Monday, April 25, 2011

Mystery Finds Me

My mind's all a-flutter with the history and the humor I find in Comfort, Texas (pics).

The small town is just a chapter in the state's storied Hill Country, a huge, beautiful landscape that billows west from the San Antonio/Austin megalopolis like a deep, refreshing exhale. That breath is full of little towns, big ranches, ghost towns and nearly empty places. It's populated with people, longhorns, a gazillion goats, some camels, buffalo, antelopes and what game hunters call "exotics."

But Comfort has more. It has a mystery. Involving me.

First I find the history: We park Otto in front of a burned-out stone building that has "Peter Ingenhuett" barely legible on the nameplate.

Then we walk past other buildings so old and so well preserved, they're on the National Register of Historic Places. Each building wears a badge of Historic Places honor, along with a plaque detailing why. It's like the whole town's preserved, and, unfortunately, partially empty. For Sale signs hang on building after limestone building -- the town's first blacksmith shop, first saloon, first this or that.

I see where Peter Ingenhuett was the town's first postmaster, and owned a lot of property. His name appears on lots of the plaques as well as that burned out building.

Then I find the humor. A barber shop near the end of the street bears it's own badge from the "State of Mind 'Histerical' Committee." The plaque reads: "On March 2, 1836, Texas declared her independence from Mexico ... and this building was not here yet."

I laugh. Read the sign again. Laugh again.

And then, the big mystery.

I look down on the ground and at my feet (on a windless day) I find a folded, 8-by-10 piece of paper singed around the edges. Like it survived a fire. I pick it up. Open it. And find it's an original shipping order, dated June 16, 1925, for 4 bundles of galvanized pipes for $600. For PETER INGENHUETT!!

This is an original document. Worthy of a place of honor in this town's museum. What's it doing at my feet? On a windless day? When nearly the whole town is closed for Easter?

I look around and there's no one here. Nobody. Just me, Allen and this historic document. So I scoot up the street to the open-for-business antique store across from Peter's burned-out place and ask: When was the fire? Thinking, maybe, last night.

Five years ago.

So, I wonder, as I walk slowly back to Otto, where did this scrap from the past come from and why did it find me?

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