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Russ every time you mention Austin I get a little pang of homesickness. I moved from Austin to Cambridge MA in 73 and life here is good but still,
sometimes . . . . Here is a little story I wrote this winter whilst snow bound recalling those days.

Memories of Sweet Basil

You know how some events stick in your personal memory bank like a burr to a dogs' coat? I had one of those the other day come bubbling to the surface of consciousness; needing a new sleeping bag I found myself in the local sporting goods store fingering the price tag on one particularly enticing bag when the memory started to emerge. “I’ve been here before, I’ve done this before” I thought, and then the memory surfaced. With a quiet chuckle I decided that in honor of that day, long ago, that I would purchase that particular sleeping bag.

Spring break 1968, I was a worried junior at the University of Texas, wondering how long my draft deferment would keep me out of the raging war in Vietnam, would my grades hold up, should I change my major? Putting these worries aside for the weekend seemed like a good idea, so I loaded up my car with what camping and fishing gear I had and set off for Padre Island with my constant companion, of the time, a black Lab named Sweet Basil. Basil loved these excursions, as did I, and we always seemed to find ourselves in some sort of full fledged adventure, or predicament, when we took one of these trips to the beach. Not knowing what would happen on any particular trip was part of the fun, would we get stuck on ‘little shell beach’ again, would the radiator hose break again, would Basil have another encounter with a skunk, or would we have another brush with a hurricane?

We made our customary stop at a favorite bait and tackle store, and took on fresh supplies, two quarts of live shrimp, three six packs of beer, a couple bottles of red wine, fresh French baguettes, and ice. The shrimp would serve a dual purpose, first as bait and secondly if they failed to produce fish . . .well, we would eat them. The beer and wine of course were essential, as one had to be careful to avoid dehydration. Stopping just before the beach, I got out and checked to make sure I had the necessary beach equipment, tow rope, air compressor, shovel, and a square section of three-quarter inch plywood (ever tried to jack up a car on sand without a board under the jack?). As a final measure I brought the tire pressure in the tires down to twenty pounds, while the car wasn’t a four-wheel drive lowering the pressure did help a little in traversing some of the softer stretches of sand. After rolling down the passenger side window for Basil, so she could stick her head out and bark at the birds, we headed south, down the beach.

The sun was but two hands above the horizon and would soon be setting when we stopped some fifteen or so miles down the beach, well shy of little shell beach were we got stuck on our last trip. I pulled over to the dunes and away from the shore; we would camp there, somewhat sheltered from the prevailing sea breeze. After opening a bottle of wine, Basil and I set off on a sunset walk along the shore. As I walked along the shoreline I watched crazy Basil jumping into the surf, chasing oyster catchers and terns, and otherwise cavorting about. Standing in the wash of the surf I found the muffled boom of incoming waves and the sibilant hiss of the retreating waves coupled with the setting sun to be predictably cathartic; “It’s going to be a great day tomorrow, Basil” I thought.

As predicted the next day was a beauty, with light zephyrs from the west and fair weather clouds. Basil and I spent the morning practicing our golf game. I had a nine iron and a dozen golf balls and though the club didn’t fit me well I could whack the ball a considerable distance, Basil would then tear after it and quickly bring it back. Basil would have been content to do this for the rest of the day but shortly before lunch the tide would be nearly high, so I put the club and balls away and got the fishing gear and shrimp and we headed to the surf. After a little searching we found a break in the off shore bar and commenced fishing there. It wasn’t long before we had the first fish, a croaker, “Let’s wait for something better, Basil” I said as I slipped the croaker back into the water. After several more croaker I felt a different sort of tension on the line and soon had a pompano flopping about in the suds. After unhooking it I said “Here Basil, take this, we’ll keep this one,” she then took it in her mouth and retreated to just above the strand line where she dropped the fish. After I caught a second pompano and Basil had deposited it safely in her cache, I said to her “Don’t you think that’s enough, one for you and one for me, now how about lunch?”

Back at the car I iced down the cleaned pompano and fed and watered Basil; after that was done I set about making a shrimp Po Boy. A proper Shrimp Po Boy would have had fried shrimp in it but the best I could do was to add some Cajun spices into the boiling water in which the bait shrimps’ earthly travails would soon come to and end. The Po Boy was delicious, and after washing it down with a couple of beers Basil and I set off on a long beach combing walk. These walks were always fun, we’d carefully inspect whatever flotsam or jetsam was present on the beach; and invariably Basil, at some point, would try to retrieve to me a live and very angry crab.

We eventually idled the day away and toward evening after gathering some driftwood I made a modest fire well away from the beach grass. As I waited for the fire to turn to coals I found a perfect fetch stick for Basil, and as the fire died down and slowly turned to coals Basil and I had nice session of fetch. When the coals were nearly at their best I put a portable grill over them and after the grill got hot enough put on the oiled and seasoned pompano. As the pompano sizzled away Basil kept bringing her stick to me for me to throw, as most retrievers will when they aren’t thinking about food. Eventually the fish were done and I set about preparing our plates; but first I had to separate Basil from her stick, after putting her stick away I removed the backbone and ribs from a pompano and gave Basil her plate. She finished before I did.

After diner we sat next to the dying coals and I worked on polishing off the dinner wine. Every now and then I would poke at the coals with Basil’s stick which would result in a little squall of embers being released. Finally finishing the wine I gave the erstwhile fire a last stir and threw in Basil’s stick, which was now on fire. “Hey Basil let’s go to bed” I said as I unrolled the sleeping bag, Basil curled up next to me and after stargazing for awhile I drifted off to sleep.

The sensation of heat and the smell of garbage soon disturbed my slumber. “What the hell is going on?” I muttered as I roused myself from a deep sleep. Taking inventory as I regained my wits, I saw Basil in a play bow, tail wagging, and white teeth grinning looking expectantly at me. Then looking down, at the foot of a glowing sleeping bag, to my horror, I saw Basil’s fetch stick now completely engulfed in flames resting on my feet. I exited the sleeping bag rather quickly, as the flames had started to excitedly spread. I poured what water I had on the bag, not enough, but after getting the shovel out of the car I was able to beat the residual flames out and survey the damage. The bag was totaled, and after making sure the fire was completely out I stuffed the sleeping bag into a garbage bag. Then getting a tarp from the car I settled in for a miserable night, but only after calling Basil to me and telling her “No more fetch.”

And that is how I found myself the next day in a sporting goods store, after driving all the way to Corpus Christi, looking at the price tag on a new sleeping bag.

Late November of that year I received a letter from the government the first word of which was “greetings.”


Addendum. Just got a letter from Social Security detailing my lifetime earnings => 1970 the one full year in the army I made $2,422 and that was with combat pay. Yes, those were the days, indeed.
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