Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Chapter 111 The Best and Worst of Times

1977 was a particularly tumultuous year for me. Susie and Bruce were married on the back lawn of the ranch house in June. It was a beautiful day and everything looked fresh and green. We had a rainstorm the morning of the wedding and Charlotte started clearing out the garage just in case. I was putting the white folding chairs up in the back yard and I told them, “Just keep on putting them up because it is not going to rain this afternoon”. Fortunately, I was right for once. The pasture from the house down to the lake was like a golf course. I had put about ten tons of fertilizer on it about a month before the wedding. We had mowed those ten acres just before the wedding and it did look like a well-kept lawn. The long back porch was lush with baskets of flowering impatiens and Boston ferns on every post.  People told us for years following that it was the most beautiful wedding they’d ever attended. 
 That was the very happy part of my year. My mother had come up from San Antonio for the wedding and to be there for Susie. She had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma in February and the doctors estimated that she had six months to live. We took her home in our RV so she could rest while we made the five-hour trip down there.  I think she just hung on for Susie’s wedding because when we took her back home to San Antonio she slept most of the way.  About a month later on July 24, 1977 she passed away. 

 A month after that a teen driving too fast ran over Sebastian and he was killed.  Maurice, who worked for us in the nursery, loved Sebastian and he felt the same way about her. He would go up to the corner and wait for her every morning. When she met him he would trot in front of her car down the road, into our gate and right up to the building where she parked her car. My neighbor said that a teen was driving a car that was the same color as Maurice's car and I'm sure he thought it was her. I buried him up on the hill at the back of the ranch. Those were the sad parts of the year for me.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Chapter 110 Cold Dog Night

One time in January the weather turned really cold. That night the forecast was for 12 degrees and snow. I went to the barn and got a couple of bales of hay to make Sebastian a warm bed inside his doghouse at the back of the house. Sure enough, we had a big snow that night and when I got up at early dawn I stepped out on the back porch while my coffee was brewing. Gosh it was cold and biting with a stiff wind out of the North. I hesitated to call Sebastian because I did not want him to get out of his warm house but I was worried about him so I called out,"Sebastian.” Well, this mound of snow started moving and right out in the middle of the back yard in the snow Sebastian raises his head and looks at me. Then he jumps up, shakes the snow off, and comes trotting over to greet me. He had spent the night out in the snow ignoring his warm doghouse. I guess he was not comfortable with all that hay in his house!

One night we were sitting on the back porch at the farm and Sebastian started barking up a storm. We looked down at the east end of the porch and there was a skunk up in Sebastian’s food bowl eating. Sebastian would get closer and closer until the skunk’s tail would pop up, and then he would leap back away from him. Finally the skunk had enough and slowly walked off the porch and into the night. Two nights later we were again sitting on the porch before going to bed. Sebastian came racing around the east corner of the house and slides up to his food bowl. He takes his bowl in his mouth and trots around the west end of the house. Immediately Mr. Skunk shows up for his nightly dinner but there is no food bowl waiting for him! Sebastian was not going to let that happen again!

We did have other dogs over the years but none were as sharp and had the personality of Sebastian. You know, you might have a lot of dogs in your life but if you are lucky, you may have one or two in a lifetime that are really special. That was our buddy, Sebastian.

Photo of skunk found here.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Chapter 109 I'm a Dog, I'm a Working Dog

Chip had picked up a pup at the Austin pound when he was in law school at UT. He selected this one because he was the sorriest looking one in the bunch and named him Sebastian. Well, Sebastian grew into a beautiful dog. He was a crossbreed but looked a lot like a Border collie. When Chip could no longer keep him, he brought Sebastian out to the farm and we inherited him. When Charlotte and I were out and about, Sebastian was always with one of us. 

One day I was loading a bunch of cows to take them over to our Blue Ridge place, about 25 miles away. My gooseneck trailer was designed to haul about twelve cows and I was trying to put fifteen in because I did not want to make two trips. I had all but one last cow finally pushed, and crowded in the trailer but this last one was half in and half out. I was twisting her tail, and shoving with my shoulder with all my might but, her two back legs were still out of the back of the trailer. All of a sudden I heard this growl and Sebastian had bitten that cow in the ankle, and she shoved herself right into the trailer. I slammed the back gate and locked it and then looked down at Sebastian. I said,” Where did you learn to do that?” Sebastian didn't say a word, he just looked up at me and grinned.

I realized then that Sebastian had cow dog parents and it was in his blood. That is something that is amazing, how a dog from a cow dog line will just inherently know something about handling cattle. He had never seen a cow until he was grown. After that, I usually took Sebastian with me when I was working cattle. He rode in the back of the pick-up but if it was hot and he had done a good job, I would let him ride up in the cab. When I did this he was a happy dog. He would jump up in the cab, and stick his nose into the A/C outlet on the dash. If I had not started the pickup, he would look over at me like he was saying, "hurry up and get this thing going!"
Everyone loved Sebastian and he was a character. One time we were throwing “his stick” which was a six-foot 2x4, for him to go fetch. (Not everyone was able to throw his “stick” for him to fetch) One of the boys threw it over the fence into the pasture. Sebastian would always run out and get it in the center at the balance point and then he would come back with this big old 2x4.  When he started through the gate, of course both ends of that 2x4 hit the sides of the gate. Sebastian backs up, drops the 2x4, goes to the end of it, picks it up, and drags it through the gate. Once through the gate, he again gets the balance point and come trotting back for us to throw it again. Smart dog! If you threw him a regular stick he would just sit by you and not even move to go get it. 

Great video of cow dogs working cattle found here.

Photo of working cow dogs found here.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Chapter 108 Where the Big Ferns Grow

Another exciting experience was when Richard Marcus of Neiman Marcus called. He had heard of our beautiful begonias that were his mother’s favorite. He came out to the nursery, and bought a lot of begonias. When he saw our ferns he was blown away. These were big ferns in 16” baskets lined with sphagnum moss. He asked if we could supply him with 250 of them to decorate the North Park store for Easter.
We knew that would be a challenge but we accepted. We delivered the ferns on schedule just before Easter and they were beautiful. They were in 16” wire baskets, but the ferns themselves were about 4 feet in diameter. They were hung throughout the store in all departments. Many were over clothing and other merchandise. They were up there for some time so I had to figure out a way to water them without any water running out of the bottom of the baskets. I took each basket and lined an additional basket with sphagnum moss and then covered the inner side with a plastic liner. I then pulled the second basket up tight against the real fern basket and attached it with wire clips. We then watered by putting ice cubes in the baskets. As far as I know not a single basket leaked.
We also grew specimen ferns for special occasions such as new restaurant openings. Some of these ferns were so big I could haul only one at a time in a pickup. They would fill the entire bed of a 8’ pickup bed. We grew baskets for the original Kitty Hawk (forerunner of today’s Chili’s) as well as the new Chili’s restaurants. Several high-end restaurants in NorthPark Mall and other locations featured our giant fern baskets. I would sell these super big baskets for about $200.00 each.   
We were fortunate to have a number of feature articles about us in the Dallas newspapers, nursery magazines, and ivestock periodicals with pictures of Charlotte, myself and our various businesses.  We were also proud of the fact that we had customers ordering our ferns from as far away as Hawaii. The Hawaii customer bought starter fern plants to grow out in their own nursery and then sell them to their local customers.
It is hard to tell from this picture but Charlotte had made both our shirts out of material that had prints of ferns all over them.
Photo of fern found here.

Photo of hanging fern found here.