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Driving Ms. Paula

by Randall Beaird and Paula Hancock

My mother wrote a novel and attends a writer’s group to help sharpen it for publication. A couple years ago (1998) she told me about Paula, some sort of genius writer. I always wanted to do an article with another writer so I wrote her a short note. “Your sagacity and prose made some sort of large impression with my mother. Can we go out and write a story afterwards?”

This was one for my personal record book. When Randall asked me out on a date, I couldn’t help but be surprised. Jana and Jodi, my co-workers behind the desk, perked up as he explained that his mother had met me at a writers meeting and said he should comepaulahancock1 by and say hello. I was mostly impressed with the fact that he came in, prepared to ask me out, having never laid eyes on me. It was a sort of fresh, new age chivalry that I immediately warmed up to. In this fast moving world of electronic everything, most communication seems to be On-line in the form of email. It is handy at times, but lacks that special personal touch. For a day or two, Randall and I sent “mail” back and forth. I sent him a few things I had written and he wrote some creative anecdotes about me as a banker. Sometimes I wonder what swims around in that mind of his! We decided to take a ride down to my family’s farm in Timpson, a tiny suburb of Nacogdoches. Nacogdoches has been the source of some wonderful times for me. Randall seemed to think I had some strange fixation with the college there, Stephen F. Austin. He made the suggestion that while we were there I might want to touch the school building. He is full of those crazy ideas. I decided that I could will myself not to touch the building, if I could attend school in the spring or fall. It is something I have always wanted to do.

After reading Paula’s stories, I knew I was in for a treat. Her words drip emotion to the door, then down the drive halfway to the street; your mind doesn’t know if it needs a towel or its been scorched by the tip of a golden candle. I knew it would be tough not to stare too much on the date. Once underway, thunder crashed and the drops came in wicked sheets. The rain soaked roads kept my eyes strapped in straight ahead; we practically surfed down to her great love and my alma mater, S.F.A. I liked how Paula raised it to the glory of all academia.

The trip to the farm got rained out. It’s mostly dirt and gravel roads; I was afraid we’d slide off the road and into the ditch. Randall would make me push the truck out of the mud if we got stuck, and I didn’t want to risk it! I am, of course, kidding, but we postponed that little adventure just the same. Instead, we had lunch at a quaint little place I used to eat at as a child, The Bar-b-que House, right off the loop in Nacogdoches. The hickory smoke almost knocked us down when we walked in the door. Randall made sure to rake me over the coals about that one. He joked, “Don’t hesitate to add another
vent or two.” I couldn’t help but laugh. Lunch was nice. The bottled sodas and rustic atmosphere brought back innumerable childhood memories. There was rusty plow tools and ancient horse tack on the walls, and a kind old wooden Indian waiting to greet you at the door. I told him that at one time there had been sawdust on the floor. He didn’t believe me, but when the cook confirmed my story I had to gloat a bit.

Yes, Paula was right. But walking in you could’ve yelled fire!, until you realized it was just your dinner taking one last puff before being drug off the grill. You could hardly see your fellow diners. “Uh-oh, we might want to drop and roll to get to our booth.”

We continued down North St., looking for the Sterne-Hoya house. I know I was rambling on about growing up in the woods on the outskirts of Nacogdoches, but Randall listened like a champ and only made fun of me a couple of times. Unfortunately, the Sterne-Hoya was closed for the holidays, so we made a run through the historic district of town. Those old homes are fascinating and quiet haunting. I enjoyed the drive. After lunch and an exciting ride, we headed home. Randall wanted to stop by his house in Jacksonville. He has a great place. The house is a unique little home place with lots of room and glorious fresh air. A huge herd of horses ran free close by in the back. The trees stood in quiet solitude and guarded the back yard. Randall knows the place well, and it agrees with him.

My house was marginal; my trees incredible. Three trees would bounce any arborist across the yard like a hard rubber ball. The Post Oak is fourteen feet around with an 85 foot spread. The Cottonwood is sixteen feet around, hollowed out in the middle and near death while the Black Walnut spreads out like a giant sea fan. Some lecture to cut the old Cottonwood down before it kills me in its fall. Others beg to let it die in peace.

On the way home, I was quiet, perhaps for the first time. I know Randall was glad. He had heard me talk almost the entire trip. His ears were probably ringing. There was a certain fulfillment in my heart. I was content with the company and the beauty of the fall colors streaming by the road. There was a sweet peace and smile on my face. I hope Randall and I can go out again.

On the way home, I felt a little guilty obtaining such cute company in the pursuit of a story. But driving Ms. Paula around was worth the verdict.

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