Don’t be surprised if you feel your in a different century when you
visit Jefferson, Texas this weekend, because its “back to the earliest days” as the community showcases what is hoped to be the 1st Annual Pioneer Days Festival, Sept. 4, 5 and 6.
Begun as a project when the Opera House Theatre Players, a local
community theatre, decided to bring in the world renown musical
group, The Sons of the Pioneers, for a concert on the Monday of
Labor Day weekend, the excitement and anticipation of such big name entertainment gave birth to the idea that the entire community could and should benefit from the extra visitors it would likely bring in. Thats when the theatre board members put their ideas together and came up with an entire weekend of activities geared to not only attract attention for the concert but create a festival that would hold people in town for the last long weekend of the summer.
After organizing a working committee made up of board members and community volunteers, the committee set about soliciting
donations and service donations to the non-profit group that
would fund an event of three days. Theatre board president
Marcia Thomas said that “they have been greatly pleased and
gratified to see so many businesses and individuals were
really interested in supporting Jefferson tourism with this
idea. We’ve been able to make it all free except the concert!
The perfect event for all the family. We have been blessed!”
The festivities will begin on Saturday, Sept. 4, with a Parade
at 10 am that will be comprised of horseback riders, wagons
and walkers in period costume. One local resident, Howard
Blatch, will wear an exact replica uniform worn on the Lewis
and Clark Expedition that started in 1803 to explore the
New Louisiana Purchase or The New Frontier. Another par-
ticipant will be the Bayou Trailblazers Trail Riding Group
who will be in period costume as they ride. A covered
wagon with costumed passengers is also expected to be
part of the parade. A trophy and prize will be awarded to
the most authentic costume.
Following the parade at 11:30 the re-enactment of an
historical shooting incident that occurred in the wagon
yard of downtown Jefferson in 1906 will be performed
in the spot where it actually happened. Board member
Jim Blackburn will portray Sheriff Will S. Terry and
theatre member/actor Mark McKay will play the Deputy
who “went bad”, Charlie Proctor. A narrator will read
briefly read the background of the shooting to the
audience and several theatre members will appear as
some of the citizens who witnessed the event, The
idea to do the re-enactment came from Thomas who
had been told of the incident by her grandfather and
his twin brother many decades back. The two were
witnesses of shooting as young teenagers.
At Noon to 12:30 pm, singer Ann Leslie of Marshall
will entertain with country songs at the Otstott Gazebo.
Ms. Leslie writes her own music and accompanies
herself with recorded background music geared for
At 6 pm, the crowds will be steered toward the east
end block of Austin Street where a Street Dance
will play until 8 pm with music by the award-winning
group Sheila and the Caddo Kats. There will be some
seating available and beverages will be available from
On Sunday, Sept. 5, a Cook-Out with Barbeque and
Beans will be served beginning noon at the grassy
riverfront area near the stagecoach and horse dis-
play courtesy of the Collins Institute. Entertainment
will begin about noon and continue until 4 pm. Sche-
duled to perform are cowboy singer John Nance,
Ann Leslie and Riley Cox (pending availability). The
Players are also squeezing in a brief audition period
beginning at 4:30 at the Visitor Bldg lobby front to
cast two upcoming productions.
Monday Sept. 6 is the date for the much-anticipated
concert by the fabulous and famous Sons of the Pioneers
who will present a show of just under 2 hrs followed by
an autograph and photo session with the audience. The
groups latest CDs will also be available for purchase.
VIP tickets are sold out but some general seating tickets
The Josey Ranch and Its Competitors Don’t Hold Back at the Josey Jr World The Josey Ranch continues to bring in the best from around the world for the 41st Annual Josey Jr. World
MARSHALL, TX – While most sporting events around the world are seeing a decline in participation and attendance, the 41st Annual Josey Jr. World continued to be a “Must Go To” event in barrel racing as 294 contestants from 16 states competed to take home the title in Marshall, Texas on August 13-15. This annual event is the oldest open to the world youth barrel race and has attracted top youth competitors who have gone on to have successful careers in the sport.
The Josey Jr. World is open to barrel racers 20 years old and under and runs in a 4D (or Divisional) format, which allows every competitor an opportunity to earn money. For all of the Josey events, the format for the qualifying rounds is to drag every five draws, big pack every 50, and reverse the order for the second go so that every competitor has an equal opportunity on the ground. The Joseys set the standard when it comes to taking care of the ground for its competitors.
The Med Vet Pharmaceuticals 1st go on Friday and AIP Energy 2nd go on Saturday were qualifying rounds giving each contestant two chances to make it to the Big Tex Championship SHOOT OUT on Sunday. Tristan Bowles from Gainesville, Texas riding Short Okie Lena placed sixth in the Second Go on Saturday with 16.474 before taking the 1D title on Sunday with a time of 16.097. Eight-year-old Charlie Raye Sohrt from Manvel, Texas had the fastest time on Friday before finishing reserve champion on Little Dash Priest with a time of 16.239 on Sunday.
Mckenna Caudle from Horatio, Arkansas finished first in the 2D riding Toxic Tango with a 16.625, Faith Terry from New Waverly, Texas finished first in the 3D riding Mr JB 118 with a time of 17.105 and Kalyn Albright from Tomball, Texas riding Blue Eyed Beauty finished first in the 4D with a time of 18.163.
Last year’s Josey Jr. World winner, Mallory McGee, qualified in the first go with a fast time of 16.395 for the finals on Sunday, but took a no time with a barrel down. Watching her ride was an inspiration to everyone in attendance as she is currently suffering from an eye injury that has left her legally blind.
“It’s incredible to see a competitor like Mallory fight through the challenges that have been coming at her over the last year,” Martha said. “We are proud to call her a Josey kid.”
With Great sponsors like AIP Energy, Wards Restaurants, Draw it Out, Davis Chemical, and Pietro’s Pizza of Marshall contestants ran for a $10,000 added money barrel race. Support of national and local sponsors like Big Tex Trailers, Circle Y Saddles, Med Vet Pharmaceuticals, Purina, Priefert Ranch and Rodeo Equipment, and the Marshall/Harrison County Chamber of Commerce Martha and R.E. Josey had many super prizes this year. Plus, a Big Tex Trailer was awarded to the 1D winner, with a Circle Y Saddle, Shea Michelle custom belt buckle, an American hat, and 500 pounds of Purina feed given to each of the D winners. They also received other sponsor prizes from Med Vet Pharmaceuticals (MVP), custom 5 Star saddle pads, Draw It Out product, Flair Strips, and much more.
Four more competitors also came out winners as recipients of the annual scholarships awarded during the Josey Jr. World. The Carol Hall Adams Scholarship was given to Jasleigh Montagne, with Sarah Buck earning the Josey Ranch Scholarship and Aly Jurica receiving the Joyce Barney Scholarship, and the Shirley Webb Scholarship was awarded to Kaitlyn Foster. The recipient of the annual “Mom Arthur” award that honors Martha’s mother, was presented to Jami Kay Garrison by Oakley Kay Ellis. The final award was the “Cebe Reed Horse with the Most Heart” honoring Martha’s great horse Cebe Reed, who won 52 consecutive barrel races and seven horse trailers. The choices were so difficult this year the committee decided to honor two great horses. The winners this year were Little Man owned and ridden by Hadlee Huckabee from De Berry, Texas and Little Dash Priest (AKA Snoopy) owned and ridden by Charley Raye Sohrt of Manuel, Texas.
There’s always more than just world class competition at the Josey Jr. World. On Friday night former Josey student and former Jr. World competitor, and the youngest NBHA world champion barrel racer, Chancie Neal, took the stage on Friday night to put on a show for the competitors, their families and the Marshall community. Neal is a platinum-selling songwriter, opened for Luke Bryan for seven years and is featured on his current album that was nominated for an ACM Award. She kicked off her show with her signature song, “Rodeo Money”, but it wasn’t her typical performance when she was joined on stage by the voice of the Josey Ranch, Randy Adams, who is featured on the recorded version of the song. Adams wowed the crowd, and Neal, when he provided live calls during the song that were reminiscent of Neal’s days running barrels on the ranch. Neal later called her sister, Chesnie, up on the stage to play guitar and sing one of their favorite songs, “Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys”.
Following in her sister’s footsteps in music and barrel racing, Chesnie qualified for the finals on Sunday.
“I grew up on the Josey Ranch, so this will always be home to me,” Neal said. “What I learned from Mrs. Martha and R.E. not only taught me how to be a champion barrel racer, but a champion in life.”
In addition to the concert that was held during the Fish Fry, the Josey Ranch staff kept everyone entertained throughout the weekend with activities for the whole family, including the NBHA stick horse barrel race, Rope and Run competition, Draw it Out Pony Race, and the hula hoop contest. More fun was provided by the special guest of the weekend, Abby Poole, Miss Rodeo Texas Teen who also presented the flag during the National Anthem each day. With everything going on at the ranch, visitors were able to unplug from the world to enjoy time with the people around them because when you come to the ranch, you become part of the Josey Family.
Plans are underway for the 42nd annual Josey Jr. World with the event moving back to the traditional time in May of 2022.
Jefferson’s first ever Pioneer Days celebration will feature a very unique look for the parade which is scheduled for 10 am on Saturday, Sept. 4.
Making up the entrants for the parade are horse-back riders and wagon riders representing the earliest days of village traffic during Jefferson’s founding period in the early 1840s to the next century when the city grew into one of Texas’ busiest river ports. No motorized vehicles will be permitted in the parade and it is now being opened to youngsters who wish to pretend a little and ride their stick horses and lead the parade, It just so happens that the committee has four stick horses available for the youngsters. They, too, will be wearing outfits reminiscent of an earlier period of cowboys and will have a slightly shorter route than the horse-
back riders and wagons and will be lined up at the very front to lead the parade.
A local store has a few stick horses for sale in the toy department should anybody wish to purchase one. A trophy and a prize will be presented to the person who best represents the pioneer days with their costume.
Following the parade at 11 am, the re-creation of an actual cut- and- shoot incident that happened in the wagon yard of the city in 1906 will be staged.
The incident had to do with the arrest of one of the city’s constables by the Sheriff, W. S. Terry. It will occur in about the same area as the original happened many decades ago. The notorious event was related to descendants of the Brown twins, Horace and George, when they were both well up in years.
The late Dorothy Brown Craver interviewed her uncle George and was told the story while her daughter, Marcia Thomas, conversed with her grandfather Horace about the shooting and many other happenings that occurred during the wild and still somewhat lawless days after the turn of the century. The re-enactment
will be acted by Players board member Jim Blackburn, a retired Collin County sheriff’s department employee and certified law enforcement investigator who will use a genuine holstered pistol and blanks. The other party, Proctor, will be played by Players actor and current general manager of KTAL-TV Mark McKay who is also now a resident of the city. It will be portrayed
at least twice more on Saturday at times to be announced in the wagon yard location. It will likely be performed again on Sunday, Sept 5, at the Dutch Over Cooks and Barbeque food event with entertainment at the boat launch on the riverfront.
At 6 pm on Saturday, a street dance will be held featuring the award-winning country band Sheila and the Caddo Kats. The dance will be set up on Austin Street near Polk Street and run down to Walnut Street. Some chairs will be available for on-lookers and participants and the music will be the old early country tunes of yesteryear including some from Hank Williams
among others. A trophy and a prize will be given to the person whose costume most represents authentic pioneer days attire. All activities on Saturday and Sunday are free to attend.
A concert by the famous singing group the Sons of the Pioneers is
scheduled for 3 pm on Monday, Sept. 6 at the Visitor Center. Although VIP tickets are sold out, there are still some general seating tickets left but purchases should be made as soon as possible since the seating is somewhat limited. There are no plans to sell tickets are the door at this time. Tickets are $25 and may be purchased at The Willow Tree or online at http://www.JeffersonOperaHouseTheatrePlayers.com
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Chasing The Reunion Championship The weekend recap from The 28th Annual Josey Ranch Reunion
MARSHALL, TX – To Josey students there is one title that holds a special significance, and that is the Josey Reunion Championship. The 28th annual Josey Reunion is hosted every year in Marshall Texas, by World Champions R.E. and Martha Josey. This annual event draws contestants from across the world to compete as Josey Students in the Reunion Barrel Race.
This year the ranch hosted 431 contestants from 15 different states. For some this is a title they chase every year, including Waskom barrel racer Sheryl Gamboa.
Gamboa has been attending Josey Clinics since she was eight years old and has run in the Josey Reunion for many years. In 2020 she claimed the Josey Reunion Reserve Championship title, but this year she was after the Championship. Riding her four-year-old partner, Starrin Baby Rose, Gamboa claimed the title with a 16.154 in the Purina Shoot Out.
Before the championship runs action began Thursday night with the merican Hat Company 3D Pole Bending competition. Contenders charged down the Josey alleyway for their chance at the Pole Bending Championship and a set of Josey Pole Bases. Aspen Grant from Buna, TX riding PC Frosted Freedom claimed the champion title with a 20.452.
The Josey Reunion Barrel Race had 431 entries from 16 states vying for the Champion title with the champion taking home a Big Tex trailer. Each Division winner received a Shea Michelle custom belt buckle, Circle Y saddle, an American hat, and 500 pounds of Purina feed. They also received other sponsor prizes from Med Vet Pharmaceuticals (MVP), custom 5 Star saddle pads, Draw It Out product, Flair Strips, and much more.
At Josey events the format for the qualifying rounds is to drag every 5 draws, big pack every 50, and reverse the order for the second go. “This format is not designed to run 50+ every hour,” stated Josey announcer Randy Adams from Cookeville, TN. “It is designed to give every contestant an equal opportunity on the ground instead of it being just a draw contest”.
The championship barrel races at the Josey Ranch were the first to drag at less than 10 runners, and the first place to use more than one tractor in the arena.
As the sun rose each morning over the piney woods of East Texas, the Josey Reunion started the day as they always do, by flying the Stars and Stripes and an opening prayer followed by the National Anthem. Colors were presented by Amanda Schenck, a member of the Six White Horses Drill Team from Hardin Simmons University in Abilene, TX.
The Circle Y Saddlery first round action was intense and saw former Reunion champion Pete Oen from Maysville, OK take the top two qualifying spots, first was on VC Go Go Fling with a time of 16.021, the fastest time of the weekend, 2nd in the 1st Division was Pete Oen riding Margarita Red Rita with a time of 16.215.
Day two of qualifying was sponsored by Priefert Rodeo and Ranch Equipment and started with “America, Why I Love Her” by John Wayne and the flag was presented by Miss Rodeo Texas Bobbi Loran from Scotland, TX. This was followed by the opening prayer and our National Anthem. When the dust settled, Brynn Hinton from Waxahachie, TX riding Legs Gone Wild stopped the clock at 16.148 for the top spot.
Steve Tucker, President of Circle Y Saddlery, presented Martha Josey a commissioned original painting of Martha making a competition run matted by hand tooled leather and a medallion, to commemorate Martha’s induction into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, CO. and in appreciation of all she and R.E have done for the sport of barrel racing.
Saturday wrapped up with a pony barrel race sponsored by Draw It Out. Harper Knuckles and her pony G-ray took the title with a 17.374. The pony race was followed by a new event – Rope and Run. Rope and Run is a team event with one person roping a dummy calf from the Priefert Speed Trainer then the other partner running a condensed barrel pattern. Time starts when the roper nods and stops when the runner crosses the finish line. While not a rodeo event this was fun for contestants and spectators alike. Brianna Woodmansee and Austin McCalister took the first annual Rope ‘N’ Run Championship title.
Championship Sunday always begins with a church service in the main arena followed by the awarding of scholarships. This year the scholarships were in honor of; Sandy Smith awarded to Dandy Smith, Thomas Mitchell awarded to Jaden Thomas, and Bobby Arthur awarded to Ashton Padon. There was also the presentation of the Sonny Bit O’ Both Horse with the Most Heart
Award. This year’s recipient was DC Dualin Eagles (Cujo) owned and ridden by Faith Gilbreath.
For the Championship Purina Shootout on Sunday the qualifiers from the previous 2 days run from the slowest qualifying time to the fastest. In this format to ensure each contestant has the best possible ground the arena crew drags every 2 draw positions. The short go is a “clean slate” barrel race with no times carried forward from the qualifying rounds.
Following the presentation of Johnny Cash’s “The Ragged Old Flag” and the opening prayer, Keaton Bradberry sang our National Anthem as Miss Rodeo Texas Bobbi Loran presented the colors.
145 qualifiers from 12 different states competed with the title on the line in the Purina Shootout. Last year’s reunion reserve champion, Sheryl Gamboa from Waskom, TX riding Starrin Baby Rose took the lead with 38 competitors left and held on to claim the title. The 2nd Division champion was Bryana Woodmansee from Preston Park, PA with a time of 16.669 aboard AH Miss Cowgirl. The 3rd Divison was won by Catherine Medlock on Eye N Easy. The El Dorado, AR cowgirl stopped the clock at 17.183 for the win. The 4th Division champion title went to the Bluegrass State as Rilee Leasor from Rineyville, KY riding Cesico stopped the clock in a time of 18.276.
It was a great weekend of competition, reuniting with old friends and making new friends – everything a reunion is supposed to be. “Martha and I always try to keep up with our students and their accomplishments both in and out of the arena,” explained R.E. Josey. “Once you are a ‘Josey Kid’ you are always one of ours”. Plans are underway for the 29th annual Josey Ranch
Reunion Roundup as the event will move back to the traditional time in May of 2022.
Recently, on a Friday night, we decided to visit McGarity’s Restaurant located off the lobby of the Clarion Pointe Hotel in Marshall, Texas. Ron asked me to make reservations and I rolled my eyes. I thought, a new restaurant, and early reservations. HA! But I did.
Unfortunately there was a mixup with our reservation but we were quickly seated in an area off the lobby and a waitress took our drink order. As we sat waiting for our table I noticed a line of people forming and I’m very glad we had reservations.
If you are looking for a quiet, intimate place to have a drink, this isn’t it. There is nothing in the area to absorb the noise. However, lots of people enjoy a lively bar atmosphere and if you are checking out or in, you would never notice. We did not have long to wait for our table.
When I asked for the wine list, our waitress said she would bring the menus. She meant menus. One for beer, one for cocktails and one for wine. I ordered a Chardonnay from New Zealand made by Oyster Bay. Ron chose an Ecco Domani Merlot. The restaurant has such a large variety they might consider serving flights of wine or beer to pair with their Charcuterie board.
The appetizer menu was tantalizing as was the dessert menu. However we both ordered the same thing…seared ahi tuna, asparagus and a salad. All were perfect.
The service was polite, timely and attentive.
As you can see my review is quite limited because both of us ordered the same item. On our next trip we will share an appetizer, order different entrees and share a dessert.
Check this site out for results of our next trip to McGarity’s.
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The years between 1970 and 1975 were the most enjoyable working years of my life. I had completed my masters degree at UC, Berkeley and returned to Mare Island Naval Ship. I was putting my education to use.
On my first day back at the shipyard, I scheduled an appointment with the new Chief Design Engineer. I asked him to transfer me from the Scientific Section to the Engineering Computer Applications Section. I told him I had heard they had an opening in the group and I thought I would be more useful to the shipyard in that position. He agreed and I was in a new office the next day.
I loved this job. I had the opportunity to write computer software to solve many engineering and engineering management problems. There was a lot of demand for this service and by 1973 my customer base had expanded from the Design Division to several other departments.
At some point that year I got a call from one of the nuclear managers on the shipyard. He asked me to come to his office. I met with a group of five managers. They explained the shipyard had a problem. They said that the shipyard had difficulty maintaining the proper levels of special purpose handling gear (SPHG) and the problem had come to the attention of the Naval Reactors Office (NRO).
SPHG are clamps, cables, etc. used during the refueling of the nuclear reactors on submarines in overhaul. Since there is no room for error on a nuclear lift every piece of SPHG has to be recertified on a periodic schedule.
These nuclear managers wanted a computer program that could determine the proper inventory level for each type of SPHG and manage the recertification schedules. What could I recommend?
I had recently returned to the shipyard from two weeks of numerical analysis training at the University of Michigan. The instructor had spent 4-hours on computer simulation.
Without much thought I told them that I recommended an inventory control program to manage the recertification process. To determine the proper inventory levels I recommended a simulation program to simulate all of the nuclear lifts scheduled for the shipyard during the next year. To address overhaul slips and other factors I said that a random number generator could be used. I suggest making multiple simulation runs and collecting the detailed results from each run. Finally using statistical analysis techniques to establish an inventory level range for each type of SPHG.
The managers liked the solution. They asked if I could write the software and how long would it take?
I said “yes” and “3 months to complete.”
They said “start work tomorrow with unlimited overtime available.”
I was sure I could do it even though I had never written software to do more than 50% of what I had promised.
The next day I started my 12+hr day, 7 day a week schedule. Most of those 12 hour days were close to 16 hour but I was 30 years old and never got tired.
By the end of week three the inventory control system was complete and working as advertised. It was put into production.
I next started on the simulation software. By week 8, I was confident the project was going to be a success. I thought I was making good progress.
Then I got a call from one of the nuclear managers. He said that the Mare Island’s NRO representative had briefed Adm. Rickover on the project. He then said that when Rickover learned that the solution to the problem included using a computer simulation the “shit hit the fan.” Rickover told the NRO representative to tell Mare Island to kill the project immediately.
The nuclear manager told me to stop work that day. He said not to bother saving any of the software because it would ever be used as long as Rickover was around.
I was disappointed but not particularly surprised. Rickover was widely known to distrust computers and often threw temper tantrums when hearing something he did not like.
As the years have gone by I have thought about my solution to this problem many times. Today, I want to publicly thank Adm. Rickover for killing this project. He may have saved my career.
Over time I began to question if I could have successfully written all the simulation software. I am even less sure about the statistical analysis software.
If the shipyard managers had told Rickover they had a solution and spent thousands of dollars working on the solution and failed, heads would have rolled. The first head to reach the bottom of the hill would justifiably have been Ron Munden’s.
Since the project was killed after the inventory control software was put into production, everyone, including me, assumed that the rest would go as smoothly. Everyone in the Shipyard thought my solution would have solved the problem if Richover had not killed the project. By phone, several of the nuclear managers thanked me for my work. Of course there was nothing in writing.
I walked away with my reputation intact and lived to program another day. Thank you Adm. Rickover for saving me from myself.
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George Smith has opinions and he shares them on the website.
Dr. Jim Harris provides frequent updates and the COVID pandemic. His work has been amazing and the community is lucky to have this resource working for us. All his reports are posted on the website. Stay informed by reading his articles.
NOTE: Information in this document is drawn from the historical research of Dr. John Tennison. His sources can be found on his comprehensive website http://www.bowofo.org/
Probably, the first boogie woogie ever played was in a logging camp barrelhouse in the Piney Woods near Marshall. Pianos were often placed in these temporary sheds to keep workers entertained and in the camps at night. Steam locomotives were a constant presence and no doubt strongly influenced the recently emancipated African Americans who were developing their own unique styles of playing …
Please read this interesting story and view the historic photographs by clicking on one of the links below.
This was a bird we had happily observed since he was a fledgling, just out of the nest and flitting about experimentally, learning his wings. He was instantly recognizable. If we had been presented with a lineup of ten similar juvenile Cardinals we would have picked him out in a heart beat.
The perky little crest atop his head, the way he cocked his head this way and that, checking things out, the way in a split second he could bound up and away in perfect, swift flight from the roof of our porch outside our bedroom window into a clutch of trees and bushes in front of our house. Zip, he was a streak, effortlessly darting from our porch to tree limbs and beyond.
He had character. He was unique. He was interested in us.
We are assured he was singularly recognizable because we had other Cardinals in our front yard from time to time. But none had ever alit on our front porch close to our bedroom window. This one had, several times.
We felt sure around a year earlier we had seen the mating pair of Cardinals who had produced this young male. They didn’t hang around but we saw them often enough, high in our front yard trees that we knew they were nesting there. When we first observed the fledgling male, our Cardinal, his less colorful mother was always close by, and watchful.
Around this time our interest in this specific and beautiful young Cardinal began to increase. We were mildly aware and began to reflect on the belief many have that Cardinals may represent the spirit if not the persona of a loved one who has died.
We were in that sad category. Our son had died at the age of 27 four years earlier. Our grief had never subsided although we strained day by day to carry on in ways we thought appropriate to his memory and to family and friends.
And then, after this time of unrelenting grief, often to the porch roof outside our bedroom window came this beautiful young bird. The Cardinal. The Red Bird.
He came often enough that we could recognize and register his development from a fledgling to a juvenile and now to a young adult. First just learning to fly, with his mother close by. Then alone, spirited, eager. He would hop along the top of the front porch, pecking for seeds or insects, then of a sudden propel himself up with a flutter of wings before shooting off over the lawn and into the trees and bushes so quickly we couldn’t see where he lit. His every movement was a fascination to us.
More than a few times he approached the exterior window in our bedroom, alighting on the sill of our double-paned glass and screen looking out over our porch and front yard. My fascination with him became more mysterious when I came to believe that this young Cardinal was intent on making some kind of connection with us. Again, I reflected on the commonly held belief that red birds, Cardinals in particular, might represent in some unfathomable way the spirit of a lost loved one.
I did not dwell on that concept. Our son was precious, powerful, a genius, a very special person. We are open minded about what might constitute the afterlife. But I did not see any way to connect this beautiful young bird’s behavior to the wonderful young son we had lost.
Then one day something happened that caused my attitudes and beliefs to tumble astray. I went outside early one day to get into my truck to drive to the grocery store. My truck was parked adjacent to my wife’s car, off the driveway and shrouded on one side by shrubs and bushes. I had backed my truck up toward the garage in order to load some refuse for the dump. When I went to open the door I saw the young Cardinal flitting around in the bushes on the other side of my truck. It was the closest I had been to him without a window between us.
Again, he seemed to be inquisitive, not wary. Before getting in my truck I held out my hand and fingers, gently beckoning him to come to me. I remembered my grandmother and her parakeet Petey who would perch on her fingers and peck a kiss on her lips. Although he would not perch on my hand, he didn’t fly away but continued to hop around the bushes by the driveway. So I got inside my truck and lowered the window to continue watching him. I sat still without starting the engine. After a moment or two, the Cardinal hopped out of the bushes and perched atop the rear view mirror on the passenger side, his head cocked, his eyes looking straight across the seat at me. I thought, My God, he’s going to come inside the truck. He wants to go for a ride the way our dogs do.
I held out my finger at arm’s length, reaching within a foot or two of him, hoping he could see it as another perch and hop on in. He turned his head from side to side as if reconnoitering the situation, as if considering whether to come to me. But after a few seconds, the Cardinal flipped off the mirror back onto the bushes, then flapped his wings as if to dust them off, rose clear of the bushes and flew into the branches of a large tree in the front yard. He still seemed to be watching me as I quietly opened the door and got out to get a better look at him. Then he dove out of the tree and sailed away.
As I drove onto the street I was troubled by wondering if I should no longer doubt the idea that in some way, large or small, there was some afterlife connection between this Cardinal, this Red Bird, and our lost son.
During the several winter months that passed we saw our young Cardinal often enough that we could recognize his growth and development. From the window in our second story bedroom we looked out over the roof of the front porch. There were often a few sparrows pecking at seeds and insects that fell from the limbs of a large gum tree nearby. Occasionally, our young Cardinal would alight on the porch roof too, hopping systematically from one end to the other, pecking the gravelly rooftop, even drinking from small puddles after a shower. He was no longer accompanied by any other Cardinal, and he seldom lingered. Squirrels would also sometimes bound across the roof, making acrobatic leaps from the roof to tree limbs. But twice, while I was stretched on our bed reading or watching television, I was surprised to see our Cardinal perched on the window sill looking through the glass at me. He would take a look then hop off the sill and fly back into the trees.
Then came bad weather. Snow and ice and sub zero temperatures that are rare in our part of northeast Texas. Pipes burst, we went without water in the house for days. We saw very few birds for weeks and we did not see our Cardinal.
To make plumbing repairs, portions of the walls in our laundry room and a bathroom were removed. A three foot square of tile flooring in the kitchen was also taken up. Several parts of the exterior brick outside the kitchen were knocked out. A ten foot wooden chase covering water pipes leading to an upstairs bathroom from the patio had to come down. Many houses in town suffered similar difficulties and plumbers were hard to come by. It was an agonizing four weeks before finally all the busted pipes were replaced and hot and cold water were restored throughout the house. Then repairs to walls and floors began.
Some of these repairs I was able to undertake myself after acquiring a few necessary tools. Others, such as replacing the flooring over the hole in the kitchen floor would have to wait until a craftsman was available, and all were booked up for weeks.
Late one afternoon I was installing new shelving in the laundry room after having patched the wall and moving the washer and dryer back into place. This is not a room, actually, just a nook off the hallway, only a few steps to the door to the garage. Much of the prep work I was doing in the garage, with the garage door open. When I finished screwing the last of the shelves into the wall, it was twilight time, and rapidly growing dark. I pressed the button to lower the garage door and when it began to move I noticed a flutter of wings and the Cardinal flew off the rail it had been resting on and perched atop the frame of a large topographical map of California hanging on the back wall. I raised the double wide garage door to full open again and waited to see what the Cardinal would do.
Usually, if a bird is inside the garage or the house, when a door or window is opened and you stir around, the bird will dive outside and fly away. But not this time. Our Cardinal was in no hurry to leave and I was in no particular hurry for him to do so. At least, not until Nancy had seen him. I closed the hallway door and went upstairs to get her. She followed me into the garage and we watched the Cardinal and he watched us.
Like many people, we’ve had small birds become semi-trapped in the garage and inside the house more than a few times in the twenty-odd years we have lived here. Because we sometimes leave the door from the kitchen to the back yard open for our dogs to come and go, it was not too unusual for a sparrow or a finch to get inside. Before Nancy blocked the chimney in the unused fireplace, swifts would sometimes get inside and flutter about. Typically, when we realized a bird was in the house the bird would try to hide. They would tuck themselves behind blinds or curtains. We always followed the same procedure. While they were hiding we would close all the doors to the room they were in, then open a door or window to the outside. Then we would sneak up on the bird where it was hiding. Sometimes we could catch it in our hands and take it outside before turning it loose. When we were unable to catch the bird, our movements would stir it up enough that it would fly around the room and eventually find the open door or window.
Because the garage door is so large and wide, when it is opened birds seldom need more than a few seconds to find their way out. We had this experience dozens of times with other birds. But our Cardinal refused to fly lower than a foot or so from the ceiling when he made his way around the garage. He did not seem stressed or injured and we felt a responsibility to get him outside instead of staying trapped in our garage all night. We tried lifting broom sticks and waving a towel to encourage him to leave. But nothing worked. I puttered around in the garage, putting up tools, waiting for the Cardinal to decide to leave. He remained perched on either the map frame or atop the garage door motor, watching me.
It was now quite dark outside. In every case I could remember when a bird was trapped inside the house or garage, the bird would become panicky. They would become stressed and bump into walls or the ceiling before finding their way out or getting caught by us. This was not the case with our Cardinal. He showed very little signs of agitation. If anything, he seemed to express displeasure when I made movements to encourage him to leave. So I gave up and decided to leave the garage door wide open and go inside and leave him alone. I expected he would become bored without me meddling around and would depart within a few minutes.
Half an hour or so later I opened the hallway door to the garage and there was our Cardinal, perched on the map frame. He didn’t move until I approached the back wall and then he only flew to the top of the open garage door, then back again to the frame. The ceiling of our garage is 12 feet high. The garage is stuffed, cluttered with tools and boxes of stuff, impossible to move freely around. I felt a strong necessity to coax him outside lest he injure himself. But nothing I could do would cause him to fly below the top of the garage door. When he perched to rest he seemed to look carefully at me and I looked thoughtfully at him. The idea that Cardinals appear to represent the spirit of a lost loved one wrapped tightly around me.
Yet I knew that this beautiful young bird that we had been observing since he left the nest could not survive if he remained trapped too long in our garage. As I looked through the open door to the darkness outside it occurred to me that the contrast between the bright fluorescent light inside the garage and the darkness outside the door might be an impediment to his escape. I knew that he could see. He didn’t fly into walls. He always seemed to know where he was and what he was doing. It could be that he didn’t like the idea of flying out of a brightly lit space into a dark one. So I turned off the garage lights, left the garage door wide open, and closing the hallway door behind me went upstairs to prepare for bed.
Another half hour or so I figured the Cardinal had had enough time to find his way out, so I went downstairs, opened the door to the garage and reached for the wall switch inside and turned on the bright garage overhead lights. There he was, still perched on the map frame. It was getting late, I was ready to go to bed, I didn’t want to leave the garage door open all night because in our neighborhood we some times have coyotes, other wildlife such as raccoons and possums, and other creatures I didn’t want inside. I needed some kind of net, like the big mouth fishing net I no longer had because it had gone with the boat when I sold it after our son died. So I scouted around and found some plastic net-like material I had used in a project. I tried to fashion an opening with baling wire and taped it to a broom handle. It was not long enough for me to reach the Cardinal and my efforts to get him to fly within reach were unsuccessful. I worried more now about stressing this beautiful bird. I decided to turn off the garage lights and leave the door open again, hoping this time he would make his way to the outside.
About one hour later I was ready for bed. Nancy was already asleep bundled up under sheets and covers. I went downstairs again, opened the hallway door to the garage, and turned on the fluorescent lights. All was still and quiet. I moved around a little, scanning, searching. No sign of our young Cardinal. The open garage door and lights off strategy had worked! He had found his way outside and all was well.
I closed the garage door and the hallway door, poured myself a nightcap and went upstairs to our bedroom. I felt all was well and the Cardinal was nestled somewhere safely in the tree limbs, safe in the element where he belonged. I felt good. I felt we had experienced something special, a prolonged visitation from a bird we had been keeping our eyes on.
I put on pajamas, brushed my teeth, and settled into my side of the bed with the lamp on while I took my nightly vitamins. I picked up a magazine to read for a few minutes before drifting off to sleep. As I tried to read, I found myself having to re-read a sentence I had just looked at. Something seemed to be interfering with my concentration, even with my self awareness. It was that feeling we sometimes get when we sense someone or something is looking at us. I dropped the magazine and sank my head deeper into the pillow and as I looked up there was our Cardinal, perched on a blade of the ceiling fan above our bed, looking down at us.
There he was, in our bedroom. How he got into the house from the garage and then upstairs into our room I had no idea. Except that it was obvious that he had to have entered through the hallway door while it was open. This is a narrow passageway and it was hard to imagine that a bird could have entered through that doorway while I was standing there or nearby without my noticing, but he had. Even harder to imagine is why the Cardinal, once inside the house with access to five rooms downstairs and five more on the second floor should choose to navigate into our bedroom and alight on the ceiling fan above our bed.
It was beginning to feel surrealistic, supernatural. Could it be anything but true that the Cardinal refused to leave the garage and then followed me upstairs to our bedroom because he wanted to be with us?
I woke Nancy and told her we had a visitor in our bedroom. She was a bit hazy for a moment, not sure what had caused me to wake her, so I explained that our young Cardinal was no longer in the garage (oh, good) but wait, he was in our house, in our bedroom, perched now not on the ceiling fan but on the frame of a painting I had made of our son, hanging above our bed. As she looked up and saw the Cardinal, she smacked wide awake and stepped out of the bed to help me shut the doors to the hallway, the bathroom, and her office, confining him in our bedroom, although in retrospect that seems hardly necessary. He was not interested in going anywhere. We pulled up the blinds to a window, opened it, and removed the screen and storm window, opening a clear and wide path to the night outdoors. While we were doing these things, the Cardinal watched us, somewhat critically it seemed, cocking his head to one side and then the other. I picked up a pair of pajama bottoms and stood on the bed where I could reach the ceiling, which is much lower than the ceiling of the garage. Then he began a regular circuit around the room, always eluding me. He would flit from the portrait of Barney to a door to Nancy’s closet, then to the curtain rod above the windows, then back to the ceiling fan, and again to the picture frame. Every time I was close enough to grab him, he popped up out of reach and took another perch. None of our efforts could coax him to fly out the open window. Finally, when he alit on the curtain rod while I was standing nearby I was able to capture him in my pajama bottoms. I held him softly in my hand a few moments while we looked him over, admiring his beauty and noticing how unstressed, how unworried he seemed to be. Goodbye little Cardinal, we said to him, come back again to visit, but now it is time for you to go home and to sleep. I extended my arms outside the open window, opened my hands, and he took off into the night. We were relieved. We smiled and congratulated each other and prepared to get back in bed. But before I could close the window, our Cardinal flew back into the room.
Once again he perched on a blade of the ceiling fan, occasionally alternating to perch atop the frame of the portrait of Barney. Again we tried a few times to encourage him back to the open window or to alight where I might catch him with my pajamas. It could not have been more clear that he was determined to stay in our room. So we decided to leave the window open, turn off the lights, and go to sleep. If our young Cardinal wanted to spend the night with us even though the window was open, who were we to deny him. As I dozed off with a small night light on next to the bed the last thing I saw before my eyes shut for the night was the beautiful young Cardinal perched above us on the ceiling fan blade. Perfectly calm. Like us, he appeared to be resigned to settle in for the night and leave things as they were.
It was our hope, if not expectation, that with all the lights off in our bedroom and adjoining rooms, and with three dogs sleeping in Nancy’s office, and with a large window wide open to the front yard, that young Mister Cardinal would at some point hop to the window sill and fly away. As I fell into sleep it occurred to me how odd it was that during all the tussling around we had done and with the Cardinal fluttering from one place to another in our room, none of our dogs had shown any interest at all. I was sure that when we woke in the morning he would be gone. He had been outside that window once. It was familiar territory, a familiar escape route. He had been out a short distance, looped, and flown back inside. He was determined to remain with us for a while, clearly. Perhaps he simply was waiting to see us go safely to sleep before he left.
To our surprise, both Nancy and I slept soundly the entire night. No bathroom breaks, no stirring around to see if our Cardinal was still in the room. We are early risers, but this morning we slept until half past six. When we awakened and turned on the lights the first thing we saw was our Cardinal, still perched on the fan blade where he had been when we went to sleep.
We had things to do, places to go. Weather was changing. The temperature outside was dropping as a cold front moved in and rain was expected. We couldn’t leave the window open all day while we were gone. As much as we would have loved having our Cardinal in our house all the time, we knew we could not keep him as a pet. His world was outside. We had watched him from his fledgling days, watched him grow into a healthy, beautiful juvenile on the cusp of adulthood. His colors were striking. He was sleek and healthy and obviously could make his way on his own outside. Had he appeared to be injured or sick, that would have been a different matter. But he was a perfect specimen of a young Cardinal. Our obligation was to get him safely outside where he belonged.
But there was still the metaphysical element to our Cardinal’s persistence in staying near us inside our home. He had had numerous opportunities to fly out of the garage. Instead of following me from the garage and up the stairs to our bedroom, he had numerous other paths to take. Any other bird in any other situation such as this one would have darted here and there throughout the house, not found his way up the stairs and across the upstairs hallway to the one of three bedrooms that was ours. It was impossible to deny that every action our Cardinal had taken from the moment he first appeared in our garage while I was working there was intended on being around us.
In spite of this deep feeling of affection and wonder, in spite of the thrilling experience of how he seemed to connect with us and our departed son, we knew that the only correct thing for us to do was to catch him and set him free outdoors as the morning sun began to rise. I thought about the net I had tried to fashion in the garage the night before. Where it failed, I thought, was in the flimsy opening I had made out of thin baling wire. My eyes fell upon an old coat hanger, a wire one, in the closet. Perfect. I got the netting and found a shorter stick in the garage and made a much better, short handled net using the bent coat hanger and duct tape.
With this newly perfected net, it turned out to be not so hard. Or perhaps our Cardinal realized the time had come for him to leave. My new net resembled a wind sock. At first the Cardinal resisted efforts to coax him into the net. So I held the net still at the top of the curtain rods and we talked to him, talked to him as we would talk to a human being, and he hopped off the ceiling fan and fluttered over to the curtains and into the net he went.
Because of our earlier experience when I released him outside the window only to see him fly back in, we pushed the net outside the window as far as it would go and let the bottom of the netting where he was contained rest on the porch roof. By holding the top of the net up, I created a clear passageway out of the net. He hopped to the clothes hanger rim, cocked his head at us as if to say farewell, then popped up, fluttered his wings, and zoomed off into the bright sunlit morning into the trees across the lawn. Later that day, I saw him briefly fly across the lawn, looking every bit like a healthy, happy bird enjoying life. We have not seen him again, four days later, but keep looking. He is a very special Cardinal and the experience he provided us was as magnificent as it was inexplicable.
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