Some of you may remember my writing about the loss of my sister’s and brother-in-law’s home by fire the morning before Hurricane Harvey hit. My brother-in-law had called me to invite us out to stay with them if we did not want to ride out the storm here on the coast. They lived eighty miles west of here on the family ranch and in the house that I grew up in.
The above portrait of my father was painted by their daughter (my niece) who died of cancer at age 57 in 2012. The painting was done from a small photo of him in exactly the same pose taken probably in the late 1950s. It hung in the entrance to her parents’ home. A few years ago when we were visiting I had Husband take a photo of it because it was very special to me. Now I am so grateful that he did as the painting was destroyed in the fire along with everything in the house. Perhaps I should explain the painting for those of you not familiar with the practice of burning prickly pear cactus.
In the painting my father is filling up his pear burner with butane from the tank in the pick-up. He would then strap it across his shoulder and go out into the pasture where there was plenty of prickly pear cactus. As he turned it on fire would come out of the end of it and he would burn or singe the thorns off the cactus. With the large thorns gone the cattle would eagerly eat the cactus as a good source of protein and contained water. During times of drought when there might be little for the cattle to eat and feeding hay might be too expensive for a rancher, this method would help to get through the lean times. Burning pear was most common in the fall and winter, but I have seen my father burn pear into the spring and fall if it was a really dry year.
Today times have changed and few people burn prickly pear. The pear burner was invented in 1914 by John Bunyan Blackwell. A photo of one can be seen at the Bullock Museum website.
As a footnote, my sister and brother-in-law built a new house on the same spot as the one that burned and were able to move in just before Christmas. Husband and I went out Christmas Eve to see it and to celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary. I had prints made from the photo Husband took as gifts for family members. Life goes on.
Here is a close-up of prickly pear cactus so you can see the sharp thorns.
Here is a cluster of them together with the red fruit or tuna.