Daylight Saving Time is upon us (March 11th). That means almost Spring (March 20th). A time of change, a time of hope.
I know, I know; my last column re Trump and Company was not too hopeful. But olive branches (or twigs?) are out between the U.S. and North Korea. Spring has almost sprung and Texas wildflowers are abloom.
I’m just back from trip to San Antonio (business, medical, pleasure). Sweet-smelling, dusky golden Huisache abound. Also abundant is the Chaparro Prieto (legume family, like Mesquite and Guajillo) near Three Rivers (up Highway 281). The cattle on Ms Betty Pérez ranch in the Valley find its tender ivory blooms yummy, flourishing due to the cold and rain. The Yucca also welcome you on that long drive (over 238 miles). Don’t miss the confusing “Chinese-Donuts” restaurant in Three Rivers; try the home-made Kolaches. Back on the road, the Red Buds are beyond budding, the Blue Bonnets coming along nicely.
On that Texas landscape (in the old days, with only a few cars on the road, it seemed to be a highway inviting a UFO happening) you now cruise along at 70 while others speed past you. Take time to enjoy marvelous kettles of hawks and the ubiquitous pair of hawks circling high above you; they mate for life, a lovely Springtime omen for you. If lucky you will see (not “run into,” I hope) apparently fearless deer grazing alongside the road.
The round trip (Valley to San Antonio and return), for those who make it often, can be trying. However, the adventure can be a “trip” if you allow your mind to wander (while still focusing on the road). Traffic is astounding, coming and going. Don’t curse the trucks, they mean business; sorry about the occasional chip in windshield. Pavement is better these days, improvements proceed. Falfurrias and Alice can be by-passed. (In the old days, with the Valley the only major area of the state without a four-lane highway, many complained we were getting screwed; now they offer us 69—Highway 69, that is.)
But my point is don’t by-pass everything. (You CAN’T by-pass the INS Checkpoint which warns you “Contrabando de extranjeros es un crimen federal”). DO stop at least once to see the grave of famous curandero (faith-healer), Don Pedrito Jaramillo, near Falfurrias; check out the hospital bracelets, (even drivers’ licenses!) left at the shrine. DO stop (safely) at one of the many touching roadside crosses constructed by families of loved ones who perished in traffic at that spot; evidently, respectful drivers of State mowers leave the altars alone. DO notice the “Memorial Levy” on the way back for John Nance Garner, 32nd Vice-President of the U.S. DO remember and thank the President he served under, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, for Social Security and the New Deal. (DO fight to protect what’s left of those progressive policies; Republicans threaten to diminish that progress.)
You will see in Premont the old Works Progress Administration school (WPA built the famous River Walk in San Antonio, too). I hope some kind (rich) donor buys it, keeping it for a community hall. DO appreciate the revamped, clean, safe State rest stops along this Texas “Appian Way” (tax money well spent), a busier and busier “bridge” of commerce between Mexico, the Texas Valley and the rest of the state and nation.
Other scenes not official, but intriguing are the multiple herds of cattle (usually facing the same way; no one in my farming/ranching days ever explained that to me convincingly). Also, of course, one admires the striking gates—some simple, a Texas flag and cattle guards, some ornate—of the many Texas ranches, both Mexican American and Anglo owned. “Sunset Ranch” of Wayne and Nell Mann stands out. I don’t know them but one can imagine that “Texas Gothic” couple, standing proud in boots adorned with a Texas Star. Also very “Texan” (I suppose?) is the cross made of bullets for sale at Tex-Best gas station, George West. The larger cross I had seen earlier, made of crossed pistols, must now adorn some corner in a bar or one of the small, rural churches?
Keep an eye out (even if no time to drive through) for signs leading to places like Pleasanton (and, my favorite to repeat, Whitsett–”Whitsett”, fun to say). When 281 by-passes so many towns, they are impacted negatively, yet manage to hang on (the oil “bid-ness, as Molly Ivins used to call it, helps). I have my favorite towns, among them “Cotulla,” where Dr. Charles Cotrell, former colleague and President of St. Mary’s University first encountered Mexican Americans. (I taught with him there before UT-Pan American and UT Rio Grande Valley.) He was from Sisterdale; his coach assured the team “ah, those ‘Meskins’ are sissies; hit ‘em once and they stay down.” Along came huge norteño-ancestry Chicanos who mopped them up. Looking up through the mud changed Charlie’s idea of simply trusting macho authority or his coach’s racism. He became an activist, testifying in Congress for fair electoral representation. But those are my memories, inspired along 281; you will have your own.
You might find them on the Terry Wayne Miller Highway, south of San Antonio, dedicated to a Texas Trooper killed by automatic weapons while answering a call along that stretch of road. (It’s nice to have a highway named for you; might be nicer if automatic military weapons had been curtailed.) Or you might drive further, having visions of the eons of time that carved the world and the state, as you pass the lone, strange hill that juts out of the rolling land, before the turn-off to the Valley from Highway 37. Or you might wonder about the “three rivers” few in Three Rivers can name. (They are the Atascosa or “bog,” the Frio, and the Nueces (former border between the U.S. and Mexico.)
You might find (or make) those memories in San Antonio itself. There, in that “capital” of the “state” of South Texas (if we should ever be able to constitute ourselves into a state) lies a quintessential confluence of cultures (not only shown in the Institute of Texas Cultures but experienced in daily life). OK, so their Mexican food isn’t as good as ours in the Valley, but they have the River Walk (as we could and should, if it were developed), with boats and locks taking you to the Museum of Modern Art and on up stream to the old Pearl Brewery, with its varied restaurants and clubs.
San Antonio is the home of Julian Castro, former Mayor, and twin brother and Congressman, Joaquin, whom many down here hope one day will become Governor or Senator. Or perhaps that would be a waste; he should be Vice-Presidental nominee, as he should have been last time. The Valley, distinct and miles apart, still watches and listens to news and events from San Antonio. We vote in similar ways (“blue” vs the rest of the “red” state). Our trip up and back on Highway 281 (later, soixante-neuf?) keeps us tied, physically and emotionally to that grand city.
If they, like the rest of the state, don’t notice us as they should, we must try to make them do so, by voting in larger numbers, by touting our own special attributes (museums, islands, bridges to Progreso and beyond, further into Mexico, economic growth, our warm welcome to Winter Visitors). If you didn’t have some similar memories on 281, perhaps you will not zoom by but stop at historical markers and/or google towns, rivers, creeks (Lipan, anyone?), Spanish words and other historical facts, to learn who you are, where you are and how we all fit together. Happy Springtime! Forward, MARCH!