Saturday morning I drove into Quitaque.
(It's pronounced "kitty-quay". There's a sign on the edge of town that verifies this for the uninitiated. It's supposed to be an Indian word meaning "end of the trail".)
We were camping again, and the state park is just four miles north of town. My brother and I were hungry, so we decided to cook. I opened up the brand new box of pancake mix proceeded to stir it up. The more I stirred, the more I thought something wasn't right.
"Eew! This stuff is full of weevils!"
Jonboy peered into the bowl. "Either that or this is a rice flour mix."
Ick. So I hopped in the truck and headed for town.
Quitaque has one itty bitty grocery store, which appeared to be deserted. To my surprise, the door was open. It's a grimy little store, not unlike the one I worked in all through high school. The elderly linoleum is peeling away from the floor in huge asbestos-y chunks. The lone freezer case chugs loudly and a "Caution: Wet Floor" sign marks - permanently - the puddle of its lifeblood that they have stopped trying to squeegee away.
I heard some scrumbling at the back and by the time I pushed the creaky basket down the second aisle, I was approached by what I wasn't sure was an employee. He smiled and asked, "How's it going?"
"So far, so good," I lied, not sure if he was someone I could inquire of as to the whereabouts of rice-free pancake mix. However, given the limited number of aisles - four - and my temerity in mercantile exploration - 'It's gotta be around here somewhere' - I knew I could find it one my own.
And I did. Aisle three. I headed towards the meat case in search of more bacon. You always need more bacon. It was there I was assured of my little friend's employment status while I pretended not to notice him leaning into the case and waving away any flies that might have congregated there.
He was a small wiry man, a little shorter than me, and probably in his late 50's. He wore a red bandanna wrapped tightly around his head and a mostly grey handlebar moustache. Pale blue eyes crinkled behind his little square Ben Franklin specs.
Scraggly blond ringlets hung out of the back of the doo-rag, reaching to just below his shoulders. I'd almost guarantee you that he was bald under the doo-rag. He also wore the ubiquitous Harley Davidson t-shirt.
When I got to the front, we both paused while he chose which of the two checker stands to use. I asked him if they sold firewood. He grinned and said "I'll give you the same spiel my boss does." He proceeded to tell me to drive south and find a two-story brick house. Turn east and look for the barn. When I find the barn, I have to go around behind it and find a big pile of junk wood. There is all kinds of wood there - logs, boards, junk of all kinds. After taking whatever I want, I was to return to the store and pay him what I thought it was worth. "My boss has some P.T. Barnum in him," he confessed.
"And I won't get shot?" I asked.
"No," he laughed. "That's just small town living for you."
"I know about small towns. That's why I asked."
He laughed again. "Yeah, I know what you mean. I was a bit culture shocked when I first came out here."
"Where are you from, originally?"
"Big Sur, California."
I put down my grocery bag, knowing I had to ask. "How the hell did you end up out here?"
He dropped his gaze and said sheepishly, "I was a minister. My wife and I came out here with another couple to work with the congregation here." With very little prompting, he told me his story.
Upon arriving in town he was ready to do some hard work to get the local congregation back on track. What he didn't know was that this group had problems that were more deep seated than he'd been led to believe. He said the assembly had been a dynasty.
"Ah," I said knowingly. "A one family show?"
"Yeah, same family had been running it since the congregation was founded in the 1930's." Despite their best efforts, they couldn't help the group and things fell apart. "I traveled 650,000 miles in a three county area over a 10-year period," he said. "I went down every dirt road, every driveway and knocked on every door in these three counties. Needless to say, everybody knows me." His sheepishness returned. "I was a Jehovah's Witness."
I took an involuntary step towards the door.
"But I'm not a minister any more!" he was quick to assure me. "Not after I got divorced."
His wife got fed up and left him. After that, he picked up the guitar that had sat unplayed for the past 18 years. He started playing with bands and making the rounds of the bars and clubs. He did that for three years until he'd worked out all his anger and frustration. The music "probably saved me from killing some people," he said. He grinned again. "The sheriff knew me real well at that time."
After his stint as a honky-tonk maestro, he settled down on his piece of property near Flomont. "I have two acres of land that I paid for by selling the land all around it. I live in an 85 year old wood frame and stucco house with almost non-existent plumbing and a wood stove for heat. I have about 30 cats and there are probably 85 rabbits living around the house. A few years ago I bought a Harley. I still have my guitar and everything I need and now I'm perfectly happy."
"And I bet you couldn't care less about what's happening on Wall Street," I said.
"I pay $11.00 a year in taxes." He smiled even wider, if possible. "A lot of people tell you there's nothing to do in a place like this, but those people could live at Disneyland and still be bored."
Sometimes weevils are not a bad thing. Not bad at all.