Thursday, October 23, 2014

When Gabriel Blows His Horn

(As I've been cautioned to do, I'll neither confirm nor deny the truth of this. I will say I've heard this story, from different sources, for many years. I've put it all together into a story form, and although it's a departure from the stories I usually write, I felt it needed to be told.)

The burly man chewed the wad of tobacco in his mouth impassively and spat suddenly into the dust, splashing the dark brown liquid onto the worn boots of the teenaged boy nearest him.

The boy flinched but didn’t take his eyes off the large man on horseback, who was now talking, even though it was in English, a language none of the twenty teenaged boys standing before him could understand.  He turned to a shorter man, also on horseback, with a handlebar mustache that curled almost from ear to ear on his plump face, and said, “Gabe, tell ‘em.”

The stout man, Gabriel, began to speak, and the boys’ faces relaxed in relief as he repeated what the first man said, this time in the native Spanish the boys understood.

“He says for you to listen, because he’s not going to repeat himself. You come with us to work this roundup. It’s three months work to bring all the cattle in from the northern pastures, branding, dehorning, castrating, and anything else that needs to be done. You’ll work seven days a week. The ranch will give you use of a horse and your grub, but you supply your boots and clothes. You may carry a knife on you, but no weapons.”

“You come across any outlaws or wild animals- you either take care of them with the knife or hope that your horse can outrun them. You’ll get your pay, $15 a month, at the end of the three months, but only if you work hard. If you turn out to be lazy Mexicans, you’ll get what a lazy Mexican deserves.”

As Gabriel finished, the tobacco chewing man rode his horse silently in front the new ranch hands. He stopped in front of one, Rico, and spat a virulent stream with precision just short of the boy’s booted toes. He turned to Gabriel and said, “Ask him where he got those boots.”

Gabe looked at Rico’s boots even as he began translating. They were polished and hand tooled, things of beauty amidst the dusty, misshapen footwear pocked with holes sported by the others.

Rico kept his gaze fixed on the ground as he answered softly. “They were my grandfather’s. He was a master saddlemaker in Nuevo Leon.” What Rico didn’t say, but what filled his mind was the scene from the night before, his mother sobbing as she gave them to him. Since his father had been killed by bandits on the road to town the year before, 16 year old Rico struggled to help get enough food on the table for the younger sisters and brothers who sometimes cried in their sleep, they were so hungry. When this opportunity to work on a large ranch on the U.S. side of the Rio Bravo came up, he couldn’t pass it up for the sure money it would bring them, even though his mother was broken hearted by his decision.

“Son,” she’d said quietly, “take these with you. They were made by your grandfather and worn by him until he died. May they keep you safe with every step.” Rico nodded as he somberly accepted them. She stroked his cheek even as tears streamed down hers.

And now, questioned about the boots, the only sign Rico showed of the struggle within to steady his composure were small pink patches of color on his cheeks.

Although Gabriel had already turned away from Rico after translating his answer to the boss man, Rico added, “I will be a good worker for you. I’ll work hard every day. You’ll see.”

The ragtag group of boys set off on foot behind the mule drawn wagon that would lead them to the base camp, twelve miles distant.

And just as the boss man had predicted, the work was bone crushing hard. They slept with their head on a saddle each night, curled under a saddle blanket to leach some warmth on the frigid October nights. Their days began well before the sun rose and continued until the darkness staunched their vision. They ate quietly most evenings, too exhausted to even banter. Rico, though, would not go to sleep until he’d buffed his boots to a sheen.

One of the other boys finally asked him, “Why, why spend time on those?”

Rico answered, “Because when I get back home, I’m going to give my mother the money I’ve made and put these boots away for the son I’ll have someday. I want to keep them as nice as I can for him. I’ll tell him of how hard I’ve worked here and that I’ve also worked to keep these boots for him. That way he’ll know I was thinking about him, even before he was born.”

The other boys chuckled at that as they drifted off to sleep. They couldn’t even think of the next day, their thoughts devoured by exhaustion, much less of the sons and families they’d have in the future.

Finally, the end of the three months came. The cattle had been branded, dehorned, castrated, and safely moved to their winter pastures. The boss man came by that evening, Gabriel by his side. “Tomorrow will be your last day on the job. When you hear Gabe blow his bugle, you line up here and we’ll settle up.” As Gabe translated, he held up his bugle from his Confederate Army days.

The ranch hands once again laid their heads on their saddles that night, but now with lighthearted laughter punctuating the crisp air. Plans for their trips home to Mexico floated through the night. None of them had ever had so much money in their hands before as they would have tomorrow. Rico, though,  continued his nightly ritual, polishing his boots, adding a little saddle wax, until his moonlit reflection illuminated the burnished leather.

Early the next morning, Gabriel’s bugle pierced the morning. The eager boys scrambled up, pulling on their hats and boots. Rico gave his boots one last swipe with his shirt sleeve before he hurried off to from the lateral line the boss man expected from them.

Gabriel sat on his horse on one side, still panting from his bugle call, and the boss man flanked the other side of the boys. The boss man spat, and said, “Look straight ahead, right there into the sun, while we get what we owe you.” The boys squinted and stood as tall as their frames allowed, proud of their hard work and expectant of their reward. Both men on horseback moved back to a stand of brush about ten yards behind the boys and the boss man dropped his arm in a signal. Ten men stepped from the brush behind the boys squinting into the sun, pistols drawn.

A fusillade of gunshots tore into the boys, so fierce and unexpected that even the horses reared and snorted. As the dust floated in the sun’s early rays over the fallen boys, the boss man rode through the bloody quagmire. He stopped at one body where polished boots shone in the early day like a beacon. Over his shoulder, he called out to Gabriel, “Pull the boots off of that one. They’re too good to waste on a dead Mexican. And make sure you burn those bodies good this time. Don’t want no coyote problems like we had with the last batch.”

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Three Words...

What is your best advice to the world in three words or less? I'll include mine in the comments.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Secrets of Honor- Carol Kilgore

I was honored when a terrific Texas author, Carol Kilgore, asked me a few months back if I'd host her on a blog hop about her new book, Secrets of Honor. Carol is a very talented writer, and the setting of her book, Corpus Christi is close to my heart. I hope that you will enjoy Carol's writing as much as I do!

Thank you, Shelly, for hosting me. You tell such great stories here that I’m a little nervous about telling one of my own. You’ve set a high bar, but I promise to do my best.

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who loved the world inside her head. She was a very good little girl who usually minded her mama and daddy. She liked school and made good grades. But she liked daydreaming more than anything else.

On days when the weather was nice, she walked home from school with one of her friends. One friend lived in the little girl’s neighborhood about a block away. The streets were all straight, and each block was filled with white frame houses. The view never changed. The little girl was supposed to always walk with this friend because The Mothers knew each other.

But the little girl sometimes walked with another friend, who lived outside the neighborhood in an old, two-story blue house with a big yard. Between the school and this friend’s house was The Woods, which was forbidden by the little girl’s mother. And beside The Woods was The Creek, which was not only forbidden but warned against with the shaking of head and finger.

But the little girl loved The Woods and The Creek. The path beside the creek had been walked by many feet for many years, so much so that the earth had been worn down into a smooth, rounded indentation that made the little girl’s feet feel safe.

She always wondered who had walked the path before her. Where had they lived? Did they fish in the creek? Did their children play in the woods? Did fairies and witches live in the woods? A princess waiting for her prince? Bambi?

The little girl knew if her mama found out she walked the path between The Creek and The Woods, she would get in trouble. But it was worth taking the risk. The answers to all her questions turned into stories and played out in her head as she walked with her friend. She never told those stories to her mama.

The little girl was me.

As an adult, I can totally understand why my mother wanted me to take the safer route home. I now realize the risks that may have lurked on the secluded path, but I’m still glad I took that way home every once in a while. And the adult me is forever grateful not to have faced or even known about those grown-up dangers at that point in my life.

Perhaps the forbidden path of yesterday explains why I write Crime Fiction with a Kiss today.


By the end of a long evening working as a special set of eyes for the presidential security detail, all Kat Marengo wants is to kick off her shoes and stash two not-really-stolen rings in a secure spot. Plus, maybe sleep with Dave Krizak. No, make that definitely sleep with Dave Krizak. The next morning, she wishes her new top priorities were so simple.

As an operative for a covert agency buried in the depths of the Department of Homeland Security, Kat is asked to participate in a matter of life or death—locate a kidnapped girl believed to be held in Corpus Christi, Texas. Since the person doing the asking is the wife of the president and the girl is the daughter of her dearest friend, it’s hard to say no.

Kat and Dave quickly learn the real stakes are higher than they or the first lady believed and will require more than any of them bargained for.

The kicker? They have twenty-four hours to find the girl—or the matter of life or death will become more than a possibility.

Although Carol has deep Texas roots, she’s lived up and down the eastern seaboard and in other locations across the U.S. as a Coast Guard wife. She sees mystery and subterfuge everywhere. And she’s a sucker for a good love story—especially one with humor and mystery. Crime Fiction with a Kiss gives her the latitude to mix and match throughout the broad mystery and romance genres. Having flexibility makes her heart happy. You can connect with Carol here:
Under the Tiki Hut blog:
Website with Monthly Contest:

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Out to Pasture

I am retired from a profession where I never made much money, but for over 30 years, felt like I was being a productive member of society by educating children, promoting love of obscure grammar rules, and hiding Shakespearean insults in the district website I maintained. 

But now that I live life on a more relaxed plane, volunteering in places that make me smile, going to the gym whenever I want, and spending more than 22 minutes on lunch, I sometimes wonder if I am slacking, not pulling my weight in the cosmic load.

Recent incidents confirm to me that I still have a place in the stuff of life, albeit to a different, smaller, and simpler tune.

Incident #1: Fresh out of the nail salon with a new set of my favorite French tipped acrylics, I hurried through the grocery store before the bulk of the Friday crowd hit. I spotted a friend I hadn’t seen in a while, her 20 year old son in tow. In the year or so since I’d seen him, nonverbal, severely autistic and struggling with violent outbursts, he’d grown even more, dwarfing his petite mom. I felt a new wave of admiration for my friend and her husband for their sacrifices in keeping him at home.

She smiled and hugged me. “Shelly, it’s good to see you. We’re so wrapped up in all that we have,” she glanced at her son, “that we don’t get out much anymore.” She continued sharing that it was more and more difficult for her to calm him when he became agitated because he was now so much stronger than her. Her son, uninterested in our conversation, circled slowly behind me, making me a little nervous. He emerged within my field of vision and knelt beside my arm, staring intently at my hand. My friend stopped talking and we both became wary.

Her son rose slowly and grasped my hand, never taking his eyes from it. He turned awkwardly and put my hand on his shoulders. Not sure what to do, I held it there, waiting for him to make the next move.

He moved his shoulders up and down and back and forth, wiggling. He looked back at me, smiled, and shimmied his shoulders again, making sounds of encouragement. A look of understanding flashed onto his mom’s face. “It’s your nails! He wants you to scratch his back with your nails!” He clapped his hands as I obliged, gently dragging my nails back and forth over his back. He closed his eyes and lapsed into a peaceful stillness for the next five minutes while we continued our conversation. Later that day, she texted me for the number to my nail salon. “We’ve never seen him so calm. A regular backscratcher doesn’t do it, either. It has to be nails. I’ve never had long nails, but this is working so well for him I’m headed down to get a set.”

Incident #2: At the close of a college football game, I wandered down out of the bleachers while my husband caught up with a hunting buddy in the stands. The school mascot, a six foot tall blue javelina (think something like a wild hog) with large tusks ambled near, greeting children and adults alike who wanted a quick picture with him. A man with two little curly headed girls, perhaps four and five years old, pulled them close to the mascot. “Look! I can take your picture with him,” he said excitedly to the girls as he pulled his phone from his pocket. The older girl, eyes wide, smiled in silent awe as the mascot reached his hand/ hoof out to her.

The younger girl, though, dug her heels in, pulled back on the man’s hand and whimpered, “No, Daddy, no!” Terror drained her face even as her sister crowded close.

The man said nothing but pried the little fingers off his hand and turned his back to her to take pictures. The younger girl, now without any island of safety and with her sister firmly in the clutches of the mascot, screamed chillingly. The man paid no attention as he continued to snap pictures. Quickly, the tiny girl bolted straight for me, ran behind and grabbed my leg in a death grip. Her curls bobbed at my waist as she buried her head in my thigh and sobbed, “No! No!”

I dropped my purse to the ground and knelt as best I could with her clamped onto me and put my arms around her. I told her the mascot was actually a silly fellow inside of a costume and that he would never hurt her and that she was safe. The whole time, the man never looked back, never took his eyes off taking his pictures. By the time they finished, a weak smile broke through my charge’s teary face, and she laughed as I told her funny stories of times I had been afraid and then found out I didn’t need to be.

As her father made his way over to us, pumping his fist in triumph at all the pictures he’d taken of the mascot and the older girl, I whispered to the little sister. “Remember, Honey, you are a brave girl. You are going to help so many people in your life because you are full of courage and you are going to help them not feel afraid.” She nodded her head, sighed and let out one last sob as her father reached for her hand.

“You were such a little chicken, weren’t you?” he laughed as she put her head down.

“Actually, she is very brave, and I think you should be quite proud of her and her sister, " I told him quietly. I patted her on the head. “You remember, you are brave, Honey. You don't have to be afraid because it's right there inside of you for whenever you need it. You are going to do such wonderful things. All your life, you remember that.” She nodded her head as other family members joined them. They walked towards the parking lot and I could hear the father laughing and recounting, “She just took off and ran behind this lady and wouldn’t let go of her…”

The little girl, tightly clutching her father’s hand, looked back one last time and shyly waved goodbye.

I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the mascot. He held his arms open wide and pulled me in for a tight hug.

I may be out to pasture, but there's still plenty to do in that pasture.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Hospital Tale

(I ask your pardon if I've been slack in visiting your blog. I spent most of last week in the hospital, hosted by my ruptured appendix. All is on the mend now, and I'm working as fast as all my little meds will allow me to get caught up. There's no place like home.)

The small taps on the door stirred me from the quasi slumber of the surgically repaired.

Even as my eyes worked to focus in the early morning hours, the door pushed open carefully.

"Good morning, hon, my name is Wanda and I'm with the hospital volunteers," an elderly woman with a lacquered beehive introduced herself as she moved towards my bedside. She consulted her clipboard and flipped a few pages, tapping an area at the bottom of a sheet.

"And you are George, " she proclaimed with a sweet smile.

I was drug addled, hooked to more lines and tubes than I knew what to do with and unsure of the day and year, but I was pretty sure I wasn't George.

"Um, no, I'm Shelly. But it's nice to meet you."

She frowned and underlined several things furiously on her clipboard. She pulled cat eye glasses up from the chain on her neck, fixed them on her nose, and carefully studied what was written there, tapping again in finality.

Slowly, with the enunciation of an elementary teacher, she said with a determined smile, "You...are...George...Morris."

I'd seen myself accidentally in the mirror the night before. I had hobbit hair, an odd swipe of Betadine on my neck, no earrings, no mascara, no lipstick, but...but...George?

"No ma'am, I am Shelly. Shelly."

She leaned in a closer. "You are in room 439?"

I exhaled and smiled. "Well, this is actually room 438."

She shook her head in small swipes side to side and made soft, disapproving tsks with her mouth.

"Hon, you'll need to call the office here and straighten things out. They have you under the wrong name and in the wrong room!"

Monday, August 18, 2014


My stomach spun like a top at my first glance. I inhaled deeply, all the way to my toes, and forced my eyes open again. There. There it was, in all its immutable, ageless, and very deep glory, the Grand Canyon.

My husband, equally enthralled but not a bit bothered by the height, was already moving quickly from rock to rock, taking a frenzy of pictures.

I remembered back to two days ago when we'd stopped in the Davis Mountains in West Texas for the first leg of our vacation. The sense of accomplishment I felt at having scaled two peaks was still throbbing in me; not for the physical feat of it, but for quashing my raging and robust dislike of being anywhere high. I took courage in that as we set off on the trail at the South Rim of the canyon.

The crisp, rich air made even breathing feel luxuriously decadent. Although we moved quickly on a trail without a guardrail, with only a couple of feet of dirt and sometimes trees separating us from the steepest drop off I've ever seen, I kept my mind off the height by focusing on the dazzling views as well as the melange of people we passed on the trail. English was sparsely scattered in the languages we heard. French, Japanese, German, Portuguese, and others were delectable listening treats.

We stopped at picturesque points on the trail, both for photos and appreciation.

"Be careful," I called to my husband, forcing my voice to stay nonchalant as he ventured out much too close to the edge of one of these rocky outlooks for my comfort.

"It's OK, Hon, I'm fine," he called back. "This is beyond words- just amazing!"

I took photos of him and of the undulating cliffs and of the tiny Colorado River visible from the safety of my vantage point just beyond the trail. Something small to my left bobbed in my peripheral vision as it moved past me to an area where there was an immediate drop off just past the trail. I turned to look and saw a small boy, no more than three, with a new scooter he was trying to push with one foot and steer with both hands while wobbling dangerously close to the drop off.

My breath caught in my throat as I moved quickly off the trail in his durection and worked to stay calm. No other adults seemed to be near and I didn't want to leave him to try and find who he belonged to.

"Hi there! That's a really neat scooter you have there, " I told him brightly as I crouched to get closer without startling him. He stopped for a moment in his jagged journey off the path.

"Mine. It's mine. I big boy!" He puffed himself taller.

I held out my hand to him, as there was no more than six inches now between him and the edge.

"Can you help me get up? I would love to see that scooter, " I encouraged, as I stretched my hand closer and wiggled my toes to get a better angle if I needed to lunge for him.

"I strong. I got big muscles," he said as he stretched out his chubby hand to me. I quit breathing as I clasped his small hand in mind. "Come back here on the trail and let's take a look at the scooter of yours," I said, my voice suddenly high pitched and having to suppress an urge to sob in relief.

Just then, a woman with two girls under ten following her came around the bend in the trail ahead of us.

"Jeremiah! Jeremiah! What have I told you?" She covered the yards between us quickly and grabbed his hand from mine. "Stranger danger! You NEVER go with a stranger, " she angrily enunciated as she glared at me.

Although I was still emotionally wrought by how close we'd come to tragedy, I straightened up and said, "Ma'am, he was past the trail there, trying to steer his scooter and he was just inches from the edge when I got him to give me his hand." And proving stronger than my will power, tears started to stream down my face. "He almost...he was this close..."

She looked at me carefully, her eyes squinting. She looked down at him, grabbed the scooter with one hand and in one motion pulled his arm to match her long strides away from me.

She took one last look at me and snorted. "Humph!" They moved quickly back down the trail the way she had come.

Um. You're welcome.


Friday, August 1, 2014

Knock Knock....Who's There?

Hey...psst...over here. I'm putting my toes back into the luxurious waters of blogland once again. Is it cold? Has anything interesting washed ashore while I've been gone?

And I did a terrible job of keeping up with all the blogs I love. It would make me happy if you could leave me a link or two for your favorite posts from the last two months. That way I can read and enjoy your part of the world once again.

And I'm going to try restructuring my blog a bit. Although I am a storyteller through and through, I know stories can get a little old for the reader. My life is as sedate and boring as a half used tube of toothpaste, so I'm not good at giving a recounting of my day, either.

But I will try to mix in short question pieces, like this one, with a few stories now and then, since stories are what make my soul tick.

I have some new projects in the works, and my time reading blogs is going to be a bit more limited, but I do plan to read yours at least a couple of times a week.

OK. Now for your question. What is the best meal you've eaten in the last two months? Don't be spare in your descriptions. I'm on a diet and this will be the only way I can enjoy really tasty food.

Teenaged Daughter taught me what chunkin' up the deuces is. (I think/ hope it means see you later.) I don't know why the picture is backwards, but I was driving here while she was posing.