Texans Helping Texans

Recent record-setting floods in Texas wreaked havoc throughout the state, leaving in their wake thousands of Texans dealing with millions of dollars in losses. In many cases, homeowners fled rising flood waters with only the possessions they could hastily cram into their cars and trucks. Everything left behind was either washed away or completely destroyed.
IMG_9117Over the past weeks, images of destruction, damage, and even deaths have poured into our homes courtesy of the evening news. Weather reports have taken on greater significance, especially in areas where the ground is so saturated that no one dares to even spit on their lawn. The phrase “five-hundred year flood” is now a part of our vocabulary.
KBC TBM TeamThe damage caused by flood waters is heart-breaking. There is no feeling more helpless than watching water levels rise until they cross the threshold into our homes. Once inside, the waters soak and destroy everything in their path. And when they finally recede, they leave behind a deposit of mud and filth and stench — and homeowners who must deal with it all.
KBC TBM TrailerBut, the worst of things often bring out the best in people. That’s certainly the case in regard to the recent flooding in the Lone Star State. I am proud to serve with my church’s disaster response team that works under the auspices of the Texas Baptist Men (and women, too). We are a team of Texans (born or moved here as fast as they could) helping Texans.
KBC TBM WalkwayThe Texas Baptist Men Disaster Relief Team is one of the most highly regarded disaster relief agencies in the world, and with good reason. They have earned this reputation. This organization is on the governor’s speed dial and can mobilize with little notice. Their teams provide assistance to homeowners who have experienced loss due to floods, fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other natural disasters.
KBC TBM Sheetrock RemovalIn the case of flooding, teams help homeowners to box up belongings that can be salvaged, clean out mud, and remove damaged sheetrock, insulation, and appliances. The Texas Baptist Men also mobilize feeding units, chainsaw crews, and shower and laundry units. They remain on the scene until the work is done. The only thing they leave behind is hope and a reminder that no one in Texas needs to face tough times alone.
KBC TBM Kitchen WorkI served with our team this past weekend. We assisted homeowners in Wallis — a young couple whose home flooded as they expected their first child. While our team was hard at work on their home, the young mother was in labor at the hospital. Knowing that this young family needed to get back home as soon as possible fueled our own labor.
KBC TBM DebrisI am certainly proud to be a Texan and more than proud to play a small role in helping my neighbors in need through the Texas Baptist Men’s disaster relief work. I know that if anything ever happens to my home, I can count on help from my fellow Texans. That’s just the way we do things here in the Lone Star State. We don’t mind hard work and we are not afraid to sweat. In the wise words of an old cowboy, we know “no one ever drowned himself in his own sweat.”

Don Pedrito Jaramillo

Known as the Healer of Los Olmos and the Saint of Falfurrias, Don Pedrito Jaramillo remains highly regarded by folks in South Texas. He was born to Indian parents sometime around 1829 in Guadalajara, Mexico. After the death of his mother in 1881, Jaramillo moved to the Los Olmos Ranch near present-day Falfurrias.
Don Pedrito JaramilloAccording to legend, this poor Mexican laborer fell off his horse and broke his nose while working as a cowboy on the Los Olmos Ranch. The pain of his injury kept him awake for several days. When he was finally able to sleep, he was told by God in a dream that he had been given the gift to heal people.
Don Pedrito Shrine ExteriorDon Pedrito, as he affectionately came to be known, started treating the sick and injured who lived on the surrounding ranches. He quickly earned a reputation as a curandero, the Spanish word for healer. Curanderos are a part of the rich texture of Hispanic culture in Texas. In days when doctors were few and far between and folks had little money to pay a physician, curanderos offered palliative solutions and cures to the poor.
Don Pedrito Shrine InteriorDon Pedrito’s cures included mud packs (what he had used when he broke his nose), various poultices, herbal plants, and drinking large quantities of water. The compassionate healer often provided what he prescribed to his impoverished patients. His cures were so effective that people from throughout the region and, reportedly, from as far away as New York sought him out. In the years before easy access to medical care, Don Pedrito was to the folks of his day what dialing 9-1-1 and emergency rooms are to us today.

Although Don Pedrito never charged for his services, he regularly received unsolicited donations. He gave much of this money to local churches and kept some on hand to fund a large food pantry to help people in need. By some reports, Don Pedrito would spend hundreds of dollars at a time to buy food to give away. When he died in 1907, he still had more than $5,000 in 50-cent pieces set aside for his philanthropic work.
Don Pedrito Pics and NotesToday, more than a hundred years after his death, the faithful and the curious continue to visit the shrine of this South Texas folk saint — his final resting place. The whitewashed interior walls of the modest building are adorned with handwritten notes and photos of those either seeking help or who claim to have been helped or healed as a result of their visit to the shrine of Don Pedrito. Don, by the way, was not Pedro Jaramillo’s first name. Don is a title of esteem and respect in the Hispanic community.
Don Pedrito SignThe shrine is open daily from sunup to sunset. To get to the shrine, take Highway 285 east out of Falfurrias and look for the sign pointing the way just before you get to FM 1418. The shrine is located two miles north of Highway 285 on your right. Everyone is welcome. The curio shop next door sells candles, herbs, incense, and snacks.

Regardless of your own spiritual beliefs, take a quick detour to visit the shrine if you happen to be in the area to see the place where a poor Mexican laborer earned a widespread reputation as a beloved curandero. The story of this South Texas folk saint is, after all, a part of our rich Texas history.

John Henry Faulk’s Christmas Story

Everybody loves a good story — a real or imaginary account that captures our imagination and transports us to another place or time. That’s what would happen every time my grandfather would tell me a story. The sound of his voice, the subtle inflection of a word, a phrase told in a rising crescendo or trailing off into a whisper. He used these tools of the storyteller to mesmerize me — to unlock the door to my soul where his stories ultimately took up residence.

A few years ago I became acquainted with another storyteller whose masterful delivery also captured my imagination. John Henry Faulk, the fourth of five children, was born in Austin in 1913 and would become one of the Lone Star State’s most beloved storytellers. He was deeply influenced by his freethinking Methodist parents who taught him to detest racism. His post-graduate thesis at the University of Texas was about the civil rights abuses faced by African-Americans.

John Henry FaulkFaulk honed his storytelling abilities while teaching English at the University of Texas and later as a Merchant Marine during the Second World War. His friend Alan Lomax, who worked at the CBS network in New York, hosted several parties during Christmas 1945 to introduce his radio broadcasting friends to Faulk’s yarn-spinning abilities. A few months later, CBS gave Faulk his own weekly radio program, providing him with the thing every storyteller craves — an audience.

Sadly, Faulk’s radio career was derailed in 1957 when he became a victim of Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunt for Communist sympathizers. The blacklisted storyteller, however, fought back. With support from famed broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow, Faulk won a libel suit against those who had tarnished his reputation. The jury, in fact, awarded him the largest libel judgement in history to that date. In 1963, Faulk chronicled his experience in his book Fear on Trial. CBS television broadcast its movie version of Faulk’s story in 1974.

In his latter years, Faulk made numerous appearances as a homespun character on the popular Hee-Haw television program. He also wrote two one-man plays — Deep in the Heart and Pear Orchard, Texas. Throughout the 1980s he was a popular speaker on college campuses, speaking often on the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. On April 9, 1990, Faulk died of cancer in his hometown of Austin. The city of Austin later named the downtown branch of the public library in his honor.

A few years ago on a dark December night, while traveling to my hometown for Christmas, I tuned in to National Public Radio and heard a story that touched me deeply. The story was one that John Henry Faulk had recorded in 1974 for the program Voices in the Wind. NPR later rebroadcast Faulk’s story in 1994. Every year since then, NPR has rebroadcast Faulk’s heartwarming Christmas Story. This story has earned a place among my favorite Christmas stories and movies. I listen to it every year at Christmas.

Family Listening to RadioI encourage you to take a few minutes to listen to John Henry Faulk’s Christmas Story. Gather your family around and invite them to listen as well. But, be warned. Faulk’s homespun story will mesmerize you. The sound of his voice will transport you back to simpler days before Christmas came under fire. I think you will agree that the Lone Star State produced a great storyteller in John Henry Faulk and that his Christmas story should be heard by a new generation. Best wishes for the most wonderful Christmas ever.

Law West of the Pecos

There is no question that Texas is big and vast. In Texas you measure distance by hours rather than miles — a lesson I learned when I traveled on a hot school bus from the Rio Grande Valley to the Buffalo Trails Scout Ranch in the Davis Mountains in 1972. One of the most memorable parts of that long journey was stopping at Langtry to visit the Jersey Lilly, the place where the legendary Kentucky-born Judge Roy Bean dispensed justice in the late 1800’s.

Roy Bean called himself the “Law West of the Pecos.” I first learned about Judge Roy Bean from my grandfather when I was a kid growing up in Mission, Texas. My grandfather was a real estate broker and served on the Mission City Council. One year he was recognized as the oldest city commissioner actively serving in the state of Texas. He also provided notary and translation services to folks in town. And, he loved Texas history.

Law West of the PecosMy grandfather leased a part of his office to a man named Leo Gonzalez, the local Justice of the Peace. Judge Gonzalez had an old painting of the Jersey Lilly hanging on the wall in his office above a sofa. The building in the painting had a sign prominently displayed above its entrance: Judge Roy Bean | Notary Public | Law West of the Pecos. That was my introduction to Judge Roy Bean.

Judge Roy Bean PicMy grandfather shared amusing stories with me about the colorful Judge Roy Bean. It’s hard to separate fact from fiction when it comes to Judge Bean. But there is no question that he was a fascinating character in Texas history. He owned a single law-book but rarely referred to it. Instead, he dispensed his own brand of justice. Once, Judge Bean fined a corpse, ironically for the exact amount that the deceased man had in his pocket when he had died! But, in the lawless and desolate Chihuahuan Desert of West Texas, Judge Bean was the man for the job.
Boy Scouts at Jersey LillySo, when my Boy Scout Troop leader announced that we would be traveling to the Davis Mountains and would visit the Jersey Lilly along the way, I was excited to have the opportunity to see a place I had heard so much about. Since that first visit to Langtry with Boy Scout Troop 68, I have stopped by the Jersey Lilly on a couple of other occasions.

Langtry and the Jersey Lilly reek of the gritty old west. I love walking around the place, perhaps because it makes me nostalgic and reminds me of my grandfather, Judge Gonzalez, and the old painting hanging on the wall in his office.

I am fortunate that my grandfather stirred my imagination and nurtured my curiosity by telling me stories about colorful Texas characters like Judge Roy Bean. Texas has no shortage of interesting people and places that can connect us to the rich history of the Lone Star State.

If you have never visited Langtry, I encourage you to add it to your list of out-of-the-way places worthy of a visit. You’ll enjoy walking back in time to the days when Judge Roy Bean dispensed his sometimes quirky brand of justice in the vast Chihuahuan Desert west of the Pecos.

Cowboy Proverbs

Cowboys — the very mention of the word stirs the imagination. From the earliest days of film, cowboys have been the subject of many a Hollywood movie. As a kid, I loved cowboy movies and made it a goal to watch every movie that featured John Wayne. I still enjoy watching the Duke’s movies.
the-commancheros-the-dukeMy grandfather was born and raised on a cattle ranch near San Diego, Texas. He told me stories of working as a cowhand on a ranch owned by George Washington West — the cattle rancher who developed the town that bears his name. Today, George West is the county seat of Live Oak County and regarded as the storytelling capital of Texas.

Over the years I have collected Cowboy Proverbs — practical no-nonsense wisdom gleaned by men who lived life in the saddle in rough and tough places. While on a trip to Big Bend, my wife and I discussed what the Old Testament Book of Proverbs might have looked like if it had been written by cowboys instead of guys like Solomon.

Here is a sampling of some my favorite Cowboy Proverbs and companion wisdom from the Old Testament Book of Proverbs. Striking similarities.

• Never miss a good chance to shut up. | “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” Proverbs 17:28

• The best way to keep your word is not to give it foolishly. | “It is a snare to say rashly, “It is holy,” and to reflect only after making vows.” Proverbs 20:25

• Nobody ever drowned himself in his own sweat. | “In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.” Proverbs 14:23

• If you work for a man, ride for his brand. Treat his cattle as if they were your own. | “Whoever tends a fig tree will eat its fruit, and he who guards his master will be honored.” Proverbs 27:18

• Honesty is not something you should flirt with. You should be married to it. | “Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence, but a false witness utters deceit.” Proverbs 12:17

• Most folks are like a bob-wire fence. They have their good points. | “Even a child makes himself known by his acts, by whether his conduct is pure and upright.” Proverbs 20:11

• The quickest way to double your money is to fold it over and put it back in your pocket. | “Be not one of those who give pledges, who put up security for debts.” Proverbs 22:26

• Too much debt doubles the weight on your horse and puts another in control of the reins. | “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.” Proverbs 22:7

• A person who agrees with all your palaver is either a fool or he’s gettin’ ready to skin ya. | “A lying tongue hates its victims, and a flattering mouth works ruin.” Proverbs 26:28

• Don’t get mad at somebody who knows more’n you do. It ain’t their fault. | “Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.” Proverbs 9:9

• Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment. | “Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance.” Proverbs 1:5

And, here is one final nugget of cowboy wisdom — Don’t squat with your spurs on!

The Garden of Thorns

I have a very short list of must-watch television programs. At the top of that list is Texas Country Reporter. I have been a big fan of this program for years. I think that Bob Phillips, the host, is one of the best storytellers around. Phillips and his film crew travel the Lone Star State to film stories of interesting places and fascinating people.
garden-of-thornsOne of my favorite TCR segments is an interview that Phillips did with Texas artist and sculptor Bill Worrell who makes his home near Mason, Texas. Bill is well-known to those who appreciate southwest and Native American inspired art.

What I found especially interesting about Worrell is what he refers to as “his greatest work and latest creation.”  It’s not what you might think — one of his expensive and much-sought-after works of art. Instead it is what he calls his Garden of Thorns.

Worrell set aside a small tract of land on his property, a place, he explained, where he “decided to bury a lot of garbage and junk from my past.” As Worrell and Phillips approached the Garden of Thorns, it looked like a “Boothill for Bad Habits” complete with weeds, thorns, and thistles among the headstones.
Garden of Thorns - BlameAs Worrell walked into the barbed-wire enclosure, he approached a headstone with the word “Blame” chiseled into the stone. “Let’s take blame here, for example,” he told Phillips. “Probably somewhere around 1940 is when I started blaming everybody else for the bad things that happened to me. Somewhere around 1983 I realized that I’m the person to blame for things going wrong in my life. So, I changed.”

Worrell pointed out that he had also buried Hate and Fear and Shame, among other things. “So, Bill,” asked Phillips, “what you’re telling me is that you buried all your bad habits, your bad thoughts, all that?” Worrell replied, “Uh, not all of them but many of them. Still have some to go.” Worrell knows that he still has, what he calls, “thorns in the flesh” to deal with. But the good thing is that he is taking intentional steps to deal with those things.
garden-of-thorns-trioI like Worrell’s Garden of Thorns and agree with his reason for burying the garbage and junk from his past there. “I decided,” said Worrell, “symbolically we ought to bury this stuff.” He’s right. It might do us all some good to have our own Garden of Thorns, a place where we can toss aside the kind of stuff that can wreck and ruin our lives.

As Worrell and Phillips walked away from the Garden of Thorns, Worrell remarked, “You know, Bob, I think that burying all this stuff has made me an even better artist than I was before.” Just imagine how much better we might be if we symbolically buried the garbage and junk of our own lives and left it there to rot and decay.