The trip to Corpus Christi where my parents both were from was usually taken in the evening. At that time (the early 1970’s) traveling the 250 miles from College Station where my parents attended Texas A & M, to Corpus in our VW Bug (we had a couple of VW vans over the years too) took about six hours.
We made this journey often. This was where both sets of grandparents and lots of extended family lived. We went for holidays, sometimes for the weekend, sometimes because my mom was homesick, or because we were out of money and needed help.
At those times, one or both grandmothers offered to pay our gas, feed us for a couple of days and send us home with groceries.
Sometimes my parents needed more time for school and work and sanity so they had us stay there for extended time in summer. They were quite young and they needed a lot of support back then.
A night drive was preferable in part because our car didn’t have air conditioning and it is almost always hot in Texas.
Often there was little radio reception so my family made requests for me to sing. I had our Linda Ronstadt albums memorized in particular and I was a good singer.
Like a lot of siblings on trips we tended to fight in the back seat. I am sure this is another reason for the evening departures. We would sleep more and bug them less.
I liked listening to mom and dad talking after my brother fell asleep. I liked looking at the moon and wondering why we never passed it up. I liked looking at the patches of earth we drove by in an instant but that were the whole world to the bugs that lived in the grass there, or to the person who woke up and saw that patch of earth every day. My brother and I talked about these things when he was awake. He liked to think about that stuff too, gazing at our feet on the car window, considering the scattered stars beyond, the shapes of buttery clouds, wondering what other people thought about.
Or maybe he would fall asleep on me and not get off and I would have to push him into the floorboard and then various forms of chaos would ensue. You know how it is.
Whether we slapped each other or not, we regarded this trip as a sacred journey. The excitement was intense. A lot of the happiness was about seeing my maternal grandmother, “Granny,” whose house was our unquestioned home base in Corpus Christi. We loved her passionately. We loved Grandaddy and all the assorted animals that lived in or around the little house on Dewitt Street.
We loved rolling cigarettes for them with their cigarette roller (and being paid a nickel apiece!) We loved playing Dominoes and “Go Fish” with Grandaddy and hearing his stories. Granny was colorful and funny and a little bit crazy and she loved us like we were her everything.
We could recite the names of the towns along the way from College Station to Corpus Christi and that is how we understood how far along we were on the way.
It was our sacred duty to wake one another as we approached certain markers of the journey’s progress.
The Shamrock station in La Grange was one of these places. It had a covered vending machine area and everyone was allowed to get something. This was a very big deal because my mom did not let us have soda or junk food as a rule.
My brother loved the hilly winding road outside La Grange with the stone walls on either side. I had to wake him up for that so he wouldn’t miss it.
Here is Giddings where our van engine blew up that year and Sally had to come pick us up.
The halfway point outside of Victoria had to be noted and celebrated by all.
The turn off near Refugio.
Portland… The first sight of the water.
We were always so excited at the sight of the Harbor Bridge (usually just called “The High Bridge”) that crossed to Corpus Christi I am surprised we didn’t throw up.
Both of us could hardly contain shrieks of joy as we began the ascent. For a while, all you can see is steep climbing road ahead lit by headlights, and the vast expanses of dark water to either side. Then at the highest point of the bridge suddenly the sparkling city opens out before the traveler like a fairy kingdom. It was a moment of awe I was to duplicate for my own children.
Neither of us would ever let the other sleep through that.
We would always try to pick out which one of those lights might be Granny’s house.
The excitement at this point was almost too much for us.
Her house was out in Flour Bluff so it took some extra time to get there. We always went down Shoreline and Ocean Drive along the bay with its sea wall, palm trees and tall houses, past the hospital where I was born, past that ugly church with all the bells that my mom said was an eye sore. I always watched for that great big pink mansion with the back yard sloping into the sea, wondering what it would be like to walk out your back door and be standing at the edge of the sea like that. There was the house that looked like a castle, too.
We were sure we could smell the salt air, that we could feel the ocean’s greeting.
By the time we turned from South Padre Island Drive onto Talmadge and then to Dewitt Street, pulling into the little driveway with its over arching Oleander trees, we were usually screaming with happiness.
The screen door would fly open and slam against the house. Granny would be standing on the threshold, her arms open wide, yelling, “MY BABIES!” as we shot out of the car like rockets to be scooped up and squeezed tight. Cats ran every which way, dogs barked, people laughed and exclaimed and hugged. My grandfather would hang back shyly, pointlessly telling the dogs to quiet down, until we jumped all over him like maniacs too.
There was always coffee on and a pot of beans on the stove.
Eventually we fell asleep on pallets on the floor near the big air conditioner in the living room window as the grown-ups talked and smoked late into the night.
It was heaven.