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’ve just set down a copy of the Fall 2011 edition of the Conchos River Review, the literary anthology published by the English Department of Angelo State University. I’ve had the pleasure of reading the 16 pages of George Neel Jr.’s short story “The Way It Had to Be.” Set on the South Texas ranchlands on the eve of a young Marine’s departure for combat in Korean in the 1950s, this is a rich and well told story about what we gather up to move ourselves from the protective familiarity of the life we know and love to answer a call to duty, and in doing so, to take on a life of unknown dangers and variables. The beauty of Neel’s prose is that it is even-handed, most of the drama told in the simple act of one last morning fishing on the grassy shore at Willow Pond on a South Texas ranch. Neel does not have to dip his pen into the inkwell of sorrow to find the words for all the possible tragic outcomes — there’s plenty of it implied in the subtle exchanges between the protagonist Joe and the protective ranch


foreman Santiago; and in exchanges with a former high school football teammate, now a casualty of the same battle that Joe will join; and Joe’s girlfriend Cynthia, who does not want him to leave. Conflicts abound, but not a single one of them big enough to keep Joe from boarding a bus the next day to join his platoon for deployment to Korea. It is on the lush Bermuda grass carpet of Willow Pond that this story builds to its dénouement as the young soldier fishes for the lunch he will share with Santiago who is en route to the pond by horseback. It is here that Neel’s narrative shines like the bright, good thing that it is. The reader is transported pond-side to hear the last yip of the coyotes just after daybreak, to see and smell the pond, and to see the inside of Joe’s tackle box and to understand why he has chosen the red and white lure with “three gangs of treble hooks.” It is the beautiful specimen of a female large mouth bass at the end of Joe’s line, splendid in size and fat with the eggs of her progeny — and what Joe will do with her — that shade in the story about the sensibilities of the tender-hearted soldier. Though Santi-

José Ramírez

George Neel Jr.’s short story — a literary whopper told on the eve of departing for the Korean conflict

ago encourages him to throw the bass in the pan for lunch, Joe disengages her carefully from the hooks, methodically weighs her (8.5 pounds) with the portable scale in his tackle box, and returns her — to Santiago’s dismay — to Willow Pond. Four smaller fish, now filleted, will meet the sizzle of lard in the pan over the campfire Santiago has made. The men enjoy their lunch of fish tacos, a pot of coffee, and some empanadas de

piña that Santiago’s wife made. Santiago rides off, and Joe is left to doze at the edge of the pond, to drink in the glorious overhead sight of a vee-formation of geese headed north, to contemplate the importance of the fish he put back into Willow Pond, to take a last look at the rise and fall of the terrain that channels rainfall into the tank, and to hear himself say it will be 15 months before he will see this place again.

LareDOS I M A R C H 2012 I


LareDos March Issue  

Heroin addicition in Laredo, The tejano monument unveiling, Q&A Commissioners Precint 1

LareDos March Issue  

Heroin addicition in Laredo, The tejano monument unveiling, Q&A Commissioners Precint 1