Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Run of His Life

His heart beat so fast that moonless night that it threatened to explode from his chest. He buried his face into the dry ground, heaving bits of broken twigs and brittle leaves into his mouth and nose. Desperate as he was for air, his driving thought was only silence, not to make a sound.

He soon heard the fast canter of horses and the staccato commands in Spanish the horse men spoke to each other as they covered ground faster than he thought possible. Face down in a grove of mesquite trees, he pulled his ancient .22 rifle under him and willed himself to blend in with the ground, chameleon like.

It had seemed like a desperate idea, but good one at the time to his 13 year old mind. His family was hungry. Since his mom had kicked his abusive, alcoholic dad out of the house once and for all, food had been scarce. It ripped his heart to hear his little sisters whimper from hungry bellies as they slept. It made his soul ache to hear his mama weep softly at night when she thought they were all asleep.

He was old enough to help out and this big ranch that bordered his town was one of the most expansive in the world. He'd even heard President Woodrow Wilson had come hunting here once, and Teddy Roosevelt still came for adventures. This ranch had plenty of wild deer and hogs, more than enough to keep his family from starving, and all the other hungry ones.

But this ranch also had a reputation; maybe based in truth, but also maybe just to intimidate. Trespassers were not welcome, particularly not poaching trespassers. Even hungry ones. The ranch owners let it be known that  trespassers would be shot, no questions asked, and their bodies buried where they fell. There'd been too many tales of people who'd disappeared, last seen headed for the ranch lands, to discount any threat like that as idle.

And now, here he was, caught in the cross hairs of an armed, mounted search party. Judging by their clipped and purposeful commands to each other, they were on to him. His threadbare overalls didn't do much to protect his skin from the mesquite thorns that swaddled him in this low slung stand of trees. His bare feet, though leathery tough, were still nicked and cut from the harsh stones he couldn't see in the inky black during his stumbling run. Despite all, though, he kept still, even when a horse's hoof clomped so near that the dirt it kicked up spattered the back of his head.

He exhaled slowly as the rider moved on, sweeping the  range with the net of the other riders. He knew they'd be back; that was their way. They wouldn't quit until they found their prey.

He made his decision, and later, when others spoke of this night, they would brand his choice as foolish, but at this point, nothing mattered except getting off that godforsaken place and back to his home with mama and his little sisters.

He moved, ever so slowly at first, drawing himself inch by inch to a crouched position. He couldn't hear the riders anymore, but he had no idea which way to run because he'd gotten hopelessly turned around in the first chase.

An instinct he'd never had before arose so quickly that it hit his legs before thought came and he was running, blindly, without even the rifle, running sightlessly into the opaque night through tangled brush groves that slapped and pierced his face, through a merciless gauntlet of needle-like yucca leaves, and through what else he didn't know, just that his legs kept driving him.

His breath came in little yips now, and at one point he realized the warmth on his bare feet was blood oozing from a dozen wounds, but he plowed on.

He felt the blinding agony when the front of his foot banged into a rock that launched him into what felt like tiny fires of hell. Stunned, he rolled and knew then he had plunged headfirst into a looming cactus. The adrenaline, though, that fueled his flight pulled him back onto his feet, made him forget the countless cactus spines that drove through him now, and pushed him on.

People later estimated he ran more than three hours that night, so turned around he was, until he was able to come to a clearing just as the sun broke the horizon and get his bearings.

He was incoherent when the railroad yard man found him, so swollen and bloody and bruised and with hardly a stitch of his overalls intact that he didn't look human.

It took several days for Mama and the other good ladies who came to care for him to piece together what had actually happened to him that night. They almost lost him from a fever that then came on him and damaged his heart. But he pulled through, once again.

And not once, not ever in his long life to come, even though he grew to live in a fine house so close to it that his back yard abutted one of its fences, did he ever set foot on that ranch again.  

My grandma was one of those little sisters in this story who had to go to bed hungry. She and all her siblings, as well as her mama, revered this eldest brother who continued to look after and care for them all.


90 comments:

  1. You are a gifted story teller~ What a great way to capture and preserve history!

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    1. Saimi: There's just so much of it out there that's being lost because no one writes it down. Thank you!

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  2. Shelly, you could publish your own antholoy. Or maybe this is where you're heading with the gems you post here. It's worth thinking about...a family treasure made by Shelly.

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    1. Linda: Thank you for your kind words. I think blogging is about as far as I'll get to take my writing, but it is food for thought~

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  3. True stories about your family are always gripping, dear Shelly, and you have told many here on your fine blog. They are stories of courage and sacrifice, life lessons for us all, especially advantaged young people who tend to focus on their own needs rather than the common good. Thank you for another excellent post, dear friend Shelly!

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    1. Shady: Life was very different in those generations. Much harder in many ways, but those early difficulties forged strong people. Sometimes I think this generation could benefit from a little more struggle in their early lives. Thank you for stopping by!

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  4. I love people who have the ability to turn family stories into legend. Your greatgrandkids will be telling this story because of the way YOU tell it.

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    1. Therese: Oh, I hope so!!! Thank you!

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  5. Oh Shelly I love this story it is so powerful. I could not wait to hear how it ended but hung on every word not wanting to miss anything. I could feel that poor boys pain trying to look after his family. I was a hungry child so I know how it makes you stronger than you ever imagined but what this boy had to go through was horrible. Finally at the end to find out it was about your family I actually had tears in my eye. History is worth holding on too. Thank you so much for sharing. B

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    1. Buttons: You are absolutely right- history IS worth holding onto. There is so much to learn from it. My heart hurts that you were a hungry child. If I could, I would bring any hungry child I could into my home and cook for them until they couldn't hold anymore. That is just something that shouldn't be- children who go hungry.

      Thank you for your kind words~

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  6. Once again fact trumps fiction, and your telling of this family story is more precious than fairy tales! Well played.

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    1. vanilla: I don't read much fiction anymore for the very reason that I think real life is far more intriguing than made up stuff. Thank you~

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  7. Oh, Shelly, so sad to read but SUCH courage from such a young man. You come from strong ancestors. It breaks my heart to hear of hungry children ... I wish there was a little less struggle in this world for so many. Thank you so much for this story.

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    1. jenny_o: I'm with you. I have a seriously hard time watching the hungry children commercials on tv because I feel driven to help them all. If I had a wish, it would be that no child should ever have to go hungry. Surely, there has to be a better way...

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  8. Oh, wow, what a story. My adrenaline was pumping. I had to remind myself that this happened when Wilson was president. Well done!

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    1. Theresa: Thank you! My grandmother always told it so well, but I only recall hearing my great uncle speak of it once. He had some other adventures, too. Quiet, but very brave~

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  9. What an absolutely wonderful story Shelly. I could feel his fear, you described it so well. Thank you for sharing this with us.

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  10. oh my gosh! what a story!!! you are fortunate to be able to know somethings about your family history...my husband and I know so very little..I always wondered...

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    1. Annmarie: I am so glad I grew up with so many relatives so close. I do hope you both can find some things out~

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  11. Wow, this was scary just reading about it, imagine actually living it like your great-great-uncle did (did I get that right with greats?) But what an honorable thing to do to try to take care of his family as the "man" of the house the best he could!

    betty

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    1. Betty: It amazes me that someone his age could feel and act on such responsibilities. I don't see that too often in today's teens-

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  12. Wow! I know I've said it before, but you are such a good writer. I loved this story!

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  13. A well told and beautifully written tale. It's a joy reading your stories.

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    1. Stephen: Thank you for the always kind words!

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  14. Dearest Shelly,

    Wow, this sure is a great prose (hope this word is right) of family history☆☆☆ Your grandmother's big brother sure had a sweet, thoughtful, brave, heart; especially thinking his siblings. Reminded me how I was a bit of carefree girl, thinking back my teenage days(^^;)

    Your beautiful posts always worth reading repeatedly, dear friend♡♡♡ Thank you very much for sharing this great writing about him. I was so glad to read that he somehow survived the situation and has (I hope) long life. Oh, that must be a striking experience for him and we can guess his feeling towards the place.
    Come to think of it, I don't know much about my grandmother and father for both side. One of the most important things to pass on to the next generation.

    Sending you lots of love and hugs from Japan to my writer friend in America, xoxo Miyako*

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    1. Miyako: Yes, my dear friend, he was like that all the way to end of his days. He ended up outliving all of his siblings, and passing away when he was 90, so I like to think his long life was one of his rewards.

      And I hope you can find out someday more about your grandparents on both sides- I'm sure there are wonderful stories of your sweet family that are just waiting to be found. I love how well you take care of your dad and how lovingly you speak of your family. I know there is much love there.

      Take care my friend!
      xo

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  15. Shelly, what a wonderful telling of this young man's bravery out of love for his family. I know about those yucca needles and just a small prick from them is so very painful. I also applaud the courage of the Mom for getting the abusive father out. That took a lot of courage back then. (just curious, was that the King Ranch?)

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    1. Nonnie: One and the same! They don't use those tactics anymore, thankfully. I was just thinking about that, and it is ironic that a friend of ours is now head of security for the whole ranch. Maybe I should tell him about my great uncle. It would make an interesting story, for sure!

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    2. It is a VERY interesting story.

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  16. My goodness, my goodness, Shelly........this is such a wondrous work of poetry and emotion, and not to mention a work of art through your words. You had me on the edge of my seat, my eyes could not be diverted to anything around me as I read. Then, at the end, when you said it was your family -----this was all such a superior piece of prose. Now, go....write a book!! I'll be the first in line to buy it.

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    1. had to skim up a ways to read other comments...we're all in agreement. You're a marvel. [knew it was King's Ranch all along...but to have this story told, well...I'm still in awe]

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    2. Hootin' Annie: Thank you for your very kind words! I love to tell the stories I remember hearing when I was a little girl.

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    3. Hootin Anni: And I meant to add that while the Ranch still doesn't like trespassers, they don't shoot them anymore!

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  17. Every time I read your work, it inspires me to be more thoughtful with my own words. Each sentence is perfectly sculpted, and I always reread your stories at least twice. The detail, the emotion, and the depth delight me, and this tale was no different. What a wonderful tribute to your heritage!

    -Amy

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    1. Amy: I am honored at your words- thank you! Writing truly is a work of the heart, and when you are writing what you know, it isn't too hard.

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  18. This is wonderfully descriptive writing! I could feel his pain. And this is a true story? Amazing!

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    1. Sherry: My great uncle never talked of it much, but my grandmother and great aunts did. They were all very close because of how well he took care of them.

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  19. I hope there are many people out there buying your great-uncle a beer...or two.

    He sure deserves it!!

    my heart was beating a little faster just reading this story!

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    1. Christine! So glad to see you here! He spent his life taking care of others, and I'm glad to get to share his story-

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  20. Oh, my gosh!! The suspense you built in the story. I thought for sure he was going to be caught the way you put everyone thought he foolish!! Great writing Shelly!! What a life your grandma and family lived through. I could see all of you sitting around telling story after story. What fun.

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    1. Jamie: Some of my best memories are of family get togethers where they all told stories. Thank you my friend!

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  21. Loved the suspense right from the beginning! Great writing Shelley!

    Nas

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  22. That story breaks my heart. What a relief to hear that they are in such a better place.

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  23. That is such an intense story! I tried to publish a previous comment, so if it shows up in duplicate, I apologize. Wild Texas, no a place for the faint of heart or the timid.

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  24. Jenny: I'm very thankful it wasn't me because I'm sure I would have quit or been found right away. Not for the faint of heart! (Sorry you had commenting problems...blogger sometimes is in a foul mood!)

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  25. You had my interest all the way though - you sure did portray your grandma's brother - wow - what a guy. You come from a strong line of strong people! This is very interesting as Andy is learning in 6th grade - all about freedom and how lucky he is today!

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    1. Sandie: it does definitely make me appreciative for all we enjoy today!

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  26. Fabulous, gripping account of such a harrowing family story. Well done. Great to have this memory preserved on your blog.

    xx Jazzy

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  27. I guess every we all need strength and courage no matter what time period we live in. I guess today we are very lucky.

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  28. Hi Shelly! I saw your comment at Belle's blog. Your class would enjoy it. Today a teacher is reading my answers to questions several seventh grade classes sent to me and revealing my cover as well. I guess they've really enjoyed the books!

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    1. Alex: I will have to check that out!

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  29. What a story what an amazing young man to put himself in harms way to try and help his family this was cripping and so sad as well.......

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    1. Jo-Anne: he really had such a wonderful heart for taking care of others-

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  30. What a powerful and frightening story, Shelly! You have such a talent for making history live vibrantly in the moment! Thank goodness the young man found caring souls who helped him -- and that he went on to have and to share a good life!

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    1. Dr. Kathy: whatever it was in him that made him be so successful des

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  31. You tell a story so well, and the readers heart feels the emotions of the moment. And for it to be true, as well as someone you knew, makes it even more awesome. Its so sad when some people have to live through. The ranch this young man went to, could easily have allowed some of the wild game be given to feed the poor.. Have you ever considered putting these stories into book form?
    If so then look at this, xxx http://www.smashwords.com/about/how_to_publish_on_smashwords
    Its into a free ebook.

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    1. Crystal Mary: I've often wondered why a ranch with such rich resources didn't do more to help people. Thank you for the link-I will be checking it out!

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  32. Dear Shelley, I stopped breathing in and out as I read your story. At the end, I took a deep shuddering breath, feeling deep relief that the boy lived. Thank you for telling us that he was your great-uncle and that he continued to cherish his mother and sisters.

    You know, Shelley, I've said this before but it bears repeating: you are a fine story teller. You get pace and character development and detail so right that a reader is drawn into your story and lives it with your characters. Some day, when you have more time from teaching, I do so hope that you will turn these stories of your family into a novel or a memoir. Gifts such as yours deserve a really wide audience. Peace.

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    1. Dee: I always appreciate your warm words of encouragement. They do more for m than you know. Thank you! I will think carefully about it.

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  33. My god, the things he went through to keep his (your) family fed. What an amazing story.

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    1. Lydia: he was one of the most determined people I've ever met-

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  34. You know how to tell a story, Shelly. This gave me goosebumps.

    Pearl

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  35. Shell, what a riveting story! I was on the edge of my seat;).

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    1. Maria: Thank you! I always loved to hear it told~

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  36. Oh, I could feel his pain and to think it's actually a true family experience is truly amazing! Great story telling!

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    1. Julie: Thank you! I am so thankful he lived to tell about it~

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  37. Wow. Amazing! I thought this was part of a novel you're writing. You're one excellent writer, Shelly.

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    1. Jeanette: Thank you for your kind words! Stories like this almost seem to tell themselves-

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  38. What an amazing and gripping story. Our friend in Florida, whose family has lived there for several generations, was telling me that it was all about just getting enough food in his grandparents day and your story has brought this to life. Wow!

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    1. Jenny: Thankfully, we have come so far since then. It is amazing what poor people back then had to go through just to survive~

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  39. Finally getting caught up in blogland! Another amazing story, Shelly. Thanks for sharing!

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  40. Very suspenseful! And as all the others have said, "You're a gifted story teller."

    You make me think of the griots in West Africa; I suppose they still exist. How fortunate you are to heard family stories and to be able to record them for yourself, and the next generation.

    Your Grandma's brother, your great uncle, was a hero.

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    1. Anita: I have heard of the griots, and I feel well blessed that I am able to have these family stories to love and to pass on. Thank you so much!

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  41. Intense and gripping story. My grandpa used to tell tales about that ranch, too, even though he grew up in a different part of Texas. News travels. Your grandmother's brother was very courageous.

    Happy Weekend!

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    1. Carol: There are many, many legends about that place. Amazing that so many could spring up around it. Thank you, and a happy weekend to you, too!

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  42. oh my goodness, that last paragraph melted my heart. How beautifully recounted, dear lady, you really took us there with that poor, terrified child, what a horrific experience for him. I am so glad to know he grew up safe, well and thriving.

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    1. Shrinky: He was really a respected person in our town and remained a father figure, although so young, for all his siblings for the rest of his life.

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  43. Shelly, you tell these family stories so well. I admire your talent. One thing I note is that one has to have an older person who him/herself has a storytelling attitude so that he/she tells you of past histories that you can then pass along. I love these stories.

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    1. Lorna: Thank you for your kind words! Oral tradition is something that is strong in my family, but it saddens me to see it fading away elsewhere. I wish all children had access to a family storyteller.

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