Friday, August 30, 2013

Texas Justice

The great wide open roads of Texas offer countless historical gems off the beaten path. With my daughter now 4 hours away in college, I have a new roads, much less taken, to explore while making the drive between Houston and San Antonio.
Ever since my trip to the Spanish Missions in Goliad, Texas, I have been in love with the Gonzales Flag.  It's simple lines and strong daring message stand as a tribute to Texas Independence.  So naturally, Gonzales would be my first side trip.  A simple architecture photo journey turned into a deeper, richer history lesson in Texas justice.
The Gonzales flag proudly waves in the wind on every corner of this tiny community.  I just had to have one of my own so I pulled up in front of the unassuming Chamber of Commerce.  What waited just steps away totally made my entire day!
Greeted by an enthusiastic volunteer, I learned the building was actually the town jail- currently under restoration.  I was shown the warden's office, the tiny downstairs cells complete with original furniture, cots, and confiscated prison shanks.  Seeing my excitement and interest, the docent boasted, "Oh you have to see UPSTAIRS!"
I followed behind her like a kid seeking candy!
Upstairs was the hardcore jail in use from the mid 1800's until 1974.  The first sight  was the hanging platform- looming large like a warning to all the newly incarcerated of their potential fate.  Hangings did occur in this space, as death row was just off the gallows, though the earliest hangings took place in the courthouse square.
  This day was hot!  100 degrees outside and not much cooler inside.  Fresh hot air blew through the open windows behind the rusted bars.  I sweat as I stood snapping photos.  I can only imagine how hot, smelly and frustrated prisoners here felt doing their time.
 Layers of prisoner graffiti spanning the decades covered the walls, floor to ceiling, like a tramp art time capsule. Many bearing the strike marks of days served, some noting early gang affiliations, and most just simple carved names of lives lived on the wrong side of the law.
Behind this door was death row.  Thick iron bars and doors protected the warden from the condemned.  I walked the narrow hallways that wrapped the ward and definitely felt I was not alone. The docent had left me to my own explorations but the air was thick with unseen company. At times the hair on my neck stood on end and I could almost hear chatter dripping from the ceiling.
One particular cell chilled me.  I froze, considered running like scared cat.  So I did the logical thing: took a picture.  Perhaps it's dust dancing in the mottled sunlight, perhaps my eyes wanting to see an old-timey man's face there.  But just maybe it's something supernatural.  A wandering soul, an old inmate, a proud warden.  I'll let you decide for yourself.
Should you find yourself in Gonzales, visit the Chamber of Commerce and take the jail tour.  I was doubly surprised to wrap up my visit with a woman who grew up in the jail.  Her father was the last warden.  (The Chamber is located in the adjoining living quarters.) She has happy memories of a small town country life and is directly involved in the continued restoration of her iconic Texas Justice home.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Lessons Learned

 "Sometimes the lights all shinin on me;
Other times I can barely see.
Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it's been."
- Jerry Garcia
Connecticut, in my childhood home, was the last place I expected to be this summer. Especially in the midst of so much change in my adult home in Texas.  Emily was packing up for college, Kev and I nervously approaching empty nest status, and so many plans in the making. But the late night call came.  My Dad was in the hospital with an aortic aneurism.  I was on the first plane north, while Kev and Em would take on move-in day without me. The two weeks ahead would hold heartbreaks,tears, prayers, resolutions, and a permanent change in my soul. 
I've always loved my parents. I've always known they love each other. But life or death situations have a way of bringing out truest words and "don't hold back" feelings. In the days before surgery, we filled nervous hours with our appreciation for one another.  In the hours before the operation, our tones became a bit more serious, and in the delicate hours following surgery the most beautiful emotions emerged. I thought I might be reading into what I was seeing but my sister-in-law saw the same picture. Though my Dad wasn't able to speak or open his eyes, my parents spoke with the subtle touch of their hands.  These were the gentle touches that assured one another they were together, they were alive, and everything would be ok;  their wordless connections perfected over 46 years of marriage. 
Within two weeks, everything I thought I knew, arrogances I held, and childish misconceptions I hoarded over the years all fell away, were disproven, stripped down until only love and faith remained.  I saw in my parents the love I have for Kevin- the willingness to see through together whatever life brings. A total acceptance of the other.  A bond necessary for a full life.  Without one, the other is but a shell. 
My Dad is well on his way to full recovery.  Despite the hospital setting, and missing Emily's move-in day at UIW, the two weeks in Connecticut were magical life lessons that I will bring home to Texas.  Most importantly, I learned to appreciate Kevin and Emily not only as my husband and daughter but as individual people with their own identities and their own stories to tell. 
The easiest way for me to sum it all up is this: Enjoy this life.  Cherish the people with whom you share it.  Don't hold back on love, kind words and laughter.  It is the stuff that makes this life so alive.  Find the answers you seek.  Ask the questions that scare you the most. Share your story for it is not the great deeds that are treasured,but the small steps we make everyday.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Dreaded Late Hour Call

My father and I share the same eyes, hair color, and the family pre-disposition to poke fun at everything, no matter the situation, regardless of social etiquette.  So it seems fair that in this morning's conversation I jokingly accused him of attention seeking while he referenced Monty Python's Holy Grail with a slurred holler, "Bring out yer dead!"  Normal banter, but bittersweet today as he was flown by helicopter to Yale New Haven Hospital in the wee hours of the morning with an aneurism.  I missed the frantic overnight call from my Mom but I was relieved this morning to hear everyone alert and as calm as one can be given the circumstances.  I have never been so painfully aware of every mile between Texas and Connecticut.  To end the call knowing I am at least 24 hours of travel away from home, hollowed like an internal sink hole of desperation.
The seconds between noticing that out of place missed call at 12:39 a.m. until hearing my Mom's voice felt like slow motion running in mud.  It's like a nightmare being chased by all the negative outcomes and fears of what she'll say, how her voice will sound, or even who will answer at the other end.  With every phone ring  I found myself saying, "no, no, no,no,no!!!" Louder and louder, my dogs bewildered at my feet.  And then the huge relieved sigh when I hear her: voice steady, matter of fact, with that barely noticeable trace of panic (my Mom wears stress like everyday shoes!), "Yes, your Dad is stable, awaiting surgery and complaining because he can't have a snack or a cigarette."  Yep.  That's my Dad!
Over the past weeks, I've watched my friends go through long hospital scenarios with their husbands, mothers, and even one dear friend who unexpectedly lost her father just a few days ago.  People in my family tend to stay healthy well into their 90's, so I have had the privilege of avoiding such heartaches until now.  It's a very different empathy today than I had yesterday.  The understanding of potential loss, things left unsaid, minutes and hours taken for granted.  All the memories floating in like an old-timey snapshot slideshow as we wait for the doctor's next words. 
 So to all my friends that have struggled over long hospital hours, for the ones still fighting for their loved ones, for a special mouse-maker who continues to be a champion for her husband, and my dear friend who sadly will attend her father's funeral today; I reinforce my hugs, strengthen my prayers for you and understand with a fuller heart.