it takes an outside force, event or person to make one appreciate what one has,
that whole Dorothy, Oz, Kansas, backyard deal. I had that experience very recently
when two people from out of state visited me for a long weekend. Nancy is a childhood
friend, almost a cousin, kind of, could be but not really, and Cherie is her very
good friend. Both live in a small, picturesque town in Mississippi and were here
for a little road trip, taking a break from their respective hearths and homes.
Nancy was actually born in Texas, Beaumont, in fact, and in the same hospital
in which I sucked in my first breath about 14 months later. She grew up in Louisiana
and used to visit her Great Aunt Teet (Thelma) and Great Uncle Jake (my father's
eldest brother) in Beaumont
during the summers before she went off to college, so she and her sister Hope
and Butch and I spent a good bit of time socializing during those years.
these soft spoken, easy going, warm and funny ladies in my house and car for 4
days was pure delight. Both are very expressive, facially, vocally and with their
hands, and it was as if I was listening to any of a half dozen well known Southern
writers reading from their works. Voices of pure, smooth caramel with absolutely
no affectation, animation to fit each mood, and stories told on one another and
themselves had me incapacitated with hysterical laughter one minute and in slack
jawed wonderment the next.
These are smart, articulate, educated and artistic
women with a strong sense of their own origins, and neither is in the least pretentious.
They had another agenda in coming to Texas, besides
relaxation, and that was to take as many photos as possible of interesting scenes
in the Texas Hill Country
for Cherie to use this coming winter as objects to paint. She's an accomplished
artist of long standing and works hard at her craft, and Nancy is a purely natural
folk artist, though she denies it, screaming and protesting at every successful
So, armed with our cameras, well 3 cameras and Cherie's i Pad, we
headed for the hills west and south of Austin
on two successive days, long ten and twelve hour days spent getting in and out
of the car, ooohhing and aaahhing at scenery and slamming on the brakes when a
real “find” came into view. Nancy had our routes mapped out way ahead of time,
and she was very familiar with the skinny ovals running way out to Hunt
and Leakey and
coming back further down on the return trips. She has memories from many years
of driving her Grandmother from Louisiana on annual trips, and she is more familiar,
in fact, than I am, with the real Hill
Country, and I've lived in Austin
for right at 40 years.
is where I had my epiphany, my comeuppance, even. Through their eyes I saw sights
I had either forgotten from long ago exploratory trips in the Hill Country, or
that I had missed entirely. They saw charm and beauty in tiny waterfalls in shallow,
bubbly streams and in wind bent, scrubby trees, and they laughed at the many fields
of antisocial goats who all ran from our cameras, except for one big, whiskey
colored fellow who let curiosity override caution.
They just let themselves
absorb the peace and quiet of those cool, windless days spent far, far from the
sounds of traffic and chatter of city life. I learned about light slanting on
objects from different angles and how it could change the appearance of a rock
wall with just a few minutes wait, and I smiled and laughed with Nancy and Cherie
at the big, black, wing flapping, wild turkeys, also very camera shy. I felt as
if I had been handed a gift with the many unexpected sightings of beautiful deer
and exotic antelope, and I had the spleen scared right out of me by one less than
cordial man who came upon us snapping pictures of his neighbors goats while we
parked on his property...an eye opening experience of a different sort.
showed their joy and interest in Texas openly and
with abandon, from rural scenery to Texas style Mexican food, expressing their
appreciation for the kitschy interior of the historic Frisco restaurant in Austin,
and I had to shake my head in wonder at how much Texas history and folklore these
Mississippians knew that I had forgotten, or didn't learn on my first go round.
I admit, I had some momentary regret at having let life come between me and such
a wealth of charm and beauty in my own back yard, but even more than that, I appreciate
second chances, and this is one of them.
"True Confessions and Mild Obsessions"
January 16, 2014 Column
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