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Days 12-14, Comfort and joy

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So I got up early on Thursday morning, had breakfast with my aunt, got coffee at the local Buc-ee’s (for my aunt does not do coffee, and even those that do coffee very often get it at Buc-ee’s), and hit the road for Comfort, TX, where my parents live. It was about at 4 ½ hour drive, about the same as from Lebh Shomea to Clute, and I managed to avoid the Interstate for most of it, which meant I had 70 mph 2-lane highways pretty much to myself for a couple of hundred miles. I passed more cattle (including a few longhorns) and more sorghum; found some of the rice paddies, a bit more corn, a lot of soybeans, a nuclear power plant out in the middle of nowhere, and some more cattle; navigated my way onto the loop around San Antonio, and on out to Comfort, which is about 45 min northwest of the city. Somehow I got there ahead of time, having calculated my trajectory at 5 hours even, not 4 ½. It was okay; they held lunch for me.

After lunch, we needed to fetch steaks for dinner, so we drove into Kerrville, some 13 miles away, and, since I was looking for a pair of boots, we stopped at a couple of places where I eventually found a pair, ones such as I wore for years: plain, black Justins with a B-point toe. They fit like a firm handshake (as they should, per the sweet young thang that sold them to me), and having no room for another pair of footwear in my luggage, I had them shipped home. Good steaks are easy to find in Texas, if you know where to look, and we knew where to look, and had a fine dinner.

Having gotten up early on Friday morning, my step-daddy and I went to the local Mexican restaurant to hang with his cronies and get breakfast. I had some of the best tacos de carne guisada I ever put past my lips. You don’t know what you’re missing if you’ve never had carne guisada on thick homemade flour tortillas for breakfast.

Friday was the day we had originally planned to go into San Antonio to go boot shopping, and it was now free, so, taking my presence among them as a Sign for Greater Things To Come, my parents opted instead to head out the other way, northwest, to Llano (pronounced LAY-no in Texan), to make pilgrimage to Cooper’s for barbecue.

Of course, passing a rummage shop that was going out of business in Fredericksburg, my parents, as if compelled by Calvinist predestination, had to stop, and knowing how these stops work out, I begged to be let out in downtown Fredericksburg, where I wandered the stores until my parents had satisfied themselves that the rummage shop had nothing they couldn’t live without.

Good steaks are easy to find in Texas, and good barbecue is common enough, but exceptional barbecue, well, that’s worth driving 80 miles one way to get, and Cooper’s is worth the drive. I direct your attention to the slide show at the beginning of this post for pictures.

Cooper’s has ten (10) big ol’ outdoor pits, and they serve out of the one nearest the restaurant. The day we were there for lunch, they had pork (sausage, chops, tenderloin, and ribs), beef (sausage, brisket, sirloin, prime rib, and ribs), chicken (in quarters), and cabrito (that’s “kid goat” for you non-Texans, in miscellaneous, unidentifiable chunks, which is the way it is always served). You just pointed out what you wanted, and how much, and the gentlemen with the big knife and fork cut you off a hunk and threw it onto a cafeteria tray. Once you had all you wanted, he gave you the tray, which you passed to a man inside the restaurant, who weighed it out while you got your potato salad, cole slaw, peach and blackberry cobbler, ‘n’ such; then you paid for the whole mess, got a few sheets of waxed paper to serve instead of a plate, and went to sit down.

At Cooper’s, many things come free with the meal. The big ol’ pot o’ pinto beans, for example, is free (and Cooper’s makes better beans than the hermitage), along with raw onions for garnish, and refills on your soda and iced tea; loaves of bread are just set out on the tables, along with gallon jars of jalapeno peppers, and rolls of paper towels with which to daub the chins of the dainty, or to wipe yourself ear to ear, for those who know how to eat.

Whatever you (or I) are having for our next meal, well, it just pales in comparison. I have eaten fine meals with silver and china, but a miscellaneous, unidentifiable chunk of cabrito on a piece of waxed paper in Cooper’s seems to rank right up there among the best.

Having sated ourselves on barbecue and cobbler, my step-daddy wanted to get a couple of more Western shirts, so we headed another 30 miles to the northwest, to San Saba (Serbians take note), where Harry’s Western Wear is the place in the Hill Country to shop. Having been to Harry’s, I wished I had bought my boots here; simply to try on boots in such an establishment would be an experience. Having gotten shirts, we set out to buy some pecans for Mamma to shell while she watches TV, but on the way, we were distracted by the prospect of seeing the Regency suspension bridge over the Colorado River, which is famous in a local, not-very-well-known sort of way. This took us only 35 miles out of our way over unpaved gravel roads, but the bridge was worth a visit, I suppose, and it made for a little adventure while we digested our lunch. We got Mamma 10 lbs of Texas native pecans, cracked and ready for shellin’, and, being some 110 miles away from home by now, had a rather long drive back.

We had left over barbecue for dinner, though by oversight or by design, my blackberry cobbler did not make it to the dinner table, nor was it ever seen by my eyes again.

On Saturday, my step-daddy brought home potato and egg tacos for breakfast, and I left early for the airport, where I had an uneventful trip home.

I am home for some 2 ½ weeks now, until I attend Acton University in Grand Rapids, MI, in the middle of June, where I will be lecturing on an Orthodox approach to environmentalism. (That has nothing to do with the sabbatical, but it’s what I’m scheduled to do.) I suppose I will have some reflections to post, but, alas, no fine pictures, at least, not for a while.


Day 4, travelogue

So cute!

Cell phone reception here at Lebh Shomea is abominable, since we are in the middle of nowhere, but curiously, 3G internet reception is marginally better than abominable, and when it works, I can tether my netbook to the internet through my phone (Droid rules!). But I wanted to talk with Annette, so yesterday afternoon I felt like adventure and drove 25 miles into Kingsville to a coffee shop to have a cup of real coffee and talk with my wife.

The coffee was bliss, but it actually felt strange being back in “civilization,” and once I had finished my phone call and the coffee, I got right back into the car and headed back to my cell. The kind of peace I have here is precious, and I found I missed it.

At any rate, I didn’t really want to drive 25 miles for a cup of coffee; so on the way back, I stopped in the little town of Sarita, which is only 5 miles from the House of Prayer, to inquire after the local coffee shop. There were a couple of old Hispanic women talking outside the food bank, whom I asked. They laughed at my question. There isn’t a coffee shop in town. Actually, there’s scarcely even a town to call “Sarita.” It’s the county seat of Kenedy County, and, as far as I could see, it consists of

  • (1) the courthouse,
  • (2) the courthouse annex,
  • (3) the sheriff’s office,
  • (4) something call the Kenedy Pasture Company,
  • (4) one little church (Our Lady of Guadalupe, of course),
  • (5) a very small elementary school (part of Kenedy County Consolidated School District, which tells you the ratio of cattle—or oil/natural gas wells—to people around here),
  • (6) the local food bank (which tells you about the economy), and
  • (7) a couple of dozen houses.

There’s no coffee to be bought in all of Sarita, though I was kindly referred to the vending machines in the sheriff’s office if I wanted a snack. (God bless ’em, you can’t make this stuff up.)

The nearest coffee shop is in Riviera, about 5 miles up the road. I’m actually curious now, and will have to make an excursion to find it; if I do, I will report back.

Random observations:

The big bowl of pinto beans appeared on the buffet table at lunch again today. Methinks it’s part of the daily fare in these parts. In Guatemala, you got your daily black bean paste; in Mexico, you got your frijoles refritos; in Texas, you got your big ol’ pot o’ pinto beans, which all true Texans love anyway, since we were all weaned on red beans and rice. And yes, there was a bowl of rice (with butter in it, such as my Mamma used to make), to go with, as well as the customary raw onions and jalapeño peppers with which to garnish said beans. (It’s probably a Really Good Thing that this is a hermitage and we all live by ourselves in separate cells…)

My old friend the armadillo, the Texas national mascot, stopped by to pay his respects last evening. I returned his kindness by immortalizing him in the photo which graces this post. Javalinas also came calling, but well after dark, and I never saw them, but I heard their grunts. St Gerasimos of the Jordan had a lion. St Seraphim of Sarov had a bear. Me? I get hairy wild pigs. I’ll take the armadillo instead.

Breakfast here consists largely of fiber. White bread seems to be disallowed, there is only whole wheat. Of four kinds of breakfast cereal set out, one is 100% bran something or another, and one is Grapenuts (the other two are sensible cereals, Cheerios and plain corn flakes). And there is the usual dish of prunes. Prayer isn’t the only thing that’s regular around here…

If we sang Liturgy as slowly as these Catholics say Mass, we’d be at it four hours.

Part of learning the eremtical-contemplative life is developing buns of steel. There isn’t a soft chair in the whole place.

Today it decided to rain, so instead of 85 degrees and 85% humidity, it’s 85 and 100%. I do love Texas. There is a small air conditioner in my cell, but I haven’t used it yet, out of fear that I’ll not venture out of doors if I get used to it being cool. I may be forced into using it at some point though; everything in the cell is now damp: clothes, books, and bed; the towel isn’t drying out. A man can take only so much clamminess.

But all of that is by the way. The day is good. Serious, substantive reflections if and when any occur to me.