Day 1: Travel days are the longest, but we still had half a day once we arrived in Texas. So the kids went swimming with Gommie and Pop while Mama and I napped. Then we all went out for Chicken Fried Steak (CFS, to insiders.) Mmmmm, I love chicken fried steak. And it would not be the only time I fell off the vegetarian wagon on this trip. The peach cobbler was also incredible. Sis liked the onion rings, surprisingly, and Bud had the first of many seafood meals. And the surroundings, at a local diner, were as traditional as that red-checkered tablecloth.
Pop saved the above cartoon for us. Mind you, upon entering Texas, Mama and I were no longer legally married, for the duration of our stay. What a mind****! And an injustice.
Day 2: Another travel day, this time to the coast where we'd spend the better part of the week. But before we got on the road, we had some stops. Mama, Pop, and Bud went together to get some yo-yos as a birthday treat for the kids and then had a big birthday lunch at a seafood restaurant. The waitress apparently tried to give Bud a kid's menu, but Pop laughingly said Bud needed the adult menu. And he sure did--he loved the huge Alaskan King Crab legs!
Meanwhile, Gommie escorted Sis (with me tagging along) on her very first trip to the American Girl store. Sis, who had gotten an early birthday present in CT of two more AG dolls (some re-sales from a co-worker with a teenage daughter who had outgrown her Felicity and Elizabeth dolls), was ecstatic and wandered from display to display, admiring clothes, accessories, and such. She actually didn't choose many (a birthday gift from Mama and me), preferring some pink matching clothes, a lunchbox, and a few other things. Truthfully, I was probably more excited about the historical costumes than she was and got a hoop skirt with chemise and another Empire gown for my own doll. Then we had lunch in the cafe, where they even had special seats attached to the table for the dolls! We ate tiny, cute food, and then sang "Happy Birthday" to Sis. It was very much a complete Disney-like experience.
Switching cars so that the kids road with Gommie and Pop, we made the Trinity of stops--the Buc-ee's rest stop, the barbecue place, and the other barbecue place! They were supposed to stop, too, but the kids fell asleep and so they went straight to the bay while Mama and I made the stops.
I always buy Texas souvenirs at the Buc-ee's. This sign above was the kids' favorite, when I showed them later.
The decor at the first barbecue place. Dislike the heads but love the pinto beans, potato salad, banana pudding, and chopped beef sandwiches. And the second of several huge glasses of sweet tea!
"The maize is as high as a toddler's eye . . . ." This is pretty much the constant view on the way to the bay. As someone said, "You can see for days!"
Second barbecue place, which we actually stop at for the baked goods: Tex-Mex chocolate sheet cake with lots of little pecans, pigs in the blanket, jalapeno pan sausage bread, and of course these kolaches. Sis loves apricot ones, eating about a dozen on her own during the trip. I also like the cottage and cream cheese ones. Bud likes strawberry and blueberry. Pineapple were okay too.
Another common sight. "Bale of hay, bale of hay. Make a wish and go away. I wish . . . " Gommie has a part about kissing that I don't know and have never said.
The kids went straight to the beach with Gommie, where they met all their cousins (grandchildren of Gommie's first cousins, i.e. children of my second cousins??) and had a great time floating and playing. They met so many people--my aunts and uncles and cousins and second cousins--and no doubt had trouble keeping track.
We also met Cousin Hungry, Aunt Banana's daughter! She's 2 1/2 and very expressive, squealing and doing her "bopy" dance (some kind of "Hokey Pokey.") She kept exclaiming, "We found the bay! Bert found the bay!" (Yes, she's in her "Sesame Street" phase.) She followed the cousins around-"I'm going to find Bud"--watching them play and sometimes playing with them; they were intrigued with a young cousin. I wasn't there for it, but they all made lots of chalk drawings on the pavement under the house together. She also liked Mama, who drew Sesame Street pictures for her and played with Bud's stuffed penguin with her. She was cute about us, though not exactly up on the lingo: "Aunt Mama is Aunt Mommy's friend!"
Day 3: The fourth of July. We flew kites. Bud had a penguin one; Sis, a cat. Cousin Hungry even had a pink Cinderella kite. And it was windy and the kites flew high. Gommie even got out her stunt kite, which Mama enjoyed. The cousins also played in the pool. Sis even got her hair and face wet, prodded by Pop's $5 incentive for each dunk. Pop even got in the pool and they enjoyed using his bald head for target practice with the water shooters Gommie had gotten!
At some point in the afternoon, a line of decorated golf carts puttered down the street in a first annual Fourth of July parade. They even through candy, which Sis and Bud hastily retrieved. A visitor at our house had a cart and so all the kids got to go for a spin with the parade. Unexpected fun! Afterwards, the cousins had a dance party, with Sis and Bud trying to teach Cousin Hungry the Gangnam Style dance.
That night, we all enjoyed local fireworks from a neighbor's porch. Several groups of people, near and far, set off gorgeous fireworks from the ends of piers. There were huge, almost professional displays. Bud and Sis even agreed it was better than Disney World. While it might not have been as intense or choreographed as Disney, it lasted longer and we had good, comfortable seats! Needless to say, it was a late night.
Day 4: Mama and I weren't sleeping at the bayhouse--which wasn't built in 1982 with grandchildren in mind!--but at a local hotel about 30 minutes away (have I mentioned this is a fairly sparsely-populated area? Though, not as sparse at West Texas.) Each morning, we'd make some stops in "town" and then head to the bay. This day it was bean and cheese wraps at Buc-ee's for breakfast and several containers of wonderful Blue Bell for later, plus frozen shrimp bait for fishing.
The kids had such fun fishing! Pop had given our kiddos some long cane poles so there wasn't any real casting and reeling, just watching the cork and pulling to set the hook when the pole bent and cork went under. And within minutes they all had a fish, even Cousin Hungry on her little pink rod and reel. Over and over and over again they each caught catfish, smiling so proudly as they held them up. Of course, this is "sports fishing," which means we threw everything back (besides, you don't eat these catfish!) Pop does it quickly and humanely as possible, also being careful of the stinging fins. Pop used leftover CFS and cheese weenies for chum, which must have been the main attraction to all the fish they caught. That, or his good-luck ditty, "Fishy, fishy, nibble, nibble. Catch no fishy, Ishkabibble!" I joked that we might be catching the same fish over and over again, so many did they catch; they are on the bottom of the food chain, after all! The kids even sorta believed me but, in truth, they were different sizes. Of course, I had to tell the story about the time I caught a fish with no bait while posing for pictures for Gommie; they didn't believe me when I told them, until I pulled up the line when the pictures were done! Bud now has his own story to tell: at one point he yanked the line so hard that the cork etc flew up and landed on top of the corrugated roof of the boathouse; for a bit, we all thought he'd flung a fish up there!
We kept the usual bay schedule--outside activity in the morning until lunch, then an inside siesta time with quiet activities (like playing Sorry) during the heat of the day, followed by one more outside time as the heat decreases, and finally a late dinner after sunset, "the nicest time of the day." For dinner this night, after a full day of beach and pool time, boat rides, fishing, and game playing, we had a big crawfish boil. Mama and Pop tended the giant pot of crawfish, shrimp, corn, potatoes, onions, salt, and Zatarain's crawfish boil spices. Sis and I mainly ate the potatoes and corn, but Bud tore into crawfish and shrimp.
Day 5: The night before, Sis asked if Gommie had forgotten the party she said she was going to have for Sis and Bud, since the day Gommie had mentioned had passed. What a memory! Of course, Gommie didn't remember and felt horrible. So our morning outing involved purchasing party supplies. So we started the morning at the bay off by inviting all the relatives over to the house for a birthday celebration. All of the cousins came, some with cards and little gifts of confetti poppers and kites and water balloons. We exploded all the poppers, getting confetti everywhere to the delight of the kids. Then we tried to light candles for the cake, but the wind kept blowing them out. I think the kids maybe blew out one each! Yum, cake and ice cream for breakfast! Then the kids had a water balloon toss that got out of hand and lots of us ended up wet, which actually isn't so bad in the heat (though, we noticed it was hotter in Connecticut than in Texas most of the time we were down there.)
We said goodbye to Cousin Hungry, who cried some, "No bye-bye." Sis and Bud agreed that Cousin Hungry was one of the best parts of Texas (followed by swimming with Gommie and Pop and their birthday lunches.)
We spent the afternoon visiting Aunt Sis and Uncle W. It was a wonderful, beautiful visit, with the kids talking to their great aunt and uncle and drawing pictures for them (Sis gave her picture to Aunt Sis, for whom she is named, but Bud kept his so he could photocopy it. In a twist, it was lost the next day when it fell out of his sketchbook and fell off the pier into the bay and Gommie couldn't retrieve it, to his deep sadness. Luckily, I'd taken a quick picture of it, not included here.) We had some ice cream and cheesecake, plus apples and cheese. And more cousins came, my cousin and his daughter. Aunt Sis, as you may recall, has had very serious health challenges in the last few years and is again feeling poorly. In truth, having been on so many hospice visits, I expected her to look worse, but she could sit up and even walk a bit on her own--she even drank some beer and ate some food. She looks very different, though, quite thin and with white hair which she no longer colors. Still, I know she is weaker and still ill. It was hard to say goodbye. We didn't want to tire her out, but I could've stayed longer, wanting more time . . . but isn't that what we always want with loved ones?
On our way home, Mama and I made a few stops for some sunglasses for me and a restorative snack. She loves to tell the story of how she first heard us talk of Whataburger, hearing it as "Waterburger," and thinking that sounded nasty. But now she is a fan. I like being able to get sweet tea wherever I go, though it is too sweet for me now straight and I have to mix it with unsweetened.
Day 6: Our last day at the bay. We spent the morning fishing and visiting and watching rain clouds, which drenched us for awhile (very welcome, too.) I also had a nice long chat with Gommie's sister, talking quilts and family recipes, which I'll share later. Then Pop headed back in one car and the rest of us headed back in the other.
We stopped for barbecue at my favorite place, got some kolaches for Sis, and bought more souvenirs at Buc-ee's, mainly fudge and Beaver Nuggets (a sugary popped treat.) I liked taking pictures.
That evening, Gommie took the kids swimming only to find the YMCA pool closed. Generously, Granny Q let them swim in her pool.
For dinner, we ordered out South African--carrot bredie, pap, couscous, pilaf, mango coleslaw, roasted potatoes, various grilled meats, prawns, sticky toffee pudding, and South African milk tart. I thought it had too much cilantro and too much spice, but everyone else seemed to enjoy their bits. I liked Disney's take better!
After the kids went to bed (though we think they heard some of it), we watched Bernie, the Jack Black-Shirley MacClaine-Matthew McCanaughey movie about the East Texas funeral director who befriends and then later kills a mean local widow. It's kind of a cross between Christopher Guest's movies and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The characters tickled Gommie, though were perhaps too close to home a la "Duck Dynasty." I was intrigued that I felt sorry for Bernie but not his victim, just like the whole town! If you get a chance, watch it. I might watch it again. Though, please note, this is not the Texas I grew up in.
Day 7: Our last full day in Texas. And it was a busy one. Gommie took the kids to see Monsters University 3-D. While they were gone, Mama and I went to our favorite Half-Price Bookstore. We found some books for the kids, mainly games and fun facts, and for ourselves, cookbooks and drawing manuals and some history. Then we had lunch at our favorite local Mexican place. Chips and salsa. Enchiladas and tamales. Rice and beans. Tres leches cake. Mmmmm! I always miss the food when I return to CT.
In the afternoon, we made our ritual pilgrimmage to Gommie's Mah Jongg group. She's been gathering with these wonderful ladies for probably more than a dozen years now, every week, playing for quarters and supporting (and arguing with!) each other. Before we went over, Sis asked how to play Mah Jongg and Gommie pulled out her set to give them lessons. And they actually picked up some of the basics (more than Mama and I understand.) It was good to see Gommie's friends and chat with each of them in turn. (Hi Granny Q! I'm writing this in one long spurt for you!!)
We watched Oklahoma with the kids, the Hugh Jackman version that Gommie prefers (Pop likes the original movie.) Love the music, skipped the end with Jud's death.
Day 8: And then we left, really early in the morning, leaving, we discovered later, the kids' toothbrushes and toothpaste and holders (Gommie, please keep the blue and purple holders for us; you can toss the rest.)
And I think that's it, though I imagine I've left a lot out (my timing is perfect--the kids just finished watching SW 3! Sad they were to see all the Jedi and then Padme die.) But, even if I missed some, you can still tell that we had a full, wonderful week.