Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Cowhill Council

Cowhill Council meetings are pretty much always offbeat. We don’t keep records, so I have to rely on memory, which is fading.  I don’t expect to be contradicted by any of the council members because their memories are equally poor or worse.  Also, we don’t really have any members – just regular guests. Nobody wants the group to be official.

Cowhill Council had no official beginning.  The seeds were planted back in about 1992, but didn’t really take root until about 1996-1997, with irregular meetings of Jerald Thomas, Pop Thomas, and me. Jerald was and is the nucleus of the group. When Jerald went along on our covered wagon and horseback trip across Texas, the campfire gatherings every night and morning implanted the value of regular meetings back home.

We usually met on what Jerald calls the Five Acres out on highway 24/50, but just as often in his downtown coffee shop. When Pop died, Jerald’s brother Ricky (disabled from a construction injury) moved out to the five acres and the meetings became regular. The Five Acres is known for being cool in the summer with large oak trees and a cool breeze off a small pond.

When cold weather or rain crowded us into a one room house, Jerald dragged up the top half of an old grain silo, installed windows, a brick floor, and two wood stoves (one for heat and one for cooking). My wife Jan made pillows for our chairs. 

The grain bin came complete with black marks similar to ones used to keep score in domino games. We joke that the marks represent stories that have been told more than twice. 

Imagine this – a bunch of well-seasoned gentlemen sitting under oak trees watching ducks swim on the pond or inside a grain silo drinking cappuccinos – the aroma of biscuits cooking on a wood stove – smoke billowing from the stovepipes.

Soon, Jerald was bringing eight to ten drinks a day and cooking biscuits for an erratic crowd. At one point, we decided that the downtown square needed more cars and people and moved back to the coffee shop downtown. One of our members (I won’t say which one) cautioned us to clean up our language since we were no longer in the country. He used four expletives.  We soon moved back to the country life.

The Cowhill Council is, if anything, eclectic.  They say if you build it, they will come. And they did. A plumber, sales manager, housing director, builder and re-furbisher of skyscrapers, a CPA, antique dealer, coffee shop proprietor, teachers and professors, two artists, a tractor and farm equipment dealer, photographers, ministers, a novelist, financial aid director, hall of fame athlete, evangelists,  team ropers, stockbroker, fundraiser, car salesman, financial planner, psychologist, newspaper editor, authors, columnists, wannabe and real cowboys, Harley riders, carpenters, cattle ranchers, a Texas Rehab executive, real estate salesman, champion turkey caller, western wear store proprietor, bankers, lawyers, a world renowned authority on cotton gins and ginning, a drywall and ceiling tile man, a traveling evangelist, a chemical salesman, a trucking salesman, an avid hunter (with bows, arrows, and ammo), a builder of churches on at least two continents, two draftsmen, farmers real and wannabe, and several real and wannabe musicians. We were visited once by a former pro baseball player.

Sound like a big group? Nope. Less than ten guys who had several careers and businesses—trying to find something we were good at. On a good day, five or six of us might show up.

We have been visited (more than once) by two Pulitzer Prize winners, (John Knaur and Skeeter Haglar), dozens of photography students, two syndicated columnists, (one several times), and two radio personalities (Tumbleweed Smith and Enola Gay). At least three of us have been featured in a Tumbleweed Smith column and/or a radio broadcast.

Last year, we lost Ricky and two of us were involved in car wrecks. I know what you are thinking, but other drivers were at fault in both instances.

I walked away unscathed from mine. Paul was not so lucky. A pickup rammed his tractor from behind as he was driving it home after doing work for his church. He was thrown from the tractor and sent skidding down the highway. After two emergency helicopter flights, a couple of surgeries, and a long rehab, he’s back fit as a fiddle. We are thankful that the only council member who has been shot with an arrow and almost died from a deer stand fall is a survivor not just by instinct, but practice (I know you expect to hear a great hunting story about being shot with an arrow. Sorry, but he was shot on an urban street).And he says he didn't fall from that deer stand. The ladder broke.

We don’t do much cooking anymore and the cappuccino was traded for coffee after Jerald closed his coffee shop. Biscuits are cooked elsewhere and warmed in the microwave. Yes, there is a microwave in the feed silo.

Political candidates come (during campaign season only, of course) looking for votes, not advice. A city hall controversy brought the city manager, mayor and council members a few years back.

Some of our meetings are well, boring. Some are even sad. We talk a lot about politics, local, statewide and national. We even venture into religion on occasion, holding the
contrarian belief that those are the two subjects we need to talk about most, not avoid.

Seldom do feelings get hurt. Meetings without a meaningful exchange of worthy information outnumber those where we learn valuable insights. More often than not, when Jan asks what I learned, I say, “Nothing”. Of course, that could be because what happens at Cowhill Council stays at Cowhill Council.

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