The Wells Fargo Stepping Stone . . .


GENTLE READER: My bride, Mary Jane and I have only recently moved to Goliad, Texas. During our rather long lifetimes, we have made many moves. We have lived in some twenty states and in about the same number of foreign countries. We managed to get out of every one of them before the bill collectors or the sheriff caught up with us. Goliad has been our best move yet. It reminds us a lot of our former residence in Lake Woebegone, Minnesota, where, according to Garrison Keilor, ". . . All the women are beautiful, all the men are handsome, and where all the children are above average." If there has been any reluctance on the part of any person we've met to make us feel welcome, we have not noted it. In short, Goliad appears to be a marvelous place to make a home.

What follows is pure spoof. It is whimsy. As with any satire, it has an underlying grain of truth. It certainly is not meant in any way to hurt anyone or their feelings. Now for those who may have been behind the door when the Lord passed out gray matter, and for those, especially, who have recently moved front Corpus Christi or other areas of questionable virtue: Now listen up good, Forest Gump. What I'm doing here is funnin'. There ain't no truth in any of this stuff. Don't pay no `tention to it. Except as noted below, every name used in the following is that of a real, living person residing in Goliad. I have not changed their names because everyone is guilty as charged. Mr. Chandler, vice-president of Wells Fargo resides in San Francisco. I'm very angry at Mr. Chandler for reasons that will be made clear later. Austin "Bull" Merdes, real estate/used car salesman, and his identical triplet brothers The Rt. Rev. Dr. Msgr. Bishop Fannin "Bubba" Merdes, and Travis "Cactus" Merdes, the town drunk, do not exist, and have never existed. Any resemblance of "Bull," "Bubba," or "Cactus" to any person, living, dead, or in a state of suspended animation, is pure serendipity and unintended. Come to think on it, no one has ever seen any two of the triplets at the same time. is it possible that they are one and the same, and that the story of them being triplets is just so much merde? Nah, that couldn't be! My cruelest blows seem to be directed at the City Council. I've attended portions of two Council meetings since I've been in town. The range of issues that come before them are truly staggering. Thank God that some of our fellow citizens will step forward to look after all our interests. Like anyone else, they are not always right. Now and then, like the best referee, they may miss a call. I believe, however, that their efforts are almost always well intentioned. They are worthy of much more praise than censure. How many of us would be willing to replace any one of them? It's easy to criticize, and difficult to make decisions that affect the lives of fellow citizens. Oh, yeah. I talk about the Empresario serving a late evening meal a little later in the piece. Forget it. We should be so lucky. More Whimsy. Novellus.

We were standing in front of 206 S. Market Street, directly across the street from the Market Street Museum. Mr. "Bull" Merdes, used car salesman and real estate broker par excellence, placed his foot firmly on the beautiful, historical, pink granite stone, smiled his most ingratiating smile, and assured Mary Jane and me that this had been the very stepping stone that passengers used to alight from their stagecoach when the building had been used as a hotel during the Nineteenth Century. We were impressed. I looked up quickly, fully expecting to see a stagecoach with Wells Fargo Line emblazoned on its door, on two wheels, rounding the corner of South Market and Franklin Streets, pursued closely by a large group of Cart War bandits, while the good citizens of Goliad scattered about Fannin Park. Jimmy Stewart would be driving the 'coach, and of course John Wayne and Ronald Reagan would be riding shotgun. The vision faded. Our friend "Bull" opened the door to the house. There were a rather impressive number of very deceased cucarachas in the foyer, and I wondered for just a moment if they could have been killed in the twelve-gauge shotgun crossfire from the stagecoach. Nah! They were too big to die of a minor wound. The house was impressive. That is, it was impressive if you lusted for a house that had two and one-half foot thick walls built of limestone, four huge rooms, a sun porch which leaned south on one side of the building and east on the other, one and one-half baths with fixtures dating from 1913, a roof dating from the same period, and various and multifarious porches and overhangs. To be honest, all the latter seemed to be making every attempt to secede from the basic structure of the house. The whole edifice was painted Bilious Beige, with flashes of Gangrene Green and Nauseous Yellow where the old paint showed through. You could hear termites chewing on the structure even over the traffic noises from Route 59. "Bull" wanted to know if we had ever seen anything quite like it before. We allowed that we had not, but knew that our luck would fail us sometime.

"Bull" showed us several other properties, but all lacked the panache and decrepitude of that on South Market.

Lemmings destroy themselves by rushing into the sea. Salmon swim upstream, exhausting themselves in an orgy of leaping and copulation, only to die. Bison stampede off cliffs. Elephants seek their own graveyard. Some persons, who are particularly accursed, have an old house fetish. Well, you get the idea. The seeds of self-destruction are inherent in the species. At that point my bride, Mary Jane, issued a proclamation and an ultimatum. This did not concern me since she tends to do this biweekly whether she needs to or not. The proclamation and ultimatum in this case stated that only after her body had assumed ambient temperature would we get involved with this property. I tried to point out the good points, but the only one I could think of was that all the two and one-half foot thick limestone partitions were load bearing and therefore could not be moved. And I wasn't sure if that was an advantage or a disadvantage. I'll have you know that in our forty-seven years of marriage I've learned a thing or two about my dear bride. So, after a late evening dinner at the Empresario (she has always been a sucker for that ploy), she agreed that we would make an offer. She insisted, however, that the offer be so low that it would be insulting, and therefore surely would be refused.

Then, through the agency of Suzi and Newton Warzecha, we began to meet some of the Leading Citizens of Goliad at the Club de Goliad. When told of the house we had made an offer on, none would look us in the eye. Each shook his head sadly, and turned away, as though there had been a recent death in the family. Curiously, each expressed his pleasure that someone [else] was finally going to do something with that eyesore. Don't get me wrong. That is not what was said. But, clearly, that is what was implied.

We want it understood that, up until the time we made our ridiculously low bid, that the property owner had behaved like a perfect gentleman. But when we made our bid he rounded on us and accepted it. How dare he? There is nothing that deflates the ego of a buyer more than to have his first offer accepted. Obviously, we had bid too high. We had been taken. Once, again, we had run into someone a whole bunch smarter than we were. Our only option was to smile through our tears. What do we do now?

One of the things we did was to meet Mimi Whittington. After she had regained a measure of control over her laughing fit after being told which house we had purchased, she wanted to know if we had ever seen the movie, The Money Pit? When we admitted that we had not, she indicated that we should do so as a matter of absolute priority. So, we did. It was too late. We were committed. We had been given our White Elephant by the Maharajah of Bengal (or whoever) and we were stuck with it. Why, oh why, couldn't we have met Mimi a month earlier?

We decided to look at the bright side of property ownership. We had purchased one of the oldest buildings in Goliad. We guessed, or rather hoped that old, at least in Goliad, was good. It had been one of the first hotels in the city. It had figured in the romantic and historical past of Goliad. After all, the pamphlet given to all the tourists, Goliad Downtown Walking Tour said the stepping stone in front was for stagecoach passengers. Would an Official Pamphlet published Officially by the Official Goliad Chamber of Commerce contain anything questionable? The very thought was inconceivable. Besides that, a 1984 application for an Official Texas State Historical Marker stated clearly that the house " ... served as a Wells Fargo stop in its early days." And didn't "Bull" Merdes also mention Wells Fargo in connection with that beautiful, historical pink granite stepping stone? We sort of thought he might have. And would a used car salesman tell anything but the entire truth? No way.

So, there we had it. It might be a wreck, but, by golly, it was our wreck. Not only that, but it was an historical wreck. We were happy. We were content. We had our beautiful, historical pink granite stagecoach stepping stone, which had been pushed only slightly out of place when the City Council put in the Eviscerating No Parking Signs/Mangling Devices, in intimate proximity to where the stagecoach passengers had alighted. Of course, if a stagecoach passenger should attempt to alight there now, she or he would be cut squarely and efficiently in half by one or the other of the Eviscerating No Parking signs. And if a stagecoach passenger should somehow manage to survive the Eviscerating No Parking signs without fatal impairment, surely, she or he would fall victim to one of the two Mangling Devices imbedded in Market Street. These are a fiendishly clever innovation whose history may undoubtedly be traced back to Tomas de Torquemada and the Inquisition. They are precisely sited so that anyone approaching the house from the east will trip over them. This throws the victim forward into the arms of the Eviscerating No Parking Signs, or smashes them against the curb or the beautiful, historical, granite stepping stone. This would certainly cause the requisite number of broken bones, closed and open cranial impairments, and internal injuries that would inevitably result in all but instantaneous death.

What we've heard from some of the folks is that even the Eviscerating No Parking Signs\Mangling Devices have a peculiar history all their own, complete with heroes, heroines, and villains and villainesses. Apparently, there was more intrigue circumscribing the placement of these Devices than could be found in the Court of a medieval Pope or in the Schleswig-Holstein Affair. So, we refuse to assign roles in that particular imbroglio. The reason is that, depending on who is telling the story, the roles keep getting switched around. That is, one person's hero is another's villain and vice-versa. It seems to have involved some kind of an esoteric "Contest" the rules of which are totally arcane. Well, you know what I mean. Since YOU were here at the time that makes YOU a lot more responsible than we late corners. We refuse to get involved. The only thing we're sure of is that we're stuck with the Eviscerating No Parking Signs/Mangling Devices right smack in front of our house. We are the only residence in the city to be so favored by the City Council. We can hardly thank them enough. Actually, we have grown somewhat fond of them, in the same way that Damocles is said to have become of his sword and Captain Ahab the Great White Whale.

Mary Jane and I have only lived in Goliad a few weeks, but there are a number of peculiarities that we cannot help but have observed concerning Goliadians. You must consider these observations anecdotal and based on empirical observation. They are not scientific, although they do appear to possess a certain amount of intrinsic verity valid at plus or minus five points at the ninety-fifth percentile of accuracy and confidence.

One thing is the Goliadian obsession with trees. Trees grow everywhere. In the streets, on the sidewalks, and in, on and through residences. We have a rather large oak on our property which has all but taken over the west end of the roof. On one occasion, unthinkingly, I mentioned the words "chain saw" and our "tree" in the same sentence. This led to an absolutely hysterical reaction by a lady who happened to be present. She threatened to chain herself to the tree totally bereft of clothing (i.e. naked as a jaybird) to preclude harm to the tree.

Because of this type of societal obsession, one would expect to find only one large church in town, and it would be Druid. This is not so. It seems to us that the usual mix of churches is present. Take the church founded by the Rt. Rev. Dr. Msgr. Bishop Fannin "Cactus" Merdes as an example. This congregation meets on Saturday evenings at the extension to the Empresario. It rejoices in the name of The Ecumenical United Baptist Catholic Episcopal Lutheran Methodist Presbyterian Non-Denominational Hindu Bahai Pantheist Reformed (Unreformed) Evangelical Charismatic Church. And to further prove the religious diversity of the community, just a few weeks ago a Buddha was found in the middle of the quadrangle at the Presidio La Bahia facing east. You think I'm kidding? Ask Newton Warzecha. Another thing is the Goliadian fixation with buried cannons. The books, articles, and pamphlets concerning buried cannons converted into newsprint must equate with the demise of entire forests and the spillage of a small ocean of ink. If every cannon claimed to have been found in Goliad were still extant here, this city would look like Hitler's Festung Europa on the eve of the Normandy Invasion.

Third, and last, is the matter of buried treasure. The Good Lord only knows the number of digs, shafts, tunnels and whatever that have been burrowed into the earth around Goliad. Mark my words, someday all this digging will come back to haunt us. Ask Newton Warzecha. He'll tell you that it is not uncommon to find where someone has made a midnight dig right around the Presidio La Bahia. Think about it. One day one person will dig the GREAT CONNECTING HOLE, maybe only six inches deep, that will link up all the jillions of holes dug over the years, and swish, a great sucking sound, and Goliad is gone!

There has been a persistent rumor that every child born in Goliad for the past one hundred and fifty years came equipped with a shovel in hand and a miner's hard hat on her or his head. This could only result from a case of genetic predisposition. But I've never believed that. Completely. The shovel, maybe.

In the final throes of settlement on the property, "Bull" Merdes had advised us of a 1968 provision in a Warranty Deed that the lady selling the house had reserved an undivided one-half interest in any "...hidden treasures, treasure trove, buried moneys, gold or silver artifacts..." Let me tell you, this really got our attention. It was almost as good as seeing Ed McMahon illegally parking his van in front of one of the Eviscerating No Parking Signs/Mangling Devices in front of the house.

We had also been made aware of a "secret room" in the basement by Ada Sue Stephens, a former owner. Ada Sue also provided information on how to get into this room. It seemed as simple as adding one fact to the other fact, and these two separate facts seemed to add up. Not only was there buried treasure in the house but we knew where it must be. So, we added one and one, and came up with four.

We got our friend, Jerry Hahn, to come over with his trusty saw, and in about as much time as it takes to tell about it, he had a hole made from which we could get into the room. I offered Jerry a generous share of any treasures we might find. After all, if you are about to discover a fortune you can afford to be magnanimous. Somehow, he didn't show much interest. He packed his saw and left.

Not to worry. Newton Warzecha was there as well as Suzi and Mary Jane as I slowly lowered myself into the room. Don't get the wrong idea. Newton offered to go first -he's that kind of guy- but tradition impelled me. Don't know who made up that tradition, but it badly needs revision. As I lowered myself into what could have been the snake pit in The Temple of Doom, I felt more and more like Indiana Jones, although regretfully I don't have his physique. Newton followed me down.

Ada Sue had written many years ago about the meat hooks hanging from the beams, and sure enough, there they were. Other than the meat hooks, Newton and I picked up an old license plate holder, a shard of a piece of crockery, and what I think is a pork chop bone. Actually, I checked and learned that there were 11,234 Forensic Scientists in the United States. I tried to hire just one of these scientists to make a positive identification on the pork chop bone, and to get a DNA sample. Unfortunately, every single one of them was employed in some aspect of the 0. J. Trial.

The next step was to invite our very good friend, Jimmy Carabajal, over to lunch. Jimmy is as good an archeologist as we've ever known. We also asked him to bring along his very expensive metal detector. To make a long story short, Jimmy spent a couple of hours probing around the old fountain in the courtyard. He harvested a really fine crop of aluminum pop-tops.

Now you're probably thinking that, other than the pop-tops, I'm going to tell you that Jimmy came up empty-handed. Not on your tintype. One of his finds had military implications. He discovered the firing mechanism of a cap pistol in excellent condition right in front of the fountain. We have sent this artifact to the State Archeologist in Austin to be verified, and we believe that it can definitely be tied in, somehow, with the Fannin Massacre. What the heck, everything else gets tied in, why not this?

But then the piece de resistance. Three genuine, official, U. S. Pennies, dating from 1924, 1947, and 1972, respectively. I felt it only proper to offer Jimmy his choice of the treasures, and he sneered only slightly when he said that he only collected Spanish gold and silver coinage of the 16th Century. I assured him that should such a find be made, he would get first crack. Let it not be said that I violated a contract. If the heirs or assigns of the person who made the reservations about buried treasures come forward, and, of course, can properly identify themselves, I will be happy to write a check for one and one-half cents. So much for getting rich quick from buried treasure. Ed McMahon, get out of that Eviscerating No Parking Signs/Mangling Devices parking space before I have the Goliad City Police Force hang a parking ticket on your van!

But, again, like Sisyphus, I still had my rock. My rock was beautiful, historical, pink granite and had been used as a stepping stone for passengers alighting from the Wells Fargo Stagecoach and had been pushed only slightly out of position by the City Council when they erected the two Eviscerating No Parking Signs/Mangling Devices. Then a strange event brought disquietude to my life.

I don't want you to get the wrong idea. Under anything approaching normal circumstances Doris Freer and Sue Miller are absolute dolls. Two nicer, sweeter, more attractive ladies you will never meet. Besides that, they make the best cookies in Texas and probably the universe. And I certainly don't want to be put on their cookie embargo list.

What happened next was a corollary of the "Law of Unintended Consequences" and absolutely no one's fault. Doris and Sue, in their respective roles as stalwarts of the Goliad County Historical Commissions, spend a lot of time together. They have been responsible for giving the Market Street Museum a face lift, the likes of which has not seen since the spring of 1902. (There will be very few people who ever thank them for their hard work. So, I want to do it right now. Thanks Doris and Sue!!!) As part of their efforts, they encountered some twenty old volumes of ledgers from Wells Fargo.

The plot thickens. Remember that beautiful, historical pink granite rock that was the stepping stone for passengers alighting from Wells Fargo stagecoaches and stood in intimate proximity to the Eviscerating No Parking Signs/Mangling Devices? Doris, on her own initiative wrote Wells Fargo asking about their operations in Goliad. The reply brought my world, as I knew it, nearly to an end. The letter came in only a few days from a Mr. Robert J. Chandler, Assistant Vice President, Historical Services. Mr. Chandler had the temerity to insist:

"...Wells Fargo did not run in Texas. Before the [Civil] war, Wells Fargo directors helped form the Overland Mail Company, often known as the Butterfield line, which cut to the west of Goliad to reach El Paso...
...Wells Fargo entered Texas in 1881 on the Southern Pacific Railroad, which served Goliad. We had an agency in your town from 1889 until the wartime consolidation of the express business into American Railway Express in 1918."

When I read the first sentence of Mr. Chandler's letter, I could not restrain a primal scream. Now wait just a gol dum minute here Chandler! How dare you say that "Wells Fargo did not run in Texas.?" What about my beautiful, historical, pink granite Wells Fargo stepping stone? What about my vision in which John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart and Ron Reagan clearly appeared? Visions don't lie, Chandler. Don't mess with my metaphysical beliefs! What about that application for an Official Texas State Historical Marker? What about what "Bull" Merdes said? Well, might have said?

Wait a minute. I'll sue. 0. J.'s Dream Team is out of work. I'll appeal to them to take my case pro bono publico. I'll charge nationality prejudice. After all, I do have mainly German blood in my veins. I'll get a change of venue to Nordheim. I'll have the Nordheim Brass Band entertain the hordes of visitors and news people while the latter scoff down Bratwurst, Knockwurst and Sauerkraut in that big dance hall. C-Span and all the networks will be there! Since you can't throw a rock in any direction in Nordheim without hitting a German, there will be a German judge, German bailiff, German court reporters, and most importantly twelve German jurors. How can I lose?

I'll sue for Defamation of Stepping Stone. I'll sue Newton Warzecha and the Chamber of Commerce for what their lousy brochure says. I'll sue "Bull" Merdes for what he should have said. I'll sue Wells Fargo for not having the guts to run their rotten sissy stagecoach line in Texas before and after the War Between the States. Who's afraid of a few Indians anyway? Big scairdy cats. Besides that, Wells Fargo has very deep pockets.

I'll even sue Doris and Sue. No, I won't. If I sue Doris and Sue they will cut off my cookie supply. And I'll need all my strength to sue those other turkeys. So, I don't dare sue Doris and Sue. The only reply to my cries of grief and rage is that of one hand clapping.

Job never had it any worse.

So, here we are in Goliad. I have an ugly, unhistorical, ex Wells Fargo granite stepping stone, in a nasty shade of pink sitting in front of my falling down house which had been nudged slightly out of position when the City Council put in the Eviscerating No Parking Signs/Mangling Devices. No, Gomer Pyle, the house wasn't nudged out of position, it was the darned ex stepping stone! To add to my grief, closer examination of the granite stepping stone proved that it was only concrete. And an inferior grade of concrete at that. Just one more legend shot to heck!

By comparison, the history of the Eviscerating No Parking Signs/Mangling Devices is a lot more interesting. The story line of the Eviscerating No Parking Signs/Mangling Devices, after all, is rumored to have a Cast of Characters that not even Hollywood could envision. Might there be a movie deal in all this? The actual participants could reprise their original roles. Two versions could be made, wherein in one a person would be the hero and the other the villain. This could be the beginning of an entirely new film genre. I can see it now. Opening Night in the multibillion dollar completely reconstructed, refurbished and reopened theater on the south side of the Courthouse Square. The stars of the movie, our fellow citizens, the City Council, Bill and Hillary Clinton, the full Cabinet, the Chief Justice and Members of the Supreme Court, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all in formal attire, entering the theater to thunderous applause. Rosemary Baker, from the steps of the Empresario, announcing twenty-four hour a day operation, thereby eliminating hunger as we know it in Goliad. The beacons flashing through the sky, the fireworks, the consequent opening of Goliad International Airport, the block long limousines angle parked in all directions, except of course where the Eviscerating No Parking Signs/Mangling Devices forbid it. Wait a minute. All the foregoing would interfere with Market Days. This will never do. OK everybody, scrub off the grease paint and get out of your fancy duds and back in your cowboy clothes. The movie is definitely off.

Could these Eviscerating No Parking Signs/Mangling Devices be tied in somehow with Wells Fargo stagecoaches? Nah. That won't work because of that darned Robert J. Chandler of Wells Fargo and his boring historical facts. I wish he had minded his own business.

I have a better idea. I'll apply to the Texas State Historical Commission for an Official Texas State Historical Marker to be positioned on a heavy chain linking the two Eviscerating No Parking Signs with the two Mangling Devices. The inscription would read like this:

The City Council of Goliad, in their collective wisdom, caused these Eviscerating No Parking Signs/Mangling Devices to be placed in intimate proximity to the Formerly Beautiful, Historical, Pink Concrete Stepping Stone to preclude the alighting of Stagecoach Passengers in Goliad. Everyone knows that Stagecoach Passengers are likely to dress and talk funny, be persons of questionable character and low morals, who gamble, drink and smoke a lot and should, by rights be kept out of a respectable city. Confirming the acumen of the City Council is the easily proven certainty that since the placement of the Anti-Stagecoach Passenger Eviscerating No Parking Signs/Mangling Devices that not a single Stagecoach Passenger has been arrested by the City Police of Goliad within the City Limits!!!

And now gentle reader, those who have stuck it out this far, if I missed calling attention to any personal foible that you may have within the foregoing, breathe not easily. For it has come to my attention, after a careful census of Goliad County, that there are more people wearing cowboy clothing in the county than there are cows in the county. This is a sorry state of affairs if ever there was one. This is the very type of sin that pastors rail from the pulpit about on any given Sunday morning. Obviously, the imbalance between cowboy clothing and cows must be corrected I know who you are, and am prepared to name names! Those of you who are miscreants, have just one month to stop the insidious practice of wearing cowboy clothing if you don't own a cow. Having a close relative that owns a cow is not enough! Even having a close relative that looks like a cow is not enough! So, stop it, or prepare to bear the consequences.

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