On our most recent trip to Texas, I found myself in a car with my mother-in-law— twisting our way through the back roads of a hill country so vast and deep it seemed we should have been on the lookout for wild javelina and the shiny, keeled scales of snakes stretching their way across the road. The low rise and twist of cedar scrubs and live oak gave way to the slump of creek beds where cattle gained respite standing and unmoving in the wind-shifting shade where we drove.
We were delivering meals. This is something my mother-in-law does often and thankfully; driving the remoteness of Texas back roads so frequently, I feel she could take on each curve of the road with her eyes shut.
Our first stop was a mobile home owned by a gleeful woman in her eighties named Grace. Grace welcomes her company with all the warmth of the South and has a smile on her face unaffected by her inability to care for things like she used to. She is surrounded by photographs and items of her youth and her face looks younger than her years. She hangs onto conversation like thirst to water, and the silence is concrete when we leave.
There is an old bull rider who lives in a cozy ranch house of stone lived in by generations of cowboys. Its yard is a scene right out of Eight Seconds where Luke Perry and his lady get married under the suspended white string of lights swinging from the oversized pergola in the Texas breeze. There is a cove of Live Oaks like genealogists surrounding the house—they cast tricky, moveable shadows with the darting sun.
Several miles downwind, there is another ranch made of stone and its inhabitant a bent and thoughtful octogenarian who chronicles every whitetail buck he can see from his kitchen window. And like Grace whose face has yet to catch up, Maurice’s neat, upright print mismatches his age. He is still sharp and feisty and proud and amused by the life around him. He accepts the meal delivery most likely because of what comes with it. He shares his delight at the wild turkeys roaming his yard and has fashioned a gun stand on his kitchen counter directed towards its only window. He also cares for his ailing wife who rests without sound in a back room. And like the others when we leave, there is a silence that is concrete.
Last but not least, my mother-in-law delivers meals to a man named Joe. He anticipates her arrival by pulling a trolley (with which to carry his delivered food) down to the front of his driveway and he sits peacefully in a chair to wait for her. His big dogs idle in the shade; their apathy suggesting familiarity with their visitor. Joe wears ironed overalls and tucks what I’ve heard to be his long, wispy hair under his baseball cap. He has lived a long life, yet there is a quality about him that suggests innocence and purity. There is not much of a house where he hangs his hat, and so I think he must love that chair at the end of his driveway looking out over the space of the road and the trees and the wild. When Joe talks of race cars, his eyes explode with weightlessness as if he is the one soaring around chicanes as the crowd cheers him on. The sound of Joe pulling that trolley slowly up the driveway and out of our sight as we leave, is a heavy loneliness.
This Holiday season, I will inspire my children with the service of their grandmother. Grace and the Bull Rider, Maurice and Joe, will all make their way from the desolate backroads of Texas and take their seat at our Holiday table. In their spirit, we will seek out that sound of stillness and need, and pay it forward where and when we can.
To those who put smiles on the faces of the elderly; to those who give purpose to anyone in need no matter the season: thank you for reminding us of what it means to be human.