One Saturday I was out at a friend’s ranch out here in west Texas in a town named Knickerbocker. I was with my buddy Terry and his 12 yr old son Clay and my 16 year old daughter, Erin. Terry is one of those master naturalist guys. If you see a weed, he knows the common name, kingdom, phylum/division, class, order, family, genus and species. He won’t only tell you if it’s edible or not, he’ll tell you how to prepare it and which animals eat it and what it tastes like. There is nothing growing in, on or above the west Texas landscape that the man doesn’t know.
So as we’re driving around we see an area with some small plants in it. I don’t remember the name of the plant so I’ll just refer to it as “sour patch”. Terry points it out and tells me that it has a mildly sour taste. So he picks one of the chutes and hands it to me. I took a bite and it tasted like blackberries that you pick while they’re green or red. Pleasantly sour with a taste that makes your mouth water like Niagara Falls. As we drove around the ranch we’d stop every time we saw a patch of those plants so that I could pick a handful.
I munched on them most of the day and before we left I picked a handful more to take home. When I got home I gave one to my wife who gave me that, “I don’t trust you” look and had me promise to sacrifice my life if I was pulling some sort of trick on her. Well, she tried it and while she didn’t find it the most thrilling experience in the world at least she didn’t jump out of the chair and try to strangle me with her sewing thread.
About a week and a half later, on a Tuesday, I was on my way to work one morning when I noticed I had left a couple of those chutes in my center console. They were somewhat wilted but they weren’t gnarly and discolored. Being slightly portly is a testament to my "fear no food" approach.
Sometimes, being as I’ve lived to middle age, I take it as a sign that I’ve made good decisions my entire life.
Then there are times that remind me that I’ve only made it this far in life due mostly to dumb luck and divine intervention.
I put the innocent yet slightly withered looking plant in my mouth and immediately remembered how I was told, as a child, that the longer a watermelon sat the sweeter it got as it ripened. Evidently the longer that little plant sat the more sour it got. And it tasted like it had been sitting and souring since FDR was in office! I was driving on the highway and immediately my vision went to tunnel vision as my face contorted like something that contorts really bad when it’s eaten something really sour that it never should have eaten in the first place. My lips puckered until I could see them stretching over the steering wheel towards the windshield. They were trying to escape from my face. Suddenly I couldn’t breathe through my nose and my mouth wouldn’t open. I would have given anything, including my wife and children, to be able to have taken one little breath of fresh air.
I was somehow able to maintain control of the truck but I had clenched my fists so tight around the steering wheel that I could hear it popping and cracking. I rolled my window down to try and get some air flow. My pursed lips felt the air and immediately tried to escape out of the window. Tears started streaming down my face and blinded me as my truck slowed from a mighty 65 mph to a dawdling 30 mph. I got into the emergency lane, still unable to breathe and felt a pain start at the base of my skull and course through my brain. As my truck steadily and slowly thudded over those little plastic bumps in the emergency lane I thought to myself, “That’s it. I’m going to die of a brain aneurysm brought on by rotten, super soured vegetation…if I don’t die of asphyxiation first."[p>
I saw a child in the passenger seat of a car with his face plastered to the window and staring at me as he passed by. I’m sure he was wondering why a grown man was driving in the emergency lane, crying and apparently trying to rip his steering wheel out of his truck with his lips hanging 3 feet out of his window. I wonder how his mother explained that one to him.
About that time, my face relaxed due, I’m sure, to lack of blood flow. My face had been puckered so intensely that not a drop of blood could flow through whatever it is that blood flows through in your face. I was able to open my mouth slightly and inhale a deep, wonderful, refreshing, sour fume cleansing breath. I grabbed my bottle of water from the center console and swished it around my mouth to clean out any remnants of the vegetation and spit it out with such force that it cleared 8 lanes of the highway. I finished my drive to work and drank several cups of everything in the office to clean away the remnants of the evidence.
Copyright 2012 Bill Hancock