In Willy’s ranch house in Tarpley, Texas, there were rag rugs on the floor. I should refer to him as Bill, he didn’t like being called Willy. I visited Tarpley over Labor Day weekend twice during my university years. Once at the beginning of our second year, and once at the beginning of the fourth year. The first year, I didn’t know Bill well enough, the third year, I was in Scotland, and by the fifth year, most of my friends had graduated and Willy wasn’t really speaking to me anyway.
But those interim years – the even ones in our friendship – Labor Day weekend was spent at the ranch. Each time, as we drove west, we’d look for the sign a few towns before Tarpley that greeted us with ‘Welcome to Hondo. This is God’s Country, Don’t Drive Through It Like Hell.’ Each time, we went to a local barbecue, the best one in Texas, we were assured. Each time, we had BBQ Brisket, baked beans, white bread (to soak up the BBQ bits and beans), pickles, potato salad, and something sweet to drink. I’m tempted to say sweet tea, but it was probably coke. Bottles of Shiner Bock for those who drank.
The first time I visited Tarpley was with my mom, on our way home after my freshman year. How did we ever end up with an invitation to spend a few days in the West Texas Hill Country? I can’t recall. We spent the night in a room with twin beds and rag rugs on the floor. That’s when I noticed the rugs, tightly woven strips of cloth, wound into circles, having been given a second or even third chance at usefulness. I went for a walk with Bill one evening near dusk. He counted all the different birds and insects he could hear. I think he got up to about fourteen and rattled off their names. Aside from the crickets, I couldn’t name even one. But I do remember creek rush, night winds, distant lights of a lone car in the hills.
The second time I visited was one of those Labor Day weekends. There were a lot of us – how did we get there? – me, Suzanne, Bill, Bob, Lewis, Jon, Matt, Nate. I remember sleeping outside in hammocks next to Nate – never mind the mosquitoes or any recent heartbreaks. I remember walking along a creek bed and collecting fossils and finding dinosaur footprints.
The last time I went to Tarpley, I don’t think Bill liked me very much. I had trampled on too many hearts, too carelessly. Still, though, I was a part of the gang and we all headed to Hill Country on Labor Day weekend. I recall a game of truth or dare in which the truths I offered – love conquers age difference and no, I would not like to have eight children when I grew up – revealed me to be unsuitable for further company.
For years, I always thought that game signalled the ending of an alliance. Wrong words at the wrong time. But now I see that the gang itself was already beginning to fray then, like those rag rugs, those concentric circles of cloth, only held together by string and circumstance.
What is Present, not precious?