How I Got Where I Did

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I come from adventurous stock. My maternal grandparents traveled across the ocean from Slovakia just before the outbreak of World War II. They came one by one with my grandfather being the first to land in Galveston, Texas as an immigrant with a plan for improving his lot and that of his future family. My paternal grandparents moved all over the United States wherever my grandfather found work as a finishing carpenter. My father grew to love the idea of traveling, not just on vacations but in life. Just before he died we had taken a journey to California in the area that eventually would become Silicon Valley in the hopes of living in what he considered to be one of the most beautiful parts of the United States. 

None of that was to be for me. The job that lured my father a thousand miles away from my birthplace of Houston, Texas was a bust. Before long he left it and took us all on an odyssey through Los Angeles and points along the way to Corpus Christi, Texas and finally back to Houston as he attempted to find new employment. It was obvious that he longed to be someplace other than Houston but he had no luck in any of the towns where we stopped just long enough for him to realize that there were no opportunities matching his skills. When the family savings ran out he grabbed an offer to work again in Houston and resignedly returned. The adventurous streak that had so defined my ancestors would come to an abrupt end. 

I was actually happy to be back with my extended family of aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents and friends. I had even secretly prayed to God to return us to the simplicity and security of my birthplace. I had little idea that within weeks my father would be dead from a car accident and life for me and my brothers would take a far different turn than I had expected. My mother took us back to the neighborhood from which we had initially moved and there we settled into a simple life until each of us struck out on our own as adults. 

None of us ever moved too far away from the house where we grew up. We had walked to school and church and built a foundation for life in a place where our mother made us feel safe. Staying in one place became a symbol of security for me as I remembered the trauma of all of our moves that ended in such unexpected tragedy. My focus in life seemed to always be on sameness, routine. A routine way of living felt good and I had no desire to disrupt it. Thus I find myself at the age of seventy two in the same part of the world where I was born with no desire to move the way those who came before me did. From a psychological standpoint I think that leaving what I had known and loved only to return and see my father die scarred me and buried all of my risk taking inclinations. 

I am quite content with living a long life never too far from the hospital where I was born. Remarkably it’s still there but the house where my parents lived was razed many moons ago in true Houston fashion. Nothing seems to last for very long in this bustling city that probably should never even have existed in the first place. Houston is still all about real estate just as it was when the Allen brothers advertised in the late nineteenth century. It was a strange place to build a city with its ribbons of bayous and mosquito infested swampy areas. Neighboring Galveston located on a bay that feeds into the Gulf of Mexico was the economic dynamo of the eras but the citizens of Houston were dreamers with a plan that somehow did not seem so crazy when a massive hurricane virtually wiped out Galveston.

Houston pioneers dug a big channel that allowed huge ships to come from the Gulf to the shores of a landlocked city. Over time that port grew to be one of the busiest in the country in spite of the fact that it was not adjacent to a natural inlet. The city began to thrive as far sighted leaders brokered the convergence of railroad lines, built a world class university that would become known as the Harvard of the south, and planned for a medical center that would rival the best in the world. Texas oil and gas ended up in refineries near the ship channel and when World War II prompted the need for fuel the city began to grow by leaps and bounds. 

When I came along Houston did not yet have a million people but today the city and its surrounding suburbs is home to around four million souls of such diversity that there is no one dominant group in the area, at least when there is no gerrymandering to make it so for purposes of voting. It is a friendly place where everybody mostly gets along as we proved when hurricane Harvey flooded neighborhoods with equal opportunity. 

I still love Houston and while I have sometimes thought of living in a more beautiful place I always end up wanting to stay. Houston can be beautiful or ugly depending where you go. It is brutally hot and humid for most of the year. There really are no seasons here, no fall colors or snowy days, but spring and fall are spectacular in their own Houston ways. The threat of hurricanes and floods loom large and we tend to become anxious when it rains but we have some of the best food in all of the United States. Getting from one place to another can be trying and when we say that something is close by it may mean that we only have to drive for an hour. We have anything that a person might want except beautiful scenery but we can drive to Galveston for ocean views or to the hill country for rolling vistas. That medical center that enterprising civic leaders advocated long ago provides top notch healthcare and now there are multiple universities in the city educating students from all over the world. We are even the center of the human universe with NASA headquarters planning a stunning future in space.

Some might say that my brothers and I got stuck in Houston and surroundings but over time it became a wonderful choice. We’ve been able to travel the world for fun and then return to the easy going feel of a home town that has provided for all of our needs. Houston has its flaws like any other place. Nothing is ever really perfect. Overall though Houston is a great place to live with a kind of can do spirit even in the face of enormous challenges that keeps it moving forward in an adventurous kind of spirit. It’s my birthplace, my home and I love it.