Delivering the precious cargo of my granddaughters, Emily and Amandita, to camp necessitated a quick trip to West Texas. Expeditious though the journey was, the landscape and the good company of loving children and my sister Sandra made the trip memorable.
We drove in the comfort of my son’s F-250, a much newer version of the 2002 model I use at the ranch. His truck was equipped for pulling a travel trailer and had bells and whistles you don’t much need for ranch work — like a sensitive button on the armrest that at the slightest contact sends the huge extended side mirrors into an alarming locked slam to the doors while you are driving. This was a man’s truck — keys, gloves, and pocketknives galore; optics; tools; ratchet tie downs; bicycle tubes; important-looking black plastic parts of things unknown to me; and ammo for the gun range.
Emily, the oldest of my grandchildren, was our navigator and saved us from peril by finding a gas station 14 miles off I-10 in Iraan.
Our destination was near Fort Davis, the hospitable, historic town set against the dramatic volcanic crags of the Davis Mountains.
The girls’ anticipation for two weeks at a camp surrounded by natural beauty, equestrian adventure, and seeing old friends electrified the cab of the truck. After the drop from I-10 onto State Road 17 at Balmorrhea, Amandita, 10, could no longer contain her excitement, and by the time we got to the storied camp, her infectious joy had made us all giddy.
Emily was elated, too, at being there, but compared to her little sister, she was more restrained, that is until her counselor from the year before greeted us at the camp gate and hopped off her saddled Pinto to give Emily a big hug.
We moved through the brief, efficient exercise of tuition, health form checks, buying t-shirts, and paying into the snack canteen. My sister and I were at the slow end of a vortex of much younger energy taking excited campers to their assigned areas.
Amandita had packed an unwieldy trunk that felt like a box of boulders, but she and two older campers moved it from the bed of the truck as though it had been packed with feathers.
The girls disappeared into their respective cabins, and Sandra and I were left to our own thoughts, the quietude and separation from the girls fostering a predictably immediate maudlin missing of them.
Yeah, I took it badly, as though our separation would be a prolonged one. They are such an integral part of my life, oxygen and inspiration, joy and comfort — humanitarian truth tellers whose keen, unfettered observations sometimes bring me pause but always lend reason to any discussion.
No, really, they’ve hung the moon in this grandmother’s solar system, and there’s no further debate, as my comadre, their maternal grandmother, and I — franchisees to the wonder and love of these two children — bear irrevocable-to-the-last-breath license to speak of them in superlatives.
Sandra and I backtracked to Fort Davis and checked into our rooms at the Hotel Limpia’s Orchard Suites, where we would enjoy a quiet, restful stay.
The current hotel was built in 1913 and operated as a hotel until a 1953 fire destroyed the lobby. According to the hotel’s literature, rancher J.C. Duncan bought it, reconfigured the rooms, and leased the first floor to Harvard University for “their local astronomy interests.”
The structure was converted back into a hotel in 1978 and was re-christened the Hotel Limpia. The early Spanish settlers of the area gave the name “limpia” to the clean water creek that wound through the Davis Mountains.
Fort Davis, the Indian Wars military post, was designated by the U.S. National Park Service as a National Historic Site. It has been well-cared for and partially restored. Its museum offers a deep look back at its frontier origins to safeguard the lives of emigrants, mail coaches, and freight wagons.
The fort became headquarters for all four regiments of the Buffalo Soldiers in 1867. During their tenure, they helped reconstruct a new post while providing safety for travelers and shipments of goods, kept Apaches at bay, safeguarded water sources, and constructed 91 miles of telegraph lines west of the Fort. They left in 1885.
Up close and even from a distance, the parade grounds and the vintage of the fort’s buildings define the importance of a military presence there from the 1850s through the 1890s.
The town of Fort Davis offered us a handful of good dining choices. Our favorites were the Drug Store Café for breakfast, Stone Mountain Market for a stout cup of coffee and deli sandwiches, and the Blue Mountain Bistro for dinner.
I have many good memories of time spent in Fort Davis. In 1999 I rented a 1940s cabin that backed up to Sleeping Lion Mountain. The retro-outfitted house had picture windows that offered incredible views of wildlife oblivious to humans in the house. My best memories there, however, were of my visits with Laredoan Martha Fenstermaker who had lived her young life there and was a frequent pilgrim back to this place of big skies, clean mountain air, and beautiful horses.
The drive back to Sandra’s home in San Antonio was graced with conversation that evoked our own adventures at camp and memories of our parents, our brother Eduardo Alberto, and our upbringing in post-World War II Laredo.
Lost in Sonora, we meandered through the original part of the city, asked for instructions to a good restaurant, and ended up at a new barbecue spot called The Pit Stop, which served delicious food and provided a needed pause in the drive. The fare was evocative of the old Town and Country restaurant in Laredo. We had the pleasure of meeting the owner, Whitt Peaslee, who spoke to each of his customers about the food he prepares in his new venture.
We were in San Antonio by 6 p.m., a little weary for two five-foot-nothing septuagenarian grandmothers who had driven across West Texas and back in a four wheel drive diesel behemoth.
Sandra, a CPA, turned all our receipts into an expense report for the trip.
Before returning to Laredo, I drove to Boerne to meet former Laredo ex-pat Wanda Garner Cash at a restaurant called Peggy’s on the Green, a block off Main Street and adjacent to the Kendall Inn. We enjoyed our made-from-scratch chicken potpie, but did not enjoy the service. Our server offered an incoherent apology for the failure of our salads to appear at the table. And after Wanda and I stayed a bit to finish catching up, he told us he had to sweep under our table, an encryption for “Get out” — a shabby note for a restaurant that seemed to strive for a dignified look and feel about its hospitality.
The drive back to Laredo offered quiet time to make lists for the week and months ahead and to take stock of the most vital parts of my life.