More Friends for Men

You really can’t make it without friends.  You know that.  But frankly, making and keeping good friends takes time and effort and sometimes it isn’t all that satisfying.   So I say – Thank Goodness for Rover!   Not many people are so happy to see you every time you walk in the door, jumping up and down, running in circles, barking and smiling with their tongues hanging out.   And people usually have to go off somewhere after a while.  They can’t just lay around at your feet while you watch TV.  Plus, sometimes they’ll hurt you.  And desert you.  Heck, they’ll take your soul if you let them.  Ah, well, but you don’t have to let them, if you’ve got a friend in a loyal canine companion.

Henry Briscoe knew that and celebrated the great friendship of dogs and man in an article called “Dogs and Dawgs” about his house dog– a French poodle name Jacques–and his yard dog, a stray rat terrier named Quixote.  Jacques the house dog was “smart and a real gentleman.  You could set food on the floor, and he wouldn’t bother it.  Also, he disengaged his barker when we went to bed.  When a member of the family was gone for over two days and then came home, he’d give them his best welcoming performance–going into a barking and running fit and keeping it up for three or four minutes.  Even if you were gone for a year or so, he’d remember and go into his act; it was rewarding.  He would even recognize some of our long-time close friends and do his act.  Jacques was separated from his family for only two or three nights in his life.  Where we went, he went.”

The quixotic yard dog didn’t have Jacques’ refined table manners–because at first he was just trying to keep body and soul together, usually by raiding the garbage can.  “When you’re ten inches tall, raiding garbage cans is difficult when the top of the can is two feet higher than you are.  But Quixote did it.  Somehow he’d knock the top off and then flat jump up in the can.  Sometimes he’d be out of sight, but about every ten seconds or so, that head would pop out.  He’d take a look around, drop back in, and get on with the raiding.  He actually lost weight and I couldn’t stand it.  When we started feeding him he became a little more gentle and quit raiding garbage cans.  He’s now gained some self-respect, and every time anyone goes out in the yard, he’s there.  He’ll stay with you as long as you’re there.  If he can discern which way you’re gonna walk, he’ll get out in front, kinda prancing and proud.  That’s a really strange sight because when he was undergoing the abuse that made him like this, someone apparently slammed a door on his tail, and when he’s marching northward, his ol’ tail comes straight up for about two inches then makes a 90 degree turn and points due west.  Ya kinda want to look over in that direction to see what he’s pointing at.”

Henry also knew that if you look around, you can literally find friends everywhere.  If a deer or a squirrel or a cow had a name, he’d made friends with it.  There was Ol’ Lightning, the black cow who had a love-hate relationship with whoever was milking her, and Dumbo, a beautiful little three point buck that “we began to see before deer season opened when we were feeding corn.  Almost every evening Dumbo would be waiting for his supper.  Sometimes you could walk within forty yards, pour out the corn, and Dumbo would never move a muscle except to turn his head and watch your every move.  Sometimes he would be looking over a pear bush, sometimes behind a mesquite, and sometimes he’d be right out in the open.  Even if Dumbo had a large rack, I couldn’t have pulled the trigger because, you see, over the weeks, some sort of mutual understanding developed.  If I’d shot, I would have “broken the faith.”  It was another wonderful and mysterious connection between man and beast.”

Henry had a contingent of faithful friends and admirers in his small herd of cows.  There was the graceful Beefmaster . . . “you could be standing in the middle of a dry cornfield on a still day and she could slip up on you.  More than any other cow, ol’ Beefmaster likes to have her ears scratched, and anytime I’m out there, here she comes.  If you’re not looking her way, you’ll feel this nudge–she’s there, ready to be scratched.”  In a different article he writes, “There’s something peaceful about a cow.  Sometimes my wife and I have to check on those bossies after dark.  They’ll be lying down, and when we drive up, they’ll get up and come cruisin’ over to see what gives.  They’ll come right on up to you and at a distance of a foot or so, just stop–ears forward, looking right at you, chewin’ that cud.  They’ll stand there as long as you have strength.  Really, it’s easy to get attached to some of those critters when ya only have a few like I do.  I feel kinda bad when I have to load one of them sad-eyed, trustful bovines in the trailer and head to market.  But then, there are some I can’t wait to get in that trailer and off my hands.  Come to think of it, cows may really be a lot like people–stubborn, unpredictable, and loveable.”


A Friend for Men

Finding a good friend these days is tough.  Especially for men.  Women aren’t the only ones who need to laugh, share stories, go on adventures and be heard and understood. Work pressures, family duties, relational rustiness . . . so much stands in the way. Sometimes that friend “itch” can be  scratched a little by music – like George Strait’s song– “Cowboys like us sure do have fun, racin’ the wind and chasin’ the sun.  Talking about livin’, babies and women, all that we’ve lost and all we’ve been givin’.”

But if you’re really feeling solitary, a song can make it worse.

There is, however, a great friend out there for men who love hunting and fishing, men who love stories about Indian battles, airplane disasters, and crazy animal stunts.  This friend will sit and “jaw” with you a while, make you laugh, help you get your head back on straight. He’s a friend who seems to find the heart of things, the crazy ironies, the natural goodness in others. This friend is always right there, close at hand, when you need him and it doesn’t take long to get to know him.

His name is Henry Briscoe and you can find him here, in Brush Country Bull.  One of Henry’s new friends (a father, husband, grandfather and engineer) said this about the book:

“I just finished Brush Country Bull and I loved it. Really, really loved it. I read 3 to 5 chapters each night before bed. I couldn’t wait for my treat each night. Henry had a very, very interesting and fascinating life full of great experiences that he recalled so vividly. I would have loved to meet him–I am sure he liked to talk. Here’s a list of things (such as the track team, the hunting blind, the military years, the small town, the depression years, being poor, etc.) that I most enjoyed.”

Henry isn’t with us any longer, but his friendly, honest, funny spirit still permeates the pages of Brush Country Bull.  He’s always on call give you a boost–just like a true friend.


It’s Complicated

It’s durn complicated to be a man these days.  At least that’s my observation from the flip side, i.e. female side of things.  Seems they’re having a bit of an identity crisis.  And maybe that’s a necessary stage in human evolution, but it sure is painful for everybody.  Where did we get this idea that a real man is mostly defined by his not-womaness?  ”A real man is not emotional, because you can’t be strong if you’re emotional,” goes the thinking.  But if you’re not emotional, it’s tough to be genuinely happy and genuinely relational with anybody, including yourself.

Blogger Michael Kaufman writes  ”the very ideals that confer and represent power and privilege, are a death trap for men. They are a source of enormous pain, isolation, and fear. The reasons are many: To demand that any human not feel or express pain is impossible. To push boys (and men) to ceaselessly prove we’re real men leads to a constant dialogue of self-doubt about making the masculine grade. It leads many men to hide their authentic feelings and to fear closeness to other men.”

Henry Briscoe had some sensible things to say about this conundrum.  Things I wish men today could take to heart.  He dedicates an entire article in Brush Country Bull to the exploration of what constitutes a “good man.”  Men in an earlier era didn’t based their identity on the precarious proposition that they had no girlish weaknesses like empathy or emotional pain or relational vulnerability.  They based their identity as good men on character.  Imagine that.  ”A good man was honest, persistent . . . finished the job . . . met his commitments . . . didn’t have excuses . . . showed compassion, honor, humility, love and patriotism” because of a solid relationship with God, wrote Henry in his July 26, 1979 column “What is a Good Man?”

Just a small, radical change in perspective . . . that could make a big difference.




The Mayberry-Devine Connection

Andy Griffith left us on Tuesday morning. No doubt, the minute you got that news, you heard echoes of the Mayberry whistle and Andy’s Carolina drawl. That slow affectionate smile and teasing, loving nature still play in our hearts. You might miss shows like Andy Griffith on TV these days, but when the current state of entertainment drags you down, thank goodness you can still catch the Andy Griffith Show on YouTube!
Andy and Henry Briscoe (my Dad) were both born in 1926. They lived simple country lives as boys and they both drew an unmistakable country flavor from those experiences in their adult lives–Andy with his TV series and Dad with his Brush Country Bull newspaper column. I think they would have been great friends because whether they were parenting, dealing with elderly female relatives or standing strong against the bad guys, they did it with an endearing mixture of toughness, humor, and wisdom.

Henry or Andy?
“For most of my youth, a slingshot accompanied me just about everywhere I went. The rocks had to be the right size and as round as possible since a flat rock isn’t ballistically effective. ‘Shucks, ya cain’t kill a snake with one a them things,’ scoffs the doubter. But I recall one Sunday afternoon when three of us killed twenty-one snakes along the Chacon creek–with nothin’ but slingshots.”

Henry or Andy?
“It hasn’t been too many years back that America was fundamentally a law-abiding nation, and one reason that was so was because crime was controlled by the law enforcement officers.”

Henry or Andy?
“Grandma had her a corset set up with whalebone stays and it probably took her and all a her sisters to cinch that thing down to the fashionable twenty inch waist. Ya wonder if all that stuff came unwound all of a sudden–it’d be dangerous to be standing nearby.”

Henry or Andy?
“Out there before the crack of dawn, ya shoulder your ol’ musket after pouring a little powder down the barrel, ramming’ a ball down the tube, and securing a percussion cap on the nipple. Then, with a sandwich or two, ya light a shuck on out to the hills, moving through the woods slowly, looking, listening, and smellin’. Ya kinda soft shoe it on up there for an hour or so, stop at an ice-cold spring-fed stream and drink your fill. Then keep on going till the sun’s up about 10:00 high. Find a restin’ ridge, look out across the valley, and breathe in all that mountain air. That’s living’.

Henry or Andy?
“When I was a youngster, I don’t believe we ever locked our house. There weren’t even locks on the doors. When we went to bed at night, windows and doors were unlocked and open; just the screen doors and windows kept the insects out. Then it was possible to park a truck downtown with tools, guns, and whatever in it, unlocked, and leave it there all day. When you came back, it’d all be there.”

That was life in Mayberry . . . and Devine.


Westerns and Why

With summer upon us, the summer blockbusters are coming out. Films these days are so drastically different from the movies of the older days. Here is what my dad had to say about movies, and what made Westerns what they were.

-Sue Stewart

January 25, 1979

Saturday Night at the Movies

Recently, San Antonio’s Majestic Theater reopened, and much publicity was directed to that event. In its heyday, the Majestic provided a tremendous amount of entertainment for many San Antonio residents. Back in the big movie days, many Devine folks spent leisure time there not only enjoying movies, but also the big bands. I’ve spent my share of time there, but San Antonio wasn’t the only city with a Majestic. Ya see, Devine also had its Majestic which provided much entertainment.

Next door to Schott’s Model market and across the street from Winn’s, the Majestic still stands, although not now so majestic as it once was. Often when passing there, I reflect on the Saturday nights of long ago. Saturday nights- even in mid-Depression- ya went to the Saturday night movie. And that means Westerns, and Westerns in those days meant Johnny MacBrown, Buck Jones, Hoot Gibson, Tom Mix, Gene Autrey, Roy Rogers, and other such types. Now in those days, movie makers paid little attention to technical aspects and sometimes strayed from the plot. In almost every movie, there’d be the white hatters against the black hatters or cowboys against the Indians, but regardless of who was pitted against whom, they could be flat in the middle of a horrendous gunfight when all of a sudden they’d draw up them steeds, gather together with a guitar and a coupla fiddles, and break out in song. After a song or two, they’d resume their fight.

Of course the setting for many of these Westerns would be Texas. They’d be coming in to Del Rio, and in the background, there’d be these huge mountains- snow-capped peaks and all. Funny, but I never could locate those peaks around Del Rio. Another thing about technical factors was that when a fella made ready to fire his six-gun, he’s raise the barrel to a vertical position and then sling it downward when ready to fire as if to throw the bullet outta the barrel. Those six-guns were something else, too; it wasn’t uncommon for a fella to fire them ten or twelve times without reloading.

There were a few other aspects of those Westerns that were somewhat questionable. I mean, there weren’t nary a Western made in those days that the hero wouldn’t be up on the second floor of a two-story building (usually the town saloon0, and he’d be in a tight spot. No sweat- he’d leap from on high, legs spread, and hit right smack dab in the middle of his saddle, which just happened to be on his horse, which just happened to have the reigns back over its neck, ready to go. Another method often used to mount a horse in a hurry was to approach the horse from behind in a leapfrog fashion and land in the saddle. Finally, another way was to have the horse take off in a dead run and then the actor would grab the saddle horn and swing up into the saddle- very impressive.

Another strange thing about those ol’ movies was that buggy wheels always ran backwards. Today, buggy wheels still run backwards, even though there have been some technical advances in the state of the art. But even more weird than that was back in the ol’ days, dirt and dust weren’t dirty. Really- take ol’ Tom Mix; he never had a speck of dirt on his white hat, and his white neckerchief was always spotless, and so were Gene Autrey’s and Hoot’s. They simply didn’t get dirty.

Forgetting the technical aspects for a moment, in those days, a fella under twelve could get in to the movies for a dime. For that fee, you’d see the following; a newsreel with two pieces of week-old news, a comedy, a serial, previews of coming attractions, and finally the feature movie. Now the serial was a movie in itself, and each Saturday, there’d be ol’ Buck Jones fighting it out with the black hatters. Everyone knew when the serial was about the end, because the hero would be in his fistfight with the black hat guy, and our hero would be just barely hanging on to some rocks before falling off this cliff. The bad guy would be stomping his knuckles, and it’d end for that week. You’d have to come next week to learn how the hero got hisself outta the fix. Those were the original cliffhangers.

One thing I liked about the old movies was the Gene or Roy would never hold a girl’s hand, much less kiss her. We could use a return to something more entertaining than graphic depictions of folks in the sack. Overall, today’s movies have fantastic photography and make the most of all kinds of technical innovations. On the minus side, they offer too much gratuitous sex, use more foul than fair language, and have little to no plot. There are some exceptions, but few. For me, given a choice between the lousy movies of the Depression-era Westerns and today’s lousy movies, I’d choose neither. To me, the great era of movie-making was the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s. In those years, movies were made without tremendous amount of violence or pointless sex- no profanity, good photography, and a plot. What a great source of real entertainment. I’d like to see a return of that kind of movie. I might not view them with the allegiance I have for Hoot and his buddies back in the Depression days, but I’d appreciate having the option to see a great movie every now and then.


The Best of Brush Country Bull 1977-1980: Observations of a South Texas Sportsman, Historian, Pilot, and Patriot

So, OK.  Henry Briscoe, the author of Brush Country Bull, is my father.  And the fully objective truth is, he was the best dad, and maybe the best person, in the whole wide world. Completely serious.  Although he departed this world seven years ago, he left pieces of his cuteness, his persnicketiness, his intelligence, and his enthusiasm for life in the hundreds of articles he wrote in the weekly Devine News column he called “Brush Country Bull.”  Now some of his best articles have been collected in the first of five volumes.  Well, you think, lots of people are cute and/or persnickety. What’s special about Henry? Why should I spend time reading his stuff?

Excellent question.  See below:

  1. He was a delightful story teller . . . this one about his college hitch-hiking adventures, for instance: “One Sunday morning outside Austin I waiting, thumbed, and grinned but couldn’t get anyone to stop.  Finally, this ol’ Spanish American war veteran came along in a Model A Ford Roadster.  He was riding shotgun and a somewhat retarded kid was in the driver’s seat.  They’d been fishing and were heading for Brownwood, which was in the direction I was going. So I pitched my bag in the rumble seat and climbed in beside it.  About a mile down the road, they came to a dead stop and took out the front seat and the ol’ veteran pulled out a warm beer and sucked on that for a while.  From that point on, we stopped every 10 or 15 miles and he’d repeat the procedure.  The retarded kid and I continued on, averaging about nineteen knots groundspeed.  Soon the ol’ veteran began to sing “She’s My Filipino Baby.”  He continued that refrain almost all the way to Brownwood.  I reckon he would have sung it all the way, except that ten miles out of town he passed out.”
  2. He was passionate about nature:  “Up Stormy Mountain on the east slope of the Cascades just south of Lake Chelan is my favorite hunting spot.  You drive along the lake’s south shore until you come to Twenty-five Mile Creek.  Just past the creek the pavement ends.  Take a hard left on this dusty road that leads right up the creek.  But as you make that turn, there’s a red delicious apple tree standing there.  Now apple trees produce best when elevated in a cool climate and watered by a cold clear mountain stream. Whatever it takes to turn out a perfect apple, that ol’ tree had it.  The fruit would be in its prime when we made the turn up that dusty road in the second week of October. Ya have to stop and sample some of the fruit from that tree every time.  You could hear the crack off the canyon walls when you bit into one.”
  3. Henry had a prodigiously accurate memory; he noticed the littlest details and could make even dung beetles and gooney birds interesting.  He was especially fond of the oddest details from the past, funny ailments from the past, for instance. “‘When I was a youngster I trouble with “risens” — a furuncle, purulent, or painful nodule. Otherwise known as a boil today.  You could also catch the milk leg, military eruption, itching tetter, and the creeping eruption. The scald head, red gum and sore eyes weren’t that pleasant, either.  Regardless of whether you take it, catch it, come down with it, contact it, or contract it, the risens, consumption, lock jaw, and St. Vitus Dance ain’t no fun.”
  4. People of all kinds inspired and fascinated him, especially the overlooked:  “Reyes Jaramillo – ol’ Ray – was orphaned as a teen and worked for my father for many years.  That Ray was something else, loyal, honest, talented, great sense of humor, a wiry sort of guy with curly hair and a perpetual grin.  Need to overhaul an engine?  Ray could do it.  When the windmills needed pulling, Ray could do that. And if we kids were playing marbles, Ray would take his turn. When it came milking time @ 5 am, Ray was there milking his and someone else’s share of the cows.  Late in the afternoon in the milk shed, there’d be this tremendous harmony:  Ray and his half brother were in there going at it, some singing, some whistling, all in tune. At night in the summertime, ol Ray would play the fiddle with Joe on the guitar. Suffice it to say, ol’ Ray could do anything well.”
  5. He was funny and after a few minutes in his company, you found yourself smiling.  He loved life and it was contagious.