La PatronaSaturday, July 31, 2010
Every other year my favourite Western is Sam Peckinpah’s 1962, Ride the High Country with Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott. But there is another Western, not quite one, yet very much a Western, William Wyler’s 1958, The Big Country with an outstanding cast that is really my all-time favourite. It includes Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston, Jean Simmons, Charles Bickford, Burl Ives, Carroll Baker and Chuck Connors.
Perhaps I like it as, how can any movie with Peck, Simmons and Heston be anything but good? The endearing character is played by Jean Simmons who is a feisty (almost an old maid) woman who controls a creek which two families are fighting for the rights to water their cattle. Peck plunks in from New England as a tenderfoot (not quite we find out) who is there to woo and marry Caroll Baker. Simmons is delightful and virginally sexy. She marries Peck in the end to become (my pure conjecture) one of those matriarchs in Westerns who when they become widows they run the whole shebang with aplomb and courage.
It was last year in June when I went to South Texas to visit St. Edward’s High School alumnus, Michael East that I found myself sitting on the other side of the dinner table from a woman who was and is the very Western matriarch I write about above. She looked at me with serious, almost scary eyes, and I could feel all that I was being sucked out for her perusal.
Then she smiled and introduced herself as Michael’s mother. She was and is Evelyn Kunstler East and when her husband Tom Timmons East died in 1984 she did indeed become the widowed matriarch of a large ranch.
This time around (last week) she has mellowed a bit. She is in her mid 80s and she goes for walks every day. She lives in a big house not far from Michael East’s main ranch house. Everybody still calls her “La Patrona” even though the reins are now firmly in the hands of Michael and his sister Alice. I am not quite sure what role their sister Lica (pronounced lisa) has in the running of the ranch since I have only met her once.
La Patrona posed for me on the front entrance to her son’s house. In the right in the distance is the little (ever so slight mound) where her husband is buried. When I asked Michael to kiss her, he did and she laughed. When I look at the pictures now it seems that I have participated in or at the very least recorded a bit of Texas history.