Thursday, November 1, 2012

Life is a Stallion

I first saw the attractive young wife of a new doctor in town when I was working my way through college as a soda jerk and delivery boy at City Pharmacy in Commerce. She came in fairly often with a few of her friends to have a mid-afternoon coffee or soda.

I don’t recall when I learned that she had been stricken with a terrible disease, but I do recall being told that she was only expected to live a few years. I remember the morbid prophesy, “She won’t ever see forty.” Whoever said that didn’t really know Brenda Black White.

I had no contact with Brenda after I finished college, even though I eventually returned to Commerce. Decades had passed before she was kind enough to call me one day after Biscuits Across the Brazos was published. She had a lot of nice things to say about the little book and I could tell I was talking to a sassy, but classy lady.

She came to one of the outdoor stews we had on our little ranch and that was the first time I saw what scleroderma had done to her. A character in Rivers Crossing is afflicted with the disease and I did a lot of research on this cruel malady that has no known cause or cure. It usually attacks the skin, making the face appear as a taut mask, but it also attacks the organs, leads to respiratory problems, bone and muscle pain, digestion difficulties, and dental problems.

Brenda endured most, if not all, that scleroderma inflicts. She was confined to a wheelchair and had to use the eraser end of a pencil to turn pages in a book or to type on her computer.  But she fought with all the weapons available to her. She did her research, and knew what those weapons were.

When I began writing in earnest, my friend and mentor Fred Tarpley got me into several projects I never intended to pursue (most of which I am grateful for). One of those was publishing. Publishing novels and memoirs was one thing, but if anyone had ever told me that I would publish a book of poetry, I would have laughed. Not because I have an aversion to poetry, but because I know little about it, certainly not how to edit it. Fred assured me that we could handle it.

He put me in touch with Brenda again. I hadn’t seen her in five or six years, and didn’t know that she was a published poet who had achieved notoriety by reading her work in places as far away as New York. I read her Callahan County book of poems. Her often edgy, sometimes humorous, frequently dark, always deeply felt verses provoked a range of emotions. And you just knew every word came from her heart. One line would make you laugh, the next would make you cry or cringe.

She invited me over for tea one afternoon and I’m ashamed to admit that I dreaded it. I told her I didn’t drink much hot tea, so she lured me with key lime pie. Her disabilities embarrassed me at first, but five minutes after I sat down, she had me laughing. I forgot her severe handicaps.

She asked me what kind of music I liked, what books I read. The conversation was stimulating and punctuated with a lot of laughter. When I left, she gave me a card with her doctrine for living expressed in her poem called Life.
            Life is a stallion
            And I’m on a real bitch
            The ride would be smoother
            If he didn’t buck and pitch
            But I’m on till the whistle
            And tied to the hitch
            And I’ll ride this wild bastard
            Till he throws me in the ditch

A week later, she downloaded two or three dozen songs she thought I would like to three CD’s. I dropped by for the CD’s and some ice cream chocolate pie.

Brenda and Fred put together another book of her poems. When we began the publishing process, I could never get her to agree on a cover for The Thing About Me. The tablecloth was a quarter inch too short, the flowers not just right, the color not rich enough. I pushed her at first, but finally stepped back and let her work with the designer and gave them a deadline. They met it. She planned another tea party to celebrate.More about that tea party and Brenda next week. 

Another review on Amazon for Go Down Looking from Dr. William Thompson
Jim Ainsworth's trilogy on the Rivers family introduced readers to a compelling cast of characters as well as the fascinating cultures of both East and West Texas. Go Down Looking is the fourth piece picking up where the trilogy ended. Ainsworth is a truly gifted writer who brings his characters to life in a most believable and interesting way. He describes his books as "fiction based on true stories" and unveils his characters and plot lines in such a way that the reader cannot distinguish where the truth ends and the fiction begins, or vice-versa. I'm a devout Ainsworth fan, and find it hard to believe that we have not seen his novels transformed into screenplays and featured as made for television movies. Like most readers, I've already cast all the characters in my mind and can see their faces and hear their voices in Ainsworth's prose. I highly recommend Go Down Looking and Jim's other novels. If you haven't read them, you are truly missing a wonderful experience.


Doc Turner said...

Nice. I remember Dr. White, but for the life of me, I can't remember meeting Brenda. Sounds like a jewel.
Callahan County seems to be something the three of us share. That was where Aaron Turner set up his ranch during reconstruction to get as far away from those sad days as he could, although he lived the winter months in Groesbeck. I'm going to look for Brenda's published works.
Sometime I'll share the story of how two teenaged boys mistook Fred Tarpley's tame mallards for wild ducks and enjoyed a nice dinner at his expense. I think the statute of limitations has expired.
As to Life being a Stallion...Interesting. I been forced to ride some some back in the day. They can be grand animals to ride, but you can never forget you've got a powerful "Tiger by the tail!"
Enjoying Broke to the Bone, too...

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