“The man’s a dad-burned Cherokee Indian.”

“And what are you?” I asked.

Sheepishly defiant, an attitude only she could muster, “Dad-burned Cherokee Indian.”

Audrey Russell never grew up. She’d tell you so. Spending her girlhood — or tomboy-hood — in the hardly-tamed West of Petrolia, Texas, she took life as a game: a deadly serious game, but a game still.

Her stories were full of events out of old Westerns and radio dramas, or they seemed like it to me. For instance, her grandfather was murdered. Not just murdered, he was shot over a disagreement about a hitching post.

You see, he had gone into town to buy a cow at auction. He tied the cow to a hitching post and continued about his errands. While he was away, a wealthy rancher untied the cow — there being only one rope on the post — and tied his horse in its place. When Grandpa Templeman (She was proud of the Knights Templar bloodline as well.) returned, he found his cow a ways away, untied the horse, retied his cow, and started to leave. However, the rancher saw him untie the horse, came out of the saloon, and shot him.

The West was rough on Audrey in another way, and in a way she never understood as a child. Throughout her growing-up years, her family was shunned by most of their neighbors: it was that “dad-burned Cherokee Indian” maternal grandfather. Her parent’s shielded her from that knowledge until she was married (at the age of fourteen), and only then did she discover what became not only an issue of self-acceptance, but a point of pride. Well, with Audrey, almost anything could be a point of pride.

“Daddy loved me best,” she’d smirk, as she recounted how her father bought her her first horse, a mare she named Pet. She’d go on to tell stories which made me wonder how she could have had him fooled.

She was never allowed to ride in the rodeo at the county fair. However, when she was twelve, she just couldn’t wait any longer. Without his knowing it, she snuck out of the house and to the fairgrounds. I wish I could say that she won something, but she didn’t. And her father “tanned her hide” that evening. Somehow, it’s difficult to keep a secret in a small town.

Far from an only child, Audrey grew up close to her brother Aubrey and sister Rose. Her firmest relationship was with Aubrey, one year older than she, and nearly her twin. “We have twin names,” she was fond of pointing out. He was the brother, as she tells it, every girl dreams of having. In fact, his standing up for her when they were children made such a strong impression that she didn’t even hold it against him when he became “a gol-danged Baptist minister.”

Audrey Russell eventually become known as the spunky proprietress of Audrey’s Antiques, her “junque shoppe”, as her business cards declared. Beginning her business in the seventies as a consignment store in her living room and kitchen, she quickly moved up to dealing in jewelry — especially diamonds.

She was at one time quite an exclusive dealer; but as her end of town declined, for fear of robbery, so did her stock quality. Still, some of those who are wealthy for wealth’s own sake, her former customers, look her up when they’re in town, hoping to find something rare and unique. Her customer base eventually became the unique element, though: the wealthy gave way to “crazies” and street people trying to corner the market on cheap costume jewelry.

She was known for protecting her wares — to the extent of chasing a thief down the street, waving an antique pitchfork at him. Long before she stopped carrying true valuables and rarities, long before Audrey’s Antiques ever got its own building, a customer tried to hold her up for money. Did I mention she could shoot? Probably the first time her .38 handgun had been aimed at a human being, she could hardly keep her finger steady on the trigger. The would-be thief fled when her finger slipped and she sent a shot grazing past his shoulder.

He escaped, but the typewriters weren’t so lucky. The .38 calibre bullet went between the round keys of one typewriter, richocheted off its hammers, entered the bottom of a typewriter on the shelf above, richocheted again, and embedded itself in the back wall of the kitchen. The police eventually came, examined her “legit” gun, and ever after teased her about her awful aim and cruel murder of the two typewriters.

“C’mere, Hotshot. I want to talk to you.”

This was not an unfamiliar sound to me. I worked at the “shoppe” refinishing and repairing furniture. Well, I was hired to refinish and repair furniture — to the sound of her belabouring the melody of “I don’t care if he is a hound, you’d better quit kicking my dog around” and other snatches of ancient Country Western songs. Mostly I just sat and listened to her endless reminisces. And every so often, when her next-door neighbor — and one of her best friends — left the shop, she’d lean over and confide in me, eyes twinkling, “The man’s a dad-burned Cherokee Indian.”


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