A CHRISTMAS STORY IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, TEXAS

by Pete Thompson

 

When I was nine years old, my family went to the middle of nowhere in the middle of Texas where my dad grew up.  I had many aunts and uncles and their offspring who lived on several farms in the area; others had moved away to various other places like Dallas and such.  I did not know that this was going to be the last family Christmas gathering with my grandmother, who to me seemed older than hell.  Sorry, grandma, but I knew that word at nine plus a lot more and used them without remorse.  "Goddamn" was a hard one to master, being a Baptist, when I was scared to death of our preacher sending me to hell for even thinking it.   

We drove out to the farms in a new 1953 Ford, later to become my first car, to a wonderland of hard wood forests and smells of farm animals I had never experienced before.  I was growing up in the small town of Artesia, NM, where we moved 2 years after I was born in Roswell, NM.  In Artesia all the smells we had were mostly of the oil refinery located just east of town, one of our favorite play grounds if we didn't get caught.  Some believed it to be the smell of pure money and for some it was.  I preferred the farm smells to the refinery although now they say it's all the same, whoever the hell "they" are?

On Christmas Day, I was presented with a pellet rifle and a million lead pellets.  It was a single shot so I kept a mouth full of pellets for quick reloading.  Anybody who wanted me to talk to them had to wait until I spit all the spittle covered pellets out into my hand.  I also received enough firecrackers to wreak havoc on my small young world.  I could shoot everything that moved and blow up everything that didn't, which I commenced do immediately.

My brother, Danny, who was 4 years older than I, found out that he could ride the milk cow and I found that the milk cow was very fond of a certain bucket, her feed bucket.  Where I walked with that bucket the cow would follow with my brother on her back.  I always wanted to be like him and be included in everything he did, like riding the milk cow, but no, I was too small.  I threw the bucket in anger and the milk cow took after it like a bull out of the shoot at a rodeo with my brother cartwheeling off the green end of the cow into the green stuff below that had come out of the green end of the cow.  I think green was his favorite color until he ended up green.  This went on a few more time before I ran for my life into the woods with a reeking green monster brother in hot pursuit.  My brother died of AIDS in 1996 at the age of 57. 

Well, before long it was time for the whole thing to bust up and everybody went their separate ways except for me.  My uncle wanted me to stay on for a week longer and I would take the Greyhound bus back to Artesia on my own at nine years old!  Little did my uncle know that this was going to become a fiasco for him and a once-in-a-lifetime adventure for me.

Some of the things I did during that week were to blow the bottom out of the witch like rendering kettle with a firecracker, shoot the milk cow in the rump with one pump of the pellet gun so it wouldn't hurt her, take the tractor to the country store for more firecrackers without permission, and almost killed myself inside a 3 foot diameter by a 3 foot in length section of concrete conduit my uncle was going to use in the new outhouse pit.  With the help of my innocent cousin, we pushed the conduit up a small hill where I got inside and with his help went on a grand ride down the hill until the thing collapsed on me.  "Help, I'm killed!", I yelled or something stupid like that.  My uncle, not to pleased with either of us, picked the pieces of the broken conduit from my small body.  Gasping for breath, I was in trouble but still alive.  My poor cousin took off running home and I didn't see him again for the remainder of my week.  My uncle had a hell of a time putting the conduit puzzle together in the new outhouse pit.  

The farm dog and I went exploring the surrounding country side and being winter most of leaves were long gone from the trees.  We hiked to an old abandoned Civil War era house where my uncle told me a fortunes worth of confederate money were buried in the crawl space beneath the house.  My imagination was running wild in all that confederate money but fortune or not there was no way I was going into that crawl space. Earlier, I had almost walked into a spider web in the woods big enough to catch birds.  No telling what was under that house.  The wind began to blow the dry leaves and with the rustling sounds a cow bell was clanging close by.  I looked around for a cow but none were to be seen and besides the sound was not at ground level but high, very high.  There in an old cottonwood tree swaying in the branches a cow bell was clanging being held aloft by a small twig.  It took two shots to shoot it down with the first shot hitting the bell and the next the twig that held it.  I have no explanation of how it got there only a child's imagination about a fairytale involving the moon, a jumping cow, and a spoon.  No one believed me but I was born in Roswell, after all.  The bell was handmade many years ago and I proudly display it today with the lead mark of the first shot dulled but still there.

Well, the day came when my uncle was to relieve himself of me and he took me to the small town of Grosbeck to board the Greyhound bound for Artesia via Dallas and a million points in between.  I took a window seat to marvel at all the hard wood forests and reflect on my Christmas adventures that I had had in those woods, probably just like my father and his brothers had when they were young and innocently wild as I had been.

Soon the woods turned to furrowed fields and as the rows passed I imagined them to be a running spindly legged clown on stilts.  I watched the telephone lines flow between the poles, up then down in a reverse arch then back up to a pole.  I never was much of a talker when on our family trips.  I would rather watch the running clowns, the stringed arches, and everything that was in a constantly changing scene that was rushing by my window.  All so different from the somewhat drab landscape around Artesia.

Now, Dallas was the biggest place on God's earth that I could have ever imagined.  The movies at home never really could show the connection of the scale of large cities, besides I was mostly into westerns.  You had to be there to get that kind of 3 dimensional scale.  Millions of bricks rising high into the sky and the diesel exhaust smelled so different it was almost like perfume.  I know that's hard to believe but many of my kid friends said the same thing when they had gone to big cities.  Inside the terminal there were signs "Whites Only" and "Coloreds" on separate drinking fountains and restrooms.  What that was all about, I had no clue: it was real puzzle to me.  

I met a lot of people on the bus with some of the little old ladies asking how my Christmas had been and laughing at the stories I told about the best Christmas I had ever had on the farm.  Some said my uncle must have had the patients of Job, whoever Job was?   I got tired and went to the back of the bus where a long bench-like-seat stretched across the full width of the seating area, making a nice place to lie down for a nap.  These seats were removed when toilets were installed.  People didn't need toilets back then because there were so many stops that the faces completely changed several times through out the trip.  People getting on, people getting off and me pressing onward.  Well, in the back of the bus crouched all the way to one side of the couch-like seat was a bum, I guess, and we struck up a conversation.  From out his coat pocket he produced a bottle from which he took a pull all the while looking up towards the driver's rear looking passenger mirror.  "What's that?", I asked, and he said just like that, "Want a pull?", "Sure." I said. He looked up at the driver's mirror and handed the bottle to me with a "go ahead" nod.  "Goddamn, what is that shit?" I said.  "Whisky!", he said.  Now I had seen enough western movies with gallons of whisky drinking but none of those cowboys ever let on to what that shit tasted and burned like.  Those movies would never be the same to me again.  I never noticed any lead poisoning until many years later when "they" said it could do brain damage.  I guess that and being born in Roswell explains not everything about me but just enough.  And I hope this explains what it was like to spend a wonderful Christmas in the middle of nowhere when I was nine years old.

 

About me:  My real name is not completely Pete Thompson, but that'll have to do.  I was a helicopter pilot in the Army and flew in Vietnam.  Now that was an exciting time.  After Vietnam I was stationed at Ft. Hood, TX, close enough to fly a helicopter over to my uncle's farm and pickup some of the best watermelons in the world.  My uncle had a heart of gold and if it weren't for a little of Old Grandad whisky and his even disposition he certainly would have the right to tan my hide a few times and God knows I had it coming twice fold.  After the service I wound up in Taos, NM where I started carving wood into sculpture.  It was like therapy and I later went to art school in the mid 70's at UNM.  I the late 70's I started flying commercial civilian helicopters as a "bush" pilot which was seasonal and I could do my art in the off season.  I live in a house I designed and built in the Town of Cochiti Lake on the Pueblo de Cochiti reservation in New Mexico.  In the future I will be writing about some of my adventures in the greatest machine mankind has ever created, the helicopter.  In the paragraph where I mentioned my brother I started out laughing and ended in tears.  

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