Category Archives: Writing About Life

Buyer Beware: The Great Flaw In Our Land Acquisition


 When you come to a fork in the road, take it!
– Yogi Berra
If we don’t succeed, we run the risk of failure.
 – Dan Quayle

Last time I told you about our arrival in Blanco.  Like everyone else, the purchase of our property was quite a commitment, but we were quite proud of our acquisition, more than proud!  Of course, we invited relatives to see.

If memory serves, my parents from Illinois were first.  They had the good judgment to stay at a bed and breakfast in Wimberley, having been forewarned that the six of us were staying in our 750 square foot, one bedroom cabin.  The views on our place, the heavy woods, and the variation in the topography we thought made the mini-ranch a great place.  When my Midwestern parents gamely came to tour the property, though, all Dad saw was the rocks.  Rocks everywhere!  No crops to be grown here.  I must say that I came from a farming area in southern Illinois, and rural property was valued in terms of its agricultural productivity.  Anyway, my father left shaking his head, not understanding how his supposedly bright and responsible son had agreed to pay about the same price for rocky ground that good farmland in Illinois went for.

The next visitors were my wife’s middle sister and her husband.  As I related to you before, my wife was a surprise to her parents—her sisters were 17 and 19 when she was born.  Rosey (his last name was Rosener; purebred German) and Evelyn arrived and even stayed with us in the cabin.  Even though they were almost 20 years older than we were we always enjoyed their company, particularly since they partied hardier than even we did.  Rosey was a character.  Looked like the Marlboro man, owned a big cattle ranch in eastern Colorado, a World War II B-17 pilot who got shot down on his maiden flight and spent 3 years in the prisoner of war camp later eulogized in the movie “Stalag 17”.  Maybe it was the prison camp, maybe it was his personality, but I never heard Rosey criticize any person, except of course national political figures who asked for it.

So Rosey came and I proudly took him on a tour around the property.  He was a man of few words.  Of course, he was complementary about our great acquisition, but he froze me in my tracks when he said “You know, you have a lot of cedar on the property.”  I had never really looked closely before I bought the property.  The place was just green to me.  But he was right.  The place was infested with cedar.  We did have a good time, though, and they visited us several times.

Having higher energy then than now, I was determined to eliminate the cedar blight all by myself, so I proceeded to buy a chain saw. Cedar really is a pest; it will grow so dense as to kill all other vegetation.  What’s worse, I’ve been told that a mid-size cedar tree will soak up to five gallons a day when it is rainy, diminishing the water table.  I pressed our four kids into service, and we spent many weekends sawing and piling cedar for burning.  It took me a while to realize that the cedar was growing faster than I was cutting it.  Everyone has a seminal point that critically changes the way they do things.  Mine for cedar cutting was when we (the 4 kids and I) decided we needed an early Sunday bonfire one winter weekend.  You see, men are strange….some things they want to be as small as possible (cell phones, computers) and others (the horsepower in cars, anatomical parts) as large as possible.  There is no in between with us.  So we built a huge pile of cedar cuttings and put the torch to it.  What I didn’t realize or appreciate at the time was that the wind (as it usually does mid-morning) had come up.  My kids still remember it….the fire went probably 50 feet into the air, and with the wind blowing, fingers of fire would dip down to the ground and start small fires in the grass all around.  We raced to get rakes and brooms to put the fires out, and with a lot of screaming and yelling we managed to put out all the fires without having to call the Blanco Volunteer Fire Department.  Scary.  And the worst part was telling the mother of our children what we had done….

I had learned my lesson.  I needed help.  I had learned about cedar, and to this day I make sure that those cute little Christmas trees growing on the ranch get cut before they get big.


If you go from the city to the country, don’t think you are instantaneously capable of taking care of a ranch by yourself.  Don’t play with fire. Keep the bad stories from your wife; it is the kindest course.

The Incident at Luling

                                                              “Even Napoleon had his Watergate.”–Yogi Berra

Traveling has always been a hassle.  At least one hundred fifty years ago settlers traveled with a purpose other than recreation but they had to worry about floods, finding clean drinkable water, avoiding Indians and the like.  They never knew exactly how long it would take to get from one place to another.  Motoring from one place to another today has its own time schedule unpredictability— rain and occasional flooding, bathroom stops, police playing their game with speeders by radar (especially in Martindale) and especially getting through the traffic in towns, be they smallish burgs like San Marcos or megapolises like Houston.  We spent many weekends at our hill country abode, usually leaving early Friday afternoon.  Predicting our arrival time to the hills was no more accurate than the settlers’ expected travel time, though we now measure any disparity in minutes rather than days.

The unpredictability of it all was especially true during the Incident at Luling.  Typically as the weekend drew near I was on some sort of business trip, but my wife was determined to get to our hill country retreat so early on Friday packed up and headed west.  Arriving without incident a short three hours later, she unpacked and relaxed.  Trouble was our third child, who then was 16.  He loves the ranch between Wimberley and Blanco, and his plan that day was to hop into his ragged out Chevy Blazer after high school, pick up his friend Pat, and join us in the hills.  I was to come the next day after returning to Texas from New York.

Around 9 in the evening, though, the phone rang at the ranch; it was a Luling policeman who (swear to God) said his name was J.R. Duke….  To this day I’ve never believed that the policeman was telling us his true name, since it was the same as the principal character on the “Dukes of Hazzard”, a then popular TV show.  Anyway, Officer Duke shared with my wife that he had our son and his buddy John in custody.  Seems that on the way out of Luling on the way to the ranch my son passed a pickup truck with a big goose-neck trailer, lawfully, in a passing zone.  The problem was that the truck driver failed to look in his mirror and decided to turn left as my son was passing.  Fortunately they avoided crashing into each other but the truck went into a ditch and called the police to complain.  My son (for reasons that will become obvious in a while) chose to drive on rather than stop.

Unbeknownst to my son and his friend, the Luling police had called the San Marcos police, the next town toward the safe haven of the ranch, after the complaint came in and gave them a description of my son’s errant vehicle.  The San Marcos police had dutifully stopped his car at the outskirts of town and offered them the option of going to jail in San Marcos or returning to Luling to face the music there.  They opted for the latter.  J.R. Duke, upon receiving the miscreants, put John in a jail cell (I think to scare him) but since my son was under 18, Duke had to leave him sitting in a chair in the reception area.  My son gave Officer Duke our Blanco number, figuring his mother was available and his father not, even though he knew his mother would be less tolerant of the incident than his dad.

“Mrs. Alexander, we have your son here and his friend John.”  He then related the incident, raising a number of fears in the maternal ears of my son’s mother.  When told that five beers were discovered in the car and that on top of everything else, teen age drinking was involved, my wife questioned whether the police knew that in fact they had been drinking.  “Ya know, Mrs. Alexander, beer don’t come in odd lots,” which seemed a rather complete answer.

Brett’s mom then said she’d be willing to come get both boys but had almost no cash with her to post bail.    “I tell ya what, Mrs. Alexander.  I have no place to put your son since he’s a minor, and the closest lockup is Lockhart, 20 miles away.  I don’t want to drive all the way up there tonight since my shift is almost over, so if you get here within an hour I will release them into your custody without any bail and just ticket your son for leaving the scene.”  A feeling of momentary relief came over my wife before she realized that in the late evening because of the Incident she would have to drive an hour to Luling and an hour back, hours that she had planned to spend finishing her dinner and relaxing on the porch.

When she got there, it did seem a bit like the Dukes of Hazzard script writers had visited Luling, since the police station was probably almost a century old.  When she went into the station, there was number two son, sitting on Duke’s desk, with Officer Duke reclined in his office chair, using as a spittoon for his wad of tobacco an old Folger’s coffee can.  The officer was now on his own time so the release and exchange was effected quickly and simply.  The boys were free.

Brett’s explanation of the entire affair, of course, differed from the official version.  He claimed that Frank, a known n’er do well friend, had drunk the beer, not John or him before the trip began.  When the San Marcos police stopped him the cops did not discover the beer, and then he and Pat were in a dilemma following the San Marcos police back to Luling.  Should they pitch the beer out on the way or keep it, hoping that the Luling police were as uninquisitive as the San Macos police?  Wrong choice.

But maybe J.R. Duke was the wise one after all, if the ends of justice were to be served.  While Mom did drive over and get them released, the punishment for my son was to listen to his mother berate him as John drove our son’s car to the ranch.  In fact, the verbal punishment lasted about the exact amount of time it took her to get to Luling to rescue them.  And we never did have any more trouble with incidents on the way to the hill country—unless of course you don’t count a few speeding tickets in Martindale, a reknown speed trap.

Moral:  Don’t ever think that your Mom or Dad really believe the story you tell to avoid criticism or punishment.  Face the music, and if the police are involved, do so politely—especially in small towns.

  • The names have been changed to protect both the guilty and the innocent.