Sunday, October 20, 2013

Saving Marlon

He stubbed out his cigarette in a chipped bowl he was using for an ashtray. “They let you do that here?” I asked, pointing to the pack of Marlboros and Zippo lighter on his lap.

“They can tell me what to do inside there,” he said as he gestured over his shoulder to the heavy front doors of the nursing home, “but they can’t tell me what to do out here.” Out here was the front portico of the sprawling nursing home where we’d come to visit some of our relatives. David was a distant cousin of my father in law, and I chatted with him while waiting for my husband to drop off some papers with the office on our way out. David had seen better times, and indeed some of the stories I’d heard about his younger days were incongruous to his now frail frame resting in a wheelchair and wrapped in a light blanket even on this warm day.

He fiddled with his pack of cigarettes as he spoke. “Mija (daughter, a term of endearment), did you ever hear about the time I saved Marlon Brando?” I waited for a laugh or smile to confirm it was a joke, but his rheumy eyes remained fixed on me as he tapped the lighter gently.  

I’d heard my father-in-law’s stories about being an extra on the movie Viva Zapata, filmed in the area and starring Marlon Brando in the early 1950’s, but hadn’t heard anything about this. “No, I haven’t heard about it. THE Marlon Brando?”

“Yes, THE Marlon Brando,” he choked as a coughing spasm overtook him.  He gasped but regained control. “You remember the movie Viva Zapata?” I nodded. “They filmed some of it around here, right down there on the river.” He pointed vaguely to the south, where I knew the Rio Grande curved its snaky course. The hills of Mexico sat like a hazy mirage on the distant horizon.

(The Rio Grande near where scenes from Viva Zapata were filmed. Mexico is on the far side.)

“Well, I was an extra, too, just like your father in law. They fed us well, but we weren’t supposed to mix with the stars, so we kept our distance. One afternoon, though, I had an old lasso and was practicing some roping tricks while we waited for the next scene. I heard someone come up behind me, but didn’t pay any attention because I thought it was just someone from around here. I looked up and it was Marlon.”

He lit a fresh cigarette while another coughing spasm threatened to squeeze up his gullet. He suppressed it and continued. “We talked and one thing led to another and Marlon ended up meeting me and some of my friends that evening for some roping lessons. We brought the beer and Marlon brought the tequila.” He whistled weakly and shook his head while he chuckled. “We thought we were pretty tough, but hijole, that man could drink. He polished off most of that tequila by himself and pulled out another bottle from somewhere. He started on that one and still acted like he was as sober as a missionary.

“We were all feeling pretty good as it got dark and we started roping. We were out in a pasture that belonged to my uncle- lots of cactus all over, black animal holes, not too smart a place to be after sunset. I still remember how loud the coyotes were that night. We didn’t care. I had a pistol with me and we started shooting the empty beer cans for targets. I guess all that beer and tequila finally hit Marlon and he stumbled and fell, but he was laughing so hard he didn’t seem to mind.

“We all laughed, too, but my friends froze when I suddenly pulled my pistol and shot right by Marlon’s ear. Marlon stopped for a minute, and looked at me, wide-eyed. When he rolled over and saw the dead rattlesnake I’d shot right through the head, he slapped his knee and passed me another beer.  

David looked off into the distance for a moment, as if the 1950’s were still faintly visible, like those hazy hills in Mexico. “Drunk or sober, I was always a pretty good shot.” He smiled. “Not everybody can say they’ve saved a movie star. Nosirree, but I have. I surely have.”


Marlon





96 comments:

  1. Wow, that's a cool story! As time starts slipping by faster, I'm realizing how important it is to get the cool stories written down somewhere so that when the day comes that my kids are interested, they'll be there even if I'm not. I'm glad that David was able to tell you this one first hand!

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    1. The Chicken's Consigliere: I am glad, too, that I got to visit with him a little before we left. I wonder how many more stories he's got up his sleeve?

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  2. What a lovely story. And it's a good thing that David knew how to handle a gun despite being filled with drink that night, because he might have ended up shooting the famous Marlon Brando and changing this story forever, not to mention his own fame.
    I can just imagine David trying to convince everyone that he did see a rattlesnake next to Marlon as they shot at beer cans, ha ha ha.

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    1. Rum-Punch: I didn't say it aloud, but when I heard that he shot near Marlon's head after a night of drinking, all I could think was You are one lucky son of a gun that you didn't kill him.

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  3. Shelly, do you yourself believe the story? :-) On the other hand, how can we know for sure now? I love your storytelling talent.

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    1. Lorna: I guess it didn't matter whether I believed it or not, because David sure did. And thank you!

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  4. Oh Shelly Lorna above asked if you believed the story and I have to tell you I do. I love it Your story as well as David's pulled me in and kept me wanting more. True or not I want to go and sit with this man and hear more. You are an incredible writer Shelly and certainly have a wealth of inspiration for more captivating stories in a man like that. Great post. B

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    1. Buttons: Oh, thank you, my friend! And I do believe it could have happened, and David fully believed it, so that's enough for me!

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  5. Great story, Shelly! It reminds me of the time Frank Sinatra saved my life. A bunch of thugs were beating the pulp out of me behind the Fontainebleau Miami Beach. Ol' Blue Eyes saved my life by waving his hand and saying, "That's enough." :)

    I couldn't resist using that old joke I once heard delivered by Buddy Hackett or Don Rickles or one of those old comedians on The Tonight Show.

    I found the following fascinating pieces of trivia on IMDB about the making of Viva Zapata!

    Marlon Brando was reportedly involved in a string of stunts during filming. On location in Texas, he shot off a string of firecrackers in a hotel lobby, serenaded Jean Peters from a treetop at three in the morning, horrified cast and crew by playing dead for several minutes following the hail of gunfire that ends Zapata's life, and told visiting reporters that he once ate grasshoppers and gazelle eyes.

    Anthony Quinn was very disappointed when Marlon Brando was cast as Emiliano Zapata - he thought that with his Latin appearance, he would have been a better choice. To solve the argument, both actors competed to see which of them could urinate furthest into the Rio Grande. Quinn lost the bet, but he won an Oscar for the best supporting actor as Zapata's brother.

    I would have loved to have been a fly on a cactus and witnessed the event David described. I'm thinking that deadly rattler he though he was shooting in the dark might have been a curled up length of rope! :)

    Have a great week, dear friend Shelly!

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    1. Shady: Ha! That made me laugh out loud! That trivia was fascinating- and at least Quinn won something! It really made me want to meet Marlon. He must have been quite the character. Who knows what really happened that night- just glad Marlon wasn't killed!

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  6. Shelly, I love the way you tell a tale! I would have loved to have witnessed that scene, we just don't have real movie stars anymore, do we? The world seems to be filled with wanna be's! Keep writing cause I love to read your prose! Big hugs!

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    1. Sush: You are so right- the movie stars we have today just don't have that Hollywood glamour anymore. It's a shame- they broke that mold. And thank you, my friend!

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  7. Quite the riveting tale you weave my friend. Your writing gets better and better Shelly. I love watching Marlon Brando in old movies. My favorite of his was Mutiny on the Bounty!

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    1. Optimistic: He was quite an amazing actor, wasn't he? I am determined to watch Viva Zapata now. Thank you for your kind words~

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  8. :-) I ate up every word, mija. (New word! YAY!)

    You know, this has to be my favorite thing about blogging and the blogging relationships that we have developed: the insight into other lives. I have never seen the hills of Mexico, nor the border. I've never known a movie extra. I've never even seen Viva Zapata...

    Now you must tell me the word for "sister" -- you write like I wish I could.

    Pearl

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    1. Pearl: Hermana (sister, pronounced air- mah-nah), I am going to be watching Viva Zapata very soon. I took that picture of the river when my daughter and son-in-law were down. He'd never seen the border, either, and was mind blown that it was such a little patch of water that we could have easily walked across. David's story made me nostalgic for a time when I wasn't even born. How I wish I'd met Marlon at some point!

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  9. Wonderfully told, Shelly. What an experience David had, and how fortunate are you to have the privilege of hearing the story straight from the principal in the tale.

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    1. vanilla: I wish I had more of a chance to visit with David. We are going again on Saturday, so I will see if I can find him and ferret out any more stories he has~

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  10. You write the best stories! Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. Texans do know how to shoot straight! They also make the best, most loyal friends. I'm glad that Marlon was able to reach out beyond his celebrity and enjoy some real life with real people.

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    1. Jenny: :) I am surely glad a drunken or sober David never shot at my head! And it is good to know that Marlon was a regular person, at least back then. What a night that must have been. And thank you, my friend~

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  11. Great story, and like Pi says at the end of "The Life of Pi," God is in the better story so I believe David when he says he saved Marlon.

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    1. Stephen: I agree. David fully believes it, so I do, too.

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  12. Another fabulous family story, Shelly! I love it when I can imagine all the characters and see them in my mind as you're telling the story.
    Marlon was lucky to be saved from the snake and David was lucky that he didn't shoot Marlon! :)

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    1. Anita: They were all so foolhardy it's a miracle they all didn't die that night. Thank you for your kind words, my friend!

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  13. Dear Shelly, this is just a great story. Suspense, characters drawn through action and dialogue, a denouement, and a "Wow!" at the end. What a weaver you are of tales. Peace.

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    1. Dee: Thank you so much for your kind words. I enjoyed hearing it told, and was glad to put it to a post!

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  14. Really? What an incredible story! You never seem to have a shortage of the most amazing tales!

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    1. Lydia: I enjoy listening to other people tell their stories, and I've found most of us have some really terrific stories locked away. David certainly does!

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  15. I believe that story too - who would bother to make up something with such detail, and tell it to a distant relative-in-law???

    I hope David has more stories up his sleeve when you visit next!

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    1. jenny_o: It really did have the ring of truth to it, and he's certainly kept it intact and the same all these years. And I hope to get some more out of him next time we go!

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  16. I am sad that someone with this much grit and talent ended up in a nursing home, wracked by sickness. I'm glad you visited, and got to hear this story.

    You are such a great writer! You need to write a novel.

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    1. Jeanette: It is such a shame that he's so broken down physically and STILL smoking. He's so interesting. And thank you!

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  17. Wow. Now that's a story! Loved reading it!

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  18. Gosh, that young Marlon Brando was such a handsome man. You tell such a good story my friend, and this was a great one! Sad when people get old like that though, isn't it? It's funny to hear you talk about the River Grande - sounds just like the old black and white cowboy films I used to watch as a child!

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    1. thisisme: He truly was one of the best lookers of his day, wasn't he? And it's interesting about that river: here on the US side, it's called the Rio Grande, and on the Mexican side, the same river is called the Rio Bravo. It still does resemble the old west in a lot of places there~

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  19. What a great story! I'm sure Marlon was happy he was such a good shot :)

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    1. Carol: A bullet was dodged in more ways than one that night...

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  20. Shelly, that was a great story. I think a person would have to be really drunk to be out in the middle of land filled with cactus and wild critters. Glad David had a sharp eye and a steady hand. I've lived in Texas for a very long tIme and have never seen the Rio Grande. It's really interesting to sit down with older people and hear the stories they have to tell, and I bet David was glad to have you really listen to him.

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    1. Nonnie: That no one was hurt that night is a true miracle. I LOVE to hear elderly people tell their stories. It's always been fascinating to me. I wish more young people would realize what a treasure trove of history these older folks are. Thank you!

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  21. Are the stories of the elderly the best? Before my grandmother passed away, she told me all about things she and her cousin would do out in the countryside of Mesa, AZ before the 1920s. She would laugh like anything to remember, and it was a glimpse into another world. Really good story you told, by the way!

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    1. Karen: They ARE the best! Have you ever written any of them? I'd love to read them!

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  22. That's a great story, and you write it so well.

    Love,
    Janie

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  23. Quite the story - where do these ideas come from? I remember Marlon Brando! Excellent.

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    1. Sandie: David fully believes it, and as he told it, I felt no reason to doubt him. I hope to get to talk with him again and hear some more of his stories!

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  24. Oh wow, this is a great story! I'm so glad David was able to share it with you. Imagine being there and seeing the look on Marlon Brando's face (as well as the others) when they heard the shot.

    betty

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    1. betty: I am still amazed no one, especially Marlon, was killed!

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  25. Good story!!! But, in my opinion...the snake shoulda survived! Sorry.

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    1. PS....did you ever continue the story of "unzipped"? I musta missed it completely.

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    2. HOOTIN ANNI: Yes, back then it was more a shoot now, ask questions later. I don't know if you heard the hubub from my town last week, but someone was bitten by a small rattler in HEB. It was in a plant inside the store!

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    3. And yes, I finished up Unzipped in the comments- towards the bottom. What an evening that was~

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    4. OMGoodness..a snake in the store...nightmares are a comin' for me now!! LOL I hate snakes....Marlon Brando I didn't like more. LOL

      Read the ending of 'unzipped'. roflmao

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    5. HOOTIN ANNI: I am looking two and three times before I pick up anything in that store again!

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  26. Ok, just saw the comment above mine...in the store? Holy moly!!

    What a fun story! I'm sure there are a ton of stories those old folks could tell, and every one interesting!!

    What a shot, though, huh? Wow.

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    1. Jamie: It was horrifying because it's a nice store and the one I go to most often. The bitten man ended up in ICU for several days...Holy Moly is right! And yes, what a shot- I would have loved to have seen that whole scene~

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    2. Oh, poor man!

      I was thinking about this today, I wonder if Marlon's story would be the same?

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    3. Jamie: With as much as they all had to drink that night, who knows what he could have remembered, if anything at all!

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  27. OMG! I just hate snakes. And he shot one right by Marlon's ears? Awesome!

    Nas

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    1. Nas: I cannot stand them either!!!

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  28. Dearest Shelly;
    Wow!!! What a story☆☆☆  All this story of David (who is a distant relative of yours) doesn't seem what happened in the real story for me rather in the movie p;) First of all, I was quite surprised how gun was treated these days. (as whose mother tongue is not English) I am not sure if it is decent to say this; but your reply comment to one of your friends, " all I could think was You are one lucky son of a gun that you didn't kill him." expresses your feeling really truthfully and humorously by using the word "gun". Haha, my father used to drink a lot sometimes, yes, it seems like a miracle to me. Well, I wish the proud man get better and LOVED, felt CUTE the way he has his stubbornness.
    I have read the follow up story of the "unzipped man", my friend. Oh, you are such (lucky, maybe?) a lady that never run out of the topic with your fabulous writing(^_^)v

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

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    1. orchid Miyako: Yes, it was a little play on words, with gun, my dear friend! We are so saturated in guns and hunting in my part of the world I forget other places don't have them and may not have the same references I do. Thank you for sticking with it and understanding! Stubborn is an understatement for him, I think!

      And oh, that unzipped episode- I hope it never happens again!
      xo

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  29. Whether embellished or not, this was a wonderful retelling. You made it come to life. Don't you love to hear the elders tell their stories?

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    1. Linda: Listening to older people tell their stories is my very favorite form of entertainment. Such value and wisdom (and humor!) in what they say!

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  30. A regular western hero that man is - heck Marlon should have given him a bigger part in his movie after saving his life sheesh!
    love your stories Shelly!!

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    1. Saimi: Oh, to have met Marlon...and thank you!

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  31. I loved this story. Your writing always brings your stories to life.

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    1. Dawn: Thank you! I always enjoy hearing stories of the old days like this~

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  32. Oh, fabulously told as ever. You always hook me from your first line! What amazing family tales you have. And I love the Marlon photo at the end.

    xx Jazzy

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  33. I absolutely love your stories, Shelly! You set the scene so beautifully and I could just picture David then and now -- and the ending was a wonderful surprise! I'm truly a fan!

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    1. Dr. Kathy: Thank you! And I found your postcard from me when I was in Florida, it having slipped under the chair. I mailed it, but it was late. So sorry about that!

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  34. That was outstanding, Shelly! I could see David telling the story...

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    1. Sharon: Thank you- he is so interesting!

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  35. It's a good thing he was such a good shot! Geesh!

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    1. Missed Periods: I wouldn't want anyone, drunk or sober, shooting at anything around my head!

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  36. Shelly, What a great story. And told in the wonderful way that you always do it. Have a terrific weekend.- Marsha

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    1. Marsha: Thank you! I hope your weekend is spectacular, too!

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  37. You are a natural-born storyteller, and all you have to do is dig into your memory bank to paint these mesmerizing, entertaining pieces. You are talented, and surrounded by writing prompts with the history of your family alone! Good for you. Keep sharing your gift with the world. David sounds like someone who has led a full life. God bless to you and yours.

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    1. Janette Dolores: Ah, thank you, my friend! And this David story was one of the tamer ones. He had quite the reputation when he was younger...

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  38. I want to read more David stories! He has a gift for storytelling, just like you!

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    1. Amy: He is quite the character, for sure!

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  39. Wow, that's quite a story. What a good shot!

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  40. How interesting, and also that your Uncle's memory is still intact..A great story and one I loved to read. I believe when we get old the most important part of life becomes our memories...sitting and reminiscing of those long ago bygone days. Marlon Brando was so gorgeous as a young man, then fell to pieces as he aged. I wonder if that was because of his taste for alcohol? I wonder if he came to know the Lord at all? I hope so. Yes, I read on FB that you now have a blue heeler... they are great workers and need to be busy. They are also good at watching people come onto your property and then baling them up, and not allowing them to leave... I pray he gives you many happy years. xxxx

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    1. Crystal Mary: Marlon really went to pot, didn't he? I've read so much about his excesses...guess he started with them young.

      And Tyson, the blue heeler, is rolling on my foot as I type, ready to go outside and herd something, probably me! He is adorable, though-

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  41. Wow! Now that's a great story! Sounds like your uncle is quite a character! :)

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    1. Rita: He had quite the reputation when he was younger!

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  42. Amazing shot - - - - I wonder if the star was indebted, I would have been.

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    1. Munir: As much as they all had to drink, I wonder if Marlon even had a memory of it at all!

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  43. An amazing story! Your uncle sounds like he might repay chatting to and hearing more about his life.

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    1. Jenny: Yes, he's quite full of stories- I wish we had more contact with him.

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  44. Great story! I bet he's got a lot of them...
    In my mind's eye (or ear), I could hear him telling it.

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    1. Pat: Thank you! I do wish we could see him more often~

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