HAPPY (Just in Time) FATHERS' DAY!
(see the end of the post for purchase links)
TALES OF A TEXAS BOY has been a best seller in the large print editions most of its published life. It really is a wonderful book for older fathers who recall the good old days in rural America. It's a series of related short stories loosely based on my father's stories about his boyhood in West Texas during the Depression.
It all started with a cattle drive. Yeah, right, pop. Nobody had cattle drives in the 1930's. Well, yeah, they did. My father, Eddie in the stories, got to ride herd when he was only eleven years old. That was sure the highlight of that year.
His father, Louis (my grandfather), had been a veterinarian with Blackjack Pershing's American Expeditionary Forces. That's what they called the army during WWI. In the service, he became friends with an interesting old guy who happened to have a bear. When Dad Boles brought Sophie to the annual fair, Eddie loved to sit by the campfire listening to some dandy whoppers.
Eddie had a pretty busy life for a boy who lived miles away from the nearest neighbors. He managed to find plenty of trouble to get into, but had a big heart to soften his bad boy image. No matter that he loved to aggravate his sister, he took care of her when she and her pony were almost swept away by a flood.
Photo of Cage McNatt and his sow
The boy cared about the rattlesnakes, the jackrabbits, the jack asses, even old Cage McNatt's prize sow. He went fishing with a special borrowed float, then proceeded to lose it, find it, then give it away.
These are simple tales without any big events, unless you consider the despair of the Great Depression hanging over everybody's lives.
Yes, I made up some aspects of the stories, and I even made up a few completely, but most of the book is as true as a Texas Tall Tale can be.
If these kind of stories appeal to your father, your mother, uncle, aunt, or even yourself, I think you'll be glad to read my father's stories. Since he died last August, I'm proud and relieved to have gotten around to writing the stories, having several published separately, then putting all of them together in one book. I decided to feature Large Print since my father's eyesight was failing.
Now to the excerpt. It's about my grandfather, so from Eddie's point of view, about his own father. I think it appropriate for a Father's Day post.
World War I took many young men away from their homes and sent them off to foreign shores. Eddie's Pa was one of those young men. He has his own tale to tell.
In 1916, I was still a young buck and not yet married, so I signed up with Black Jack Pershing to go after Pancho Villa. Ol' Pancho and his banditos came into US territory and killed a bunch of folks in Columbus, New Mexico.
I was real good with horses, so soon I was the veterinarian. This was just as well, as I didn't take well to using a gun. I'd never studied vetting in school, but I'd grown up on a farm in Nebraska and knew just about all there was to know about horses and mules. We chased Pancho and his gang just about all over Mexico, but never did catch up with him. A couple years later, I was still in the service, so I ended up goin' to France with Black Jack when he got to be a General. I could have decided not to go as I'd done my time, but I knew Black Jack could put me to good use.
We were on the troop ship for weeks. Everybody was seasick for the first few days. The horses seemed to fare fine in that regard, but I was worried we couldn't exercise them enough. We brought them up from the hold, a few at a time, and let them stretch their legs. We'd lead them in a quick walk around the deck. With the metal decks, we didn't want them to move very fast for fear they'd slip and fall.
I'd hate to have to put down a horse with a broken leg, so we took it real easy. As a result, the horses were not in good fightin' shape by the time we landed in France.
It took some time, but me and Joe, who got assigned to be my assistant, got them in shape again. Mostly the horses were used to pack gear, but a few officers still rode them. Black Jack Pershing liked to ride on occasion, as did Captain Patton. I thought we should only have mules, since they make better pack animals than horses, but there were never enough mules to go around.
We weren't in too many battles directly as we were the supply line for the army, but in 1918 it turned pretty bad when we went into the Argonne Forest. They called this an 'offensive.' I can see why as it offended me a lot. The fighting went on for nearly two months and only ended in November when the big guys signed the Treaty at Versailles.
In that short two months, it was hell on earth. Thousands of men died. One whole division, the 77th, was cut off for near a week and held out surrounded by the German forces. It was some battle, I can tell you. Almost all day long, I could hear the shells bursting and the sharp reports of rifle fire. And I heard the screams of dying men and horses.
The worst part for me was the horses being swept up in the middle of the battle. It broke my heart to go out on the fields after the fighting passed by and after the dead and wounded men were collected. Sometimes the ground was so soaked with blood that my boots were covered before I got back. A horse with an artery torn open bleeds gallons of blood; men only a few pints. It angered me when I thought how much the horses gave. They didn't even have a say in goin' to war. Men, at least, had a choice.
I carried a sidearm and had to shoot more horses than I can count. Those we could save, we'd bring back to the line and see if we could treat their wounds. It was a second heartbreak when they wouldn't heal proper and we'd take them out behind the tents to put them down. We dug a deep trench to bury them for health reasons and we kept digging every day to hold them all.
While we treated the horses, close by we could see the wounded men being brought back from the battlefield. Legs and arms were already gone or had to be cut off by the doctors right there in the field. From the history I'd read about the Civil War, this was just about as bad. If the choice was amputate or die, then they had to do what was necessary. We dug another trench to hold the arms and legs the doctors cut off; the dead soldiers we wrapped in oilcloth to be sent back behind the lines, where we hoped to send their bodies back home to their families.
All told I spent twenty months in France. It was the worst part of my life and I hoped and prayed we'd never see another war like this again.
Pa's story made me sad in a way, though I was proud of him for what he did in the war. It seemed to me people should learn to get along. I never was sure why Pa had to go to France. Later in my own life, I'd learn what it was to go to war. I was lucky to not go overseas, but somethin' in me wished I had.
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Tales of a Texas Boy is available in Large Print and standard trade paperback on Amazon.. It's also in ebook format on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords. And if your father has vision issues beyond the help of large print (as my father did), the audio book is available at audible.com.
CONDA'S NOTE: I've read and very much enjoyed Tales of a Texas Boy. I'd recommend this as a wonderful gift for any dad!