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.



“A word to the wise ain’t necessary—it’s the stupid ones that need the advice.” – Bill Cosby

Like most of my stories, this happened some time ago, and as usual the guilty and innocent need to remain anonymous.  The Fourth of July was upon us, and a special guest was expected at our modest weekend cabin.  The East Coast college I went to didn’t have fraternities; instead there were “houses” holding about 350 students.  Each house had its “entries”, with about 30 students in each entry.  And each entry had a resident graduate student who was supposed to be a beneficent policeman, big brother to make sure not only that we behaved ourselves but also to give us brotherly advice from time to time, usually over a weekend cocktail hour.  The special guest that day was my entry grad student, who had served us well…he had been both a tutor and big brother while I was in college.  The worst part was that he had been a professor at UT for 20 years and neither he nor I had made a great effort to get together.  Today was the day.  We were going tubing on the Guadalupe River.

So Bob arrived.  He got his Ph.D. at 21 in chemistry, got bored and went into linguistics, then computer linguistics (no, I never did find out what that was).  A grand reunion it was….for 20 minutes.  Nearby a 45 acre piece of property had been broken into two pieces, and I had met the guy who had bought the southern piece, a pretty, heavily-wooded property.  An Aggie who must have felt some compulsion to bond with nature. Like me he originally had no appreciation for the “cedar” problem, had discovered the pest, and had tried, like me, to remediate it.  While small cedars are cute little Christmas trees, they can grow to seventy feet and proliferate so fast that they crowd out not only grass and flowers but can also kill native trees by blocking the sunlight.  And I’ve heard that the average cedar can absorb up to five gallons of water when it rains, so long term cedar is bad for the water supply.

There was a loud knock on the door after Bob and I had told each other enough lies about the last 20 years to last us for a while.  Our neighbor, let’s call him Stan, was at the door, sweating and red-faced.  But it was about 100 degrees outside, so we thought he had been, like most of us city-folk weekenders, out in the heat.  Not so.  Stan had started to burn some cedar, but the fire had spread to his grass and to live, uncut cedar, which burns live, as attested by the annual brush fires in Texas.  My spouse, a hill country native, wisely stayed behind to call the local volunteer firefighters (see below) but offered up to Stan the services of our youngest daughter, me and the professor.  She equipped us with the necessary firefighting equipment—mops and brooms to stamp out the fire— and away we went in our Suburban to contain the fire while waiting for professional help.

The first surprise was driving into Stan’s property, getting out, and seeing a 25-foot cedar tree literally explode in fire.  That was a message, I am sure, to be careful.  After about twenty minutes Stan and the three of us were able to sort of cordon off the fire so it would not spread any further, just as the volunteer fire departments from both Blanco County and Hays County arrived.  We were exhausted, so we retired to the area where Stan had installed a well and pump and got some water.  I looked over to Stan and he was bright red, and I do mean bright.  I figured that he was having heat stroke so loaded him into the Suburban and with the gang of three we went back to my abode.  In the car my teenage daughter said “Who was the idiot who started this fire on a hot, windy day?” not realizing that it was indeed Stan.  Fortunately Stan was so out of it with heat stroke that he looked as if he had not heard my daughter.  When we got back Stan was still bright red and incoherent.  I had no idea how to treat heat stroke, but spied the cattle tank, shaped like a big bathtub and about three feet high, near our cabin, and our garden hose.  Without further ado I made Stan get into the cattle tank, which was half full of water, and turned the hose on him.  He gave a huge sigh of relief and his clarity of mind returned almost immediately.  Very quickly we returned, rather wet, to his place to thank the firemen, who were about ready to leave, having stamped out and watered down any smoldering ashes.  I guess all’s well that end’s well, and Stan kept apologizing to us every time we saw him for the next two years.

But the sad part is that we have never seen Bob again….shortly after his hill country experience he decided to move to San Francisco!  I wonder why….


Don’t play with matches.  Don’t think that since you are an Aggie that you are a natural in the country.  And stay inside when the temperature is over 100.

A Visit Is Not A Stay

                                                              A VISIT IS NOT A STAY

 God gave us our relatives; thank God we can choose our friends” –Ethel Mumford.

Our adult children who live some distance from us always express regret that my wife and I don’t stay longer than we have.  We have a three day rule, which mostly comes from my own mother, who said “Fresh fish and visits to relatives spoil after three days.”  Seems to me that after three days of proximity we’ve pretty well caught up with what each of us is doing, we’ve taken walks together and done all the usual things we want to do when we get together.  Time to go out on a peak.

As a neighbor pointed out to us, a visit is very different than a stay.  A stay is more than three days, more like a week or two.  Stays can bring out all the family strains that have promoted separate households in the first place.  If you’re a parent, a visit is generally pleasant since you’re a guest and the rule is that you’re not to interfere with the good order of your child’s home and hearth unless specifically asked to do something or give your opinion on some serious matter.

Not so with a stay.  If you’re in someone’s household for a week or two, you inevitably become an irritant to the order of the household, since at a minimum any human has his or her needs, opinions, foibles, prejudices, and general way of doing things.  Adults living apart inevitably develop differences in these regards, so stays inevitably must be avoided.

There are things you can do to alleviate tensions during stays, like residing not in your relatives’ home but rather in a motel or some similar locale where you can create some separation, indulge in your own eccentricities, and generally buy some time of your own.  For instance, I’ve noticed that only one of my four kids watches the news, so when visiting the others’ families I tend to sneak the news at the motel we stay at.  Probably the best example is our annual family reunion in Estes Park.  Last year we had 30 people with genes similar to mine or were married to one.  The saving grace, though, was that each branch of the family had its own cabin to that each of us could have visits on a daily basis without turning the entire get-together into a stay.

MORAL:  The entire story is a moral; don’t stay— visit!

The Wedding Reception to End All Wedding Receptions


Municipal court vignettes

 “Life’s tough, pilgrim, and it’s even tougher if you are stupid.”—John Wayne

             As with most all municipal court cases,  I didn’t know the miscreants who came to court.  Most law abiding speeders pay their fine or take defensive driving.  Those charged with drug paraphernalia, public intoxication, simple assault, school truancy, and even loose dogs or chickens have to personally appear.  Thus it was that a nice-looking young man showed up in court one day with his mother.  His mother was charged with public intoxication, to which she pled guilty, and the young man with allowing his dog to be loose… was a sizeable hound and had chased a small dog down and was proceeding to dispatch it when the smaller dog owner broke up the fight and called 911.  The young man, too, pled guilty, and the judge seemed to know both of them but treated them in a friendly manner.  The judge, of course lives nearby and for a town of 1750, you know most everyone, especially if you have sons and daughters in the public schools, as parent supported extracurricular activities dominate life in this small town.

After court adjourned, the judge leaned back and said, “That boy sure looks different than the last time I saw him.”  I asked what he looked like the previous time, and the judge related the following story, carefully supplemented by the police officer acting as the court bailiff that day:

The young man (let’s call him Daryl) and his mother (let’s call her Kim) both lived in a run down trailer park in the north part of town.  One Sunday afternoon, as it was getting dark, the police received a 911 call about a public disturbance at the trailer park, so the officer on duty responded.  When he got there he quickly surmised that there were several dozen rather inebriated people, many hooting and hollering and generally carrying on.  The officer recognized Kim from some previous run-ins with the law (primarily involving alcohol) and walked up to her, police flashlight in hand.  Naturally he asked what was going on, and she told him that it was her wedding reception, that she had just been married again.  She was in a formal dress, holding a green plastic Solo cup, and one of her breasts was hanging out of her dress, literally.  The officer asked her whether she had been drinking, and she responded that she had not.  When asked what was in her cup, she said “Green tea.”  That’s when things turned ugly.  Daryl, also having had too much to drink, jumped the officer from behind, and the officer, being larger than Daryl and quite sober, flung Daryl over his shoulders onto the ground and proceeded to beat Daryl into submission with his flashlight, the policeman in attendance noting that the flashlight were also defensive weapons that could be used as clubs.  Daryl lost several front teeth in the fray, and the officer then handcuffed him, walked him to his patrol car, and pushed him into the back seat.  The officer then returned to the crowd, saying “This party is over.  Disburse and go home immediately or I will call for backup and there will be more arrests.”  Of course the sullen, alcohol laden group disbursed, and the officer then returned to his patrol car to take Daryl to jail.

As he was driving, the officer smelled something rancid, stopped the car, and realized that Daryl had vomited all over the back seat of his car.  The officer spent the rest of the ride to jail thinking of additional charges to lay on Daryl since he, the officer, had to keep his own vehicle clean.

You’re probably wondering what the judge had to do with this.  Well, a municipal judge is also a magistrate—someone who holds a hearing on alleged criminals who have been put in jail and sets the release bond if the person is a candidate for release.  The judge got to see Daryl at 8 am the day following the wedding reception….he smelled of alcohol and vomit and his blood-caked mouth revealed two missing front teeth.  At least at Daryl’s second appearance before the judge, he was in a better frame of mind, dressed well, and somehow had his two front teeth back.  I sometimes wonder where Kim and Daryl are and what they are up to.

MORAL:  Don’t attend wedding receptions held in trailer parks.  Don’t assault police officers.  Alcohol and ignorance are a bad combination.