Our next stop on the Involuntary Vacation was one that excited us both. Goliad is a town steeped in the history of Texas invasion and independence. It was first settled by Spanish conquistadores in 1749. This mission, Presidio La Bahia, is a short distance from the current town on the banks of the San Antonio river and it was built on the site of an existing Aranama village. It was renamed Goliad, an anagram of Father Hidalgo who was a hero of the Mexican war of independence (from Spain) in 1821.
In 1835 the first Texas declaration of Independence was signed on the altar of the Presidio chapel. Texas is the only mainland state that was an independent nation before joining the USA. That is why the Texas flag may fly at the same level as the US flag. The revolutionaries were a mixture of Tejano and white settlers. In 1836, Colonel Fannin, of the Texas Revolutionary Army, and 341 of his soldiers surrendered in the battle of Coleto Creek. The next day they were shot by the Mexican army outside the walls of the Presidio. This was the Goliad Massacre.
In 1836 General Sam Houston, the Governor of the Texas Republic, granted some land to the settlers where the current courthouse and market square are located. My father and his grandfather, one of the early settlers in Texas, had the middle name Houston to honor the General. I am highly amused when people ask me about my Scottish heritage because of my accent…(I have no Scottish roots but long Texan ones).
There is a Hanging Tree on the north lawn of the courthouse. There is a rather sad history of excessive violence and ruthlessness for a period which was ended by the Texas Rangers. Perhaps the turbulent history of the settlement led to part of this. When the early settlers returned from fighting in the battle for Texas independence some of their farms had been ransacked. It is conveniently forgotten that all this land belonged to indigenous people before any of the settlers arrived. There is very little knowledge of the Aranama Tribe. It was believed they were farmers and after the Spanish invasion some moved north and the last survivors were likely absorbed into the Hispanic population.
References Texas State Historical Association and the City of Goliad
This was one of the first places we made a stop at on our Involuntary Vacation from McAllen in south west Texas to our home in the south east – a total of 700 miles. It was a very small community, not as wealthy as it had been in the past although there is now plentiful natural gas in the area. Sometimes this positively affects the population but usually the oil companies or landowners benefit the most. We like to ‘collect’ unique post offices across the states and just being named Pawnee Post Office was cool enough.
I was intrigued about why the place was named Pawnee, as they are primarily central plains Native Americans. When the second European settlers arrived in 1826, an Irish family named the Sullivans, they found a piece of wood nailed to a tree with Pawnee written on it. Later arrowheads discovered in nearby Sulphur Creek were attributed to the Skidi Pawnee or Panismahas. Legend has it that they practiced human sacrifice. So does our society, with guns, every day. Many tribes were semi or fully nomadic and the area is rich for hunting, even today. Back in the day there were buffalo, panther, antelope and wolves (oh my). The area was settled by Native Americans 6,000 to 10,000 years ago. Prior to the Sullivans, Carlos Martinez was granted the first Spanish land grant in 1789 as the conquistadors invaded from Mexico into Texas.
The Indigenous tribes were Apache, Karankawa and Borrado. This is a wide and brief generalization but Apache were known as fierce warriors with a strong religious belief. Their territory spread from Arizona to Texas and Mexico. Navajo and Apache are related tribes. Karankawa lived across the southern part of Texas, skilled in hunting and warfare. They crafted pottery and baskets that they lined with a type of asphalt that washed up on the beaches of the Texas Gulf. Oil has been part of our culture for a long time… Not much is known about the Borrado who were misnamed by the Spanish settlers for their striped body painting or tattoos. They were native to Northern Mexico and the Rio Grande area. The frequented Padre Island.
After the Sullivans settled in Pawnee they were joined by their women folks and then a range of Swedish and German settlers. Today this tiny little town still has 12 churches that represent every possible form of Christianity. The Methodist Church below caught my attention. The photographs are untouched to show how dark the clouds were. I have to be honest and say that it looked like a perfect place to shoot a thriller or horror movie – no disrespect intended! Can’t you see villagers seeking shelter behind that red door to escape from the oil companies zombie hordes (obviously interchangeable)??
There is even excellent disability access to the beautiful little church (aka zombie shelter). Perhaps zombies might be considered disabled in which case my shelter idea is terrible. Wouldn’t you like to live in my mind for a day??? 🧟♀️
On our recent trip to La Grange in the Texas hill country, I noticed the quirkily painted fire hydrants. I love this one because it is surrounded by our most famous wildflower, the Bluebonnet, Lupinus texensis, an indigenous wild lupin. In Spring the fallow fields in central Texas become Monet paintings – sometimes just bluebonnets but also swathes of red, yellow and orange wildflowers. They took my breath away as we drove past them; one of nature’s wonders.
This one was less flowery but full of art – even on the pavement… I did wonder if local children helped decorate them. It made me smile. In our forest retreat hydrants and signs are painted brown or green so as to blend with the trees. It helps keep burglaries down because no one can figure out where they are, especially at night with the low lighting!
This is the last postcard that my Dad sent to my Mum when he left us in 1962. I found it in a folder of old photographs that we have been scanning. Over the years, I had wondered how my Dad returned to the States. As a family we flew from San Francisco to Glasgow via Iceland on KLM in 1961. His departure was rarely talked about in our house because he had asked my mum’s family for money to return but then abandoned us. The money was never returned and it was a source of contention.
The written text on the postcard reveals so much about my Dad’s personality. He was undoubtedly narcissistic. He referenced the minor difficulties of boarding the SS America – ‘WHAT WITH STRIKES’ in unnecessary uppercase. There seemed to be little affection for his only daughter who was just two years old. I contrast this note with letters that my own husband sent over the years. Teddy would have expressed how desperately he was missing his wife and family.
My Dad may have felt trapped by my unwanted impending arrival in 1960. There is no excuse for his behavior but behind it lay a family history of alcoholism with both my paternal grandparents. As I gazed at the image, I wondered if my Dad felt huge relief sailing back to his homeland or regret at leaving his family. Perhaps he had fully intended to send for us and repay the borrowed money. Who knows what vicarious pleasures or habits led him astray?
Then I mused about my mum. Was she longing for him to contact us again or was there cold comfort in his absence? It must have been very hard to endure the mostly silent reproach of her family members. Of all the men in America; why did she have to marry a conman? She worked long hours to support us both until her major mental breakdown in 1971. It touched me that she never threw the postcard away, even after the divorce in 1976. She must have felt bitter about him sailing back to her beloved America on a luxury liner. Interestingly, SS America had a fascinating history of military service ending in destitution which uncannily mirrors my Dad’s life.
Then I found this telegram.
Do I sense some excitement in my Dad’s brief words in the telegram, even if he spelled my name wrong? I was born prematurely, underweight and put in an incubator – it would have been a very stressful time for both parents. My mum, who also had TB during her pregnancy, said that I looked like a skinned rabbit and I really did! If only we could go back in time and ask the right questions, there might be an answer.
Normally, our squirrels are fed peanuts with the occasional apple core but I looked in the fridge and all four of my avocados had gone brown. I salvaged as much of the good green stuff as I could, made some guacamole, then out of curiosity, put the remains in a baking tray with a couple of fresh dates. It was hilarious watching the squirrels approach the ‘scary green fruit’ with trepidation. Once they had tasted it, however, a whole new species joined the avocado lovers of the world. The little one in the video above ran off with a skin that was bigger than her head.
Fresh dates are another delicacy rarely seen round these parts unless there are equally crazy squirrel lovers in our cul-de-sac. I love the way squirrels inflate their tails when anxious, just like cats! After tasting avocado, in this second video above, the wee squirrel girl found a date! She could hardly fit it in her mouth but was determined to steal her prize. Then she went up in a tree and alternated between one nibble of the date, followed by one bark, another nibble and a bark until it was finished. What was she communicating? “Stay away from me and this ambrosia!” or “I can’t believe how good this tastes!”
We had hoped to see more night critters but the day critters ate most of the buffet… This sweet little possum above didn’t disappoint with very noisy smacking of lips. I have no idea why possums have terrible table manners. A skunk visited too and I was surprised that she was very interested in the avocado. Usually they stick to bugs and worms.
If you are 29, reading this and worried about your thirties, fear not – it gets much, much worse! I suppose I should feel grateful that I have reached the 7th decade (60-69 years old). Did you know that Greenland sharks may live for up to 500 years – isn’t that amazing? I am not envious of them, however, as they spend most of their time at the bottom of a frozen sea with long periods of hibernation (similar to living in Scotland). These last two years have allowed all of us to indulge in pointless navel gazing. I have peered into my indifferent mirror that doesn’t even bother to tell me that “I am not the Fairest in the Land”.
As I pondered this subject, I thought about which decade I liked the most. I loved being a teenager, blossoming at high school and then college. The puppy fat disappeared and a pretty girl appeared. One boyfriend commented that I looked much better without clothes on – not sure if that was a reference to my lack of style or a back handed compliment. My body still looks pretty good if you are a myopic, older man in a room with dim candles. He should also be a tad inebriated… It’s funny and yet it’s not.
Some of my older friends used to tell me to enjoy my 50s because it all changes after 60. Shorts are not my friends anymore. More exercise would help but that triggers my osteoarthritis. I run to hug Teddy, all joints creaking, and then pull something because I moved too fast. He creaks even more than me – it’s as though we have turned into Sequoias. My skin tone has changed the most. Why are my pores so large – aren’t deep wrinkles bad enough? I was helped by a charming young man at Sephora as I was browsing skin care. He said I really needed retinol… At least the Israeli guys who try to sell you Dead Sea stuff at the mall, pretend you are gorgeous.
Why am I so vain about ageing? I come from a long line of relatives who look after themselves at all ages. My aunt made sure she put on self-tanning lotion before her operation for breast cancer in her late 70s. Recently, I had a revelatory moment about my age. For almost 20 years I have had a reciprocal fondness for our gardener. He always undercharges me and then I pay him more. We have a small yard but we needed our oak trees trimmed. If you employ an arborist to trim trees, it costs thousands of dollars. He went up a ladder with a chain saw – good enough for me.
When he arrived, he caught me off-guard and I answered the door in my ratty old dressing gown, hair tousled unattractively with my glasses on. Even he looked embarrassed, so I ran and put some clothes on. The job should have cost a few hundred dollars but he asked for $40. It was a pity invoice. I could almost hear him say “she used to be so attractive”. Laughingly, I told one of my friends but inside I felt crushed. Since then, I have dyed my hair blonde again, had it cut in a cute style and started wearing CLOTHES (sometimes they aren’t leggings).
My twenties were a mixed bag – marriage to Teddy and moving house 6 times in 8 years. Exciting and stressful. My thirties were strange because although I finally achieved some professional plaudits for grant writing and project work, I was palpably anxious. My forties were adventurous – we moved to two different continents in 2 years and landed in Texas. By then I finally had my weight under control and had decent medication for my mental health.
My fifties were fantastic!! I looked the best I had in decades, felt healthy, travelled solo to exotic locations and started a completely new career. Had the pandemic not happened, I might have slipped into my 60s with little or no impact. Work came to a standstill, as did the airport so I had no raison d’etre. My husband was deeply unhappy at work and wanted to retire early which he did. I thought we would hate each other with enforced cohabitation but we settled into a new rhythm with plenty of humor and silliness.
I should be #grateful or #blessed but I just feel annoyed. I want to be 51 again but that’s not possible. There are a couple of nice things about ageing. Most people are very polite to me and younger ladies ask me for Mommy advice. I no longer have to worry about sexy lingerie but Teddy will testify that I never did! My one push up bra will last me forever and I need never buy Spanx or Skims. I would pull a muscle if I tried to put them on – even Lycra stockings are the work of the devil.
The timbre of this post was intended to be humorous yet poignant. Many of us feel a bit hopeless in the wake of war and pestilence. I am certain that we all aged mentally and physically through the pandemic no matter our biological age or infectious status. As someone who struggles with mental illness, I know that it really is possible to take one day at a time and move forward. I don’t have as many happy days as I used to but that is improving with increased interaction without masks. Long may it last.
This is our Texas Mountain Laurel. For the first time, since we adopted her (from our neighbor), she is covered in blooms. They have a very intense smell – almost like grape bubblegum. By sheer coincidence the color is exactly the same as the Pantone Color of the Year 2022, Very Peri. I think she just wants to be fashionable like her mom… I have no idea why I anthropomorphize plants but I love to hug my trees and name them. Perhaps it’s natural, given I was born in San Francisco to a couple of beatniks!
This is one of my favorite colors. One generous boyfriend bought me a gorgeous midi length sunray pleated skirt in periwinkle blue/lilac. My mum hated lilac so that made the purchase even better! Curiously, although he was generous and I was thankful, I didn’t like my clothes being chosen for me. I have trained Teddy never to buy me clothes and especially not lingerie! He did get me a free lilac fleecy dressing gown with some perfume and I have been wearing it for over a decade but I don’t think that counts as lingerie.
This is Miss Laurel in her full glory. She was planted next to another bush, a Japanese Yew, who died despite my best efforts. That has given her room to spread her branches. We are headed into a drought cycle in Texas and I think she might like the drier conditions. Originally mountain laurels came from the Chihuahua desert in Mexico. When the blooms fall off there will be very poisonous seed pods. Teddy better behave…
Over the last couple of months, I have been clearing out my closet…again. I have finally accepted that I no longer suit some of my ‘younger’ clothes and that my legs are not what they once were. That said, I think women of a certain age should wear whatever they want – no rules! Much of my wardrobe is black because I have to wear it so often for work but it’s not my best color so I decided to choose rosy tones. The soft red floral wrap top (Max Studio in Nordstrom Rack Outlet), above, is styled with my ever faithful buttoned Walmart jeans and floral Carlos Santana boots.
This gorgeous maxi skirt is my bargain of 2022. I found it in our local Interfaith thrift store. It fits me perfectly and it was about $6 – styled with a long sleeved Pima cotton t-shirt from J. Crew’s sale, bought a couple of years ago. The side view shows more of the pretty pattern and swing. It will be great for Salsa dancing!
On our Involuntary Vacation, we stopped at La Grange, Texas for a coffee. I spotted an lovely boutique store, Simple Rags, and moseyed over to it. We have lost quite a few independent boutiques in our home town over the past few years. I miss them so much. On the sale rack was the pretty taupe/pink dress with charcoal embroidery below, reduced from $62 to $18. I bought a prairie dress on the prairie!
I had great plans to wear my new purchases at romantic dinners out on vacation or at home. Teddy’s recent cardiac incident has postponed that temporarily until everything settles down but I wore the red floral top when we went out for decaf skinny lattes this week. More involuntary vacation posts to follow…
Two weeks ago, Teddy had gone on a road trip to the Texas-Mexico border and I was taking the opportunity to frenetically clean the house in his absence. The phone rang when I was scrubbing baseboards. Knowing it was Teddy calling, I said laughingly, “Guess what I am doing?” He answered, “I am in the Emergency Room in McAllen”. My heart stopped, metaphorically, and I screeched, “What?” At first, I thought it might be one of his allergic reactions to insect bites but then he told me that his heart rate was very fast and irregular. They were struggling to get it stabilized and he was being admitted to McAllen Cardiac Hospital as soon as a bed was available.
As soon as I put down the phone, I went into triage mode. I phoned his hotel and explained the situation then booked a flight for the next day. He had driven down in his own car but it is almost 700 miles from our home in south east Texas. When he was transferred to the Cardiac Hospital he was put into ICU. If his heart rate, rhythm and pressure improved, they intended to put him in a regular room, possibly for another night or more. Teddy has a long history of cardiac issues – first, a tachycardia as a young man, then high cholesterol and blood pressure in his 40s. All have been managed very well with medication over the years and no hospitalizations or events.
I have chronic anxiety with some depression and the news about Ukraine was beginning to bring me down. As I pondered how I was going to deal with this, my heart went out to all those refugees who were going on journeys with no end in sight. This was the time to put on a stiff upper lip and just be brave. What I was most worried about was the journey back in his Challenger sports car. We would have to do it in two days, as originally planned, and I would have to reschedule the booked hotels.
Like many of us, I had no wish to go on an airplane right now. I arrived at the airport and it was jam packed with people. My flight was delayed by a couple of hours – it was flying inbound from San Francisco and had a mechanical problem. There was a bar close to the gate, so I decided to have a glass of wine. I had a nice chat with a pretty lady travelling back to Monterrey, just over the border in Mexico. Finally, our plane boarded and I settled in the back. The mechanical problem was non-functioning air conditioning, so we were all a bit hot and bothered. A couple, from the north, sat across the aisle. They had obviously been drinking and their previous flight had also been delayed. They borrowed the phone from the guy behind them and the mask-less woman proceeded to loudly berate their travel agent about a missed hotel reservation – all while the plane was speedily rattling down the runway. The flight attendant tried to intervene but just gave up.
I was silently furious. It was a 50-minute flight – couldn’t she could have waited to phone until we landed? Had she not been watching the news with people boarding trains from Ukraine with no accommodation booked? Teddy’s phone had been running out of battery with no charger so our communication was getting brief. Luckily, Speedy Gonzales was flying the plane so it was a bumpy takeoff and landing with brakes screeching. I raced off, got my luggage and went out to get an Uber. A young man outside told me that there was a 35-minute wait for an Uber so I jumped in a taxi. Immediately I was transported back to Egypt. There was a candlewick bedspread on the back seat, it smelled like goats had been the last guests and he spoke no English. My Spanish is not good enough behind a mask and Scottish accent, so he dropped me at the wrong hospital and I had to get an Uber to the right one…
By the time I got there, I was utterly exhausted, but Teddy was looking good in a regular hospital room. It was such a relief for both of us to hug each other. McAllen is not a rich town but serendipitously Teddy had his heart incident treated in one of the 50 best cardiac hospitals in the USA. The hospital was very clean but utilitarian. The doctors changed his medication and monitored him until his heart rate was completely stable. It was an isolated event triggered by goodness knows what but age, a long trip, red wine, dodgy shrimp and too much caffeine may have triggered the inevitable. As he was discharged, the cardiologist looked at me and said, “You know the warning signs of stroke, don’t you?” With trepidation, I assured her that I did with a family history of cardiac ill health.
The staff were fantastic from the Cardiac hospital to the little ER and we thanked them all. The receptionist at the hotel was ecstatic to see the ‘Irishman’ who had become ill. She had a bit of a crush on that accent… We stayed one more night in the hotel and slept the sleep of the dead. Then we set off on our very long journey travelling from scrubland with cactus all the way to rolling hill country. We were made to pull over at a border patrol about 30 miles from McAllen, as was everyone else. It is advisable to carry your passport when so close to the border. They were looking for a fugitive but one look at the older white couple and they waved us on. It was very exciting!
I had no intention on going on vacation but my soul was soothed by the bucolic vista complete with goats, sheep and cattle. We stopped for coffee breaks at little towns until we reached Cuera. By then we had come out of deep oil country and it was truly agricultural. It was such a treat to idle behind a tractor full of hay bales. Most of the towns had magnificent central courthouses in the square and each had a different feel depending on the ancestry. McAllen was almost entirely Hispanic but then we reached German and Czech towns. Although I had a nutritional/exercise plan worked out in my head, I relaxed the rules a little for our involuntary vacation together.
Finally, we arrived home and it was such a relief to sleep in our own house. After a week he had another AFIB incident in the middle of the night and we went to ER. It was a short visit and they treated him with IV medication. His GP is now in control until he sees a cardiologist in April so fingers crossed that this was a timely warning.
Teddy doesn’t look bad, two days after ICU – all beer and Band-Aids. May he enjoy the last beer he will ever have…😊