Maybe you’ve already heard this story, but bear with me while I repeat it for those of us who haven’t…and for those of us who might like hearing it again.
Marvin didn’t get much from school, except a love for mathematics that would stay with him and serve him well. He didn’t take to the other things they taught there, and during his third try at 6th grade, fate ‘rescued’ him from this stifling and humiliating public school experience. His father, Clarence Alvin Weddle, fell from an oil derrick, hitting astraddle some horizontal pipe on the rig, landing him in the hospital for some months. Marvin then quit school to become the breadwinner for his Mamma, his hospitalized Daddy, three or four sisters and infant brother, at the ripe old age of 16. It was in this new career in the oilfields he gained the name, ‘Gus,’ associated with the expression for striking oil they hollered to announce a ‘gusher.’
Before this time, while he was still just Marvin, he was tutored in the arts and sciences of livestock husbandry by Doc Phelps, a no account drifter Grandma had ‘adopted’ and protected, mostly from himself, and who knew most everything there was to know about animals, domestic and otherwise. I never met Doc, but in my limited experience, I’ve not known a more savvy nor more compassionate stockman than Gus. He was known widely in southwest Texas, and picked up extra money often, riding and bringing to civilized use horses on which nobody else could seem to stay aboard. He said years later, when we asked how it’s done, to watch their ears…like that was all one needed to know. Oh. And treat ‘em like they’re your friend. Got it.
Along in this span of time, Marvin found himself in charge of a herd of two or three hundred goats. I can’t recall which Aunt told me this, or the exact number, but there were enough for a big bunch. Gus almost never, ever talked about his history, thinking it akin to bragging, unseemly and undignified. Instead, he preferred acting on tasks at hand rather than wasting time talking about past ones. Plus, he was most often inclined to leave talking to those more suited to it. The country there was poor, to put it mildly. My knowledge of it was it was mostly rocks, rodents, reptiles, and rednecks. Goats made out ok, foraging with some success on mesquite, prickly pear, and the few sorry tufts of dry grass here and there. On this occasion, Marvin found himself and the goats out away from the House among the flat topped hills, when a Blue Norther blew down on them, catching them in the open. When that part of the land is described as having only three strands of bobwar between there and the North Pole, with two strands broke, it tells us something about the seriousness of exposure hazards during one of these infamous storms. Torrential rain, Big Hail, sleet, lightning, and sudden arctic temperatures are how they roll. (I recall watching Gus and an Uncle using heavy axes to break holes in four inches of ice on the stock tanks so the critters could drink.) In a short time, the goats began to freeze, even though they’d crowded together to try to keep warm. Marvin gathered up kindling and a pile of mesquite deadfall and made a big ‘bonfire,’ stacking the goats around it ‘like cordwood.’ Story was, he saved about half the herd from freezing to death.