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  Texas : Features : Columns : N. Ray Maxie :

Holly Isn’t Just For Christmas Anymore
“We Dearly Love ‘Holly and Mistletoe’”

by N. Ray Maxie
N. Ray Maxie

Alpine escapades….. This story is far away from the Ark-La-Tex. But please, if you will, allow me to wander a bit.

You see, “A friend is someone that reaches for your hand and touches your heart!”

“How long y’all gonna’ be staying here in Alpine?” he asked. ----- “Oh, we don’t know yet. Maybe a week or two,” I replied. -----“Well I can tell you there’s gobs and gobs of interesting stuff to do in this area,” he continued. ----- I said, “Au, we’re in no big hurry. We like to take time to smell the flowers and savor the local flavor. You may even see us attending the big downtown Cinco de Mayo (May 5th) street dance come Saturday night.”

WAY, WAY out in far West Texas, Alpine is one of my favorite trans-pecos towns. It is the county seat of Brewster County. A nice, friendly, place to “cool your heels” and unwind a bit. The locals often take time to speak and visit when you meet on a downtown street. Most all business people are politely approachable, open to conversation, and down to earth. Friendly, too! It’s a most excellent place of respite in today’s busy world.

There always seems to be a cool, gentle breeze blowing about the trans-pecos region with humidity frequently around 15 to 20 percent, or less. When the temperature does get above 100, to 110 degrees, it just doesn’t seem that hot. You can sweat and hardly even notice it. And look! Yes, look in the mirror! That otherwise naturally curly hair of yours will likely even become mostly straight; and dry. You can believe me on that one.

All that is in sharp contrast to Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast region where the sultry, steamy and humid days are always KING; king of sweat. You may even begin to feel like the old “sweat hog” if you have to work outside very much. Without air conditioning, ''Sauna'' and ''steam bath'' really doesn’t do the Gulf Coast justice. Comparing Houston in the summer to being slapped in the face with a hot towel falls short of the reality.

Simply put, Houston is one of the hottest cities in the country. For six months a year there is nowhere more humid. As a result, Houston is now the most air-conditioned place on earth. The cost of turning its hot air into cool exceeds the gross national product of 30 countries. And, Houston’s Herman Hospital was the first hospital in the nation to have AC.

I can remember the horrid days before air conditioning. Not until after World War II did air conditioning become fairly common in the average American home. I never had it until 10 to 15 years later, though. And that is not, I say, not a pleasant thought.

But as my old departed uncle, William O. Ridgway, once said when he moved his large AC/plumbing contracting business from New Orleans, Louisiana, to Houston, “If you want to make money son, you’ve got to go where the money is.” And he did both.

Alpine is truly a unique city where AC is hardly needed. My wife and I have grown to highly enjoy our visits there. So it is no surprise it has been rated among the top ten best little towns in Texas. You will see some of the most beautiful, impressive sunrises and sunsets. There are also plenty of good dining places where the food is always excellent and restaurant folk are super friendly.

Merle Haggard’s country song goes something like, “Leather boots are still in style for manly footwear. Beads and Roman sandals won’t be seen. Football’s still the roughest thing on campus and kids here still respect the college dean…..We still wave ‘Old Glory’ down at the courthouse, where we like living ‘right’ and being free.”

Brewster County  courthouse and former jail, Alpine, Texas
Brewster County Courthouse and Jail in Alpine
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, April 2002

When in Alpine we often experience a true feeling of the Last Frontier. Folk in town seem mighty proud of their Western Cowboy Heritage. The climate is unequaled. Cool nights and dancing with the bright stars help to create a most memorable evening. The surrounding mountains often change their color three or four times a day.

Alpine is the home of Sul Ross State University. Their crime rate is one of the lowest in the state. You will find Cowboy Poetry, Balloon Rallies, Fourth of July Celebration and fire works, plus Cinco De Mayo (May 5th) Fiesta, Gallery Night and Theater of The Big Bend productions. If there is ever a lack of something exciting to do, my wife and I can drive 25 to 40 miles north to Fort Davis and also to the huge McDonald Observatory. Then perhaps one free night, drive west 26 miles on US Highway 90 to the mysterious Marfa Lights, or south about 80 miles to magnificent Big Bend National Park and the Rio Grande River. All these are within a day trip and very interesting places to visit. I say, don’t miss them while you are in the Alpine area.

Amtrak is the only way to travel these days. That is of course, if you are retired, not on a schedule and in no hurry to get any place, as my wife (of fifty years) and I am. Amtrak passenger trains serve Alpine on a regular schedule in both directions. We travel Amtrak Houston to Alpine frequently and occasionally to other far away places. It takes us only one day of travel each direction to and from Alpine. Obtaining a rental car, we may stay over five or six days, based at a local motel. The full round trip makes a week of “senior adult” fun and mostly carefree vacationing for us.

Last May, while in Alpine, my wife and I had driven downtown, ate breakfast, then leisurely walked around gawking a bit and window-shopping. We enjoyed a huge scenic mural of an “old timey” steam train and some cowboys, plus Dan Blocker, (“Hoss” Cartright) painted on a large wall along with scads of other stuff of local interest. You see, “Hoss” attended Sul Ross State College there many years ago.

Texas cowboy mural
TE photos

Soon, we strolled by the new metal benches recently placed along the sidewalk. These are across the north parking lot in front of the big Amtrak/UP station. There we sat while enjoying the cool mountain breeze and fresh morning atmosphere of small town America. Sitting quietly, she and I watched traffic pass along Old Highway US-90, i.e.; Holland Avenue, right before our eyes. Mostly pickup trucks, (with or without a dog) hay haulers, cattle rigs, 18-wheelers, farm tractors and occasionally motorcycles.

Soon a nice shinny dark green car pulled alongside the curb and parallel parked right in front of us. I ask my wife, “Honey, did you call a cab?” She said, ”No! Don’t you remember we have a rental car?” ----- “Oh yeah!” (You see, I kind of get mesmerized in Alpine) ----- Immediately, a nicely dressed upper-middle aged couple, with an appealing presence of physical stature and dignity highly above average, began getting out of their car. I overzealously mistook them for tourist. So I spoke, saying, “Hello. Are y’all tourist like we are?” ----- “No!” Came the reply. “We live here.”

It turned out to be our newly found and ‘truly southern’ friends “Holly and Mistletoe”, natives of Northeast Mississippi. And you may have already guessed why I casually mistook them for tourist. You see, they had only been living in the Alpine area for about six months and hadn’t yet taken on the look and demeanor of native people. But then, on second thought, maybe if “Holly and Mistletoe” lived out there in the far reaches of West Texas for a lifetime, they may never take on that local persona. It’s just mighty hard to change the spots on a leopard. If you know what I mean, Vern? At our age, anyway!

Well, the next 15 to 20 minutes passed real fast as we four visited right there on the sidewalk. Then “Holly” told us they had driven into town and were headed across the street to eat breakfast. Would we care to join them? Of course we would! We were anxious! Although we had already eaten, we could drink coffee and visit a while longer.

It turns out they live about eleven miles out of town on a 33-acre spread with a delightfully gorgeous modern custom built home. It is a gently rolling, hilly landscape that is often much sought after in suburbia America. It’s an attractive location, just out of this world. They live out where the deer and antelope play, along with wild Havolina hogs and Texas armadillos. Their “home on the range” is a showplace and a most desirable location. The kind of place perhaps thousands of folk in the Houston-Dallas/Ft. Worth-San Antonio areas would give an arm and leg for. There was a time in my life, I know I would have.

Over the next four days, “Holly and Mistletoe” took time to show us around Alpine, Brewster County and Fort Davis. We spent hours at a large community flea market at Fort Davis. We enjoyed stopping to browse at several other resale outlet stores. “Holly” was, in a ‘previous life’ in aviation; a corporate pilot now retired from flying those sleet, fast corporate jets around the globe. So, naturally he took us for a nice, most enjoyable visit to the local Brewster County Regional Airport. (He, being a mighty good-natured trooper; I jokingly call him a ‘bush pilot’.)

We ate out at some of the finest restaurants in town and attended a local youth costume show/dance and dinner at the Alpine Community Center. On our last night there, a Saturday, we attended the Cinco de Mayo dance on the humongous patio at the “Our Lady of Peace” Catholic Church, where a good time was had by all. On Sunday morning we were “special” guests at First Baptist Church, downtown. We stayed afterwards for fellowship and a delicious lunch prepared as a fundraiser by their FBC youth group.

SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY AT ITS FINEST….. I must tell you, the best part of our entire trip was the day our new found friends invited us out to their place for a much enjoyed tour of their beautiful home and country estate. After giving us the ‘grand tour’, “Mistletoe” prepared delicious refreshments for us. We viewed their family photo albums and later we all participated in a photo session in their envious home and landscape.

“Holly” showed us his gem workshop where he does gem and stone mounting. Some of the prettiest jewelry I have ever seen in my entire life is produced from his large stone collection. His expert jewelry craftsmanship is first-class; second to none. He is not yet into commercial jewelry production and doesn’t really desire to be. For now his artful work is widely distributed mostly for the pleasure of friends and family.

Of course “Mistletoe” is a big part of their workshop and jewelry making, too. She produces some very nice rings, necklaces, bracelets and earrings, plus other stuff, herself.

HOME AND ACREAGE FOR SALE….. Since our last visit out west with these friends, they have decided their estate is just too large for them and now isn’t where they want to spend the rest of their lives. As many of my readers already know, we ‘older folk’ often realize that we are carrying too much baggage. As life’s priorities change we have a need to downsize considerably, simplifying our lives at every opportune time.

So, our new friends are actually “The Holleys.”…. Really! Yes, Larry and Brenda Holley, (whom we affectionately call “Holly and Mistletoe”). They now have their showplace home and acreage out there, up for sale. Plus all of “Holly’s” beautifully hand crafted custom made jewelry.

Sadly, we all know that change doesn’t come easily! Does it? Often times though we must, either willingly or unwillingly, move on and try to adapt to life’s ever changing situations. You see, Life is what happens while we are living! (Now isn’t that a highly intelligent and profound statement?)

During my growing up years near McLeod, in the Ark-La-Tex area of NE Texas, my dad often reminded me that “Nothing stays the same, Son. Nothing ever stays the same.”

Throughout life, I have learned some people come into our lives for a REASON, some for a SEASON and some for a LIFETIME… “Holly and Mistletoe” are keepers.

© N. Ray Maxie
"Ramblin' Ray" December 1, 2007 Column

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