Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Honey Bunch

In February 2002 Mistah and I went to Portal, Arizona. We’d read about it in William Least Heat Moon’s Blue Highways – a favorite book for both of us.

It’s a gorgeous mountain-and-canyon area in the Coronado National Forest, right over the New Mexico border. It actually looks like a mini-Zion National Park, but without the people, and with free camping, right on a river.

Mistah Schleckah and I really like free camping, right on a river.

Bill and I hiked up to the top of one of the trails, and were enjoying a beautiful moment of silence, solitude, and eachother.

Then we heard the unmistakable sound of people heading toward us. With a dog. We caught a glimpse of two older people heading our way and we just kind of sighed, rolled our eyes (“this is our spot!”) and got ready to head back down to the river.

What happened instead is we made 2 friends: Horton and Sandy Bunch, from Tyler Texas.

We told them about our travels. They told us about their daughters and grandchildren – who call him “Honey” – about their historic brick house in Tyler, home of the annual Tyler Azalea Trail, and about birding. They were in Portal because they’re avid birders.

I said, “I was just looking in the bird book the other day and decided my favorite bird is the Painted Bunting.”

The painted bunting is, after all, a cool looking bird.
Horton proceeded to tell us a hilarious story about birding with an organized group, and not only spotting two Painted Buntings, but watching them mate. The act of which he proceeded act out for us. Horton is NOT a small man and seeing him strut around, pretending to be a male Painted Bunting, in heat, well, it was pretty entertaining.

We said goodbye to our new friends, went east to Florida then south to the Keys then north to Connecticut then south to Asheville then west through the gulf states, and then in November of that year, went to Tyler to visit the Bunches. Actually, they’d sold their historic house in Tyler when their girls grew up, and lived in a double-wide on acres and acres of land out in Brownsboro.

Bill and I drove through dry county after dry county – we just wanted to bring our hosts a bottle of wine! – to no avail. We were chagrined, and quite confused, to find that not only is northeast central Texas full of dry counties, but no one seems upset about it.

We arrived without wine, had a lovely dinner at a fish house, and got into a very interesting political discussion that night. Horton was a dyed-in-the-wool, full-on Republican for his whole life . . . until George W. Bush. He then completely changed his political slant, and he joined the Democratic party with a vengeance.

The next morning, Horton gave us copies of Jim Hightower's newsletters, and off we went on our merry way.
Horton called this his redneck shirt.
Sandy Bunch sends a beautiful Christmas card every year, with a photo of a sunrise on their property, and a quote from the Bible. Sandy, a big fan of Mary Magdalene, told me she has had many many love affairs with monks – Thomas Merton was a favorite at the time. For the next few years we exchanged Christmas cards and an occasional email, but we didn’t see them again until 2005, when we were passing through that part of Texas again.

This time, we bought wine in advance, we had a lovely dinner – along with another couple – at their home, and that night Horton showed us Jeff Foxworthy's “redneck” stand-up routine video. Horton’s laugh is loud, high, infectious, and completely incongruous – you do a double-take when you hear it coming out of him, then just go right along with it.
In the morning Sandy and Horton’s granddaughter Miranda came for the day. There is nothing quite like a 5- or 6-year old, speaking to her 71-year-old grandfather, and innocently calling to him, “Honey?”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Yesterday Horton’s son-in-law called and left a message for us. Horton was killed in a accident on Monday. He'd gotten out of his truck because he was having car trouble, and a passing van hit him.
Update: the driver of the fan was arrested and charged with intoxication manslaughter, and is being held in a Henderson County jail on a $1 million bond.

The world lost a good one on Monday. Horton Bunch was good and devoted husband, dad, “Honey,” and friend.

Our hearts go out to Sandy and her daughters, her grandchildren and sons-in-law.
Our death is not an end if we can live on in our children and the younger generation. For they are us, our bodies are only wilted leaves on the tree of life. ~Albert Einstein


KathyR said...

Aw, geez. That sucks.

Pickles and Dimes said...

Oh, no. That is so sad. Horton sounded like a wonderful person. And what a great way he and his family came into your lives.

Anonymous said...

The adventures of Ellie and Mistah Schleckah are full of the joy of meeting (and keeping!) new friends. I'm so sorry you've lost one.

And -- Blue Highways -- I love that book! I never met anyone else who had read it, let alone liked it.

Me, You, or Ellie said...

Oh Ellie, I'm sorry.

At least you have the memory of Horton's bunting banging to keep you smiling :-)


Me, You, or Ellie said...

Oh, I'm so sorry about your friend, Ellie. What a loss. That is indeed one very cool looking bird. The painted bunting isn't too shabby, either (neither?)


scarletvirago said...

What a bittersweet post. I'm glad you have so many happy memories with which to keep him alive in your heart.

Captain Dumbass said...

I'm so sorry, Ellie. At least you had the pleasure of knowing him though. You'll always have that.

Nancy said...

People come into our lives for different reasons, but when they leave, their mark stays ... for one reason. =)

Sorry for the loss but happy for the time you were able to share with "Honey".

Kathi D said...

My condolences to you and to Horton's family. Your lovely essay brought him to life and made me fall in love with him, too.

I still have fond memories of a man we met only once, on a trip to Alaska. We spent several days with him and his wife in a small group that stayed at a remote inn. A few years later we heard from his widow that he had died and we felt the loss even after such a brief meeting. There are certain characters you meet that stay stuck in your heart.

Kathi D said...

P.S. I, too, am a fan of Blue Highways, both the book and the roads.

A girlfriend and I were driving from Chicago to visit a friend at the southern tip of Illinois once, and he was giving me directions for driving the interstate. I told him I wanted to take the back roads, the blue highways, and he said, "Honey, there are a few towns on these blue highways where you would be captured and sold into white slavery." Oh well. At least we got to see the white squirrels in Olney.

Heinous said...

I'm so sorry to hear that. My best wishes for you and his family.

Me, You, or Ellie said...

Thanks, everybody. Honey Bunch really was quite a character. I think there's something terribly wrong with an older person dying in a car crash.

peaceableimperatrix and kathi d: If you liked Blue Highways, read Billy Moon's (as we call him) River Horse. Believe it or not, incredibly, it's just as good.


Me, You, or Ellie said...

I just added this to my post:

Update: the driver of the fan was arrested and charged with intoxication manslaughter, and is being held in a Henderson County jail on a $1 million bond.



xup said...

Very sad, but this story is the kind of stuff that keeps me coming back to your blog. Seriously, nobody does this better as far as I can tell. You have such amazing, yet often simple tales to tell and with photos, too! It's like an illustrated Kerouac novel -- grassroots adventures and regular but wonderful people. Love it! Love it.

Vodka Mom said...

wow. that DOES suck.

But none of us really gets out of this alive, do we?

martyjoco said...

Beautifully written, El. My condolences to Sandy, their daughters, sons-in-law, grandchildren, you, Bill and all the rest of his friends upon your loss. Thank you for letting us all share in your knowledge of this nice, smart & funny guy.

Springer Kneeblood said...

Damn! I'm so sorry to hear about Horton. Reading your piece, I had just about decided I wanted to drive over and meet this guy, who I'm sure would be someone I'd hit it off with immediately! You're right...the guy who hit him is a bastard of the first order.

Zip n Tizzy said...

I'm so sorry. He sounds like a wonderful character. And a great history you all have. How lucky that you knew him.

Sandy Bunch said...

Elie,Bill, et al,
Horton was the finest man I ever knew...he had a voice to rival Pavarotti, and a heart as big as the sky. He was my dearest love for 44 years..... all I ever needed was his love, and I have not lost that! This blog means so much to me, and our 3 beautiful daughters!! Thank you Thank you all,
keep traveling, keep loving and keep laughing as Horton would laugh at his own stories !!

TWARD1966 said...

i've known sandy and have been dating her daughter lara for about 8 months.i am very much in love in her and her family.though i never had the obvious pleasure of meeting Honey,I miss him very much just from the stories and pictures that i see from time to time.I love this family and Honey's legacy still lives here on earth while Jesus is being entertained in Heaven!!!!!I thank you Jesus for giving me the opportunity to meet such a fun loving and wonderful family...Horton,we will meet someday!!! I love you!!!!