Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Eleventh César Chávez March

Today San Antonio held its eleventh annual César Chávez March. The weather was BEAUTIFUL -- a VERY pleasant change from the frequent rain of March. Indeed, as the rain fell yesterday the old record for March precipitation in S.A. fell. And the annual Mule Relays at Alamo Heights High School got cancelled.

Indeed, the recent torrential weather apparently kept the number of marchers down from what it was last year. This was despite the day of the march (today) being just as perfect a day for marching the three miles from Guadalupe Plaza to The Alamo. Before the march commenced a la una de la tarde (1:00 PM) there were two hours of speeches, VIP introductions, singing an dancing in Guadalupe Plaza. This location isn't una plaza or a square in the usual sense, because no streets lead in or out of it. It's an open space between Guadalupe Street and El Paso Street, across the latter from Guadalupe Church. A statue of Ignacio Zaragoza faces the church at the north entrance to the plaza. Zaragoza was the Texas-born Mexican general who defeated the vastly-superior invading French army at Puebla on 5 May A.D. 1863 -- the origin of la celebración del cinco de mayo.

The César Chávez March for Justice and Peace was supposed to commence at 1:00, but the first units -- a trio of folclórico dancers in Aztec costumes, and a large banner identifying the march, among other vanguard elements -- didn't move out onto Guadalupe Street eastbound until about 1:20. ¡No problema! En San Antonio como en toda la América Latina, es muy de moda llegar tarde o comenzar tarde. (In S.A., as in Latin America, it's quite fashionable to be late in arriving or starting.)

Once the march was under way it proceeded steadily toward its finish point at Alamo Plaza. Along the way at various points folk along the side of the march route were giving out free chilled bottles of water for us thirsty marchers. Alas! there surely weren't such roadside refreshment points for those who marched from Delano to Sacramento, California, during the famous march for farmworkers' rights that Chávez staged back in the Sixties.

As we walked over the Guadalupe street overpass/bridge above the railroad tracks and Alazan Creek -- which actually had water running vigorously down it due to our recent heavy rains -- I admired the new banners attached to the light poles. With bright colors these presented motifs from chicano culture, such as el nopal (the prickly-pear cactus), the head of Our Lady of Guadalupe, el gallo (the rooster) and indigenous people as portrayed in ancient Mexican codices. I also admired the skyline of downtown San Antonio nearby to the northeast, brightly visible in the clear air against the blue sky. As a Fiesta song declares, «¡San Antonio, te quiero!»

To which I might add, «César Chávez, te admiro por tu lucha para los derechos del pueblo común, que salió de tu fe cristiana.» That is, I admire Chavez because his leadership in the struggle for right for the common man came out of his deep and lively Christian faith. In this way, he was much like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Because of the faith foundation for César's struggle for human rights, it's most appropriate that there be a major march in his memory (encouraging the continuation of that struggle 'til the goal be accomplished) here in this city, which also has a Christian faith foundation -- in the mission that was the very beginning of permanent habitation along the banks of the San Antonio River near its headwaters!

Friday, March 30, 2007

Churches of San Antonio

In a city that is the eighth largest of these United States there will be numerous churches. Of course. I've already posted about "sacred spaces" here in San Antonio, and have commented about church architecture. But herein I would like to list my candidates for top ten churches in this community that began its permanent settlement as a Christian mission station.

First, in terms of being the oldest continuously-active congregation or parish, would be San Fernando Cathedral. Not only is this church extremely prominent historically and an attraction to tourists, but it hosts numerous community events as well as opening to the public major Catholic celebration such as La Gran Posada and also the regular Mass schedule. And Archbishop José Gómez has been prominent in the local news and has himself published several very good writings!

First as far as being my original "home church" is Alamo Heights Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). This church helped me above and beyond expectations during my first weeks here in January of A.D. 2002. Which led to my joining the congregation on my first visit for Sunday worship that same month!

Most beautiful church building, in my estimation, is Laurel Heights United Methodist Church. Like the first two churches I've commented on this church in earlier blog-postings.

Just two blocks south of Laurel Heights on Belknap Street is Christ Episcopal Church. Like Laurel Heights UMC, this church is of the classic Gothic style architecture. The stain-glass windows are breath-takingly beautiful, and in some subject matter rather Catholic in appearance.

Up in the Hill Country portion of the city, west of the vast medical center, sits Western Hills Christian Church (Disciples). It's also been spotlighted in my postings.

I've been to many events, including Emmaus and Kairos team formation meetings, at Alamo Heights UMC. This is one la-a-a-arge facility, very visible from nearby US 281 on the other side of Quarry Market. Indeed, I'm told that when it was built in the 1990s (earlier AHUMC had been on Broadway in "downtown" Alamo Hts.) it was nicknamed "The Methodome"!

On the South Side of the city, not far from Stinson Field (airport), is Ashley Road Baptist Church. If any church is named as being the home in San Antonio for Southern Gospel music, it would be Ashley Road! Every Second Saturday the little church hosts a local or regional gospel artist or group. Every Saturday they air "The Gospel Train" radio broadcast of my beloved music. And every New Years Eve they have a watch nite service and concert.

One of many small churches scattered on the Westside is Soldiers of Christ Church. It's a storefront church, or so I would have described it when I first noticed it there on West Martin Street. Back then one could still discern that the building had earlier served as a business. But the congregation and pastor Alfonso Gonzales have worked hard to upgrade their facility, so that now one can hardly tell the building didn't always house a church. I used to attend their afternoon service, to sing the Spanish praise songs and listen to preaching in Spanish. But alas! the service go dropped due to fallign attendance.

Also on the Westside is of course my other church home, Mexican Christian Church (Disciples). This church is called the "mother church" of Hispanic Disciples churches, because it was the first Disciples church founded to minister specifically to Spanish-speaking and Hispanic heritage people, over a century ago. It also has the distinction of being the oldest Disciples of Christ church of ANY type in San Antonio!

In La Villita historic neighborhood is Little Church. The formal (or official) name is "Little Church of La Villita". I think it's a non-denominational church now, but was founded as a Methodist of Lutheran church. Nowadays it holds a worship on Sundays, that features a guest preacher. And often when I'm passing thru that historic district that's now the downtown home of arts, crafts and culture, I will notice a wedding going on in the picturesque little church!

This list contains ten churches of personal significance to me, and not always in order of personal importance. It still leaves out some congregation of significance for yours truly. And then there are other church buildings and/or congregations which are better known. Such as Oak Hills Church of Christ, where Max Lucado is senior pastor. He is an excellent, inspirational Christian author! The ever-growing church has moved out beyond Fiesta Texas on IH Ten, recently dropped "of Christ" from its name (so as to not be denominational-specific), and Brother Lucado has just announced that due to a medical condition he will step down from the senior pastor post, but remain on the church staff and continue to preach.

Also well-known nationally is Cornerstone Church, where John Hagee preaches and conducts a television ministry. Cornerstone is another very large church, sitting on the north side of Loop 410 in the Stone Oak area of Loopland. Oh, and back downtown is St. Mark's Episcopal Church beside Travis Park. This oldest Anglican congregation in S.A. once had Robert E. Lee as a member. Also downtown is St. Joseph's Catholic Church, founded to serve Catholics among the flood of German immigrants who came to S.A. in the mid-1800s. Joske's Department Store, which was originally built beside the church, expanded around the back and other side to completely surround it, leading wits to nickname it "Saint Joske's Church." But that joke doesn't work any more, now that Joske's had become on of the Dillard's chain of stores! Over on the Westside is Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. It's not much to look at on the outside, but the interior is beautiful, and it had a notable pastor in Father Carmelo Tranchese, called "the rumpled angel of the slums" or something similar. He was a strong advocate that public housing be built so that impoverished chicanos could move out of the jacales (shacks or hovels) in which they had been living on the Westside. Fr. Tranchese was also responsible for preservation of the script for and continuance of the performance of Los Pastores morality play about the shepherds' journey to Bethlehem to see the newborn Jesus. Los Pastores is performed annually at Guadalupe Church and at Mission San José. Speaking of which, I do NOT want to omit the old Spanish missions, certainly not those like Mission San Jose that continue to serve as active parishes.

And finally, back out in Loopland is University UMC, located between the campuses of UTSA and USAA. If anything it appears larger than AHUMC and should be the church nicknamed "The Methodome"! Just about every time I'm inside for an Emmaus event or something else, I get lost in the way it wraps around itself (AHUMC, by contrast, has two "wings" going straight out from the central portion that has the sanctuary and offices)!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Cumpleaños inesperado

Sunday (yesterday) I by serendipity got in on a birthday celebration -- un compleaños inesperado. And it was a delightful experience!

First of all, the birthday person is a member of Mexican Christian Church, my Westside spiritual home. He is Robert Santana. He's been ill recently and therefore I was pleasantly surprised to see his car parked at the church when I arrived Sunday morning! Indeed, as soon as I opened the door I saw Robert. I gave him a bear hug and expressed my delight in seeing him again.

He's a dapper dresser, wearing dark pants, a brown-grey suitcoat, a light blue shirt and a necktie of basic lavender with small white and blue stripes. (The tie's blue stripes picked up the blue hue of the shirt, I might add that once, while he and I were browsing thru ties in the thrift store I saw the tie and commented that it would look great on him -- he probably was wearing the same shirt he was wearing yesterday.) And topping it all off was a grey hat of the type one would associate with Texas law enforcement officers. Indeed, more than once during the day someone would comment that Robert looked like a Texas highway patrolman or a county sheriff!

During church it was mentioned that Robert had celebrated his birthday on 20 March, while he was still ill, and that he is now a noble 80 years old. Later I overheard him speaking with other church members about going to dinner at Don Pedro's. This is the South side Mexican restaurant I had pointed out to Patrick and LaRae just the day before, as a place of good reputation. Since I was so happy to see Robert well and back at church and since I'd never eaten at Don Pedro's, I maneuvered an invitation to go with him (dutch-treat).

Eventually there were eleven in our party at Don Pedro's. These included Robert's children and grandchildren, as well as the church folk like myself. The food was worthy of the reputation. This gathering turned into a real party -- a belated birthday party for Robert Santana! Several cards, most with money gifts inside and/or with scripture references on them, and a few gifts for him enlivened the scene. I managed to whisper to our waitress the reason for the gathering. A little later, lo and behold! she came to the table with two waiters and un sombrero de charro. She set the hat on his head and the trio sang for his birthday celebration.

As a result of all this, I enjoyed a completely and unexpectedly delightful Sunday afternoon. I was in the midst of a small group of chicanos in a Mexican restaurant -- a favorite situation in which to be, given my delight en el idioma español, my taste for Tex-Mex food and my pleasure at being in the company of chicanos. And all this to help a man I esteem celebrate his 80th birthday. ¡Feliz cumpleaños, Roberto!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

In the air: birds, planes

One of my early postings on this blogsite concerned "things to dislike" about San Antonio. One of those few items was a species of bird called grackles.

Be aware that I'm a strong supporter of responsible use of our earthly environment, and being good stewards of all creatures. The very first Earth Day took place during my sophomore year of high school. So concern for the ecology made a strong impression me. And continues to impress me.

Nevertheless, there is ONE SPECIES that I hate with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. I dearly long for this species to become extinct, as I see no redeeming worth to their cluttering up the environment. These are the infernal grackles.

In case you are unfamiliar with these birds, the are the size of ravens, are midnight black all over (except for their halloweenish eyes), and have the appearance of being all tail feathers and not much else. When they fly, those tail feathers go in a vertical file rather than horizontally like other birds. (This description may be of the males only; I think the females are drab colored -- much better than that satanic black!) Grackles have a very unpleasant call, sometimes a sort of harsh whistle, sometimes more of a clacking sound.
They are almost always found in either groups of about half a dozen or in huge flocks. In this city they're always in huge herds in certain downtown areas such as Travis Park and out at the Medical District. BUT NOW they're EVERYWHERE, alas! They're a plague!

But I don't wish to dwell on the negative. So: now from the bad to the good. Or, from birds to planes (yes, I mean to allude to the opening of the old, old TV show "Superman"). . . .

This morning Patrick , LaRae and I toured the Texas Air Museum, located in a hangar at Stinson Field on the South Side, on Roosevelt Street, across the river from Mission San Juan Capsitrano. It was a fun as well as an educational experience!

In the hangar that houses the museum, when one enters he or she is at the gift shop, and that end of the hangar has numerous displays, about air history in and near San Antonio. It emphasizes military pilots, aircraft and air fields. This is natural, since military aviation was born in S.A. -- on the parade ground of the US Army's Fort Sam Houston. (Until about the end of WW II it was a corps of the Army, and only then became a separate branch.) This military aviation beginning blossomed into no less than FOUR Air Force bases, of which Lackland AFB remains "the Gateway to the US Air Force" as its basic training site. In the museum one will see several military uniforms, of all branches, from various notable pilots.

Particularly interesting to me was a sizable display about air campaigns in Mexico, during the Mexican Revolution, including against bandit rebel Pancho Villa. I was also sort of amused at an under-sized Quonset hut indoors. I pointed out to my two companions (who are new S.A. residents) that Quonset hits are common in the Alamo City, especially on the South Side and the Westside.

Just past the Quonset hut a small door led to the outdoor exhibit of two fighter planes (WW II vintage, I think) and a military helicopter. Back inside the hangar we saw that the runway-facing end, which had a full-size door for airplanes, had several actual airplanes. All were flyable, including two or three old biplanes and a triplane.

What really caught my eye was a much newer plane, a Cessna 150 that was facing the door to the runway. It was green and white, and I longed to climb into this beauty, rev the engine and take off into the wide blue Texas sky! You see, dear reader, after my junior year of high school I had learned to fly (on a scholarship awarded thru Junior ROTC) and had earned a private pilot license for the Cessna 150.

John Tosh, who runs the museum and is a friendly, informative older gentleman, is the owner of the Cessna. He told us that just that morning prior to opening the museum he had flown for awhile in the Cessna. John showed us a video film about Katherine Stinson and the Stinson air-pioneer family. This airport, one of the first non-military airstrips, is named after her. To be frank, her exploits before, during and after WW I are as remarkable and admirable as those of the slightly later Amelia Earhart!

Upon leaving the Texas Air Museum and John Tosh, we three ate a somewhat late lunch at Church's Chicken -- a great S.A. chain and superior to the Colonel and his nation-wide KFC! Then, to get to evening work at Fiesta Texas I gave Patrick and LaRae a guided tour of the South Side and far Westside. As we drove west on Military Drive I pointed out such landmarks as Don Pedro's, at the corner with Commercial Street, reputedly the best Mexican restaurant on the South Side. Awhile later we drove past Sea World, which I do not consider to be competition for the Six Flags park, because the two theme parks literally have different themes.

By the time we got onto Loop 1604 west (S.A.'s outer loop, with 410 being the "inner" loop) to go north toward my park workplace, we were deep in blossoming bluebonnets! The State Flower (Wildflower) was all over the median and both shoulders. I was somewhat amused at my sister-in-law, who was busy taking photos left and right. But then again, I wish I had had my camera, so that I too could record this gorgeous natural carpeting!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Favorite spots on bus routes

During this year of sharing with you my life here in San Antonio, dear reader, I've often written of the city's mass transit, VÍA, on which buses and trolleys I get around this fascinating city. So, I consider sharing with you some of my favorite places to be on the bus as it passes along.

Before I get to that, a word about my favorite routes. Actually, for the first year and a half of living here, my favorite routes were #11 New Braunfels and #15 Fort Sam. That's an interesting coincidence, in that my two favorite numbers are 11 and 15 (don't ask me why, they just are). But #11 had a stop on either side of North New Braunfels outside the front door of my church, Alamo Heights Christian Church. Therefore, it was my way to and from church activities. And North New Braunfels is such a lovely street (see my early posting about "Streets of S.A."), passing between the Botanical Garden and the uphill, wildflower end of Mahncke Park, the S.A. Country Club, the McNay Art Museum, and lots of pretty houses (and a few pretty apartments) in Alamo Heights, Terrell Hills and adjacent parts of the '09 portion of San Antonio.

Route #15 actually went along the south edge of Mahncke Park and its wildflower-carpeted uphill end, then cut across the northern part of the Army post, to exit onto Harry Wurzbach and pass by the National Cemetery.

Alas! in August of A.D. 2003 both routes were among the third of VÍA bus routes that tanked in the so-called "Consolidated Service Plan" to allegedly help the transit company get back into the black.

So, which routes are my current faves?

Well, my favorite of all is #520 Zarzamora. This is the one my best friend, Joe Tovar, drives on weekday mornings, which alone would make it my fave. But then, it does pass certain cherished spots on Zarzamora, such as Karam's Mexican Restaurant,the Malt House, the now-defunct Salsa Mora's cafe, St. Alphonsus Catholic Church (it looks like an old Southwest mission), the Basilica of the Little Flower (it looks like a colonial church straight out of the Bajío area of central Mexico), and my barber shop, García's.

Also favored routes of mine will include:

505 Basse. This one serves the very closest bus stop to my room, and goes from Randolph Park & Ride to Crossroads Park & Ride, including the entire length of Basse Road.

IH Ten Express. This used to be #93, but then it was split into two, with #93 operating only on weekdays and only as far as UTSA. #94 skips Crossroads P & R on weekdays and goes to Fiesta Texas daily (it, however, doesn't go to the drop-offs for entrances to the park if the park isn't open to the public -- not even when there ARE employee events such as training). Also, toward the end of '06 this #94 began serving the new shopping center still being built on the other side of IH Ten from the park; it's called "The Rim".

68 Guadalupe. This route passes my church on the Westside, Mexican Christian, the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center and the adjacent Guadalupe Plaza.

42 Roosevelt. This one passes Mission San José and the visitor center for San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. If I want to get to the most remote mission of that park, Espada, I'd have to take #42 almost to its end and then walk a good mile to the left (east).

77 Martin. This one passes two other small Westside churches that have personal significance: Soldiers of Christ, a storefront church located on Martin, and El Buen Pastor, a Mexican-American Methodist church on Poplar. And the neighborhood at its end-of-line reminds me of Devine, Texas, for some reason.

515 Southcross. This one goes along the east-west street on the South Side of that name. I kind of like the neighborhoods it passes thru, the name of the street, and the route number (which includes my special number, 15). Plus the facts that my eye doctor's office lies near the east end and the west end loop for this route involves a rather short street with the name of Bynum -- a small village near Hillsboro (northern central Texas) and home of one of my favorite authors and cyber-buddies, "Ace" Collins.

NOW: for my favorite spots to be on a bus as it rolls along its route.

Tops is southbound on North New Braunfels Avenue between Chichester and the Terrell Hills City Hall -- #8 and #509. As the bus reaches Chichester it begins descending an increasingly steep hill, at the bottom of which are three traffic signal sets in quick succession (at three closely-spaced cross streets). It's something of a thrill to look out the windshield as we descend, especially in twilight! It has the sensation of going down into a body of water with a channel marked by numerous buoys (the traffic signals).

IH Ten-bound on La Cantera Parkway (from UTSA), after passing most of The Shops at La Cantera -- #94. The bus rider gets a great, fairly close view of The Rattler wooden roller coaster in Fiesta Texas. If one is fortunate one will see a train of cars as they reach the first summit and plunge down into the old quarry that's now a theme park. And in the distance are Superman Krypton Coaster and Scream. As one rounds the hill and approaches the four-way stop at Fiesta Texas Drive, one gets a full view of the guest parking and beyond it employee parking and the building that houses ESO (Employee Services Office) and Wardrobe.

Southbound on San Pedro Avenue between Rector and Rampart -- #3. This major north-south avenue descends from the higher elevations around North Star Mall and the airport, to the lower area closer-in. One gets a great view of the Tower of the Americas and other downtown skyscrapers in the distance, beckoning one to draw closer.

Either direction on Nacogdoches Road north of OConnor Road -- #640. Here the bus is passing Comanche Lookout Park (west of the road). It's reputed to be the third highest high point in the county and was a good lookout post for watchers for marauding natives back in the mid-1800s Indian conflict -- hence the name. The park appears to be largely left natural and undeveloped except at the south end next to the fairly new Semmes Branch Library.

Railroad crossing and a railroad-side street in "downtown" Converse -- #639. Most of far-suburban Converse is the same Loopland-like soul-less spread of fairly recent residential areas alternating with strip-shopping -- "all made out of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same". BUTthis particular couple of blocks still has old buildings, some still in use, from when Converse was just a remote rural hamlet serving surrounding farms.

Either direction on WW White south of Southcross -- the "Looper" routes 550 & 551. This is one of the few places on the Looper routes that still has a rural look to it. One certainly won't find such "open country" on the Loopland portion of the Looper!

Southbound on South Flores Street between Nogalitos and the railroad crossing -- #44. There are interesting little old buildings and xeriscaping (landscaping with "desert" plants) on the east side, and St. Henry's Catholic Church and School on the west side. St Henry's features the California-mission style of architecture and is white with a red roof. And just beyond the church is a street marked (in the City of San Antonio style) "W Fest". The "W" obviously stand for "West", as just across Flores is "E Fest". But I don't look that way; I smile instead as "West Fest" call to my memory the little north central Texas town of West, settled by Czechs and featuring an annual celebration of Slavic heritage called "Westfest"! Ha, ha! Cute pun, which admittedly few folk in S.A. would even "get", but I do, since I've "been there done that"!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Spring: a beginning, an ending

On this 21st day of March of A.D. 2007, the season of Spring is officially under way! Hooray! We in South Texas had better enjoy it; it lasts a mere couple of weeks before the heat of summer assaults and takes over.

It's been almost one year -- 12 months, 365 days -- since I began this blog site. My first two postings were on 30 and 31 March of last year. While I was commencing this blog site, I wasn't certain where I wanted to go with it, other than I knew I really enjoyed describing this City of San Antonio so much, and that this should thus be THE focus of my blog. And as I continued to mull over the nature of this blog, it was evident that I probably should set a limit on it. That is, I could go on and on and on, describing what's happening with me here, and sharing tidbits (some larger, some smaller) about the city's attractions and events as I encountered them.

Therefore, I came to the conclusion that describing one year of living in San Antonio would be a fitting way to set parameters to the blog. This doesn't mean that I will cease all work on this blog, come 29 March. I want to go back and refine some postings, so dear reader, you may want to return to favorite posts just to see if I've made any changes.

Furthermore, I may still post some new blogs. Certainly I have a few days before the year is up. And who knows what may happen in these next couple of weeks? I DO know that the César Chávez Parade will be on the 31st, and I shall certainly have words to share about this event that honors one of my heroes!

And why end of March to end of March? Well, as I explained in the first posting (30 March A.D. 2006), I was prompted to create a blog site by my son and my younger sister having blogs. If they could do it, surely I could do it, too! And the prompting just "happened" to be in late March.

And even tho' a calendar year (1 January to 31 December) makes sense, in San Antonio a year covering basically April to March makes sense. How many times have I described San Antonio as "the city whose middle name is 'party'?" And the "party-to-end-all-parties" is Fiesta San Antonio in April! And before THAT party begins, earlier at the end of March and beginning of April we have the Good Lord throwing His own natural party, as the wildflowers bloom out all over. As I wrote in my code-switching poem "Dos Mil Dos: el año of arriving in San Antonio" I live in "San Antonio de las flores, San Antonio de los colores" (S.A. of the flowers, of the colors).

Here's hoping, dear reader that my postings have carried some of the color of this fascinating city into your life. If you live in or near S.A., neighbor, isn't it gr-r-r-reat to live here??? And if you live far away, well, don't make yourself a stranger! Come visit us! S.A. is a friendly city, in a friendly state. Indeed, the name "Texas" (or "Tejas") comes from the name the Spaniards interpreted certain Caddo Indians in eastern Texas as applying to themselves, and which the European explorers translated as "friends".

So y'all come visit us soon now, ya hear?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Rest in peace for two (three)

On Monday (yesterday) I got news, via e-mails, that two fellows of significance to me personally, had died after illnesses. They were Bob Graham and Roger Bennett. Not exactly good news for a Monday!

Bob had served with me on the VÍA Citizens Advisory Council. Altho' we weren't closely related as Grahams, I liked to call him "Uncle Bob". This despite my having a REAL Uncle Bob, i.e., Robert Graham, my dad's older brother.

As for Roger, he was the final pianist for the Cathedral Quartet, before Glen Payne and George Younce decided to retire the gospel quartet. When that happened (as the second Millennium was ending), Roger and best friend and fellow Cathedrals member Scott Fowler chose to start a new gospel singing group, which took the name Legacy Five. In addition to continuing playing the ivories for the new group, Roger was MC. Roger developed leukemia in the early 1990s, underwent treatment and proceeded into remission. Out of that experience he was able to write some fantastic Southern Gospel songs! But then the leukemia returned, in a more virulent form, and for years doctors at MD Anderson Hospital in Houston tried all manner of techniques to overcome the new cancer. But now Roger has ended his fight with the disease and gone home to be with Jesus. Even now I can hear him singing in Glory with Glen and George!

As for the third death hinted at in my title, I'm currently substituting for an English teacher at Alamo Heights High School, some of whose classes are seniors taking dual credit (i.e., college credit, too). They are watching a DVD of a recent film called "Unknown Soldier: Searching for a father" by a filmmaker named John Hulme (pronounced "Hyoom"). He's just over thirty at the filming, and the film is the story of his search for the father he never knew. You see, his dad, Marine 2LT John W. "Jack" Hulme, died on 30 June A.D. 1969 during a rocket attack in Quang Tri Province of (South) Vietnam -- just weeks after John had been born.

The story opens with John's call to one Dennis Headapole, who had served with his dad in 'Nam, and who expresses gladness to get the phone call. Then quickly we see John himself driving into Washington DC, to the Vietnam Memorial on the Mall. His dad's name is on "The Wall", of course. These two introductory items alerted me that the search would have a good ending, but also to steel myself for a return trip to my youth, when the war in Vietnam was tearing our country apart. I don't have a name of family member or dear friend up there on "The Wall" -- and yet because the war was such a dark shadow over my teenage and young adult years, just hearing about the Vietnam Memorial in a song on the radio will cause me to tear up! And when I visited "The Wall" on Memorial Day of A.D. 1999, I was struck by how the highly-polished granite was a perfect mirror, with my image. It was a sobering reminder to me that but for the grace of God MY NAME would have been on that wall, too!

As I watch "Unknown Soldier" I feel like I'm getting to know three fellow Americans, and appreciate their story of how 'Nam affected their lives, and to love them. They are John himself, who never wanted to know much about his father or how he had died over there, until his wife pressed him for information on his family, including the dad who died in combat; and his mother Ellen, a Jew who had married into a devout Catholic family and then suffered watching her new husband go off to an unpopular war and never return to meet his son.

And the Marine Lieutenant -- "Jack" Hulme. As I saw images of the handsome young football player, college "frat rat", and gung-ho Marine, and heard family members, boyhood and college friends and military buddies tell their memories of him, I found my self loving him and thinking how much alike we were. No, not the football-player and Marine, maybe. But the young man who wanted to serve his country in the military, enjoyed fraternity life, loved his lady -- and the son he never got to hold -- and liked to sing and go to parades. THIS was a guy with whom I could identify! Had we two KNOWN each other back in the Sixties, I'm certain that John W. "Jack" Hulme and I would have been best friends, and loved each other as brothers.

So, when Ellen in sharing with John what she remembered of his dad, finally broke down and wept in his arms, and again when his buddies gave details about his death on the battlefield, and with black-and-white photos to see one heard a tribute at his funeral and then "Taps", I felt the tears well up. Yes, I never truly met the man, nor have I met his son or widow, but the detains of his life were SO TOUCHING for me personally, that I now feel as tho' a piece of me was blown away in that rocket attack over there on 30 June '69.

And if God willing I ever return to "The Wall", I shall have a name for which to search. 2LT John W. "Jack" Hulme, rest in peace, Sir! I salute you for your service and sacrifice for our country.

And, "Uncle" Bob and Roger Bennett, you two rest in peace, too!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Saint Pat's Day in the park

This past Saturday was of course Saint Patrick's Day. So as I got dressed the question was how to wear something green. You see, the uniform this year for everyone who works in Rides at Fiesta Texas theme park, including on the train, is tan pants and a blue polo shirt. The shirt does carry an embroidered "Six Flags Fiesta Texas" logo, and the logo's six flags include one light green one. But that flag is small and gets lost in the colors of the other flags and the overall yellow of the logo.

Therefore, I tucked my light green bandanna, which I'd worn last year as part of my train crew outfit, into my hip pocket, with plenty of it visible out of the pocket. And I stuck a green pen into the space below the lowest button of my polo shirt.

But I didn't have "the luck of the Irish". Well, unless I got it a day earlier; this I say because Friday the 16th was a very good day all around for me working at Fiesta Texas. Nevertheless, I was very, very tired when I got home, and apparently when the alarm sounded on Saturday I must have hit the "off" button rather than snooze. As a result I awoke with daylight coming in the window -- and at once knew that I would be late to work!

Guess what? Just like Thursday when I was late (due to the bus being stuck in the huge traffic jam) I got put on Kinderbahn, the kiddie truck convoy, in the heat of the day. Again I got heat exhaustion from being left there over an hour and again ended up in First Aid. This time the supervisor came in there and showed total lack of understanding, as he insisted that if I was going to have problems doing kiddie rides in the hot sun for over an hour (despite our goal of switching rides every hour), then I'd better just find some other place to work. "My way or the highway" is this supervisor's motto.

But again, just like Thursday, I went to lunch, and afterward got put on the train until it had to quit at seven. Then it was back to Kinderbahn. The sun was setting, and then was set, so I had no problems at this point. Except that occasionally on the kiddie rides I get to feeling that I'm one of those bohemian types that works traveling midway rides for circuses and county fairs! This is NOT exactly like last summer, when at one instance at the German depot I suddenly felt like I was moving out of being just a seasonal employee on a ride at an amusement park and was BECOMING a bona fide member of a bona fide railroad somewhere!

Oh, well! So be it, for now at least.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Whew! What a day at the park!

When I worked at Opryland USA themepark in Nashville back in the 1990s, I encountered a book about the park in the library, titled "The Greatest Day", which described a day-long visit to it. Well, after yesterday at Fiesta Texas theme park, I think I could write a horror story book about a day at the park!

Should one be surprised? It WAS the Ides of March!

It was also the first really fine, sunny day of this "Spring Break" week; therefore, there was a traffic jam in the far north-northwest area of San Antonio, due to the vast number of folk seeking to come enjoy the theme park. The VÍA bus I was on was an hour late arriving, and because I had seen some potential criminal activity involving a young man who works in the park I had to fill out a "loss prevention" report at the employee service office.

The upshot of my lateness is that I got put on the kiddie truck convoy ride, Kinderbahn, rather than the train. Then I got left there two hours in the hot midday sun. (Rides employees are supposed to change rides hourly, or positions within a multi-staff ride.) Due to heat exhaustion I ended up in First Aid. Just like last year, I found that the first aid medics were terrific care-givers! So, after some time resting there, then going to get a cap for sun protection and then eating my lunch I got to get on the train ride. Because so many Guests were in the park and wanting to ride the train, almost the entire day we only offered one-way trips and no round trips. That is, passengers could only travel between Der Pilger Bahnhof in Spassburg and Whistle Stop 39 in Crackaxle Canyon, and not all the way around the park on the rails.

When the train had to shut down at 7:00 PM (due to orders from higher up, who ignore that daylight continues 'til eight), I was at Whistle Stop 39 and with one of the new Area 3 Rides workers closed it. After we two finished closing the depot and began walking up the Crackaxle main street (to get to the other depot), we encountered a potential fight, if not riot, outside the season pass office. I ran into the "John Deere" store across the street and had the clerk call Security. Then I had to wait 'til Security showed up, so that I could tell them what we had seen.

And then. . . when I finally got released to go home the VÍA bus was very late (as I'm certain it was all day long) arriving at the Fiesta Texas employee bus stop. On my way out, I heard a fellow employee state that we had 30,000 Guests in the park on this Ides of March! I'm certain that I've NEVER before seen so many Guests in this park, and probably not in Opryland when I worked there either!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Ides of March

Today is the famous Ides of March, of which the Soothsayer in Shakespeare's play warned Julius Caesar, and on which he was murdered in the Senate. Some years ago the insight came to me that I was born on the eve of the Ides of March, for what that's worth.

My fifty-third birthday was wonderful. Naturally! I had a brother and a sister-in-law with whom to celebrate it! Thanks, Patrick and La Rae!

The stage was set in that altho' it was overcast into the afternoon, there was no additional rain in San Antonio to the abundant gully-washers we got on Tuesday the Thirteenth. And by mid-afternoon the sun was definitely out and the weather very pleasant. After Patrick got off work at Fort Sam Houston, he and LaRae came and picked me up and asked where I wanted to have my birthday dinner.

"Mi Tierra," I replied. I chose this Mexican restaurant that's a landmark or institution of S.A., located in El Mercado or the Mexican Marketplace, because I've always told folks that if I had visitors from out of town to take out to dinner, I'd take them to Mi Tierra. It's extremely popular, and indeed the procedure upon entering is to sign up for a table and then wait, either in the lobby/bakery area or in the bar which is across the lobby from the actual restaurant.

So the three of us waited at a small table in the bar and had margaritas. A musician in guayabera shirt with a guitar came by and sang Las Mañanitas for my birthday. Then we were led back to our table, which just as I had hoped was beneath the spectacular mural of the back-most room. Right over our head in the crowd of people pictured in this mural were the late Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez and former Mayor Henry Cisneros -- both wearing dark suits, white dress shirts and red neckties.

Directly across from us (going away from the mural wall) was a large party, filling some long tables placed end-to-end, who were being entertained by a mariachi band dressed in the traditional charro apparel. They sang several songs for that party, while we, too, and other surrounding tables got to "listen-in". When they started to move away, I caught their attention and got them to sing two songs for Patrick, LaRae and me. These were "De Colores" and "El Son de la Negra". The first is sort of the world-wide anthem for all Christian renewal movements based upon the Cursillo de Cristiandad model (of an intense three-day "short-course in Christianity" followed by on-going fourth-day activities). Recently I learned that De Colores was also sort of an anthem for César Chávez and his United Farm Workers. The latter song is the "national anthem of mariachis", according to the leader of Los Caporales, who perform at Fiesta Texas.

Meanwhile, we got served and began to enjoy our meals. Mine was a new one to me -- what more appropriate way to celebrate one's birthday than to try something new in an old favorite cafe or restaurant. So, I had ordered a dinner centered on cabrito, Spanish for "little goat" or "kid". It was delicious and sort of sweet-tasting. I'd say it was a cross between beef and venison (it's been years since I've had lamb, even tho' that's one of my favorite meats, so I cannot compare kid with lamb). I gave bites to Patrick and LaRae; she didn't like it, and he remarked that it reminded him of llama, a domestic animal of Perú which he had tasted while he was there during a brief visit as part of a medical mission.

Early on the waitress presented me with three colorful balloons in observance of my birthday, and after the meals she placed a piece of cake before me. It was delicious, altho' I have to say that Patrick's cake at Good Time Charlie's back on Sunday evening was a bit more delicious. I shared bites with the other two, who considered it to be scrumptious, too.

After we left Mi Tierra restaurant I took the two new San Antonio residents on a short tour of the Westside, so they could see my church there, Mexican Christian Church, and also Lanier High School and the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center. And so ended a most satisfying birthday celebration -- my second family birthday party in just four days! Thank God for birthdays! Thank God for family!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Fifty-three years. . .

Well, dear reader, today is my birthday. On 14 March A.D. 1954 I came into this world, in the hospital at the US Military Academy at West Point, New York.

This is the middle of Spring Break Week, and I was assigned many, many hours of work at Fiesta Texas themepark, including today. Generally I don't mind at all working on my birthday. BUT, with family now living in San Antonio and eager to help me celebrate, I decided to give my hours today to a co-worker.

It's probably a good thing I'm taking the day off; I've worked two days of double shifts (basically opening to closing of the park, i.e. 9:30 AM to after closing at 9:00 PM). And yesterday the region got repeated gully-washers, making it a challenge to do the job AND stay dry! Yep, we've made up for the lack of rain last month plus met our average for March! Bring on the wildflowers!

So, I celebrate my birthday today. More later. . .

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Family birthday in S. A.

Sunday was my brother Patrick's birthday. He turned the "big four-O"!

Dear reader, you may have presumed from my blog posting of 15 February, that I'm very, very glad to have family living here in San Antonio. You are correct! One of the "downers" of living the past five years in this big city has been having no blood family with whom to share daily life.

But now Patrick and his wife LaRae are here! Yippee! So Sunday I got to help celebrate his fortieth birthday. He said that he wanted a steak dinner, so I tho'tfully considered the various (and numerous -- this IS Texas & cattle country) steak houses and restaurants I knew anything about. And soon the name "Good Time Charlie's" came to mind. This restaurant and bar stands on Broadway at Mulberry, near Brackenridge Park. From the street it looks like a dive. But I've spent many evenings there watching Spurs games on their TV. And I've eaten a few meals there, plus celebrated the state championship of the Alamo Heights Mules football team. Native San Antonians have told me that "Good Time Charlie's" as the best, or one of the best, chicken-fried steaks in town. And I knew the cafe had other steaks on its menu.

So we celebrated Patrick's birthday with supper at "Good Time Charlie's". Interestingly, LaRae and I both ordered chicken-fried steaks, while the "birthday boy" had t-bone. This was just like when I took the two to Jim's on their first evening in S.A.; LaRae and I had c.f.s. while Patrick ate t-bone or some other steak cut. Hm-m-m!

Both LaRae and I made a big deal of our "birthday boy" to the waitress. I knew that I'd been in "Good Time Charlie's" sometime in the past five years for someone's birthday, and that the staff did SOMETHING for birthdays, but I couldn't remember the details. Well, when we had finished off our steaks the waitress brought out a large piece of cake. She begged off singing "Happy Birthday", claiming that she didn't have a singing voice. But let me tell you, the cake was plenty sufficient. It was german chocolate with a caramel and nut topping (not a firm icing), and it had been warmed up. It was melt-in-your-mouth de-e-e-elicious!

After supper I took the two new S.A. residents on a guided tour of Brackenridge Park and the surrounding part of the city. I showed them the renovated southeast portion of the park, where I would take meditative and healing walks during my first year here. Even tho' the city Parks & Rec changed the roadways some and added a few pieces of art, and moved George W. Brackenridge's statue so that it's not as noticeable from Broadway, that section of the park still has a rustic, out-in-the-country feel to it.

I also pointed out the Koehler Pavilion where Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity had its Founders Day picnic. We drove by the Japanese Sunken Gardens, the entrance to San Antonio's excellent Zoo (one of the top three in the country, I've been told) and the "Brackenridge Eagle" train ride.

Then I had us swing by Trinity University, which striking campus is near the Zoo on a hill overlooking downtown S.A. from the north. And I directed us by Mahncke Park, a linear park of tow long blocks, one end of which gets ablaze with wildflowers in the Spring, and the nearby Botanical Gardens.

It's fun celebrating birthdays, especially in San Antonio with family who are new to the city. And ready to be shown around this unique city!

Friday, March 09, 2007

Spring is "springing up"!

Yesterday I served a substitute teaching assignment at Alamo Heights Junior School. Part of my assignment involved going out during the first lunch (sixth graders) to monitor activity on the track and field part of the campus. It was a beautiful day outdoors, with clear blue sky, sun-warmed air and a gentle breeze.

Next to the track stood a plywood box of about six feet by three feet by three feet or a bit larger, stood on end. Another sub guessed that it was left over from the "Spring Fest" that the Junior School had held just days before. I guess because it sort of stood out like a sore thumb, it made me think at once of the monolith in the movie 2001 a Space Odyssey.

Have you seen that movie? I saw it on its first run in the movie theaters, back when I was a junior in high school. Loved the music, enjoyed some of the camera work, was intrigued by the battle between the pair of astronauts and the computer HAL. But I found the ending of 2001 to be just plain weird!

Back to "springing up". . . I mentioned that the weather was beautiful. It may be that this year when the schools have their spring break it WILL be spring-like. You see, I've always considered that "spring vacation" or "spring break" came too early; after all, it falls early in March, well before the official first day of Spring.

One concern I have as "spring break" and official Spring approach, is about the wildflowers. After several months in which all but one had near-normal or above-normal rainfall, February was DRY. I fear that another drought may be starting to afflict us.

And I long to see abundant wildflowers, like the first four Springs I lived here!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Los murales

As you have read my blog, dear reader, it should be evident to you that a major source of the culture of this diverse and fascinating city is the Hispanic culture. I actually prefer to label it the Ibero-American culture. Granted, this is VERY BROAD, since the culture of the Iberian countries, España and Portugal, is actually only one source for the Latin-American cultures, which are divergent blends of the indigenous (who varied from hunter-gatherers to highly settled and civilized), the African (particularly in Brazil and the Caribbean) and other influences (Anglo-American particularly in northern Mexico).

Nevertheless, the label serves to cover not only the Mexican-origin cultural influences but also to Canary Islanders who arrived in 1731, and other Hispanic sources for the diverse cultural influences upon San Antonio.

Now, to get to my theme for this posting. One of the major artistic expressions especially in Mexico is the mural. Going back to pre-Columbian times at indigenous centers such as Teotihuacán or Bonampak, murals often take the form of painting (fresco or other media) on inside walls and also outside walls. The latter also present murals made of small pieces of stone or other hard material, thus a mosaic.

And San Antonio isn't lacking in mural art! Indeed, probably one of the most famous murals is on the outside wall above the main entrance to the Lila Cockrell Theater in the Hemisfair convention center. It was done by one of the famous 20th Century Mexican muralists, and like outside murals on buildings of the campus of la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) in the capital city, it is a busy, expressive picture of the historical heritage of San Antonio. I've enjoyed this mural many times in the past while riding the tour barge on the river extension below.

But one doesn't have to seek mural art by outside artists. There are plenty of local mural artists to go around! And I'm NOT including gang graffiti, no matter how many colors or designs it may feature; gang graffiti is to "Art" what rap is to "Music" (i.e., it's pseudo).

One can discover mural artwork anywhere in San Antonio if you just look. Even at Alamo Heights Junior School, which is outside the city limit of A.H. and in northeast S.A., there is a mural painted on the wall outside the gym entrance, of the school mascot, the Mule, actively kicking.

The Westside is THE place to look for lots of good, highly visible mural art. Naturally, it was the original Mexican-American barrio (neighborhood) of this city. There are some great murals inside Lanier High School, including one of Mexican President and hero Benito Juárez. Strangely, the school lacks outside murals, but there are some on buildings within just a couple of blocks. There used to be a mural all across the wall of a business building that faces Lanier. It had a pretty young chicana, a pachuco (think, zoot suit) and la Virgen de Guadalupe. Alas! during the time I had substitute teaching assignments at Lanier I was distressed to witness how more and more of the mural got defaced with gang graffiti! Even Guadalupe got graffiti'ed! And I had considered that pandillista (gang-member) graffiti hoodlums at least respected others' wall art! My mistake. Eventually the wall simply got painted over in a solid color (last time I saw it, there were already a couple graffiti on it).

But that's sufficient about the bad on the Westside. Plenty of murals along Zarzamora Street are in fine shape. North of Martin Street and visible from bus stops at that intersection is probably my favorite, on the wall of a animal feed store; it shows St. Francis with animals. Just north of the US 90 West overpass a building on the east side of Zarzamora features Guadalupe and, in a more prominent rendering size-wise, the head of her son Jesus, crowned with thorns, with three hilltop crosses in the background. And this is just the start of a description of the colorful "Zarzamora Street Gallery" of mural wall-art, a linear gallery!

To the west of South Zarzamora (north of US 90) is one of the San Antonio public housing projects, Cassiano Homes. The buildings are two-story brick with stucco or concrete end walls. These end walls are all covered over with mural paintings. The feature all sorts of subjects; a whole line of them facing South Hamilton Street are evocative of the long history of Mexico, from the domestication of maize by the indigenous peoples thru Spanish discovery and conquest to the Revolution of the early 20th Century.

Parelleling Zarzamora Street closer in to downtown is Brazos Street. It has several striking murals along it, especially in the area where Brazos intersects Buena Vista Street and Alazan Creek. In fact, new murals ahve been painted on building walls facing Brazos, at Buena Vista and a block north at West Commerce. The first one celebrates elements of chicano culture, and the latter mural honors Vietnam veterans.

There are also several murals visible along Guadalupe Street. One that was painted in the past year or so on a street-facing wall a couple blocks west of Mexican Christian Church displays an American Indian holding a scales as its central figure. And both along Guadalupe and Zarzamora one may see mural art on the outside wall of a business that illustrates the business going on inside -- and interesting form of advertising, I'd say!

As one might guess, the old Spanish missions had mural art, too. At least in the mission heyday they did, but most of it has vanished with the ravages of time. Two notable remaining samples are an interior painting of a sun at Mission Concepción and geometric designs on a small portion of the outside wall of the bell tower at Mission San José. The former mural design used to cover the entire outside wall of the mission church; it must have been impressively colorful back when the Franciscan missionaries were in the process of converting the native Coahuiltecans to Catholicism.

Murals, then, have been a part of the San Antonio scene since its beginning as a mission station!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

L.C.A. in S.A.

When I moved to San Antonio in A.D. 2002, it was a move into new aspects of life in many ways. New job, new mode of transportation, new church, a new volunteer ministry (Kairos), etc. Yet at the same time I found myself getting re-acquainted with aspects of my earlier life with which I hadn't been connected for years. Re-connection with the Emmaus spiritual renewal program and with my undergraduate social fraternity are probably the most notable.

My fraternity, Lambda Chi Alpha, had its first alumni-sponsored San Antonio area Founders Day picnic last March, at O.P Schnabel Park near UTSA. That university has one of the three undergraduate chapters, or Zetas, here; the other two are St. Mary's University and University of the Incarnate Word. The get-together last year was terrific! Each of the three Zetas wore a distinctive tee shirt, which made their members stand out in the crowd of up to 200 who attended. These included several alumni from Zetas all over the country, plus a few wives and girlfriends. The food was abundant and delicious. But what topped it all was the presence of the Grand High Delta, Ed Leonard, representing all the officers of our HQ in Indianapolis. As I chatted with Brother Ed, who was a friendly, delightful person, little did I realize that I was conversing with our next Grand High Alpha (President)!

Well, as I mentioned in passing in my recent posting about sunsets, Lambda Chi Alpha held its Founders Day picnic last Saturday, and THIS year it was at Brackenridge Park. None of the high officers from Indianapolis were present this time, and there was a chill wind much of the time. Nevertheless, it was very enjoyable, almost as much so as last year. The pavilion we used stands next to the "Brackenridge Eagle", the park's miniature train ride. (It's miniature in that it's not a full scale railroad and cars; nevertheless it's large en'uf to ride on!) It was delightful to wave at the train and its passengers each time it choo-choo'ed past.

The High Alpha for the UTSA Zeta mentioned that the chapter was having a "formal Zeta" the coming Tuesday, and he invited me to attend it. This chapter meeting was "formal" in that the brothers were to wear suit and tie -- I remember these chapter meetings from when I was at Epsilon-Gamma Zeta of L.C.A. at the University of Idaho. (The UTSA chapter, BTW, is Phi-Upsilon Zeta.)

Therefore, last nite I rode the VÍA Express bus out to UTSA (it's near Fiesta Texas themepark) and found the meeting. It was even more fun than I had anticipated, to sit in a chapter meeting again! Not much has changed -- after all, we use Robert's Rules of Order. The High Kappa requested my help in selecting the best-dressed brother. Not all had worn suits, and a few hadn't even worn neckties, so they were ineligible. Then The High Kappa declared that if a brother wore white sox he also was ineligible. This led to the sitting down of a brother I had already decided was among the best-dressed, because he sported a black suit and shirt and a bright golden tie -- Vanderbilt University colors! WHITE sox with a black suit???

Well, of those who remained standing, the Kappa had me pick out the best-dressed three. These brothers left the room, and he had the remaining brothers vote on them. One of my selections didn't get even one vote, but the winner of the remaining two was the one I considered best, in his dark brown suit, white shirt and yellowish tie.

Oh, what fun to be with the brotherhood of Lambda Chi Alpha again! Even tho' I'm far beyond the drinking and partying and pranks that characterize collegiate students! As I reminded the members (following the dismissal of the associate members who had not yet been initiated), fraternity in Lambda Chi Alpha means much more important things than such things as partying. (I said THIS in San "Party City" Antonio???) It means living up to and living out in daily life the teachings and ideals of our Brotherhood, and learning to care deeply for the other brothers, who have shared in these same teachings and ideals. And because L.C.A. teachings and ideals are firmly founded upon Biblical truths -- emphasis on New Testament -- this means that we are striving to live out the very teachings of Jesus the Nazarene himself!

May the Lord bless the brotherhood of Lambda Chi Alpha,here in San Antonio and everywhere!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

"Remember The Alamo! ! ! "

Yep, dear reader, this is THE DAY of all dates in the history of San Antonio and of Texas. On this date in A.D. 1836 The Alamo fell, at the third assault before dawn by the besieging forces of Santa Anna, and all the men defending it were slaughtered.

But not in vain! Less than two months later their sacrifice bore fruit, as their Texian and tejano neighbors rallied under the cry "Remember The Alamo!" and defeated that same Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto.

Attending commemorations of either of these two crucial battles for Texas' independence is something I greatly enjoy. But this Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Seven, I determined that I wanted to go to the famous old mission-turned-fortress for commemoration of the battle on the actual date. There were several activities during the weekend, as there always are on the weekend nearest 6 March. Because of my very busy, full schedule, attending then was out of the question.

So I made up for this by attending "Dawn at the Alamo". I'd known of this commemoration for several years, but this was my first time. A couple of Fiesta events in April are solemn remembrances at The Alamo, but I felt that the solemnity of THIS event on THE date topped any others. There were, of course, folk in period costume (but no re-enactment, per se), including Mexican soldiers, Texians and over a dozen women who looked like Western pioneer women or else like tejanas of that time. These last briefly held thirteen lit candles, symbolizing the thirteen days of the siege (23 Feb. - 6 Mar. in a leap year). The Sons of the Republic of Texas were also there, dressed in their distinctive blue blazers, white dress shirts (well, a couple men wore colored shirts), bright neckties (many with Texas motifs) and light grey Stetsons. And there was a laying of wreaths at the edge of the cobblestone drive that curves in front of the old chapel and past the Long Barracks.

One unexpected but much appreciated element of "Dawn at the Alamo" was the recitation of the "Peace Prayer" of Saint Francis, in both English and Spanish! It was a beautiful sign of reconciliation, I'd say, for those whose ancestors had fought on either side of the battle.

As the commemoration ended just before dawn (as did the battle), the old chapel and Long Barracks were silhouetted against a brightening sunrise sky, with a skyscraper on each side to frame the view.

What a fitting way to, on THE date, "remember The Alamo!"

Monday, March 05, 2007

Wow! those Texas sunsets!

Thursday and Friday of this past week, I was treated to beautiful sunset skies here in South Texas. Neither sunset was especially spectacular, but they were beautiful. Beautiful en'uf to cause me to softly say aloud, "Wow!"

Thursday evening, it being the first one of the month, I went to the Dolph Briscoe Prison Unit outside Dilley, southwest of here, for the Kairos Prayer and Share. After the opening songs and announcements in the prison chapel, as usual, I led the Spanish-speakers to a nearby classroom for our small-group sharing. Generally we go to a classroom adjacent to the chapel, but it was already occupied. So we went further on and around the corner, to a vacant room on the west side of the building. The lights being off until we entered, it was dark, which made the colorful sunset glow visible thru the windows all the more prominent. "Wow!"

The next evening I was in the Las Palmas Mall area of the Westside. Among other activities I did some grocery shopping in an H.E.B. store adjacent tot he mall. Finished with shopping I walked out to the bus stop to catch a ride home. While waiting for the bus I simply basked in the lovely sunset. Well, I didn't exactly bask; I walked around the area, to better experience various trees, buildings, etc., silhouetted against that sunset sky. "Wow!"

For all I know, Saturday presented another pretty sunset sky. But I was occupied in going to a Candlelight for a Walk to Emmaus at Mt. Wesley in Kerrville. This one was #1375, for men, sponsored by Care Bexar. Well, the sunset may have got missed or ignored, but there was light of a different source and sort, for Candlelight. It was indeed an uplifting experience, as Candlelights always are!

But before we went to Mt. Wesley, we stopped to eat at a "house" restaurant in Kerrville. The other four ordered suppers, but I was still full from having attended and eaten at the second annual Founders Day Picnic for Lambda Chi Alpha alumni and local chapters. (This one was held at historic Brackenridge Park, and was as delightful as last year's -- and as filling!) A sixth attendee for Candlelight came into the place as the others were finishing their food. I about fell out of my chair when he introduced himself to me as Scott Barr. I asked, "Scott Barr, as in Southwest Exteriors?" He confirmed this. I've enjoyed his advertisements on KKYX-AM 680 for months. I get a kick from how he concludes the commercial by affirming that the company's siding and window work provides "the look you'll lu-u-uv comin' home to!"

And wow! now I was going to go to Candlelight with Scott Barr! I just "lu-u-uv" it when I get acquainted with someone I've heard on the radio!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Independence Day - today

Yup, today is Independence Day -- here in Texas, that is. It's kind of odd that all other states of these United States celebrate their Statehood Day, and in many cases their Territorial Day. Indeed, a memory from early childhood concerns the festive celebration in Boise of the Idaho Territorial Centennial. More recently, during one of my sojourns in Tennessee, that state celebrated its Bicentennial -- altho' I cannot remember that Tennesseans made an annual to-do about their Statehood Day.

But in Texas just about everything is different. No big deal is made each year of the date that the Lone Star State became the 28th state (29 December). BUT 2 March in every year Texans remember that on that date in A.D. 1836 a convention of Texians and tejanos in little Washington-on-the-Brazos declared that Texas was independent of Mexico and would be a republic.

Native Texans are very proud that theirs was an independent nation, a republic for a decade BEFORE it became part of the USA. Travel-tourism publicity for this state even emphasizes "Texas, like a whole other country". Also, dear reader, be aware that the anniversary of Independence falls just four days before the anniversary of the battle and fall of The Alamo.

It's an accepted fact of history that Willam Travis and the other defenders of the old mission-turned-fortress did not know that independence had been declared. Four days wouldn't have been time for word to reach them thru the besieging Mexican army. There is some question as to what flag flew above The Alamo. Travis in his famous letter for help tells that "our flag still waves". Most historians assert that it was a red, white and green flag similar to the flag of Mexico, but with "1824" inscribed in the middle. The 1824 Constitution of Mexico, which guaranteed states' rights and other things the immigrants from the USA valued, was the Constitution that General Santa Anna revoked, once he had been elected President under it.

On the other hand, another letter of Travis' speaks openly of independence and that he will not lay down his arms until it is achieved. Unless the men in The Alamo are fighting to uphold the Mexican Constitution of 1824, in which case Travis declares that they shall lay down their arns. So, for me, exactly what nature of freedom for Texas these men were fighting remains unclear.

Also, please note, dear reader, that since I gave blood platelets again a few days ago (during the span of days covered by the siege in 1836), I again watched "The Alamo" movie. For a second viewing I greatly enjoyed it, and teared up at Travis' speech to the men that they were doomed (see my posting of 23 October). This time I did watch with a more critical eye and did notice two things I would change to improve the movie. One is that the setting for the fortress located the so-called "Long Barracks" (the convento for the friars during the mission years) almost flush with the front wall of the chapel (the most famous and most pictured portion of the complex). If one visits The Alamo today, one will see that the "Long Barracks" is noticeably further west than the chapel, and indeed there is a wall with a gateway running eastward from the nearest corner of the barracks to the chapel.

The other objection is that the scene of the Battle of San Jacinto -- "Remember the Alamo!" -- presents no indication of the role of Emily Morgan. Emily was a mulatto slave who worked as a spy for the rebelling Texians and offered her charms to Santa Anna during that afternoon's siesta -- thus keeping him unprepared to take command when the Texians charged the Mexican camp. Emily Morgan also inspired the song "The Yellow Rose of Texas"! Therefore, Emily the "Yellow Rose" should have received honorable mention of some sort in the movie.

Other than those two observations, coupled with those I made on 23 October, the movie is very, very good. I truly felt like I was there!