.” As I was about to leave, I gave her a big hug, saying, “Mary, you are one lucky lady to have snared Lewis as a mate. Take it from me, he’s one of a kind.” As I was pulling out, I waved goodbye to the three smiling faces of a lady and her two companions, a golden retriever and a border collie.