Thursday, July 17, 2008

My final San Antonio Emmaus gathering

The Emmaus spiritual renewal movement, like all such renewal movements derived from the original Cursillo de Cristiandad, has as one of its "fourth day" features the monthly gathering together of folk who have been on a Walk to Emmaus, the initial three-day retreat. In the San Antonio area so many people have been Pilgrims that there are seven Fourth Day Groups, or local communities. Each has a monthly meeting, but twice a year we all gather together at some large church in whichever FDG is hosting that month. (The official local Emmaus community is the Southwest Texas Emmaus Community, co-extensive with the SWTX Conference of the UMC.)

Tuesday last (the 15th) we had our "July Joint FDG Gathering", hosted by the New Life FDG at Northern Hills UMC on the north side of Loop 1604. I got a ride there with Bill Clarke, who also had given me a ride to & from Men's Walk #1327.

The Gathering was wonderful, an almost overwhelming final blessing for yours truly! For one thing we turned out in droves -- over 300 attended, to be specific. And when the host Lay Director asked for indication of how many were from each of the constituent FDGs (plus visitors from other Emmaus communities), the number of folk who stood up at the mention of "Care Bexar" was simply exhilarating!

Instead of an actual "Fourth Day Talk" usually given during a monthly gathering, we saw a new film that the international office in Nashville is proposing to use as an alternative to the film "In Remembrance" that's probably been used since Emmaus got started in the Seventies (i.e., 1970s). The new film, "Dust", has a scholarly clergy fellow commenting about what it meant that Jesus the Nazarene was a Jewish rabbi with disciples. A Jewish blessing to be said to a disciple of such a roving rabbi in those days was, the narrator says, "May you be covered with the dust of your rabbi!" That is, the dust raised by a rabbi walking on the unpaved roads of rural Palestine would settle on the disciples who walked behind him. Interesting picture! Interesting film!

The songs we sang were fine; we sang using PowerPoint rather than the Emmaus songbooks, but I didn't mind. I didn't even mind the one song I didn't know. The prayer time was deep. Since there were so many, the Lay Director chose to simply pass the mike thru the crowd, first on his right and them on his left. When I had come to choosing a seat, I had wanted to sit with Rich and Joy Drady and others of Alamo Heights Christian Church, but there weren't any seats. Rich urged me to sit three rows up in the front row "because you're a front-row guy". And because I took the seat nearest the central aisle, I ended up being the final one to receive the mike.

Call this a "God thing". My final Emmaus meeting in S.A., and I get to be the last one to utter prayer praises and concerns! Thank you, gracious Lord!

Then, during the Lord's Supper distribution, when folk come forward to receive a piece of the loaf and dip it in the cup and partake (this method is called "intinction"), we sang "Here I Am to Worship" and two other songs.

. Here I am to worship, Here I am to bow down,
. Here I am to say that You're my God
. You're altogether lovely Altogether worthy,
. Altogether wonderful to me

I remember that I sensed that things were getting intense deep inside my heart, and my head threatened to leak. I found myself praying, "Dear Lord, please don't let 'Here I Am, Lord' be our closing song!" This song, a call to discipleship and ministry, is usually what we sing as the closing song of a monthly gathering. It's also one of my favorites even tho' it always puts me on the verge of tears by the third and final verse, And I KNEW that were we to sing it this evening I'd end up bawling like a baby.

Well, God heard my prayer! The closing song was "They'll Know We Are Christians" and that one I can handle!

Following the worship we adjourned to the church lobby for food and drink. As always at any Emmaus event I've ever attended, the food was plentiful. Once I'd consumed a plateful of the main potluck offerings -- veggies & dip, sandwiches, casseroles, etc. -- I went back for a plateful of dessert -- cakes, pies, cookies.

One dessert was a cake heavily covered with creamy white icing and over most of the top cherries in a thick sauce or syrup. It looked yummy, and I wasn't about to pass it by! However, as I started to serve myself a slice, Pat Hoover, my "prayer partner" for Kairos Briscoe #1, sauntered over and remarked to me, "Now, you know that's not good for you!"

I replied with a smile to her, "Well, I don't care! This is my final Emmaus event in Texas and I'm gonna celebrate!" We both laughed at my mock belligerence.

This Emmaus joint FDG gathering was only one of several farewell events that are and will occupy me during this month, before I move away. I've a lot of groups and individuals to whom I now must say «Adios. Que el Señor te (o les) bendiga hasta que nos vemos, o en esta jornada de la vida mortal o en la gloria del cielo». Or for you monolinguals, "Bye. May the Lord bless you 'til we meet again either in this mortal life or in Heaven." These include (but aren't limited to) my two church congregations, the "Mama's Men" Bible study that meets Wednesdays over breakfast at Mama's Café on Nacogdoches Road, Kairos and Emmaus bodies, my best friend in S.A., Joe Tovar. Etc.,etc. Whew! did I get involved in a bunch of spiritual relationships and friendships, or what?

Well, nevertheless, now I must say «Adios» to all of y'all in Texas. AND:

"Tennessee! Here I come, ready or not!"

Monday, July 07, 2008

Independence Day -- S.A. style!

Wow! We just celebrated the 232d anniversary of the declaration of independence of these United States! Here in San Antonio we partied in style!

Like many other citizens, my celebration began a bit early, that is, on Thursday nite. But NOT with fireworks or hot dogs or drinking! I went to prison. Getting a ride with Bill Havard (my "cellie" or roommate on the Team for Kairos Briscoe #2), I attended First Thursday Kairos Prayer & Share in the Dolph Briscoe Unit in Dilley. Due to a "guard-power" shortage we were back in the chapel for this one, rather than the gym. This kept the attendance down, and I missed seeing my "homie" from the Westside, Kevin, and others. But Porfirio and Luis from St. Peter's Table family on #2 and Jeremy from St. Luke's Family on #1 were there.

It was such a joy to be with the brothers in white this evening! And then it was all I could do as Bill drove us away afterward, to keep from bawling like a baby. You see, dear reader, I knew that I'd probably not see any of these brother Christians again this side of Heaven. Nor will I again see the interior of the Briscoe Unit, with its portrait of its namesake Texas Governor.

Next day, the actual holiday, I put such intense feelings aside, at least while I was working at Fiesta Texas. And hallelujah! we got another rain storm, one of several during these first days of July! Nevertheless, plenty of folk were buying tickets to enter the park and enjoy a day which would end in its spectacular fireworks show in place of the usual "Lone Star Spectacular".

But the theme park's Independence Day observation isn't the sole party for the holiday in Bexar County! The other theme park, Sea World, has its celebration, as do our military posts: Lackland AFB. Randolph AFB, and the US Army's Fort Sam Houston.

And THE "Fourth of July" party for San Antonio is the one at Woodlawn Lake. It features a variety of activities in the park around the lake, northwest of downtown and east of St. Mary's University. There's a parade around the lake, families camp out (or at least set up for some serious picnicking), a carnival, etc. One of my first two years here (before I began working at Fiesta Texas) I attempted to go to that one for at least the fireworks. However, traffic destined for the same goal as me slowed down the bus, and I ended up watching the nocturnal aerial show from the bus near the intersection of Woodlawn Avenue and Zarzamora Street.

Not THIS year! Leaving work at the theme park I came to Woodlawn Park from another direction; when traffic slowed the public transit down I got out and walked. I reached the east side of the lake just in time for the show. This viewing point was high on the east bank of the lake, in front of a community center, now for recreation but earlier a branch library. We had a good view across the lake, to the far shore of trees and what appeared to be a well-lit county-fair style carnival. Occasionally above the trees we'd get glimpses of fireworks in the far distance. I believe these were probably the display going on out at Sea World, which is in that direction.

The Woodlawn Lake fireworks got set off from a barge out in the middle of the small lake. While they were going up and bursting above us, recorded patriotic music was being played. (I couldn't detect if the melodious accompaniment came out of a general p.a. system or someone's high-volume boom box, but I'm pretty sure it was the former.) One of the songs was Lee Greenwood singing "God Bless the U.S.A." It put a lump in my throat, as I stood there relishing the celestial displays in the company of a mostly chicano audience, mostly from the Westside.

Next day the Independence Day party continued for me. Yeah, dear reader, it's true I was also back at work at Fiesta Texas. But on Saturday after clocking out from work I returned into the park as a Guest, just specifically for the park's fireworks show. (The theme park does it two consecutive nites annually.)

With a couple of hours before it would get dark en'uf for fireworks, I had time on my hands. So I attended a new show being offered in Zaragoza Theatre. It's called "Blast Fever" and features percussion and brass -- also copious choreography. Since the show opened its run, cart vendors have been selling tee-shirts and other souvenirs near Texas State Square, past the Zaragoza and toward the rear of the "Los Festivales" Mexican-theme area of the park. One of the tees features a dictionary-style definition of the word "blast". Number Two in the definition is "a party, particularly a wild party." The first time I read this I laughed and remarked, «¡una pachanga!» For you monolinguals, a pachanga is defined in Spanish-English dictionaries as "a rowdy or wild party".

"Blast Fever" commenced with a solo snare drummer on stage, giving the opening beat of Ravel's "Bolero". Instruments kept coming onstage and adding to the sound and the volume of the piece, just as it's supposed to be performed. And just as I heard it somewhere close to twenty times the evening I got initiated into Lambda Chi Alpha. I'm sure that for most folk my age "Bolero" sparks memories of the movie "Ten" and Bo Derek striding up out of the surf to that music. Not for me. Or probably any other Brother who was initiated in the Epsilon-Gamma Zeta house at 720 Deakin Ave. in Moscow, Idaho. I won't go into why "Bolero" was such a crucial part of our initiation ceremony; suffice it to say that the music is etched into our memories -- indelibly! What followed "Bolero" in "Blast Fever" was a drum solo, followed by a duet, both forgettable. But then there was a more "orchestral piece", a beautiful instrumental piece in which some of the artists came out and played in the audience area. Since it was a danceable number, I considered that if anybody else in the audience got up to dance I too would be cuttin' the rug in the aisles! The finale was a rather spectacular number with spectacular choreography. All in all, "Blast Fever" turned out to be a terrific show!

However, my chief purpose for returning into Fiesta Texas was for the "Lights of Liberty" fireworks show. It's preceded by a country-rock show on the stage of Lone Star Lil's Amphitheatre in the center of the park. And don't you know? One of the songs sung was "God Bless the U.S.A."! (Most of the numbers were simply popular country-rock, rock and country hits of recent years.)

When the country-rock show was finished I left the Amphitheatre. You see, my preferred viewing locale for the "Lights of Liberty" is on Texas State Square, just outside the former Mi Pueblito restaurant building. One gets a fine view of the blasts from there, backlighting the Boomerang ride. (And, strangely, folk are still riding that thing during the fireworks!)

This year I noticed that the park's pyro guys were using a new technique in their fireworks. I cannot accurately describe this, just that it sort of looks like an invisible paintbrush were making quick, short swipes with "spark paint" across the sky! And many of the more traditional bursts were of the "'Oohs!' and 'ahhs!'" quality. It was a great show, as always, and well worth the sticking around to see, even one day after the actual holiday!

Sunday the Sixth the party concluded with church observances. Actually, when I was at Alamo Heights Christian Church last Sunday (27 June) they were sort of observing the holiday THAT Sunday. Sort of jumping the gun, if you ask me.

Anyhow, I chose to wear the red-white-and-blue necktie that somewhat resembles Old Glory, that my best friend Joe had given me. And then when I got to Mexican Christian Church I found out that the pastor wanted me to be worship leader! And for that reason Sister Liz Sanchez was delighted I had worn a patriotic tie! I also chose to sing, solo and a capella, the Lee Greenwood song I'd heard so many times over the course of the holiday weekend. I invited everybody to join me in singing the final repeat of the chorus.

. And I'm proud to be an American,
. where at least I know I'm free!
. And I won't forget the ones who died,
. who gave that right to me.
. And I'd proudly stand up
. next to you and defend her still today.
. "Cause there ain't no doubt I love this land!
. God bless the U. S. A.!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

One More/Last Meeting with the Society

Last evening, it being the final Wednesday of June, I attended the general membership meeting of the San Antonio Conservation Society. These meetings are usually held in the River House on the bank of the San Antonio River behind the Steves Homestead in the historic King William neighborhood.

As I approached the River House I noticed a significant difference: the food was being served outdoors, to the right of the door. And the sign-in table was to the left. When I stepped inside, I saw that more seating was set up in the resulting space available by having the two activities outdoors. Apparently the Society was expecting a major turn-out of members, both Active and Associate (I'm in the latter category). And indeed, the May membership meeting had been so very well attended that we had standing room only.

The food was delicious! We ate meatballs, breads, and three salads. And indoors was a chocolate chocolate cake for dessert. Also liquid refreshments: wines, Bud Lite, lemonade, coffee and water.

Various officers' reports on the past year, since mid-2007, formed the main item on the Agenda. These included our President Marcie Ince's general account of the year's activities, successes and failures. One of the Vice Presidents' reports included an update on the digital billboard struggle. The Society has constantly opposed all manner of billboards and has been fighting since late last year to get the City Council to reverse its December '07 approval of the digital variety.

We also had the installation ceremony for the new officers, who had been elected by the Active membership last month. And finally the Actives got to vote for three new members of the Board of Directors, to fill recent vacancies. The candidate who received the most votes was Braxton Smith, a sharp-looking Afro-American gentleman. He and the second-most-votes recipient got two-year terms while the third candidate (with fewest votes) got the one-year term. Congrats to all!

While votes were being counted we were treated to a slide show (or PowerPoint?) about the Women's Pavilion that still stands on the HemisFair grounds. This will be renovated for new uses, one of which will be as a party room or getaway for leaders and officials of conventions meeting in the nearby San Antonio Convention Center.

You may ask, dear reader, why I commence this post with "One More/Last Meeting. . ." Well, it's because the very same day, Wednesday the 25th, I learned that my clergy standing with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has been reinstated. This wonderful news, sent by e-mail, clears the way for 1) me to pursue a calling I've had longer than I've done this blog and 2) for me to move back to Tennessee! The "calling" is to become a full-time prison chaplain. And the move is thanks to a visit I made there in mid-June. The visit was to explore the possibility of a reconciliation with my wife Ellen. After a very good lunch with her and her pastor, who gave us very sage counsel, and after a couple evenings of line dancing -- Ellen became active in line dancing for exercise and weight loss as well as the fun, during my residence in S.A. -- I flew back to Texas rather encouraged. And truly sensing that this, too, is God's "calling", the Lord's directive for me at this time in life.

Certainly these have been eventful years of living in San Antonio, "Party City", Texas. I shall miss the unique qualities and elements that make this city what it is. But I'm going back to family, and to the "greenest state in the Land of the Free!" Tennessee has its charms, too. The biggest, and one S.A. lacks, is family.

So, dear reader, cherish your family! And cherish the place you live! It's God's camping spot for you on the earthly journey of life, and they are your God-given companions for the journey!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Thursday, Juneteenth, A.D. 2008

Texas has several rather distinctive holidays, in addition to the special days celebrated all over these United States or the world. Of course there is Texas Independence Day, 2 March, which commemorates the declaration of Texas' independence from Mexico and the launching of her status as one of the sovereign nations of humankind. And there are the anniversaries of the fall of The Alamo, 6 March, and the Battle of San Jacinto, 21 April, when Texans and particularly San Antonians remember the events that led to that independence.

However, a most unique holiday in this state is Juneteenth, on 19 June. On that date in 1865 Union General Granger landed at Galveston and proclaimed that all slaves in the state were free. So, yup, citizens of black African heritage are the major -- but hardly the exclusive -- celebrators of Juneteenth! In the morning on my way to work, for example, this white bread wished folks a "Happy Juneteenth!" One of the first I greeted thus was an African-American young lady who works with me at Fiesta Texas. But believe me, I was "equal opportunity" in my spreading of the greeting!

Perhaps because of the holiday, I got a "wild hair" and decided to celebrate Juneteenth by attending the evening Texas League game of our AA minor league team, the San Antonio Missions, in Nelson Wolff Stadium. This despite listening on the radio the evening before while the hometown boys lost 7-2 to the visiting Corpus Christi Hooks.

As I approached the stadium following the long walk down Callaghan from the bus stop on Old Hwy. 90, I was listening to the broadcast of the game. And I could see that even tho' the game was already in the third inning, the lines at the ticket windows were still long. By the time I got to the window it was already the sixth, so I contented myself with purchasing a "grass berm" ticket -- just to get into the stadium.

Once inside I got in another long line, for a the concession stand, to purchase a couple slices of "dollar pizza" -- Thursday games at the Wolff are "Dollar Nites" with dollar pizzas, hot dogs, beer and soft drinks. Now, the dollar beer isn't a bargain (except compared to the regular price in stadiums); I know any number of convenience stores in the Alamo City where I can buy a 16-ounce Lone Star Lite for less than a dollar. And Wolff Stadium cups aren't any 16 ounces! Nevertheless, I took my pizza and beer and sat down at a nearby table to enjoy these while still listening to the broadcast of the game on KKYX-AM 680. Stu Paul and Roy Acuff (NOT the Roy Acuff of the Grand Ole Opry, who's been dead for some years now) do the play-by-play on the air.

What I heard while standing in lines and then eating was a very good game! Leastwise, from the hometown boys' side. Pitcher Stephen Faris pitched a good one, and most if not all the other Missions players contributed in their own ways. One name that always stands out as I listen to the broadcasts is Mike Baxter. He used to play for Vanderbilt University, and Stu or Roy will sometimes remark about how this "Yankee" by origin (the region, not the ML team!) wanted to play college ball in the prestigious Southeastern Conference. And how Vandy has a great baseball program -- and gr-r-r-reat academic credentials! Other names that always catch my attention are José Lobatón, from Venezuela, Drew Macías and Sean Kazmar.

Then I went up to the press-box and talked to my buddy Stu Paul. We've carried on an e-mail correspondence for several years, and some time back he'd invited me to come up any time to say "howdy". When he stood up to greet me I at once noticed that he had slimmed down quite a bit! I remarked on this and he filled me in on his weight-loss plan. We also jointly marvelled at the attendance for that evening and the previous evening's game. Indeed, while I was still up there in the press box word of the official attendance came: 7,538. This is the highest attendance figure for '08, and probably one of the highest in the history of Nelson Wolff Stadium!

I actually got to sit down and watch the top of the ninth inning. Since the Missions were already ahead 2-0 there was lots of celebrating going on already. And since the Hooks from the Gulf-shore city didn't score any runs in this final half inning, that remained the final score!

Go, Missions!

Monday, June 02, 2008

Baccalaureate for AHHS Class of '08

Sunday afternoon (1 June) I attended the Baccalaureate Service for the Class of 2008 of Alamo Heights High School. As with the other two times I attended, it was in the beautiful sanctuary of Alamo Heights UMC. And the pews were FULL -- of Seniors front & center, of families, of faculty and staff.

This time we also were treated to a special "graduate" who was present to give the Baccalaureate speech. You see, Dr. Jerry Christian, just-retired Superintendent of AHISD (see my post of May), began his time as "Number One Mule" when this class began kindergarten. And here he was, thirteen years later, leaving the school system at the same time as they (if for a slightly different reason and a different goal)!

Before "Dr. C", as he's affectionately known in the district, began his speech we were treated to some beautiful music. Prelude music was by organ and trumpet; these continued during the Processional of the Seniors into the sanctuary. This processional piece was "Rondeau" by Mouret, which contains rousing trumpet phrases. The entire congregation stood to sing the hymn "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee" which is set to Beethoven's "Ode to Joy". Following the Invocation and a Scripture reading, the Girls Choir of AHHS treated us to "I Will Lift Up My Voice". This piece had a special interest for me: during two days of sub-teaching for choir teacher/director Angus McLeod a couple months ago I had been blessed to listen to the young ladies practice this piece, among others. They had sounded sweet in practice, and today sounded even sweeter singing it in the church! Then just before the "Message to Graduates" by "Dr. C", a young lady, accompanied by a young man with guitar and refrain harmony, sang "I Hope You Dance". This song, a great country music hit by Lee Ann Womack, has such appropriate lyrics for the significant rite of passage that is high school graduation!

And yes, my head started to leak. For the second time. The first was when the seniors processed in to those stirring trumpet notes of "Rondeau" by Mouret. You know, dear reader, I think it's not good for me to attend these AHHS baccalaureates! The first time I was here was okay. But last year as the Class of '07 processed in, it came to me that I'd started my sub-teaching at their school halfway thru their Freshman year, and thus I witnessed their mental and emotional growth as they acquired classroom knowledge! I was torn between sharing their happiness at their special occasion, wishing them well in their future plans, and sorrowing that I'd get to see few if any of them ever again.

And this time, if anything, the intensity of emotional conflict was greater, because I'd seen the Class of '08 since almost the first day they began their four years of high school! In a way it was harder on me than when my own two flesh-and-blood graduated from their high schools: THEN I'd had intense feelings for just one graduate at a time -- and this time it was for hundreds all at once!

And then we heard the "Message to Graduates". Our retiring Superintendent "Dr. C" did a fine job inspiring and exhorting them. Of course he made note right at the start, of that special connection he had with them, by commencing his formal association with the District when they did and by now retiring even as they were about to receive their diplomas. He shared an anecdote from a visit he'd paid years ago to a kindergarten classroom; later he reflected back on this incident, and commented how precious kindergartners are, "for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven!" Wow! did I appreciate his citing of our Savior's teaching!

Afterward I told him that since he shared three points in the message (not to mention also its spiritual content), he would make a great preacher! He agreed with a smile, that indeed he'd made three major points. And then all of us made our way to the AHUMC's Christian Life Center (a combo fellowship hall and gym) for tasty refreshments.

I personally congratulated several of the Seniors about their high school graduation. One beautiful young coed told me that she was planning to attend Vanderbilt University. I cheered, and then shared how I received a Master of Arts in Latin American Studies from that venerable institution. I also warned her to "get ready to live in the Library!" Ha, ha! And I know that several of the AHHS Class of '08 will be attending TCU, the Texas institution of higher learning where I've also done graduate studies.

But. . . for the next couple of days they can focus on celebrating their graduation from high school. And yours truly can deal with my emotions at their passage away from me and AHHS and into the future. And pray for their success and for blessings on their future!

Friday, May 30, 2008

A Party of a Dedication!

Since I'm on the Citizens Advisory Council for VÍA Metro Transit, I received a mailed invitation to today's dedication ceremony for a new transit center on the South Side. Students in the Alamo Heights ISD are suffering Final Exams; thus, I don't have any more sub-teaching jobs, so I went to this dedication. It was in mid-morning, and when I left early to do an errand en route to the party, the windiness made it sufficiently cool that I donned a suit coat as well as dress shirt, slacks and tie. My coat lapel sported a lapel pin celebrating VIA's 30th anniversary, which had been given to me in March by the company. It gave me one more reason to "dress up" a bit more than I might have in this unusually hot and humid end of May.

The new Transit Center, which doesn't open to the public and for use by bus lines 'til 9 June, is beside IH 35, across the Interstate from South Park Mall and just northeast of Zarzamora. It's also going to be the training facility for VÍA operators, with that activity to be housed in a separate building. A few weeks ago it was announced that the new facility was to be formally named the Senator Frank L. Madla Transit Center and Training Facility. The late State Senator -- whose untimely and tragic death is covered in my posting of 28 November 2006 -- represented the South Side.

As I approached the main building, inside which the party was to take place, I saw that indeed its silhouette or general outline was like the building at Kel-Lac Transit Center, opened a few years ago and after I began serving on the CAC. Unlike Kel-Lac, where the outside walls are covered with horizontally-corrugated metal paneling which give it the look of a cubical approximation of a Quonset Hut, the Madla Center facility has good-sized rectangles of a tile-like material, mostly snow-white but with a few in some bright color like red or blue.

When I entered I saw a great crowd -- almost wall-to-wall -- who were enjoying the lovely sound of a teenage mariachi group dressed in black and silver charro outfits. From the program I found out that they were from South San HS, which is probably the closest high school, being just a few blocks beyond the other side of the Interstate. I realized that I had inadvertently entered thru what was effectively the "back door" for the ceremony, and that programs were across the room at the other door (effectively the "front door"). So I passed thru the crowd, received a program (a half-size sheet) and found a place to sit. This was on one of the curving blue-painted metal benches that will provide seating for waiting riders when the transit center begins serving the public. There were also several chairs brought in and set up for additional seating -- but still there were plenty of folk who had to stand.

The mariachis finished and VÍA Public Affair's Priscilla Engle commenced the formal program by introducing the Madla family, VÍA Board and Administrators and local elected officials present. Then Father Flanagan, Auxiliary Bishop for the Archdiocese of San Antonio prayed the invocation and the blessing on the facility. He was rather long-winded and a bit repetitive, but I attribute this (at least in part) to his advanced age. Then VÍA Chairman Eddie Herrera gave the first speech. He, like subsequent speakers, paid tribute to the late Senator and his support for public transit, and lauded the facility and its importance to the South Side: it's the first such transit facility on the South Side (unless one counts the one beside McCreless Mall, which recently became history, as did the mall). Herrera also pointed out that Leo López, who just ended his term on the VÍA Board and was present in a white guayabera (rather than his usual Board meeting apparel of suit and tie, regardless of outdoor heat), was responsible for the suggestion that the new transit center for Madla's South Side be named in his memory.

Other speakers included the two County Commissioners present: Tommy Adkisson (Precinct 4) and Sergio "Chico" Rodriguez (Prec. 1). Commissioner Adkisson is a tireless supporter of VÍA and of improvement in the transit and traffic infrastructure of Bexar County.

Also present and speaking was State Senator Leticia Van de Putte. When I first read her name on the program I frowned. During the first year or so that I lived here she and Mike Villarreal led a small group of Democrat legislators who fled the lege's session in the Capitol, sneaking to New Mexico so as to prevent a quorum for voting. It was their cowardly tactic for preventing votes that they knew would go against them due to the Republican majority. And I'd hated this cowardice, considering it unworthy of heirs of The Alamo defenders' heroism! Thus initially I wasn't happy about her presence. But I mused that I ought to leave aside my animosity for the time being and listen to her words of dedication without prejudice. Senator Van de Putte's speech actually was very good! So good it turned around my attitude toward her!

City Councilman Cortez, in whose district the Madla Transit Center is located, also spoke. I had seen him, and he me, only a few hours earlier, when I addressed the Council during "Citizens to Be Heard". Only today the Councilman lacked a necktie! So after the program I couldn't help but greet him with, "Didn't we see each other just a few hours ago? Only now you look kinda naked!" as with a grin I pointedly stroked my tie. He grinned back.

Another speaker was the late Senator's son, Frank Jr. When he finished, he and his mother unveiled a plaque on the wall, which proclaimed the facility's naming after the Senator, whose bas-relief portrait was on the plaque. Then we were invited to enjoy some more performance by the mariachis from South San, and to partake of refreshments. These latter were pastries of various kinds, and chunks of fruit. CAC Chairman Bill Martin joked with me, that he KNEW the food was why I had come. Years ago he'd taken note of my frequent trips to the cookie table at VÍA Board or CAC meetings! I wasn't the only butt of Bill's humor, tho': he also remarked that today was the first time he had seen Leo López sans suit and tie!

After sufficient refreshment I enquired about the training facility and if it were available for touring. I was told that yes, it was. So yours truly almost zipped over to "inspect" it. You see, dear reader, education of all types is "in my blood". I was delighted and not surprised to see that the two rooms inside come equipped with projectors at the center of the ceiling. At Alamo Heights HS I had noticed that this year the classrooms there were likewise equipped with these projectors and accompanying screens near the wall, which can be used to show videos, DVDs or Power Point. I'd say that the Sen. Frank L. Madla Transit Center and Training facility is "state of the art".

Afterward I got a ride on a charter bus (one of VÍA's own), up IH 35 to the VIA Admin Building. During this I enjoyed pleasant conversation with other riders, who all had some formal connection with VÍA, most being administrators or employees. Bill Martin also rode, and then gave me a ride home. Thus went yet another party in "Party City" San Antonio! I justifiably call this dedication a "party" because there were entertainment and refreshments both solid and liquid.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Memorial Day (Weekend) in S.A.

When I was a boy growing up in Boise, I remember well, Memorial Day was always on 30 May. (This was before the Monday holiday bill was passed by a Congress more interested in catering to their leisure-craving, pleasure-seeking constituents than in seeking to ensure that we Americans might remember WHY certain holidays were being observed.) Public schools always let out on 30 May for Memorial Day, and Dad, Mom, sister Debbie and I would go get Grandma Graham and go decorate Grandpa Graham's grave in Boise's Cloverdale Cemetery. Cloverdale is like Arlington and other national cemeteries, in that all tombstones are alike. Due to the family custom, it was only well into my adult years that I discovered that Memorial Day wasn't really for remembering all the dead but rather for honoring the military dead, especially those who died in combat.

Considering the all-too-often-forgotten true reason for the holiday, it's not surprising that Memorial Day is observed with fervor in San Antonio. This city is often called a "military town" due to its crucial Army post, Fort Sam Houston, its two Air Force installations (that used to be four) including Lackland AFB, the "Gateway of the Air Force" where all enlistees get their basic training, and its large military retiree population. Well, all this and the historic fact that a military post of some sort has existed here since four days after the initial Franciscan mission was founded, since on that day el Presidio de San Antonio de Béxar came into existence to defend that mission.

So, don't be surprised, dear reader, that I participated in a Memorial Day-oriented event. It was the Tobin Endowment Concert on Fort Sam, featuring S.A.'s own world-class Symphony. My brother Patrick came and got me in mid-afternoon and took me to his quarters. While my sister-in-law LaRae was preparing other food items, he grilled beef for fajitas out on the front porch.

During this food preparation, we had a video tele-conference with our sister Debbie in Berkeley, California. She'd just received her M.Div. at an Episcopal seminary there and Mom was visiting her. On our end we were three: LaRae, Patrick and me. And on their end, way out west, they were three: Debbie, Mom and Teresa, Debbie's friend.

Adding to the excitement of this unprecedented "family reunion" of sorts, was that the Phoenix spacecraft landed on the planet Mars, and we all followed the landing on television! Here we watched the Science Channel coverage; we could also have viewed it on the NASA Channel -- Patrick and LaRae get hundreds of channels thru Fort Sam. The folk in Berkeley had some other channel on; it was interesting to compare notes on what each network was covering. It was touching when the Phoenix spacecraft had landed safely, and the scientists and engineers in Mission Control cheered wildly and hugged one other. This reminded me of my boyhood, when we'd all follow televised coverage of, first the Mercury space flights, then Gemini, then the Apollo moon voyages. There WAS a striking visual difference. Way back then, on our black-and-white screen were white males in white dress shirts and dark ties; now we were seeing a mixture of genders and races, all garbed in dark blue polo shirts.

After the excitement of the Phoenix landing and of the Graham family tele-reunion (or family e-reunion) we three on Fort Sam devoured beef fajitas and accompanying items. Yum, yum! Then, as the sun approached the western horizon, we went to the same area of the very-long MacArthur Field where this year's Fiesta Fort Sam had taken place. We found seats on low, aluminum bleachers at the edge of the field just as the program commenced.

Emcee Joe Pags, a WOAI radio personality, greeted everybody and introduced a couple of officials who spoke briefly. They were US Senator John Cornyn and County Judge Nelson Wolff. Then the Conductor took over the program and led the San Antonio Symphony in an eclectic musical celebration. Much of it was patriotic music, since this WAS a Memorial Day concert. And since this IS an Army post in a military city (as explained in my second paragraph), the Symphony presented the anthems of the five armed services. Members and veterans of each branch were invited to stand up and sing during their anthem. Being used to these commencing with the Army's, as happens in Fiesta Texas' "Lone Star Spectacular" -- which I'd seen for the first time in '08 just last Saturday night -- as soon as I heard musical notes coming from the stage and the Symphony, I stood up. Only then I realized that what they started with this evening was the Navy anthem! I'm glad that in the darkening dusk nobody could see my reddening face!

We heard Sousa marches and "America the Beautiful", and the finale was Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture". Yes, dear reader, the one with booming cannons, or howitzers as we call them in the Army. And wow! the fireworks show was even more spectacular than those I'd see at other Fort Sam events!

Thus, even tho' I had to work at the theme park on the observed Memorial Day, I still remembered. And celebrated -- with family! And some unusual elements (the Mars landing and the video tele-reunion)!

A "Christian" who's a Christian!

Last Friday was truly a busy day for yours truly (no pun intended). After returning from the TDCJ security re-training in Dilley, I changed my clothes and went to the Muledome at Alamo Heights High School. This was the site for the formal retirement ceremony for the AHISD Superintendent Dr. Jerry Christian. I was late arriving, and cannot speak for what activities I missed. (These were probably performances by various student groups.) However, I did get to witness the farewell speeches and presentations of various officials, including the honoree himself.

Superintendent Christian has something in common with yours truly: a weight problem. Thanks to the speeches and to a slide show of his life (from baby pictures on!), found out that we two had more significant things in common!

In my four plus years of working in the AHISD as a substitute teacher I had developed a deep respect for the Superintendent. Indeed, from the first time I met "Dr. C", as he's affectionately called around the School District, I held one of those sensations that once in a great while I get upon meeting a certain person for the first time: that this person is very, very good at what he or she does and is someone well worth knowing. To be sure, I'd long ago concluded that the excellent reputation of the school district was due at least in part to great leadership, of the "Super" as well as of the School Board.

But on top of such esteem I also harbored a strong sense that with this man "Christian" wasn't just his family name, that it was his heart's faith, too. And such turned out to be the case. His successor is Dr. Kevin Brown, formerly the capable Director of Personnel for AHISD. Kevin, I think it was, in his speech this evening in the Muledome, made mention of Jerry Christian's faith and how it had informed his work as Superintendent. Other speakers may also have referred to the faith element in the retiree's life and work. But when "Dr. C" himself was speaking, placing much emphasis on his family -- all of his children, grandchildren and siblings were in attendance -- he remarked that a highlight of his life had been when he baptised his own son! Well! can I relate to that or what? You see, I'm blessed to remember that I immersed both of my children, and likewise those two baptisms are highlights of my memories!

So the two of us share not only a love of public education and a love of eating but also a faith in Christ. But wait! there was more! One of the slides in the slide show pictured "Dr. C" playing an acoustic guitar. Well "me too" on that talent (or hobby at least)! And during his speech, the retiree stepped away from the podium and to a nearby piano, to play us one of his favorite songs while he sang it. And once again, me, too, on this talent (or hobby at least)! However, I admit that I haven't played the piano much since the lessons ceased toward the end of my seventh grade year. I know I wouldn't have sounded as good on the ivories as did Jerry Christian this evening!

All in all, the retirement ceremony was a memorable celebration of memories. In which we of Alamo Heights honored one who had provided memorably excellent leadership for an excellent school district.

Re-training for Kairos (prison security)

When one serves as a volunteer in prisons, as I do with Kairos Prison Ministry, the Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice requires that the volunteer go thru a course every couple of years. This course of a few hours refreshes one's knowledge of procedures for prison volunteers and for their relationships with inmates. I did this refresher training on Friday the 23rd, in the Dolph Briscoe Unit.

For a short time I was concerned about getting to Dilley for the training. You see, several days earlier I's arranged with Ross Hoover to get a ride with him to it. But then when I got home Thursday evening and checked my phone messages I heard one from Ross, that he wasn't going to be going after all; he'd just become a grandfather and was driving to Houston instead for the "blessed event"! Well good for him -- but not so great for me; immediately I began making phone calls to see if anybody going to take me along with him. And thus I missed the AHHS Choir's spring concert, which I'd eagerly anticipated all semester. "Oh, well!" to this latter, and "Not to worry!" to the former.

You see, the result was that I got a ride with Ed Palow, who was my roommate on Kairos Briscoe #1. We're both ordained clergy of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and are decidedly on the conservative end of the theological spectrum among Disciples clergy. Indeed, Ed considers himself as affiliated with "Disciples Heritage", a group that seeks to maintain the original focus of the leaders who commenced the Restoration Movement that became the Churches of Christ (noninstrumental), the "independent" Christian Churches and the Disciples of Christ. Anyhow, the two of us carried on a non'stop conversation all the way to Dilley (about one and a half hours, about Kairos, the recently-retired Area Minister of the Bluebonnet Area (CC-DC) John Callison, and several other areas of mutual interest. Among other items, I shared my impressions of the Closing for Kairos Torres #19 (see the previous posting). Then we ate at Millie's, a café that I'd recently been told was where the Dilley locals went for breakfast, and then would go to Pacho Garcia's for lunch or dinner.

And then, when the two of us arrived at the Briscoe Unit, we discovered that the refresher training was to commence at ten, and not at nine (as the most recent e-mail had suggested). But Chaplain Jerry Satterlee came out to the sally port (the front gate) to meet us anyways. I introduced him to Ed, who hadn't been at Briscoe in a very long time and thus had never met the new chaplain. Chaplain Jerry led us into the administration building and into a room to the right, where the training would take place. The three of us talked awhile, and then the chaplain excused himself to see to other things prior to the training. Ed and I continued chatting and sort of watching the television that was on in the room.

Eventually about a dozen other volunteers arrived; we were not all Kairos but we all did have connection with the chaplain's office. Also arriving was Captain Owens, who taught the security course. For most of us it was a refresher course, but a couple of fellows were getting the info for the first time. So it was lengthy and detailed, and numerous questions were asked for clarification. This was okay with me. It had been at least three years since I'd had any security training, so it was a heavy-duty refresher class for me! Indeed, I found out that one activity I did innocently was questionable by TDCJ rules. I won't be doing this again!

When the training was finished about a half dozen of us went to Millie's for a late lunch. And then Ed and I hit the road (Interstate Highway 35) north back to San Antonio. And all the way we were carrying on further conversation. . . .

Monday, May 19, 2008

"I was in prison. . ."

". . .and you visited me."

This quote (Matthew 25:36c), from the Lord Jesus' parable of the judgment (of the sheep and goats), is the inspiration for those of us who volunteer in Kairos Prison Ministry. Yesterday afternoon I participated in a Kairos event at the Torres (prison) Unit near Hondo. And as you know from my previous posting, I participated in another Kairos event Thursday evening in the Briscoe Unit near Dilley.

The event to which I refer was the Closing ceremony for Kairos Weekend #19 at Torres. (As you can see, Kairos has been ministering in Torres a few years longer than in Briscoe.) To attend one of these, you need permission from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), which is gained thru an application for clearance. I filled out one just in time (at the deadline), then received my clearance letter. Then at the Northwest San Antonio Emmaus meeting Friday night I obtained a ride to Closing. This ride was with a couple with whom I've done Kairos service; they picked me up at Mexican Christian Church right after Sunday worship concluded. We drove west to Hondo, and had Sunday dinner at Hermann Sons, a very popular Hondo restaurant with Kairos volunteers who are involved in Torres.

Now, it had been quite a while since I last entered Torres for Kairos. In the meantime I'd been in the Briscoe Unit countless times. therefore, I was having some sense of disconnect. You see, the two prisons have identical layouts, but with different details in places. For instance, in the administration building at Briscoe, there is a portrait of Gov. Dolph Briscoe on the wall to the right as you enter. There's no portrait on the wall in the same building at Torres. Instead, further in on the right is a framed front page of The Devine News, of when Torres was opened. I lived in Devine when Torres opened, but even tho' I cannot remember the article about the prison, I do remember the photo of the buck and two hunters who bagged it that was beside it!

Then, when we entered the gym, I noticed, first, a couple of inmates of the Torres Kairos community whom I remembered, and second, that the arrangement of seating was flip-flopped. The only seats remaining the same were those of the Outside and Inside Teams. The Candidates' seats were facing toward the door AND the outsider visitors, instead of the other way around (us facing the Candidates and the door). The inmates, including their music team, was at the back of the gym.

The Candidates entered, did their intros by Table Families, and got to do "open mike" expression of whatever was on each one's heart about the weekend retreat. I quickly forgot any disconnect, any seating rearrangement, and even Briscoe. I was lost in remembrance -- vivid remembrance -- of my attendance at Closing for Kairos Torres #8! It was that Closing and my profound impression of it, that "hooked" me on doing volunteer service in Kairos Prison Ministry!

The Candidates' testimonies were just as impressive this time around. Even more impacting was the "Fourth Day Talk", spoken by an inmate whose initial Weekend was just a year ago. His was a terrific exhortation, not only to the new guys but to the veteran Kairos community gathered at the back of the gym. And then Chaplain Yates gave his brief Talk. More exhortation. I tell you what: if one of these 42 guys didn't ""get it" about the necessity of perseverance he had to be deaf!

Following all these elements of a standard Closing for a Kairos Weekend, we outside visitors got escorted back to the sally port. Then came the Team, the Outside ladies first. We all circled up in the parking lot just outside the sally port, as usual. But before we launched into singing "surely the Presence (of the Lord Is in This Place), I asked for a moment to lead us in prayer for the Candidates and the Kairos community of Torres.

And then we all hit the road for home, leaving our new Brothers in White, along with the older Brothers of the Kairos in Torres, in the gracious, powerful hands of ABBA, our God and Daddy.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Spirit's "work week" in San Antonio

The Hebrew word ruah and the Greek word pneuma both have the fascinating triple meaning of breath, spirit and wind. Keep this in mind when you read John 3:8 -- Jesus the Nazarene was making a play on words to Nicodemus with this statement!

This past Sunday was Pentecost, when Christians remember the birthday of the Church in the giving of the Holy Spirit, fifty days after Christ's sacrificial death and unprecedented resurrection. Because it was also Mothers Day, at Mexican Christian Church (Disciples) the church holiday was observed a Sunday early -- see previous posting here.

For this reason, the significance of the church holiday sort of went by me, with the emphasis on the Holy Spirit. And to be frank, I'm an heir of the Restoration Movement de-emphasis on the Holy Spirit. Because the New Testament does not speak of the Spirit as a "separate but equal" aspect of the Deity (equal to Father and Son) and actually does NOT have the word "Trinity" the early Restorationists stayed away from such theological speculation. One founder of the movement that became the Disciples of Christ and also the non-instrumental Churches of Christ even deemed the Holy Spirit to be the "energy of God"! So, for two reasons then, the Pentecostal focus on the Holy Spirit went by me this year. But come Wednesday He "caught up" with me (or I with Him)!

You see, dear reader, the Holy Spirit was a major theme in both Bible studies I attended Wednesday morning. At "Mama's Men" (the men's group that meets for breakfast at Mama's Café on Nacogdoches Road) refrained from our usual page-long study guide. Instead, we had an open discussion on the work of the Holy Spirit in everyday Christians, and the gifts of the spirit (Greek charismata), and how Christians can so easily block the work of God's Spirit and the operation of His gifts, by our preconceived or inherited concepts of HOW God acts and WHAT forms the divine working in a believer's life may or may not take. Then, at Mexican Christian Church's study a few hours later the guest teacher led us in an exploration of New testament passages that tell us about "The Personality of the Holy Spirit".

Later I faced a choice, to go to the evening worship at Alamo Heights UMC, but thinking I couldn't make it in time (starting at 6:30) due to getting wrapped up over-long in an afternoon activity. Or, to just "joy-ride" around on VÍA buses and perhaps get off at some place and grab a bite to eat (and perhaps a beer). But I could clearly sense the divine, all-wise Spirit prompting me to persevere in getting to AHUMC. He suggested an alternative route: up Broadway by bus and then west by foot on Basse Road to the Church (along the way I could stop at the Subway and get my favorite sub-sandwich, a "Veggie Delight" on 6-inch wheat bread, with read vinaigrette).

This I did, and wow! once more the Holy Spirit was the theme in the AHUMC worship! I was particularly impressed -- no, amazed -- with the sermon delivered by Associate Pastor, Donna Streib. You see, her words were an excellent follow-up on our discussion that morning at "Mama's Men"! I literally get goose-bumps when I witness such amazing working of the Spirit in my life and/or the lives around me! Speaking of which, two other of "Mama's Men" were also present, and afterward the three of us shared our thrill at the words we had heard.

But don't go away! The next evening I witnessed the Holy Spirit at work in the Briscoe (prison) Unit's Kairos Prayer & Share. Ten of us volunteers showed up for it, along with Chaplain Jerry Satterlee (he's been at Briscoe only a few months; it's his first service in a prison chaplaincy). When we entered the prison gym were were greeted by 142 inmates! After announcements and the singing of two or three Kairos songs, the leader told us that we were going to do the Prayer & Share a little differently this evening, and according to the Kairos Manual. That is, the inmates would circle up in small groups of about ten for sharing and praying intimately, while we volunteers would move about the room, just to make sure each group was "on task". We would no longer be participating each in a small group. I was intellectually-spiritually comfortable with this change, even if I sensed some emotional longing for the opportunity to share in a small group. (But then I have "Mama's Men" and the Thursday Emmaus Reunion group at Jim's to do that!)

After about 45 minutes of the small-group activities we closed as usual, with everybody -- volunteers and inmates (and this evening one prison chaplain) circling up for a closing prayer and the singing of "Surely the Presence" three times. Before, the circle had often been large but was still a circle, both while the P & S was still in the chapel and after it moved to the much larger gym. But this evening we were so many that we were a square -- we all had our backs against the walls of the gym! This looked awesome! And once more, THIS, too, was the work of God's Spirit!

God bless the Kairos inmate community in the Briscoe Unit, and God bless Chaplain Satterlee!

But don't go away yet! Friday evening I attended the Northwest San Antonio (NSWA) Emmaus FDG gathering. It was at St. John UMC on Bandera road, and began with food and fellowship in the fellowship hall. Lots of good food, lots of great fellowship! then we adjourned to the sanctuary for a business meeting and worship (the latter using, as always, the order of worship in the Emmaus "purple book", the pocket-size booklet each person is given on a Walk to Emmaus). Our "Fourth-Day Talk" was given by an African-American brother, and boy did he preach in the "Black style of preaching!" This style, which cam be heavy on the tugging-the-heart-strings and also repetitive, nevertheless usually affects me spiritually as well as emotionally. And I certainly felt affected this evening! Indeed, as we prepared to go forward to receive the Lord's Supper my shoes came off. (They frequently do while I serve on teams for Walks to Emmaus or Kairos Weekends). Once I had received the Body and Blood of our Savior and Lord, I knelt at the altar railing. My shoulders were gently quivering and my eyes were threatening to leak a good one! Someone passing by noticed this -- the Spirit guiding him or her, I aver -- and this person gently placed a hand on my right shoulder, for just a second. But this was sufficient for me to be affirmed.

Thank You, Holy Spirit of Almighty, Immortal God, for Your working in grace in the lives of all disciples of Jesus who are open to your working -- and Your working in lives that aren't so open! May unity and love prevail among us! May we who love Jesus truly be molded by the Spirit into the earthly Body of Christ!

Mothers Day in S.A.

This beautiful, busy Spring week began with the Sunday which is Mothers Day in these United States and in San Antonio. Now please know, dear reader, that chicanos or Mexican-Americans hold the mother -- la madre -- in highest esteem. And chicanos are the majority of the populace of this seventh-largest city of the USA. Therefore, the holiday is observed with greater fervency here than in cities where Mexican-Americans are a minority or non-existent. This is well expressed in that most revered symbol of lo mexicano (things Mexican): Our Lady of Guadalupe, the special apparition of the mother of nuestro Salvador in old Mexico! (Her image is as ubiquitous in S.A. as that of The Alamo.)

Thus it should come as no surprise that Mothers Day was a BIG thing at Mexican Christian Church (Disciples), on the Westside. A big thing with a Latino twist! So, each mother present received red roses. The men sang Las Mañanitas to the mothers while I accompanied on guitar. Las Mañanitas is the "early-morning song" most often associated with a man, accompanied by instrument-playing friends or a mariachi band, serenading his lady-love at dawn on her birthday.

Later, after eating Sunday dinner at Grady's Bar-b-cue on Fredericksburg Road, I returned to the Westside and Guadalupe Plaza (a block east of the church). I attended a special musical tribute to mothers. Several chicanas, probably all mothers themselves, sang in «Serenata de Oro: Canciones Para Mi Mamá». (In English: "Serenade of Gold: Songs for my mom.")

Upon entering the plaza I was puzzled that despite the permanent and fine stage on one side, a temporary and low platform had been set up as a stage in the middle of the circular space that extends from that permanent stage out to the low, grassy "steps" that bend around that central circular area. These provide informal seating ("festival seating"). Several folding chairs had also been set up in rows at right angles to the permanent stage and facing the temporary one. This effectively took away any opportunity for the central circle to be used for dance performances or dancing by the audience. At many events in Guadalupe Plaza I'd seen dancing by flamenco or folclórico dance groups and/or members of audiences.

The chairs were filling with madres and their families, and more folk arriving sat down on the grassy surrounding curves. Three o'clock arrived. . . and went. . . and quarter after the hour came and went. . . . Just before the half past las chicanas, artistas musicales, comenzaron el espectáculo.

Due to the very late start -- beyond "fashionable" --I only got to hear the first song or two. Then I left this show to go elsewhere and then return for the finale. You see, since the show commenced so "later than fashionably late" I presumed that it likewise would last longer than the publicized 6:00 ending time. This turned out to be the case. . . .

In the meantime, I rode to the '09 ZIP area of the metropolis, that is, to Alamo Heights. One of my fellow "oh-niners" (residents of the 78209 ZIP, that is) had invited me to visit. This was my eye doctor, Wendall Bauman (see 25 March posting). I spent some time with them -- actually more time than I planned -- getting re-acquainted with wife Lori and twins (boy and girl) Wendall and Kendall. And the dog Prince, a black Labrador retriever.

I gave Wendall a photo I had had taken of the two of us during my last eye exam visit. I had autographed the back with a message of thanks to my brother in Christ and eye doctor, for his being such a good role model of a Christian man, husband and father. After awhile I remarked that I had never seen their ample backyard except from the bus passing along Castaño Street that runs between their lot and Alamo Heights High School. And the view was from an angle, since the rear side of the lot has a high stone wall. So we adjourned to the back yard -- everybody took advantage of the nice weather to get outdoors. The kids and Prince were particularly grateful to be out and about, I'm sure!

After several minutes outdoors I said farewell to Wendall, Lori, Wendall (Jr) and Kendall, and Prince. I took the bus back to Guadalupe Plaza to enjoy the ending of «Serenata de Oro: Canciones Para Mi Mamá». As I entered the "plaza" I saw and heard that a good-size mariachi band was performing. All of them were female, except for one guitarrón player (this is an oversize guitar with rounded back, held horizontally like a dobro). I forget how many songs I heard in this finale, but I clearly remember two: «Perfidia» and «El Son de la Negra». With the former I heard for only probably the third time lyrics being sung -- and I didn't really LISTEN to them! If the very name of this instrumentally lovely piece distresses me, I certainly didn't want to deepen the distress thru listening to "downer" lyrics about betrayal and perfidy (and presumably, unrequited love)! With the latter I entered more into the rendition, instrumental and sung; after all, this song has been titled "the national anthem of mariachis", by no less an authority than the leader of a mariachi band that used to perform at Fiesta Texas.

Oh, yes! Once the Mothers Day/Día de las Madres tribute was finished, I hopped back on to the bus and headed back to my side of town. This time my destination was Good Time Charlie's, on Broadway at Mulberry. While I enjoyed a supper of chicken-fried steak at the place reputed by some to have the best CFS in town, I enjoyed the Spurs playoff game on the good-size television screen in the nearby corner. Wow! the beloved NBA boys of San Antonio played purty-near perfectly! As they demolished the visiting New Orleans Hornets in this Game 5 of the 7-game series I kept thinking, "if the Spurs played this excellently in EVERY game, they'd have won the series already, and would easily win the whole enchilada!" However, our Spurs are nothing if not inconsistent in how they play from game to game -- more inconsistency than I have consicously observed in any other pro team.

But, hopefully, our roundballers will be able to retain their talent of Game 5 when they return to New Orleans -- a city where I believe they've not won a game this year! But after what I witnessed tonite, I have confidence that the boys WILL get it together en'uf to not only put away the Hornets but also take for the second year in a row (and the fifth in less than ten) the NBA crown.

Can you say, "dynasty?" I can! Go, Spurs, go! ! !

Monday, May 12, 2008

"Music under the Stars" at the Mission

Thursday evening (the 8th) Patrick, LaRae and I attended the San Antonio Missions home game in Nelson Wolfe Stadium, against the Midland Rockhounds of the Texas League (AA level). It was a great night for a baseball game, and the Missions' home field is a top-notch park. The game went well -- until top of the fifth inning, when the visitors pounded out 8 runs. So we left, and even tho' on the radio we heard the home team never give up trying to come back, they still lost.

Great consolation came the very next night, courtesy the OTHER type of S.A. mission. What I mean is that I went to Mission San José, for my second "Music Under the Stars" concert. (My first was two years ago.) This is presented by USAA, the insurance and financial firm headquartered here,that serves the US military, dependants and vets. Employees of USAA (United services Automotive Association) have formed musician and singing groups, and perform in public. This evening we were entertained (for free) in the mission compound by the USAA Jazz Band, The USAA Concert Band and the USAA Chorus.

The three amateur musical groups gave us a wonderful evening of entertainment! True the weather wasn't quite as picture-perfect as it was two years ago. But that didn't lessen the crowd, much of which was families. Hundreds of lawn chairs was set up under the trees and on the grass in the large open area enclosed by the mission compound's walls. Other folk spread blankets or sat on the permanent benches scattered around the compound, as I did.

In addition to the musical show, a few people got to speak. Most notable of the speakers was Father David García. He is about to retire from being Rector (head priest) of San Fernando Cathedral and become the archdiocesan clergyman in charge of funding for upkeep of the church sanctuaries at the four missions in the San Antonio Missions National Park. In his speech Father David was quite energetic and enthusiastic. So much so that the emcee or someone made mention of the clergyman's electric spirit!

Among the USAA Jazz Band's instrumental offerings were a couple in which a lady with a beautiful singing voice (soprano) sang lyrics. One was the 1960s' pop hit "The Girl from Ipanema" which celebrates a beauty on the famous beach of Rio in Brazil. Later in the program the jazz instrumentalists played «Perfidia». I knew this beautiful, sweetly-flowing piece for years, long before I ever learned the name of it. And when I learned that name, I was shocked! Such a sad name for such beautiful music! The name is a cognate; it means "perfidy" or "betrayal" in English.

In the second half of the show some numbers were straight instrumental, done by the USAA Concert Band. But on most songs the USAA Concert Choir provided vocals. I suppose that due to this being a different choir from that of two years ago ("Lift Every Voice" Choir) the selection was more varied. That is, it wasn't all gospel songs. But they did sing a few songs with spiritual content. They also sang a song about New Orleans, many of whose residents evacuated to our city upon the destruction of their own by Hurricane Katrina. (And some of whom chose to permanently reside here.) There was also a salute to the five armed services in the playing of the anthem of each branch. Of course I sang out loudly on the first one, for the Army! "Over hill, over dale, we will hit the dusty trail, as the Army goes rolling along!"

All during the concert I kept marveling how THIS show could only have taken place in San Antonio. All the distinctive elements -- the old Spanish mission as venue, the performances by people from a major employer (only the medical professions, the government and the active military surpass USAA here) that has strong military connections (in a "military city"), the audience of residents of varied ethnicity and language, arranged solo, in couples and especially in families, under a lovely Spring evening environment -- all this IS the city I love so much.

Thank God for San Antonio! God bless San Antonio!

Monday, May 05, 2008

Cinco de Mayo en San Antonio

Hoy es lunes, el cinco de mayo. I don't state this as merely an exercise in beginning Spanish (meaning "Today is Monday, 5 May."). You see, dear reader, it's also Cinco de Mayo (notice the caps), a Mexican holiday that's actually celebrated more north of the border!

Much Cinco de Mayo activity in San Antonio is centered in el Mercado. And I did pass thru Market Square briefly Sunday afternoon, just to scope out the celebration. A couple of stages were featuring live musical performances, and some food booths were set up. But it wasn't nearly as busy or crowded as it was during the ten days of Fiestalast month. Thank goodness! While I was there at el Mercado I chose to take advantage of free admission (for the holiday?) to el Museo Alameda, and viewed a couple of new exhibits in this still fairly-new museum (an affiliate of the great Smithsonian).

The Westside also has a share of Cinco de Mayo observations. And so late in the afternoon I returned to the Westside, to Guadalupe Theater, for the final of a series of concerts presented around town for Cinco de Mayo by the San Antonio Symphony. These talented professional musicians presented several pieces, mostly Mexican, but also one from Spain. And the program was augmented by the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center's dancers. They danced traditional Mexican dances to acouple of the numbers, and a Spanish flamenco to another. And the student mariachi group of the GCAC also performed in the middle of the show's schedule! They did four numbers (all new to me, but all performed just fine): Bonito, Tú Solo Tú, El Rey, and Sergio el Bailador.

This entire Cinco de Mayo show was wonderful! In the midst of my great delight of listening to these live performances I couldn't help but think again of the words of that David Lee Garza Band song "Who's that Gringo?": "I may be white on the outside, but in my heart I know I'm refried!"

And don't you know! As I left the Guadalupe Theater after the symphony's Cinco de Mayo concert I ran into an old acquaintance who like me is "white on the outside, but in her heart she's refried". This is Patti Radle, former City Council member, who represented District 5, which basically is the Westside. Indeed, she and her husband live just a few blocks south of my church. When she first ran for the Council position many predicted a decidedly Anglo woman couldn't win in the heavily Hispanic district. But they also said that Art Hall, and Afro-American, could not win in District 8 of the heavily Anglo far north Loopland! And both Patti and Art not only won initial election but also re-election!

San Antonio citizens display more "color-blindness" than they're given credit by conventional wisdom!

Area Church Assembly

The church denomination of my membership, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), might be said to have a "modified congregational" polity (church organization). The basic organizational unit is the local congregation, such as Alamo Heights CC(DC) or Mexican CC(DC). Equal to (and supposedly NOT greater in authority) are Regions and the General Church. The latter is mainly offices and ministries located in Indianapolis; Regions are co-equal with states, portions of states or 2 or 3 states. This Region, The Southwest, is so large and contains so many Disciples that it subdivides into Areas. We -- AHCC, MCC and myself -- are in the Bluebonnet Area of the Southwest Region.

The Bluebonnet Area extends from the Austin vicinity and the Hill Country thru Del Rio, Victoria and Corpus Christi to the lower Rio Grande border. The Bluebonnet Area Assembly for 2008 occurred Friday and Saturday (2 and 3 May), mainly in the Disciples Ministry Center. This facility was and still is home to Woodlawn CC (DC), a shrinking congregation. Spanish CC (DC), a rather new congregation for folk of Spanish surname -- Puerto Rican, Cuban, Mexican-American, etc. -- also uses the building.

The facility is roughly a rectangle enclosing un patio (a courtyard). The side paralleling Elmendorf Street (west) is the sanctuary. It features stained glass windows, each with a Christian symbol (similar to AHCC but more "structured") and a cathedral ceiling supported by dark wood trusses (similar to MCC). The Area offices occupy the Gramercy Street side (north), and a small chapel and offices for the two congregations the third side. The back side has Harris Hall, a long and comparatively narrow fellowship hall. The courtyard/el patio is charming, despite the contemporary-modern architecture that encloses it, as it has a well-kept lawn shaded by trees and banana plants.

Late Friday afternoon I entered the main door, on Gramercy next to the sanctuary. I verified my registration and with packet and name tag I crossed el patio to Harris Hall. Folk were already in line receiving their dinner plates, dished out by volunteers in the kitchen. I quickly saw Disciples of the Bluebonnet Area whom I knew, including from my two congregations, AHCC and MCC. After I sat down a gracious, middle-age Afro-American woman passed me, and I read her name as "Lois Hodrick". Immediately I considered that she was the mother of one of my roommates at Brite Divinity School. And "sho 'nuf" she sat down next to a gentleman whom I recognized as Clarence, my former roomie -- even after 30 years! Wow! talk about a reunion!

A much more recent former "roomie" was also there: Arlie Lammers of Kerrville and Kairos Prison Ministry. And these two are just the beginning of beloved faces whom I got to greet! One I knew I had seen but could not put a name with (and whom I didn't take opportunity with which to get reacquainted) sang in a beautiful tenor in the post-dinner worship service. As soon as he opened his mouth I remembered that he was Hermano David Figuerado, Pastor of a Hispanic Disciples congregation in Robstown (near Corpus Christi). He had graced the last anniversary observance of Mexican Christian Church with preaching and singing! And now he was gracing all attendees at the BBA Assembly with that magnificent tenor!

Saturday I returned in time for breakfast. At first this was merely donuts, coffee and a little fruit (think: watermelon chunks). But after awhile folk arrived with milk, orange juice, fruit, MORE donuts. . . and finally that South Texas dawn staple, the breakfast taco (courtesy Taco Cabana). After considering dressing up for this second and final day of the BBA Assembly, I chose instead to wear my Kairos polo shirt. Then I noticed at least half a dozen Brothers wearing suits and ties, including Arlie. Oh, well!

During this Saturday session of the Assembly, we had more Worship -- after breakfast and a closing one after lunch -- workshops on various church-related topics, and a quiet area for clergy (to meditate or just rest). This latter was upstairs above the fellowship hall, in the church library. After I helped for a little while to man the refreshment table en el patio (MCC was in charge of the table), I wandered in to the clergy area. No one else was there, so I looked around at the books. I was delighted to see a new book (new to me) by one of my favorite Christian authors: Max Lucado. The San Antonio pastor's title was "3:16, the most important number"; it was an in-depth inspirational reflection on the most-translated and best-known verse in the Bible, John 3:16. Good book!

Closing Worship was, among other things, a farewell to our Area Minister, Dr. John Callison. This Assembly is his final activity in this capacity, as he will immediately leave S.A. to re-enter the pastoral ministry at a Christian (Disciples) church north of Houston. So there were parting gifts and parting words -- all positive and appreciative -- for John. I myself made sure to one-on-one thank him for being the first friendly face I saw when I arrived in San Antonio in January of A.D. 2002. Back then he was very gracious, to return to the Greyhound depot after I was late arriving due to being bumped off my scheduled bus in Dallas. I wanted to be sure he understood my deep gratitude for his instrumental part in my arrival here!

And so, a good Assembly came to an end. As did a good area ministry! May our Lord bless both the Bluebonnet Area and its most recent former Area Minister now and in the future!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Happy Birthday, S.A.!

«Te saludo, San Antonio. ¡Feliz cumpleaños, mi ciudad!»

Yes, dear reader, today is the 290th birthday of the city of San Antonio. I celebrated, I suppose you might say, by attending the opening of the S.A. City Council meeting. I wished to make some comments during the opening of the meeting, regarding certain issues on the Agenda, along with comments on the related topic of no digital billboards. But I also devoted a few word, twice, to the significance of the date, 1 May.

On this date, in A.D. 1718, Franciscan friars founded Misión San Antonio de Valero. Years late, this mission that was the first permanent settlement here became a fortress known in Spanish as el Álamo, after a military unit that was stationed there and their source back in central Mexico.

Four days after the mission's founding, the Captain commanding the accompanying soldiers proclaimed the foundation of the protecting presidio (fort) and its adjacent village (for families of the soldiers and a few civilian settler families), San Antonio de Béjar (or Béxar). A few years later both la misión and el presidio/la villa got moved to better nearby locations, by el Marqués de Aguayo. This Spanish nobleman and rancher was appointed governor of Coahuila and Texas by the Spanish viceroy. Miguel de Azlor Virto y Vera -- no wonder he was usually referred to by his title of nobility! -- was sent to drive the French from far East Texas (the remote boundary of the French Louisiana and the Spanish Texas was uncertain and debatable). He succeeded in this effort and others to cement Spain's claim to its northeastern province of its Nueva España. And being a personal friend of the Venerable Fray Antonio Margil, he got included in the name of the mission that this tireless missionary founded near Misión San Antonio de Valero. This new mission's full name is Misión San José y San Miguel de Aguayo.

And so, already within its first decade of existence the new frontier settlement of San Antonio was well on its way to enlarging its presence and firming up its permanence. The first century was a difficult one, but since Texas became one of these United States, this city has continued to grow and prosper as a business center and a tourist target.

And in just ten years we can celebrate the city's tricentennial! I can hardly wait! ¡Viva San Antonio!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Reflections on THE Party, '08 edition

It's Monday, the day following the final day of Fiesta 2008. Unlike some of my San Antonio neighbors, I don't have a hangover. What I DO have, as every year on post-Fiesta Monday, is a case of the blues. You see, every Fiesta seems to conclude too soon; at least one event that I truly want to go to but lacked the time. After all, we're talking well over 100 events which comprise the party-to-end-all-parties! (This counts each & every day of multi-day events; even not counting each day separately would probably still total over 50.)

However, in this Year of Our Lord 2008 I shall NOT sing with Willie Nelson: "Turn out the lights, the party's over. . . ." After all, as I've affirmed so many times in my years of residence here, San Antonio's middle name is "Party"! Folks, we've just one week to rest up & recover from Fiesta. This very next weekend will be time for Cinco de Mayo celebrating! Hey! workers at el Mercado might as well keep booths and stages in place and San Saba Street closed (the block passing thru Market Square, that is). After all, el Mercado is a major venue for Cinco de Mayo frolics! Soon also, the party called "Texas Folklife Festival" will take place. And so on. And on. And on. Talk about "good times never end"!

Before we move on to S.A.'s future parties, allow me to indulge one last backward gaze at Fiesta '08. Here are some reflection about the just-concluded Fiesta 2008, particularly its final weekend.

First of all, one concluding reflection on the Battle of Flowers Parade. While I was aboard the VÍA bus heading downtown to my accustomed "stake-out" spot to watch the parade, I was glad I wasn't using a POV ("Army-ese" for a privately-owned/operated car). Not only was traffic dreadful (as usual during Fiesta). Parking was more expensive. Lots near the parade origin point were exacting $15. A little further away the price went down to $12, then on St. Mary's Street near the San Antonio Museum of Art parking lowered to $10. Riders on my bus were remarking about these prices - and THEN we passed Central Catholic High School. Students there were waving signs advertising "Fiesta parking" for $8! I remarked (rather loudly, I admit), "Look! Yay, Catholics!"

I confess that I found myself at "Fiestas Fantasías" at Market Square (el Mercado) multiple times -- even more than once on Fiesta's opening weekend! Well. . . I like the heavily Mexican ambiente of the place and live performances of Mexican and Tex-Mex styles of music: conjunto, Latin rock, Tejano, mariachi. . . . But -- smile -- I almost longed to tell someone nearby, preferably a chicano, "I simply HATE Mexican-American music! It's so danceable, it gives me an insatiable urge to dance, and I have no one with whom to dance!" (More confession: at times I simply gave into the urge and discreetly danced solo.)

If I can't really, truly dance with my whole heart and body due to lack of a partner, I can certainly enjoy simply sitting and observing while lucky couples cut the rug. A most delightful episode happened on Saturday the 26th. Inside the Farmers Market building of Market Square a large central open area has a permanent platform, a stage for song & dance performances all thru the year -- often by children of all ages. In this case a boy and a girl age 7 or 8 took the stage. He was dressed in boots, jeans, Stetson and a reddish western-cut shirt; she wore a long skirt to match his shirt. And wow! could this young, young couple cut the rug! We were all (audience surrounding that stage) hollering encouragement and clapping our hands to the beat of "Jambalaya!"

I experienced more than one incident of what I shall call "camaraderie" (for lack of a better word). The State Motto since 1930 is "Friendship" -- supposedly "Texas" or "Tejas" was the Spaniards' rendition of a native, Caddo, word that meant "friends". And San Antonio is renown as a very friendly city! So during Fiesta my fellow citizens, and visitors, let down what little guard we may have. We're all friends the first time we meet! I remember one evening I found myself listening to the group performing on the stage under the raised interstate highway passing above the west edge of el Mercado. They sounded really good -- and danceable, too! -- and I commented on such to a couple standing beside me. (I cannot say that I said it to encourage these two to get out and cut the rug, but whether I did or not, they didn't, alas!)

Finally, allow me to remark about the honoring of the military that takes place during Fiesta. San Antonio is often labelled a "military city" or some other title that hi-lites the military presence here. So it's natural that the U.S. armed forces get honored and feted all during the ten-day party! Of course, Fiesta began in 1891 as a remebrance of the heroes of the battles of The Alamo and San Jacinto -- indeed, it always falls in April so that the 21st is included, and that's the anniversary of the San Jacinto victory that won Texas independence. So we have the "Official Opening Ceremony" in front of The Alamo, and a "Pilgrimage to The Alamo" on San Jacinto Day.

And on the final Sunday afternoon there is an "All-Veterans Salute" in Memorial Plaza in front of Municipal Auditorium. I was there this year, altho' I missed the opening minutes of it and the main speaker was already into his speech. Due to the strong, gusty wind one could hear him only with difficulty. And indeed, the emcee for the ceremony at one point had to walk back to the podium and hold down the speaker's papers! This was unfortuante, because what one could hear of the speech it was very inspirational. He was a retired General Brady, who earned the Medal of Honor in Vietnam. The Medcom Band from Fort Sam Houston provided music. They quietly played "Abide with Me" while attendees filed down the walkway to the Vietnam Memorial. This is a larger-than-lifesize statue of a soldier (a medic) squatting over a fallen comrade and gazing up in the skies -- as if either in prayer or in search of a 'copter. Several people laid flowers or wreaths or bourquets along the base of the memorial.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

"Good times never end!"

My title quotes a slogan I heard many times during the four years I lived in the chapter house of Lambda Chi Alpha at the University of Idaho. I heard it especially whenever we had a kegger or dance or some other party. As this week of Fiesta 2008 goes by this slogan comes to mind again! Often!

Monday evening the Citizens Advisory Council had its monthly meeting at VÍA Metro Center, specifically the Administration Building. As soon as it was over I went down to the Riverwalk near the Central Library to take in as much of the "Texas Cavaliers River Parade" as I could. I don't think I missed much! The floats which actuallyand ltierally "float" down the San Antonio River, were as colorful as always, and there was lots of music (live or recorded).

Thursday I found myself, for only the second time, at NIOSA. "A Night in Old San Antonio" happens in La Villita for four evenings, and is sponsored by the S.A. Conservation Society. In the 1980s the family went, and I was looking forward to it, due to the sponsorship and to its publicity of being a sort of mini-Folklife, with lots of celebrating of the city's (and perhaps state's) history and cultures. Not! Shoulder-to-shoulder people, like a sardine can, and about the third time some drunk spilled his beer on me, I said, "Never again!" Only. . . thanks to strong urging by fellow Conservation Society members, with advice to visit NIOSA early, and a complementary ticket provided me, the "never again" came to an end.

I'm glad it did come to an end. I didn't get beer spilled on me, and found room to maneuver in the "Little Town". I spent much of my time in La Villita Assembly Hall, where I had been the past Saturday evening for the Ball. This time it was decorated like a German beer hall and had a live "oompa band" playing. I requested that they do Ein Prosit der Gemuetlicheit -- and then missed it (they played it while I was out exploring the rest of NIOSA). In compensation, I suppose, I got to do "The Chicken Dance" twice!

After a little over an hour at NIOSA, I caught the bus to Alamo Stadium for a Fiesta event I never miss if I can help it: "The Battle of Flowers Band Festival". The theme of '08 wasn't all that thrilling: "Broadway. . . and All that Jazz" -- also theme for the parade the next day. Still, I always enjoy the marching of the high school marching bands, the on-field performances by the three or four featured bands, and the grand finale of all the bands massing on the field and performing theme music while the fireworks burst overhead!

Surprises this year at the Band Festival were that Alamo Heights HS didn't enter its band, and the McCollum HS band is much smaller. In earlier years McCollum was enormous -- even tho' it's a Class 4A school. Lanier's band was larger than in earlier years, while Sam Houston, like McCollum, presented a smaller marching band. But the mostly Afro-American school's marching instrumentalists in uniform still presented their "jungle-beat" stepping as they marched down the stadium's track.

Friday morning I once again took my folding chair, got on the bus and after alighting near Broadway and Third I set up the chair on that intersection's southeast corner next to a light pole. It's a great location to watch the best parade of all parades and the original Fiesta event: "The Battle of Flowers". From here I view the left side of parade units (their left side, my right) as they approach on Broadway, and after each turns onto Third to head for The Alamo, I observe their right side, close up!

Skies remained mostly overcast (but not threatening precip) and it was muggy. But I think I'd rather have that than clear sunny skies and humidity!

This year I actually saw someone I knew and who knows me! Norman Collins, science teacher (and department chair) at AHHS, was in the third set of "pooper-scoopers" from the high school! I cheered him and gave him a high five! I also saw and greeted Commission President John Steen, with whom I had spoken at UTSA's Fiesta event a week earlier.

Focus of this parade, I suppose, is the floats bearing the feminine royalty who were feted at a "Coronation" event in Municipal Auditorium (only a couple of blocks north of my spot) a few evenings before. Tickets are expensive, so I don't go, but the color of the ceremony must be awesome. I day this because the lovely young ladies on the lovely, colorfu and flowery floats are engaging in the parade setting!

Years ago the "Battle of Flowers Parade" became my favorite of any and all parades I've ever seen, live or on television. On Monday evening of the past couple of Fiestas, I've come away from the "Texas Cavaliers River Parade" thinking that this particular year the river parade was so good that it would unseat BoF as my fave. BUT THEN along comes the BoF; it always manages to retain its place as Number One in the heart of this parade lover!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Weekend's over, but THE Party isn't!

Yup, dear reader, the first weekend of Fiesta San Antonio 2008 is over. But of course the party goes on for ten days total, thru next weekend. And in the meantime, I'm into the thick of it!

Saturday morning I attended one of my favorite among Fiesta events: "Walk Across Texas" at the S.A. Botanical Gardens. This time there were no signs set up near the entrance, which is thru a relocated and restored carriage house, to indicate the way to the "Walk". Considering the complexity of the Botanical Gardens, which include formal areas, a garden for the blind, an underground Conservatory, glass roofs for which jut up high above the surroundings, etc., and the manner in which the paved paths wander every which way, it's a challenge to locate the three parts of the gardens where the "Walk" is conducted. These represent three of the major ecological areas of the Lone Star State: the East Texas Piney Woods, the central Hill Country and the South Texas chaparral (or matorral, as signs in Spanish in that part label it).

After three attempts I located the start of "Walk Across Texas" and shortly was enjoying coffee and biscuits made from scratch from Pioneer Mills (here in S.A. and going back to the 1800s). This was at the Ault House, a restored cabin of Hill Country vintage. Once I'd enjoyed a cup of "java", a biscuit with gravy and another with jelly, I proceeded on to the other restored house, a German fachwerk edifice (half-timber), in the "Hill Country" area. Then I moved on to the East Texas "Piney Woods" section, which surrounds a beautiful pond, home to several water fowl. On its banks is a log cabin. And finally I briefly took in the "South Texas" area which presents an adobe hut typical of this most Spanish-Mexican portion of the state.

As I scrutinized signs and handouts identifying and detailing vegetation (and some animals) of the three regions, I considered how much I enjoyed this knowledge and this experience of God's good outdoors. I also considered how I came by this interest and enjoyment naturally. You might say it's in my genes, since my mother is also a student of botany!

From "Walk Across Texas" I went across town, to the Westside and Guadalupe Plaza, for "Piñatas en el Barrio". More singing, more dancing -- including by the flamenco dancers again (they were at Friday's opening ceremony) -- more refreshments. In a word, MORE PARTYING! I suppose that THIS particular Fiesta event is one of the most Latin-flavored, being as it is in the original barrio (Spanish "neighborhood"). And I suppose that I stuck out like a sore thumb among the sea of chicanos. No matter! I enjoy just being on the Westside among my chicano fellow residents. The song "Who's that Gringo?" says it all: "I may be white on the outside, but in my heart I know I'm refried!" Yes, dear reader, my heart is definitely and positively refried!

After a couple hours of "Piñatas en el Barrio" it was back to el Mercado for awhile. Both Friday and Saturday I was keeping an eye out for a group I had seen recognized at the City Council meeting last Thursday, and associated in some way with TxDOT, that promotes "Fiesta safe, Drive sober, San Antonio". They were said to be distributing attractive bags with this slogan in the market place. But I didn't see them at any time I was there for Fiestas Fantasías. However, I did find a sash to buy, with which to display some of my sizable collection of Fiesta medals and pins. I've acquired or bought a few dozen over the seven Fiestas of my residence in San Antonio.

Later I went home, rested awhile and then got dressed for a Ball. On my way to that event's venue I went by The Alamo to see the beginning of the ceremonial "Investiture of King Antonio LXXXVI". While seated on the bleachers before the hallowed chapel I arranged the medals on the sash. I used a Battle of Flowers button from a few Fiestas back to pin the sash ends at my waist. Then I went on over to La Villita Assembly Hall, for the "Patriotic and Historical Ball". This is sponsored by the Texas Pioneers Association and is free, but ticket-controlled. I'd used my associate membership in the San Antonio Conservation Society to finagle a ticket and a seat at the Conservation Society table. You see, somehow I'd managed to acquire a ticket last year and had enjoyed the party so much I really longed to return this year.

Because of my brief stop-over at the king's investiture before The Alamo I was still signing in at the door when the ball program commenced with the Pledge, Invocation etc. I was a bit surprised when I got escorted to the San Antonio Conservation Society table and I was the first there! There were some brief speeches by Pioneer officials, and then we were treated, as last year, to singing by the 82d Airborne Men's Chorus. They sang two verses of "America the Beautiful" -- including my dearest verse, the one that begins "O beautiful for pilgrim feet." It always makes me think of the Oregon Trail, "a thoro'fare for freedom" passing by Boise, where I grew up. They also sang, "I Am an American Soldier" by Toby Keith, and my buttons almost popped off from my pride of being a vet soldier! And from having a brother, and nephew and a best friend all currently on active duty with the US Army! The chorus concluded with Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA". Talk about a "patriotic ball!"

Fiesta royalty, including the just-invested King Antonio LXXXVI put in appearance, to be honored by the attendees and to give greetings to the same, and presents to the Pioneer officials, etc. Then the program portion of this Ball concluded with the "Grand March". This is done by having couples go toward the door into the hall and walk in single file across the floor toward the stage. As each couple neared the stage they were directed alternately to the left or the right; these circled back, beside the tables to approach the door again. Once all couples had passed toward the stage, one couple from the left and one from the right linked arms to make a foursome and the foursome walked toward the stage. Alternately each quartet was sent to the left or the right to again go toward the door. Then THIS time two foursomes linked up to make a line of eight.

So finally we had an orderly mass on the floor, consisting of rows of eight people. The band ceased the "grand march" music and played "The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You". UT alumni went crazy, of course, lifting their right hands in the "hook 'em 'Horns!" sign. Two girls in front of me responded by raising their hands in the Baylor "Bear claw". In like "protest" manner I lifted the TCU Horned Frog sign! This is done by folding the thumb over the ring and little fingers of the right hand while strongly hooking the other two fingers above these. TCU students and alumni began this sign after I was at the school earning my M.Div. (1979)

And then there was Sunday! I opened this by attending the "Fiesta Mariachi Mass" at San Fernando Cathedral. Lots of Fiesta royalty and officials were prominent in the wall-to-wall crowd. In his opening, welcome remarks, Father David García, the Cathedral's rector, remarked about how Fiesta is a time of fantasy in San Antonio, when a few people pretend to be kings or queens or royalty and important people. "And the rest of us play along and honor them." Father David also mentioned how Fiesta events also raise a lot of money for charitable causes. And as he often does in his homilies, Father David related the lectionary readings for the day, particularly the Gospel reading, to San Antonio now -- which today meant relating it well to the party!

After a small breakfast in the cafe next to the cathedral I bused over to the Westside and my church, Mexican Christian Church (Disciples). We had a pretty good turn-out for our small congregation, and I led them in the praise singing to start Worship. One song I led them all the way thru was "De Colores".

Once worshp concluded I sought out a non-official party. It's one that's sure to become an official Fiesta event after the requisite two years. This "Mariachi Fest" event had been announced by handout sheets and verbally during the "Piñatas en el Barrio" Saturday afternoon in Guadalupe Plaza. One of the speakers, in describing this new "Mariachi Fest", said that it would begins on Sunday about noon and go on "hasta que nos cansamos (until we get tired)". To which I replied, "Tanto me encanta la música de mariachi que jamás me canso. (Mariachi music enchants me so much that I'd never get tired of it)".

And indeed, while I was at the "Mariachi Fest" listening to, first, recorded mariachi music and then to two live mariachi groups -- all young people -- that I felt quite invigorated, very much "at home" here on the Westside, and definitely that "I may be white on the outside, but in my heart I'm refried!"