Strange.The first hour in Texas and we see five dead dogs on the highway. A dead dog every 12 minutes. Seen dead deer, dead skunks, dead squirrels and other critter corpses on the the road before, but this is the first time we've seen dead pets. Five poor pooches gone forever. Guess Texas doesn't have a Leash Law; don't know how else to explain these highway casualties. Now I see Leash Laws not only protect people from dogs, but dogs from people.
Speaking of pets our Texas campsite is in a designated area that doesn't allow pets. Of course some barkers and woofers slip into the "No Pet Strip." Usually, one-nighters smuggle Fido in hoping the violation will go unreported which, of course, it does. Who's gonna rat on a dog?
Texas has a colorful history. Lots of fun to read. One book on Texas history mentions the famous 19th century landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmstead, who visited Texas in the 1850s and wrote that when neighbors heard a man had GTT (gone to Texas) they could pretty much assume some "rascality" would soon be discovered . . . "everyone was on the watch for some discreditable reason to turn up."
It's Saturday night and we're making our way to the dance at the campground clubhouse. Don't usually participate in stuff like this but tonight we're taking a chance.The two of us enter the clubhouse and stand out like blinking neon lights, for we have entered a nest of Snowbirds. Snowbirds are people from up north, usually retirees, who leave there homes during the winter months to live out the season in warmer states. Typically they go to the same place every year and as a result get to know each other very well. But Ken and I are not these birds of a feather. We are not Snowbirds. We are not retired. We are not known. We are neon. Everyone stops and stares at us as we enter. After the newness wears off, however, they welcome us warmly and invite us to join in the fun. Meet a retired couple from Vermont who tell us that when they were our age they did the same thing we're doing. Only they SAILED around America -- and with two kids. I'm overwhelmingly relieved to hear that someone else has done what we're doing (somewhat) and have lived to tell about it. Obviously they have some kind of Nest Egg, cuz they're Snowbirds now. In my joy at finding survivors of such a trip, I neglect to ask, "How they heck does one SAIL around America? Do you only see the coastal states or do you do rivers, too? And how many states can one see by boat?" But they are long gone before these questions surface in my mind. At least now I know that one can do what we're doing and still rack up a Nest Egg for the later years.
The face of God
The San Antonio RV Park is just a mile from the San Jose Mission. "Queen of the Missions" they call it. Today we attend Catholic Mass in the small chapel of the enormous mission compound. The churchbells ring in the hour as we approach the ancient stone-carved doorway. It's crowded inside; only seats available in the first pew, which turns out to be lucky because I can gaze at the beautiful altar and pay better attention to the sermon. Today's message from the Franciscan father is to focus on the light within, even in times of darkness. Tells tale after tale of seemingly dark moments in some people's lives, yet they maintain a light, a glimmer of light to keep them going. "Stay focused on the light, not the darkness," he tells us. I'm sitting next to an old woman with quivering hands who barely has the strength to rise, kneel and sit as the service demands, and I wonder how she found the strength to make her way to church this morning all alone. When the priest mentions the darkness in life I wonder how much darkness she's experienced in her long life. I glance about the chapel and its parishioners and am flooded with feelings of brotherhood. Who in this tiny chapel has not been clouded by darkness? The Mexican man there in his old straw hat and beat-up jeans. That obese woman in the corner, sweating in the heat of her nylon dress. The young, beautiful Hispanic mother of four small children. The singers in the choir. The old lady beside me. Even Ken. I stare at Ken's face as he listens to the priest and wonder what darkness has he experienced that I know nothing of? Really, no one escapes it. My God, I love every one of these people, all struggling through life as best they can. As if reading my thoughts the old lady beside me turns, looks at me with a penetrating, knowing expression and a sparkle in her eyes, that says, "Oh, my dear, trust the warmth of light." She smiles a sweet, kind, brilliant smile. I'm reminded of something a priest once said to me, "When someone smiles at you, a genuine smile, take note. You are seeing the face of God." I return the smile.
"Church today." Mom would announce at breakfast. "It's a Holy Day of Obligation." A Holy Day of Obligation means you "should" go to church, but you don't "hafta" go like on Sunday. Back then, the whole neighborhood attended service. The day felt special. And on Ash Wednesdays everyone proudly wore ashes on their foreheads . . . the owner of the corner store, the breadman, the mailman. Everyone had 'em. And everyone gave up something for Lent."What are you giving up for lent?" was as frequently discussed as the weather. In my small world, I thought everyone was Catholic. This belief was shattered when JFK ran for president. It was the first time I became aware of: A) the presidency; and B) someone "running" for it. I pictured a footrace: Nixon, the Baddie, running against Kennedy, the Goodie. Everyone in my neighborhood rooted for JFK. Except Niki, the little girl down the street. She was Greek. Said she wanted Nixon to win. Mum later explained to me that a lot of people don't want JFK cuz he's Catholic. Huh? Two pieces of shocking news for this young, unformed mind to process: 1) Everyone ISN'T Catholic like I thought; and 2) There are people out there who don't like us. A difficult test of faith for girl who hadn't received First Holy Communion yet. My world shattered. After abandoning Catholicism at eighteen, I never gave it another thought until here in San Antonio. First, the Mass at the mission brought back a flood of memories: The Holy Water that I always loved. A way to wash away the outside world before entering God's house. The genuflecting before the King of Man. The kneeling, the standing, the humbling, "Lord, I am not worthy." The Confessional boxes where sins are revealed. And even outside the church I see all kinds of Catholic items for sale in regular stores like supermarkets, Kmarts, and Wal*Marts. I've been so used to a secularized society that I'm struck by the numerous religious items for sale. And I'm surprisingly warmed, right down to the toes. In the car on the ride home, I catch the end of an NPR interview with an author who says, "You know, everyone is seeking something. Some kind of spiritual connection. I've returned to the Episcopalian church because that's the religion I grew up with. That's what feels comfortable to me." Funny to hear this on the radio, now, today, just as I'm feeling so comforted in this Catholic area of San Antonio. Roots are strong.
Bugs and webs
Well who'da thought we'd outgrow our software. But so many people are subscribing to the postcards now that we must turn over the Email delivery to a third party vendor, which means, before we can do that we need to make some software changes, which means bugs, headaches, snags, problems, delays. Call Southwestern Bell down here in Texas to have a real phone line installed so we can get online for long periods of time to talk with software vendors and play the obligatory game of Tech Support Telephone Tag. Stuck in Texas until all this software works. Probably a month or so. It's a drag. But if we have to be stuck somewhere, at least we're in a beautiful spot. The weather is like a New England spring. Mockingbirds sing constantly around our campsite. And a bunch of other unidentifiable birds -- I counted 48 the other day -- sit on our picnic table every day around lunch time. A peach colored rosebush out front keeps our table well supplied with a vase of tender sweetness. Feel like we're living in Snow White's cottage in the woods. Especially with that music box Kristine gave us for Christmas. It sings "Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day, I've got a wonderful feeeeling, everything's going my way." It sits on our bedtable and we wind it up before getting out of bed each day. Puts us in a good mood before dealing with a dayful of technology woes. And they are many. Every change made in one place affects something else --totally unrelated to it. Neither one of us is very technologically savvy, but of the two, Ken is definitely more able to deal with the ins and outs of software. Although tangled in this spidery mess, he's amazingly cheerful. Every time he discovers yet another snag, he says, 'Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to be a dweeb."
The Sunshine Cottage
Get lots of invitations to visit students following our trip, but rarely is the school close enough to fit into our schedule. This time, though, we're invited to visit the Sunshine Cottage School for Deaf Children right here in San Antonio. They've been following us since the beginning. We meet the eight children and the two teachers and get a real kick answering their innocent questions. But a painful question hits me unexpectedly (kids tend to zero in on adult's fears): "How much will this trip cost you?" I'm pointedly asked. The reply: $50,000 a year, not counting the cost of Harvey and Ruby. "Wow." The student responds. But does he really know how much that is? For a moment I look into his young eyes and wonder if he can grasp that it represents a year's salary. And I'm relieved he does not followup with the obvious Part B to the question, "Hey! Where are you getting the money if you're not working?" Had I been forced to answer such a question, no one would believe the answer. "By a wing and a prayer." For I have no idea how we're doing this financially. Mostly it's through home equity loans and the "credit card shuffle."
In the shadows
Tonight Ken and I go for a walk in the balmy night air. It's a peaceful, tranquil walk until I notice our shadows under the street lamp and point out to Ken how different our bodies are. We begin making our bodies bend into distorted shapes, trying to outdo each other in creating zany shadowy figures. The game ends with us falling into each others arms, laughing. When we break the embrace, I spot a group of older men in the shadows. They've been watching us all this time and now we have to walk by them. We compose ourselves and a bit embarrassed, say hello as we walk by. One of the men says to us, "Ahhhh, what's it like to be that young? I forget." We smile politely. And he persists, "No, really. What is it like?" (pause) Then adds softly, sadly, "I honestly don't remember." His words puncture my soul. The way he says this makes me terribly sad. That back-to-the-future feeling again. I know someday it will be us saying the same thing to someone else. And I know it will happen sooner than we think.
A slice of life
Get an Email from Bev today asking me for a refresher course on my "Pie of Life Theory." I'd completely forgotten about it. Came up with this theory during a tough time in my life, oh, about 15 years ago when I had a fussy boss and a monster boyfriend. In retelling it to Bev via Email I realize I should practice what I preach (or used to preach anyway). My Pie of Life Theory goes like this:
"Every person, rich or poor, wakes up each morning with the same pie . . . 24 hours. Everyone gets the same size pie to divide up between the six segments of life: Work, Home, Love, Family, Friends, Self. Ideally each segment should get an equal portion, one-sixth of the pie; but that's not realistic. Sometimes Work is particularly demanding, which means the Home slice gets reduced. Or a little sliver from each segment is contributed to the Work segment while getting through the work crisis, which sometimes last weeks or months. It's okay to borrow slivers from each segment of the pie, as long as you know it's temporary, and you know where you're borrowing from. When it becomes permanent, though like having a job that's ALWAYS in crisis mode, that's when problems arise, because the other pieces will always be succumbing to the Work slice, and you'll always feel something is missing in life. The thing is to recognize which segments you sacrifice each day so that the next day, when you have a new 24-hour pie, (or a weekend) you can slice the time more fairly."
This message I send to Bev today is really meant for me. I've been sad a lot on this trip. But whenever sadness creeps in, I scold myself. "You're on the trip of a lifetime, you ingrate! How can you be sad?" Throughout the day I stew in a poisonous emotional mixture of sadness and self-hatred. Today is one of those days. And as I compose this Pie message for Bev I realize that my entire pie is dedicated to this trip. No family. No friends. No home. No self time. No wonder I'm sad. Not only is it okay to be sad, it's normal. Thank you God for sending me this message.
It's lovely staying here in San Antonio except for the shortage of good tea. The only tea I can find is Lipton. Not good enough. So I call Ken's sister Debbie and ask her to send me some Red Rose tea. I carefully choose Debbie for this task cuz I know she's the only one back home who want scoff at this request, with a "Priscilla, aren't you being a bit ridiculous." Debbie sends us six boxes, the dear. I'm overjoyed. Later in the week when talking to Sandy in England I happen to mention what Debbie did for us and out of the clear blue she sends me G.E.T., Good English Tea. Wow. Tea Heaven. That's one nice thing about being in a site for a month or more, you not only get to have a regular telephone line, but you also get an address. I've already received 6 or 7 letters from mums. Things like this make me feel like a real person.
Touring the Spanish Governors Palace by myself today cuz Ken is fighting a three-headed, fire-breathing software dragon. It's only 5 miles away; no trouble finding it. Getting home, though, is something else. Rain. Rush hour. And loop roads made me lost for 2-1/2 hours. I'm trapped in San Antonio's series of loop highways that form concentric circles around the city. What happens is that if you're on one of these highways and see an exit bearing a street name you recognize, you take it. But you end up someplace totally opposite of what you expected. So you hop on another loop road and keep making the same mistake. It's like a being trapped on a carnival Loopty-Loo. And equally nauseating.
During the day this campsite is wonderful. Like Snow White's cottage in the woods . . . little chirping birds come so close you think they'll land on your shoulder. Shady trees and fragrant flowers fill the air. But when night falls, noises rise. Directly behind the trailer is a church of some kind. During the day it looks like some long forgotten garage, but at night, particularly Thursday and Friday night, it becomes a lively evangelical tent. Live music, gospel singing and amplified preaching fills the air. Fun at first. Now a bit irksome. When church ends, sometime around 11 PM, that's when the demonic train picks up. Now, we're used to trains on this trip. I'd say about 85% of the campgrounds are near train tracks. And, normally, the sound of the rushing train and occasional blowing of the horn is comforting. But the horn on this train here in San Antonio sounds like a poltergeist. It's incredibly loud. But more irritating than that is that it's constant. Not a random honk- honk now and then, nor a toot-toot, but a constant screaming like a Banshee. In fact, the first night I heard it, I thought it was a mean-spirited ghost. It woke me from a sound sleep and scared the the color out of my skin. I lay there wondering what supernatural being was haunting the place. A horrible, blaring sound. Never ending. Never fades, either. One would expect that as the train travels farther down the track, the sound would fade. It doesn't. It screams and screams and screams for 10 minutes then ends abruptly. Now this screeching, haunting noise goes really well with the howling dogs. A pack of dogs -- from God knows where, cuz we don't hear them in the daytime -- all of a sudden start howling like a pack of wild wolves. Crazy. Okay. So we've got screams, howls and lastly, we have things that go bump in the night. To the left of the trailer park is a truck depot. All day long the trucks sit idle. At night, however, they break out in a thunderous roar. SLAM! BANG! BOOM! Trucks are loaded and hauled off with all the cargo-related sounds of herd of stevedores.
Go to a store today to buy envelopes. At the checkout counter I see dozens of colored Easter Eggs on display. I pick one up and discover that it's a real eggshell, hollowed out, but there's a noise inside, like a soft rattle. I ask the man at the register to explain the product. The Mexican man at the register gives me a quizzical look. "Where are you from?" He asks, puzzled. I tell him Massachusetts. "Don't you have any Mexicans in Massachusetts?" I stop and try to picture the faces from home. "No, I guess we don't." Once I make this confession, his furrowed brow relaxes and his face breaks into a big grin. "Well, you see," he says cheerfully, "it's an old Mexican custom. These eggs are filled with confetti and stars and things. You take one and crack it over someone's head and yell 'HAPPY EASTER!' and then let the fun stuff fall down their happy faces." I love the idea. Kinda like a miniature pinata, broken by the point of someone's unsuspecting head. Get back to the trailer and there is Ken bent over the computer. C-R-A-C-K! Smack the egg on his troubled head. "HAPPY EASTER!"