On Friday, September 4, I flew to DFW, landing at 1:00 PM. Hopped in son Jack’s Subaru, and rolled south and west toward the World Championship Barbequed Goat Cook-off. It was my 25th consecutive year to judge, and Jack’s 8th. Veterans who know their goat. It was nice to be back in Texas, under a big blue sky with puffy clouds. We made good time across about 200 miles, through the rolling Cross Timbers region, past grazing cattle, sheep, and, yes, goats, through small towns and county seats. By tradition, a stop at the Dairy Queen in Comanche, Texas, for a shake.
We were busy yakking, so we didn’t get around to playing tunes until the last 45 miles, when I cued a sentimental favorite, Basil Poledouris’ main theme to the TV series “Lonesome Dove,” very Texan, and then some favored cuts of Tex-country singer Robert Earl Keen. Arrived at the motel in Brady, Texas, and event venue, at 5:15, in time for a workout in the little gym, then over to The Spread for a light barbeque (turkey, not goat) meal, and a nice chat with owner Mandy. Then back to the motel for Friday-night football on TV, then a long sleep.
Up at six on Saturday morning, to the gym, then out to Melvin, Texas, population 184, and the traditional judges’ brunch, a huge buffet spread, at Jacoby’s. Shaking hands with long friends, backslapping, good-natured joshing. Only about six judges have more seniority than my quarter-century, so they’ve finally stopped calling me Yankee – and longtime organizer and fellow judge Kim King mentioned that I would soon be promoted to, ahem, senior judge. Wowie! Before and during the meal I chatted with a few locals about their extreme spring weather – tons of rain. Kim told me that about 25 miles north of Brady it rained 18 inches in 4 hours one day. Lots of damage and temporary inconvenience, but folks were glad that the drought was over. Amen to that.
After the brunch, Jack peeled off with buddies Stewart and Riley to judge cooking rigs (a side competition), and I headed back into Brady. It had been a few years since I walked the square that surrounds the McCulloch County courthouse. The Walmart south of town has eviscerated most of the downtown retail, and others have also moved to “the suburbs,” but a couple of stores and cafes are hanging on, along with law offices.
On the way through town the day before, Jack and I spotted the T. Keltz Art Studio on the square, and reckoned it must belong to longtime judge and organizer Terry Keltz. When I passed the studio that morning, to my great good luck Terry was inside, and waved me in. It wasn’t a T-t-S moment, but it was certainly a wonderful encounter. Terry is a banker in town, but it was instantly clear that art was his real passion. His mother was an artist all her life. When he was a boy, they lived on a small dryland (non-irrigated) farm east of Lubbock, and his mom, clearly talented, had an association with the art department at Texas Tech in Lubbock. The school ran a summer studio and program in Taos, New Mexico, and when Terry was eight his mom took him out there. “I was totally enthralled,” Terry said, and he began learning from his mother, then minored in art at Tech. Nowadays he gets to the studio at 4:30 each morning, working until six, and heading to work. The lesson for elitist urbanites: talent exists everywhere, even in a little town in the middle of Texas. The studio was big, and he showed me another couple of rooms, including one for his other, truly Texan avocation, hand-loading ammunition.
Before leaving the studio, I mentioned that the Palace movie theater had reopened two doors down from his studio, and I asked him about it. Older readers may remember the 1971 film The Last Picture Show, based on Texan Larry McMurtry’s novel and partly about the decline of small-town life. Thinking back to that film, and to the overall decline of small places, it was so encouraging to see something re-open. I wanted to know how that happened, and he replied, with classic Texan modesty that their Brady National Bank got some momentum rolling by buying and donating the building. They screen first-run features, all seats $4. Nice!
I drove out to Richards Park, site of the cook-off, and ambled around a bit, visiting with fellow judges and old friends. Ran into Stephen Coder and his family, first time in 15 years. Stephen and his dad Dee were some of the first cookers I met in 1991, and I was pleased that he promised to enter again in 2016.
Judging began at 2:00, with the Mystery Meat competition. It was wild boar, and most of it was really delicious. Then at 3:15 the main work, judging about 180 goat entries. We had nine tables, but we still ended up eating a lot of goat: 19 samples in round 1, 15 in round 2, 10 in round 3, 5 in round 4 – 49 pieces of goat (plus about 35 chunks of wild boar earlier). As always, some excellent goat, most mid-range, and some tough gray chunks that you just could not eat. I was captain of the table, with three other judges, one experienced, and two able rookies. Our scores were remarkably aligned. Jack and I said our goodbyes and peeled off. With a short DQ shake stop in Comanche, we were home by 8:15 – home being the house of a Jack’s buddy Lawson. Jack is in the middle of a relo from Lubbock to Austin, working temporarily in Dallas, so Lawson’s generosity has been very helpful. Showers that night were seriously welcome.
Up early Sunday morning, over to Buzzbrew, a breakfast dive, then downtown to admire the new Klyde Warren Park built atop the trenched Woodall Rodgers Freeway. I had hoped to borrow his bike for a few hours of urban exploration – Dallas continues to grow, and I wanted to have a better look – but his bike was in storage, so after motoring around downtown for 15 minutes Jack dropped me at an Orange Line light-rail station and I rode the train to DFW (my first ride all the way out to the airport), then flew home. Tradition upheld!