El Camino Real


I was born in Texas, and I’ve lived here for most of the last 22 years. However, I have discovered just in the last few weeks that I really don’t know very much about my home state (or about anything else that’s halfway important, either). That’s alright, though – whatever I don’t know, Amy does. Indeed, even some things that I thought I did know, Amy knows better.

Before you get the wrong impression, I should point out that I’m not trying to be snarky. Amy and I have been married for better than 30 years, and as anyone who knows us will tell you, I had nothing to do with that record of success. Amy comes from a long line of strong, capable, iron-willed women who suffer fools patiently, if not gladly, and unfortunately I have occasionally been a fool in the last 30 years. I like to think that it’s endearing and good-natured, but fools are like that sometimes.

But, I digress. Amy and I just returned from a short excursion through some garden spots in South Texas. She’s wrapping up the research on a new book that’s due to be published next spring, and she wanted to get a firsthand look at some of the locales that will figure prominently in the finished work. Although I have been asked (threatened with bodily harm, that is) not to reveal the details, I have learned more in the last year about Texas history during the Civil War than I knew in my previous 50 years, and as I used to tell my son about humbling and painful experiences, it builds character.

We started with a quick trip down to Brownsville, Texas. Under normal circumstances, this trip takes about three hours from San Antonio. These were anything but normal circumstances, however, since we were re-creating the journey of a previously unknown Civil War hero who made a similar trip in the spring of 1863. Amy is a stickler for historical accuracy, and wanted to be absolutely sure that we followed the same path that he did to the greatest extent possible. I count myself very fortunate that we did not make the trip in an ox-drawn cart loaded with 1000 pounds of cotton, though I did think that her insistence that I wear a linsey-woolsey shirt and huaraches and carry a black powder musket was a little excessive. We were not attacked by Confederate soldiers, Comanches, or Apaches, however, so perhaps it was worth the effort.

Amy was in historian heaven amongst dusty books and records in the Stillman Museum and the courthouse in Brownsville, while Izzy and I plotted and planned where the three of us might have dinner. Although it took about three hours one afternoon, I was able to find the perfect dinner spot on South Padre Island. I was very proud of myself until we arrived there.  I apparently had picked the restaurant from Hell. Amy has had experience with some of my “good ideas,” so she gently commented, “why don’t we see if we can find a place where we won’t be murdered or end up with intestinal parasites,” whipped out her cell phone, and in a flurry of Yelping and calling, found a charming place on the beach that allowed dogs, had great food and wonderful service, and that we ended up returning to the next night also. I don’t know what she was so worked up about – I was carrying a musket, after all.

We left Brownsville on our way to Laredo, and we both enjoyed the trip – we avoided both major highways and being kidnapped, and saw some fascinating little towns (if you’ve never been to Roma, Texas, put it on your bucket list, and go to the Birding Society overlook on the Rio Grande. Even a city boy like me thought it was way cool).

We spend a couple of days in Laredo (good food, interesting historical sites like Fort Macintosh, where the Army base scenes from the movie “Lone Star” were filmed, a great tour guide who learned more from Amy than he could have learned at UT (or at least A&M) about Texas/Mexican/Spanish/French/Catholic history, and the chance to be kept up all night by not just one but two wedding receptions in our hotel). I even went to a local gun range (didn’t take my musket, but I was equipped anyway) and I didn’t shoot my eye out.

Our last day was originally intended to be a straight shot back to San Antonio from Laredo, but Amy and I (you will notice how I artfully and tactfully included myself) never do anything the easy way – you miss too much and don’t get the added benefit of “adventures“ that way. We decided (being artful again there) that a trip up the border to Eagle Pass would be fun. We had a few encounters with roadrunners, hawks, buzzards, and a coyote or two (the human kind, driving dune buggies and appearing uninterested in conversation) on Farm to Market Road 1472 before discovering that it just…stopped about 60 miles from Eagle Pass. To be completely accurate, it didn’t actually stop; it just ceased being paved, which is somehow more ominous. I was unconcerned (I had my musket, you see), but Amy thought we should turn around, so I agreed. Chicken.

We eventually made it to Eagle Pass along a more conventional route. We saw several more landmarks from the filming of the movie “Lone Star” and took pictures at Fort Duncan – I don’t have Amy’s stamina any more, and by this time I was a little “forted out.” Fort Duncan is apparently famous for some damn thing that happened long before I was born, or for some guy who did something that either kept a bunch of people from being killed or that killed a bunch of people in an inventive way, or something like that. I love history; it’s just that it all happened so long ago, and I get confused.

We made it home in one piece, still speaking to each other. That’s probably the major accomplishment, from my perspective. Amy just retired (she prefers to say “stopped teaching”) so we could spend more time together while I can still get around, and we’ll be doing more of these trips. Our next one is to Washington, DC – I hear they have museums and forts there too, and that they were also involved in the Civil War. I’ll believe it when I see it. We’re flying, though, so I’ll have to leave Izzy and my musket at home.

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