Rave 'n' Rant
A down home-style New Year in Marathon
Lucky me, I have a sister who lives in Marathon. Wilma’s life in this tiny, remote, quiet town near Big Bend mesmerizes me.
Out there in nowhere, she can throw a hell of a party—both professionally as the manager of the historic Gage Hotel and personally in her fabulous custom-built home that sits on the western edge of town, with little but cacti between her and the majestic mountains.
Wilma casts her net far and wide when inviting guests. (And lucky me, I got an invitation.)
On New Year’s Eve, the Gage’s White Buffalo bar was hopping and the adjacent renowned Café Cenzio served a meal comparable to any of Houston’s white tablecloth restaurants but with an atmosphere that was pure West Texas. Our party, too large to fit inside, ate al fresco in front of the massive courtyard fireplace. The winds blew in from the frigid north, and between courses of a blessedly warm chipotle-sparked tomato bisque and tender Wagyu beef, the crowd fought off the bitter 26-degree chill with comical runs into the warm bar.
Afterwards it was party time at the Ritchey Building, across the lonesome Highway 90 (and Marathon’s main street) and just behind the railroad tracks. The Gage-sponsored party had secured Austin’s Freddie Steady 5 to rock the house. Under an enormous mural of General Custer’s last battle and numerous framed land grants, local ranch hands and their mighty handlebar moustaches cut a mean swing on the shiny wooden floor, while out-of-towners did their gyrating best to keep up.
But the real gem of the weekend was New Year’s Day at Wilma’s home. Here, on what feels like the desolate edge of civilization, the true and honest feeling of heartfelt hospitality and community blossomed. No pretense. No baloney. No adjustments made for photo shoots, no food stylist present. Just honest, down home, West Texas, fringed-suede-jacket-and-boot-wearing fun, food and music.
Late afternoon the eclectic assortment of guests began to arrive, with pickup trucks and four-wheel drive SUVs lining the gravel drive, passengers emerging with pots of home-cooked wonders to share.
Guitar picking Cam King (and vocalist for Freddie Steady 5) toted his annual pot of pozole and fixin's all the way from New Mexico. Marfa psychic Darrel Holzer and artist husband John brought one of three versions of black-eyed peas that appeared on the table. Ann Urban, owner of the contemporary Western wear shop of Pitaya Verde in Marathon, offered up a big pot of greens and ham hock; her husband, Mark, his still-warm version of red chile sauce and another one of tomatillos. Marathon-based artist Mimi Litschauer thoughtfully cooked a superb sun-dried tomato and gluten-free pasta salad for my gluten-intolerant sister.
LA-based film producer Tobias Wilson, principle of Papoose Moose Productions manned the grill for endless hours, cooking scrumptious medallions of twice-marinated venison backstrap wrapped in bacon, blue cheese-stuffed venison burgers topped with red onion balsamic marmalade and a few venison steaks. Tamales, a cheese board and assorted other pots and dishes filled the buffet table. For dessert: Homemade lemon meringue pie, a whopping bowl of chocolate mousse and a bounty of Christmas cookies.
Those from out of town and with no kitchen access, like Mr. Astros Larry Dierker, Houstonian Captain Dave Smith and landscape photographer John Smith of Midland (no relation to Dave) brought their appetites, while Houston music lawyer Al Staehely and son Christian, a pitcher for the Seattle Mariners organization, arrived with acoustic guitars.
First it was all about the food and the long necks, and then as the darkness settled in, the focus turned to music. Like the food it was an unrehearsed, impromptu affair. Texas Music Hall of Famer Freddie Krc (the Freddie of Freddie Steady 5) and Cam King turned it way down from the electric guitar-driven previous evening. Al and Christian joined in with blues singer/saxophone player extraordinaire Evelyn Rubio of Mexico City.
Party-goers rotated between the music session inside under Wilma’s localized Christmas tree of decorated tumbleweed and the endless silence of the outdoors illuminated by the blazing fire pit and the New Year’s full moon.
The evening was nothing fancy. But it was everything. Wilma’s magic was subtle. Strangers, neighbors, big city folks and townies—by night’s end, all friends. Simple, unpretentious home-cooked foods, a gracious hostess, endless long necks, a shaggy dog, great music, soft lights and that crisp, clean, mind-blowing desert air.
What a way to welcome 2010. Who knows what the year will hold? But from this windblown, post-party perspective, I am feeling luckier than ever. Thanks, Wilma.