Saturday, August 04, 2007

Preserving Home: Part III

You are reading Part III of a story I have been telling. My purpose is to provide a bit of background history, and some reasons behind my decision to become engaged in an effort to defend my community, and my country, from illegal aliens. Illegals now reportedly make up 11% of our Prince William County, Virginia population.

I recently joined Help Save Manassas, a non-partisan group of citizens who have begun to speak out and demand action from our local government leaders. If you have not done so, please read Part I and Part II before proceeding any further.

Most everyone has a place they call home. Of course in our day, with so many, constantly on the move to new jobs in new cities, "home" is not always so easy to identify. One of the weaknesses of our present-day, American culture is our sometimes disconnectedness from a place we call "home."

God built into every human heart the need for "home." Home can be a physical place, a strong, bonded relationship, a city or a state, or even a country. And it can be all of the above.

Virginia has been my home since 1971. I moved here from Ohio with my parents on the threshhold of my adulthood, and have lived here ever since. For a while, I wanted to return to Ohio, but after a few years, I began to consider myself an adopted son of Virginia. I cultivate a healthy pride in my adoption by this historically rich commonwealth.

But I also cultivate a pride in my native-born home, Ohio. Nineteen years of my first twenty took place in Ohio, half in Cincinnati, and the other half in Cleveland. And in between, ten months in San Antonio, Texas almost equally split the two halves of my childhood and youth.

Shortly before I turned nine, my father learned that his position at the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) would soon be eliminated. He set out on a quest for a new employer, often flying to other cities for job interviews. One of several opportunities for employment presented itself in Hunstville, Alabama.

Dad decided that it would be a great time for a short, family vacation. So we all piled in our car, a 1957 Chevy Nomad, and headed South.

Several things still reside in my active memory from that trip. As we drove south, the boldly painted words "See Rock City" kept appearing on barns along our route. More than 900 such barns can be found in nineteen different states, all painted by one man, Clark Byers.

Whether planned or spontaneous, we did see Rock City, an iconic tourist trap in northern Georgia, not far from Chatanooga, Tennessee. Among the legends and lore of this interesting roadside attraction is a spot known as "Lover's Leap," where a young American Indian is said to have fallen to his death after his love for a girl from a neighboring tribe was disallowed by her father. The legendary story is strangely reminiscent of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet tale.

From Rock City's Lookout Mountain, we stood and gazed at what the attraction's promoters boldly claim are seven different states: Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky and Virginia. The claim has never been authenticated, but I recall the view as being quite spectacular.

From Rock City, we continued south into Hunstsville. While Dad interviewed with his prospective employer, Mom, myself, my sister, and my baby brother went sightseeing around the town. No longer in Ohio, we now stood in the deep south. The civil rights movement had just begun in earnest, but the Jim Crow mentality remained very much in play.

In town, I gazed quizically at the odd signage. "Whites Only." "Colored Only." The most shocking sight of my young life to date, I could not easily grasp its meaning.

In school, I had several "colored friends." Although different in skin tone and hair texture, these friends were as American as me. We spoke the same language, sat in the same classroom, ate lunch together, and played on the same playground. At Crosley Field, where I had been to see the Cincinnati Reds, colored people sat in the same areas as us white folks. No signage separated us.

Mom did her best to explain the odd and unsettling signs. Nonetheless, they stabbed at my heart. Was I still in America?

Of course I was. One hundred years earlier, men from Ohio and other Northern states had joined arms in an effort to restore our broken country to wholeness. Men from Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and other Southern states had met men from our side on battlefields all across the southeastern U.S. Even Gettysburg, Pennsylvania had seen a gross amount of bloodshed in that horrible conflict.

But it would not be until much, much later in life that I would come to grasp that men from the South did not see themselves as fighting to preserve slavery, but rather to protect their homes from invasion. This War Between the States came to pass for reasons much too complex for a nine year-old to understand.

Dad's job in Hunstsville did not materialize. Instead, he took a position in San Antonio, Texas, another state that, as I would come to learn, had also raised armies under the Confederate flag.

We piled into the Nomad once more. But this was not to be a vacation. We were leaving our Ohio home, our family, our friends, and beginning a new adventure.

Our journey took us west, along Route 50 to St. Louis, Missouri where we spent our first night in a shabby, flea bag motel. The next morning our trip continued and by our the third morning, we had reached the Texas border. Along a new stretch of four lane divided highway, my little brother threw my mother's straw hat out the car window. It bounced along the grassy median until it disappeared from sight, just like our life in Cincinnati.

We found a small, brick rambler to rent in a suburban community just outside of San Antonio. Like our previous two homes, our Texas home likewise sat at the top of the rise on the grade of our street. We could look out and see not only a good part of our neighborhood, but the heavily travelled intersection of our local community, where all four street corners hosted gas stations who constantly battled for business. Locals called them "gas wars," and the price per gallon often dropped as low as 17 cents. Looming beyond that bustling intersection, stood a tall, netted batting cage. Dad took me there on occasion to hone my skills.

Mom registered my sister and I for school. Instead of negroes, our classes were lightly peppered with Hispanic children. Our school lunches consisted of tamales and enchiladas. My palate had not been prepared. But we still pledged our allegiance to the same flag and to the same nation. And we still sang patriotic songs. Though far away from home, these familiar practices united my past with my present in my two disparate yet common American experiences.

Winter never came. January found us playing barefoot in the front yard. My baseball career continued, though. I played first base on the Kiwanis team. And Dad coached first base while our team was at bat. I hit a grand slam home run in our championship game that season, and our team won both the game, and the league's first prize. My small trophy from those days is still tucked away somewhere in storage, waiting to be freshly discovered.

Texas' wildlife differed dramatically from Ohio's. Instead of tadpoles, salamanders, and crawdads, I picked up horny toads and scaly lizards.

We visited the Alamo at least eight times. And we enjoyed the San Antonio River Walk more than once. We made a trip out to Bracketville where John Wayne (Davy Crockett), Richard Widmark (Jim Bowie), and Laurence Harvey (Col. William Travis), had recreated the tragic events of 1836 in the film epic aptly named The Alamo. Old San Antonio had been reborn for the making of that film, and we all got a little taste of what the early days of Texas were like. On the way home, we stopped at the Lone Star Brewery where Dad sampled some Texas beer.

During our short time in Texas, we shuttled out to the Gulf of Mexico, visiting Corpus Christi and Aransas Pass. We doused our toes in the warm gulf waters, dug for seashells, and ran along the sandy beach.

A day trip took us to Laredo, a Texas border town on the Rio Grande. We crossed that river for a few hours to taste and see the sights of Mexico's state of Tamaulipas, and its counterpart border town of Nuevo Laredo. We visited shops, spoke with a few locals, and saw the city square. And I will not forget the smiling face of the young boy who tried to sell me Chicklets chewing gum, as our family wandered among the many street vendors.

In just a few short months, my vision of America had expanded well beyond that small circle of familiar sights and surroundings in my home town. It now encompassed some of the Old South, the vast Texas prairies, and the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, and of course, the Lone Star state.

America no longer existed solely in an imagination fed by books and stories and photographs and maps on the wall. America had become a real place for me, an idea embodied in flesh and blood and forests and meadows and mountains and valleys and rivers and streams and bridges and tunnels and histories and borders.

When opportunity arose for Dad to return to work in Ohio as a U.S. government employee, he could not reject the offer. Dad would be resuming his government career, and we would be living, once again, close to family.

Mary Fahl's Going Home:

And when I pass by
Don't lead me astray
Don't try to stop me
Don't stand in my way
I'm bound for the hills
Where cool waters flow
On this road that will take me home


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