who’s pauline? and other pressing matters

Campfire.jpgI got a late start on this trip to Headquarters of the World Problem Solution Society and Coffee Klatch. Ain’t Leo wielded her Honey Do List with unflinching discipline until I was Honey Done in.

I always enjoy my trips to Headquarters. In addition to the fresh air and good country cooking, I get a new perspective on the world … most often provided by my dear friend and battle buddy Walter.

When I drove up he was staring pensively at the fire, lost in his own inner world. While that’s not unusual, tonight he seemed a bit more pensive than usual. No handshake and hug. Just a cut of the eyes to acknowledge my presence.

I sliced off a mug of coffee and asked, “What’s ailing you, Walter?”

“See that fire, Yak?”

“Yep, I’ve seen it just about every time I’ve been here short of a hurricane. What’s wrong with the fire?”

Walter tilted his head a bit as he stared at the flames, as if gazing into a crystal ball.

“I gotta start pickin’ up the mail in town,” he said.

Sometimes you have to be especially alert to pick up Walter’s train of thought once it’s left the station. Fortunately, I’m adept at waiting out the pregnant pause. Sooner or later what he says will make sense. Or not.

Looking at the fire pit, he asked, “How long did it take for us to gather up all them rocks during our wandering?”

“Oh, I don’t know, Walter. What, maybe five or six years?”

“That’s about what I figgered, too,” he said. “You see anything wrong with them rocks?”

I took a sip of coffee and studied the aforementioned stones. They were blackened from countless fires. Each and every one polished by countless years of river water. Every stone was smoothly rounded with not a single jagged edge. Walter and I had picked each of them for size and quality as we wandered around Texas looking for a place to settle down after leaving Uncle Sam behind.

“Nope,” I said.

“Me, either,” he said.

Walter took a sip of coffee and reached down to scratch Rufus, his old hound, behind the ears.

He looked over at me and I could see the deep creases around his eyes in the flickering firelight.

“You been married to Ain’t Leo how long? ‘Bout thirty years?”

“A little more than that,” I said. “Why?”

“That girl’s got a sense of tradition. She let’s you come up here and help me out. She knows that this place is important to both of us. Heck, she helps out around here, too, when she’s got time.”

“Uh, huh,” I said, wondering where this was going. Years of experience has taught me that his train of thought would finally pull into the station. Or, at least, onto a siding so that I could jump aboard.

He looked over at me, gave a curt nod and said, “That’s why I gotta start pickin’ up the mail in town.”

I felt the blast and rush of the train thundering past the siding.

“OK, Walter. I’ll admit it. You’ve lost me on this one,” I said. “I thought Lurlene Sue picked up the mail when she went shopping.”

“Oh, she does, Yak. And that’s the problem. She’s got no sense of tradition.”

“Break it down for me, bud,” I said. “What are you talking about?”

“Well she gets all these catalogs and stuff and it makes her do crazy stuff. I don’t have problems with seed catalogs and tool catalogs and stuff like that. I don’t even care that she calls the stock tank a ‘water feature.’ But now she’s done gone too far and messed with tradition. If we wuz married, I’d probably ask for a deevorce.”

Now I could feel the carbuncle coming to a head.

“She come out here this morning and announced that I had to dig up all these dirty old rocks and get rid of ‘em ‘cause she’s ordered us a brand new fire pit. A fire pit! Why in all hell do you have to order a fire pit when Momma Nature done give you plenty of dirt and rocks?”

The train picked up speed, so I figured I better hold on while we hurtled toward the station.

He said, “She come out here waving a picture of her new fire pit. Tellin’ me it’s just lovely. Lovely? A firepit ain’t supposed to be lovely. It’s supposed to hold a fire!

“This thing is made outta iron. It’s got cowboy cutouts all around it and she’s excited ‘cause the fire makes the cows and cowboys light up and dance. Well, I’m tellin’ you, Yak, that she’s already got one cowboy lit up.”

I gave Walter my most compassionate look and asked, “You wanna refill?”

“You better believe it,” he said. “You wanna splash of Jack in yours?”

After a short pause I said, “I might ought to.”

* * *

Since Walter was afraid to return to the cabin, he decided to bunk in with me and the lads in the bunkhouse.

The day started, as most do, with an assortment of stretches, groans, and pneumatic noises. I slipped on my boots, let Lil Harry and Chaz out and wandered over to the outhouse while Walter went to stir up the fire and get coffee started. The rule is: No voice shall be heard before the first cup is poured.

I knew we were on our own, so I scrambled some eggs, grabbed some flour tortillas and a jar of salsa and went to meet Walter at the fire pit. He had two steaming mugs waiting, so I set the grub on the table between our chairs.

It was a good day at Headquarters. The sun was just pushing a rosy glow over the trees. The air fresh and sweet with just a hint of leftover morning fog. Birds sang and I heard one last coyote singing in the distance.

My best friend and longtime battle buddy poured a huge dollop of fiery salsa over the pile of eggs. We each tore off chunks of tortilla and started shoveling eggs.

“Ya forgot the cheese. And the bacon,” he muttered around a mouthful of food.

“You’d grouse if I hung you with a brand new silk rope. If you hadn’t ticked off Lurlene Sue yesterday, we’d be having a catered fiesta this morning instead of this Spartan fare,” I replied.

I think he said something else, or maybe he was just grunting his way through my humble offering.

While we were washing up the dishes after breakfast, I noticed that Walter was in a pensive and distracted mood. I recognized this because the dishes were piling up in the rinse basin while he stared out the window. Also because his mouth was not moving.

“What’s gnawing on you, Walter,” I asked.

“Huh?”

I said, “You’re distracted this morning. You haven’t even complained about having to repair the west fence today where those knotheads on four-wheelers cut it.”

“Well, Yak, I’m kinda worried about Brother Garwood.”

I pondered that for a moment. I’d just spoken to Garwood a few days ago and he seemed in fine spirits. He was piddling around the house and taking care of things at his church. Normal Garwood. We even talked about hosting a gathering of all the girls at Headquarters so that Lurlene Sue would have some girl time.

“What seems to be the problem with Garwood?”

“Yak, I think there’s something going on down there that we might ought to investigate. I think there’s trouble brewing in his household and we gotta get to the bottom of it. We can’t let nothing happen to him and his bride ‘cause we love ‘em both.”

Walter was right on that account. We have been a very long time assembling our group of friends. Our requirements are very strict and few measure up. Garwood and his lovely wife are notable examples of those who pass muster.

“What seems to be the matter,” I asked.

“It’s like this, Yak. He was up here last week while you and Ain’t Leo were outta town. We was talkin’ about our next gathering and he said he wanted to talk about the Pauline letters while we was all together.

“Now I don’t know who that Pauline gal is or why she’s writin’ Brother Garwood any letters, but if he feels like he’s gotta talk about ‘em, then it’s gotta be bad. And I hope his wife don’t find out nothin’ before we do.”

I dried my hands on a dishcloth and told him to have a seat at the table. I walked to the bookcase and took down his tattered Bible. The same one he had in Viet Nam and in Central America.

Plunking the book down onto the table, I said, “Your Pauline letters are in there.”

As I took a seat, he looked from the Bible to me and back again.

“Now, Yak, I done read that there book from front to back more times than I can count and there ain’t no Pauline in that book.”

“You are absolutely right, Walter,” I said. “I never found a Pauline either. But you’re getting you Wranglers in a twist over nothing.

“You know Garwood likes us all to do a little Bible study when he gets time to come up here. He always feels the need to smooth the heathen edges off of us. So let’s take a quick look at something before we go off in a direction that might cause a misunderstanding.”

“OK, Yak. You know I’d not want to do nothin’ that would hurt his feelings.”

“You know the Apostle Paul, right?”

He nodded and said, “I do.”

“Well Paul was a great correspondent. He loved to write letters to the churches that he established. Now there are several letters that are attributed to him, but only seven of them are unquestionably from his hand. But all of those letters are said to have been written by Paul. Hence the Pauline letters.”

“You mean to tell me that Pauline ain’t no gal?”

“Well,” I said, “your heart was in the right place, but I think you reacted before you thought it through. Garwood just wants to share with us what Paul felt we need to do to be good folks.”

“Huh,” he said as he scooted back his chair. “Guess I better finish rinsin’ those dishes before we go stretch some bob war.”

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