Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Country Mice Take on the City

Hellen and I made the drive to Dallas last Friday for the wedding of Tyrel Gear, former student and family friend. Now Hellen has navigated parts of Dallas more than I have, and we have not been afraid, individually or with others, to tackle other major cities, but this time you would have thought it was our first trip outside the city limits of Muleshoe.

We did fine on the trip over, going down highway 114 through Dickens, Guthrie, Benjamin, and Olney, where we were treated to events more in keeping with our country mouse existence. Things like enjoying the horses in the pastures of the 6666 Ranch, making ourselves at home in the Santa Fe on the Brazos shop in Benjamin before we were greeted by the salesperson, who had been unaware of our presence at first, seeing prisoners from the Benjamin jail dressed in vintage black and white stripes leisurely visiting outside in front of the jail and being taken to lunch by the sheriff at the little grocery store where we ate a salad and sandwich carefully crafted by a grandmother whose toddler grandchild played in her walker amid her toys in the store. At Olney I pointed out where my grandmother used to live and from which vantage point one scene from "The Last Picture Show" had been filmed.

We did just fine until we reached Bridgeport where the traffic increased and the highway became more complicated. Hellen turned on her GPS, I reached for the map, and we moved right along.

Until we really moved into Dallas traffic. Our speed shifted down to 40mph. I talked when I should have been quiet, the GPS girl recalculated when we would be turning as she had instructed us to do, but made us feel like we turned wrong, which threw everything out of whack. We made it past Sam Moon's, a landmark with which Hellen was very familiar, and started looking for other markers, which wasn't always that helpful. We wound up on the Dallas North Tollway, where we were supposed to be, we thought. We paid 55 cents to get on, and not long after made a necessary U-turn and got to pay 55 cents to get back on, and finally drove past the hotel, which you couldn't get to from where we were, which led to a few extra circles and loops and deja vu until we finally turned into the circular drive in front of the hotel, going the wrong way.

Then we fumbled with luggage and tips, checked in, saw some familiar faces, and finally made it to the room. Then we discovered there would be a hefty charge to use the Internet services, which we thought was unnecessary when even Motel 6 has free Internet.

So by then it was suppertime and we decided we would treat ourselves to Pappadeaux's, figuring there would surely be one close by. We ask directions at the front desk and also asked the GPS, and off we went, secure in the knowledge that we would easily find it. Silly us. Thirty minutes and many more recalculated turns later, we pull into Pappadeaux's where we cruise the full-to-overflowing parking lot for another ten minutes until we fall in behind some people who are obviously walking to their car to leave. I jump out to become a human barricade if necessary to keep someone from zooming in from the other direction before we can pull in, and we make it.

Now if the parking lot is full, you know the restaurant is going to be full, and of course it was. We are told it will be an hour wait as we put our name on the list, and we wander out onto the patio in hopes of a place to sit down for the hour wait. After 45 minutes passes and we hear "Anna, party of two, last call," we think seriously about changing our name and seeing if we can get away with it. But we don't. About three more last calls go unheeded, so we know others were not willing to wait it out and surely we will be coming up next. I tempt fate by going to the restroom and sure enough, before I can finish my task, I hear, "Hellen, party of two," so out I go. I checked and we actually got seated in 55 minutes, so we couldn't complain. Supper was great. Since we learned a few things on the trip over, the drive back to the hotel was a piece of cake.

Back at the hotel I go for some ice, only to discover the ice machine is not working. You'd think they would have enough money to keep the ice machine working, what with all that slush fund they should be building up with the Internet charges. I reported it, to no avail, because the next night when I tried again, it still wasn't working.

St. Andrew's Methodist Church was at one end of the tollway and the reception site, the Old Red Museum was at the other, with the hotel in the middle, no doubt the reason for that hotel being suggested for lodging, and we made it to both addresses fine, after having been told by my friend Carol Hausler, with whom we had lunch at the hotel, an easier way to leave the hotel. The wedding was lovely, the reception was fun, and by the time we left, the streets were a bit more deserted, making navigation less stressful. Getting out of the underground parking, however, proved to be our undoing. For some reason we found the arrows a bit tricky and made a few extra loops of deja vu before finally venturing out into the street.

I trudged up to the third floor for ice and we relaxed with a Coke while watching the weather report, which assured everyone that the snow, which had begun falling thinly in the wind which was picking up strongly, would not stick.

So when I pull back the drapes the next morning, I laughed out loud to see the blanket of snow decorating our rooftop view. But traffic was almost nonexistent and we drove slowly and made it out of town with no mishap, although we saw a few cars in trouble as we went. By the time we were out Dallas proper, the snow was much lighter and not a problem. We chose to make the return trip on I-20, thinking it might be easier to find help in the event the snow caused a problem, which it wasn't.

So we made it back to our sleepy little town without a hitch and didn't even need the GPS to find it. And we have fallen back into easy driving, having only one traffic light to navigate and absolutely no toll roads to deal with.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Sofa Cat

It was homecoming week, September 17, 2002. The high school building was wide open that evening with kids and teachers wandering aimlessly, some actually working, to decorate the halls for spirit contests for the upcoming football game.

The next  morning several of us were visiting in the workroom before first period when we heard a faint little meow. Being the smart people we were, we all jumped up and exclaimed, "That's a kitten!" and set about, unsuccessfully,  to find it. There was no way to know if it had just walked into the open building or some student had brought it and dumped it. At this point it didn't matter how it came to be there, and we finally decided it had somehow gotten between the walls because it was nowhere to be found. The bell rang and I went to my first period class. After first period I went back in the workroom to discover the sofa turned upside down in the middle of the room, the back fabric slit from top to bottom, and Coach David Wood, the same Coach Wood who would go on to take his team to the state championship in 2008, down on the floor, all six foot-two of him, with his arm buried in the back of the sofa feeling around for the mystery kitten, who was by then petrified and unwilling to be rescued.

I had to go back to second period. Time passed. Suddenly Michele Barton, the school nurse, rushed in with with this little ball of gray fur clinging desperately to her. Skinny, eyes matted, nose running, the  kitten with a short crooked little tail was scared to death and holding on for dear life."Here, Alice, you take her. Look, she loves you," she said as she plies the  kitten loose from her shirt and pushed her onto me.

Yeah, sure. This cat is scared to death; she would cling to anyone who made her feel safe. "You take her, Michele. I have three cats already."

"My dogs would eat her.YOU take her," as she pushed me out the classroom door.

It was decided she would watch my class since she didn't have a class that period, so I can have the kitten checked out by the vet before taking her home. Off I went on this mission of mercy. Keep in mind this was homecoming week and that day was Hippie Day so there I was in full regalia; tie-dye T-shirt, jeans, sandals, hair straight and parted down the middle, big earrings, trying to calm this little cat as I drove to the vet's office, five miles out on the highway. I left her there and rushed back to school.

Back at school, Michele had everything under control. I slipped back into teaching mode, things settled back down to normal, and I didn't get fired for leaving class under emergency circumstances. Well, we thought it was an emergency. God bless small schools and small towns. I don't think this would have ever happened in a big school. We felt comfortable enough with each other to get this done without a hitch: the kids were on task, the kitten was rescued, and Mr. Jenkins, the principal, knew us well enough to know we had taken care of business without having to bother him.

The students were all aware of the story, especially my first and second period classes, and they asked for updates on the kitten from time to time. My other cats accepted her, and even my husband Bill, who was convinced three cats were enough,  became her good friend.

And that is the story of how Sophie, the sofa cat found a home and now lives happily ever after with us.

Yes, this is the same cat. Her winter coat is a slightly different color. When she sheds off, her color is a prettier gray, like the first picture.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Jesse Leal 1930-2009

Leal's Mexican Restaurant is one of  Muleshoe's main claims to fame, a busy little place that started out as a convenient stop on the east end of American Boulevard in the 50s for green-card holding braceros to grab lunch, became a meeting place for the men in the community, later moved to the west end of American Boulevard to become a favorite family dining destination, and since the early 90s has been a Muleshoe staple in its present location at 1010 West American Boulevard. Leal's is as much as place to eat as a place to see and be seen. Kids home from college or people who have moved away and come back for a visit know the best way to renew friendships is go have a meal at Leal's. After church the wait for a table can be as long as an hour.

Jesse and Irma Leal are the reason a Leal's exists, but Jesse Leal is also the star of  a few choice Muleshoe stories. Jesse's love of poker and his high stakes games were legend and the infamous freezer story was one of the first stories I heard when we moved here. It seems he was in the habit of storing his winnings in the family freezer, not wanting to trust the bank with his winnings, which might also give a hint as to how much he had won or lost, I suppose. Seems that one day Irma was cleaning out the freezer of old packages ruined by freezer burn or no longer identifiable, when she came across a package covered in foil and unlabeled. Being unlabeled, it stood to reason it was probably also old enough to be of no value anymore, and being the efficient housekeeper that she was, out it went. At some point Jesse came to retrieve his loot, no doubt to use as stakes for yet another card game, only to discover it was gone. The amount has never been verified, but probably about $1500 was thrown away in the interest of a clean freezer, a tidy sum of money, then or now.

One night word got out a high stakes game was going to be held in a Clovis motel room. All of a sudden these guys kicked the door down and came in with big guns and announced, "This is a robbery, everybody stand up, put the rest of your money on the table." They scooped it up and off they went with what they thought was all of the money. After Jesse and his fellow victims settled down to appreciate the fact they got off with their lives and also realized that calling the police was pointless-they were doing something a bit illegal themselves, after all!-breakfast seemed to be in order, so off they went to eat. It was only after they had eaten that it hit them-they were all broke! Or were they? Jesse taught them a valuable lesson for future games-never put all your money in the same pocket, and he bought breakfast.

Another Clovis game Jesse attended was also raided, but by the police. Just like in the movies, the orders were to spread 'em, hands against the wall. The police did their business, the players went home, and all was well, until the next morning when the Clovis paper came out with headlines and a picture, sans names, about the poker game raided the night before. Everything would have been fine, except that Jesse's right index finger shortened as a child cutting firewood gave him away...

Jim Young tells the story about a friend who carried his uncle's honorary Texas Ranger badge. They paid a visit one day when Jesse happened to be in the shower. They decided to look in on him anyway, barged into the bathroom, flipped that badge over the shower curtain, and said the Rangers needed to talk to him. Jesse was sure his gambling was about to be his undoing.

In the early days of Leal's food career a certain prominent Muleshoe VIP  also held poker games, and  he asked Jesse to deliver snacks to those games. Jesse always joked that he knew had arrived in Muleshoe when they eventually invited him to play with them. He gathered his bankroll and looked forward to his first game with them, only to discover that it was a friendly game of penny ante and quarter bets, a little different to what he was used to.

Jesse Leal served two years in the army in Korea where poker helped pass the time. While poker gave him great pleasure, it never ran his life. The funny stories center on his poker playing, but his real contribution on the Muleshoe community came from his attitude and work ethic. He followed a potato broker from the Valley up here and worked with Barrett Produce as a bookkeeper before Irma's idea to open a tortilla factory eventually led to the idea of opening a restaurant in 1957. He came here to build a life, to fit in, to raise a family, and he did. He and Irma had six children who carry on his legacy. People who knew him will tell you that he didn't come here with a chip on  his shoulder, that he never played the race card, and never expected special treatment. He always gave people the benefit of the doubt, loaned money with no strings attached to those who found themselves in temporary economic straits, was a benefactor in many community endeavors, and always had a kind word and a smile.  It was the right thing to do.

One last story has nothing to do with poker. Wilcy Moore's mother, Sammie Moore,  used to love to eat at Leal's on Wednesday evenings. When Wilcy and his wife Mary would pull up in front of the restaurant, Jesse would be there to help her in and seat her, even though Wilcy and Mary were there to help her. Jesse didn't have to help; he wanted to help.

With his ever-present flyswatter and never-ending supply of napkins, Jesse Leal enjoyed sitting down and visiting with customers, making them feel special and welcome in his establishment. Poker didn't define him; his desire to be a good citizen, business man, and family man did.

Thanks for playing the winning hand in Muleshoe, Jesse.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Skunks and Colds

The highlights of our week have been that Mari the dog encountered her first skunk and Bill had a cold which he graciously passed on to me.

I was sitting at this desk paying bills Wednesday night and was vaguely aware of an unpleasant smell. When it hit me that it was a skunk, it also hit me that Mari might be outside, not a good idea. I was right on both counts, as we discovered when we let her in and the smell came with her. She frantically scrubbed her head and body on the floor, the furniture, her bed pad, panted, and did it all again over and over. We put her outside where she did her best to uproot the grass in the scrubbing process, all to no avail, naturally. We had some dog odor remover which we rubbed on her, which helped only slightly. I guess we could have bathed her with tomato soup, in lieu of tomato juice of which we had none, and which I didn't want to go for since it was bedtime, but holding her still long enough to wipe her off with the odor remover was hard enough, let alone with tomato juice, and besides, I am not sure that would have done the trick anyway. Needless to say, she spent the night outside  instead of in her kennel in the house.

So yesterday candles burned all day and she stayed outside, and today the smell is almost gone. Of course,  I couldn't smell Pepe LePew if he was chasing me down for an embrace because of this cold. Nyquil and Mucinex cocktails have done a good job on the runny nose, and I do mean like a river, and I slept last night, but I still sound like, well, I don't know what I sound like, just not myself.

So maybe colds are the best cure for the smell of skunk.

Just trying to find a silver lining here.