I’ve been retired from a four decades career in education for almost six years and I still can’t seem to avoid following the academic calendar. Perhaps it’s because a school bus stops in front of my home each morning to pick up the neighborhood children and I am daily reminded that the process of educating our youth has endures with or without me. Maybe it’s because I still tutor students twice a week at two different schools and in the evenings. I suspect that it’s mostly because I followed the August to June routine for so long that it has become embedded in the heart and soul of who I am. So it is that I continue to immerse myself in spring break rituals each year even though that special week for students and teachers shouldn’t make much difference to me now that I am free to do whatever I wish whenever I wish.
I made no plans for the annual March respite this year and yet the serendipity of my activities made it one of the most memorable and relaxing weeks that I have experienced in all of my years of partaking of the annual spring fling. It began with an evening track meet in which grandson Eli broke the district record for the 1600 meter run. Watching him plying his craft is akin to viewing a gazelle. His form is a breathtaking sight of beauty. Even better is his determination to continually compete with himself to be his personal best. I am in awe of him and watching him on that night was magical just as the rest of my spring break adventure would prove to be.
Husband Mike and I traveled to bluebonnet country the following day, enjoying the lovely blue carpets of the state flower that are so glorious each spring. We had bonafide Texas barbecue and sampled fruit kolaches that warmed the Slovakian half of my heart. We walked among the rows and rows of flowers at the Rose Emporium and brought home two more gorgeous bushes to join the collection that we already have. It was one of those absolutely perfect days that reminded me just how much I truly love the people and the sights of the place I call home.
The weather took one of those unexpected dips in temperature a day or so later just as it always seems to do this time of year. It was a perfect moment for making paprika stew for my grandson Andrew who had arrived for a sojourn from his studies at Purdue University. We had one of those old fashioned Sunday night dinners with him and his family. We caught up on all of his news and lingered at the dining table with stories and lots of laughs, ending our meal with pies that we had purchased at a bakery in a small town known for its sausages, baked goods and ice cream. It felt good to fill the house with our children and grandchildren. It had been quite some time since they had been able to steal a few hours from their busy school time schedules. Not wanting to end the joyful feeling of the evening we all agreed meet up again the following day for a musical light show at the Burke Baker Planetarium followed by dinner in Rice Village.
Just when it appeared that I would return to a somewhat uneventful week my granddaughter Abby who lives in San Antonio called me to request my presence at her home for the next few days. Mike had things to do, like taxes (ugh), so I hit the open road on my own. The drive has become second nature to me since my daughter moved there a little over ten years ago. I break down the distance into discrete parts that tell me that I am moving ever closer to the other half of my ever growing family. The weather was spectacular much as it generally is in March. The bluebonnets were even more profuse than they had been only days before and now they had been joined by the red Indian paintbrushes that shouted out, “This is Texas at its very best!”
My daughter is about to move to a new home so she was busy sorting and packing belongings while I was there. She reluctantly took a small slice of time to join us for gourmet burgers and milkshakes at Hopdoddy as well as a round of bowling at a rather unique emporium. Afterward we played board games and watched old Star Wars movies until late into the night. It felt so much like the kind of activities that we used to enjoy back when we my daughters were just girls and we spent our spring break time chilling out and enjoying life in slow motion.
While my daughter returned to her duties the children and I continued our adventures with a visit to a small hill country town called Boerne where we found treasures in the many different antique shops, including a slightly damaged kachina doll that grandson William named Footless Fred. We laughed with delight as we scored a tiny house fit for the gnome garden that the kids are designing, an old Stars Wars book, a poncho, and a set of quilted placemats. We ended our day with a side trip to Guadelupe River State Park where we skipped rocks and told one silly joke after another.
It was with a certain level of reluctance that I headed back home toward the end of the week, but the kids had things to do that they had been putting off while I was in there. I too needed to get back to reality, but not until I enjoyed what may well have been the most magical day of my spring break.
Mike and I began the final Saturday of my mini vacation by meeting Andrew once again for a farewell lunch. He looked so happy, rested and ready to tackle the next six weeks at Purdue. Like me had had been energized by the people and places that he most loves. He had an optimistic and determined twinkle in his eyes and I felt quite comfortable sending him off to joust with his challenging engineering and mathematics classes. He will be halfway through his collegiate journey by May. He sees the light at the end of the tunnel and it is a beautiful experience to listen to him voice very adult and wise pronouncements about the future and life in general.
From our sojourn with Andrew we traveled to the home of one of my former students, a young man named Bieu. We have known each other for well over twenty years now and he faithfully maintains a constant connection with me just as he promised he would when he was just a boy in my math class. On this day he was hosting a crawfish boil, another March tradition in the Houston area. He had great pots of the lobster like creatures turning a bright delicious red as the water bubbled around them. He cooked potatoes and corn as friends and family enjoyed the cool afternoon in his backyard.
I continue to marvel at what a fine person Bieu has become. I am as proud of him as if he had been my own son. I laugh that he was the one who most closely followed in my father’s footsteps by earning a degree in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M University. I feel quite certain that my dad would have loved Bieu and his family as much as I do had he been around to meet them.
I ended my glorious week that evening at the seventieth birthday party of Josefina Carrillo. She once worked for Mike at a bank in southeast Houston and he insists that she was his best employee ever. I also had the privilege of teaching her daughter Josie at South Houston Intermediate. Because southeast Houston has always been a small and very friendly kind of world the connections to Josefina go even deeper. Her son married the sister of one of my daughter’s best friends from our old neighborhood, so it was like old home week at the gala.
We feasted on fajitas and sipped on margaritas while a mariachi band played “otra mas” tune after another. There was dancing and enough smiles to light up a city. We learned that many of the people who had come to honor Josefina had lived in our old neighborhood and been involved in the same circles that had defined our lives for years. The kinship centered on the birthday girl bonded us all together and we had an incredibly lovely time remembering how many joys and blessings we had all experienced.
As I think back on my week of simple pleasures I realize how lucky I have always been. I not only have happy, healthy children and grandchildren but a host of friends who have brought sunshine into my life over and over again. I thought of how so much of my good fortune came to be because of the time that I have spent in what must surely be the most inviting city anywhere, Houston and its surrounding areas. Where else would I eat New York style pizza, crawfish and Tex Mex all in one day? Where else would I be so welcomed by Vietnamese and Hispanic families within the space of only a few hours. Where else would the people be so hospitable? Where else would I have enjoyed such a magical spring break? Where else would I rather be?