Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Brownwood, The Burma Road, John Wesley Hardin, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Just typing that post title makes me feel a little like Karnak the Magnificent, except that I don't have a punchline for it. Sim-sallah-bim! Oh, by the way, nostalgia ahead, so consider yourself warned.
I mentioned the other day that I went down to Brownwood last week for a family get-together. Here's one of the pictures from that gathering. That's my brother Harold to my left, my sister Norma to my right, my cousin Robert on Harold's other side, and my cousins Pam, Lafreda, and Frances. Sitting in front is my uncle, Fred Reasoner. Fred is the only one of my uncles still living. My aunts have all passed away. While we were eating, Fred told several stories about his service in World War II. He was in the army and drove in truck convoys over the Burma Road from Burma to China, which is some of the most rugged terrain in the world. It's kind of amazing to me that a young man can be sitting at home in Zephyr, Texas, and a few months later be on the other side of the world driving a truck over a road with a cliff on one side and a drop of hundreds of feet on the other, so close that you can't even see the ground when you look out the window. There's a reason they're called the Greatest Generation.
By the way, if you ever find yourself in Brownwood, stop at the Section Hand Steakhouse to eat lunch. Great chicken-fried steak.
Going to and from Brownwood, I drove through the town of Comanche, which means I passed within a block of the place where John Wesley Hardin shot and killed Brown County deputy sheriff Charley Webb. Although accounts vary, I suspect that Webb was there to ambush Hardin, and while you couldn't exactly call the killing self-defense, in this case at least I don't think Hardin was quite as bad as he's sometimes painted. Right there on the corner of the square the old hanging tree still stands, where a mob lynched Hardin's brother Joe and his cousins Bud and Tom Dixson.
The square in Comanche is also where a Rexall drugstore was located in the 1960s, and it was in that drugstore that I bought the issue of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. digest magazine containing the novella "The Pillars of Salt Affair", which was written by Bill Pronzini under the Robert Hart Davis house-name. Although Pronzini has written much better and much more important novels and stories since then, this U.N.C.L.E. yarn remains my favorite of his work, because I still remember sitting in an old brown armchair in my aunt's house in Blanket and racing through it as fast as I could turn the pages, totally enthralled by the adventure. I've never reread it. I'm not sure I want to. Why take a chance on spoiling such a wonderful memory? One of my great hopes as a writer is that someday something will spark a memory in one of my readers and make them think, "Oh, yeah, I remember reading that book by Reasoner. What a good time that was!"
Such were some of my thoughts driving those Central Texas highways last week.