(wc 1400 – no complaints allowed! It is a short story after all, and abridged at that!)
“Once upon a place, in a time long, long ago. . .”
. . .a girl was born at St. Therese’s Hospital in Beaumont, a city of the State of Texas, a territory then known as one of the United States of America.”
So begins a story that takes place in a time and happens in a land so lost in the past that it creates a feeling of myth and magic. There are many reasons for this phenomenon, but most scholars of her writing feel it is derived from the fact that it is when and where Paula Tohline Calhoun, the famous writer, photographer, and poet-laureate, was born so very long ago.”
The following story is an excerpt from a recently discovered collection of writings of the outstanding woman of her time, and from all appearances, was written to illustrate her historical period, and one that she felt was rapidly disappearing:
“Now, Beaumont is a city that is home to many species of humanoids. While not exactly Middle Earth, it does have within its boundaries qualities that resemble many one might find in the lands of hobbits, elves, and orcs. This baby girl, known as PTC was born into a family of humans, and therefore had to bear the curses as well as the blessings of being a member of that species. All in all, despite the heat, humidity, insect life, and the occasional slowly passing hurricane, and quickly passing tornado, Beaumont might be considered a perfect place to live.
“Did I mention the heat, humidity, insects, hurricanes, and tornadoes? These hitches, that might make some people think that living in Beaumont was not the Eden-like paradise of magical and mystical allure, are in reality the very things that made the ancient city of Beaumont – that “Beautiful Mountain” – that towers below sea-level, a wonderful place in which to be born, in which to live, and from which to move away.
“Beaumont was situated about twenty-five miles from the coast of the glorious Gulf of Mexico. Back in the day, people in possession of “drivers licenses” could drive their conveyances – some called automobiles, which are four-wheeled boxes powered by gasoline, which was a form of fuel derived from the fossil fuel called crude oil. It is an interesting happenstance that Beaumont was the location of the very first super oil-gusher, in a neighborhood called “Spindletop,” of the great Texas oil boom. Much money was made and lost from the collection of the millions of barrels of crude oil that spouted out of that “oil well.” The conveyances that consumed the gasoline were called cars or trucks, and they came in many styles, shapes, and forms; sometimes as many as eight persons could ride in such vehicles at one time.
“Now I am telling you this story because I want you to know of an incident that occurred in a little home that was situated on the Gulf of Mexico; a home not far from where PTC was born. This little home was called “The Mosquito Ranch,” for reasons that are lost in the mists of history, but which I have, through extensive research, always suspected must have had something to do with the presence and quantity of vicious, “Texas-sized” insects called mosquitoes. The Mosquito Ranch was owned by a friend of PTC’s father, (may he rest in the peace of the ages), and was made available to her family for their occasional use because of the friendship between her father and his friend.
“Journeys to the “MR” were scheduled by a cyclical ritual known as the “phases of the moon.” Whenever a “full moon” occurred on a Friday, then the very next day, “Saturday,” PTC’s mother (may she rest in the peace of the ages) packed large baskets with food and drinks, plates, eating utensils, and glasses, all items intended for the family’s consumption and use for their journey to the “MR.” The most important thing that they took with them, however, was a large red metal chest with the words “Coca-Cola,” written in stylized script in white on the side of that chest. As they neared the “MR,” they stopped at a small way-side grocery store – a place at which one could purchase the necessities of life (some of the stores quite large, covering an area as big as 500 square feet) – and buy many, many pounds of ice, with which they filled the “Coca-Cola” chest. This chest was reserved for the fruits of the labors of the ritual that took place at the “MR.”
“The “MR” was a home that had the convenience of a pier that jutted out into a medium-deep inlet on the body of water mentioned earlier called “The Gulf of Mexico.” You will find it hard to believe, but back in those ancient and early days of her youth, there were miles upon miles of beaches that were completely empty and devoid of houses or tourist attractions of any kind. One could walk upon the beach for miles and never see another human. There was no litter or trash or cigarette butts; it was truly an “Ocean of Eden.” Upon arriving at the “MR,” the car was unpacked. Among the many items packed were bags made of knotted twine, which were then filled with various types of bait, such as chicken necks and backs, that were considered very attractive to the treasures for which PTC and her family had made the ritualistic journey. The baited bags were tied to poles, and while PTC or any of her illustrious family were seated on the pier, they lowered the poles into the water and waited for the harvest that was soon to come.
“The harvest was the blue crab. The blue crabs were the essential ingredient of the stew, prepared by PTC’s father upon their arrival back home in Beaumont, known as “Crab Gumbo.” This mythical feast was the central focus of the ritual known as “crabbing,” and the blue crabs that would cling with their large claws to the bags of bait were an almost sacred harvest. At times as many as ten or twelve large blue crabs would be hauled in on one bag alone. Once the red ice chest was filled with the crabs – depending on the sizes of the crabs, they could number from one hundred to one hundred twenty-five beautiful, meaty, delicious crustaceans, all of which would be part of the gumbo that was consumed within the next twenty-four hours, not only by PTC’s immediate family, but by her extended family and friends and neighbors as well.
“On one of the mythical sojourns to the “MR,” a beloved member of PTC’s extended family, her Aunt Claire, was invited to accompany them on their journey. Now, Aunt Claire (may she rest in the peace of the ages), was a charming lady who suffered from a condition that was peculiar to her species at the time known as “corns.” Corns were formed on the toes of both males and females, but mostly females because of the ridiculous types of shoes women were required to wear if they wished to be fashionable. Aunt Claire had developed a very painful corn on the baby toe of her left foot. Once the family had arrived at the “MR,” and was prepared for catching crabs, Aunt Claire took off her shoes, sat at the end of the pier, and let her feet dangle into the cool water. “Ahhhh. . .” she exhaled, in bliss, at the relief offered by the comforting soak. “Ayyyyy!!!!!!” she next screamed. Aunt Claire hauled in the first crab catch of the day when she pulled her foot out of the water and found tightly attached to the corn on her foot, a nicely sized, beautiful blue crab.
“What was quite amusing to PTC and most of her family was not at all funny to Aunt Claire, who never again accompanied the family on one of their crabbing rituals. But the feast that night was the very best of all time. It has been dubbed throughout history as “Toe-Crab Gumbo,” and has never been equaled. The necessary ingredient of Aunt Claire Corn was never provided again, and is of course now no longer available, and considered extinct.”
The story excerpted above was recently found among assorted papers packed away in a red chest, excavated beneath the area believed to be the site of PTC’s home in Beaumont. It was written in the third person form, in her own hand, and is already considered a gem in the collected writings of the legendary Paula Tohline Calhoun. It is soon to be published in a book of heretofore lost stories and poems, to be entitled “Enough. . .”