FOLLOWING THE WIFE’S RULE TO TEXAS
“Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.” Margaret Mead
I migrated to Texas after marrying my San Antonio-born wife after a whirlwind long-distance romance. First she had to put up with two years of living abroad, so to speak, in Boston of all places, while I finished my education. Then we had to decide where to live long term. The Wife’s Rule dictated that decision. That simple rule: with few exceptions, when a couple can choose where to live, they will locate near the wife’s family. So after getting my law degree and spending two years in the military we migrated to Texas, specifically Houston.
Most of my wife’s relatives were from the Boerne area, and my wife’s parents moved there when they retired. My mother-in-law was born and grew up in a tiny “town” called Grapetown, several miles from Luckenbach, about a half hour from Fredricksburg. The ‘town’ consisted of a one room schoolhouse, a teacherage, a “Schutzenfest” (a traditional German shooting range and meeting hall) and a distant relative’s stone home.
The real test of my acclimatizing to Texas came when we moved to Texas. I had met my new in-laws at the wedding; all I really remember was that there certainly were a lot of them, most all of them with German last names. One actually looked like Jimmy Stewart. Shortly after we arrived in the Promised Land, my in-laws took great delight initiating me into hill country life. For starters they graciously asked us to join them in a weekend camp-over on the Llano River for trot-line fishing and fun. Sounded OK to me. The larger attraction was that we would be “camping” in a former Fredericksburg Sunday house that some relatives had relocated to a river location on the Llano.
I later found out that my wife was a co-conspirator in my initiation rite. On the way to our campout location she mentioned that we were going to be sleeping on old Army cots. “Remember this: Don’t let the sheets touch the floor or the scorpions will crawl up and join you in bed.” The only scorpion I had seen was one threatening James Bond. Are scorpion bites fatal, I wondered silently?
So when we arrived and pulled up to the semi-run-down two-story abode, I figured I’d take a look around for critters, starting with the kitchen, as food has always a top priority with me.
No one had been in the house for months, but it was clean and serviceable. I went to the kitchen for a drink of water. To my amazement the kitchen sink was filled with about 40 dead scorpions that had decided to crawl into the sink but had found that the slick sides of the sink prevented them from departing. I had never seen one scorpion, much less forty, but of course I took great comfort in the fact that they all were dead. My wife helpfully comforted me: “Don’t worry about them; I grew up in San Antonio and was bitten by them routinely when I was a kid. Their bite’s no worse than a wasp’s sting.” Cold comfort.
My contemplation of dead scorpions didn’t last long. Aunt Ruby, the ringleader of the campout, began bellowing for me to come to the back yard, which looked out over the river. When I approached her she was stooped over with a large mouth Mason jar turned upside down. She had thoughtfully trapped a tarantula for my close inspection. Just as ugly and hairy as it looked in pictures. “Well, how are you going to get out of that? When you pick up the jar it could chase you since I heard that they can jump as well as crawl?” She shrugged her shoulders. “Oh they’re harmless, not aggressive at all, and I have never been bitten by one.” Maybe those California movie makers didn’t really know that scorpions and tarantulas, usually shown crawling up someone’s bedsheets, were “harmless”. I did not stick around to see how she freed her furry friend.
Well, I recovered from my introduction to the hill country crawlies OK and decided it was time for a beer, it being 5 pm somewhere east of where I was, no more than 1000 miles. Fortunately with our common German heritage I had no trouble finding in-laws to partake with me. My wife’s Boerne aunts, uncles and cousins then took over briefing me about what exactly trotline fishing was all about. First of all, a small flat-bottomed rowboat is best to work the lines from. The trick is to string lines across the river 50 feet or so apart down river. Each trotline had short lines with fishhooks spaced about eighteen inches apart, which of course had to be baited. I was invited to go on the expedition to lay the lines out with two cousins from Boerne, both very experienced hunters and fishermen. No problem. I was confident. I had baited hooks before so I certainly could participate in this adventure. Besides, the kind of fishing I had done before, pond fishing in Illinois and surf fishing in Galveston, never created any problems; the only difficult part was extricating the fish from the hook, sometimes a messy affair.
After we got the lines out I felt I had joined the family team and had passed my initiation rites with flying colors. I figured that with the 50 or so hooks we had in the water, we would get some nice dinner-size fish for the next day’s supper. Only after our first pass was I told that the trot-lines needed to be checked every four hours since various marine animals nibbled off the bait and we wanted as many fish as possible. OK. That meant the first run would be at 10 pm, certainly early enough for a 30 year old. They also said that I had to join them in the 2 am and the 6 am runs, which didn’t sound nearly as much fun, but I figured that with 3 or 4 fish per run it would go quickly.
So at ten we three piled into the rowboat again. I wondered about the big knives they were taking along with all the fish bait and other stuff. We got to the first line, and there was a nice fish on the line, close to the shore. Got it off easily and re-baited the hook. They explained that the main catch would be nearer the shore since the current was swifter in the middle of the river and swimming, for the fish at least, would take more effort.
Then the fun came to an abrupt end. At the next station came a surprise, for at the end of the line was a snake, not a huge one but not small either. Then I realized what the knives were for. One of the cousins quickly dispatched the snake and we moved on. I figured that with two skilled native fishermen I was a third wheel, so sitting in the rear seat of the boat I quickly became more observer than participant. Survived the 10 o’clock run!
I was rousted out for the 2 am run as well, but it didn’t matter. I had been unable to sleep a wink since my thoughtful wife had warned me about crawling scorpions; I spent my sleep time fearing that I would slumber off, throw the sheets sideways (it was warm outside, and old Sunday Houses are not air-conditioned), and an army of scorpions would attack me. I hopped in the rowboat and again positioned myself carefully in the back of the boat where I would neither have to row nor be in the front lines of clearing the lines. Smart move. The second line this time, near to shore, had a strange (to me) looking turtle on it. The turtle was big and flat and bright green, unlike any other turtles I had seen. “Well,” Randy said, “There’s no way to get this thing off the hook. He’s swallowed it.” Then he proceeded in fairly bloody fashion to behead the turtle, who went along with the procedure quite unwillingly. Turtle skin is a lot tougher than you would think. Before long the bottom of the boat, which had accumulated a small amount of water, became fairly red with the blood of the turtle. That marked our run, but at least we did get enough fish in all the trips to make a fine dinner.
The best part was that the cousins decided that they had had enough fun with me; they did not make me go on the six am run. I was out like a light after the 2 am run, scorpions or no scorpions. The fish we had the following night were the best I had ever eaten! And it probably won’t come as a surprise to you that I have never been trotline fishing since.
MORAL OF THE STORY:
Snakes and other critters do not like you any more than you don’t like them; left alone they will not hurt you. Go with the flow, especially if you are with your wife’s family. And don’t relate experiences in one part of the world you had previously a long time ago to new experiences.