saints and saguaros

We have come in search of The Dogs of San Xavier. He has come in search of a miracle.

The ancient mission is a pilgrimage site, so it’s only fitting that we have made the trek to seek the old labradors who sometimes make appearances. Alas, not today.

Disappointed, we wander the grounds, stopping at the little room off to the left that houses the prayer candles. And there he is.

As we walk up, he’s off to the right side of the room, head bowed, deep in prayer. He’s wearing his Sunday best on a scorching Thursday afternoon: Starched white shirt, dress pants, boots, black hair slicked back precisely. He’s old, maybe a little older than me, likely a member of the O’odham tribe that surrounds the mission.

And clearly, he needs a miracle.

We stand for a long time at the little shrine. Religion is an odd thing. I suppose one is as good as the next, as long as your believe with all your heart. And clearly he does.

It’s awkward to be a sightseer with the sight of someone so deeply involved in prayer. We stand for a while, struck by the somber intensity of the room. The smoke-covered walls, the old photographs, the statues, the candles, the stillness. There’s something about the room. A spirit you can feel. Holy.

As we leave, he’s still there, head bowed, oblivious to us.

We go inside the mission. It was completed just before 1800, a relic of the past that’s still an active church. Dark and quiet, with statues of saints and lions and simple grandeur. It’s got a vibe that goes from reverence to spooky and back again.

Directly across from our bench is  the carved effigy of St. Francis Xavier, lying beneath a blanket. Mo says people come to him with their prayer requests, leaving him tiny metal charms and scraps of paper. They believe he can grant miracles, she says.

We sit quietly in the dark, our eyes adjusting as we watch people trickle in to stand before the saint. And there he is again.

He crosses himself, touches the saint’s head, his body, his feet. He stands in prayer, head bowed, forever. He touches the saint’s head again, and then slowly walks out. A heavy weight follows him.

We walk into the bright light outside. Mo asks the woman at the gift shop about the dogs. The woman says they don’t come around much these days; Mo is lucky to have seen them earlier. Mo buys a candle from her. We go back to the little room, where she lights it and leaves it with the rest.

I don’t ask who she is praying for. But I know who my prayer is for.

I hope we find our dogs. I hope he finds his miracle.

We stop at the Circle K and buy sodas, in search of saguaros.

And maybe miracles.

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just another morning conversation, part 75

Mo: Why are there some words you can’t remember?

Me: What words can you not remember?

Mo: I can’t remember.

I probably should have seen that one coming.

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We could have had a pygmy goat

The phone rings. Mo is panicking.

“Can you see if my wallet is  in the living room?” she asks.

She is leaving work and realized she doesn’t know where it is. We’ve been through a long stretch that has left us both a bit fuzzy, and the wallet appears to be the victim of the fog.

She thinks she left the apartment with it. But she threw away the trash, stopped to get her key from a neighbor, went to work, neglected to lock it up there, and now it’s missing. It could be anywhere. Or nowhere.

I scour the joint and am disappointed that I don’t accidentally come across my missing wedding ring during the search. She backtracks through work and digs through her car. Nothing.

I guess it could be worse. The wallet contains a credit card, a debit card, about 20 bucks and her driver’s license. If she had lost it a day before the flight to Seattle, getting through TSA would have been an adventure, so there’s that. But she likes the mug shot on her license and is smitten with the 20 bucks, so it’s sad.

She comes home empty-handed. She wonders if someone swiped it, but I point out she doesn’t have the best track record of losing things, being an artist and all. Three searches of the car and apartment later, she puts holds on the credit cards, resigns herself to the loss, and goes to bed.

And then.

This morning as she’s getting ready for work, she quietly declares: “I need a miracle. I need the wallet to turn up.”

I think, “A miracle. Yeah, right.”

She goes out to make coffee and I linger in bed, reading the letsrun boys fighting over whether any self-respecting clown would wear the new Hoka Carbon X. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a shadow on the blinds. Someone has walked up to the door.

I peek out the window, curious which pizza company has deemed us worthy of their valuable coupon. There, on the porch in front of the door, is the wallet.

I call out to Mo: “Your wallet is on the porch.” She replies, “yeah, right.” I reply “really.” I tell her I just saw it there. Thinking that I’m joking, she gives me the I Am Not Amused Look. But she finally goes out to to the porch so I’ll shut up, and there it is, smiling at her.

She must have dropped it in the parking lot. Someone found it, saw the address on her license (with a great mug shot), and returned it. No knock on the door to bask in our thanks, no reward, just a simple, anonymous gesture of all that’s good about humanity. Cash intact. They even left her Saguaro National Park button.

We stare at each other, amazed. It’s a lesson. Mo has been saying for weeks, “I need something good to happen. Just one good thing.” And then, something good happened. A reminder that there is much kindness in the world, selfless acts waiting to happen. It just takes the occasional miracle.

And then it hits me. IMMEDIATELY after she said she needed a miracle, the wallet appeared. We could have canceled the cards, gotten a new license, lost 20 bucks, and she could have wished for a pygmy goat instead. Oh, well. The pygmy goat likely would eat the replacement credit cards.

She gets ready for work, smiling and shaking her head every time she walks past the little wallet. Miracles do happen.

She grabs her glasses as she prepares to leave, pours one last cup of coffee, glances around the room, and then looks at me.

“Ummmmm, have you seen my wallet?”

I really, really want a penguin butler. But that would take a miracle …

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Blade loved a good story

The words of David Schoenmaker:

Good afternoon. For those who don’t know me, I am David, Ann’s brother. We are here this afternoon to honor and remember Blade as well as spread his ashes. We chose to call this a wake, not a traditional wake, but more by definition … informal, family and close friends, food, laughter and stories. I believe that is exactly how Blade would want it.

So, as we each mourn and weep in our own ways as we begin to heal, we should laugh — dance if you wish — and share a good story. Blade loved a good story.

I remember first meeting Blade. I was intimidated by this heavy equipment operator, wiry, hard working tough guy. Top that off with that head of perfectly groomed red hair … Yeah, it was the hair.

I first got to know Blade as we were building our home some 30 years ago. He was always there willing to pitch in and do what he could. He helped tear down part of the old house, he excavated, backfilled and graded for the new house.

He always gave us a chance to drive the machines, trying to teach us what had become second nature to him. I remember him saying, “You control the excavator by your butt where you feel what it’s doing.” I admitted “all I can feel is a broken seat cushion poking me in the butt.” Of course, Blade cracked up laughing. He loved to laugh.

From that conversation, Blade and I started calling each other “Butthead,” a term of affection.

So, one day I’m out on my tractor, mowing a hillside, and Blade comes running over and flags me down. Oh man, he looked pissed. I braced myself, thinking maybe I had called him butthead one too many times!

He yells up to me, “Hey, butthead, now you are being a big butthead! Lower that bucket on that hill, it’ll tip the tractor over and kill you. … I wouldn’t want to lose you!”

As I got to know this tough guy, I came to realize he was a big softie, and what a huge heart he had! I loved the guy; Blade loved well.

We chose to spread Blade’s ashes on the earth of the hillside of the pond and along the stream. The earth he so loved to work with his machines. That as the seasons pass, they would flow into the water which leads to the valley and from the river to the sea.

A toast to Blade: I’m sure God must have needed your help in grading and paving those Streets of Gold.


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i just wanted to drive around

I came back to the small town
where the dreams came from
way out here
— Daniel Makins

I’m not a big believer in magic chickens. But maybe.

The tale began with an email from Niece the Elder telling me there would be music Friday evening at the Chicken Farm. She didn’t know who was playing, but I figured what the heck.

Over the years at the Kerrville campfires, I learned that everyone has a good song or two waiting for an audience. Tonight, that audience would include us.

I wasn’t familiar with the performer, Daniel Makins, but he started on time, always a worrisome sign in a musician. Luckily, his first chords revealed he’s a formidable guitarist, and an impromptu goofing around during his opener that doubled as a soundcheck showed he didn’t take himself too seriously. I was sold.

And then.

He looked out and said he was glad to have Rick in the audience. He said that over the years, Rick’s writing had inspired him to spend endless hours on West Texas’ backroads in search of bluebonnets and old courthouses.

And it’s true. You couldn’t read my brother’s columns without getting the urge to roll down the windows and follow a little two-lane farm road wherever it happened to go. Those were the days before a phone gave you directions. Maps? Maps are for suckers. You just followed the stripe on the asphalt to see where it went.

It was a great set, and the hour went by way too quickly. I’ll never know why some people become famous and some don’t, but it sounds like Daniel’s life has given him a pretty great soundtrack, even if it’s now playing in Abilene. Sorry, Abilene.

As Daniel was about to launch into his final song, he stopped. “Before I play that one, I want to share a song that Rick inspired,” he said. And then he played a song called “Way Out Here.” You can find it on Spotify. It’s a wonderful ballad about life and exploring and growing up, and it really is a fitting anthem for Rick, a guy who spent his life wandering across this little piece of cactus-thorn heaven.

Rick loved it. He flashed a huge, embarrassed smile and gave me the elbow. He NEVER gives me the elbow.

Kathy asked a couple of days ago what people can do to help as Rick continues his journey down this new road. I think Daniel found the secret. Do what Rick would do. Stage a Club Sandwich. Write a story. Sing a song. Fling some bluebonnet seeds. Take too many selfies with courthouses. Live your life. Way out here.

Rick never liked to be in the spotlight. He was the guy always pointing the spotlight on other people and places and small dogs you wouldn’t notice otherwise. Now it’s your turn. Pick up his spotlight and make it your own.

Try something new each day, Maude told Harold. After all, we’re given life to find it out, she said. It doesn’t last forever.

I wrote Anne afterward to marvel at the twist of fate that landed us at this particular place with this particular person on this particular night.

“Chicken Farm Magic,” was all she replied. She’s a smith girl. She knows things.

Rick’s not going away anytime soon. but someday when he does, I know what song I’ll be playing.

Magic chickens indeed.

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the longest mile (ok, three-tenths)

It’s an almost unfathomable distance, but it’s too late to back out now. We’re at the start line of the San Angelo Clubhouse 0.5K.

Yes, that’s right. Half a kilometer. For those who don’t speak metric, that’s 0.311 miles, a distance possible by car or jetpack, but surely testing the limits of human endurance on foot.

The organizers, realizing this, offer copious amounts of coffee and whipped cream before the start. If I must die, let me go out with whipped cream in my mustache.

The race is for a worthy cause. The San Angelo Clubhouse is a nonprofit that helps adults with mental illness reach their potential. If you must suffer, what better reason?

The official starter is hoisted onto the race director’s shoulders. Suddenly 30 feet in the air, she starts bawling, a signal the race has started.

It’s a small troop of True Believers in the race, the way it always is in ultras. Young, old, two and four legs, Frida roller skates, sloths. We march as if one along the river walk.

After a seeming eternity, and 0.155 miles, we finally reach the aid station and find Gatorade and pizza rolls. I’ll just say pizza rolls should be mandatory at all race aid stations.

We pause to watch the mid-race entertainment, an amazing juggler. We have to continue onward before he juggles the dog. The sacrifices you make while racing …

Refueled, we make the push to the finish. The last few hundred meters are an endless blur. A long straight, a water crossing, a left turn and finally the finish line at the Clubhouse.

There we are met with hard-earned pastries, brownies and fruit. We bask in our accomplishment. Our battered legs swear we’ll never take on the 0.5K again, while knowing the pain will fade and in a couple of days we’ll be looking forward to next year.

Challenges are relative. We’re all climbing our own mountains. It’s an honor to help others climb theirs. A half-kilometer at a time.

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the shirt

It’s in the back of his closet, quietly waiting for the next revolution.

it first appeared back in the early ‘70s. rick was a bit of a rebel back then. the vietnam war was winding down, but a political divide had split the nation. i know, i know, hard to imagine these days.

those were tense times, made more so when rick showed up at the parents’ house one day wearing an american flag shirt. dad was outraged.

in those days, wearing a flag was seen as a sign of blatant protest against the establishment, before the whole american-flag clothing thing was appropriated by the right wing, much like long hair, electric guitars and psychedelic mushrooms.

dad, his face the color of the flag’s red portion (apparently not a violation of the flag code), told rick he could NOT wear it. so of course it became his favorite shirt. rick was never much of a hippie, but he loved to question authority when needed. it became his form of button-down civil protest.

i suppose it worked. the war ended without us having to burn our draft cards. rick became a newspaper columnist and a voice for little people and lost dogs. the shirt went in the closet, its job done.

i hadn’t thought about that shirt in forever till i saw it in the closet yesterday. i asked June about it. “yep, that one’s a keeper,” was all she said.

Sometimes in life you have to take a stand. Attend a rally. Join a movement. Burn something. Raise some hell. Do Something.

i don’t know where our nation is headed. but it’s good to know the shirt is still there, waiting. just in case.

Vive la révolution …

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