There are some places I am content with going just once. There is an even smaller number of places that I really don’t want to go at all. But then, there are some places I travel to over and over again, not because they are exciting or exotic, but because they are home. And home pulls me back, whether I like it or not.
In the case of Texas, which is without a doubt my home, I really DON’T like being pulled back when I reason it through. It’s hot, a little bit backwards, and when the crazy train pulls out of the political station, Texas is often the lead car if not the engine itself. But home is where family is, and really, what is more important than family? And so, back to Texas I go, multiple times a year. My family is scattered all over the state, and that is no small thing, so while I typically fly into Shreveport, Louisiana, most in order to head to East Texas where Dad lives, each summer my kids and husband and I fly instead into Dallas (not a fun prospect for standby travel!) and join up with my dad and his boat and head to the far reaches of West Texas.
We take I-20 west of Fort Worth, and then, somewhere out there once you’ve left behind all traces of city, we get off the interstate onto the smaller roads, the ones that wind you through places like Mineral Wells, Texas, a place that always gets my historic preservationist imagination going wild. Apparently, at one point in its history, it was quite the destination due to its “crazy waters“, meriting even the 14-story, 157 guest room Baker Hotel, the history of which you can check out here if you are thus inclined. I can tell you firsthand that it is an impressive place. However, I can only tell you firsthand from a windshield point of view; for me, Mineral Wells has always only been a place that we pass through on our way to the storied and vaunted Lake Possum Kingdom…
Okay, so it’s storied and vaunted only within my family. But there is indeed a lot of history here for us. We’ve been coming here, every summer the last week of July, since my mother was a child. Since before I was born, these people have gathered to laugh together, eat together, play together, and it’s a tradition that’s still going strong. It’s a pretty amazing thing, when you think about it.
Anyway, we gathered yet again this summer, in the scorching, ridiculous heat, to laugh and play and eat. This was significant, because we’ve missed the last few years. The reunion, you see, had been the responsibility of my Grandmother and her 3 sisters- the 4 matriarchs after my great-Grandmother passed away over 20 years ago. As the sisters one by one have slipped away or simply become incapable, for various reasons, of handling it, it fell to my mom to be Organizer in Chief, a role which she of course handled with her typical aplomb and strength. But when Mom herself passed away in 2016, well, none of us were ready to step up quite yet. This year, however, a few of us did indeed take on the challenge. As of this year, the tradition of sweltering for joy at Possum Kingdom continues, and I’m happy to report that nearly 50 of us showed up that weekend! Nobody got hurt, and everybody was well fed and seemed happy. Success!
We survived the Texas heat, but that’s partly because we Texans know what it takes in order to do that: you’ve got to get out on the lake and get in that water. Possum Kingdom Lake is the perfect place to do that. The kids play in the water along the shore, right where we stay, and I remember doing that as a kid too. My cousin and I would stay in the water pretty much the entire weekend, and I remember to this day the sunburns we got (where the heck was the sunscreen in the 1970s?). Now I wouldn’t set foot in that water where I have to touch the mucky lake bottom. Nope. But I will get in the water out where it’s really deep and there’s no chance of having to feel lake slime between my toes, and Hell’s Gate, with its deep, clear waters, is ideal for swimming without touching bottom. The downside is that everybody else in West Texas seems to feel the same way, so it turns into a giant party on water rather that a peaceful swim in cool lake water, but we still enjoy our time of just hanging out, letting our life jackets do the work to keep us afloat, kids playing around us as we enjoy each other’s company. Then we typically let the kids do a little inner-tubing in a cove on the boat ride back to our cabins before we go back and start preparing our traditional meal of Dad’s amazing smoked brisket. His brisket alone might make the whole trip worth it.
I’m actually pretty proud of how my first year as Family Reunion Co-Organizer in Chief worked out. What I haven’t mentioned yet is that shortly after mom died, the cabins that we’ve been renting for pretty much the past 50 years were bulldozed, leaving us with no place to go. Talk about insult to injury- losing Mom AND a huge piece of my childhood all within a few weeks, but I’m glad that at least Mom didn’t see it happen. But we pulled it off, and while the cabins weren’t perfect and it wasn’t quite the same, we managed to make new memories this year, memories that our children will cherish and carry forward with them in their lives just like the older generations before them have.
And isn’t that what it’s all about?
You know, I think Mom would be pretty proud.