“This is Robert McLeery. I think you should come out here and bring a camera. Here’s how you get here. You go out…”
He gives directions, a left, then a right, then another left, then another right and then 1 1/2 miles to a gate.
“I’m a little hard of hearing,” he warns. “Are you coming? It’ll be worth it.”
Indeed. From his ranch gate to infinity is a carpet of wildflowers — 80 acres of them.
“I call them golden daisies,” he says. “This land used to belong to old Grandma Mattingly. I drove the tractor and mowed all that so they would come up like that this year.”
Nothing so remarkable about that — except that McLeery is 95 — born and raised 10 miles west of San Angelo. And Irish.
“My grandfather came to the United States at the insistence of the Irish Republican Army. He stowed away on a ship to Galveston. Hop in, I’ll show you around the place.”
McLeery is retired, lives in Corpus Christi. But he can’t stay away from his land southwest of Mineral, and already has plans for when he will return to it, permanently.
“I’m not an ordinary old man,” he declares.
He is a retired, union carpenter. “I’m waiting for them to ship my 70-year pin,” he says. “I get a $72 pension check every month.”
He learned his craft and trade in Houston. “Sooner or later,” he says of job security, “every home ever built needs a carpenter.”
He taught carpentry at Moody High School in Corpus Christi for 17 years, but quit in 1985. “Hell, that’s long enough.”
As he stops the truck, the scent of spring wafts through the open windows. A symphony of songbirds rehearses in the nearby trees.
“During the war (World War II), I was in the Seabees. I helped build that runway on Tinian. The Enola Gay B-29 took off from that runway with the atomic bomb.
“While we were heading for Tinian on that Navy ship, the lookouts spotted something in the water. It looked like a floating barrel, could have been a mine. Without any warning, they started blasting away at it with the ship’s guns. It damaged my ears; been hard of hearing ever since.
“I carried a Thompson submachine gun. That thing would fire 750 rounds per minute. Of course, if you tried that, you would melt the barrel of the gun.”
His Irish eyes rarely leave the daisies.
“See that land across the road? A retired Texas Ranger lived there, knew him well. His wife had cancer for years and then he found out he had it. They talked it over then he called the police to tell them where they could find them. He took out his gun and killed her and then himself.”
“I’ve known that the Lord has loved me since I was 14 years old. Almost everything that has happened to me is connected with the Lord in some way.
“I want to show you something special,” putting the truck in gear. “I’m going to take the long way around because I don’t want to beat down the flowers.”
Far from the highway, McLeery has fenced off a special area of land.
“This is my cemetery. See that cedar fence post over there?” He points to an area where rays from the late afternoon sun have worked their way through the tree branches. “When the time comes, this is where I want to be.”
On the way back to the gate, his stories tumble out like a scrapbook whose pages are turned by a gust of wind.
“I remember saving my brother’s life. He had appendicitis. We got him to the hospital just in time.
“You know, I met my wife in a cafe on Main Street. I knew she was going to be the best one.”
“I believe everybody is put here for a purpose. I know what my purpose was — to talk to people, to encourage them to talk to each other, and to follow the Golden Rule. You’re always doing something for others and the Lord is always doing something for you.”
Random memories and golden rules, like goldendaisies scattered over 80 acres of sunshine.