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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.


Days 11 & 12, travelogue, Clute, TX

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Well. Major shift in gears occurred a few days ago.

Critters woke me up at Lebh Shomea on Monday morning at 4 am. I didn’t want to get up at 4 am, but the call to prayer having sounded, I got up anyway, said my office, packed up the last bit of my things and was out the gate at 6 am for the next part of my Texas trip. It was a bit strange leaving the hermitage for “civilization” again, but a decent Texas breakfast, with eggs, refried beans, corn tortillas and real coffee, numbed the pain of it.

I drove 4 ½ hours up the coastline to Clute, my hometown, to stay with my aunt, Susan, and possibly to visit with a few folk I knew. First stop, however, was to the cemetery where my Dad, my sister Marcia, and my mother’s parents are buried. I had brought a stole with me to sing a memorial service for them all, but I had hit upon a better thing to do while I was at the hermitage. The details of the better thing I omit from this blogpost, as it was a personal, family matter, and y’all don’t need to know about such things.

My aunt is doing well, and both of us being chatterboxes, I made up in a couple of days all the talking I had missed over a week at the hermitage.

Later in the afternoon, I decided to drive around my home town, which had about 600 people in it when I was a child there (some 35-50 years ago), but now boasts a population of 10,424. Things have changed, but I found people were still the same.

I drove to my childhood home and found the place is well maintained, and, feeling an unaccustomed brazenness, knocked on the door. An older man answered, I told him who I was, and he, being tickled to meet me, actually invited me inside. I met his wife and got to stand in the kitchen & dining room, where I found the tile on the kitchen counters brought back memories, for it had not been changed (yet, for what was fashionable in 1959 just doesn’t work in the new millennium), though the couple were in the process of sanding down the hardwood floors on which I, as a child, slid around in my socks. The couple had been in the house for some 15 years and were glad to hear some of the early history of it. We discussed the demise of the big pecan tree in the front yard, the loss of a couple of hackberry trees in the backyard, and other ravages of time. They also knew what had happened to most of the neighbors, and I got caught up on several decades worth of news.

One notable bit of information was that the neighborhood bully, R.S., who had made my childhood miserable (along with the childhoods of every other kid on my street) had, in the fullness of time, come to Jesus, settled down, married a fine woman, and was now on his eighth term as city judge. If that isn’t proof there is a God, I don’t what more you want.

The next day, having woken up at my usual hour before dawn, I sneaked out of the house (unsuccessfully) and went down to The Kolache Kitchen, where my great-uncle Billy Ed is accustomed to hang out with his cronies. Alas, he was not in, but I had a fine apricot kolache, though the coffee was bad. Feeling an unaccustomed brazenness, I sat down among the worthy elders who preside over The Kolache Kitchen from 5:30-7:30 am every weekday and joined their august assembly for several minutes of conversation.

In the late morning, I drove down to the Gulf coast (some 14 miles away), past the huge, sprawling complex of pipes, refracting towers, storage tanks, and other monuments of modern industrial alchemy that is Dow Chemical Co., to Surfside Beach. Though I am no fan of wet sand between my toes or the corrosive effects of salt water on everything, I do like the beach. I walked way out on the jetty, where all the fishermen were having a bad day fishing (ain’t it wonderful!) and again, feeling that unaccustomed brazenness, I sat down beside a couple of them to see how life, and the fishing, was. I had some very fine conversations, mostly about nothing much, which is as it should be while talking to strangers on the jetty.

In the early afternoon, my aunt took me to visit my great-uncle Billy Ed and his wife Alice Sue, who are the last of their generation in my family, and, alas, their age is showing badly. But then, I haven’t been in Clute in 13 years, and people do age a little in that amount of time.

I do like the Southern practice of calling people by both their names, but you have to must have the right kind of name for it to work (e.g., Essa Nell, Willie Pearl, Bobby Jack, Billy Joe). Proper Texas names are good to hear, too, like Austin and Travis for men. I think there are too many Brittanys and Chelseas in the world; a few more Rebel Anns, with an attitude to match the name, would be an improvement. But that is by the way.

In the late afternoon, I went to visit one of my Dad’s best friends, R.R., my Mom’s best friend, his wife J.R., who, of course, knew me when I was in diapers. Not only did I want to see them for myself and catch up, but I wanted to hear from them some recollections of my Dad, for which I had never asked before. I learned a few things I didn’t know, for which I am deeply grateful. R.R. had a meeting to attend, so J.R. took me back down to Surfside, to a fine hangout right on the beach, and we sat on the patio and watched the waves over ½ pound burgers, onion rings, and cold beer. I spent 5 hours talking with them. A very satisfying time.

So much for the trip to the bustling metropolis of Clute, TX, my home town.

Trip 1, to Texas

I’ve structured my sabbatical in 5 parts: 4 week-long stays at various monasteries, with time at home in between, and a vacation with my family. The first week-long stay will be at Lebh Shomea House of Prayer, a Roman Catholic hermitage and retreat center near Sarita, Texas, which is south of Corpus Christi, near the coast.

I decided to go here from having read some of the books written by two of the members of the core community there, Marie Theresa Coombs, a hermitess, and Fr Francis Kelly Nemeck, OMI. Some of their books that I’ve read can be seen here.  The Spiritual Journey was especially helpful to me when I read it, as the authors lean heavily on St John of the Cross, who discusses in detail the transitions between the stages of spiritual life, something I haven’t found so clearly put in Orthodox writings.

“Lebh Shomea” is Hebrew for “a listening heart,” from 1 Kings 3.9, Solomon’s prayer for wisdom, where he asks, “Give your servant lebh shomea, a listen heart, so that he is able to discern.”

The House of Prayer offers solitary retreats and the possibility for spiritual direction while staying there. I am looking to take advantage of both the solitude and the direction, to pray and to be guided.

After a week at Lebh Shomea, I’ll drive to my hometown, Clute, TX, and visit some relatives and family friends, and then go on to Comfort, TX, where my parents live, to see them for a little while before I fly home.

Itinerary (T minus 19 days)

The itinerary for the sabbatical.

15 May. Last Liturgy at St Innocent’s. After Liturgy, the sabbatical officially begins.

16-24 May — Fly to San Antonio, TX. Week at Lebh Shomea House of Prayer near Sarita, TX.

24-26 May — Time with family & friends in Clute, TX, my home town.

26-28 May — Time with my parents in Comfort, TX.

29 June – 19 July — Home with my family.

(14-17 June, attending Acton Institute’s Acton University in Grand Rapids, MI, where I will be lecturing on an Orthodox approach to environmentalism. This is not part of the sabbatical, but it is something of significance that I’ll be doing.)

19 June — Fly to London.

20-28 June — Week at St John the Baptist Monastery in Tolleshunt Knights by Maldon, Essex,  England.

29-30 June — Thessalonica & Ouranoupolis, Greece.

1-7 July — Xeropotamou & St Panteleimon Monasteries, Mount Athos.

8-11 July — Thessalonica & London.

11-17 July — Home with my family.

18-25 July — Week at St John of Shanghai Monastery, Manton, CA.

25 July – 18 August — Vacation with my family in CA, NV, UT, WY, MT, and WA.

19 August — Return home.

21 August — Back at St Innocent’s, the sabbatical finished.