Thursday, June 21, 2007


The Colorado River is the 18th longest river in the United States. The Caddo Indians called it, "Kanahatino", and though the word "Colorado" means "red", the river is usually clear and bright. It ribbons through San Saba County on its way to Matagorda Bay and flows under the handsome Regency suspension Bridge, near the now ghost-inhabited town of Locker - where my mother was born and where family farms and neighbors once created a breathing community.

The Regency suspension bridge was originally built in 1903, collapsed in 1924, and in 1936, my grandfather nearly lost his life trying to keep the bridge from washing away during a flood. He, along with dozens of other men that day, was not successful. The river clove like an adz into the wooden structure, moorings pulled away from the sodden banks like spring onions from their beds, the dirt spilling into the water along with the splintered wood and steel. The bridge was built again in 1939, ninety percent of it by hand.

Through the years, my grandfather had a love/hate relationship with the Colorado river. It was a taker of life; it was a giver of life. Funny how something so geographical can become intertwined in a family. The few wedding photos of my grandparents were taken of them, hand in hand, on the old bridge. In the late 1800's some of my Bartlett family, who lived near McAnelly's Bend, succumbed to fevers (probably cholera) from drinking dirty stagnant river water.

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In my childhood, our families would meet at the river for a long weekend camp out and fishing adventure. I remember sleeping in the back of an old pickup truck on a feather mattress, curled up between my mother and grandmother. Nighttimes were magical - trying to find all the special constellations and hearing my father's infectious laughter somewhere in the dark near the river; mornings would find the top covers soaked with dew and the smell of bacon frying over an open fire was the most delicious eye-opener.

Fishing was my grandfather's passion, next to playing dominoes or strumming his old guitar. He loved to wade into the Colorado with rod and reel, a stringer tied with twine to his belt, and a can of Pearl beer clutched in his free hand. He would stand in the eddies underneath heavy tree branches and fish from sun up to sun down.

On one of these family outings, he had fished late into the afternoon, standing in a fairly swift current; probably on about Pearl beer #10 or so. A good sized stick came floating by and out of the corner of his eye, PawPaw thought he was seeing a water moccasin. In his panic to get out of the way of the imaginary snake, he lost his footing on a moss covered rock and suddenly all of us on the bank heard a huge ker-splash. A flash of feet and skinny white shins, and then my grandfather was underwater...except for his hands; one hand held his favorite rod and reel, the other was clutched tightly to his can of Pearl. Down the river he sailed, looking all the world like some strange piece of human flotsam, his battered old straw hat swirling behind on top of the water.

We were howling with laughter as he came up out of the river sputtering and cussin' like an unwilling baptized sailor, a bent soggy cigarette still hanging from the corner of his mouth.

"I could have drowned, you know", he bellowed in our direction, which only set off even more mirth.

Years later his sister-in-law and nephew would be killed in a head-on collision by a drunk driver while driving near the river looking at the spring wildflowers on an Easter morning.


Joared said...

Your words create a visual image in my mind, so can understand the source of the laughter, especially since he survived. How ironic and tragic about the other family members those years later.

Cowtown Pattie said...

Like I said, the river gave and it took, though I would suppose the death of my great aunt and her son would not particularly be river-related directly. But, the pull of spring wildflowers growing along its banks certainly provided the nectar that Sunday morning.

Thanks for stopping by, Jo.

Whisky Prajer said...

"I could have drowned, you know" - are there any other words in existence more guaranteed to get one's children laughing?

Trace said...

Boy Pattie, you really took me to those places on the river!

Excellent story; and funny tale of PawPaw comin' up outta' that water!

Perhaps there's a bit of PawPaw's personality within you...

Trace said...

Oh, and I love the old picture. Your grandmother was very lovely.