Seems like I’ve been off on some “heavy” topics for a good while, and I needed a breath of fresh air. I remembered this post I had about Bubba Sage and saw that I wrote it almost exactly two years ago on October 17, 2012. I loved reading it again and thought you all might, too. Enjoy.
Once upon a time not long ago and certainly not far away a great Texas storyteller held forth on a Sunday afternoon as his audience gathered around a small dining room table, and it was my good luck to be there for the performance. He was the last guest to arrive for the barbecue luncheon and proved to be quite the addition to a little band of friends and family who gathered for a traditional birthday celebration for my cousin Martin. I should’ve known I was in for a treat when Carroll “Bubba” Sage announced his presence with an entrance worthy of royalty. This very large man with a closely trimmed grey beard moved into the kitchen as the screen door slammed behind him. He balanced a homemade German chocolate cake in a single layer aluminum cake pan as he came in, and the energy in the little house went up a notch. When he retrieved a package of coffee he’d brought and declared he never went anywhere without his own Dunkin’ Donuts coffee because he couldn’t possibly drink anything else with his cake, my antenna was up and ready for the ride.
And what a ride it was…Bubba grew up as the younger child of parents who owned and operated what was affectionately known by its patrons in the 1950s as a “beer joint.” He was born and raised in Navasota which was, and is sixty years later, a small town in Grimes County, Texas, a county that was dry back in those days so his folks opened their establishment across the Brazos River in Washington County which was wet. Dry county equals no adult beverages allowed. Wet county means go for it. In addition to serving beer, the best barbecue and hamburgers in the state made the place standing room only for a long time, according to Bubba’s stories. I know that barbecue from years of chasing brisket in Texas hole-in-the-wall restaurants and could visualize the scene as Bubba’s daddy cooked the barbecue outside behind the tavern on a long open pit built out of bricks with a crusty black grill to put the meat on. I swear I could smell the aroma, or maybe that was my cousin’s chickens and sausage cooking outside in a smoker for our lunch.
And my, oh my, talk about entertainment. The Sage Place had music on the weekends and Bubba’s daddy played fiddle in the band. As Alabama sings, if you’re gonna play in Texas, you gotta have a fiddler in the band. The women’s petticoats swirled to the fast music and then swayed to the slow tunes as they danced the Two-Step. The female patrons particularly liked the little boy who was always there and let him wear their costume jewelry sometimes when they saw him eyeing it with lust in his eyes. He was in heaven.
The young boy grew up and became one of the teenagers that puffed the Magic Dragon in the middle of the Brazos River at a place he and his friends appropriately dubbed Smokey Point. They also created a theater of sorts at Smokey Point and Bubba developed a reputation as the Star of the Brazos. I was mesmerized by this big man’s recitations at our dining table. He took me totally by surprise when he began quoting a section of Young Goodman Brown, an obscure short story by the nineteenth century novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne. I could picture him at Smokey Point as the Brazos River flowed past the dramatics.
As all good storytellers do, Bubba threw in a few words and phrases to grab his listeners’ attention and he grabbed mine when he said, “I’ve had close calls and been caught between hell and hackeydam more times than I like to remember.” Excuse me I said as I interrupted him. But what does that mean and how do you spell it? Bubba laughed and said it was like being between a rock and a hard place and a phrase his family used but that he had no idea how to spell it so I’ve spelled it phonetically and will now use it as if I’d thought it up myself.
The lunch was delicious. Bubba’s German chocolate cake was the best I ever tasted and that includes both of my grandmothers’ efforts so that’s high praise. I stayed to play dominos after we ate and then began to say my goodbyes and thanks for the day when the game was over. As I cut a piece of cake to take with me, Bubba made one final rendition in the kitchen. He recited portions of “The Hill” from Edgar Lee Masters’s Spoon River Anthology which ends with the line, “… all, all are sleeping on the hill…”
Honestly, does it get any better than that?