Editor's Note

Places in the Heart: The Texas Hill Country

The story of a dog named Red and the Hill Country ranch that formed me.

By Catherine Matusow April 17, 2017 Published in the May 2017 issue of Houstonia Magazine

0517 editors note hill country property wd0mst

I don’t remember Fay naming Red Red. I do remember my first glimpse of the skittish, wolf-like, red-furred dog, peeking through the cedar trees at us as we sat on the porch of my best friend Betty’s family cabin in Hunt, just outside of Kerrville.

Fay was an HISD assistant principal; her daughter Betty and I were headed into eighth grade at Pershing Middle School. I didn’t appreciate, at the time, what a luxury it was to spend two entire lazy weeks in the Texas Hill Country, reading romance novels, riding horses, playing Pitch, swimming in the Guadalupe River, sleeping under the stars, and learning to two-step at Crider’s, the famous dance hall and rodeo anchored by a hundred-year-old oak tree.

We didn’t know where Red had come from, but one theory held that she’d been dumped on the property. As the days went on, she made more appearances. When Betty and I tried to approach her, she fled, but Fay, who’d grown up in the country, had a way with animals. “Hey, Red,” she would say, kneeling in front of her, coaxing. Red let her get close enough to see her matted fur and the porcupine quills sticking out of her nose, but not close enough to pet her. Still, Fay kept trying.

Then, before we knew it, the trip came to an end. I hadn’t been certain before, but that last morning, it became clear that Fay wanted to bring the elusive animal home with her to Houston. She was concerned that neighboring landowners might shoot her to protect their sheep and young calves. But the damn dog made only a brief appearance before fading back into the cedar, and as we finished packing up the car, she was nowhere to be seen. We all felt sad as we pulled onto the highway home.

Fay was on a mission, though. A few days later, she hightailed it back to the ranch, where, with the help of a baked chicken, she caught Red and piled her into her car. “She just collapsed in the backseat, and slept all the way to Houston,” she later told us.

The next day, Fay had a vet pull the quills from the dog’s festering nose. The girl would live the rest of her days in Fay’s Bellaire townhome, eventually dying of old age. I’d be lying if I claimed Red ever quite warmed up to me, or to anyone besides Fay and her husband Leo. She remained a half wild thing, and Betty and I mostly gave her a wide berth. But we were glad she was there.

As for the family land in Hunt, Fay and her siblings eventually divided it up. She built a new house on the Guadalupe—called Luck of the Draw, because she’d drawn a straw for the waterside property. She rents it out when she’s not there with her kids and grandchildren, and through the decades, I’ve continued to travel there.

Fay remains like a beloved aunt to me, Betty a dear friend, the ranch a place that formed me. And the Hill Country—the subject of this month’s cover story—retains a special place in my heart, whether I’m going back to Hunt, hitting the wine country near Fredericksburg, or just driving the back roads and taking in the bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush before they disappear again, until next year.

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