Appointment in Balmorheabylukeadams©
Balmorhea Springs, Texas, May 25,1985, 3p.m.
The grass pressed against Ernesto's back while he gazed up at a blue sky dotted with white pillows. Nearby, children played Marco Polo in the two acre spring-fed artesian pool, that rested on the edge of 46 acres dotted with cottonwood trees. Ernesto could almost reach and grab the foothills of the Davis Mountains, in southwest Texas.
Ernesto Sanchez was a good Catholic. He would go to heaven. But, he would rather spend eternity here, at Balmorhea Springs, Texas.
Ernesto had spent time in large towns, including El Paso and Fort Worth, Texas. He was tired of fiestas. All that singing in heaven would get on his nerves. He once loved to be the center of attention. Now he avoided large crowds, and did not want to be part of an angelic chorus. He had worked for three good men, Tom Andrews, Jim Ed Andrews Sr., and Jr. He did not have to go to heaven to finally meet people of good character.
But, Ernesto wanted to see his late beloved wife Maria again. Perhaps he could spend a day up there now and then, beyond the blue sky.
The rest of eternity he would spend here, drinking beer, eating tamales and cantaloupe, and listening to the laughter and splashing of children in the small lake-sized pool.
The Mescalero Apaches called the cottonwood trees waving above Ernesto the loving trees. He wondered why.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Andrews Ranch, near Marfa, Texas, between Big Bend National Park and Davis Mountains, February 1956
Ernesto loped his brown mare toward the two story white frame main house, built in the 1920s. From Hermalinda's white wooden cross, water recently sprayed by her dripped onto the crepe myrtle. Ernesto wrapped the reins one time around a post and grinned at the plant.
"If a crepe myrtle takes root in this part of the country, that buys the planter fifty years of good luck, "Tom Andrews told ten year old Ernesto. The boy was digging a hole for the plant.
Many years later, middle-aged Tom clutched his chest, by the crepe myrtle, feeling his third heart attack. Ernesto helped Tom up to the porch. Tom's wife and their only child Jim Ed were attending a relative's wedding in San Angelo.
"We've had some fine times together, uh, Ernesto?"
Ernesto grabbed Tom's hand. "Yes we have, Mr. Tom. You hold on. We will have some more good times." Then Tom died.
Now, thirty years old, a 5-10,160 pound, medium colored Ernesto whistled as he marched the sidewalk, onto the porch, and opened the screen door.
According to crepe myrtle lore, he had thirty years of good luck left.
Jingling spurs on the hardwood floor flushed the thick, middle-aged Hermalinda from the kitchen. She stared mournfully at Ernesto and shook her head.
"Hijo! Jim Ed was in pretty good shape when he left our campfire last night. He had two, three beers at the most," Ernesto said, ending with the lilt of a question, the way many Hispanics do.
"I peeked in his room. It looks like he killed a half a bottle of Scotch," Hermalinda answered.
Switching to Spanish, Ernesto said "Fix him some of your wonderful bacon and egg tacos. That and your smile will do wonders for him. And make me a couple, too."
"Didn't Maria feed you this morning?" Hermilinda was smiling.
"That was hours ago. Besides, I am a growing boy. Plus, you are the best cook north of Monterrey. And make some of your fabulous coffee. " Ernesto gave a dramatic sweep of a hand, with his palm down. He smoothed his moustache with his middle finger and wiggled his eyebrows.
Hermalinda grinned even wider. The inside joke was that Jim Ed and ranch foreman Ernesto insisted on the house coffee being like range coffee-coffee grounds boiling in the water, and later cold water added to settle the grounds on the bottom.
Ernesto passed the standing grandfather's clock in the hall, clomped up the stairs and barged into a west bedroom.
"Rise and shine, you are burning daylight!" He marched over to a window, raised it, and opened the blinds.
Blond headed Jim Ed groaned, and threw a forearm across his eyes. "God, there is a brown devil in my room. Please send him straight to hell."
Ernesto chuckled. "Ha. I assure you that I am on good relations with the Almighty. You will spend extra time in Purgatory for that remark." Ernesto turned and gazed through the window at the corral, to see if young Paco was loafing.
With exaggerated effort, Jim Ed pulled his left leg off the bed. He managed to raise his 6-2, 210 pound solid frame on the bed's side. He rested his elbows on his thighs, with his face in his hands. He squinted at the window. "If you think my eyes look bloodshot, you should see them from my side. Did Junior make it to the bus?"
Again, Ernesto chuckled. He walked up to Jim Ed with a slight smile and his hands on his sides. "Yes. Hermalinda took him. It is past eight o'clock. Now, get up."
Jim Ed coughed. "Did ya'll start without me?"
Ernesto knew that Jim Ed was disappointed to miss the start of the dehorning. It was bloody, dirty work. But, it was one of the things that reminded Jim Ed that he was a fifth generation Texas cattle rancher.
"Yes. We had no choice. But be glad we are doing the mixed locals first. If we started on the South or West Sections, you would have missed even more. Hermalinda is cooking some breakfast tacos for you. You eat them and you will be ready to go."
Jim Ed stared at the wall a moment. Then he lurched for the bathroom. The thought of food did not set well. On one knee, he puked into the toilet.
"You are not the only man whose wife died on him. Even a young wife at that," Ernesto remarked from the door.
Jim Ed held up a hand, as if to say he did not want to hear it today.
Ernesto went to the window and checked on Paco again. He noticed a hawk circling, looking for one of their laying hens. Ernesto smiled. To get the best piece of a chicken, you have to be a rooster.
Jim Ed was recovering, wrestling with a shirt.
Ernesto said, "This is the weekend that Marfa is having the get together with the movie stars. I will introduce you to the beautiful Sena Miller."
"I don't give a damn about meeting any movie stars," Jim Ed answered.
Jim Ed and Ernesto grinned at each other. In unison, both said "Movie stars? I don't need any stinking movie stars!" They loved to paraphrase the bandit's line from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
Ernesto turned serious. "I need to get back. Don't come until you are up to it. You don't want to lose one of these." He held up his right hand, showing off the missing last two digits of his ring finger and his missing little finger. The neck bar-yoke of a Turner squeeze chute eliminated Ernesto's fingers like a good butcher. Ernesto hopped like his boots were avoiding bullets. Sometimes, around the campfire, Jim Ed imitated dancing Ernesto, to the delight of the other cowboys.
"The beautiful and famous Sena Miller does not need to see you with a bandage on your hand," Ernesto added.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _
Big Texan was the biggest movie epic adapted from a novel since Gone With The Wind. The role of Jessie Mae, the leading lady character, had been the most sought after and publicized part since the casting for Scarlett O'Hara. Twenty eight year-old Sena Miller, an early favorite, for her beauty, experience, and acting chops, still had to fight like a tiger for the role.
On location for a month now, the beautiful, busty, five-four brunette was pleasantly pleased with this part of Texas. The shooting location around Marfa stood at the same altitude as Denver. The director kept trying to capture the area's spectacular sunsets-one reason the crew would serve a few months on location. The topography was beautiful [the early parts of a much later film, No Country For Old Men, were filmed near Marfa-including the part where the Josh Brolin character approached a drug deal gone bad]. The area reminded Sena of southern Colorado.
The locals were friendly and interesting.
Sena finished a letter to her seven year-old daughter, Sierra. Deep laughs scattered like buckshot from outside her trailer. Sena emerged, to find a handsome Latin type, who favored movie actor Cesar Romero.
The principal supporting actor fretted over what to do with his hands in a scene. Someone suggested to Jim Greene that he toy with a lariat. Another suggested he watch local ranch foreman Ernesto Sanchez, best friend for many locals, who performed rope tricks for the crew.
Sena found Ernesto resting in a chair with "Jim Greene" printed across the back, surrounded by men who were laughing their butts off. Ernesto had one ankle on his knee. He twirled a spur. Jim said "Sena, ask Ernesto if he has met Pancho Villa." Sena folded her arms, strolled slowly over, and cocked her head. "Well, did you meet Pancho Villa?"
"I will tell you as if it were my father speaking. He is the one who met the famous outlaw." Ernesto shook himself, and cleared his throat, as if he were readying himself for a mighty effort. He tilted his gray hat back. Sena noticed the sweat stains on the hat. Ernesto spoke with only a trace of an accent. But, for this performance, he spoke as someone not used to English, like Speedy Gonzalez, the cartoon character.
"I crouched by a stream, and cupped water to my mouth with my hand. I heard something, and looked up. A man wearing a big sombrero on a big, black horse stood across the stream, a few feet away. Something hit my chest. I looked down. The man had thrown a dead lizard at me.
The man laughed and said 'I am Pancho Villa. I want you to eat that lizard.' I could barely see his face. The sun was in my eyes, directly behind him. I looked at him like he was a crazy man. He pointed his pistol at me. He stopped smiling. The man said 'If you want to live, eat the lizard.' So, I bit the lizard.
The man laughed so hard that he almost fell off his horse. Between his tears, he holstered his pistol."
Ernesto very slowly stood up. Then he quickly pulled an imaginary pistol from a holster, and pointed it towards Sena.
"Then I pulled my gun. I pointed my pistol. I placed the lizard in his lap. I said 'I don't care if you are Pancho Villa. If you want to live, you will eat this damn
lizard.' I was so mad, that I truly meant it. He slowly brought the lizard to his mouth. ' Go ahead, you son of a bitch. If you do not eat the lizard, you will die.' He ate the lizard. He cried between bites."
Ernesto looked around and paused, for effect. "So, you want to know if I have met Pancho Villa? Hell yes! Pancho and I had lunch together!"
Jim Greene staggered like a drunk, holding his belly as if gutshot, as he did in his final scene in Big Texan. Tears streamed down his face. The old character actor Cold Wells leaned on Ernesto. "Haw, haw, haw, haw, haw. That is really good, son, really good." Cold called everyone son.
Jim wiped the tears from his eyes. "Tell Sena about Grandma's whorehouse."
Ernesto smiled at Sena. He bowed slightly, extended his hand, and smiled. "Perhaps another time. I am Ernesto Sanchez. It is a great pleasure to meet you."
He was one of the most charming, handsome men Sena had met.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Sena noted the irony, given her beauty and fame, that she had misfortune with men. Her luck had changed, she thought, when leading man Nigel Hawthorne pursued her. Sena was in love for the first time. Their daughter Sierra was born nine months to the day after their well attended wedding in Bel Air.
But, Nigel always perked up when a new makeup girl landed on his set. He also panted after the young waitresses at the same café where Lana Turner was discovered.
Sena's last makeup sex with Nigel was eight months before she came to Texas. The day after the makeup, a nineteen year-old banged on Sena's door, looking for Nigel. Days later, Sena filed for divorce.
Sena looked forward to being on location in Texas, or anywhere really, to get away from Hollywood for awhile. The only bad thing was separation from seven year-old Sierra. But the girl liked school and her nanny.
Now, Sena was horny. She needed to be rode hard. But, the Big Texan leading man was gay. Sena suspected Jim Greene was, too. In the back of her mind, she had hoped, when she accepted the role, she would meet a Texan like the lead character in the novel and the movie, Big Texan- strong, independent, and sexy.
Ernesto Sanchez was all those things. But, Ernesto almost from the get-go talked about his wife Maria. Sena recognized that a roll in the Marfa hay with Ernesto would not happen, unless Maria was very understanding.
Still, she looked forward to Ernesto's semiweekly visits to the set. Jim Greene soon figured out how to fiddle with a rope, but the actors used Ernesto for other things. Sena felt better being around Ernesto. He was supercharged with energy and optimism. Ernesto introduced Sena and Jim to the Old Borunda Café, where she regrettably gained a couple of pounds.
One day Jim and Cold Wells were held up. Ernesto and Sena went alone. Sena's eyes filled with tears. "My divorce became final two days ago. I found out about an hour ago."
Ernesto shook his head with sympathy, but said nothing.
"I am sorry for the tears. It just hit me that I failed at being married. Seeing those papers somehow made me admit it."
He looked around. He chose his words carefully. "We all fail at something. I made mistakes in Europe in the War. We all did. "
He leaned over and shielded his mouth with his hand, as if his next words were shameful. "I won't admit this to anyone but you, but I have been bucked off by a couple of horses that should have been pulling a milk wagon."
Sena smiled and dabbed a tear. Ernesto grabbed her hand.
"Miss Sena, you are a very good person. You will find love again. Trust me, I know."
Sena brightened, and cut into a chili relleno.
"I am looking forward to the get together with us locals. We will have fun," Ernesto said, between bites of enchiladas.
"Will I finally meet the lovely Maria?"
"Yes. I will also introduce you to Jim Ed, my boss. You will like him." Ernesto was smiling.
"Is he as handsome and charming as you?"
Ernesto smiled again and shook his head. "Perhaps not as charming or good looking, but close on both counts.""
"You have a deal ," Maria said, laughing.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _
A carnival of multicolored lanterns floated above the get together between the locals and the cast and crew of the movie, Big Texan.
Sena, who had already made a few comments on the loud speaker after her introduction, watched Ernesto and a lovely dark - haired slender woman arrive. A handsome fellow sporting a gray western Stetson walked besides them. When they shook hands, Sena thought Jim Ed seemed less intimidated than any man she could remember. He acted as if she was the one that should be impressed.
Later, Ernesto and a young Anglo boy belted out El Rancho Grande, in Spanish, backed by a western swing band that played throughout the party. The song played mostly for local ears, since most of the movie folks, working early the next day, waved farewell early.
Maria Sanchez and leading lady Sena applauded the duo.
"They sing very nicely together," said Sena.
Maria nodded proudly, and looked back to the stage. "Ernesto taught him that song when Junior was six years old."
Being a good actress, Sena picked up vibes. "Do you and Ernesto have any children?"
Maria shook her head. "I am afraid not. We tried, but I could not have any."
"Are Jim Ed's parents still living?"
"His father died several years ago. His mother never cared for it here. After Jim Ed joined the Marines, Mary moved back to Fort Worth, several hours from here. Jim Ed and his mother are not close."
Ernesto and the boy sang another Mexican ranch song. Maria, beaming, turned to applaud.
"You know, Maria, Ernesto tells a really good story. That's a sign of a good actor. Ernesto is also handsome enough to be a leading man, a Latin lover type. If the two of you come to Hollywood, I'll find Ernesto acting work. You two could even stay with me until you get settled."
Maria glanced gratefully at Sena. She did not seem surprised. Maria knew her husband could accomplish many things.
"That is very kind of you, it really is. But, he has lived here all of his life. Ernesto loves working cattle, and he loves horses even more." Maria laughed. "And he really, really loves bossing people around."
Maria and Sena clapped again. "Plus, we both love Jim Ed and Junior."
Sena shook her head. "Junior? Who is Junior? Jim Ed is single, isn't he?"
Maria gazed at Sena, looking surprised. "You did not know that the boy who sang with Ernesto was Junior, Jim Ed's son? Judy, Jim Ed's wife died a couple of years ago. Cancer. Went quick."
Jim Ed had been talking to a couple. He returned. "Do you have time for a short walk?"
"Sure," answered Sena. They headed for Marfa's main street, a block from the plaza.
"So, have you seen any of my movies?" asked Sena.
Jim Ed glanced at her, smiling. "A couple. I was fourteen when the one with the collie dog came out. I became interested in girls, not collies, after seeing you."
Sena laughed. She noticed that Jim Ed was especially interested in her bare shoulders. She regretted her dress choice. It was daring for this crowd. They walked in silence awhile. Unusal man, Sena thought. Not only is he not intimidated, he does not chatter away, unlike most of her actor friends.
They arrived at a store on the corner of Main Street. Sena peered into a store window and pulled back. "That is the largest horse that I have ever seen! That is a horse, isn't it?"
Jim Ed laughed. "Dad loved that horse. Rusty lived twenty-five years, and worked most of those. Dad had him stuffed. Then he decided that more people could see him in this hardware store than at the ranch."
"Was the horse outstanding at something? Did he win some kind of award?"
Jim Ed was silent, thinking. "Rusty was above average at cutting, sorting, and roping. He had good stamina and temperament. He was not outstanding at any one thing. But, he was a solid, dependable work horse. That made him outstanding."
They started back to the plaza. "What about your Dad?"
Jim Ed gazed at Sena's bare shoulders again. "Dad was cremated, which is unusual around here. His ashes were scattered on his favorite ridge."
Sena giggled. "You misunderstood. I was not suggesting your Dad was stuffed, too. I meant what kind of man was he?"
After a few steps, he said, "I guess he was like the horse. Not outstanding at anything, but solid and dependable."
They arrived back at the party that was waning. "When you have time, I want to take you to the springs at Balmorhea. It does not look much when you whiz by. You have to get a feel for the place."
Sena shook hands. "I'll get word to you through Ernesto when I have an off day. I am looking forward to seeing whatever you want to show me." She smiled as she looked directly into his blue eyes
_ _ _ _ _ _ _
Ten days later, Jim Ed and Sena passed out of the high Marfa-area plains, into and through the Davis Mountains. They passed ponderosa and pinon pine, mountain cedar, and a few stands of aspen. Miles ahead in the foothills, the cottonwood trees at the springs of Balmorhea beckoned. In three directions, for a long way from the springs, the only thing taller than a mid-sized woman's knee was planted by man, except for the approaching cottonwoods.
Jim Ed walked with Sena around part of the huge springs, lined with stones laid during the Depression. Large fish were visible, wiggling several feet down.
They watched kids play as they lingered over Hermalinda's picnic lunch. Then, they switched to swimming attire and took a dip in the artesian-fed pool, that never warms over 76 degrees. Then, they rested in poolside chairs. Sena drew stares from some of the folks, who recognized the famous actress, and probably knew she was filming in the area. A couple sought autographs, but otherwise she was left alone, something unthinkable in many places by the mid 1950s.