Vail Valley Voices: Red necks, white shirts and blue jeans
August 16, 2010
They were my friends, cohorts, brothers-in-arms and, according to my mom, perpetual partners in crime.
It was 1975, and I was, in their rural eyes, the poor little rich boy from high-falutin North Dallas whose dad had just taken over the local town bank. Straight from a white bread enclave of old money and pretend cowboy chic to hay fields worked by old ways and real cowboys.
Yet instead of poking fun, the ones I referred to as rednecks said, “Howdy!” and took this city dork in as one of their own, teaching me the realities of how to survive the urban-rural transition as well as high school, but in a countrified sort of way.
Academics were a part of it, sure, but much less than most teachers and parents would think (or hope). They taught me how to hunt, shoot, fish, camp, work cattle, build fences, chew tobacco, dip snuff and drink beer.
With these guys (and a girl or two), I drove my first pickup, smoked my first cigar, drank my first whiskey and had my first roll in the hay (wink-wink, nudge-nudge).
It was at least partially a two-way street, for when they introduced me to Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, I exposed them to Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath. They taught me words like “fixin'” (“I’m fixin’ to head in to town”), while I convinced them to order a “Coke” instead of a “soda water.”
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When I left it was still a dry county, which for the uninitiated means there wasn’t a legal drop of booze to be found for sale within 40 miles. Now there is a bar in the middle of downtown (a word which should only be used if an uptown exists, but I always thought it would be rude to point out the fact). Notice I said “a” bar, as in uno, for there is no other.
With only 55 in the graduating class, if more than a dozen or so get together for a beer at “the” bar, they feel obligated to call it “the” official class reunion.
Last week about 20 of us showed up thanks to one enterprising alumni and Facebook. With first names like Billy Ray and Bobby Dale, it was a true slice of American pie.
We are all at least half a century old now, but when I closed my eyes every single one of them sounded the exact same. When I opened them just a tad, and allowed my eyes to only see the parts I wanted to remember (a few had a lot of extra “parts”), they looked the same.
And in spite of the thousands of fashion trends over the decades, most were actually dressed the same.
There’s a special beauty reserved for certain things never changing.
The evening was spent reminiscing, but although the beer stopped flowing around midnight (by choice, I might add), the conversation continued for hours back at the motel pool.
The next day we attended a tractor pull (don’t ask), visited an old barn that we had used as a party house for a few years (official name: The Goathead), and went to dinner in a neighboring town with their very own bar called the Horny Toad (used for some bizarre reason in a Las Vegas ad campaign involving the entire town of Cranfills Gap, Texas), but mainly we just talked.
And we laughed, and talked some more, and then laughed even more.
These people had a larger impact on the adult that became Richard Carnes more than they will ever know. And while my mom translates that result as blame, I prefer to apply the phrase — cherished credit.
While I suppose I will never be one of them on the outside, on the inside they are all truly my brothers (and one or two sisters).
We should all be so lucky.