Saturday, October 25, 2008


A front blew into the Hill Country Wednesday afternoon. It wasn't bitter cold, but the chill was sudden, the wind gusty, and none of us dressed for temperatures below 65 degrees, when we arrived for a scheduled tour of a state historical site.

The docent - a sweet-faced, soft-spoken old lady in pioneer-era clothing - met us inside the museum building. Did we want to spend some time exploring the building, and tour the grounds later, she asked? Or would we brave the weather and go over the grounds right away?

Let's do the grounds first, I said, reasoning that as it was already late in the afternoon, it wasn't going to get any warmer; plus we had just stepped off the heated bus, so a few minutes' rambling out-of-doors shouldn't do us any harm.

In retrospect, I really think there was no right answer; but as God is my witness, I've never seen anyone talk so much in my entire life. Every rusty old piece of farming equipment, every decaying cabin, smithy, and schoolhouse, every tool and every piece of furniture we could glimpse within, had a story. Not a short one, either.

After half an hour, my group - an impeccably professional, attentive, polite lot, dutifully taking copious notes despite the wind - were audibly suffering; but the docent was pitiless. "I think they wound her up right before we got here," murmured the photographer in my ear.

I can tell you that a family of ten children was raised in the second cabin, a tiny little affair with only two rooms. There was a partition dividing the larger room, which was added, the docent went on inimitably, when the daughters of the family grew old enough to need some privacy when dressing. Ten children! That must have been cozy, I thought, gazing longingly through the half-open door. We weren't allowed inside.

By the last cabin, I'm surprised my group hadn't mutinied. The last cabin was the biggest one, and consequently had the longest story. Our docent talked on, standing full in the wind, seemingly unaffected - pioneer garb must be quite warm. We moved some of our more lightly-clad members into the most sheltered spot on the porch and tried to protect them with our own bodies. Some of us were whimpering.

Finally she led us away from the last cabin, but as we rounded the corner we saw a long line of rusty plows and tilling machines arrayed instructively under a pavilion. The docent moved towards them, remarking that many of the cabin owner's belongings could be seen inside the museum. There was a small, plaintive voice behind me. "I want to go inside and look at the belongings!"

It was too much for our photographer, who broke away from the group and strode back to the museum. But the docent had locked it.

Fifteen minutes later, when we were at last admitted to the warmth of the building, we dawdled lovingly over the exhibits as the docent went on, tirelessly, with more stories and descriptions. There were bonnets and gowns, pianos and chairs, a carriage and a car, books, newspapers, magazines, dolls, toys, jewelry. In one cabinet was a turn-of-the century do-it-yourself dental kit, complete with huge, rusty pliers. I would have been horrified if it weren't so nice and warm.

Finally our step-on guide for this leg of the trip had to intervene, telling the docent that our allotted time had passed and we were due at our next stop. "But before we go," he said, "I just wanted to tell you some exciting news: that our Chamber has just asked your docent to write a book on the history of this area!"

We all beamed and applauded, but I can't have been the only one wondering why we had to be the ones to take dictation?

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