Friday, December 30, 2022

A Holiday Season of Celebration in Texas Ends with Tribulation

Upon returning home to TX, we immersed ourselves into maintenance projects, business appointments, and holiday activities.


Getting together several times with friends Lisa/Jim and Romalee/Tim is always a highlight of returning to Rainbow’s End each Fall.  We also spent time with Kate/John during their 2-night stay in Livingston.  We saw them last in June while we were all in CO.  Sue/Jack, who we haven’t seen since January 2021, stopped by to chat.  We enjoyed catching up so much, we neglected to get a photo.  And we enjoyed the hospitality of fellow Escapees member “Movie Man” Joe on 2 occasions as he invites all Park residents to join him on his lot in viewing a film, enjoying treats, and even winning prizes.


The best reunion, however, was Mom with Yellow Jacket, her 2009 Honda Rebel.  You see, when Dad converted his 2010 Road King Classic into Maximus the Trike, Yellow Jacket got evicted from the truck garage for transport and was confined to a storage unit.   Mom was relegated to riding shotgun with Dad on Maximus for the last 10 months.  Worse yet, my only way to ride was strapped to the cargo tour pack!  Mom is thrilled that Dad has now devised a new way to transport her motorcycle with us.


There is no better way to celebrate the reuniting of a motorcyclist with his/her beloved bike than to take a ride.  So, we set out for Martin Dies State Park in Jasper, TX.  We all froze our buns off, but the cold was accompanied by some lovely fall foliage.   Though this Park gets crowded during the summer, it is underutilized in the Fall.   So, it is always an enjoyable, serene experience hiking at Martin Dies State Park this time of year. 


Our motorcycling travels also brought us to the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in Carthage, TX.  So many great talents hailed from the Lone Star State, including Tex Ritter, Willie Nelson, and the Oak Ridge Boys.  Texas-born Gene Autry was considered by many (including himself) to be the first singing cowboy.  But John Wayne beat him to it in 1933 as Singing Sandy in “Riders of Destiny”.  Unfortunately, the Duke’s singing voice was less than stellar.  Let’s just say that he would not be chosen as a contestant on “The Voice” and that his decision to stick with acting was a wise one.  The Museum has a replica of an old-fashioned soda pop shoppe and includes a working juke box.  I selected “Elvira” to play and watched my crazy parents do some line dancing in the Hall corridors.


Mom doesn’t care where our travels take us, but she mandates that we are somewhere stationary from mid-November to year-end.  That’s because she always treats us to a plant-based Thanksgiving feast, making another Tom a happy Turkey.  She begins her collaboration with the Keebler Elves for cookie baking, and we all decorate “the house” inside and out for Christmas.   Thanksgiving marks the commencement of our binge-watching holiday shows and movies.  From classics like “Miracle on 34th Street” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”, to must-see films like “Christmas Vacation”, “Elf”, and “Home Alone”, from animated specials dating to the 1960s/1970s, to cheesy Hallmark and Lifetime movies, my family reaches maximum consumption level.  Cultured people can perform Shakespearean soliloquys or recite the words of great poets like Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, or Langston Hughes.  Not my parents!  Instead, they quote Clarence A.S.C., Clark Griswold, Cousin Eddie, and Burgermeister Meisterburger.  Not to mention they know all the lyrics to the Snow Miser/Heat Miser songs and the opening tune from “Santa Clause Conquers the Martians”.   By the time Christmas day actually arrives, I am ready for holiday detox!

Our Thanksgiving meal--no Tom Turkey here.

We spend Thanksgiving weekend decorating outside...

...and inside for Christmas.

Eye test!  There are at least 3 rodents in this section of our ornaments.  Can you spot them?

We were told it was a dry summer here in the Piney Woods of TX.  But we had several deluges these last 2 months that more than compensated for it, including rainfall associated with Hurricane Nicole.  Weather ran the gamut, from hot, humid 90F-degree scorchers, to cool, crisp Autumn days, to the “polar freeze” that, sans the snow, made it feel like a holiday winter wonderland!


Christmas is a magical time here in Texas.  Every town and city, regardless of size, offers holiday lights and activities, and Livingston is no exception.  This year we attended the Lighting at Municipal Hall, where the holiday season was kicked off with caroling by a children’s choir, sipping of hot cocoa, photo-taking with our favorite characters, and the illumination of all the Christmas lights at Pedigo, Penguin, and Heritage Parks.


A sampling of the holiday lights at Pedigo Park...

This was the first year we participated in the Jingle Bell Fun Run/Walk, held on the second Saturday in December in conjunction with the Hometown Christmas Fair.  There were hundreds and hundreds of entrants.  Since we were among the first 100 to sign up, we received official t-shirts and jingle bells with our entry fees.  We opted for the 2-mile walk rather than the 5K run—Mom said she didn’t want to register on the Richter Scale as an earthquake with her heavy pavement pounding when she runs.  The route took us right through the Hometown Christmas Fair, so we got to peruse all the arts, crafts, and food vendors at the same time.  It was a hot, humid day, but the rain that was initially forecast hadn’t materialized--yet.  Instead, the downpour occurred in the early evening, right before the commencement of the Lighted Christmas Parade in which we registered Big Boomer!  It was torrential for a solid hour, with thunder and lightning to boot.     The storm subsided just long enough for all of the parade floats and participants to high-tail it along Washington Avenue for the 1.5 mile route.  I sure was disappointed the precipitation precluded me from sitting front and center upon a fully decked-out Big Boomer.  Instead, Dad let me honk the horn as he drove.   Though Mom’s feet got wet, she insisted she still walk the route to hand out the candy we bought for the spectators—a good decision based on the smiles on the kiddies’ faces as they held out their pillowcases, stockings, and Walmart bags to collect edible offerings.

Jingle Bell Fun Run/Walk.


Me front and center for the Hometown Christmas Parade before the downpour began and I was relegated to sitting inside the truck.

Buc-ee riding along with Big Boomer.

Another Parade entrant.

Once again, we rang bells for Salvation Army for 2 hours each week starting on Black Friday.  Folks were very generous, despite their own economic struggles.  Perhaps knowing all the monies raised locally assist folks right within our own County’s community played a part.    We viewed the Polk County Heritage Society Train Village display, drove through The First Baptist Church’s “Bethlehem”, attended the annual Christmas play at First United Methodist Church, and spread holiday cheer with the Caroling Caravan at Escapees Rainbow’s End RV Park.

Polk County Heritage Society's Train Village.

We always appreciate the reminder from First Baptist Church of the true reason for the season.  

Scene from the First United Methodist Church's play, "A TX Christmas Carol".

Carolers at Escapees Rainbow's End RV Park.

We were the tail end of the Caroling Caravan.

In addition to all the holiday activities we did in Livingston, we had a 3-day stay in Jefferson, TX for their Candlelight Tour of Homes.  Of course, it was a blustery 40F degree day when we embarked upon Maximus the Trike for this 3-hour ride.  So, we stopped to thaw out and enjoy a late breakfast at the retro 1st City CafĂ© within the Fredonia Hotel in Nacogdoches.


We started our Jefferson adventures by learning about the city’s past and perusing Marion County artifacts at the Jefferson Historical Museum, whose structure was once a Federal Courthouse and later a post office.    Jefferson was founded circa 1840 and named for our 4th Prez.  A 100-mile log jam on the Red River proved beneficial to Jefferson—the jam acted as a dam and made water levels optimal to accommodate commercial river travel.  Boats from New Orleans unloaded cargo and tourists in Jefferson.  By 1870, Jefferson was second only to Galveston as a port.  Dubbed as The Queen City, it was the 6th largest city in all of TX at that time, boasting a population of 30,000.  Then the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) came in to wreak havoc.  They used nitroglycerin to unclog the Great Red River Raft in 1873, thereby lowering the water levels and killing the riverboat industry.  Jefferson’s population dwindled rapidly.  Jefferson is now home to less than 2,000.


The exterior of the Jefferson Historical Museum...

A sampling of exhibits... 

...within the Museum.

But the townsfolk have done a terrific job of preserving and repurposing structures like converting an 1865 saloon/brothel into the Kahn Hotel, where we reserved second floor accommodations.  We had a lovely room with period furnishings, reclaimed wood floors, and warm, earthy tones on the walls.  What we didn’t have was a visit from any spirits.  Considering the Kahn Hotel is ranked as #7 among the most haunted buildings within the Lone Star State, I can only presume the ghosts were afraid to rumble with this Rambling RV Rat!


Coffee shop within the Kahn Hotel.

We have attended holiday house tours throughout the years in NJ, NY, PA, in our hometown of Livingston, TX.  They were always enjoyable, truly festive, fine examples of creativity, and a labor of love by the homeowners to make it a magical experience for guests.  The properties on display in Jefferson, TX were no exception.  Though they varied in architecture, age, and decorations/ornamentation, all truly captured the spirit of the season.   We took tons of photos, but I am only including a small sampling.  We had a blast.  And walking the route rather than riding Maximus provided us with added ambience, including seeing the Enchanted Forest with themed trees decorated by area businesses and families.


A Christmas tree shaped by stacked books!

Carolers entertaining the guests.

Surprisingly, Jefferson has some excellent restaurants.  This Rambling RV Rat highly recommends McGarity Restaurant and Saloon.  It has terrific atmosphere and service.   Plus, it offers a selection of plant-based options for Dad along with Irish favorites and American fare for carnivores.  It was our go-to eatery.  We also enjoyed the small but varied menu at Austin Street Bistro. And though not nearly as good as Italian cuisine from back East, Roma’s Italian Restaurant sufficed in a pinch.


Interior of McGarity Restaurant and Saloon.

We walked around downtown, and browsed around the small shops including the General Store/Mercantile.  Their vintage and varied merchandise and retro decors brought back many fond memories, compelling me to add a mouse ornament to my collection, Dad to buy a University of TX Longhorns ornament, and Mom to purchase C&C (cute AND comfortable) ankle boots.  We walked along the History and Nature Center Trail, enjoying the artist-in-residency’s creations that were mingled within the wooded setting.  I even spotted Big Foot!  It was a terrific mini getaway and added immensely to our holiday cheer.


I'm in luv!

Big Foot likes to hike this trail, too.

We contributed to several food, gift, and toy drives this holiday season including one sponsored by Gateway Classics in Houston, TX, where we got to see some terrific sets of wheels.  But, by far, our hearts were warmed most by joining the San Jacinto High Rollers on their motorcycle charity run to benefit Boys and Girls Country in Hockley, TX.  For us, it encompassed 200 miles, so it was a LONG day of riding.  But it was an uplifting and gratifying experience to be together with the youngsters and teens for the first time since COVID reared its ugly head and to watch their excitement when they received gifts from Santa.


Speaking of motorcycling, we participated in 2 wreath-laying missions with the East and Southeast Chapters of the Patriot Guard Riders (PGR). Both missions offered drier and warmer weather than in prior years.


Fellow Patriot Guard Riders.

Wreaths Across America at Memorial Gardens, Lufkin.

Wreath-laying for Livingston's own PFC Stuart Moore.

Lanette, whom we met in MN this summer, invited us to get together in Crystal Beach, TX, an enclave on the Bollivar Peninsula at which she secured a work-camping gig.  The fog was as thick as pea soup that day.  But the less-than-ideal visibility conditions didn’t damper our spirits. We sat on the beach along the Gulf of Mexico.  You can drive your vehicle or even park your RV beachfront down here.  Very cool.   We enjoyed great conversation and a tasty meal at Mamma Mia’s Woodfire Pizzeria which overlooks the Bay.  We then parted ways, and we put Maximus the Trike onboard the Ferry over to Galveston.  We walked along Sea Wall Boulevard and the beach a bit before heading home.


Who cares about being unable to see the waters of the Gulf of Mexico when I got to see Miss Maddie! 

View of the bay from the outdoor eating area of Momma Mia's.

Aboard the Ferry from Bolivar Peninsula to Galveston.

These gulls hitched a ride.

Art along Seawall Boulevard.

Maximus at Galveston Beach.

The week before Christmas brought sub-freezing temperatures, registering as low as 10F degrees with the wind chill factor.  Our Christmas was a quiet one at home.  We enjoyed our traditional meals, watched religious services on TV, and just focused on the blessings we have received this year, despite some setbacks.

Yours truly with his special gift from Uncle Kevin and Aunt Ellen.  It's a Mouse King Nutcracker!


As I extend my family’s best wishes to each of you for a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2023, I ask for prayers for my Dad.  Chest pains resulted in Mom taking him to the ER.  Heart attack was ruled out, thankfully.  But a follow-up with his cardiologist and the scheduling of a heart catheterization resulted in learning he has multiple major blockages that cannot be repaired by stents/rotor-rooter.  Despite his active and healthy lifestyle and adherence to a plant-based diet since his 2017 heart attack/insertion of stents, he must undergo quadruple bypass surgery, scheduled for the first week of January.   We are grateful this happened at home base with medical professionals we trust and facilities we know rather than while on the road.   So, our travel plans have been canceled.  But this, too, shall pass.  With the loving care of Mom, the outpouring of support from friends and family, and, most importantly, our faith in God above, Dad will have a positive outcome.