HISTORY WORTH SAVING - Matt's new book "Tales From High Bluff - Stories My Grandfather Would Like" is available now. This humorous, heartwarming collection of stories brings to life a year in High Bluff, Texas, a fictional town sitting atop the highest bluff on the Gulf Coast . The cast of the First Baptist Church Easter Pageant navigate a flaming electric boat winch and a screaming Jesus during their now infamous ascension scene…A bus load of exotic male dancers gets ‘rescued’ into a situation they’ll never forget…True love, action packed hurricanes, and an accidental Santa shooting all pack the pages with moments Red Campbell would’ve loved. Everything inside is sworn to be fiction, but if you’ve been lucky enough to live in South Texas, you’ll spot the difference between the bull chips and clumped dirt. BEHIND THE SCENES
History Worth Saving - The Podcast - Episode 4 features Scott Trantham, a road grader driver from Huntsville, Texas. Scott's inspiring story as a single father and his unwavering dedication to his daughter were the inspiration for the Chapter 3 / sample can be seen below.
AND THE ROAD GRADER
When I showed up to the park, the pastor was already resting his elbows on the flimsy podium he’d brought with him to the gazebo. His Bible was held together with more silver duct tape than leather these days and his old sport coat had no doubt seen more weddings than most shotguns have seen shells. Reverend C. Euless Arbuckle didn’t do weddings in the park but this man, the Reverend Eugene Swanson, would do a wedding anywhere he could accept cash.
I was to be the best man in this ceremony so I made my way up front to find the groom, the one and only Jude Williams. Jude met his bride-to-be down at the Cotton Blossom one night after work. Her name was Brandy. They were in love … and she was nine months pregnant.
“Brandy, come out from behind that tree,” the bride’s mother shouted. “Ain’t like ya’ll ain’t seen each other. Hell, ya’ll rode here together,” she added with a frustrated chuckle. “Come on now, my pictures are on tonight. I’m not gonna miss this week’s.”
Her voice held this tone of frustration no matter her mood. Brandy’s belly was poking out from around the old oak tree. Soon after her mother’s squawking stopped, her toes poked out, too. Like a deer steppin’ out of the woods, the rest of her followed.
She was dressed in summer cotton, noticeably off white, and, even though it was mid-February, the temps were nearly 90o. There was a little crown of flowers atop her head and tiny hand-sewn red roses made of ribbon dotted her expansive waistline.
As Brandy walked up to the gazebo, her mother checked her watch again. It wasn’t a romantic affair but a necessary one, approached with all the love and care of someone setting up the office copier before hitting the big green ‘go’ button.
The reverend spoke a few words nobody paid any mind to and, true to form, the bride’s walk down the “aisle” took longer than the rest of the ceremony. After the service, we found our way back to Jude’s house. Jude lived in the third trailer on the right, just outside town. He was extremely proud of the fact his cousin was allowing them to decorate the inside of his house with the little Christmas lights from the dance scene in the Hollywood blockbuster, Hope Floats.
His cousin, who drove a propane truck outside Austin, bought a few strands of the lights from the production crew when he refilled the propane bottles on the rented trailers for the actors. Most Southern weddings attract a crowd by having a known band or a special venue but Jude and Brandy advertised their nuptials with the lights from Hope Floats as their main attraction.
I pulled my truck up on the dirt yard out front of the trailer. Curiously, everyone was standing around outside in the heat. Brandy was sitting on the front steps while Jude paced around watching some guys with a big truck tighten the trailer’s wheels underneath.
I could hear Jude talkin’. “Yeah, I know you’re just doin’ your job but come on, can you give us one more day? It’s our weddin’.” The men got up and nodded their heads, said they’d be back in a few hours but that was the best they could do. Evidently, Jude had fallen behind on the trailer payments. Those men were coming back to take their house away to the bank. Jude turned around and said with a commanding voice, “Well, let’s eat up. They’re not taking the trailer for a few hours.” With that, everyone cheered. What could I do but join in?
The power company must have come and cut off the line while the ceremony was going on because inside the trailer the wedding cake was starting to list from the heat. Theresa the Love Goddess worked as the head cake decorator at High Bluff Grocery and, by night, was a semi-professional heartbreaker down at the Cotton Blossom. Like most of us, she’d known Jude for years. He wasn’t a bad man or a deadbeat. He was the kind of fellow you couldn’t help but love, a good man who thought more with his heart than with his head. The very reason we all loved him so much was, ironically, his deepest flaw.
He’d spent all his trailer money on getting Brandy and the baby the proper medical care but the bank had called the loan.
The saddest part of the whole event was the group picture. We all went inside and stood in the dark. There the little Christmas lights hung unlit from the ceiling and the cake did its best not to fall over on the counter top while the unseasonable Texas heat worked hard to turn the mayonnaise on the giant Subway party sandwich into a mass of inedible goo. When the camera’s flash went off, the shutter opened, light filled the room and, for one brief moment, we all did our best to smile.
Back outside, the party thinned. Before long, the men showed back up to haul away the house. Somewhere there’s a picture of the workers standing around eating the last of the cake, while Jude helped them fasten the hitch. As the trailer pulled away, I turned back from my truck. I watched as Jude and Brandy sat on the front door steps, all alone in their empty, dirt-filled front yard. The stairs that now went nowhere were the only thing holding the newlyweds. It just didn’t seem right. The universe was throwing everything it could at Jude and Brandy but their faces were turned like flint to face the challenge. You couldn’t help but respect that about them. I’m not sure where they stayed that night, but it couldn’t have been much of a honeymoon. I’ll never forget the image of them sitting there, alone against the world.
A few weeks later, the big news around High Bluff was that their baby came during the night of the big rain. Jude had told everyone if it rained the night of the birth, he was going to name the child Stormy and if it was clear, he’d call it Sunny. We all thought he was kidding but when I saw them later that week at HEB, Brandy introduced me to the one and only Stormy Williams.
Standing there between God and the grapefruits was this new happy family and a beautiful little baby girl named Stormy. For a few months, the bliss of new life filled their hearts with all the joy in the world. Babies have a way of warming one’s heart and, for those first few months, it was nothing but a big basket of kittens, even if they were living above Jude’s parents’ garage.
One night, while I was down at the Cotton Blossom with some friends, Elizabeth, who takes the money at the front door, came back to find me. “Matt, Jude’s on the phone for you. I think you should come up and talk to him. Sounds bad.” Picking up the phone, all I could hear was Jude sniffling. He was bawling like a dog that had just been kicked with a steel boot. “Jude, what’s wrong?”
“Everything’s wrong! Blaahahaha.” The rest of what came over the line was unintelligible.
About an hour later, Elizabeth found me again but this time she had a shell-shocked look on her face. She didn’t even speak, she just grabbed my sleeve and started pulling me towards the front door.
As we got closer, I could hear the blug, blug, blug sound of a diesel engine idling. My mind started to race with possibilities, then I saw it. Parked outside on the front sidewalk of the Cotton Blossom was Jude Williams sitting atop his road grader–—crying his eyes out. “She’s gone, she’s gone!” he cried.
“Turn this thing off, Jude. Come on down here. Let’s talk.”
Tears and wailing continued to pour from the road grader’s cab over the sound of its big engine. Before long, more people started to pile around to witness the spectacle. I figured I needed to act fast to save what little dignity Jude had left, so I jumped on the road grader, opened the cab door and mashed the big red button ‘kill’ switch. The engine coughed and sputtered.
Jude let out a monstrous wail as the big carburetor took one last gasp. He threw his arms around me and it was only then that I saw his eyebrow was split wide open.
“Jude, what happened, man? You’re bleeding, dude. Your head is bleeding!” I said, trying to pull him down from the cab.
“Brandy hit me. She told me she was leaving me for some guy in Houston, then she hit me in the head with a jar of buttons. SHE HIT ME WITH A BIG JAR of BUTTONS! She hit me ... and now she’s GONE!” The wailing started up again with all the fervor of a North Korean funeral parade.
About thirty minutes later, I finally got him out of the cab and tried my best to nurse his mental state back to something more malleable. He was so far gone, I couldn’t tell if he’d been drinking. He smelled like diesel fumes but, apparently, he grabbed a beer, or ten, upon Brandy’s departure.
He was in such a state he couldn’t find the keys to his truck. So, he took the road grader he drove for the county road department. When High Bluffians get creative, all kinds of things happen, like road graders turning into acceptable means of transportation to the local watering hole.
Painted against the backdrop of the big yellow road grader, Jude’s tears continued to flow. His occasional sniffle seemed to oddly keep time with the George Strait song playing inside. Jude was a good man but sometimes, bad things happen to good men. Like in Jude’s case, they pile on a heap of bad decisions which just makes matters worse.
When DT walked out front and saw the situation, he put Jude’s arm around his shoulder, “Come on Jude, let’s figure this out together.” DT put on a fresh pot of coffee, sat down and listened to Jude cry. Later that evening, it was DT who drove him home.
The next morning, just before noon, Jude showed up to the Cotton Blossom to fetch the road grader. Keeping true to the good guy code, he graded out the rough parts of the caliche parking lot. DT was already inside so he walked out and thanked Jude with a manly hug and a reassuring, “It’s gonna all work out.”
But as Jude drove away, even a blind jack rabbit could’ve seen something had changed. Jude was now a man with incredible responsibility. He was a single father with a wife who’d left him for a roughneck in Houston, but Jude was hard-working and more importantly, a man of character.
Now, I could spin a yarn here and give you some sort of tale of misfortune. I could probably toss in a police chase with loose cows, loose women and a road grader, but I think the truth in this case is justified. Jude went on to become, in my opinion, one of the finest fathers out there.
He’s still driving the road grader but he only does that in between making Stormy’s meals, doing the laundry, cleaning the house and being the best softball coach in High Bluff history. He’s embraced his role as a single father. He’s fostered a loving relationship with Stormy that would be the envy of any dad and he’s proven to himself the kind of man he truly is.
Jude’s living proof that the real mark of success doesn’t show itself with money, possessions or career achievements. Well done, Jude, well done.
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