Thursday, January 1, 2009

A new year in Fredericksburg

Nicholas checks out some motorcycles peeling out onto Main Street.

Nicholas' first trip to Luckenbach.

I've got my son's socks on my hands and Mr. Senor Socky and his twin brother Senor Mr. Socky are nibbling at Nicholas' ears. It's a sign of how my life has changed in the last couple of years. We're in a bed-and-breakfast in Fredericksburg, a destination for Tiffany and me since we started dating. Then it was about a bottle of wine and a jacuzzi--quiet moments away from the big city.

This was again to be a getaway for the two of us, but Tiffany's mother fell ill, so Nicholas is along with us for the weekend. The b&b operators were understanding and Nicholas makes every day a treasure--particularly as he experiences new parts of the world. That always includes looking at trucks, buses and motorcycles. He saw plenty and often grabbed my hand and guided me down the wide Main Street in search of adventures.

Here's a piece I wrote about Fredericksburg a few years back, I believe the last time we stayed in the town. It ran in a shorter form in the Austin American-Statesman Unfortunately, the Main Book Store appears to be another past-tense location in Fredericksburg:


By Joe O’Connell

We're three miles from Enchanted Rock and on the radio Tish Hinojosa is warbling something about the real West. We turn toward the Crabapple Community Center and I realize I am a fraud. A Texas by birth maybe, but I do not fit.

An old man is exiting his truck in that wobbly, ponderous way that says: "I'm from here. My grandparents were from here, and I'm in no hurry to get inside." Metal chairs are in rows under a gingham tent on the lawn. More men keep guard of the barbecue pits while women huddle together and tell stories. Our car creeps past, and they look up for only a moment, just enough time for the gaze of curiosity to ripen to resignation. We are not from here.

Down the road we turn onto a gravel road into old West tourist town. The Tin Star Ranch is a huddle of log cabins, an ancient church and a plastic-bottomed pond. We are staying on the end in the Frontier Cabin. In the bedroom, under a poster for Buckskin Bill's Wild West Show is our rustic bedroom and Jacuzzi tub. I turn the air conditioning to arctic and my wife and I settle in.

This is our latest Hill Country getaway. When Austin, the city of my birth, gets too hectic, we head to Fredericksburg, plop down a credit card and take up residence in nature, or reasonable facsimile of.

We've been coming for a decade but have begun to talk about it in the past tense. The Admiral Nimitz birthplace on Main was our first favorite bed and breakfast, its walls thick with permanence. But earlier today we had found it occupied by a cluster of shops. Fredericksburg's former hospital, which remained open as a doctors' office until recently, was filled with more stores, and cabinets that once held patient charts were stuffed with trinkets. The nurse's window served up coffee.

Down the street, the Palace Theater logo still promised once-nightly first-run features. We had wandered inside fondly recalling the sticky floors, salty sweet snacks and squeaky seats. The screen was now painted with a Southwestern motif of clouds and mountains as part of its transformation to a link in an upscale clothing chain with outlets in Santa Fe and California. I had no right to complain. A fraud, remember? This was not my town. Another visitor, the sales clerk's unseeing eyes said.

We stopped at the Main Book Store and flipped through the Texana section. My sweetheart, the daughter of German and Czech pioneers of Texas, bought a book about her ancestors. I grabbed "Southwest Stories," a compilation of short fiction by people who all seem to be from somewhere else. Chicago's Sandra Cisneros writes about San Antonio. Kentucky's Barbara Kingsolver opines about the Arizona heat. Larry McMurtry, a Texas nerd, pens tales of manly Texas cowboys.

Back at the Tin Star Ranch we pull up rocking chairs and read amid the neener-neener-neener of playful birds. Grasshoppers pop over our feet. Across the pecan bottom authentic longhorns moan as if asking wwwhhhyyy? Why are you here?

Silly cattle, I'm here because I'm a Central Texas city boy like my father before me, like his father since transplanting his Irish clan from Chicago. Like my mother's wild Louisiana brood who crossed the border seeking something lost to time. Not long roots like my wife’s, but they're growing every day amid the cedar, pecan and live oak trees that smell like home.

Near sunset, the summer heat melts into dusk. We walk the fence line toward a pair of beige horses. They turn away from us and nibble at the unseasonably ample grass this damp summer. Two semi-tame deer look at us curiously (Why are you here?). I hold a tiny crabapple in my palm and the braver deer sniffs my fingers for a moment before turning away.

As the sky fades to fingerpaintings of pink and purple, we stroll toward the faded wooden church. The stained glass has the look of newness. On closer inspection we realize it's painted tin.

Darkness drops like a knife and we take refuge in the Frontier Cabin. After a comfortable sleep atop Ralph Lauren linens, we pop the tops on tiny bottles of Dr Pepper and dine on German pastries purchased in town. Cows dot the tree-covered hillside. A light rain commences. We rock in our chairs and drift. This is my Texas. This, my friends, is why we are all here.

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