Cenizo Journal Summer 2021 - Page 20

Continued from page 18 .
“ THE WATERHOLE ”
They stare , red eyes bloodshot and menacing , slicing like lasers through their sodden senses .
I falter , my mind scrambling , trying to find a scrap of a reason to abandon this errand and leave without the water I ’ ve come for .
Maybe I can get by without drinking water today .
Maybe I can drink from the seep that coats the ground in a dazzling white crust , crystals crunching underfoot like snow .
Maybe I can come back later and they ’ ll be gone .
But the afternoon temperature is heading into the hundreds and I can see by the slouch of their bodies that they are settled in and won ’ t be moving until long after nightfall .
I gather my courage and tell myself it ’ s not like they can actually harm me .
A swift coil of anger replaces my wariness .
Where does it come from ? This ancestral memory of some dark lawless era in time that would sooner have me walk five miles out of my way than pass within the predatory beam of those glaring eyes .
I look straight ahead as I step into their realm , trying to ignore the pressure of their presence , but as I pass them by I cast a quick shifty look from the corner of my eye to make sure that none of them are moving .
When I leave , the water cradled in my arms like some hard won pot of gold , I run this gauntlet again , the sudden silence falling , the thick unsubtle scrutiny of the drunks sitting on the porch of the Study Butte Store .”
-Pat Walker arrived in Terlingua and bought her first fixer-upper adobe in 1987 . She owned and operated an organics market next to Terlingua Creek from 1997-2012 . She now lives near La Luz , NM .
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“ When I rolled into Terlingua back in 1991 , it felt like I had traveled to a distant planet . There was so much space in the Big Bend ; there was wild open space everywhere I looked , with nothing but desert and sky and mountains and clouds reaching out to the horizon . Rarely , I saw the outline of some distant homestead , but mostly there was just space . I drank it all in and my heart expanded with the landscape . I say I rolled into Terlingua , and that ’ s the groovy place that everyone wants to be , but the reality is that you can ’ t get to Terlingua without first rolling into Study Butte ( Stew-Dee Byoot ), a name that doesn ’ t have the groove of Terlingua . How could it , when most folks pronounce it like it ’ s a “ schoolish body part ?” But there it is , the first dot of civilization you see on a map heading south from Alpine . By the time you ’ ve done the 80 miles between Alpine and Study Butte you ’ re thirsty . Your car is thirsty . If you have a dog , I ’ m pretty sure that adventurous hound is thirsty too . So you look for a place to stop , and that ’ s what I did . I drove past the turn-off to Terlingua and a few minutes later arrived at a rustic outpost with a sign up front that read “ Study Butte Mall ” and what I would later learn was the only three-color stoplight in Brewster County .
“ Much of my misspent South Carolina youth was passed working and recreating at the local mall , so I greeted that sign with surprise and curiosity . I pulled up to a gas pump . It seemed a little vintage compared to the ones I ’ d been using out on the interstate , but unlike those pumps , someone turned this one on as soon as I got out of the car . Pump , then pay … I knew I had arrived at a special place . I didn ’ t know it yet , but that gas station was also the grocery store , beer joint , music venue , clothing and home goods shopping center , liquor store , library , video rental store and propane station for South Brewster County — the mall ! There was a porch out front with a long wooden bench and a couple of tables and there were people laughing and singing and strumming guitars and someone looking through one of a few cardboard boxes on the bench that were filled with clothes and shoes and a toaster and some picture frames . The porch walls were painted with small advertisements and artistic expressions from local businesses and individuals . I don ’ t think I ’ d ever seen a business with so much personality . I don ’ t think I ’ d ever seen a business so “ unimproved .’ It was love at first sight .
“ Over the course of the next few years , I would spend enough time at that ‘ mall ’ to rival my teenage years , wasted on a mall with absolutely no personality . I would wander the aisles , gathering pinto beans and tortillas and leche nido , a powdered milk that let me luxuriate with breakfast cereal , even though I lived in a tent without a refrigerator . I would buy avocados and garlic and celery that always seemed in need of Viagra . The coolers were poorly named because cool was something they just barely seemed to accomplish . In spite of only being “ coolish ,” when it was 100 degrees in the shade of the porch out front , a Shiner Bock out of the store ’ s beer cooler went down like Rocky Mountain spring water . They sold a lot of beer , and not just to employees . Someone would settle in with a beer and a guitar and people would start gathering . Dogs would gather too . Terlingua was the doggiest place I ’ d ever been . Dogs and metal folding chairs would keep appearing and magic would be made .
“ Sometimes people would drive up and park not to socialize but just to “ shop ” the cardboard boxes on the wooden bench . That area was known as the “ free box ,” and it provided an informal and free place for folks to leave what they didn ’ t need and find what they did . Often , the porch people would don costumes from the free box just to shake things up . The free box has changed locations over the years , but it ’ s never been abandoned . To this day , it ’ s there if you know where to look and like all of South County , it often has just the magic you need in it .
“ If beer wasn ’ t your thing , you could pick up a bottle of the hard stuff at the liquor store next door . It was never open , but if

20 Cenizo Summer 2021