The Idle American: When Words Say Much…


Whatever is said usually doesn’t measure up to sheer artistry, since brush-and-easel greats can land haymakers to writers who are armed only with words.

Use of color and much else conveys mind’s eye images to canvas, thus usually tilting communication effectiveness scales toward artistry.

‘Tis true. Artists worthy of the title typically say more with pictorial skills than those of us who rely merely on words. HOWEVER (caps are used for effect), on rare occasions, words win….

A recent visit to Abilene, TX, awakened thoughts of tributes to folks who do well with few words. (Abilene was earlier known as the “key city” to West Texas but now more often is identified as the largest city on the eastern edge of the “big country.”)

Some whose communicative ammunition is limited to words might be rubes at easels, hardly knowing which end of the brush to hold. To the select writeers using words so brilliantly, I offer the same utterance the late Walter Brennan made weekly on television’s The Real McCoys: “Dadgummit.”

Such elite writers are revered, causing considerable “self-kicking” by others of us who wish we had thought of their wording first….

I cite three examples--two of them current and all linked to Taylor County--where Abilene is the county seat. (It’s a whole ‘nuther story, but Abilenians “stole” the county seat in 1883, five years after Buffalo Gap held the distinction. The “switch” seemed logical, what with Texas and Pacific Railroad deciding to bypass Buffalo Gap in favor of Abilene.)

Abilene, later to be home of three church-related universities, remained a holdout against beer sales until a “community” of 28 people organized their own town (Impact, TX) in 1960. A couple of years later, Impact won court battles leading to the first legal beer sales in Taylor County in the 20th century.

“Bootleggers” were plentiful until then, defying the law to provide “hooch.” Anyway, small stores back then advertised sale of “Near Beer,” which contained less than .5% alcohol. One sign read: “Near Beer Sold Here.” Scrawled under it was this: “Real Beer Sold Near Here.”)…

I digress--again. Now, back to Buffalo Gap, a tiny, zoneless community long known for its Perini Ranch Steakhouse. On the route, we noted succinct messages along the way.

There were residences of ALL types and sizes, from million-dollar mansions to double-wides.

It is to the creative owners of modest housing to whom I offer congratulations. Their brief descriptions are “better’n pictures.” One sign in front of a small, tidy abode reads thusly: “Oleo Acres. One of the Cheaper Spreads.” On another, signage is even shorter: “Casa Not So Grande.”….

At the other extreme, the grand structures speak for themselves.

With impressive architecture, landscaping and square footage rivalling commercial structures, no signs are needed.

‘Nuff said….

Though too short, a recent overnight outing to Abilene was made special by friends of 50+ years.

Dinner at Perini’s was surpassed only by Dr. Lanny and Carol Halls’ gracious hospitality. They left no details undone. We shared stories, some for the “umpteenth time.”

Even the “old favorites” seemed fresh, as if released from safekeeping when the COVID-19 siege finally started loosening its grip on our moving about….

Some of life’s greatest blessings include the seizure of memories of joyful times, honoring friendships that have endured time’s test. They await our claiming.

Words don’t capture what I set out to express. In the case of our visit to Abilene, artist Norman Rockwell might have captured visits with brush and easel. Maybe his painting might show grandparents--each holding a grandchild’s hand--hoping the youngster would enjoy a first “restaurant steak.” The kid mostly prayed that a nervous hand wouldn’t lead to an iced tea spill.

Perhaps Rockwell might have included a West Texas sunset blazing through the window. Such sunsets don’t come any better….

Dr. Newbury, a longtime university president, continues to speak regularly. He welcomes inquiries at 817-447-3872. Email: Twitter: @donnewbury. Facebook: Don Newbury. He and wife Brenda live in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.