Roy Exum: Watering & Wandering

Monday, August 12, 2019 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Now that I have reached the age that I can get a “senior discount” in every fast food restaurant and would never, ever, dare to ask for one, I notice things that up until this late in life I could never see. For example, every Son the South worth his salt, and who today is a grandfather, knows that his best thinking is guaranteed during a late summer’s afternoon “watering.” Whether it is the flower beds or a vegetable garden, for me to do it right takes the better side of 45 minutes. 

But if I dawdle, giving the bigger bushes a “soak” while I fetch another Diet Coke or a few draws of my cigar, I can go for over an hour and there is something real special about that.

I let my mind wander, thus my self-description for spending time on “water and wander,” and, Lord, I love it so.

In the 70 years I have lived, no one can get anywhere near me in people, places, or things. So, as I tolerate you standing beside me and my thoughts, and we solve such mysteries as why does watering —in the first 15 minutes -- always make me dash into the house to pee, here is one of the stops where my mind took me as I watered yesterday.

* * *


At one point … couldn’t begin to tell you why, but it makes ‘watering and wandering’ so much fun, I thought about the best one-line answers I ever heard. My mind immediately wandered to a town in Texas that was nowhere-from-nothing until my beloved Aggies gathered and College Station was born. I didn’t attend A&M and the only times I’ve been there was to attend some colossal football games.

I used to wish with all my heart that “The 12th Man” of legend would silently slip from “The Corps of Cadets,” walk with a sure foot down inside the stadium, strip down and suit up in full glory, and run onto Kyle Field where all manner of hell would then commence.

You just gotta’ understand, that magic happens all the time. I was in the crowd when – four years ago –John Sharp, the chancellor, enlarged the stadium to 102,000 and just the night before it was dedicated, described his terror when he fell for the scoff-laws and ‘Legion of Miserable’ who for five years had proclaimed that many seats would never sell. Then Dr. Sharp, a devilish smile giving him away, said, “We sold 102,000 seats in 18 minutes.”

One more quick fact: “The Texas Endowment dates back to 1876, when the state set aside more than 1 million acres of West Texas land to support the development of the University of Texas and Texas A&M University systems. The value of the fund shot up with the discovery of oil, and the advancement of hydraulic fracturing technology. In 2010, the fund was worth some $10.7 billion. Last year, it was up to $19.5 billion.” (Only Harvard is bigger at $39.2 billion.)

Okay … in my PERSONAL ‘TOP 10’ BEST LINES, it was at the funeral of Texas A&M Lt. Col. Roy Tisdale in early July of 2012 and, man, all across the nation his death affected us all. The official announcement from the Army said he was killed in a training exercise at Fort Bragg. But by then, the real story had gotten out, Col. Tisdale had been shot point-blank by another soldier.

As America tried to recoil after that, the story reached Page One when the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka., Kansas, vowed to “honor” Col. Tisdale with a protest against gays, Muslims and all the other “hate” that, one day, will earn each one the hottest coals in hell.

As unbelievable as it will be for generations to come to learn, these “worshipers” at one time used to go to the funerals of our fallen military heroes with their deeply warped agenda in the name of Christ Jesus. At first it got them notoriety, then pity, then shame, then hatred and finally military veterans who promised an express ticket to Satan’s door where there has never been a waiting area. The Westboro crowd was beyond ‘sick’ and they were a registered hate group all right… them hated most of all by the American people. This was ‘sick’ as it sounds, just much worst.

Col. Tisdale was to be given last rites in the A&M Chapel at 1 o’clock, and then his body was to be interred at the A&M “Field of Honor,” described by one student as “just a short piece down the road.” That morning, with the weekend break in summer school, the campus was unusually quiet, until the stroke of noon when hundreds, with some estimates over 1,000, came from every dorm and quietly made their way to the chapel.

They formed a single line … you can imagine that circled the chapel, the road to the Field of Honor, and the field itself. Each wore a maroon shirt, emblazoned by a ‘T’ with a smaller ‘A” and ‘M’ on either side. They faced away from the chapel and the burial site, and then locked elbows. Nobody said a word but the message was clear: “If you think you are welcome here, you gonna’ have to get through me.”

Shortly before the funeral processional arrived, a lone horseman appeared, his hat pulled low against the sun. His shirt brilliantly white and starched so thick it could have sliced bread, carried a badge over the man’s heart. “Texas Ranger.” He stopped his horse a few feet from the chapel, and sidestepped his mount onto a grassy strip without uttering a command, this for the benefit of the horse’s hooves on the hot road.

The rider then shook his right leg from the stirrup, tossed his leg high in the way the back of his knee would fit glove-like around the horn of his saddle, and then began his wait for whoever dared to show up.

Background: For centuries when trouble would bear out in Texas, the governor would call out the Texas Rangers. Historically, they would send only one man to answer the call. One man – one day – no problem. What most don’t know is a Ranger isn’t a cop – he is The Great State of Texas. They have a name for anybody who shoots at a Ranger: “First dead.” A single Texas Ranger is constantly backed by every Texan’s loyal gun, good or bad. (It is rumored, on the day when Col Tisdale was buried, not a quarter mile away and hidden by trees, were over four dozen mounted Rangers with a SWAT-team vehicle, enough squad cars to carry every Westboro coward to Austin (the state capital), and a well-versed plan that would last 20 minutes)

Another trick: Any visitor to College Station with Kansas license plate woke up in any area hotel to find a pickup truck, each bearing an A&M sticker, parked bumper to bumper behind their car in parking lots or car garages. Every towing company in College Station apologized that every wrecker they had was down but hoped parts would be in the Monday bus.

Well, word got to the Westboro Baptist that Texas was lethal. They never showed up.. But after the funeral, an officer who had served in the Army with Col. Tisdale could not get over that had happened and walking back to the chapel, he was drawn to what appeared to be a kindly woman, waiting with her two boys – both he guessed to be under 10 years old.

He told her, “I have just learned through these few hours the real reason I defend the United States. This is absolutely incredible. I hope you don’t mind my asking, but did you actually know Roy Tisdale?”

Her reply, delivered in that slow West Texas drawl, will always be one of my favorite replies of all time … “Suh, there are no strangers on this road.”

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