Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Wilson Family is reunited again.

My big sister drove down from her home in Oklahoma today for a weekend visit.

She called me at work this afternoon tellin' me she'd gotten to Waco, so as soon as I got home from school I turned around and headed to Momma's house.

The plan was for the three of us to go to BJ's Brewhouse for a big celebratory dinner (Denise is slapped up in a nice condo near Orlando, Fla. with her brother and his wife, sittin' inside, bummed out because of the rain, and the Rangers). Today is my big Sis's birthday, so it was an extra special day.

We got there just in time to avoid the rush, got a nice booth near the front (mom doesn't get around too well any more, so we always want to get a close table) and ordered drinks and appetizers.

Mom went for the usual; a Top Shelf Margarita on the rocks with salt. Sis went for a spicy Bloody Mary, and I had a beer. Just a beer. Nothin' to write home about.

The appetizer was our usual; the Santa Fe Spring Rolls. "Crispy spring rolls filled with tender chicken, black beans, fire-roasted red peppers,
cilantro, sweet corn, jalapeños and Monterey jack cheese. Served with our Santa Fe
dressing and avocado cream sauce, then garnished with green onions, fresh red
peppers and red cabbage." Wonderful stuff. I always get a dish of honey mustard to dip them in. Everything's better with honey mustard.

For dinner, mom decided to go for the New Orleans Jambalaya, which is a wonderful, spicy dish that's sure to clean out your sinuses if you dare to go there. "Our distinctive jambalaya combines blackened chicken, shrimp and chicken-andouille sausage, sautéed with bell peppers, onions and tomatoes in a spicy sauce. Served over a rice pilaf and topped with green onions." Yea, momma dared. When the waiter asked her "You know that's a little spicy?", she responded with "Oh yea, I know." She ended up takin' about half of it home to finish in a few days, but she always does that, so it wasn't due to her high voltage selection.

Sis went for the Fish-n-Chips. "Fillets of Pacific cod in our special light batter made with Brewhouse Blonde® beer. Served with your choice of crispy-thin or wedge-cut seasoned fries and tartar sauce." I think she loved it, even though she tried to get mom to eat about a third of it. She always does that, gettin' everyone else to try her food. I think she was concerned that mom's dish was too spicy for her. She started chokin' at one point, and we figured it was the spices getting to her, but she claimed it wasn't. She took a sip of my beer while we got her some water, and she was good to go.

I went for the boring old (HARDLY!!) Spaghetti with Meat Sauce and Meatballs. "Hearty meat sauce with Angus ground beef, Italian sausage, tomatoes, garlic, herbs and spices."

I've been on a Spaghetti kick lately. Good thing about that is that I've found out where the really good stuff is. For instance, the stuff at BJ's is WAY better than the same dish at the Olive Garden. Go figure. After dinner, we decided to take a drive down 190 and have a look at the little town mom grew up in.

Thing is, I haven't driven down that way in AGES, and it turned out they've finished a new highway bypass in the last few years. By the time I realized something was up we were in friggin' Rogers, which is the next town down the road. Sheeeit! So I backtracked through the country, finally getting to Heidenheimer as the sun went down. Sis noted the little building down town that once served as the town post office.

My grandfather ran that operation back in the 1950s and 60s. That's him there in the picture, taken in the front yard in the 1940s (my mom is the girl in the middle). My cousin Bob (his mom is on the far left) still talks about going to work with Papa back then, back when he was still just a little nipper, and watching him bag all the mail, hang the bag on a hook and swing the arm out so that the passing trains could snatch it. He says Papa used to have him watch closely so he could see it disappear.

Most of that fun was over by the time I was growing up. I was the last grand kid born to the family, and Papa was older by the time I grew up enough to remember anything. That's what mom and sis tell me anyway. I always figured the reason why he never wanted to do anything with me was just that he didn't give a shit. But I guess it was mostly that we were just never around. Bob got to live there for a while when his dad went to Taiwan. He started school there in Temple, so he got to spend a lot of time with the old man.

Mostly, I remember Papa sitting in a chair in front of their big black & white TV and chewing tobacco, spitting it into an old coffee can at his feet. The smell of that tobacco is still wafting through my mind now. After he died I found a little brick of the stuff on his gun rack and saved it. I eventually got his pocket knife too. It was a cheap dime store blade, heavily used and sharpened down to a nib.

As we turned North off the main drag I drove us up the road passed very familiar old houses, some still looking good and others not. We crossed over the rough, uneven railroad tracks that I used to walk over to go visit the little general store in town, and all the old memories began to hit me. But I knew what we'd see.

The house my grandparents owned back in the day is gone now. It was finally bulldozed a few years ago by the guy that bought it after my grandmother went into a nursing home. He runs the mill there that ships produce on the Santa Fe railroad. He rented it out to migrant workers for years, but it steadily fell apart until someone made the decision to flatten it and let some farmer plant corn in the field instead.

I turned and parked on what's left of the gravel drive that used to pass down one side of the house to the back. We sat there for a little while, the engine running and the headlights of my car illuminating the plowed field. My sister was sitting in the back seat, and we were passing a little cigar between one another and blowing smoke out the sunroof. The sun was setting, and a thousand memories were flashing through my head. I couldn't help but get emotional, but I did my best to hide it from the others. They didn't need to have me turning into a blathering fool and ruining the party.

That little house in the pictures (this one is from 1970, when we came home from England) was all I ever had for a real home during my early years. That's my grandfather there, and my mom at his side, and me with the buzz cut and bare feet. Bare feet were a tricky thing back then. That front yard was always loaded with hard, dry grass and burrs, but you could go barefoot in the house with almost no worries (almost... there were occasional scorpions).

As my family moved from place to place, taking all our stuff with us like gypsies, that little farm house in Heidenheimer was the only constant in our lives. It was our family home, filled with all the love and melodrama of a real home, with memories built up from over two generations of my mother's family living there. By contrast, as exotic and interesting as they may have sounded to others, the places we lived in were just temporary stops where I had to endure being the new kid in school again. By the time those places began to feel like home we'd be packing up, saying good-bye to our friends and moving off to start all over again somewhere else.

So, sitting there, looking out at that empty field, it hit me pretty hard. I remembered again how much I miss the place, and how much I miss the people who are no longer around who used to be so very important in my life. It's as if there's a parallel universe somewhere with all of those familiar times and people, still somehow moving about their lives, but we've been shut off from them forever. It's all still there in my head, clear as day, but looking out on the field through the headlights, there's nothing to tell any passer by that any of it ever existed. That blows me away.

We drove off again after a short time, and then stopped for treats at Dairy Queen before going back to Mom's place. The plan is to sleep late tomorrow and then drive down to Austin for another big celebratory meal at Pappasito's. So, if the food pics in this post didn't do it for ya, just stay tuned.


Update: No new food pics. The trip to Pappasito's was nixed. The girls didn't want to make the drive to Austin. So we hit the Olive Garden in stead. It was really good. I take back what I said about their Spaghetti and meatballs. It was good, as was the salad and bread sticks. Tomorrow, we're gonna go to visit my one remaining aunt in her nursing home, and then Sis will maybe decide to drive home. I think she wants to get home, check on her cats and sleep a few nights in her own bed before she has to go back to work. I can understand that. It's been a great visit.