It was a great plan. We were to spend the weekend in the heart of Webb County, Texas, at a rustic old spot called La ViÃ±a, located on the famous Shipp Ranch. I'd been to the place before and figured it would be perfect for a few days of hunting, fishing, and just hanging out with my dad. The Shipp was owned by Col. Evan Quiros, who'd graciously given us permission to set up camp at La ViÃ±a, which was just an old adobe line shack turned into a deer camp. To me, an outdoor-loving eight-year-old kid, it might as well have been a palace.
Friday after school, I had my gear packed. Dad had come home a little early and put together our needed accoutrement, which consisted of biscuit makings, some venison, and other odds and ends for a pot of stew; his Ruger Flattop .44 Magnum and ammo; and my old Winchester Model 62A and a brick of .22 ammo. Lastly, he threw in a couple of yellow legal pads. I stared at the pads a minute, then looked at him questioningly.
"Yep, I'm planning on getting a little writing done at La ViÃ±a," he said. "At least there'll be plenty of peace and quiet there. I've got a short deadline on a story for Shooting Times."
One thing was for sure, when the old man was writing, he demanded peace and quiet. Around the house when his deadlines neared, it was required that my presence be limited to quiet excursions to the kitchen for a drink or snack followed by an immediate exit. TV was out of the question. At least I'd be able to get out and shoot and fish at La ViÃ±a.
We arrived at the remote little camp well after dark. Dad made a cursory check of the place to clear out any loitering rattlers, tarantulas, or vinegaroons, which were generally in abundance. We stowed our gear, had a bite to eat, and set in for a little reading before bed. I had a hard time sleeping, thinking of the small-game hunting and bass fishing in Col. Quiros's well-stocked tanks the coming two days would bring about.
I woke up to the sound of a crackling fire that Dad had just stoked up. He was scraping up fixings for an omelet, which he was planning to make in a cast iron skillet over the fire. La ViÃ±a's fireplace was about all there was for a kitchen. Along with the aromatic smell of the burning mesquite, there was another odor about. I lay in my bunk a moment before recognizing the smell of rain and the sound of the steady pour on the old tin roof. I jumped out of the bunk and ran to the door to look outside, hoping to see just a passing rain cloud. That wasn't the case.
"Yep, pretty well socked in, I'm afraid," Dad said without looking up from the omelet makings. "Looks like we'll be stuck inside a while."
Rain in South Texas is a precious commodity, and I'm sure Col. Quiros was ecstatic about having a good soaker, but my own mood was far from delightful. After breakfast I wandered out into the downpour for a moment. The caliche entrance to La ViÃ±a had turned into a slippery goo about 3 inches deep. There wouldn't be much hunting. Even if I'd elected to give it a go, the old man likely wouldn't let me get my nice Winchester soaked. Part of the problem of course was the fact that Dad wasn't going to like being cooped up in the adobe shack trying to write with me hanging around with nothing to do. I left my mud-caked boots at the door and went on in to dry off. He was sitting next to the fireplace, concentrating on his legal pad. I quietly grabbed a magazine and went to my bunk.
As we both knew would be the case, the situation didn't work. After a while Dad tossed the yellow pad aside and picked up his old Rolleicord camera. If he couldn't get his writing going with me lurking about, he figured to get some pictures taken for the article.
After the photography session, the rain let up slightly. Dad tossed me his old army poncho and pointed at a fishing rod.
"Take a walk on over to the tank and see if you can't catch us a bass for lunch," he said.
It had eased into a steady drizzle, which didn't bother me a bit. Before arriving at the camp, Col. Quiros had outfitted me with one of his special bass lures, sure to land a lunker. He'd warned me sternly not to lose it since it was the last one he had. The fishing turned out to be pretty good, and I pulled in one pretty good large-mouth of perfect lunch size. After losing the lure, I headed on back to camp, the rain getting heavy again. Dad had written about two paragraphs in my absence.
After shedding my soggy clothes, we lunched on the bass, which Dad doused in cornmeal and fried in bacon grease.
"We may never get outta here if this keeps up," Dad said after lunch. "Might as well pack your gear and we'll head home."
I was pretty disappointed as we got in the truck and slid our way out to the highway back to Laredo, but Dad assured me we'd return to La ViÃ±a in better weather. We stopped by the Shipp headquarters to see Col. Quiros on the way out. I was afraid he might not allow me back over the fishing lure, but thankfully he didn't immediately remember it.
"Get your article finished Skeet?" the Colonel asked.
"Naw. That damned Shooting Times editor'll just have to wait," Dad replied.
"You've never paid any attention to deadlines anyway," the Colonel added with a chuckle.
Editors and deadlines weren't things I paid much attention to back in those days. I could have cared less about them, but I knew they were of importance to Dad. All I knew on the way back home was that even though our trip had pretty much been rained out, it was a great time.
These sort of memories contribute greatly to the honor of now having my own column at Shooting Times. It is a real privilege to follow in my dad's footsteps, and I'm thankful to all the great folks, even the editors, who have allowed me to do so.
I'm a little nervous about having to follow great writers like my dad and Sheriff Jim Wilson, but hopefully I've found a good home. And yeah, I inherited the old man's requirement of serenity while working.