Texas

(My parents served a mission at the Deseret Ranch in Florida)

(Chad's Rainbow grand opening)

(with Sue and Deborah Luna)


(with part of the neighborhood gang--Kevin, Cassidy, Katie)

(Fourth of July downtown)

(Marjo played a key role in our Texas years.)

(Heather pulled me out of so many scrapes. She sent
me a healthy comfrey from her garden just last summer.  I
hope it comes up again next year in mine.)

Tag's 4th birthday party--Eric came as a clown!)


(Marjo's master's recital, University of Texas)

(Christmas at Mom Harrell's)

(on Town Lake.  We ran right out and got this when the I.R.S.
sent us a tax return!  It was so much fun, but then they wrote and
said it was all a mistake.  I can't remember how we
resolved that or what happened to the raft.)

Dallas Temple with ward members)

(farewell party with all of our wonderful close-knit neighbors.  The famous
"Molly With the Bucket" is in dark blue on the back.)


The summer before we moved to Texas, the kids and I were staying in Logan in student housing while I went to summer school--cranking away at a master's degree.  My mother generously moved in with us to facilitate that because Chris had gone to Alaska with our friend Joe Fedor to sell ads for Phone Directories.  It proved less than profitable, but it seems he got some free eyeglasses out of the deal.  When we joined up again and had loaded up the U-haul and were hitting the road for Texas, Chris casually informed me that our apartment in student housing would be uninhabitable for two weeks.  When we arrived in Texas I think we threw ourselves at the mercy of the ward.  I don't remember; it was stressful. The Blankenships took us generously into their compact house, and their toddler Brody began immediately to bite the kids.  We were cramped, hot, and Texas was not welcoming initially.  It was a trying two weeks made even more so by the fact that we had no car and WOULD NOT have a car for the next 14 months.  But in good time we moved into our apartment and began that stage of our life.  Little would I have believed at that point that when we drove out of Texas three years later, I would weep openly.

The University of Texas was about six miles from our apartment.  Chris took the shuttle bus which ran about every 15 minutes.  We could take it too--to the library, to the institute class, and to a McDonald's where we went for nickle cones.   Sometimes we hopped it and went to Lamar Street where a brand new state-of-the-art Whole Foods had just opened.  A saint across the steps from us, Mama LaDawn, gave us an extra set of keys to her car.  We used it occasionally.  We piled in with other neighbors to go to church.  Car seats were not required by the law then.  In addition, Chris and I bought some nice Univega bikes with saddle bags which we used to tote groceries home from a Safeway about a mile away late at night after the kids were in bed and someone could listen for them.  One time we rode the bikes clear to the university to see "Evita".  That was a harrowing experience, so I stuck to the neighborhood with my bike.  It was purely utilitarian for me with three kids, and I rode it mostly in the dark. Chris rode his to school every day that the weather allowed, and he became a lean mean machine!  Storing two bikes in our tiny two-bedroom apartment never ceased to be an annoyance.

We soon learned the lay of the land and got into a routine.  I babysat Mama LaDawn's daughter Katie to bring in a little bit of money.  I sewed for the kids, kept the roaches at bay, read a million library books to the kids, and just tried to keep cool in Texas.  In the summers we had access to several free unheated pools.  Deep Eddy also had a nature center and playground in addition to a pool. We went nearly every day.  The kids slept on foam mats in their bedroom, and Thomas used  a crib.  In the afternoons, I would turn on their wall AC unit and let them lie on their beds in their underwear while I read in the living room. Sometimes I would strip down, put on some Beethoven, and blitz clean the apartment!  

We slowly acquired some bookcases from an abandoned food co-op, so that made life neater.  The apartment was ALWAYS a challenge for me.  We just did not fit, and we could ill afford a three bedroom unit.  But the neighborhood made up the deficit.  I was invited to join the babysitting co-op.  We dealt strictly in cards--no money.  There was a sliding scale depending on how many kids you were having sat or were sitting.  It was a great system and allowed me a little bit of freedom to get out some.  The best part of the co-op, however, was obviously making all of those friends.  We hung out in the commons area while our kids splashed in wading pools or rode their Big Wheels up and down.  We had so much in common.  One of the stay-at-home dads, Michael, became a friend because of kids the same age as Shelly and Taggart.  He was one of several we met who had come from The Farm in Tennessee--the premier U.S. commune.  They published cookbooks.  Michael expanded my tofu and tempeh skills.  Because so many of our neighbors were from the Middle East, I befriended them as well.  I remember one amazing evening event I was invited to--sitting around in a room surrounded by women in berkas.  Each one took a turn to express herself about her life.  These kinds of experiences aren't common.   One of the neighbors, Gaynelle, and I especially bonded.  She was a beautiful hand seamstress, so I invited her to homemaking with me.  About eight years ago I discovered that she is now a dyed in the wool member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints!  Apparently her daughter met a boy who belonged to the church, and the rest is history!  We also made friends with the countless Korean wives.  They could squat while they chatted with each other--a skill I've often envied. My friend Sue took complete advantage of Korean neighbors and learned to cook their delicious food!

Chris was working on a doctorate in piano performance and had come specifically to Texas to work with Dr. William Race.  Our humble life often intersected (as it had in Bloomington) with the Rich and Famous of Austin.  Chris would be invited to perform, and I would, of course, go along as the smiling spouse.  This picked up  around the Christmas season when parties with a little music became fashionable.  These performances carried a stipend which padded our Christmas budget as well.  I remember returning for a couple of years to the same house.  It was exquisitely designed around a beautiful swimming pool and oozed opulence.  I excused myself to visit the bathroom and ran headlong into a glass door that I thought was open air.  It smacked me hard!  I retreated to the bathroom where I cried and cried.  The whole weight of our poverty juxtaposed against their wealth during the Christmas season just became more than I could bear.  Obviously, this was a passing emotion, but our circumstances were so minimal.  It was just difficult ALWAYS.  But our poverty was sprinkled every now and again with high living.  One of Chris' French professors invited us for a soiree which lasted eight hours!!!  We dined, then Chris played Chopin, then we dined another course, and then more Chopin. Rinse. Repeat. Of course, the other guests at the table were drinking wine.  At 2 A.M. we wrapped things up and staggered home!  I remember this professor/chef had imported truffles from France for the occasion.  

(from the Statesman--the Wee Sing ladies visited Chad's Rainbow)
I babysat when I could, and I also got a part-time job at an educational toy store in south Austin called Chad's Rainbow.  It specialized in toys that had been effective in reaching autistic kids.  My friend Eileen had worked there briefly and recommended me as a possible clown for  the grand opening.  I worked there about 15 hours a week for several months.  I could pick up some great toys for the kids, and my boss was very generous with us at Christmas. 

Texas was not without its bloody aspects.  Taggart nearly snipped off an inch of his finger in a church folding chair.  I ran across the x-ray of it just today, as a matter of fact.  AND just yesterday, Taggart was reminiscing about it on a Marco Polo conversation he was having with his siblings.  Thomas also had some reconstructive surgery when he was two in Texas.  Shelly stuck a fork in a wall socket and melted her nightie!  For the most part we were blessedly healthy and happy.

 My parents visited us on their way to and from their mission!  My mother and Norma came to stay during the Chris-in-France summer.  We took a spine-tingling overnight visit to Uvalde for a performance.  (not really spine-tingling, but it did feel good to hit the road).   Chris and I tried camping once, but it just didn't work.  Our good friend Heather got baptized!   I learned how to cook for Chris' hypoglycemia.  We got our first VCR in Texas!  Was THAT ever a big cool deal!  We had had a tiny little TV that Uncle Orson won at a mortician's convention, so with extra Christmas money we got a better TV.  We loved watching movies!!!  Chris and I appeared on the local six o'clock news to be interviewed about what we thought of "Return of the Jedi".  I guess we looked pretty enthusiastic.  We dined opulently at an exclusive French restaurant when Chris won a contest at school.   I also remember when Chris hit the "jackpot" in a soda vending machine!  He put his quarter in and got back a Dr. Pepper can bank with a Dr. Pepper T-shirt rolled up inside AND a quarter for another real can of soda!  Lucky guy!



This particular chapter in our story was interesting.  We had been encouraged by many to seek a benefactor for Chris.  This would be the only way that his career could really take off.  Funny story--before we left Provo, we received a call from a wealthy orthopedic surgeon in Mesa whom we had met at a gathering somewhere.  Dr. Nibley had suggested that he might very well be someone with the resources to sponsor Chris during his graduate studies!  So when the call came and the invitation to meet him in Salt Lake, we gussied up and went with high expectations.  You can imagine our letdown when it turned our to be an AMWAY presentation...pretty funny, actually.  So all of the time in Texas we were just waiting for the phone to ring and this magical benefactor to appear.  It was a constant topic on our minds.  But then with free Dr. Pepper T-shirts coming our way, who needed a benefactor, right?

Chris competed in several competitions--University of Maryland, San Antonio.  Once he was invited to play in the Library of Congress in Washington DC.  That year we got a personal Christmas card from the Reagans!  But then one day we received word that  he had been chosen as one of six to participate in a summer music festival at a chateau in southern France!  This was a great honor, and we prepared for him to be gone for two months!  It did not turn out to be the turning point that we had anticipated.  The politics at the chateau la Gesse were less than pleasant.  Furthermore, he got a bad ear infection on the night of his recital and bombed it because he couldn't hear. He ended up being stranded in Paris because of a mix-up on his Eurail pass validation and staying in the apartment of someone in the U.S. consulate and reading mostly for a week.  I'll never forget him limping back into the airport at the end of it all.  He was very depressed and discouraged.

At that point, I determined that this family would go under unless I found a full-time job.  Fortunately, one of the co-op moms, Janice, worked at the senate in the capitol building, and she was instrumental in helping me snag a job there. My job was to order and keep track of all the newspapers that came to the senators from the hundreds of Texan cities and towns.  Noodle, Texas.  Earth, Texas. I also distributed office supplies over a counter in our office to all of the senators' offices.  The downside of this really quite great job was that Thomas had to go to daycare.  Initially I put him in a Montessori school which was a great idea, but then they immediately raised the tuition, and we could ill afford it.  At that point we then rode the shuttle bus to a place called the "Other Peach" (after James and the Giant Peach), I would leave him, and then I hopped back on the bus and continued on to the capitol.  For the longest time he would stand pathetically at the window and cry watching me leave.  Then I would cry, and I was still crying when I got to work, so my co-workers  would all cry!  It was a mess for awhile.  Putting a child in daycare was about as low as I figured I could drop.  It was very very very very difficult.  Once we were sitting in the  circus, and Thomas was on my lap.  Out of nowhere he started talking about some mistreatment he'd received from a caregiver--Miss Somebody--at the Peach.  It just broke my heart.   He was such a little guy--just two and a half.

Meanwhile, Shelly and Taggart were being schooled at Matthews Elementary.  Fortunately, a bus picked them up.  This was a wonderful multi-cultural school which I think was probably a great experience.  They both had the lovely Mrs. Freres for kindergarten, and Shelly had an extraordinary  African American first grade teacher.  It was  challenging to find after school care for them.  It was difficult to keep all of these balls afloat, and I wasn't really very good at it.  Hopefully, the positive aspects of all of this remained with the kids, and in the long run they benefited from the experience.

Then one day Ricks College called out of the blue and offered Chris a one year position teaching piano while the regular professor took a sabbatical.  They flew us up there to find a place to live, and the packers came and bore all of our things to the great state of Idaho.  A new chapter was beginning.  Was the doctorate finished?  Heck no!  Would we return to Texas?  Wait and see... 

All in all, I adored our years in Texas.  My friends were some of the best I've ever had.  Our ward was very very good.  We made great friends in the music department.  We thrived in so many ways.  I have not been back to Texas since, except to touch down in airports for flight changes.  But whenever anyone mentions Austin (and it IS mentioned frequently because it is such a cool trendy city at the present), I proudly say that we lived there and loved it.  I loved the Texans I met.  They were real and genuine.  I thought their food was simply smashing, and even though it drained the juice out of me sometimes the climate was pretty spectacular half of the year.  Facebook has allowed me to reconnect with friends made over 35 years ago.  That is a beautiful thing.  Many of them still call Texas home.  I'd like to go back--maybe stroll down Lamar or take in Eeyore's Birthday or go up behind the capitol where those old African American men smoked up the BEST brisket and slapped it down on Wonder bread that I've ever had.  I'd like to ride the 'Dillo and maybe drop into the Senate  chamber or sit out on the lawn by the capitol where Janice taught me to knit continental style.  Go to Barton Springs. I think I would probably drop right naturally back into the whole thing. 

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