Monday, July 6, 2015

I'll Always Remember the Alamo by Gail Roughton

During the months between May, 2013 and December, 2013, I traveled more miles than in the past twenty years combined.  Granted, I’m a homebody who doesn’t really enjoy traveling, but 2013 was a special year. The year my youngest son Lee began his military journey, the year he completed Naval Basic Training at Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes, Illinois (Waukegan, Illinois right above Chicago), followed by Hospital Corpsman training at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas (for those who might not be familiar with the term “Corpsman” read “medic”), and finished up with FMSS East, Field Medical Service School at Camp Jackson (for all practical purposes, an off-shoot of Camp LeJeune), North Carolina, the training that turns Navy Corpsmen into Field Medics for the Marines.  And no parent wants to miss any of those graduation ceremonies.  Certainly, I wasn’t about to. 

Every single one of those graduations was—special.  That seems such an inadequate word to describe the depth of emotion, so palpable it became a breathing, living entity birthed by the audience’s indescribable pride in the young men and women who’d started this journey so many years before as their little boys and girls, someone’s brother or sister, someone’s niece or nephew or cousin, now standing so tall and proud before them as they take their oaths.

Our little nuclear family of parents, children, and grandchildren is extremely tight-knit and close. We share the good times and the bad, and while every member of the family wanted to attend all three graduations, that just wasn’t practical or possible.  My daughter and son-in-law had a new baby that summer, adding our granddaughter Kinsley to the family roster, so long trips were pretty much out for them for the year.  My husband and I, with our then six year old grandson, his Uncle Lee’s best buddy ever, made the almost 1,700 mile round trip from central Georgia to Waukegan, Illinois for Naval Basic Graduation, leaving our oldest son Patrick at home in charge of our family’s three fur-members.  Two of those three fur-babies are getting on up there in years, they’re used to their own home, going in and out on a schedule of their own making, and have never been boarded. They’d probably have heart-attacks if they ever were boarded and we’d worry about them constantly the entire time we were gone. Bottom line, someone has to be home with them at night. Anyone who’s a pet person understands and anyone who’s not a pet person never will, and so it was decided that my husband would forego the San Antonio trip and take the final graduation trip, so Patrick could go and see at least one of his brother’s graduations. I’m the mother, I claimed rights to attend all three. 

So began the 2,024 miles round trip that will always live on as “my most special trip ever”.  I love my husband, don’t get me wrong, but this trip? The 1,012 miles with just my oldest son and me? And, since Lee was on leave for the next month until his report date at Camp LeJeune, the 1,012 mile trip back home with both my sons? Both my grown sons?  Priceless.  I mean, how many mothers get a chance at something like that?  So if I never told you, Randy Branan, thank you for selflessly staying home and giving me those memories. 

We hit the road to the strains of that summer’s top country hits, our traveling companions Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Blake Sheldon, Little Big Town, The Band Perry:  “…hop up on my diamond gate tail plate…” “rollin’ on 45s, country girl by my side…” “redredredredredneck...” “…them ol’ dirt roads is what y’all missin’…”, “…take me down to the little white church…”, “…mama always said that I should play nice, she didn’t know you when she gave me that advice…”.  When I hear those songs even now, I’m immediately transported back to the front seat of Patrick’s Rouge, both of us belting out the lyrics and having the time of our lives.  When we tired of belting out songs, Patrick played a few of the “Redneck Comedy Tour” discs and we laughed till we cried.  We stopped to stretch frequently, grabbed a combo late lunch/early dinner at a Mexican restaurant that caught our eye right before crossing into Mississippi, laughed and talked and reminisced and re-lived family history. Finally, just before midnight, and well into Texas, we gave it up for the night and admitted we weren’t going to make it all the way into San Antonio.  

We were back on the road by nine the next morning, though, and made it in around five o’clock, just about the time Lee completed his day, so after checking into our hotel, we headed for Fort Sam Houston. We were going to take Lee off base to eat, but nobody’d sufficiently warned us about San Antonio traffic and it took us a lot longer than we’d thought to successfully navigate onto the Base and actually find Lee, so we ate on Base that night and that was just fine, because the three of us were together and that was all that mattered. 

Lee was on liberty most of the next day, so we picked him up and “did” the San Antonio River Walk. We ate at Casa Rio, walked around a bit, and took the Boat Tour (which I heartily recommend as the best way to tour River Walk—I mean, it involves no walking).  Getting back to Base was an adventure, though.  Did I mention San Antonio traffic?  And the fact that San Antonio is big and I’m pretty sure even the natives don’t know how to navigate in it outside their own spheres of reference. 

The next day—graduation.  For which I have no words, so I’ll let the pictures do the talking. Especially the picture of the Corpsman’s Oath.  It was probably twelve or one o’clock before Lee cleared the dorms and all his bags were packed (and I do mean packed) with ours in the back of the Rogue.  Of course, we’d been in constant contact throughout the entire trip with home, no way I wasn’t keeping “Daddy” updated on all activities, and we called to advise we were about to hit the road home.

“But you didn’t go to the Alamo.”

“I know but we’re all ready to come home.

“You’ll probably never be back in San Antonio, you need to go to the Alamo.”

“But we’re ready to come home.”

“And if you don't go, you'll look back later and wish you had. Put Patrick on the phone!”

            I passed the  phone on over, knowing in my heart that when Patrick hung up, we were headed to the Alamo.  I was right.

            “Daddy’s right. We’re here, we need to go. We can’t go home without going to the Alamo 'cause we will look back later and go 'Why didn't we go to the Alamo when we had the chance'!”

            “But I’m not dressed right! I can’t go dressed like this!” (No, that wasn’t me, that was Lee, who’d changed out of his dress whites into gym shorts and tee that looked pretty much like every other young man you see out in public in the summer not engaged in formal activity).

            “You’re fine! C’mon, it’ll be fun.  We can’t not go.  You can pull out some other clothes when we get there and change in the car if you’re that worried about it.”

            “Whatever.”  (Lee’s classic phrase for “okay”. Some things never change.)

            Back to the River Walk we went. We located the parking lot nearest the Alamo and Lee dug in his duffel bag and pulled out clothes he deemed suitable for public appearance (which looked to me to be exactly what he had on in the first place, only in different colors) and changed in the back seat. Patrick got our parking sticker from the automated money-taking, sticker dispensing machine.  That wasn’t as easy as it sounds, since there were lots of other folks in front of us going to the Alamo doing the same thing and that wasn’t the most user-friendly automated machine I’d ever run across.  But at last we were walking toward the Alamo.  And Randy Branan was right again. No one should ever leave San Antonio without touring the Alamo.  It’s just not American not to tour the Alamo when in San Antonio.  Besides, that tour got me the picture you see at the top of this blog. From left to right, Patrick in the red and blue, me, and Lee in the gray and white.  Lee runs from cameras.  To actually have this photo is a miracle only made possible by the fact that they take pictures of all Alamo visitors before they enter the actual Church, you know, the ones available for purchase inside the gift shop. The only thing Lee hates worse than having his picture taken is the thought of making a scene by refusing to have his picture taken. He was trapped.  He issued his order in a hiss as we walked into the Church.  “Do. Not. Buy. That. Picture.” 

            “We won’t,” Patrick assured him.  Then he whispered to me at his first opportunity, “We are buying that picture!”

            “Damn straight we are,” I whispered back.  I took a picture of that picture on my phone as soon as it was in my hot little hands and texted it to a few friends.  “Me and my boys.”  The general consensus of the replies I got back?  “Fabulous! I hope you know those men you call boys make you look like a midget!”  (No, I'm not what you call short.  I'm 5'6".  They're just tall.) Well, yeah.  I guess they do.  But they’re still my boys.

            It was four or so before we hit the road back home.  The boys were determined to drive straight back through, and since there were two of them to drive (I’m out for night-driving, I don’t have much depth perception), I couldn’t talk them out of it and settled into the back seat.  Movie lines flew back and forth—in our family, we have a movie quote for almost every situation.  I could almost believe they were teenagers again, especially when I was advised to “Shut up back there!” which is not the disrespectful command you think it is, but a line from “Black Sheep”

            We watched a moonrise beautiful beyond belief, one of those low-hanging orange orbs that seem so close you could almost touch it, we re-played the “The Redneck Comedy Tour” discs because it’d been a long time since Lee’d heard them, we talked to home base frequently and Daddy tried to convince the two stubborn mules to stop for the night—whoever thinks Daddies don’t worry as much as Mamas must not know many Daddies—but he didn’t have any luck.  The boys smelled home. I couldn’t change their minds either but what I could do was make them stop often by lying a lot. Through Mississippi and Alabama, I made them stop at every Rest Station by dint of that dreaded line “I have to go.”  I didn’t really, not every time, but I wanted them to stretch their legs.  I wanted to stretch mine, too, because no I wouldn’t let myself fall asleep even if they were the ones swapping out the driving.  I mean, I’m their mother, I was on guard duty.  Suppose they both fell asleep and there was no one to wake them up? 

            Besides, one of those pit stops at one of the Rest Areas had attendants on duty which, coupled with that beautiful moon we’d seen earlier, dropped the seed for a potential what if? I’m sure the attendant in the Ladies was a very nice person, and certainly she was very polite but a writer’s mind just takes off in such a situation.  I wasn’t nervous personally, mind you, I might have been in the Ladies by myself with only the attendant, but you can see the size of the two guys I was with. But a woman traveling alone at night, stopping at one of those rest areas?  I mean, she’d be at the mercy of any attendant, wouldn’t she?  And who’s to say that person’s an actual attendant?  Suppose that person’s a serial killer triggered by those rare, beautiful moonrises like the one we’d just seen?  Oh, yeah.  That’s got possibilities….

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