I’ve been on school break for a couple of weeks now, with a couple of weeks to go. It’s a luxury to have only one job for the month – even though my jobs are not overly taxing – and no school frees up most of Monday and all day Wednesday. What a treat!
Last week and this, I took myself on long drives through the Hill Country. On the first meander I drove through Fredericksburg, Johnson City, Blanco, and Wimberley, circling back to Austin through Dripping Springs.
I like aimless jaunts. I don’t have to do anything, be anywhere, answer any questions, or solve any problems. I can think or not think, see if a phrase or an idea floats through my mental ozone, and drift along in what one psychoanalytic theorist called “evenly hovering attention.” It’s a great concept that means you’re not overly focused on the apparent details, you’re listening (with your “third ear,” while I’m on the subject) for what floats through your mind up from and between the details. In theory it’s a way for one unconscious to meet another.
But I digress. I was talking about meanders. I’m driving along, not listening to anything but talk radio, all the while scanning the landscape. The Texas Hill Country is full of ginormous panoramas, cliffs, hillsides, lush river bottom land, old barbed wire fences and occasional McMansions poised to look like ranch houses in the middle of nowhere. There are also a whole lot of two-lane roads with 60-mph speed limits, which can be exciting.
A a youngest child, I knew nothing about ever being alone and for much of my life I didn’t like any part of it. Now, I feel more and more like my father when he used to say, I could have been a hermit. I’ve come to enjoy being alone, even on a meander. On a solitary aimless jaunt I don’t have to worry about what someone else might want to do, or where they’d like to go, or whether we’ve been wandering around in this antique shop too long.
On a weekday, it’s likely to be just me and bundles of retired people walking about with sun visors and cameras. The small towns are quiet, even around the square, and everything moves slowly despite the fact that summer heat hasn’t yet taken hold. What’s the hurry, anyway?
Johnson City doesn’t strike me as too much of a city, really. But it does have a historical connection to our 36th President, and a rambling National Park surrounding his boyhood home (http://www.nps.gov/lyjo/index.htm). The town square has the requisite courthouse at its center and wide streets lined with storefronts that never fail to evoke western movies.
One building that’s now a bank bears a sign declaring that Lyndon Johnson had an office there for a while. Offices of attorneys and bail bondsmen still predominate. If lots of attorneys in Austin still strut around the courthouse in cowboy boots and cowboy hats, I can imagine Johnson City lawyers back in the day still wore spurs and sidearms.
Just picture yourself slumped in this little jailhouse waiting for your legal defender to arrive. Although there always seems to be a breeze in town squares, I bet there were plenty of days you’d poach in a place like this. Unless you were wise enough to be arrested in January, when cold wet 35-degree days are the norm. That plaque alleges that this jailhouse was built to improve on its predecessor and – have no worries, Johnson City thugs – its interior has been updated to meet state standards. Lucky you.
That afternoon I kept meandering all the way to Blanco, where a couple of years ago my niece Chris and I attended the Blanco Lavender Festival. It is an event filled with pleasant smells and purple everywhere – including lots of lavender-infused drinks. There are craft booths, and tastings, local wines and olive oils, and all manner of fragrant things to buy.
On this visit all I brought home was a bottle of bubble bath, but I think my life could use more lavender. The Festival is in June, and I may just drive back out for it.
I took the long way home from Blanco, then yesterday I took the very long way down to Gruene because who wants to drive on I-35 with all those tractor trailers shipping guns south and drugs north (or at least that’s what is said about I-35). Pronounced “green,” this is a small town outside San Antonio where several excellent festivals take place each year. There’s the metal art festival, the clay works festival, the market days festival – no festivals at the moment, but Gruene’s old downtown is one of those tiny tourist spots that manages to maintain its charm particularly when all’s quiet.
Its Main Street slopes straight down to the Guadalupe River, where in earlier days locally grown cotton must have been loaded on boats headed in both directions. Modern river commerce consists of restaurant patios, B&B’s, and a lively tubing industry (not manufactured tubing; tubing as a way to float down the river on sultry afternoons). Local businesses have adapted themselves accordingly, even down to the recent highly controversial ordinance prohibiting glass containers on the river.
It seems odd to have a favorite antique store, but there is one I particularly like in Gruene. I wandered the creaking wooden aisles to my heart’s content yesterday, only briefly indulging in minor grief over a complete set of vintage restaurant dishes I should have bought there on a previous trip.
In my current vintage-shopping existence, I am on the lookout for a nice stout glass beer mug to replace Floyd’s old chipped number; a magazine rack (almost found it on this trip, but could not justify $80 for an art deco copper version); and a large glass cake dome.
I love the kind of antique shops that are filled with ordinary objects from ordinary peoples’ lives, from spinning wheels to Pyrex bowls, boxes of postcards, old diaries, 1930’s tablecloths with their blue trim and vivid woven fruit, metal-topped kitchen tables and clothes irons that were heated by filling them with hot coals. Wood-handled tools and farm implements, gloves and hairbrushes, cups and saucers decorated with military seals, oil lamps and steamer trunks – I wonder about the people who owned these things, how many meals were prepared in the battered pots, how did the objects of their lives end up in a store just up from the river in Gruene?
While I always see things that grab my attention, and I frequently think, Oh, wouldn’t that be sweet to have, I find myself less and less inclined to buy stuff – and I do mean “stuff” here. All I can picture is my kids having to go through closets and cabinets and drawers and rooms and the garage sorting, selling, packing, and sweating over the monumental chore. For once, need trumps want and I emerge from the shopping excursion empty-handed and glad of it.
Gruene has numerous little shops surrounding a large green where festivals take place under the shade of tremendous old live oaks. It was very quiet yesterday and I just wandered in and out of places taking pictures when I felt inclined.
There is a lovely pottery that very nearly caused me to become not-empty-handed; shops where artisans make things out of wood and metal; and the usual assortment of funky boutiques redolent with potpourri and the kinds of clothing people must think people in Texas wear. There is also a winery that offers an array of outdoor tables being cooled with overhead misters, which seems like an excellent business plan to me.
All around the center of old Gruene are reminders that people have lived here a long time. Maybe that’s one reason why I like these meanders: as an old New England girl, I crave worn wood and off-angles, and daydream about life in a really old house with creaky floors, windows that need to be propped open, and a huge kitchen sink that hangs from the wall.
Of course I realize the reality of old dwellings, and freely admit that I would never actually enter a shed like the one on the right – though I know absolutely what the air inside would feel and smell like. I’m indulging in nostalgia here, not graphing out a reality into which I would care to step. Still, if someone asked me whether I’d trade our suburban box for a 19th-century farmhouse, it would be a very tough call. Even though I enjoy having all the electrical outlets I can use, and more.
On a meander I get to daydream about a slower, simpler life without having to give much thought to what those quaint old washtubs were actually used for, or the fact that even if I’d lived to be my advanced age back then I certainly wouldn’t have many of my own teeth left. I’m pretty sure that even if I lived in a tiny town in 2014, I’d soon be out of my mind and planning meanders to Whole Foods and my favorite Thai place.
There’s just no keeping me happy.