“Texas History Class”
Del Rio, Texas
Mr. Dalma is a big ole guy with very silver hair.
Although we "mess around" with most of our teachers, we don't "mess around" with Mr D! He's our Texas History teacher, and he's a "beast."
All of us guys do our best to get one or two licks each year, but NOT Mr. Dalma's licks. With THAT paddle and THAT right arm--he'd proly hurt more than just our BEhinds! No way, José!
Well--Mr. Dalma has made us all decide on an end-of-year "project," and I have chosen to make a relief map of Texas. It should be easy, and it better be, because I have lots of other important things to do with my life outside of school.
I have to call Jill at least once a week so we can talk for hours about nuthin--thus letting me hear her voice. I have to ride my red and white bike all over town--almost. I have to play back-yard football with William, Donnie, and Sterling. I have to design and build more cool stuff with my DEElux Erector set, and I have to comb my hair--a lot.
So, this project BETTER be easy.
When I get home on the first day of the 2-week project window, I head straight out to the back patio.
Over against the brick wall below the den windows is where I keep my treasure--scraps of wood I've collected from all over the place, especially new home construction sites. What those guys pile up to burn--Well--let's just say I'D never Ever burn it. Sheesh! I make my inventions with it. Edison and Fulton are my highest heros!
I also have some pieces of really soft wood that I took off of crates I found in the trash pile behind our neighborhood Dick Owen's Store. Great carving wood, but today I need something flat and wide.
There it is! Right in the back. Oh, get out of the way, Poochie! Come on! He's always sniffing at everything--always following me everywhere.
THIS is a beautiful piece of smooth plywood--about 14" wide and 14" tall. Texas relief map here we come! This should be easy and fast. In fact, except for drying and painting, I bet I get the whole thing done in time to let me go play one more round of kickball in the street.
Our back patio is really big, and it has a roof. Lots of light green painted boards. Four big pipe posts holding it up, and corrugated aluminum all across. Under this roof we have lots of stuff--especially our big picnic table that Uncle Bob built--And my treasure pile.
I use the big table for many things. In fact I prefer eating out here to eating inside at the kitchen table any day. But today, it's perfect for map drawing!
With my favorite yellow "Brinkley Lumber Company" pencil, I start to draw Texas--the biggest, bestest state in the whole world!
I start right at Del Rio and trace out the Rio Grande toward Brownsville. Then, I go all the way around the whole state--- and---
I RUN OUTA ROOM!
I done ruint Texas!
This thing looks like a soggy tennis shoe--or worse!
Oh MANNN! What the heck am I gonna do?
I'm done in.
I do the usual…
I lose my temper!
I throw my soggie ugly tennis shoe stinking Texas map board thing as hard as I can, and it sails like a flying saucer way out into the yard.
I hate "projects" at times like these.
And--I hate getting yelled at for losing my temper.
That's proly next.
Sure enough, the kitchen door slowly opens, and Mom says, "Billy, what's going on?"
I tell her all about the project and Parent Night in two weeks and--"I CAN'T DRAW A DARN THING!"
She says, "Calm down, Billy. Get me the board."
And just the soft sound of her voice makes me feel better. What would I ever do without her?
Well, she takes that board inside to the kitchen table where she always works, and I grab the big eraser from the desk. But--she doesn't Want the eraser. Instead, she simply flips the board over and, low and behold, the other side is smoother--more beautiful--than my soggy tennis shoe side.
"Lemme have your pencil, Billy." she says, and I gladly let her have it.
"Hmm--Get me the ruler."
Wow! She starts at the Panhandle and draws a perfectly straight line. Now left out toward El Paso. Now the Rio Grande--down through the Big Bend--where she and Daddy had their honey moon--whatever that is--lots of kissin I guess. At least that's what the slides all look like. Sheesh!
Now past our town, Del Rio, and on down to the Gulf of Mexico.
She points back to West Texas and tells me that she lived all over that area when she was my age--Andrews, Monahans, Big Spring, Lamesa -- on and on. Her Daddy was a preacher who changed churches a lot.
Anyway, on up the coast past Corpus Christi, Galveston and finally the Sabine River. Squiggle up that river and then the ruler comes out again.
Now the straight north line that passes through Texarkana -- which is planted in Texas AND Arkansas by the way. That's where Pappy was born a long time ago.
Now free-hand again up the Red River on past Oklahoma until she's ready for the ruler to finish the Panhandle and--That's the WHOLE state!
Wow! It looks just like the folded highway map in Daddy's car. That's MY Texas!
"Thanks Mom!" I say, "I just can't do what you do."
"Someday, it'll all be easier, Billy. But no matter what, you have to control your anger."
Like I haven't heard THAT before!
Oh well. Play-Doh time. I've got to build Texas--all 8 bazillion square miles of it.
As I grab the yellow cans, I don't worry about the colors. They don't matter 'cause, after the Play-Doh dries rock hard, I'm gonna paint the entire state, parts of Mexico, New Mexico. Oklahoma, Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico.
I DO taste a little piece of the red dough, though, as I begin to shape a hand full of the stuff. I guess this is just one of my many "traditions"--or somethin’ like that. I DO love salt,--and Play-Doh IS very salty!
As I apply thick layers of clay to the board, I do my best to avoid the lines--the state borders. I was taught to "color inside the lines," and I never violate that rule--not Ever.
When I get ready to paint, I'll simply paint the flat board with different colors to represent the states and waters outside the lines. Only Texas will have what Mr. Dalma calls, "topography."
Here I go.
First the Chihuahuan Desert region around Del Rio.
Then the uplift of the Balcones Escarpment (We see the edge of the real thing between Bracketville and Uvalde every time we drive to San Antonio to see Mama and Pappy).
Then the Hill Country where I love the Frio River and, of course, The Hills! (which I call "mountains.")
Then the Coastal Plains down to the Gulf.
Then the Piney Woods of East Texas.
Then all of North Texas--which is flat.
Then the Panhandle--which is flatER.
Then West Texas where I'll dot in a bunch a oil wells.
Then the mountains of Big Bend National Park and on out to El Paso--which is so far west that it lives in another time zone.
I use my thumbs to "blend" it all together, and I make it look SO beautiful!
Wow! That's MY Texas! I love it. I am so proud to be a true Texan, and I don't care what others think of that!
Now, I set it out on the patio table up high where Poochie can't get to it, but where the warm, dry Spring air will set the Play-Doh like the hard rock, soil and caliche it represents.
Poochie eats EveryThing by the way. So, that's why I don't dare leave my "masterpiece" within reach. Ha! What a dog he is...
I check on the drying process every half hour or so until bed time--each time pressing my right thumb down in a different place to see if Texas is getting hard yet. It's still very soft when I have to go find my lower bunk bed back in "the boys' bedroom." Maybe tomorrow afternoon it'll be dry.
Finally, two days later, Texas is ready for my "artistic" hand!
I grab my trusty water color set, a plastic cup full of water and a paper towel. Head out back to the patio. I almost trip over Poochie who's wagging his long brown weiner dog tail 90 miles an hour. Nothing new there. I consider him to be my friend, but he thinks I'm his "Daddy."
Now, down to business.
I choose yellow for the desert and all of West Texas--paint, paint, paint.
I choose blue for the Hill Country--paint, paint, paint--up and down the hills.
I choose green for the Piney Woods--paint, paint, paint.
Then, everything else--the dried Play-Doh that is--gets brown.
Finally, I paint the Gulf of Mexico.--aqua blue here.
And the states and Mexico that wrap around Texas all go black.
There! I'm done! Juuuuust in time for Parent's Night at school.
Taking the map AND my science project to school is no easy matter. I mean, the drive to school with Daddy is smooth as always, but hauling all that stuff and my books without breaking Texas is about IMpossible.
So, Daddy puts the car in park and helps me by carrying Texas into my classroom--second door on the left after entering the West Wing door.
"Thank you, Daddy. Hope you have a great day." And he's off toward his office in the Del Rio National Bank Building.
Parent's night is next Monday, and that'll give Texas the whole weekend to get even dryer. Good! This project should be a real winner. Knowing this, I now LIKE school projects!
The weekend passes uneventfully. No one dies or gets seriously killed in all of Del Rio and San Felipe. No Wildcat games of any kind. It's almost summer time.
Classes on Monday are ok, but I'm tired of school and ready for bare feet, Moore Park swimming and fishing at Lake Walk!
Linda graduates in a few days, and I'll have to wear Sunday clothes on a stupid Thursday night. Oh Brother!
But tonight is worth looking forward to! ALL my friends' parents will come to the spaghetti dinner in the cafeteria and then they'll go meet our teachers--and--See Our Projects!
This is gonna be SO cool!
I walk the mile home passing my favorite school, North Heights, on the way. I’m so happy because 1) it's Parent's Night, and 2) NO homework! It's easier walking with no books. Sheesh! Somebody shoulda thought of that a long time ago.
I watch Capt. Gus with Sterling and Butch and it's not long until Daddy gets home and we're all ready to head out to MY school--Del Rio Junior High--home of The Mighty Kittens!
Arriving at school at night is different from early morning. Instead of parents driving through the drop-off circle and leaving, they're parking everywhere.
Daddy decides to avoid the crowd and parks across the street by the 4H barns. He sure knows some tricks!
Walking over to the school with the sun setting behind us--somewhere in Old Mexico--is a sweet time for all of us. Linda shoulda been here.
Sterling is in 3rd grade, and he thinks he's a "big shot" after winning the pull up competition last week at North Heights Elementary. Butch is a Freshman in High School, and he KNOWS he's a big shot. Mom and Daddy? They just walk with little "Big Shot" holding hands between them.
Seeing so many grownups in our cafeteria is strange. Even stranger is seeing them talk to guys like Mr. Davenport without having to say "Yes Sir." I thought everybody hadda treat teachers special! Heck!
Well, it's time to trek on down to see MY project. I'm pretty sure everyone here tonight came just to behold my proud Texas map.
I've never seen such a crowd in the long hall that takes us past the 8th grade classrooms and on down to our end of the building. The 8th graders usually don't let us walk through here, but tonight they have to just shut up.
FINA-LEE, we get to Mr. Dalma's room. Turn right and, Zowee! He's removed all the desks and set up tables around the whole room! On the tables he placed every single project--All Thirty of 'em!
We slowly march around the room and look at fabulous project after fabulous project. And they are spak-TACK-yu-lur!
What's this? That Tanya's done it again! Ever since she booted me outa MY narratorship at North Heights, I've "hated" her! And now I see that she's also made a Texas relief map. Only her's is Somethin’ Else! Why does she have to do everything like she's from New York City or somethin’? This really IS a masterpiece!
Oh well. I'm concerned, but I think, “Mine will be ok…”
We move on past project after project, but after Tanya's, they're all just a blur.
Finally, almost all the way around the circulating room, we reach my Texas map!
THAT'S THE UGGGGG LEEEE EEEEST THING I'VE EVER SEEN!!!!
I mean, a buzzard coulda puked out a better Texas--BY ACCIDENT!
My colors have all murked!
The Gulf of Mexico looks like the Gulf of Toilet! It's turned brown!
The Hill Country has turned baby-vomit yellow!
The rivers have bled out into wide smears of purple!
And the Rio Grande looks like it got run over by a 5-engine freight train!
AND--Those thumb prints!! Everywhere!!!!
Oh man! This is ---- SO FUNNY!
And my parents are trying to tell me how nice it looks!
Sterling is staring at me with that, "I don't understand you, Billy." Look!
Butch runs away in heaves of laughter!
And I'm tryin ta hold it in!
This is HIGH-LARRY-US!
Oh, Oh, Oh! What am I gonna do?!
Ding dang dangit! I needa fresh face. This one's about to break trying to hold in the laugh!
I finally gather myself enough to say,
"Let's go on over to science class. If y'all like THIS, you're gonna LOVE my home-made telegraph set!"
William R. Meredith