This weekend is the 2009 Howard Days, and I wish great joy to those who can make it; we won’t be able to attend once more. But I thought some of you would be interested in the first trip I took to Cross Plains — one that could well be considered the forgotten Howard Days.
Everyone knows, pretty much, about the 1986 trip where the town was visited by Rusty Burke, Vern Clark, Bill Cavalier, Nancy Collins, Mark and Deanna Kimes, Steve Ghilardi, Tom Kovacs, and Graham Flanagan, on the fiftieth anniversary of Howard’s death. It was far from the first time people had come on that pilgrimage, as Leo wrote once, but it was probably the most significant. Eventually Project Pride, the Howard Museum, and Howard Days would all derive from this beginning — but it didn’t happen all at once.
Although I didn’t go on this first trip, I heard much about it; especially how it was impossible to really grasp the isolation of the post oaks and sand rough region without going there myself. So when the next time a trip was planned, I made sure to go. Burke was still in Houston, so that was where we met up. I flew in, only one of two times I ever flew that didn’t involve work. It was 1989 then, in November. They had just bought the Howard House, but not yet done anything with it. The group consisted of Rusty, Vern, Indy, Tim Arney, Gary Adrian, and myself. Though Glenn Lord couldn’t go to Cross Plains with us this time out, I did get to meet him in Houston for the first time, a great and funny guy. I believe we had good weather for the trip, as best I can recall, despite it being November. I can remember sitting on the Howard porch at night, and a stray cat coming up to us, whom we promptly named “Bob.”
We did all the traditional stuff, it seems: visited the house and the library, went to the Howard Paine University and the Brownwood grave, and were feasted by generous locals. As with the first trip, we got fed by Project Pride members Charles and Lou Rodenberger (a tasty chili, instead of the now standard — though wonderful — brisket on Caddo Peak). I remember they had a marvelous library, not what you’d expect from the Cross Plains area. We also met Charlotte Laughlin and her husband, who had done the heavy lifting in determining the books in Howard’s library. Perhaps most unique was a trip to the “other” Caddo Peak (East, not West), which was technically not legal, and decidedly hazardous. I still have a piece of rattlesnake skin I collected there. It was a beautiful sunset view, though, perhaps even more so than the familiar one.
Perhaps the reason this Cross Plains trip has been so overshadowed by the others is that it coincided with the 100th mailing of REHupa, which was a huge event on its own. It will always be a big event for me, however, though I have been back there a few more times, as it was my first.