Native Texan, visual artist and poet, Kay L. Cox is a retired art and family therapist. Her poems have been published in Sol Magazine, That Thing We Do, Map of Austin and the 2010 Texas Poetry Calendar. She was the winner of the 2008 Robert Clark Appreciation Award and a member of the Poetry Society of Texas, Gulf Coast Poets, the Austin Poetry Society, Spectrum Writers Guild and the Galveston Art League. She loves skinny vanilla lattes, puppy breath, and moonbeams but hates panty hose and housework.
Kay Cox will be a featured essay reader at Friendswood Public Library on Wednesday, February 29th at 7pm.
On Traveling from New Mexico to Houston
by Kay Cox
My husband and I love road trips. Late one spring we found ourselves on the way home from New Mexico through Clayton, N.M. and on into the panhandle of Texas. It was growing dark and, tired and hungry, we began to look for a place to spend the night.
Driving along Hwy. 287, we saw the lights of a small town ahead across the plains and soon we were in Kirkland, Texas following the directions on a sign advertising the Three Oaks Inn. The green neon sign in front announced “Vacancy” and with relief, we pulled in at the russet brick one-story building. Walking into the small lobby, we found a tiny grey-haired lady in her 60s behind the desk watching the small TV across the room next to a small table with a coffee pot and cups shining in the light of the TV.
“Hi, cain ah hep you?” she asked. We explained that we wanted a double for the night as she turned back to the weather report on the TV reporting tornadoes near Amarillo. “Goodness, I sure hope that it doesn’t come near here. Let’s see, how about I put you in the back away from the traffic noise,” she said. “Perfect,” answered my husband. Handing him the key, the woman told us, “There will be coffee here in the morning.”
We stashed our bags and turned on the AC to try to clear out the musty smell of the room. Obviously this motel was not booming with business. With roaring stomachs, we wandered back to the front desk for a dinner recommendation. The desk clerk interrupted her TV watching and pondered on what might still be open at 7:30 at night. She said that there was a good place next door that had good Mexican food and we could just walk over there. Sounded great to us and we headed for La Benito’s through their crowded parking lot.
We were immediately escorted to a booth across from a long buffet with enchiladas, tacos, rice, beans and some salad stuff. Looking around we saw only a few folk at tables and wondered about all the cars out front.
As we sat in our booth enjoying the buffet, we noticed more folks arriving, passing our booth and going to a door at the end of the booths and tables. Each time the door opened, we could hear a band playing. Something was definitely going on in the back room.
Finishing our dinner, we got up to pay our bill and asked the waitress about the back room. She explained that they had a band every Friday night and folks came to listen to the music and dance. She said we were welcome to go on back and join them, no cover charge. So we did.
As soon as we walked in, we were given a warm welcome and found a seat on the outskirts of the dance floor. The band consisted of 3 older men playing a guitar, a fiddle and drums, respectively, and they sounded pretty good. Looking around the room, the women outnumbered the men two to one and most were on the other side of 60. The women were all dressed up in their best dance outfits. One little woman who had to be 80 plus wore a bright red cowgirl shirt, a denim skirt and bright red cowboy boots. Another elegant woman with silver hair was beautifully dressed matching denim blouse and skirt with big diamond earrings and an enormous diamond ring. I learned later she was ninety…definitely a West Texas Grand Dame.
The group seemed happy to include us even in our rumpled travel clothes. Ken was especially popular (an “extra male”) and we danced a few rounds and sat down to have a beer. Some folk joined us to get our story but the dance floor was the focus.
As Ken and I two-stepped around the floor, I kept looking for a tip box or somewhere to leave some money for the band since there was no cover charge. Finally as tired travelers, we had had enough and Ken approached the lead singer of the band and asked him where we might leave some money. The guy cracked up and said, “I’ve heard of folks havin’ to pay to get in but I ain’t never heard of anyone paying to get out. You don’t owe us anything. We just play because we like to do it.” We left a few dollars anyway in a box of electrical cords.
The next morning, after packing the car, we went to the front desk to check out. Now there was a pretty blond woman in her forties with teased Texas big hair behind the desk. She greeted us warmly, offered coffee and asked about our stay. We told her about the wonderful time we had at the dance hall next door and about some of the people we met. She laughed and explained in a Texas drawl to match her hair, “Oh, honey, I know them all. I’m Billie Ruth, the local hair dresser, and they all come to me to get their hair done before the weekend. I know all about them, who is dancing with whom, everything. On Thursdays, they dance at the Senior Center at the church. Fridays, they dance here and then on Saturdays, they go out to the country club about 20 miles away. The ones that are still able to drive go around and pick the others up and they dance until about 10:30 and then head home. Last Halloween they all went to a big Halloween dance at the club and got all dressed up in costumes. I did their hair and they were something else, let me tell you. They didn’t get home until midnight and must have had a wild time because several of them called me early the next morning to fix their hair before they went to church.”
We have laughed over this little adventure and are just so glad that we took the time to meet these folks. I sometimes envy folks living in small rural towns; they get creative and generous with their entertainment.