My family was friends with a man named Fred McDaniel. As a kid, he seemed to me like he was about 80 years old, but I'm not sure about that. Fred was a real character. When he'd think hard, he'd put his hand sort of over his mouth with his index finger draped over his nose. He also would puff up his cheeks a little and blow the air out of his mouth. He did that puffing thing a lot. He had lots of life experience and knew how to build things. He showed us where to find arrowheads, and told us about the area of Texas where our farm was. He had what seemed to us as unorthodox ways of doing things but his ways got results.
Fred had an old truck that had seen better days. Rather than getting another one, he did his own special repairs to it. There was a pedal missing from the floorboard so Fred just attached a wooden block to the support. I think there were holes in the floorboard, too. One time, my Dad got our tractor stuck in the mud and Fred backed up his old truck and pulled it right out. Even though it looked like it was on it's last few miles, it sure got the job done.
Fred believed in being comfortable. I remember him always wearing overalls. They were faded and super soft from countless washings. When Fred got new denims, he would put them in an old cement mixer with a bunch of soap and let it run for a long time. It took the stiff right out of them. He didn't like tight shoes and was known to cut out the part that crowded his toes. Even if the shoes were brand spankin' new! He wanted to be comfortable.
One place where we liked to spend time was in an old shack he had built out in the middle of a pasture. He used to have fish fries out there. He'd tell us that he caught those fish out of the Navasota river, even though they were wrapped up in a Safeway package. We just went along with it. The shack was snug as a bug in the wintertime. He had an old potbellied stove in there and he had tacked cardboard to all of the walls to serve as insulation. It worked. If his fish got to spattering too much grease, he could just rip off a section of the cardboard and replace it. I remember it as being really cozy.
Fred had a pet for a while. It was a deer he named Sister. Sister got to live in his house sometimes. I think he found her along a road somewhere and he took her home to nurse her along. I just found it odd that he'd have a deer and that he'd let her go inside of his house. But that was Fred. I used to clean his house to earn money and I had to get used to Sister nosing around. I couldn't really get close enough to her to pet her but she'd let Fred love on her.
I was a youngster when Fred passed away. It was the first funeral that I can remember attending. Even though Fred was more my parent's friend than mine, I remember being very sad that such a wonderful character was not going to be around any more. He helped everyone in my family out from time to time, and he had all kinds of wisdom to share, and he was a constant source of humor. I don't think we'll ever forget him. I think everyone needs a Fred in their lives. I hope to be a Fred to somebody. But I'm not going to let a deer live in my house, and I'm not going to cut my shoes up. But I might wear overalls.