Monday, April 22, 2019

Saying Goodbye: Memories of a Ranch Kid

Fred Navarro at the Frio River
Jolene Navarro here, checking in from the Texas Hill Country. My writing view this weekend. 

I went with my husband to Leakey Texas. His siblings (nine boys and two girls) were gathering to remember their parents. April makes the 15th year of their dad’s passing, and they wanted to honor his memory. After church, we went to their parent’s graveside. After prayer and recalling memories, Joe (the youngest) read a letter he had written on May 10, 2004. This was the first time he shared it with his brothers and sisters.

The letter and memories reminded me why I love this life and write about small-town, cowboys and ranchers. 

There is something solid and good about people that work the land.  I met my husband 33 years ago and had the pleasure of spending time on the ranch. This place shaped the man I married. In honor of the Navarro family and the life that has influenced my stories, I wanted to share Joe’s story. He's the baby of eleven surviving children.
The Siblings standing in birth order. 9 boy and 2 girls

Joe & wife, Letty Navarro

May 19, 2004
My dear Brothers and Sisters:

This past Saturday, Fred came to Leakey, while we were visiting the phone rang. A woman speaking Spanish asked for Jesus Navarro (Their father). I asked her name. She just repeated her question. I wanted her name, but she told me to hold. A man’s voice came through the phone, he also spoke Spanish. When he also requested to speak with Jesus Navarro, I asked the man his name. He hesitated, and we spent some time in this cycle of not answering each other.

He finally identified himself and went on to tell me that Dad used to give him work on the Fair Ranch whenever he passed through. He was in Kerrville and wondered if there was any work for him on the ranch.
It was that awkward moment when I informed him that Dad had died on April 15th and the Fair Ranch had sold five years ago. The man offered his condolences and we ended the call.

Jesus Navarro Working on the Ranch Early Winter Morning

Fred and I talked about how much influence our father had on immigrants passing through. The Bible tells us to care for travelers and those in need. Our parents didn’t just teach us this lesson, they showed us through their actions. They would fix a plate of food, making sure to wrap up extras in foil. My dad would give them work, pay them and then send them on to their next destination. It didn’t matter if they were a stranger passing through or the ranch owners’ esteemed guest, our parents treated everyone with respect.
Joe, David and Andy Navarro

This phone call set with me for a couple of days. Restless, I drove out to the old Jacoby/Fair Ranch where I grew up.

What an experience, to drive on that familiar winding Ranch Road 336, through the Texas Hill Country. The sound the cattleguards made when I drove over them jarred memories long buried.
Turning on to Ranch Road 3235, the Ivey Ranch sat on the right, a bit further down Buckle Fryar’s Ranch was followed by the Tooter Trees' Ranch.

As I passed Tooter’s Ranch sheep crossed the road, just as they did day in and day out, as we made the long trips between the ranch and town. They forced me to slow down.
Black Buck Antelope ran along the side of the road, disappearing into the brush.

As the caliche road took me closer to the old homestead cattle and axis deer took me deeper into my childhood.

Nostalgia clogged my throat. In the distance, the house Dad and our Tios built rose on the horizon. It was green now, not the bright yellow with blue trim that we knew. A lock on the gate stopped me about 200 yards from my childhood home. Determined to reach the old home, I drove to the house where Chencho used to live.

He was gone, but I knew the current foreman lived here. His name was Francisco Briones. I had met him two years prior. Today as luck would have it, he was outside working on a deer feeder.  I informed him of Dad’s passing and how I wished to go to the house I grew up and walk the land. In the years since the sell of the ranch, it had changed owners four times in three years. At one time the ranch was over three thousand acres, now it was sub divined int 50 to 100 acre “ranchettes”.

The new owners of the land the house sat on bought it last month and only been out on weekends. They had asked Mr. Briones to “keep an eye” on the place.
Texas Hill Counrty

He opened the gate for me on the back side where the corrals were located. Together we walked passed the fences and barns. I paused for a moment to take in the fact that I was here. I hadn’t even realized how long I had been waiting to do this.

As I pointed out places and what we had done I became a tour guide of my childhood memories. I told him how we stacked bales of hay in the barn, the corrals where we’d round up the Charolais cattle. We went to the place where the machines had once been set up to spray the cattle with the medicine for ticks. As we walked further on to the property I showed him where Dad kept all the tools he worked with. We went into the room where we unloaded sacks of feed – corn, milo, pellets for the cattle, horses, sheep, deer, chicken and more. There were a lot of feedings that happened every day.

In the tack room the wooden saddle seats were still there, but empty. The leather and gear were long gone. The old Jacoby house that was once red was now pink. Not far was the chicken coop where I would gather the eggs each morning, before going to school.

As we walked to the house, so many memories flooded my head and heart. I told Mr. Briones, this is where we all played baseball in the open field when we had family gatherings. Dad always pitched.

Crossing the yard to the house, it all looked so abandoned, so unkempt.

 But that didn’t stop the memories from toppling out, one over another.

The tree where Dad had nailed a basketball goal was still there, but the wooden backboard was gone. We had spent hours playing basketball. At the fence part of the ladder, Dad built for us to climb over was still there.

The house was locked, but I managed to sneak a peek through the window into the kitchen and dining room area. In my mind's eyes echoes of the people from my childhood were rushing around, working, eating and laughing. The smells of a busy kitchen surrounded me. How many hours had my mother stood at the stove? So many daily moments I had forgotten rushed back.
We walked around the side of the house and I told him which room belonged to who. It was time to leave. As we walked back I noticed the gas tanks were gone. Then there was the water tank and the well where we got our drinking water. There was a large fenced area where Dad would plant corn, tomatoes, squash, carrots, and so many other vegetables. There was the fish pond, where we once had goldfish and tons of tadpoles depending on the time of year.

It is now filled with trash and empty beer cans.  There was the tree where Dad killed a Spanish goats and gut and skin them, so our family had meat on the dinner table.

Overall the old Jacoby/Fair Ranch looks run down, unkempt, abandoned. The corrals are missing boards. The grass was waist high throughout the property. We passed two canovas and I remember the early mornings when it froze, and Dad would break the ice with a big shovel so the livestock could have water to drink.

We spoke about how all good things must come to an end. I shared with him that Dad left a legacy behind, he left us with rich memories. He had an impact on the ranch and on so many people’s lives.
We passed a field overgrown with prickly pears and cedar bushes.

Dad would have been upset and would have put us to work to clear that out. There was always work that needed to be done. I can hear Dad saying, “Que no esten dioquis, hay mucho que hacer.” There was always something to do.

I thanked Mr. Briones for opening the gate and letting me walk through my memories.

As I made my way back down the caliche road I looked in the review mirror of the green house, that was still yellow in my eyes. A sadness I wasn’t expecting tightened my chest. I had said goodbye to a friend that in reality had been gone a long time.

Looking to the sky I began talking to Dad. I told him how much I loved him. That was something I had never done in person while he was alive. I thanked him for everything he did for us. I told him that I missed him greatly.

I was a young child again, that wanted to go back to a life that was in some ways so much easier. As a teen, all I wanted to do was grow up so I wouldn’t have to deal with ranch life anymore. On the ranch, life seemed so dull with nothing but hard work.

Now I wish I could go back just for one last time and experience the ranch as it was.  The air, the animals, my parents, my brothers, and sisters all the extended family and the workers that joined us.
What was awesome about today was that I did go back. Today I walked through the past, remembering things I had forgotten.

All the hard work, people, joy in simple things that shaped me.

As I turned from Ranch Road 3235 on to Ranch Road 3361 I could hear Dad say… “Que se persinen.” I made the sign of the cross to remember that God is always with me.

 Love your “Baby” Brother,

Mom with her 11 children, their spouses, children and grandchildren

My new release will be in story May 21. It is up for pre-oder now. 
You will get to meet the De La Rosa family. They have a family ranch on the coast of Texas. I will be giving an early copy away Wednesday April 24 to someone that leaves a comment.

 Did you grow up in a city, small town or way out in the country?


  1. Jolene, this is so beautiful. I cherished each detail of Joe's letter. In some ways, it triggered a trip down memory lane for me. At times, I wasn't seeing the yellow ranch house but the home I had shared with my family,thinking of our memories.
    Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. It did the same for me as I listened to him reading it. As a child you dont think about loss. Which is a blessing too.

  2. Lovely, Jolene. I'm envious of that beautiful, large family! What a legacy and treasure!

    Thanks for sharing! Going back to various places I've lived always tugs at my heart. Joe's letter touched me as well.

    1. Days of past have a way of doing this. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Jolene, what an amazing story. Reading this beautiful family story made my day. Thank you for sharing it with us. What a gift to be included with such wonderful people.

    1. Thank you Mary. I'm very blessed to be a part of this family.

  4. Hey Jolene. Fantastic post. I love your beautiful, large family. You are so blessed. Thank you for sharing something so personal as Joe's letter. It's beautiful. And that cover!!! WOW.

  5. Thank you Belle. And I'm very happy with my newest cover. :)

  6. Love this! Roots! That's what family is all about. Oh...and love.

    1. Thank you for stopping by L M. Family gives us the roots so we are brave enough to fly. :)


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