The Perfect Storm

Rain has poured steadily for hours. I sit in my chair looking out of the window watching water pour off the roof of the house. Reports of local flooding continue to flash on the television. Video clips on the news of water rising under over passes on the freeways and, other low lying areas are travel hazards for motorist. It was a day like today, as the rain falls so hard and fast that the drains can’t keep up and the water rises, that will forever be etched in my mind.

Bill and I raised our three children on acreage in Katy, Texas. We wanted Lauren, Katherine, and Ryan to have lots of space to romp and live their childhood to the fullest. Our years on Karen Lane turned out to be all that we had dreamed for them. Our family had many life lessons that would not have otherwise been experienced had we lived anywhere but in the country and we would not trade those experiences for anything.



Most of our lessons were positive such as watching baby chicks hatch, learning to unwrap a sugar snake from one’s finger without being bitten, witnessing the birth of baby piglets, trapping an entire family of six raccoons in one night inside the barn, learning to ride a horse and getting back in the saddle if bucked off. I would be remiss if I failed to mention the twenty-six show lambs over time that, in and of themselves offered lessons that I will save for another blog.




Country life had its hardships as well. There were always animals to feed and sometimes nurse back to health or say good-bye to, giving them over to death. Life in the country entailed mowing several acres of grass, plenty of leaves to rake, repairs were endless, and there was always a fence that needed to be mended or built. Rain is a benefit to fence building making the ground soft for digging postholes. It is also an invitation to any five-year-old boy who owns a pair of rubber boots and a dip net.  It was on a day such as today with its high water that fence building and rain created the perfect storm.

It had been raining off and on for several days. The ground was saturated and the water could not drain fast enough. Our property was several inches under water and the open road ditches were full and deep. Bill and I saw this as an opportunity to work on our fence-building project in the back pasture while our three children, ages 12, 10, and 5 were left to entertain themselves outside. Both of the girls were standing in the road just in front of our house visiting with their friends. Bill and I were so focused on getting our fence post level that neither of us noticed our son, Ryan, in his little red rubber boots, grab his dip net and head for the ditch in front of the house to catch crawfish. He had done this many times before but never when the ditches were full.

The water flowed rapidly down the ditch. Reaching the 18” culvert pipe at our driveway, it was then forced through the pipe and formed strong whirlpool suction. After running through the pipe, it continued to flow toward the creek a hundred yards down the road. Ryan began crawfishing with his dip net at one end of the ditch that was shallower and continued wading along the ditch to the culvert. As the water began to deepen, it became more forceful pulling his small dip net out of his hand. Stepping toward the net in an effort to retrieve it, the water filled his boots and pulled his body under and against the culvert pipe. Ryan straddled the pipe with his legs and clung to it with his hands trying to keep his head above water. However, the current was too strong and pulled his head under. He feared that if he let go of the pipe, he would be sucked into it.

While the girls stood on the road visiting, Katherine noticed out of the corner of her eye, Ryan under the water in the ditch. With shock and fear, she opened her mouth to scream but the words could not be found. Knowing that action had to be taken quickly, she ran down into the ditch. She stood at his head and tried to pull him off of the drainage pipe. Ryan was a stout five year old and his clothes were wet and weighted. She could not budge him from the concrete pipe. The only thing she knew to do at that moment saved his life. Placing her hands under his head, she lifted his face to the surface of the water, which allowed him to breathe.

Fear continued to run rampant and the color drained from her face. Katherine stood helplessly in thigh deep water holding Ryan’s head. After several seconds, Lauren noticed Katherine down in the ditch as well as her facial expression with its ghostly appearance. There was nothing that could have kept Lauren from jumping into the ditch just as Katherine had done. Throwing her body into the muddy water, she grabbed Ryan under the arms. With adrenalin pumping through her veins, Lauren was able to lift her brother, breaking the suction that the water and pipe had on him. She carried Ryan out of the ditch to safety with Katherine following close behind. At that moment, Bill’s and my attention turned from a fence post to the distant screams and crying of our three shocked, soaking wet children.  Making our way quickly to the front of the house, we saw the fear in their faces.  Bill and I scooped them into our arms and headed to the house as each of the kids wanted to share the frightening event of that rainy afternoon.

I give thanks often for all of the great memories and life lessons learned while living in the country. However, there has not been a rainy day since the ditch experience on Karen Lane that I have not been mindful of the mercy of God that day upon our family. Today, watching the rain slow to a drizzle, I once again relive that moment and thank Him for sparing Ryan’s life. With a sigh of contentment, I smile at the thought of that rascal boy of ours, and the two heroines living among us.


The Last Round Up

My alarm sounded at 5:15am. I turned over and silenced it with a determined push of my finger. This day seemed in the distant future a month ago and had arrived much too quickly.   I lay in bed for a few minutes dreading putting my feet on the floor.  I knew that my feet touching the floor would set into motion the heart-wrenching plan that had been carefully thought through and about, down to every detail in previous weeks.


My dad, Morris Oliver, aka Papaw to our family, celebrated his 79th birthday last month. He has owned a cattle operation for forty years. Daddy built his herd over time while working as a heavy equipment operator.   My mother, Beverly was in banking and was very good at helping Dad keep up with the accounting side of the business.   Together, through trial and error, they learned the ins and outs of ranching.   As the years clipped by, we all knew an end would be reached one day…maybe, some day… the cattle would have to be sold. None of us liked to think about this chapter of our lives coming to a close. My siblings and my time with Dad at “The Pasture” has been a huge part of our upbringing as well as our own children’s upbringing. We have many precious memories that are centered on the 500+ acres of grazing land, which doubled as our playground.


Several years ago, new development moved to Katy. As we witnessed many of the larger tracts being sold, our family became aware that the pasture would one day be developed as well, but seldom dwelled on that fact.   Within the past year, the thought has come to the forefront of our attention. Cane Island Parkway will open soon. The parkway is routed down the middle of the flat land that we fondly call The Pasture, to make way for more progress in and around Katy and the outlying towns. It was because of future progress that I dreaded getting out of bed.   I knew that by early afternoon, our lives would never be the same.


I slowly put one leg and then the other into my jeans. Making my way to the kitchen, I poured myself a cup of hot coffee hoping that this would snap my sad self out of the funk in which I awoke. The aroma of the coffee brought the distant childhood memory of Daddy coming home from a hard day of construction labor, pouring his cup of coffee and heading to the pasture to check on the herd. Fighting tears at the thought, I quickly gathered my things, got in my car, and headed to Katy where I knew he would be waiting for me as he had been many times.  In the past, together we would count the cows, count baby calves, pick dew berries, hunt for deer, trap hogs, pick persimmons, check the pond, check the fences, shoot at coyotes, or hunt for antique bottles in the woods. At other times, we would just simply be.  Unlike past times, this day was strictly business. 


For the first twenty years, my dad along with my brother, Sidney was able to manage a round up together. As Dad aged and the herd expanded, he hired a cowboy, Craig Zwahar along with several cowboys that work with Craig, to round up, work, and ship calves to the sale barn for him. Over the past twenty years, Craig has become a trusted friend to our family. Today, just as many, many times over the past twenty years, Craig and his men were at the pasture before sun up, with their saddled horses, cow dogs, and trailers, ready to ride. However, this day was going to be different.  The cows would not be worked and then turned back out to pasture. This would be the last round up as every animal was loaded and shipped leaving the pasture vacant for future progress.


After the last animal was loaded onto the trailer, Craig put his hand on Daddy’s shoulder and gave him a sturdy squeeze and handshake.  He thanked my dad for his friendship and the years of fond memories that they had made working cattle together.  This chapter of life had indeed come to a close.  The trucks and trailers pulled away and we followed behind in their cloud of dust.  Daddy and I sat in silence on our way back to town.  I pulled into the small Midway grocery and bought each of us a cold, bottled, orange Fanta.  Back on the road that led home, we sipped in silence as 40 years of sweet memories were seen in the rearview mirror.