Robert E. Howard Days 2015 has come to an end. And while I have enjoyed them all, this has probably been the one I’ve enjoyed the most. There are a number of things that came together to make this one of the most enjoyable Howard Days for me. The weather couldn’t have been better. The high temperatures were in the low 90s, which means it was warm but not really hot, especially since there was a breeze and the humidity wasn’t too bad.
I got into Cross Plains just after 5:00 p.m. on Thursday and motored right on through. A pair of my former high school teachers live there and when I saw them a couple of years ago, said I could stay with them. When I contacted them, I found they were out of town for an extended time, but they told me how to break in and said I was welcome to make myself at home.
So I pulled into the carport and immediately saw the window they said would be unlocked. It was about twice as wide as it was tall and at chest level. There were a couple of folding chairs leaning against the wall under the left corner of the window. I’d intended to stand on one until I found a yellow jacket nest between them. So I ended up getting another chair and trying to climb in without disturbing the things.
The window was a tight fit (about the chest and shoulder, not my gut). I was halfway through the window when I heard voices. And these aren’t the voices in my head; those sound different. My first thought was that a deputy sheriff was driving by when he saw my butt and feet hanging out the window, and what I was hearing was his radio as he called in a burglary. As I wiggled further into the house, I realized the voices are coming from inside the house.
I managed to climb through without breaking my neck (although not without some scrapes and bruises) and went looking for the voices. The TV was on. I turned off the satellite box, but couldn’t find a way to turn off the TV, so that room had a blue glow all weekend.
I’d been told I had my pick of bedrooms, of which there are four. One is empty. One has a photo of some of the grandkids face down in the middle of the floor. There’s a paperback in one of the bathrooms that looks like someone left off reading it suddenly.
And then there are the pecans scattered across some of the beds, pecans with signs of teethmarks.
So I dropped off my stuff and headed back to town. I got there in time for the Barbarian Festival parade, then went over to the fish fry in the Senior Center. Afterwards, I went and hung out at the pavilion for a few hours and visited with friends. On the way back to the house, I only missed one turn. (Recognizing a turn as you overshoot it doesn’t count.)
So I got up Friday, pleased to see that nothing had eaten me during the night. I drove into town and ran into some friends at breakfast. During the conversation, Mark Finn tells me that he, Jeff Shanks, and Chris Gruber are putting together a new ‘zine called Skelos, and would I please write for them? Is the Pope Catholic? Does a bear…never mind.
After breakfast, I hung out at the pavilion for a while. John Bullard had just returned from a trip to New Mexico, so we had a great discussion about the Lincoln County War. Joining us for much of the conversation was Todd Vick, who is planning a trip to New Mexico later this summer and will be recreating the trip Robert E. Howard took. I’m looking forward to his report.
I decided not to take the bus tour this year, as I’ve done that for several years in the past. It’s always a little different, but there’s not much I haven’t seen. I also opted to skip the bus tour to Brownwood to visit Howard’s grave. A twenty mile mile trip in an unairconditioned bus to stand out in 90 degree heat? No, thanks.
I made it a point of getting to the post office for the commemorative cancellation. Friday of Howard Days is the busiest day of the year for the Cross Plains post office. I was told that Howard fandom had kept the post office in Cross Plains open. Not only from the business of Howard Days, but because the books published by the Robert E. Howard Foundation Press are shipped from Cross Plains. It seems a postmark from Cross Plains is a big deal with some people.
The first panel of the day was Mark Finn, Jeff Shanks, and Scott Cupp on Conan vs Cthulhu. This was a great conversation about Lovecraft, Howard, and how they influenced each other as writers. Some of the members of Project Pride (the community development organization that hosts Howard Days) grilled hot dogs for lunch at the pavilion along with sodas, chips, chili, and homemade cookies.
Then it was back to the library for the afternoon panels. First up, Rusty Burke interviewed the guest of honor, Mark Schultz. Then Rusty and Indy Cavalier handed out the Cimmerian Awards.
There was a break for a couple of hours, in which people hung out at the pavilion and talked before the banquet. The Staghorn Cafe catered the dinner, which was chicken fried steak. It’s some of the best I’ve ever had. Mark Schultz was the keynote speaker, and the topic of his talk was a history of illustrating Conan.
The silent auction is a big part of the banquet, and while I didn’t get everything I bid on, I made sure I got the two coffee cups.
The last panel was Fists at the Ice House. Mark Finn, Chris Gruber, and Jeff Shanks outdid themselves this year, reading from some of Howard’s boxing stories.
The evening concluded with everyone gathering at the pavilion, sharing stories and beverages. I’d like to thank John Bullard for the beer and Dave Hardy for the homemade mead.
I eventually headed back to the farmhouse to catch some shut eye.
The next part of this report will cover Saturday, which was when the real excitement was.