Still a country girl
My son Michael and I have returned from a weekend trip to Llano to completely close down my daughter Sherry’s (who died last October) house in Llano. Llano is a lovely little town, albeit dry, at the edge of the Hill Country. I’m so sad Sherry never got to live there as she loved it. It’s 70 miles north of Austin on Hwy. 71 and is known at the “deer hunting capitol of Texas.” Everybody’s got to be something.
It has been many years since I’ve taken a trip on Hwy. 71 from Columbus all the way through Austin and on to Llano. I usually go to San Antonio and pick up cousin Sally then we take Hwy. 281 to Marble Falls and pick up Hwy, 71 there.
Here’s what I noticed right away. There are a lot more gentlemen ranchers along Hwy 71 than there ever has been. I can tell that by the entrance gates to their property.
My father was a real rancher. In all the property we owned we never had an “entrance” to our ranches. There was a gate which was usually embarrassing because Dad utilized old iron bedsteads to make a gate into the property. They were a step up as far as he was concerned because they were easier to open than a wire gate with posts. The old iron bedsteads (headboard in new parlance) swung more easily.
Me, I was embarrassed by the headboards although Daddy thought they were jolly.
But then even our brand embarrassed me. Our first ranch had been owned for generations by the Stubblefields with an “S” brand. Daddy found a cache of old branding irons in the barn and promptly dubbed our spread the “Lazy S” and turned the “S” brand over on its side. I hated for anyone to think we were lazy.
So on our way home down Hwy. 71, Michael and I noticed these grand entrances to the gentlemen’s ranches. It started right outside of Llano with the entrance of a ranch with many exotic animals. Rumor has it the owner built it for his special needs daughter who is an animal lover.
This entrance has it all–a stone wall on each side, a mini-garden planted by the stone walls all topped off by a wrought iron rendition of the ranch name. My question is how do the mini-gardens get water in that dry land? A hidden windmill with a sprinkler system? Anyway, this ranch entrance is the paramount entrance by which all others are judged.
So eventually on the trip, Michael and I became entrance critics. If we passed by a Hwy. 71 ranch entrance, we rated the entrance by the three elements–stone side walls, plantings, and wrought iron. This was hard to do driving 75 mph and pulling a 20 ft. trailer.
It reminded me of another West Texas quirk. Any of the ranches we owned (and any other landowners I imagine), we called them by the name of their previous owners, i.e. the McKewon Place, the Spill Place, the Stubblefield Place.
I wondered what the new owners did when they bought the places from my father. Did they continue the names we had dubbed them? Did they give them their own names?
So one day I drove out to a former ranch my father had owned but sold. When I arrived, there was a small tin plaque which measured about 4” by 6” probably put there by an oil company for identification purposes for its pumper employee. Embrazoned on the tin plate were the words, “The Carter Place.” My brother didn’t believe me until I drove him out there and showed him.
Another short story about my brother, Vance. Until the day he died, he could get in a car and drive to each of our former properties over three counties and over roads without one speck of signage. He had left after he graduated from high school and gone off to college and never returned to live. Yet he could still find each place from the years of eternal feeding of livestock in the winter.
I did my share of winter feeding, but Vance always drove as I slept. Lest you think I had a hard childhood, I think we only had to leave town and go feed on weekends while Daddy slept in and prepared to go to the domino hall that afternoon. It wasn’t exactly “Tobacco Road” except maybe for the domino hall part!
We lived on the ranch full time until the first grade then only moved there for the summers until Vance and I were in high school. When we entered high school, we moved to town permanently because Daddy wanted us to get a “better education.” There were 50 people in my graduating class.
However, Vance and I still considered that we lived among “city slickers” and we probably would have moved back to the ranch in a heartbeat. I’m still a country girl at heart. Yeah, sure.