from Sandy Needham

Monday, September 9, 2013

6-Week Dispatch: Texas

motel signMy rendezvous with Newton in Austin, Texas occurred very late at night, so the only flavor of the city we perceived was the 1950's ambiance of the wonderful Austin Motel. It wasn't until the next morning when we ventured out for coffee that we discovered we were in the middle of the hippest street in town (South Congress), surrounded by great-looking young sophisticates, Texas-style! Unlike Los Angeles, where the “perfect looking” people are self-conscious about being thin and fit and waiting to be discovered, these happy people are healthy and fit in an enthusiastic, unskinny way. The young women look terrific in short shorts and cowgirl boots! And what's better than a Tex-Mex breakfast? This famous oasis city in a rather coo-coo state is ecologically devoted (don't tell the oil men!), tolerant (don't tell the preacher-men!), fun-loving, and a music capital of formidable renown. Much credit goes to the University of Texas here, whose panache overpowers the stench emanating from the state capitol. I can dump on Texas because my state of Oklahoma is not exactly the picture of sanity.

South Congress Avenue offered wonderful shops and restaurants, little street markets with extraordinary crafts, lots of characters and a general vibe of good will. Here’s the most active hat store we had ever seen…at night!

hat shop

We had a great dinner at Perla restaurant and headed over for the highlight of our visit: music at the Continental Club. We had walked only a few blocks from the Austin Motel along South Congress all day, and were now just across the street!

I will spare words and just let you look and listen to first, “Hot Club of Cowtown” – a first class act (sorry the sound gets a bit muffled half-way through):

Hot Club of Cowtown

And second, the closing act from the countryside, the “Carper Family:”

The Carper Family

And these Austin people DANCE, man, and the men really LEAD!! I just loved the dancing.

Newton had a trade show and I had a personal guide: another long-lost cousin, Linda McCracken Knight. She is the daughter of my Mother's twin brother, Lawrence. Linda lives an hour from Austin in Temple, Texas, so picked me up for a cousins' day around Austin. Because she is a couple of years older, she was always hanging out with my sister Donna growing up, while I hung out with her younger sister Diane. Then, as adults, we've only seen each other rarely and at big reunions with dozens of people, so have had very little time together, ever.  We discovered the ultimate ice-breaker: shopping for bathing suits! It was a day full of laughs and ultimate pledges of non-disclosure! I can see why she and my Mother always had a good time together. She is…this is my highest compliment for a person…a pisser. Indomitable and generous; more on this soon, as Newton and I spent the night with her and her husband in Temple a few nights later.

photo boothAs part of the trade show, a party was offered at the “Austin City Limits” theater, of Public Television fame. The performance was by the 9-time Grammy Award-winning group, “Asleep at the Wheel.” Our last night was celebrated with a Bluegrass party thrown by Newton’s company and several partners, featuring the “Wood and Wire” band. Here we are in the photo booth shot:

Then we headed out to The White Horse, where locals come to DANCE and DANCE, and DANCE some more! I was in heaven watching the couples casually and happily trading off and mixing after fancy footwork through each live number. The vibe was so fun and relaxed and free of pick-up bar tension – I had never seen anything like it. Here’s a shot of the band; the dance floor was soon to be filled to the brim.

White Horse

the AlamoNext stop was San Antonio, Texas. This city used to be most famous for the Alamo, an old mission that figured significantly in the battle between Texas and Mexico in 1836 (it’s really small). Now the bigger highlight of San Antonio is their beautiful River Walk, a pedestrian haven that runs for miles along the San Antonio River. Lots of restaurants, shops, some open tour boats and shade keep the many pedestrians (missing from my photos) content, even in the 90-something summer temperature.

River Walk 3

Riverwalk20River walk 4Newt River walk

We stayed at the lovely Havana Hotel, where the pink refrigerator stole the show.

Havana Hotel San Anton frig

Cassio playingNext was a night in Houston, where our dear friends from Natal, Rossana and Cassio and daughter Olivia, had just moved. Cassio Duarte is a fabulous percussionist, and has found the Brazilian/Latin music scene lively there. Rossana works at the Brazilian consulate, and Olivia goes to middle school. We stayed at their lovely temporary rental, but are happy to report that they now own one of those beautiful and incredibly reasonable homes that dominate the southwest Houston suburbs. I believe we were all so focused on the real estate listings that Newton and I forgot to take a current photo of our friends. Here they are in Natal a few years back.



Cassio's houseDuarte fam

Stan & FamMy childhood friend from elementary and junior high school, Stan Clark, and his wife Pam hosted us all in nearby Sugarland for an incredible brunch. Here is Stan and his family (yes, Pam looks like another daughter…she’s in green!). Thanks to all of you for your Houston hospitality!




Walter McCrackenOK – next stop was Temple, Texas at the extraordinary home of cousin Linda and Wade Knight.  Wade is a cardiothoracic surgeon extraordinaire. He won't retire until he finds one physician partner who will not have sex on the premises of the office with those pharmaceutical company beauties sent to sell drugs. The last partner was literally shot in the butt by his wife (because he turned). Oh, the Bible Belt. Linda is a retired nurse and community educator/volunteer. She has made their gorgeous old mansion a virtual museum of antiques and collections of all sorts – it is amazing. I took a photo of her photo of our Grandfather McCracken, whom my son resembles.

But the best part was visiting their farm on the outskirts where they are building their home for retirement. We all went out there after a Mexican Sunday brunch in town and had some real farm time. Linda plopped us down in the John Deere ‘Gator’ vehicle to go check on the escaped cows. She had Newton drive, even though he drove uncharacteristically slowly, hoping not to land us in the creek beds that cropped up instantaneously! Because we wanted to ascertain whether a calf had been born, Linda, upon seeing a cow in repose, jumped out of the Gator in her gold leather sandals and white jeans and traipsed over in mud/manure to check out the cow. No calf, but quite the laundry question for those jeans. I told you Linda is a pisser. She has a get-it-done energy and a generosity that seem boundless. And I revisit nostalgically plenty of my Uncle Lawrence in her demeanor.

farm 2farm 6

farm 3farm 4

old bellHere I am ringing the old bell that used to be on our grandfather’s farm in Oklahoma City:

Wade finds refuge from his intense career by piloting his new tractor - complete with air conditioning and a sound system in the cabin! – to gather bales of hay from the field and deposit them on the property’s edge for pick-up. Seems like work to me, but peaceful work.

farm 1

farm 5

Joe T. garcias 1Joe T. garcias 2Time to head for Dallas/Fort Worth to see another long-lost cousin (are you sensing a theme here?). Carolyn McCracken Aten is the daughter of my Mother’s younger brother, Donald, and married to the adorable Darrel Aten. She is a retired teacher and consultant; Darrel is an IT consultant. Like Linda, Carolyn is a little older then me, so hung out more with my older sister Dorothy growing up than with me. I have also hardly seen her in our adult years, apart from largely populated reunions and most recently, at Mother’s funeral, where Carolyn and her sister Kathy so kindly provided the food. I was determined to see her for a sit-down at this late date. We went to one of Fort Worth’s most famous Mexican restaurants, Joe T. Garcia’s, where spacious beauty and deliciousness reign. I revisit my calm, beautiful Aunt Katie in Carolyn’s demeanor. Daryl is a wonderful raconteur who entertained us with stories aplenty. Thanks for our brief Dallas/Fort Worth sojourn and your great hospitality!

Next stop: Oklahoma! (“where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain; where the wavin’ wheat can sure smell sweet when the wind comes right behind the rain.”)


Sandy (or more appropriately, Sandra, as my cousins call me)

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