The Burro Lady
Harry Ward McCormack
The winter of 1976 found me in Alpine, Brewster County, Texas… This eleven word sentence could set the stage for admissions, testimonials, adventures or tales. What I offer you is the unpolished truth. I offer these words for their historic value. The heart of my story involves Burro Lady.
I did not title this conversation “The Burro Lady”…That seems to make the burro more important than the Lady. The burro is part of the picture that helps in identification. The burro(s) was a companion and travel aid. I gained this information through observation; she did not tell me this. I do not lessen the importance of the burro, just feel that the Lady would be the same without it…standing alone.
I met her at a roadside park on Hwy 90 between Marathon and Alpine near the Fort Stockton turn off. It was a cool Fall day; traffic was light and I was busy casting bullets. I was a dormitory resident at Sul Ross State University and such practice (casting bullets) were not allowed in the dorm. I would take my Coleman stove and other related implements to the park and crank them out. This did not help my GPA at Sul Ross, but it did keep me supplied with bullets…a valuable commodity.
As I ladled molten lead into my bullet mold (Lyman 454424), I saw her from the West, riding down the highway shoulder on the South side of the road. As she passed between me and the fence behind us, I spoke a generic salutation…might have been “howdy”. She responded with a chin dip nod but did not speak. She continued to the far end of the roadside park and dismounted. From the angle of my casting table, I could observe her and the burro without appearing to stare. They ignored me. After a while, she had the burro situated and her plunder neatly arranged on a cement picnic table. Presently, she started walking towards me. She walked chin high with a normal stride and shoulders erect. I remember that even on the graveled path of the roadside park, her steps made not a sound.
She immediately spoke as she reached my location, “Thought that’s what you were doing.”
“Yes, it’s therapy. I can lose myself in the repetitious rhythm and go anywhere my thoughts lead.”
She said, “The sound of your tools took me back a long way. I had an Uncle who cast bullets and fishing weights using a rid that looks like yours.” She asked me, “Do you melt down wheel weights to cast your bullets?”
I acknowledged that I did and used my chin to point at the gallon paint can containing the same on the ground nearby. That was the sum of our conversation. She returned to her burro and busied herself organizing her stuff. I cast bullets until my stove ran out of fuel, packed my stuff and drove back to my dorm at SRSU.
I had heard of Burro Lady and people say that they had seen her. I never heard anyone say that they had talked to her. She was, and her memory is, a treasure of the high desert…pretty much a mystery to the casual observer…as she should be. I am glad that I had bullet casting as a means of escaping academic pressures…I am glad that Burro Lady had an Uncle.