The Simple Pleasures in Life are the things that make Life Good.
During the 1960’s, in the scorching Texas summers, I got to vacation for one month at my favorite place on earth, at Grandpa and Grandma Hill’s house in Blanco County. They lived in a humble, wonderful house. A house with uneven poured concrete floors, hard asbestos wall shingles, a steep corrugated tin roof, and a large tined TV antenna perched on top.
Then was the glory of my fleeting youth. I was a toe headed, barefoot kid, and growing like a weed. Every day in the late mornings, Grandpa and I would pile into his old white pickup truck. We drove from the house, truck squeaking, and rolling down the big hill, headed towards the Blanco River, which gouges out its path straight through the middle of the Blanco State Park.
As we rode down the town hill with the windows rolled down, the wind stirred up odors inside the cab of the pickup truck. I remember smelling the acrid scent of the hot, cracked, vinyl seat. I remember the smell of the churning cloud of Grandpa’s burning, cigarette smoke. The roasted, sweet-smelling, tobacco lightly bit at my nostrils. I can remember the smell of butane gas, which actually fueled the truck. The most pleasant smell of all was the scent of the sweat and musk of Grandpa’s wrinkled, elephantine skin. It smelled like happiness and safety.
Inside the Blanco Park, Grandpa let me swim in the calm, glass-like, water above the dam and small waterfall. The water was a cool, green-blue.
As I swam, I sipped water from the river. I can remember the taste of the Blanco River. It tasted of earthen clay and the sweet moss below the banks.
The river water had a smell, much like the wind, which arrives just before a hard, summer, rain shower in the rolling hills of Kendalia; the same breeze which brings in the aroma of turned over earth, as heavy raindrops pelt the fertile sod, in the freshly plowed fields.
The section of the Blanco River, above the State Park, flows down from the mountains in the high country. As the river courses downwards, other natural water sources nourish the river along the way.
The occasional, heavy rainstorms in the foothills shed a torrent of excess water. The watershed rushes downhill, in narrow, jagged creeks, carved into the limestone. The rainwater crashes white against the jagged, fallen rocks, which line the creek beds; always finding its way back to the womb of the Blanco River
As the river runs down from the hills, there are also dozens of clear natural springs along the way. Their pure water babbles cold, rising out of narrow cracks in the bedrock that lies atop the water table. These crystalline springs collect in clear pools, and they seep through the soil, and move down into the Blanco River.
The riverbanks upriver leading into the high lands are ancient. And over the centuries, the stirring undercurrents of the Blanco River rolled, pushed along, and slowly shaped pieces of limestone broken away from the rock-hard riverbed.
The erosion by water left countless, rounded, stones of all sizes along the banks. When the river is low, these white rocks lay in visible piles along the Blanco River, like a graveyard of dinosaur bones.
For an era, the sun slowly bleached the smooth stones white. And whenever the summer sun shone upon them, they always held the baking heat within them, coveting it for hours after the sunset.
When Grandpa and I drove to Blanco State Park, I could not wait to get out of the truck and swim in the river. Grandpa watched me while I swam until I got tired. Then he would tell me to come out of the water. He always let me go play down below the park dam. I stood underneath the cool, rolling waterfall, feeling the water beat down upon my body as a heavy, pounding, clear sheet of liquid.
A waterfall slapping against my body, felt a lot like the times when I held my hand out of a speeding car window, and opened my palm to drag against a 60 mph airstream. I would hold my hand out into the wind until my hand got red, puffy, throbbed, and tingled,
These two forceful currents, the wind on my hand and the waterfall, pushed much more powerfully against me than I ever imagined they would.
When standing in the pummeling waterfall began to hurt my body, I would walk right through the rolling mass of water, and go stand inside a small pocket of humid, but breathable air inside. I discovered this magical space one summer surreptitiously. It existed in stillness, between the rolling plane of water falling behind my back, and the slick, green moss on the concrete dam in front of my face.
There is enough room inside to turn around and look the other way. That is, to stare through the translucent, rolling plane of the waterfall, and look outside into the light. I could not see things clearly through the waterfall, but I could make out certain objects. I saw blurred shapes and I could know things by their distorted shapes.
I could identify the diffuse, contours of blurred, green, pastel forms as being trees in the park. I knew that the bright, white, slowly wandering circles I saw were swimming ducks down river from the dam. And I could see the silhouettes of peripatetic, clay-like, oval shadows, which I knew, were people walking along the rocky shores of the river. Inside the magic pocket, looking out, the world I saw was much like seeing it looking through a clear plastic of Tupperware dish.
I always yelled my name inside the pocket of air. I would hear my voice echo, bouncing off the rolling sheet of the waterfall, and the moss covered concrete wall of the dam. The falling water chopped the sound of the echo into a vibrating hum, like when one talks into the rushing air against the metal blades of an old fan.
At noon grandpa told me it was time to get out of the water. When I got out, I walked up, and across the rocky bank. As I did, I felt the warm, rounded rocks on the bank pressing into the souls of my bare feet. I also felt the smaller, rounded rocks slightly turn underneath me, as I carefully walked across them. When I made my way up to the grassy flat of the park, Grandpa gave me a towel to dry off with, and then he made me wear it around my neck and shoulders so I would not get sunburned. When I was dry, we got back into Grandpa’s old truck and chugged up the hill, heading back home.
Grandma always made us an enormous lunch. She made a delicious, aromatic spread, filling the speckled red and white Formica top of the small kitchen table, with at least a dozen dishes of different foods.
Grandma had an old, black, iron skillet and a gas stove. The kitchen was unbearably hot and filled with the smell of onions, butter, baked bread, sweet corn milk, and aromatic green vegetables cooked with bacon.
Grandma always made my favorite dish; a skillet of brown, crispy, fried okra, with onions, and crunchy potato bits, which all tasted of bacon grease, left over from the morning breakfast. She cooked a variety of freshly picked, organic vegetables right out of the garden.
We had boiled yellow squash cut into circles, with their white tender seeds. We had Swiss chard, boiled with bits of bacon. We ate fresh boiled ears of corn, rolled in rich creamy butter, and sprinkled lightly with salt. I got corn stuck in between my teeth and I did not care.
We nibbled at beefy, red tomato slices. The tomatoes were chilled, and seconds before we ate a round slice, with its sharp, sweet, crimson pulp and green seeds, we sprinkled the chilled slice lightly with salt.
We had large, airy slices of sweet smelling homemade bread. Grandma put the slices of bread in the gas oven and broiled them until the tops were a crunchy, toasted, brown, with butter drizzling on the tops.
And we always had a huge steaming plate full of savory ground hamburger and green onions.
Grandma always made sure that I drank whole milk for my bones, and after lunch she went to the freezer, scooped me a round, white ball of creamy vanilla ice cream, and she put it atop one of those sweet, baked, crunchy ice cream cones I that I loved to chew so much.
Grandma never, ever let me go hungry.
After I digested lunch, I spent the afternoons outside running bonkers around the house. I felt the sun burning on the back of my neck and shoulders. As I ran barefoot, I felt the cool, green blades of carpet grass caress my feet and rustle in between my toes.
As I ran round the back of the house, I passed by the freshly tilled garden, which smelled of dark, fertile soil, sweet cow manure, sharp tomato plant stalks, and the sweet, creamy, silken threads, sprouting atop the ears of corn on the stalk.
It was too hot for me to stay outside very long in the sweltering, August Sun. My Grandma always let me play, but she worried herself sick that I would get heatstroke. She would bring me a mason jar of ice water every 30 minutes, and would not leave until she watched me drink it.
When I came in blistered and miserable at the end of the day, Grandma cut pieces from her Aloe Vera plant, squeezed the soothing gelatinous pulp out, and then rubbed it all over me.
I vividly remember those dry, penetrating, summer heat in Blanco. The heat got unbearable at times. The punishing sun in the Hill Country was larger-than-life, as it rose up its curving path in the sky to its highest point. Once there, the sun just seemed to stop, and purposely hang above the entire earth, blazing furiously, in a cloudless, pale blue sky.
The summer Sun was cruel. It had no pity for the farmers, their crops, the livestock, our Blanco River, or the townsfolk. The August sun shone on me and it stung. It was a dry, baking heat, the kind of heat that bleaches cow skulls white out in back fields of ranchers.
The sun shone and scorched the rich plowed soil in Grandma’s garden. The soil was so blistering, that I could not stand barefoot in the garden long enough to pick the red, plump tomatoes for our supper. The soles of my feet throbbed and burned as I hopped in the loose soil, from one foot to the other.
No one in Blanco had central air conditioning back then. So about 3 p.m., when it was the hottest, the whole town of Blanco rather stopped, and people rested in the shade until it was cool enough to work out in the sun again.
At this hottest part of the day, Grandpa, Grandma, and I all sat outside underneath the massive leafy canopy of an enormous Box Elder shade tree.
We sat underneath the leafy giant in red, shellback, metal lawn chairs. We simply rocked rhythmically, passing the time lazily, languishing in the slow-dancing shadows that swathed us.
Grandpa sometimes took the water hose and sprayed water on the tree’s leaves to make the shade cooler. Occasionally, when a breeze came, for just a few seconds, it felt like early fall in that moist shade.
Grandpa build a round, white table underneath the shade tree by welding a metal pipe to the hub of an old, horse drawn, wagon wheel. The spoked iron wheel sat flat atop the pole. Grandpa cut a round piece of thick plywood to lie on top of the iron wheel, and he coated the wooden surface with white, waterproof paint.
We ate cold, striped watermelon right out of the icebox on that table. Grandpa took a long, shiny knife and cut the watermelon into large, wedged, pieces on the tabletop. We all ate the watermelon, with a saltshaker on the table.
I gnawed into my large wedge of cold melon, until I buried my face in the spongy, red pulp. Sweet, sticky juice ran down the sides of my cheeks, and dribbled down my neck. As I ate the watermelon, I would spit the seeds out in the grass as far as I could. Grandpa eyeballed the distance I spit the seeds. He estimated that I could spit an oval seed up to 8 feet through the air before it hit the ground.
When we finished eating the cold slices of melon, Grandpa threw the white rhines into the fallow edge of the garden to fertilize the soil. The tabletop was sticky with the read juice of watermelon pulp afterwards, so Grandpa got the hose and washed off the round table. The flow of clear water pooled on the waterproof paint, it lifted the black oval watermelon seeds on the round white circle, and they coasted across the tabletop, falling off into the carpet grass.
The heat dried the round table in a short amount of time, and when it was dry, we played dominoes. Laying all of the dominoes face down on the table, we shuffled the boneyard, and the dominoes clacked in a rapid tempo, like popping corn snapping. When Grandpa beat us ruthlessly at dominoes, we put all the dominoes back in their cardboard box. Then we just rested in the shade listening to the leaves of the shade tree softly rustle in the breeze.
About that time, Grandma Vera went to the kitchen and boiled a pot of water. When it cooled a bit she steeped loose, tealeaves in it, stirred in half a cup of white sugar, and allowed it to cool. She poured the tea into a gallon glass pitcher. Grandma brought this pitcher to the round table and poured the ice tea into Mason jars, which she had filled with jagged-edged, ice-picked, shards of frozen ice. Grandma always topped off her ice tea with a few fresh, mint leaves from her garden.
Grandma was the greatest. She died one day of a stroke, about a decade before Grandpa died. It seems like two hundred years since I hugged Grandma. But I can still hear her laugh, and recall the little things that she always did to make my life wonderful.
Things like making me a hot, store-bought, pizza in the summertime, and letting me eat it, as I watched the black and white television set, while lying on my stomach, on the living room floor. And she always made me an ice cream cone when I was finished, so as to cool me down inside the unconditioned house.
Or during the cold December, at Christmas time, when Grandma, hand sewed individual sticks of juicy-fruit, chewing gum, all around the pungent, 8-foot, cedar tree. My Grandpa always drove to Kendalia, and found the perfect cedar tree, by walking out into a backfield, and he chopped it down, and brought it home in the bed of his pickup truck every Christmas.
Grandma would always take the time to make her magical snow for the tree. She simply took a box of white, ivory, soap flakes, and beat it with water, using a mix master and a large bowl. When she carried the bowl of whipped, white, frothy soap into the living room, she carefully coated the dark, green leaves all over the cedar branches, using a large wooden spoon. She took great care to coat the entire cedar tree, with the thick, ivory snow.
I can still remember seeing the white, frocked, Christmas tree on Christmas morning. I remember walking barefoot into the cold living room, and seeing the dozens of yellow sticks of juicy-fruit, chewing gum, hanging from the branches of the white tree. The two hundred pastels of Christmas, light bulbs highlighted the yellow sticks of gum, along with the red and golden, glass ornaments, which all intertwined in the branches of the snow-covered tree.
I could always remember the sight of that heavenly Christmas tree, on a cold, windy, December day. I could recall the cold living room and the snowy, Christmas, anytime of the year that I wanted to. And I always thought about Grandma’s tree, when it was the middle of a sweltering, sun-backed, August. Whenever I was hot and sweaty, with the sun stinging the back of my neck, 0n a dry, Blanco summer day, I would make myself remember Grandmas white, Christmas tree, so it would cool me down a bit, inside of my mind.
Blanco summers, and all the things that I did in August with Grandpa and Grandma, blessed me with the simple pleasures, which made my boyhood years wonderful.
I will always remember the taste, and smell of the Blanco River water, the humming echo of yelling my name in the secret, pocket inside the waterfall, the safe scent and musk of Grandpa’s body, the smells inside the old white truck, and the sound of it squeaking down the hill to the Blanco State Park. I will always remember the aroma of the dark soil, and growing vegetables in Grandma’s bountiful garden, and the simple Formica table, crowded with the best food I ever ate.
I will remember running bonkers around the house in the blazing, golden, sun. But most of all, I think I will most vividly recall, Grandpa, Grandma and I lounging around in our private shaded heaven. I will always recollect sitting around the white, wagon-wheel table, underneath the green, swaying canopy of thousands of leaves.
I will continue to see us having fun, and hear us laughing while Grandpa, Grandma, and I were eating watermelon, playing dominoes, or just sitting quietly, rocking in a metal, shell back, lawn chair, contained by the huge shadows, underneath the cool, wetted leaves of the enormous box elder.
A few years after both Grandma and Grandpa were dead; a severe rainstorm came through Blanco. During this storm, cruel, hurricane-like, winds blew over our Box Elder shade tree.
The wagon wheel table still stood, but it ached of loneliness, isolated in the open plot of the grassy side yard. The table stood with dignity for years, determined and upright. It never lost its pride, even as its wooden top slowly deteriorated, cracked, and flaked apart the raging sun.
It would have killed Grandpa and Grandma to see that huge, wonderful shade tree laying on the ground, and then later cut up for firewood.
Later my mother sold the house, and the new owners uprooted that wonderful old wagon-wheel table, and just threw it away.
Our shaded paradise under the Tree at the table was gone forever.
I would do anything to be able to upright the felled Box Elder and bring Grandpa and Grandma back. If had one wish, and was granted the power to do anything I could want; I would use my wish to magically rewind the clock of my lifetime, and live as a boy forever, permanently on vacation in the Blanco summertime. I would spend my days sharing everything wonderful about Blanco with Grandpa and Grandma. And I would make sure to love them even a little bit more than I did half a century ago.
I never will have my wish to go back and be a boy, and live with Grandpa and Grandma, but I do not really have to, because I can still feel them, and they are both part of me.
Grandpa and Grandma live on in the best memories of my Lifetime