Close friends since we were 14 years old, Gail and I have shared many adventures, big, small, good and bad over the past decades. It began in the 60’s with 13 page hand- written letters disclosing affairs of the heart and other critical teenage angsts to telephone calls and now email as well as planned and hastily arranged visits depending on family crises and travels. We support each other through good and bad times, laughing or crying together and sometimes doing both. Our mothers are sisters and as such we quote the same poems and stories to each other finishing off each other’s lines with a jubilant laugh. Visiting my mother once, she said, when I got off the phone, “You were talking to Gail.” “How did you know?” I asked. “So much laughing,” she replied.
As cancer widows whose husbands died 9 months apart, we started traveling together again, testing our compatibility with small trips before we tackled a month long trip to Turkey. It was a joyful trip filled with the things we like best, shopping, eating, learning, drinking tea, sharing stories, grief…. and laughing.
When the opportunity rose to take a break along the Grey Panther’s road trip with Jim flying off to see his sister in Alabama and Bethel AK friends in FL for a week, Gail arrived in Austin from Toronto, Ontario, just as Jim flew off. Gail had spent no time in TX and I only attended meetings in Austin, Houston and Dallas. It wasn’t on our A list of travel plans but we are always ready for an adventure. We just weren’t sure how a pair of liberal Canadians would enjoy Texas.
Gail is a great travel researcher and landed us a place to stay in New Bruenfils, between Austin and San Antonio. It was a dated complex on the Guadalupe River but with two bedrooms and bathrooms, a full kitchen and laundry facilities. As we age, we don’t share a ¾ size fold up couch in my parents’ family room as we did for many summers when Gail came for a long visit. Aunt Dorothy, mother of two, worried about inconvenience for such a long stay. My mother, mother of five, said one more wouldn’t matter.
We had not had a fun trip since Turkey. Gail came to my surgery at Mayo to help me while Jim was getting cancer treatment in Seattle. We met again in Traverse City when my son was hospitalized and family and friends gathered.
Now, with no other agenda except fun, we were ready. First order of business was to put the kettle on for tea even before unpacking.
Gail had recently traveled to India, a trip we hoped to do together, but my walking limitations and other modified body parts negated my travel—our trips always include lots of walking. On Saturday morning Gail set off for a vigorous, morning walk on a sunny day without me. She began to see my travel limitations, not for lack of desire, but because of physical status. We went to the Saturday farmers’ market, driving, when we would have walked before. This was my chance to gain experience driving The Grey Panther, much to Jim’s angst. Heh heh.
We wandered New Bruenfil’s main street. We didn’t realize that Texas has a large German influence (since 1850). First stop was an old hardware store with wooden floors and bins up the wall. I needed a bathtub stopper. I usually travel with a generic one but it disappeared. I was led right to it.
A large antique store in an old building invited us in. We split up so we could wander the many aisles and thousands of items displayed. When we met up, Gail said, “There is a small tea cup from Occupied Japan.” I said, “I was just going to mention it to you.” We went back and looked at it in glass display case and I bought it. We don’t know its story but it intrigued both of us. I looked wistfully at the Royal Doulton “Balloon Man” and “Balloon Woman” that I had loved since childhood when we would go to Jones China Shop in the small Canadian town I grew up in. I also bought a still-working-old-heavy waffle iron. In a move, my old waffle iron that I used for many years making wonderful waffles for my children disappeared. I bought a new one but it was light and the waffles not near as good. Can’t wait to try when we get back to Alaska!!
Time for lunch. We walked down the sidewalk to a café with a French menu. It was a delicious meal with bread, salad, salami, cheese and French glace. We chatted with the head cook who makes everything, including the delicious baguette.
Off to a hotel in Austin for the night. We had signed up for a photography workshop on Sunday, “Photography as Art” by Art Wolfe who we both admire. It was stimulating as he compared a history of artists to potential styles of photography that could be abstracted into designs from nature. Heading back to New Bruenfils, our talk focused on potential photos.
Leisurely mornings were the mutually agreed on rule—nonstop tea and nonstop talking in PJ’s. Monday afternoon drove to San Antonio for a half -day visit. We wanted to try some new photo shots as well as seeing the sites.
Note: I take snapshots to illustrate my writing. Gail is a serious photographer and walks around with a giant camera and lens around her neck even though she is only 5ft tall. I claim it is a man magnet—attracting all males from 8-80yrs old. If I were looking for a man, I would just buy a cheap camera shell and walk around with it. I parked near the Alamo as we belted out “Davy, Davy Crockett…..” Ready for adventure, the wide sidewalk with shops and restaurants lured us on. We went inside a store with beautiful items from Turkey, nostalgia swept over us. I asked the Turkish owners how Turkey was fairing with the political upheaval. “The best thing you can do for Turkey,” he said, “Is to travel there. We stopped to visit to giant lions on wheels in front of a store. Imagine, you could just roll the lions to wherever you felt threatened!
Around the corner from the Catholic church was a sculpture on a bench titled “Homeless Jesus.” I paused and took a photo because it was so simple and so meaningful. It remains a strong memory with me.
After a quick lunch we jumped on a double decker tour bus that had jump-on jump –off privileges. It was a sunny, warm day and the country music blaring from the speaker fit the day. Alas, the art museum was closed.
We stepped off the bus to go down to the River Walk to wander and take abstract water photos. Having a strong interest in the workings of the 1930’s WPA and CCC, I noticed that the bridges were constructed by WPA workers. It was only when flood control was put in place that it become a tourist attraction. TIn the Menger Hotel where many famous people stayed, there was a telegram that was sent to the sculptor of Mt Rushmoe who had a studio in the hotel.he Alamo was the last stop before we headed home.
Fredricksburg was Tuesday’s trip. I was glad we could take a back road instead of the freeway. It was a 90 minute drive. It is a German town, and I was curious how it became the center of a memorial for General Nimitz of the Pacific theatre WWII fame who was born there I did see an unusual photo signed by him wearing a cowboy hat and holding a guitar in ….
Independent bookstores, whose demise I find, is greatly exaggerated, are a priority. .On the counter in a basket was a fluffy, sleeping cat who blended in with the adjacent old books. It seemed he wandered in one day, a feral cat, whose tip of the ear was cut off, the universal sign that the cat had been neutered. He was now a permanent fixture, the owner told us, only answering to the name of “Kitty” which was the name of Anne Frank’s cat. He kept the old building rodent free staying there all day and night. Ambling the sidewalks, we found a couple of interesting clothing shops, oh so nice. I found my “mother of the bride” dress for my daughter’s wedding in June—French linen made it Italy and yes a few more things. With my colostomy body I wear mostly tunics now—a good excuse for new wardrobe pieces, I think.
The days passed quickly with warm, sunny weather. A rest day was in order and we committed the next day to a proper rest—unless something called our name. Of course it did. We know each other well. Late afternoon, off we went to a nearby town, Gruene (German for Green). It had been a cotton town founded by a man…wait for it…named Gruene. He built a beautiful home, and one for his daughter when she married.
The town has many other buildings including the still functioning Dance Hall. The boll weevils came along and the Dust Bowl—the town died. Some time later, a young student found the abandoned town along the river and figured it would become a great tourist town. He was right. An old fashioned general store with blaring country music, dance hall, the wonderful Gristmill restaurant on the river greeted us in rehabilitated buildings. My favorite was the Black Swan antique store housed in Gruene’s daughter’s house. Many beautiful antiques including a large rectangle tea kettle and items I had never seen. The workers were very gracious and lovely piano music played. I bought a ceramic replica of a coach foot warmer for Jim’s and my cold feet. Alas, the wealthy people had beautiful ornate foot warmers that were very pricey. But what caught my eye, and how could I resist, was Paris Rain bath salts!! And soap which she cut into 3 pieces that she recommended for easier management. Definitely a special memory. I told her about my claw foot bathtub in the woods at Jim’s and she insisted that I show her pics and drooled over the Alaska scene.
Gail dragged me out to check a couple of other stores before closing. Another antique story with thousands of items in an old storefront drew us in and there was the tiny harbor seal in a cluttered glass display cabinet looking quite forlorn.
“Vintage harbor seal,” the tag said. “$14.95.” How did he get there? He’s beautifully made with the right neck angle and big, warm eyes and tiny, perfect stitches, the sign of an expert skin sewer. What is his story? Alaska? Canada? How did he end up here? I walked away, ready to leave the story and the seal behind. But, I just couldn’t. He seemed so lonely in his little corner. I went to the counter to get the clerk to unlock the case. A young Texan, chatty and helpful, but no idea the origin of the little guy.. And now he’s perched right next to me and seems a little happier, even though he doesn’t even know he’s going home to the North. But, the seal is now ready to travel with a new owner with an important mission. Stay tuned.
There was the Royal Doulton Balloon Man all by himself, twice the price of the one in New Bruenfils. As we walked outside to look at an old building converted to an inn that had been Gruene’s house, the smell of grilled steak filled the air. Not normally a beef eater, the smell and hunger called us. We were sure the popular restaurant would be filled Luck was with us and we were taken to a table next to the water once I assured the waiter I could walk down the stairs. It was a lovely meal as the sun set over the river.
On the way home, I turned right and found open parking spaces next to the river. As the sun set, there were many birds in the water as well as white egrets? All flying on and off one tree. Truly a magical site, and we stopped to watch and take photos. Once more, a memorable day in a Texas town.
The week passed so quickly. On our last day together we packed, took nearby river photos and went downtown New Bruenfils. I bought the Balloon man and Balloon Woman.
We wanted one last lunch together and stepped into a small old home and disappeared into a German restaurant, beautifully decorated with the original brick showing and gentle German music playing. Lunch was special as well, Schnitzel and accompaniments. I really meant to save half for Jim, but it was so good I had to order a takeway for him!!
It was time to go to the airport and drop Gail off to return to Toronto and pick up Jim. A memorable week with my cousin and as we always say to each other “I don’t know what will happen tomorrow Mr MGarrity” (google Maggie Muggins). Jim had good visits and was happy to see the Sprinter was ok. I haven’t told him yet of having to take it to a Mercedes dealer to fix the right mirror that I somehow dislocated. Shhhhh.
National politics are in turmoil and we followed them while exploring Texas. But, we found good people living good lives in small Texas towns –caring about all people. Life is good!!