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Those Oreo cookies

Gentle readers, this is a story that I reflected on years ago. But like all good stories, I thought I would retell it for those who missed it. I, for one, always enjoy a good story no matter how many times I hear it. With that being said, off we go. I will have to take the long way around the barn to get to the cookies but there is a lot to tell before we get there. When I was in my early 20s and lived in Odessa, Texas, my best friend, Jan Brooks and I, decided we would make a float trip down the Rio Grande River that flowed through Big Bend National Park in the far reaches and south in West Texas. It was wild country back then and wilder now with all the Mexican cartels active in that region.

We had a friend drive us down to the border along with our two small rubber rafts, food supplies and all else we thought we would need. We first had to go to the ranger station and check in with them. They wanted to know how long we would be on the river, were we armed and where were we going to exit the river? They informed us there were lions, some bears, some bandits and really rough canyons we would be going through. They also told us they would fly (no kidding) over us every day to check on us. We were to signal we were okay by a simple wave. If not okay, wave a hat, or towel or something they could see we had in our hand.

The river was running slow as it had not received any rain and we had to row more than we wanted to. Our trip was to cover about 70 to 80 miles and traverse through two large canyons with the river being narrow and the canyon walls at 500 to 1,000 feet high and winding causing rapids in some areas.



The first couple of days were uneventful except for passing by a number of Mexican women doing their laundry in the river. We gave them a wave only to have their male counterparts run into the river and throw rocks at us “gringos.” They stopped when we produced our pistols. They looked very ragged and very, very poor. After we had gone through the first canyon and had covered a good many miles, we encountered a Mexican man and four of his boys, all mostly grown. Of course, they were on Mexico’s side but I wanted to ask them how far to Boquillas Canyon because once we cleared the canyon we would be not far from the Mexican village of Boquillas. Across from the village on the American side was a camp ground where we had access to a phone where we could call and have someone pick us up. I spoke no Spanish and understood absolutely nada! We slowly approached this crew and I ask, “Boquillas, how far?” The father pointed in the direction we were going and jabbered something I didn’t understand. I approached them and Jan stayed in the river with his pistol handy. They all were looking me over and a bullet, a 45 shell, fell out of my gun belt and one of the boys said, “cuatro cinco?” “Si,” I responded. The old man held out his hand and said, “pistola,” as if he wanted to examine my gun. Jan blurted out, “don’t you give him that pistol!” I pulled my pistol out and pointed it directly at the old man’s head. He fell back as did his sons and I know for sure he was telling me all was okay and he didn’t need to see my gun.

I got back in my raft, tossed them a can of peaches and told them adios. I have to tell you that was the poorest, most ragged looking folks I had ever seen. They were wearing tire treads for their shoes and their clothes were almost none at all. So poor, so sad, but we had to be cautious as he could have shot both of us and taken all we had. I figured that was why the rangers flew over us ever day as they promised.



We had fished from our rafts as we drifted down the river and caught nothing. I was getting tired of Vianna sausage, crackers, canned fruit and what not. I wanted meat. Late one evening we pitched camp at the mouth of Boquillas canyon and built a fire. As we prepared our evening meal of “whatever,” we noticed two young Mexican boys ride into the river on a burro. They saw us but paid us no mind. They rode around a large salt cedar bush and reappeared with a large catfish on a string. I thought “here’s our chance.” I snatched up a bag of Oreo cookies and yelled at them.

They looked over at us and I waved the cookies and motioned I would trade for the catfish. Here they came at a trot across the river. They rode into camp, threw the catfish at our feet, I handed them the cookies and away they went with the biggest grin ever. I always wonder what they told papa about no fish and tried to explain all those cookie crumbs on their little faces.

We had a good catfish dinner, slept good, made it through the canyon and to the campground where we called home and requested someone come get us. We were picked up the next day, went by the ranger station and thanked them for their concern and headed home. There was a lot more to tell about this trip but I don’t have the room to fit it all in. It was an adventure for sure and we were glad we went and came back with so many stories to tell.

I will say I saw so many poor folks along the way. We passed one little “house” with adobe walls on each side maybe 10 feet across and brush and salt cedars for the roof and no doors or windows. Inside in plain view was about seven or eight folks and a burro crowded into that little space. Hard to believe what I was seeing but I went home a changed man counting my blessings.

Stay tuned, check yer cinch on occasion, count your many blessings, and I’ll c. y’all, all y’all.

Mad Jack Hanks

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