A recent Austin newspaper article spoke of Mason, Texas. I’ve spent wonderful times there, even shot my first three deer in Mason County.
Russell Tinsley, a writer from Mason, was the first outdoor editor of the Austin Statesman. Tremblingly, I wrote Tinsley asking him to write the introduction to my first book, fearing he might ignore the request of an unknown wannabee with no writing experience except a few futile college themes. Three days later, a laudatory review of my book arrived. I still pull it down from the bookshelf above my computer from time to time for inspiration.
Tinsley and I later met, and an enduring friendship ensued. Russ ultimately became my mentor in this craft. He once advised me on my first canoe trip on the Llano River which runs through the Hill Country south of Mason, and told me another of my heroes, Fred Gipson, lived on a high bluff overlooking the river that we would pass by.
Mr. Gipson, himself now passed, authored a number of novels about the Hill Country and made me a fan with the first one I read – “Old Yeller.” Disney made a movie out of it and others that Mr. Gipson wrote and invited him to Hollywood to write the “Old Yeller” screen play on a card table in his own office.
During that canoe trip, I spotted a cabin on the bluff above the river and saw a man walking near the house. I yelled “HEY” to get his attention. He replied “Hey, Hell, who are YOU?
I replied, and he answered back, “WHO?” Then he hollered for me in unprintable language to get “myself” up there – to his cabin. Our visit was priceless, and Gipson invited me back the next time through.
I waited too long, as I did with another hero, J. Frank Dobie. I often waived at him as I drove past his house on the way home from classes. I always intended to stop and meet him. I regret that I didn’t. His writing, too, had a profound influence over my life. He said that his mother wanted him to amount to something, but she said, “He was just a hound dog man.” My mother could have said the same.
I recommend Gipson’s, Dobie’s and Tinsley’s books to anyone interested in Texas lore, legends and life in the hills and brush. With different writing styles, they made you want to become part of their worlds – both geographic and literary. “Old Yeller” is the only book that made me laugh until I almost cried at his description of an occupied, runaway cart, and later choked me up with perhaps the saddest ending ever penned. Read it.
Texas has produced many great writers. The three mentioned stand beside such greats as Roy Bedichek, Walter Prescott Webb, James McMurtry, an entire cadre of Texas Monthly writers, many others and – yes – Willie Nelson.
There must be something in our water. I think I’ll go take a drink.