Every year in June the small Texas town of Cross Plains holds the Howard Days celebration. Robert E. Howard was a prolific writer. He wrote short stories, poems, and a novel or two. His most famous creation is Conan of Cimmeria, who (unfortunately) most know from the Ah-Nold films. His other characters include Solomon Kane, a Puritan driven to destroy evil in its many forms; Kull of Atlantis, a barbarian who becomes king by his own hand; and Bran Mak Morn, king of the Picts, who fights to keep his land and people free from the Roman Empire. Howard's stories range from serious to comedic, covering genres such as horror, historical adventure, Western, sports, and of course Heroic Fantasy, a genre which he pretty much defined, if not created. He was born in 1906 and died by his own hand in 1936.
The only motel in town is the Motel 36. It has only a dozen or so rooms, so it books up fast. It's close walking distance to the Howard House , and there's the town grocery store next door, and next over from the store is Jean's Feed Barn. Jean's is the best place to eat in Cross Plains, and I would put their breakfasts up against that of any eatery, be it chain or independant. The biscuits and gravy are worth killing for, and the bacon and hashbrowns are always crispy and perfect...and the portions are generous as well. If you leave Jean's hungry, it's your own damn fault.
It was raining when we arrived on Thursday, and the dark clouds brought a welcome lowering of the temperature for the rest of the day. It started to hail a bit at one point, but not for long. Dinner was had in nearby Brownwood at a place called Humphrey Pete's, where I had a bison burger, which was pretty good.
This year's Howard Days focused on his poetry, and guests included Donald Sydney Fryer, and Larry Thomas, Texas Poet Laureate. Both gave entertaining readings and had interesting things to say about Howard's work in the arena of poetry and writing in general. Thomas was this year's Guest of Honor at the Friday night banquet as well. Afterwards, at the Pavillion next to the Howard House, a Poetry Throwdown, complete with prizes was held. It was fun, with lots of participation besides the usual suspects. Saturday the Barbarian Festival took place downtown...it's your basic small-town festival, with pony rides, tents selling all kinds of crafts and things, and eats from snow cones to funnel cakes to hot dogs. Saturday evening was the Caddo Peak BBQ. The folks who own the Caddo Peak Ranch are kind enough to host a picnic for us each year. The food is good and the view is spectacular. Near the end of the evening, the sun was obscured by hazy clouds, making it look like the eye of Odin was peering down at us, giving his blessing for our celebration of a great skald.