Zebediah " Rooster " Quick 1849-1956 A Story of a Man.......Part I of 3

Rooster Quick, at the wise old age of 107, passed this day to the other side and to the glory of His Lord, August 25, 1956, calmly, while shucking field peas from his garden to toss into his old battered stew pot bubbling on the fire filled with of one of his specialties, road kill possum. His last words were, " Damn it, now ma' possum is a gonna burn. " He had maintained his garden, in one form or another, since being rewarded his own 5 acres in November 1865 for " Loyalty and undying service to his country, The Confederate States of America, during The War Against Northern Aggression. Of course, in the North, the rest of the world and at all times since, it has been known commonly as The American Civil War.

When the war broke out in at Fort Sumpter in South Carolina, Rooster Quick was just 11 years old. His master, a wealthy cotton farmer, loaded his family and their belongings onto 3 wagons, left his regal 12 bedroom home on a large plantation of 620 acres outside of Ringgold, Georgia, and fled to New Orleans. He had purchased an old freighter that would take them all to England and safety. Early after the fighting started in South Carolina, Squire Elmo Corcoran told his wife that he had had a vision that the war would end badly for the South and especially for the wealthy. There was no conversation, his decision was set in stone. This is one time when his miserly actions with a dollar would prove fatal and not end making him more money.The ship, old and leaky, encountered a devastating storm rounding the Florida Keys and the ship went down. All on board were lost, except Zebediah, including his mother and all 6 of his siblings.

He survived for 10 days clinging to a piece of the ship's wreckage. He had grabbed a bottle of his master's bonded whiskey from the fancy mahogany trunk as the Squire had entrusted with the key and that is what saved him. At the 4 TH day, stranded on the rough seas, he had drained the bottle of expensive elixir for the liquid he needed to survive. He broke the bottle on the edge of his piece of the ship that held him afloat and used the neck of the broken bottle and some pieces of material torn from his shirt to fashion a crude fishing line with a shiny lure. Rooster's quick thinking, and his patience as he waited for 2 hours, allowed him to finally land a small, slow moving, sea turtle. He used his handy jackknife to butcher the poor animal, but the results were that the blood and flesh would keep him alive. Most all of the days it had continued to rain, off and on. He would let the rain soak up his shirt and then he would squeeze the sweet water down his throat for some temporary relief of his thirst. The skies continued to be ominous, gray and dark, as if another hurricane would surely push him further out to sea. Luckily the currents kept moving  his path towards the north and possible land. One morning, he had awakened after getting some rare sleep, to calm waters and a beautiful golden and purple sunrise. His piece of that old ship had turned his ordeal into one of joy. On the horizon, he finally saw land. He used the turtle shell as a crude paddle and after a few hours he found himself washed up on the white sands of a heavily forested and palm covered, green island. Rooster, at that very moment, gave thanks to the Lord and promised in a prayer, proclaiming it out loud and at the top of his lungs, that he would spend the rest of his life helping others that were not as fortunate as he was. He felt like he was the wealthiest 11 year old slave boy in all of America. It made no difference to him about the North or the South. The only thing that mattered while here on earth was God's children. These were part of the many " truthisms " ( as his she called them ) that his mother, who had not been much older than he was now when Rooster was born, was adamant that he learn and practice forever. His father, his master, the Squire Elmo Corcoran, had allowed his mother to work in the big house and when young Zebediah was just 5 years old. Even at that young age he took to the heavy work as if he were much older, when he started helping in the kitchen. His mother often repeated that he was a " natcherl borned cook " and that he would always have a full belly if he continued to learn and worked hard, but mostly paid attention to all that she would show him 'bout them cookin' pots.

Rooster crawled clumsily up on the sandy beach to the edge of the forest. It seemed strange that he could now use his legs again. His shoes were lost when the ship wrecked, he was glad there were no rocks on this part of the beach. He had gotten sunburned being out on the sea for so long, for he had light skin like all of his brothers and sisters. His mother often told him that his being lighter skinned than that of most slaves would prove to be a life long benefit. Her having very dark skin was not an issue when Squire Corcoran took a liking to her at only 10 years old. He brought her up to the big house to work, which was better than picking cotton in the hot fields sun up to sundown. He allowed her to wear clean clothes without holes or mended collars. She did have to endure his coming into her bed almost every night, sometimes drunk and his breath smelling badly from too much whiskey. She endured the abuse, but for her the blessing were her wonderful 7 children that God had given her.

Now he must find fresh water and food. The fact that there may be someone who would find him was not on his mind. Rooster knew if he was found that he would be enslaved again, but this time he would probably be beaten for nothing, and made to work harder than he had ever experienced. It was unlikely that anyone would allow him to cook as he had done on the plantation in the big house, even though he had learned as much as he could from his mother. The secret that no one knew on the plantation was that Squire Corcoran's only daughter, Rowena, had secretly taught Rooster to read and write. When no one was around he would read the cookery books from the library, and she had given him an old tattered, worn bible that he kept safe in a loose wall board in the kitchen. Many of the books were very old and quite interesting. He suddenly realized that all of the books and his bible were left behind when they fled to New Orleans and would probably become, lost, stolen or be looted by Yankee soldiers. They would probably use them for firewood and that thought caused Rooster pain.

He decided that he would sharpen a strong, straight stick and with some vines attach his knife as a crude spear point. For defense against unknown animals, but mostly to hunt for food. He was determined to be cooking on the island. He had already seen some wild herbs growing at the edge of the beach. Some of the trees had fruit on them. The mangoes he knew about, but there were others he had to taste as he explored the island. He put his hand in his pocket and felt for his steel and flint he always carried as making a fire should be the first order. Then there is the issue of getting fresh water. He must find clear water to drink. He had his turtle shell and the sun out on the sea had baked out most of the flesh, what was left he had scraped out with his knife. It would be a good vessel to hold water when it rained, if need be. Speaking of the sea, he would love to have that turtle now so he could cook it, possible with some herbs. Maybe he could wade out to the shallows in an inlet to spear a fish. He was sure there were shellfish too, like the clams and oysters he had gathered for his mother when the Squire and all of the family, including the slaves, would go to the summer house on the Georgia coast. Food he was not worried about on this island. The main worry for him was making a shelter that shielded him from the elements and would be a good hiding place should he see a boat and there white folks on it, because if he was discovered, he knew his fate for sure. Perhaps a fishing boat with Negroes or some Cuban fisherman would be his best salvation. No more thoughts about that, he needed to gather dry branches for a fire, fashion himself a strong shelter and get some food. It would be dark in 2 hours or so. Fire, shelter and mangoes for today it would be.

He heard the putt-putt of a small boat as he awoke, when it was barely light out, in his carefully constructed branch and palm house. It had been about three weeks by his count and this was the first boat he had seen. They anchored just off his place on the beach and paddled ashore in a small skiff. There were 2 men and they were speaking Spanish. Rooster's heart was beating very fast now and he was scared he would be discovered. He had fashioned a safe place to stay, he had found fresh water and the fruits, wild forest fowl along with the fish he had been able to catch kept him fed somewhat. He had seen wild pigs but as yet had not been able to catch one. The men beached their little boat, climbed onto the sand while retrieving axes, lengths of rope and 3 canvas water sacks from the boat. It seemed they were there for wood to fuel their little fishing vessel and for fresh water. He moved from his shelter to a thicket so he could see them better. he then realized that these men were Negroes too. He thought to himself, " Should I reveal myself? Will they help me get home? Where was home?". At that point, Rooster Quick made the decision to hail these two men, counting on the chance that they will see his plight and assist him in getting back to Ringgold, Georgia. Somehow he knew that that was the best thing to do and that his fate lies where he was born, whether it turns out to be a life long lived or if he dies before his time. He stopped for a minute, noticing that his heart was now beating normally, closed his eyes and said a prayer honoring his mother and his lost siblings. He did not have a family any longer, but he had his resolve and his mother's strong words of encouragement. He also had his promise that he made when the Lord showed him the way to that little island and saved him, since He had spared him so far, that he would always be a tool for others to benefit and be helped as well as he was able.

Editors Note- This three part series is the compilation of several interviews with Mr. Zebediah Rooster Quick at his humble home in the tranquil wooded surroundings of the north Georgia sleepy town of Ringgold. All of this was compiled in the latter part of 1955. Mr. Quick had led an extraordinary life and my editor and I at the Vanguard, our college newspaper, of The North Georgia State College and University located in Dahlonega, Georgia, felt that our readers would appreciate the success story of a former slave who lived to the grand old age of 107. This man spent his life in service to others and no matter what his color he was a truly unique citizen of our in our times and of our wonderful state of Georgia. I am proud to pass on this small page taken from his large tome of life to our readers.

Random B. Whimsey-Tales and Travels A PROLOGUE

A BRIEF HISTORY OF MY YOUTH :   When I was a young lad of nine years, my parents died suddenly of a strange sickness. No one ever told me of what the illness was, but I was taken to live with my dear aunt Antonia, my mother's sister, and her stern, taskmaster husband Chester. They lived in a big, rambling three story house, located in the best neighborhood of a small town in Indiana. I was given a spartan, small and ugly room on the top floor under the dormer, freezing in the winter and sweltering in the summer. I was made to work at the family emporium toiling at all of the many cleanup jobs plus those tasks that no one else wanted to perform. I was required to be ready for work at 6 AM every day and was not allowed to leave my post until at least 7 PM at night. , except for Sunday. Often my supper was some cheese and bread that my aunt would slip me as i left in the morning without my uncles knowledge. My aunt and uncle, being very religious folk, suffered no foolishness or folly on the Lord's Day. We all walked the 3 miles to church early in the morning, returning home for dinner promptly at 1 PM and the rest of the day, I was required to read the bible and not speak. Bedtime was promptly at 8 PM. My aunt was constantly under uncle Chester's control and never spoke up for me when the mistreatment became excessive and severe. All of this was such a shock to a young boy who's life had heretofore been tranquil and filled with days of hours spent like any other boy living on a small farm in the green rolling hills of Kentucky. Where time never really mattered as long as you went to school on time, did your chores as asked, was on time for supper, and didn't talk back to your elders. Ruffy, my 75 pound mutt I had found abandoned as a pup by the creek, and I would explore and search out new places to fish or just I would just lie on my back and stare at the clouds deciding what shapes were forming as they moved across the skies. Ruffy was content to be with me or he would search out a lizard or chase a scampering cottontail. Those were now all just memories along with my wonderful father and dear sweet mother.

I endured this abuse and maltreatment for 2 years and four months. Not ever being allowed to return to school, I would sneak books from the town library and read everything I could lay my hands on. I had made my decision, after considering it for many months, to leave this place forever. One deciding factor was when I came home with a stray, sweet gray and white kitten. My uncle just looked at me as if I had done some horrible thing. " That useless beast will just eat and make a mess in my house. " He walked over and grabbed the kitten by the neck, dangling and screaming and marched out the back door with great haste. He returned in about a half an hour and washed his hands, muttering to himself about handling that foolishness and it better not happen again. Nothing was ever said about the affair after that. I imagine that he had walked to the river close by and drowned the poor thing or maybe something even more heinous. I got up at midnight that very night and gathered my few possessions, plus the small amount of clothes that I owned. My only warm coat was the one I had had since I first came to live at the house, now ragged and much too small. I had grown 4 inches in that 2 plus years. I sneaked down the stairs in stocking feet, shoes in hand and out the back door. I stopped briefly, turned to look at the house one last time, and I knew my misery was to end that day. I was determined to carve a better life for me from that day on. On that last walk that freed me from my recent past, I decided to change my name, then and there. I was no longer going to be known as Sylvester Gottfried Fassbinder. It took me almost a week of silently calling myself a collection of names to finally settle on Random B. Whimsey! So it shall be Random because that is how I will live my life, randomly. B. is to be, and Whimsey because I decided to have it daily, whenever and wherever I chose. My parents were gone to heaven, or perhaps a place with a warmer climate, and my treatment and existence at my Uncle and Aunt's hand had squelched any chance for whimsey at all in my life so far.

I rode the rails, hitched a ride on a wagon of a kind hardware peddler outside of a little town in Mississippi and numerous other forms  of conveyance and transport. For some reason it escapes me why I found myself headed in the direction of Texas. Maybe it was the story I had read about Davy Crockett when I was much younger, him killing bears and being brave at the Alamo. I kept the course, no matter how rigorous or dangerous.  Crossing the border at Texarkana some 6 months after leaving Indiana, my first view of Texas was at best, disappointing. I still was determined to keep moving onward. I did find the inhabitants kind, possessors of a warm hearts and quite benevolent. Always willing to share a meal with a sad boy on a long and strange journey. No matter how plain and simple, an honest  repast, shared with kindness from folks with smiles on their faces and souls plus a genuine fare the well for a strange traveler is much appreciated . These are the things from what  life long memories are crafted.

Heading south through Fort Worth, Dallas, and towards Austin, I finally found my journey entering the outskirts and train yards of San Antonio. This seemed to have a strange impact on me, one I could not easily explain. Adjacent to the stock yards, the many slaughter houses there had an overwhelming stench from the debris of cattle carcasses and blood, creating a foul scenario in the hot summer Texas sun. Seeing poor starving Indians and ragged children pawing through these putrid piles did not deter me from choosing this city as the final end to my journey. I located an ornate public fountain with fresh, cold, clean running water, tore the tail off the most ragged of my two shirts and cleaned myself as might be appropriate to meet, the citizens of my newly adopted city. I put on my one remaining pasable shirt, made a crude brush from some dried palm fronds and my jack knife to brush off the road dirt and caked on mud from my jacket and trousers. I searched out a chunk of solid beef tallow at the edge of the putrid piles, rubbed a goodly amount on my hands and slicked back my still wet mop of unshorn curly brown hair. Firmly holding the shiny piece of tallow in my fist, I rubbed my boots with the holey soles liberally until well coated. The rubbing and polishing soon made the old boots shine and appear more presentable. My goal was to find some employment today or at least a kind stranger who would stake me to a solid meal. Having not eaten in 24 hours is a motivation that I was getting too used to since leaving Indiana.

Passing a small patched canvas tent, I saw a crude table laden with bowls and stew pots that smelled of wonderful things. I stopped to see what they were making to sell. I assume that my sad look had an impact on the lovely rotund Mexican lady in the bright colorful skirt with red flowers in her hair. In broken English she said, " Some beans, tortillas and chili meat senor? " I smiled at her kind manner and said, " I am sorry ma'am, but I find myself without coin to purchase your fine food today . " " You are a traveler?, " she inquired. " Yes I have been on the road for many months." " I have cinco ninos. they not go hungry as long as I make fresh tortillas on my comal. This is for you. Sit and eat. " She handed me a plate piled high with foods I had never seen. I took up the spoon offered and started to shovel the wonderful smelling beans, big chunks of hot, spicy red beef and a stack of warm tortillas. Stopping briefly, I glanced over at two men who were eating across me at the table, wanting to see how one was properly supposed to eat this wonderful new food. Copying their lead, I took a tortilla and spooned on some beans and meat and made sort of a package. It tasted wonderful. I bit off a large piece of the strange red vegetable on the side of the plate and soon felt my tongue on fire. " Jalapeno," she said as she laughed at my discomfort and handed me a cup of coffee. I took a big swig and that seemed to help with the sting, but not completely. I did not eat any more of the vegetable. I was so hungry that I savored every bite of the food, wiping up the gravy with the last of the tortillas. When I finished, I handed the plate, spoon and cup back to the lady. By this time some children has arrived to be with her, and quickly started helping her with preparations. " What is your name, ma'am?, "  I asked kindly. "  Catalina es mi nombre. You name? " " I am Random B. Whimsey. I want to thank you so much, Mrs. Catalina. I will return, eat again and pay you the 5 cents I owe as soon as I can. " " No es necessario, Senor Random B Whimsey. Adios, " she responded with more smiles. Her children were also smiling and waved as I left. I knew then that if I was to fare well in San Antonio I would have to find a way to learn Spanish as Texas was surely to become my new home.

I asked a man, back by the fountain, playing a melodic tune and singing on a Mexican guitar and wearing a red sash and an elegant black sombrero edged with ragged and worn gold trim, what was the best route to the downtown business district. He directed me to the Alamo, and The Menger Hotel. San Antonio was a bustling and colorful city in the summer of 1890. I had never seen so many different costumes and attire.  People speaking languages that I had not heard before, mostly Spanish. Brightly dressed and painted ladies with elaborate combs in their hair, smartly dressed businessmen, more musicians, and the occasional mustachioed policeman twirling his shiny nightstick and strutting with a pompous air of authority. I saw fine and fancy carriages roll by, shiny and pulled by 2 matching horses with expensive tack and harness. On my walk, while trade wagons heavily loaded with assorted goods, burly teamsters sweating while they handled the 4 or 6 horses need to pull the massive loads. All together the sights, sounds and smells was something I would not soon forget. I decided that I best make it my goal to certainly learn to speak Spanish with the citizens like Catalina and her family, since I now was to become a Texan. Heading past the hotel, I continued walking on East Crockett street. No doubt named for the famous Davy Crockett, I stopped to look at the street sign for a minute or two and the elegant tall buildings that surrounded me. I loved history in school and missed the classroom and learning wonderful stories and events from the past. I thought to myself that this was truly a fine city and I was glad to be here.

Soon my travels down East Crockett street found me standing in front of an old and worn storefront, peeling paint and dirty front windows. In the bottom right corner of the front window had been placed a hand scribbled sign which read " Strong honest boy needed to sweep up. Do odd jobs. Must be hard worker and able to read " I peered above the sign through the dirty window at a room jam packed with all manner of furniture and statues and what not. Above the big front doors was a tattered green awning and a sign that read, " Horatio's  Oddities and Treasures--- Bought and Sold--- Fair Prices Since 1865 " I opened the door and once inside, it was much cooler than the street had been. The scene in the large room was one of organized chaos. Items were stacked and arranged willy nilly, but the results had a strange elegance to the origin of the contents. It was a place that made one want to stay and explore further.

In the center and towards the back of the room, I spied a stained glass and carved wood display case full of and stacked high with various items that appeared to be of high value. " Ho! Who enters my fine store? Horatio here. Pray tell me your name, young lad," echoed a strong booming voice echoing from the area close to the display case. The room was very dark and the only light was coming from the front windows and a single ornate stained glass lamp on the case and it was difficult to see well, much less to locate the origin of the strong greeting. I aimed my answer at a shape, a shadowy figure in the very back, behind that same ornate case. The figure was of no particular form. " I am Random B. Whimsey. I saw the sign in your window. I am seeking gainful employment at a pleasant establishment where I would prefer to stay for the long term. I am a hard worker and I don't eat much, sir. Please excuse me sir, if I am mistaken. I am assuming that meals are provided in some manner or t' other. I even can cook a few things pretty well. My aunt Antonia has said that in the past. "  " I like your bold and candid declarations, Mr. Whimsey. This job pays $3.00 a week and the money is made available on Saturday evening.. We are closed Sundays. I am not a church goin' man, but I guard my own brand of spirituality and I do observe the laws for merchants and shop keeps. You are not a " holy roller " by any chance young man?," he continued as he emerged from behind the counter. An old man, probably 70 years. Slight of build and well dressed in a dark green, paisley silk vest, white shirt with perfect paper collar and cuffs, pressed gray worsted trousers, charcoal jacket with velvet lapels. He was wearing highly polished horsehide Cordovan shoes fastened with small gold buckles on the side. He was limping , dragging his left leg and using an ornate dark wood cane with a silver handle. " Does the pay suit you, Mr. Whimsey? And the days needed to be here ready for hard work? "

" Well yes to your questions and thank you for the added important information. No I am not a holy roller. I am not sure that I have decided on the state of my spirituality, I am still studying that complicated issue." " I understand. Mr. Whimsey, consider yourself hired as of this moment. Where are you living at the present time?, " " I am looking for a suitable place where the tariff is low and within my budget, mister,........ah, I don't think I know your name sir." " I am terribly sorry, young man. Age has made my responses to be often incomplete. I am Horatio, like the sign over the door. Horatio Alexander Beane. My father was a life long mariner. A captain of whaling ships out of New Bedford, Mass. and thus a world traveler. He was an avid reader on those long days at sea. He read everything published about Admiral Horatio Nelson of the Royal Navy. I was thereby given Nelson's name, and a fine name it is. I was born after my father retired from the sea going life.  I have been here at this store in San Antonio for 40 years. I am originally from the great state of Vermont. My accent has long left me these 40 odd years, I am sure. I now consider myself a Texan. Proud and smug about that fact and I freely will tell anyone who wants to know, or doesn't for that matter." " Yes, I know. Vermont well, The Green Mountain State. Famous for Ethan Allen, Robert Rogers of the famous Roger's Rangers, who fought the French gallantly and their Indian mercenaries during the French and Indian War. His involvement and bravery was instrumental for the British winning the war and keeping the USA out of French colonization," informed Random. " I see you are well versed and have retained your lessons. I, too, share your affinity for history. I feel that we will fare well, Mr. Whimsey. Assuming you are on time and perform your duties as described. " Yes sir, Mr. Beane. that is my goal here. I have always enjoyed  school and excelled in some courses and subjects, but had to drop out to work at my uncle's Emporium. The details I would prefer to leave  telling for a future time. " " I understand. Call me Horatio, everyone does. "

" I see we have both intimated that you are to be employed at Horatio's. We have discussed the wages and days to work. Time? Work starts at 730 AM will continue to 6 PM.  There are no other employees, except for Carlos Ramirez Ramirez. I count on him to come by and move some heavier and more bulky items around the floor, if I make a purchase or a sale. He also has an ancient, beat up old wagon and along with his mule Useless and his younger brother Hector they will deliver items when requested by a customer. Thank goodness Hector is not useless. Well, neither is that old mule. She is damned stubborn some times and one just has to wait out her bad mood. At some point she will start  moving again and plod along to the needed destination. Step back behind this display case and you will find a cozy spot at the corner of the room by the hallway. It is a space that is warm in the winter and you will find it somewhat cool in the summer. The flue for the wood stove is in the wall behind that corner, offering winter warmth. The ceiling fans do generate some relief from summer's relentless heat. We can put up a tapestry to give you some privacy. You can choose from many, you can find one of your liking, I am sure, from that stack over there against the wall. Be warned, they have occupied that stack for many years and are pretty dusty. Some might have been home to a family of field mice at some point. There is a hot plate you can use to cook on, although if you make something that smells up the place, fair warning, there will no more cooking. Cabbage? I love cabbage myself, but we cannot be cooking any here, and for obvious reasons. Mrs. Ramirez will often bring by some of her wonderful tamales. A penny each and 10 cents for a dozen, is a good price. They are toothsome, but a little spicy for an old man's stomach. Consequently, I partake less often that I would prefer of Mrs. Ramirez's tamales. A fine meal can also be had for 5 cents down in the plaza, very close by, "  Horatio shared. " Just this afternoon I was the recipient of some wonderful Mexican delicacies at the table of a fine lady named Catalina. It was just an hour past, " said Random. "  We have a large utility sink for mop and cleaning uses and such, and the outhouse is out the back door. I had the plumbing for the sink installed just recently, but the outhouse remains a bit of a jaunt out back. Be sure to keep the grass cut close, it helps deter the snakes. You will need to identify the difference between the coral snake and the milk snake. Be most careful that coral snake will grab you and hold on. Very bad wound and can be fatal. We have cottonmouths and copperheads all over. The river close by gives them the environment they need. There are all manner of rattlesnakes too. With them at least, you might get a warning. I would carry a shovel and a good kerosene lamp when you go out in the dark, then you can whack the bastards in half if encountered. Be sure to bury the head though, it is still deadly after the demise of the serpent. Nasty bastards, but they do keep the rodent population under control. "

Horatio took an ornate gold pocket watch attached by an antique chain from his vest, flipped open the case and exclaimed, " Time to close. The brooms are down by the sink with the mop. Give the floor a good sweet of all cigar butts and various debris, empty the spittoons out back, flip over the open sign to closed and then you can turn in. You look a bit haggard. I have a pretty good library of books purchased from estate sales and such. Feel free to use them as much as you like. You mentioned that you like to read. You may not be in school, but I can help you learn new and important facts. Using the books will help. I am getting more all of the time. I might make you in charge of sorting through what ones we keep that come in and ones we donate to the Methodist orphanage." Reaching into his inside coat pocket,  he retrieved an ornate Masonic key chain, heavily laden, then removed one key. " Here is your key, Mr. Whimsey.You will find it fits the front and back doors. Make sure they are locked at all times. I am an extremely good judge of an honest man, and Mr. Random B. Whimsey, I now trust you with my life's work, all of my possessions in this store. The local law enforcement will be coming by and rattling the front doors, some time later this evening, so I would not be moving about in here tonight, or leaving to go for a stroll. I will stop by the local precinct on the morrow morn to inform them of your presence here and for the future. Otherwise, you might find yourself with a broken front door and a night in jail. I would not recommend a trip to the hoosegow here in San Antonio. It is filled with some bad and unsavory characters. Understand?"  " Yes, sir." " Just Horatio. That will do fine. I am not your father or your commanding officer. Now take the key and lock it as you leave. I need you to go down the avenue and wave down a cab for me. I prefer that privacy instead of the mode of transportation of one of those contraptions with 20 people or so on board. My guess is that Gustav will be in the neighborhood around this time. He has been my chauffeur for nigh on to 25 years or more. I forgot to mention this earlier. Often he will drop by a big pot of his wife Hilda's lentil soup.  He makes these homemade sausages, a recipe from his home country of Germany and the soup has generous chunks floating amid the vegetables and the thick broth. She usually sends an enormous loaf of her homemade pumpernickel bread with sweet butter too.  On a chilly day in December, we shall truly enjoy a feast, thanks to them. That is something to look forward to as our humid Texas summer winds down, Mr. Whimsey."

Soon Random returned and Gustav was out front of the store, his shiny carriage waiting for Horatio to make his way to the cab, shuffling along slowly and steadying himself with his cane. Gustav grabbed his arm and helped climb into the seat facing forward, his favorite view. Once comfortably seated in the cab, he turned, waved and smiled as Gustav commanded his hard working team of horses onward. Random watched as the cab headed up East Crockett street and he paused for a moment. His busy day was spinning around in his head. He truly was a fortunate man, at least he felt like a man. Shouldn't a man feel like this? A wonderful meal, a new home with a warm safe bed, a new job and he had the key in his packet, a shelf full of books to read and a grand old gentleman for his new boss to replace that fool of an uncle. This must be how a real man feels.

NEXT TIME. Random B. Whimsey's life journey continues- Volume I

San Antonio Has a Way of... Part 3 - Catalina, A Chili Queen

“We must find the police. We must give it to the owner; but we don’t know the owner. Gonzalo…children, I am not a happy Mamacita at this

moment”, Catalina pleaded in exasperation. ” Maria get me that extra cazuela and a potato sack. I am going to wrap this pistola and put it away. Listen to me, boys. You must not go near it…promise me; until I can decide what to do about it”, she sternly said, standing with her hands on her hips. The children knew their mother was no longer shaken by the experience ; they all nodded while at complete attention. They now see the Mamacita that takes charge and makes decisions to keep their family safe. They had no Papa around. Catalina was their Papa and Mama during these kinds of times.

“Mama, I see there is a customer out front by our tables for some chili”, said Maria after giving her mother the cazuela.“Yes, of course…we can not ignore the hungry people for our chili and tortillas. Go and help the man, Maria”, she said while wrapping the pistol in the sack, putting it in the pot and securing it among some crates stacked under the cart. “Now Gabriela, go and help your sister with the chili. Boys! Gonzalo, you must sit still out front where I can see you. Twins, see if Tico needs any water and clean up his droppings. We do not keep a messy place here at the Calderon family chili stand!’, she ordered waving her hands in all directions.

“Hello, Senor. May I get you some of our chili? “, Maria asked the man.” Amos Murphy is the name”, he said standing before her as tall as his height would allow him . He wore well scuffed boots, a pair of once fine brown trousers, now patched and with tears at the seams. His black felt hat was like the trousers…. of a similar vintage and state of decay. The formerly white , but now with a grayish hue , linen shirt was probably once made for for a man of position; and his greasy black tie hung so the bow was no consequence. A heavy woven wool waistcoat of a nondescript color was surely meant for a much cooler clime. The smart and elegant forest green velvet coat was a garment out of place. It had covered buttons, was tailored by a top house-probably in New Orleans ,that was obvious. Fancy black stitching was prominent on the lapels, which were made of a fine pale gray wool. “Why yes, dear young lady.” A plate of your finest chili …some beans and fresh tortillas also, I believe”, he said with a flourish as if he had rehearsed the speech beforehand.

“Let me help you, Maria. Yes senor, you look familiar. Have I seen you on our plaza before?”, Catalina asked with a cautious tone in her halting English. He tipped his hat and smiled widely with missing teeth. “The name is Amos Murphy,

you probably have seen me at my former place of employ. My brother is Rian. He is the boss man…you know him. He runs the show at the slaughterhouse you frequent for your meats. You see, I needed a change from manual labor. I thank my brother for giving me a chance to get started after traveling to your fine city of San Antonio from our home in Ireland…. 2 months past”, his brogue seeming to be more pronounced now. Catalina thought this man was not what he seemed or what he said. It seemed odd that a man so short of stature could be Mr Murphy’s brother; he was probably a head shorter and did not have the strong body of a man who worked with animals. He reminded her of the ads she has seen while passing the cigar store on the way to the plaza; however, the pictures of those men were very fancy. This man’s efforts were lacking in every department.

“Coffee too, sir?, asked Maria. “Yes, that would be lovely dear lady”…. he slipped a small leather flask from his waistcoat and poured some clear spirits in the cup. Catalina approached from behind after putting the pistol away and said, “Is there anything else, senor?, She inquired.” No senora, I’ll enjoy my fine repast and be on my way. I am presently and proudly in the employ of Herr Schmidt; there, over there, at the large tent”, he said as he pointed to the tent where business was starting to become busy as the skies grew darker. You understand, I am presently in charge of the poker game and we are in need of more participants ; the other two gents found themselves a bit short of funds and left my game quite early.

Amos Murphy quickly paid his penny and ate his chili, beans and tortillas. He gave Maria an extra penny, mentioning that her smile reminded him of his niece back in Ireland and that he appreciated her cordial service.“Mama, Mama.” “What do you want, Gonzalo.” “That is the man.” What man are you speaking about,” she said impatiently, suddenly remembering she had to deal with the pistola.”That is the man that put the pistola between two barrels behind the tent where the fancy ladies are, ” he blurted out. “You did not say anything about seeing a man put the pistola by some barrels.” ” I was scared. I did not steal it”,  he mumbled, then started to cry. “Quiet now. It is all right, Gonzalo”, his Mama said soothingly. At that moment Officer Langley, the City Policeman, strode up and asked Maria if he could speak to her mother. “Mrs. Calderon; there has been a robbery over at Herr Schmidt’s and I would like to ask you some questions.” He proceeded to recount that a member of the early poker game had had his small silver pistol stolen. It had great sentimental value. The small Mexican lady that worked there mentioned while out back of the tent having a cigarette,  she saw a small Mexican boy pick a silver object from s between some  barrels. She mentioned that had seen him before at Catalina’s chili stand.

“Yes Senor Langley”, she said relieved. “I have it in a safe place.” She retrieved the packet, and handed it to him. Langley unwrapped it. “This looks very much like the one he lost. I see the small crack on the right side of the handle.” “Gonzalo, tell the man how you got the pistola.” ” I saw the man in the green coat put it by the barrels and I took it. I didn’t steal it. I thought he didn’t want it anymore. Maybe it was broken.”, he said with wide eyes swelling with tears. “Mrs. Calderon, I believe your little boy has solved this case quite nicely. I’ll take this pistol and we will not speak of the matter again.” “Thank God, Senor Langley. I will say a prayer at Mass for you. I did not know what to do. Gonzalo will never do anything like that again.” "Yes ma’am, I’m sure he won’t. Have a good evening.” "Won’t you have some chili and tortillas? You must be very hungry.”"I have eaten here often when I have Plaza duty. You make a fine bowl of chili red. I may be back later in the evening”, he said with a smile.

“It was the end of their evening. The time was almost ten. Catalina could not remember when she had been so tired. The work was not the reason.The pistola event had made the trip to the plaza very difficult that night.She just wanted to get home and finally to rest.They had a long trek home in the dark with just their one lantern to see by. All of the children were packing up as they always did. The twins were hitching up Tico, who had been sleeping the whole time they were at the plaza, except for a few munches of corn stalks. Maria was pouring water on the stone fire ring and putting the grate on the cart. Gonzalo , Gabriela and Catalina were sweeping all around their area. The city crew would be coming early in the morning to clean the plaza, but they always left it clean and tidy.”Mrs. Calderon, I believe?” It was Herr Schmidt addressing Catalina in his thick accent as he walked up to the almost packed cart.”Yes, Senor Schmidt. I am Senora Calderon.” “I believe I have to thank you and your family for solving a problem we had this evening. “ ”Problema?,” she said with a quizzical look on her face." "I had an employee that cheated one of my customers ; he had stolen his silver pistol from the man’s coat pocket. The man that took this pistol was wearing a fancy green coat. We found out from Langley , the policeman , that this man’s name is Bartlett, not Murphy as he claimed when I had hired him to run my poker game. I guess he is wanted in New Orleans for the same thing-robbing a card player. Maybe other places too.” “It was not a pleasant experience for me, my son should not have picked up that pistola, Senor Schmidt”.“I understand, but I am very pleased that  he did take that pistol. I now have a happy customer. Mrs. Calderon, here is a small reward for your help. Besides, all of my people say you are the best Chili Queen on the Plaza.!”, as he handed her five silver dollars. She looked in her hand, astonished and speechless. “Children. Look what Senor….”, just as she looked up to thank him he was almost back to his tent. He stopped at the door flap, turned in the golden light from inside and tipped his hat to her.

Mrs. Calderon now had the immense sum of $5.26 bound tightly and safely in one of her mother’s lace handkerchiefs.The night had been good. Twenty five bowls sold; plus the penny from the man in the green coat. She and her children would be back the next night to sell more of their chili, refritos, fresh tortillas, and strong hot coffee. The five dollars would be saved and kept safe; buried in the tin box under their jacal. Maybe there would also be presents for Papa this year when he came home for Christmas.

San Antonio, Texas Has a Way Of... Part 2 - Catalina, A Chili Queen

“Mama, will we all have enough money when the new year is 1900?”, Gabriella said in her typical sweet voice. “God always provides for our family, little one. When it is 1900, we will still make the fresh tortillas and Tico will pull our cart with all of the things

Chiles Drying in the Sun

we need to make our meat stew with chili for the  people to buy at the plaza. ”

Gabriella was only seven years old, but seemed much older. She always asked her mother detailed questions about life and the things she observed seeing every day ; like when they went to the plaza to sell their chili con carne …every day except Sunday, the Lord’s day.They used that money to live ! They were now alone in their little jacal on Zarzamora Street -her oldest sister Maria was twelve, Gonzalo was six, the twins Enrique and Eleuterio were ten …and of course their Mama, Catalina. Grandma Lourdes had died last winter. She had such a hard time breathing.One morning she did not get out of bed. She always was the first up at 430 to start the cooking fire.”It was not a home without grandma”, said Gabriella that day. Grandpa Teofilo Calderon had  gone to heaven five years before. Her family had made the trek to downtown San Antonio from their home, west of town, for over thirty years. Catalina’s husband worked as a vaquero on a large hacienda in Coahuila across the Rio Grande River in Mexico . He came home at least two times a year; for Christmas and at his wife’s birthday in June. He always brought gifts for the children. It was not the best arrangement for a family, Jesus knew that, but he had a good job and could not afford to leave it. The money he sent home was needed to make sure his family stayed warm, had food to eat and were not living in a tent .

Catalina’s father, Teofilo had built the one room jacal in 1862, just like the one he had lived in as a child on the Rio Grande in Southwest Texas  . Over the years some mesquite poles and the roof thatch were replaced. Jesus and his father in law added a small addition made of caliche bricks that they dug from around the little house. That helped them to make the garden larger since caliche is like thick clay and does not drain well. No matter how much burro droppings and straw was turned into the soil, it was hard to have a good yield from a garden.Catalina now could have more corn to grind into masa for tortillas, chiles to hang in ristras and pinto beans for their family staples.These were also needed to sell at the plaza; since every bowl of chili con carne came with freshly made refritos and tortillas.

The twins job was to hitch up the elderly burro Tico, to the cart and help Maria pack and load all of the goods for the three hour journey to the plaza. They had to be ready to leave by noon. Mama did not cook her chili con carne at home , as many of the other ChiliQueens did, she made it right at the plaza . Upon arriving at the their favorite spot, the children would unhitch Tico (“little brother”) ,tether him to to a blocked wagon wheel, set down a bucket of water and some corn stalks to eat. Next was to set up the tables, start the fire and get some water heating from the big old clay jug.As the children, supervised by Maria, finished the set up, Catalina made her way across the plaza and down the rows of cow pens, to the slaughter house she had always visited. Mr. Murphy, who spoke fairly good Spanish, had been trading odd pieces of beef that he could not sell to the butcher shops or hotels and restaurants, to Catalina (and to her mother before her) in exchange for chili con carne , tortillas and beans for some of the slaughterhouse worker’s supper . He instructed the men to cut it exactly to the sizes she wanted for her chiliThis made for a good arrangement for everyone. Murphy spread the word about how Catalina’s was the best chili, freshly made , and a bargain …. tortillas,refried beans and coffee for only a penny! Twelve year old Maria spoke perfect English, so she was the ‘waitress” , at the family chili stand….her charm and big smile also brought back happy return customers.

Longhorn at The Stockyards

The plaza started to look crowded, now that evening was approaching. The red sunset was casting an orange and yellow glow over the clouds of smoke from all the cooking fires. A three piece band with two guitars and an accordion was setting up their music stands,hoping to garner some money from the crowds to be. could make some money. Over beside Herr Schmidt’s big tent, well worn, tan and stained , a card game already had three players dealing poker. Herr Schmidt’s ominous tower of a man was guarding and keeping a keen eye at the tent, watching and making sure no bad behavior erupted. Gambling in public was illegal…. but the City Police with their shiny bright star badges,a uniform of floppy hats and coats open for access to their revolvers, except at the neck, mostly turned a blind eye. Maybe a favor or some coin changed hands. Inside the tent , the lanterns clearly outlined the figures within. The three women that worked in the tent; one with red hair the color of cinnamon rock candy, a large boned blond girl , and a tiny Mexican woman wearing a ruffled skirt of bright yellow and green may have been part of the arrangement, one would consider.

Catalina was now busy adding the pieces of meat, the chiles that Gabriella had ground in the molcajete while she was gone ( she wanted them to be the freshest possible), some oregano from her garden, three split pig’s feet;her special ingredient to the bubbling pot. “Mama, come quick behind the cart”, Gabriella called out. Catalina, thinking the worse, left the pot and hurried around back to where the children were standing.“I didn’t steal it. I didn’t”, pleaded Little Gonzalo. “I found it over by that big tent on the ground. Can’t we sell it and buy some food for Mama to make her chili?”. Eleuterio was holding it and pointing it to the sky.“Put that down,now”, screamed Maria.Catalina came upon all the commotion and saw it laying on the serape that covered the back end of their cart.”That is a pistola.Put that down, immediately. Don’t anyone touch it. Leave it be!”, she commanded. A small, very fancy, old style shiny pistol with a pearl or bone handle lay there while all looked intently at it.” Where did you get that pistola,Gonzalo? It is very dangerous. We don’t have guns. Only your papa has a pistola for rattlesnakes and maybe to shoot a peccary,” she instructed. “We must find the police. We must give it to somebody, the owner or……


San Antonio, Texas Has a Way Of... Part 1 - Catalina, A Chili Queen

San Antonio , Texas has a way of staying in a person’s memories. Maybe just a one day layover – as my friend did as a summerexchange student experience traveling all the way on a long bus ride in 1963. The trip is 1775 plus miles from Minneapolis to Guadalajara , Mexico. San Antonio is a natural place to linger . Not only the historical Alamo and the rich history all around the region, but it’s picturesque settings on the San Antonio River  and the famous “River Walk”….. People also love to take the river tours through the city - a place that is an experience so close to the Old World cities of Europe. Of course, these days that experience is so popular. Of all the cities in Texas, San Antonio is ranked at the top for tourist attractions. Of all the major cities in the US ,it ranks in The Top 10 List for “Foodies”Why should we be surprised?

As a youngster of 8 or 9 , I remember one particular year while living with my Dad and stepmother in San Antonio, I think I was in the 3RD grade. We lived very close to the part of town where the Mexican businesses were ; including lots of food stores ,tiendas,,cantinas, and restaurants. Obviously, those memories are peppered with thoughts that include food experiences of all types.  I have already recounted some in previous pieces that  I have written. Not sure about which stories I have passed to the reader before ( and too lazy to go back and search),but I want to stay with the obvious food theme that we all think of for Texas ….MEXICAN FOOD ; actually what Texas is famous forTEX MEX food.

We lived on Kentucky Street, just a block east of N.Zarzamora Street…which was parallel to a busy highway that led out of town to the west,Culebra Road (which means snake in Spanish-it is a curvy road) . Across that busy highway was where one found most of the different Mexican stores,businesses and lots of homes…..very close together. I remember the roads had gaping pot holes and were not well kept. Many did not have sidewalks, or just partial ones. I would get out of school and 2 block away from my house on the corner was a little Mexican cafe. It had one of those screen doors with a ceramic soda push bar in the center,I believe it was forGrapette soda.I would get fresh hot tortillas and butter-3 for 7 cents,5 cents more for a Dr.Pepper or a Grapette. Students would come in from the Catholic church at Little Flower School and we would play the juke box,whoever had a spare nickel, and visit. They were all Hispanic kids and I loved making friends with them. I had only been in San Antonio from California a few months. I noticed that the students uniforms were very plain and simple. The boys woreDickies khaki pants (like my Dad always wore as a carpenter ) and white shirts. My Dad told me it was a poor parrish when I asked him about it   later, their families could not afford the traditional ones.(The uniform is much the same today-some 60 years later)

One day while leaving the cafe and heading home, I noticed an old, dusty black Chevrolet Sedan Delivery with the back door open parked behind the cafe. There was a big German Shepherd dog inside. He jumped out and quickly trotted up the street . How a dog can smile and have his jaws firmly gripping a full sized hog’s head is something I’ll never forget…but that is what I saw. The hog’s eyes were wide open and the big pink ears flapping in the wind as the dog’s brisk place away led him further from that cafe. Determined not to have a sure loss of his prize. The driver came out of the back screen door, shouting,waving his arms and  running frantically after the dog, his bloody white coat flapping in the wind. It was obvious that he had been alerted to this serious “Grand Theft in Progress”! We kids surely were not going to miss all of this excitement….. the neighborhood was normally pretty quiet- and we gave chase. The little man in the bloody white coat was no match for that dog. I’m sure that dog had dreams about that day for the rest of his life. This whole scene is almost like one from a movie…and well could be so.  What do you think the little man told his boss?The truth…maybe or maybe not? It’s not a story most would believe , but it happened. I recall this was in February and there was a local tradition in the community,in fact in most of south Texas ….. most families and restaurants made tamales. The Texas style tamale is very different from the types that are popular on the Pacific coast. They are smaller and are a party favorite,usually made by the dozens.It was pretty evident that the south Texas and Mexican tradition using the head of a pig for tamales had to put on hold at the cafe for that day!

You see it was this neighborhood and the people that lived there that made a lasting impression on me. Even though over the years i would live in San Antonio from time to time, these times made an imprint forever. Tamales!!!! Enchiladas, tacos, Menudo Rojo,FrijolesRefritos,Mole Sauce…….the list is long and mostly familiar to us all. San Antonio is often given the credit for TexMex style food. Mexican home cooking that evolved in many directions ;unfortunately some available in the US today is far removed from those early home cooked dishes. The first chile powder can be traced to Willie Gebhardt; in 1896 started selling his chile powder to the public. He was born in Germany and his family had settled in Seguin, Texas, just a few miles from San Antonio.There was a point after World War I when his company imported 90 percent off all the chiles consumed in the USA! In the spirit of a naturalized American “Foodie Pioneer” I want to offer you a Fresh Chile Recipe . Willie was born in Germany; came to Texas as a child and soon learned English.As a young man in the tavern and bar business ,he saw a need and developed a product using chiles….a vegetable that had been new to his family. Now as a new Texan , he was ready to take the seasonal fresh chile from the kitchen to a form that could be used all year long. This became a food product that influenced the way Americans cooked ; and today the impact is especially evident.

“Mama, will there be music in the plaza tonight? “, said Gonzalo,who was only six years old and looked forward to the music . Mama replied,”I am sure you will hear some fine musicians . There may be some men playing guitarras or perhaps a little band with singers too.” “You will see lots of wonderful things,Gonzalo. But remember, we all need to help make our chile for the people to buy”.

Catalina and her five children were loading their cart with all they would need to make the trek from the west of the city to Alamo Plaza. They wanted to be there early so she could get her favorite spot to sell her famous Chili Con Carne. She was very proud of  the family recipe that her mother had first started selling in the Plaza de Las Islas after the war in 1866. Later they moved to theMilitary Plaza by the rail yards and the jail.Catalina had been just a baby then; but she continued to travel with her mother and her brothers and sisters to the plazas . She was now a second generation Chili Queen of San Antonio as the newspapers had named the women who came to sell their fiery brew to all takers. It was now 1899 and the big crowds of people would allow Catalina to make money for her family.

Her mother Lourdes was gone now. Catalina’s husband  Jesus , was in Mexico working on a cattle ranch. There still was always a need for her family. “Mama, will we all have enough money when the new year is 1900 ? “, Gabriella said in her typical sweet voice.