“I was born...in Live Oak County...”
...writes author J. Frank Dobie in his biography, Some Part of Myself.
“I was born in a three-room whitewashed ranch house.”
That was 127 years ago. Today, little is left of the homestead. The caliche stone structure is rubble, and the familiar ravages of the seasons and the clock have so damaged the remaining wood building that it’s a danger to enter.
He sold the ranch in the early 1950s. No one of the six men who bought it has any idea of living upon it. They are oil men, not ranchers; they bought it as a hunting place and as an investment...no matter who holds title to the ground, my roots into it will be ineradicable.
As local historian Jimmy Jackson points out, there still is evidence of the Dobie occupancy.
While the front porch is sagging, where water falling off the tin roof hits the ground are lilies first planted by the Dobie family.
Truth to tell, Dobie was not all that enamored.
The richest days of my life have not been spent on this ranch, not at all.
So, it is a historical, if literary, footnote. Dobie often visited the ranch on camping trips, but the climate did not agree.
The summers are scorching; for nine months of the year the air is enervating...One can waste his heart out there vainly hoping for rain.
He showed little concern about the ranch itself.
As a matter of fact, we did absolutely nothing to restore it.
While some raise the question of renovation, Jackson says the building is beyond renovation. To drive with him down to the end of a road, then to a gate, then to the end of another road, it is not difficult to reach the same conclusion.
“You’re going to try it, then,” he asks as a visitor finally gets the courage to climb inside the doorway.
The ceilings are high—a defense against the heat. And while the floors look as if they would collapse, they are sturdy.
One can only imagine what it was like inside the stone building.
The fire in the fireplace would talk to me as no other fire in any other fireplace can talk.
What wisdom did the flames confide with a youngsters who later would become such a writer of renown? Did Dobie ever plan a book titled “Conversations With Coals?”
And yet, years after he left, Dobie said if he were wealthy, he would buy the ranch, modernize the house and live there during the hunting season.
His companions, he wrote, would be books and a typewriter.
Not quite ignored, the ranch house.
But while it did not constitute a high priority, the land itself was paramount.
The land remains. A thousand, 10,000 years hence, the Dobie ranch will be where it was before...It will have other names, be divided and then be absorbed.
Still, he wrote, it is a measure of ground to which I am more closely akin than to any other on earth.
The building is almost gone; Dobie’s writing remains.
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 343-5222, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.