Saturday, February 25, 2017

Brazos Ghost Story

Mike was sitting at the breakfast table working on his second cup of coffee when his wife walked in.

“You're up early this morning," she said as she poured herself a cup of coffee from the pot.

The old rancher smiled at his wife.  Barbara was his second (and younger) wife—the one his jealous friends had called his "trophy wife".

"It's all your fault," he said.  "You were having a nightmare and I found a new way to calm you down without waking you up.  All I have to do is wrap my arms around you and put my hand on your breast."

"Uh-huh," answered his wife, a look of clear skepticism visible on her face.  "So why are you awake?"

"I wrapped my arms around you and put my hand on your breast.  What was your nightmare about anyway?"

Barbara sat down at the table with her cup of coffee and began stirring in the sugar.  "The church group women were telling me this long ghost story about someone named Ted Mays.  Seems half the people in town saw him driving around town after he had died and been buried.  They said he got up out of his grave and then drove all over town.  Several of the women swore they saw him in the broad daylight and he waved at them.  I don't believe in ghost stories, but this one must have got to me."

"Ted Mays?  The cattle buyer?” snorted the old rancher.  "Hell, they didn't bury that scoundrel.  He was so crooked that when he died, they just screwed him straight into the ground.  And I know for a fact that he stayed there.  Hell, he was too damn lazy to move an extra ten feet while he was alive, much less after he kicked the bucket.  He ain't no ghost."

"Several of the women said they had seen him riding in town.  You know Debbie:  she hasn't got the brains to make up something, bless her heart."

"I'll tell you what.  You cook me some biscuits and gravy for breakfast, and I'll tell you what happened." 

Then Mike told the story...and he knew it well since he had been part of it.  Ted had been a part-time cattle buyer, but his only real interest in life was duck hunting.  The cattle-buying job was just a way of paying the bills until duck hunting season opened.   He took his annual leave each year just as the season opened and for two weeks could be found in his duck blind on the Brazos River, about a mile upriver from the town bridge.  The road to the blind was poor, requiring a 4-wheel drive vehicle to make the trip, but from the rough plywood blind Ted had had built was located right on the waterfowl's flyway, hunters had a great view both up and down the river.

Mike and Kent had both been with Ted that morning.  Having arrived well before dawn, the three men took position in the duck blind and waited for the sun to come up.  As soon as there was a solid glow to the East, Kent had turned to Ted and tried to make a little conversation while they waited for enough light to see the incoming birds.

"How much longer do you think ‘fore it's legal to hunt, Ted?" asked Kent. 

When there was no answer, Mike had nudged Kent.  "Hey, the great hunter is asleep."

Kent looked over at the corner of the blind, where Ted was wedged in the corner of the blind, his massive frame resting on an old wooden bench.  "Yeah, he's asleep.  His eyes are closed."

"Wake him up.  It's too damn cold for anyone to be comfortable.  If I’m freezing, he needs to suffer with me.”

Kent nudged the cattle buyer unsuccessfully a few times, then bent over and carefully examined Ted's face in the dim light of dawn.  "He ain't sleeping.  He's dead,” Kent announced.

Sure enough, Ted had gone out just like he would have wanted, he’d had a heart attack while duck hunting.  He was wedged upright into a corner of the duck blind, with his right elbow resting on the window sill, his arm straight out from his body, with his hand dangling out in the cold morning air.

Mike dug out the cell phone his wife insisted he carry and called the sheriff.  Since there was no way for an ambulance to make its way down to the river, the sheriff told the two ranchers to stay with the body until the county coroner could make his way to the duck blind in a jeep.

Unfortunately, it was well after lunch before the coroner could find someone to run him down the river.  By the time he had finally arrived, half of Santo had called Mike, asking if it was true, had Ted actually died while duck hunting?  Eventually, the phone’s battery had died, giving the two old ranchers a little peace as they waited for the coroner.  They wouldn’t have minded all the phone calls so much if they hadn’t interfered with their duck hunting.

The two old ranchers had held a brief discussion on the propriety of hunting while Ted reposed in the corner of the blind, but had finally decided it was what Ted would have wanted.  Out of respect for the departed, they had only borrowed Ted’s HE Grade Super Fox shotgun a couple of times each.  Using his double barrel was their way of showing tribute.  Least, that’s what they had told each other.

Eventually, the coroner finally arrived and officially announced what the two men had already figured out:   Ted was, indeed, dead.

Mike was just finishing the story as Barbara put the plate of biscuits smothered in gravy in front of him.  “And that’s how the ghost story got started,” Mike said as he reached for the bottle of Tabasco Sauce.

“What?  You haven’t explained anything.  How does a dead man wave at people?” protested Barbara.

“Well,” Mike said.  “By the time the coroner got there, Ted was stiff as a board.  He wouldn’t fit in the jeep, and it just didn’t seem right to let him roll around in the back of the pickup.”

“You mean…”

“Yep, we put him in the passenger seat of the truck.  Had to roll down the window to fit him in.  Wasn’t our fault we had to drive him through the middle of Santo to get to the funeral parlor.  He must have waved at half the people in town before we got there.”


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  2. Stories like that do get told in Texas. For some reason the place is lousy with cowboys and ranchers of Irish and Scots ancestry and the Celts are major storytellers. My own grandpa's stories grew more colorful with every telling over the years. He'd even tell them with a bit of a musical soundtrack, breaking out periodically with a short piece on the harmonica us grandkids would fetch from his dresser drawer. Grandpa had evidently been a good piano player, but he apparently got entirely too much attention for that, so grandmother sold it. So, grandpa fell back on the harmonica. He'd wear them out playing for the kids. Every time one died, my grandmother would breathe a sigh of relief. But we kids kept buying him new ones (always in the key of C). Every birthday and Christmas he'd get a little gaily wrapped package from one or more of us. He was really good and could do double and triple tonguing and make a sound like a train, much to my grandmother's irritation and to the delight of the cousins. So he'd tell stories about growing up in Cedar Grove near Wills Point and about his pony and his dog Old Bob while my grandmother huffed and puffed in the kitchen. She was from a particularly dour branch of the McClure clan and her values ran to money and social position. She found grandpa's earthy entertainments entirely too frivolous for her sensibilities. The attention, of course, should have been on herself and her own stories which ran to tales of infidelity, divorce and scandal. Besides all grandpa's stories and musical performances badly interrupted the flow of my grandmother's gossip. Grandpa generally napped during that part of the visit and we grandkids would go outside to play in the woods. I do love a good Texas storyteller and have done my best to carry on grandpa's legacy.

    Enjoyed the story this week. It is not at all unbelievable to me, having known some Texas ranchers and farmers during my youth. I'm sure New Mexico is also enjoying the blessings of having a transplanted Texas storyteller in their midst as well. I lived and taught school for a year in Portales and those folks could use some serious jollying up I'm here to tell you.