Droughts and Druthers

I’ve been enjoying the latest spate of rainfall. There will always be a part of me, buried deeply under the years, which breathes a sigh of relief every time it rains. Even if we’re in the middle of El Nino plenty, it still looks good to me.

I grew up in Texas during a drought that began in the Fifties and lasted, to the best of my memory, well into the Sixties.  Now when we slip into even a dry spell, much less a bonafide drought like now, something stirs in my brain, and half-remembered images and snatches of overheard adult conversation come back to me.

We weren’t exactly farmers living in a soddy on the Plains. We lived in comfort in San Antonio, but my father was a gentleman farmer and rancher. In Texas, that meant we had “a place” about an hour outside of town that we visited most weekends. My father would hunt, fish, and eventually meet with Felipe, his foreman, to see how the crops and cattle were coming along. During that long, dry time, the cattle herd got smaller and the crops had to be irrigated just to keep them alive.

Not that I worried much about it, since it had no apparent effect on my little life. I was just aware that Daddy got up even earlier than usual, made the first pot of coffee of the day, and doodled numbers on more pages than usual on the Yellow Transit pads his brother gave him. Uncle Charlie was a salesman for YT, having the family gene for selling ice boxes to Eskimos, and replenished my father’s supply when he hunted at the ranch. I could never understand my father’s notes, but when he stopped writing numbers and started drawing boxes filled with criss-crossed lines that resembled the struts of oil derricks, I knew everything was under control, and he would soon start the second pot of coffee that day.

I remember so clearly when that drought broke. I was away at college and had heard on the news that it finally had rained in Central Texas. I called Daddy to congratulate him. It was always good to hear his laconic voice.

“Yeah, it rained three inches down at the ranch. But now we’ve got another problem,” he explained.

“Oh, what’s wrong?” I asked.

“Well, the grass has grown up so tall, we’re afraid it’s going to lift the cows up off their feet, and they won’t be able to walk to water.”

If I could see him and read his face, I could usually tell when I had wandered into one of his minefields. But over the phone, he drew me in every time. I heard him chuckle just a bit, and then my mother groaned. She never really appreciated his sense of humor nor his gift for laying verbal booby-traps.

I inherited his sense of humor to a great extent, but I can never quite bring myself to make jokes about that topic. Rain is still very serious business to me. Rather than make a joke, I’m much more likely to smile and whisper, “It’s raining, Daddy!”

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