Thursday, May 31, 2012

Texarkana is a unique place. The city exists in the two states of Texas and Arkansas. The shared attribute that each proud state shared was the U.S. Post Office which sits on the boundary of both states. In front of the post office, there is a tribute to the heritage of both states. One can stand in the middle of the stairs and be in both Texas and Arkansas simultaneously. The grand Federal Building towers behind like a proud uncle reminding the children that Uncle Sam's watching.

Every week, it was my parents custom to take us kids to a new church in whatever community we happened to be staying. This particular Sunday, my family was in Texarkana. We had met a man named Dr. Dan Bookout at a Kiwanis Club luncheon that we had been invited to attend. Dr. Bookout had set more international aviation records than any other person alive at that time. Dr. Bookout invited us to attend his church called Rose Hill Church of Christ. After church he invited us to join him for lunch. So  Aaron and I dressed in our Sunday best. Dad drove us to the famous post office, and my brother and I stood on either side of the state marker. I was in Texas and Aaron represented Arkansas, our new state to explore. Cathleen and I paused to remember that historical social science lesson experience that Aaron and I had enjoyed.

Dr. Bookout invited us out to his hanger to see his plane, the "Texarkana Baby." We were driven out to his hanger where we got to see his beautiful world record setting Piper twin engine 7 seat "Lance" with a six cylinder 300 hip engine. Try to say that three times fast! Mom decided to get some much needed time to herself and enjoy an interrupted nap. That day I think she missed out because Dan said as Dad, Aaron, and I gawked at the incredible flying machine, "We can't go anywhere unless you get in!" Up into the air we soared and viewed the terrain far beneath us that we had taken days to traverse on foot. He took us over the mighty Red River into Oklahoma and over Texarkana. The three of us were on cloud nine!

I'm in Texas and Aaron's in Arkankas

Texarkana U.S. Post Office

Texarkana Baby!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Our family continued to walk eastward out of Denton, TX. A couple days down the road, we had passed through the town of Greenville, TX. One afternoon during the last segment of the day, I could see our car in the distance. I decided sprint the last 1/2 mile and suddenly my weight came on my ankle instead of my foot. I howled in pain and dropped to the grassy shoulder about 100 yards from the car. I could not get up. I needed my Dad to lift me up, and I hopped to the car in agony. My ankle instantly began to swell. When arrived back at our motel in Greenville, my Mom carefully wrapped my ankle with an ace bandage and an ice pack. The next day my parents asked me to walk back and forth across our room to see how my ankle was holding up. I could only manage to limp, feeling intense pain in my ankle.

Suddenly we faced the reality that I could no longer continue, and we had to stop for me to heal. We took the next couple days and drove a couple of hours to the city of Longview, TX. My Dad had a college buddy named "Bud" who lived there. Bud and Sammy Austin had invited us to come over to their home for dinner. Bud had become the president of LeTourneau University at the time.

A couple of days later, I was well enough to continue. We drove back to the mile marker where we had left off east of Greenville and continued east. I wish I still had the same resiliency at 39 that did at 14! We walked six miles that day. I had a little trouble, but got through it.

As Cathleen and I drove on, we found the approximate spot where I had sprained my ankle and stopped to snap a picture. About an hour later, we stopped to take a picture in Paris. Paris, TX that is. While I was standing by the sign. An older man in a Ford pickup stopped in the middle of the road and yelled out in a heavy Texas drawl, "Y'all need he'p!?" I replied, " No sir, we stopped to take a photo." He yelled out, "Ok! I thought y'all needed some he'p! In Texas, We he'p people! Not like people in the big cities!" I was amazed! The same southern hospitality still existed today. It seems like some younger folks these days would be content to snap a picture of someone stranded on the side of the road, post it to Facebook, and then drive on without saying a thing.

The approximate spot where I sprained my ankle back in 1987

While taking this photo, a man stopped to try and help us.

We were soon nearing the border with Arkansas. The city of Texarkana lies in Texas and Arkansas. Twenty-five years ago, my family would meet the man with the most world records in flight at the time and find ourselves staring at the route we had walked from thousands of feet in the air!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Snyder, Texas became one of the many highlights of my family's walk across America. It's a city with character and friendly folks. On January 16, 1987, after spending the night at Royal RV Park in Snyder, we found two to three inch icicles hanging from the canvas on our tent trailer. Dad remarked that our little electric heater worked full tilt all night long to keep us warm.  Dad and Mom decided to get us a motel room for the remainder of our time in Snyder because the ice storm was bitterly cold.

Art and Helen Feinsod owned the Purple Sage Motel at the east end of town. The rooms were comfortable, and their hospitality would make the town of Snyder proud. Mr. Feinsod had small collection of vintage cars that included a 1929 Ford Model A and a gorgeous 1939 Buick convertible. I wrote in my journal that he let me drive both cars on a Sunday afternoon out on a dirt country road. I was in heaven as a 14 year old. We had attended church with them and their 2 children Virgil and Celia.

We also had dinner with another innkeeper in town named Jack Pointeau. His family gained national notoriety back in 1989 because they were almost deported back to their native France. It had something to do with red tape and our broken immigration policies. They owned a business, employed other American workers, paid taxes, and they were embraced by the Snyder community. Their story had a good ending because they were eventually allowed to stay, and I believe they became U.S. citizens.

Snyder had an old drugstore on its town square with an old fashioned soda fountain. My Mom especially missed getting a soda from the town drugstore as a kid. She had fond memories of getting old fashioned soda growing up in the late '40s and early 50's. So Snyder, TX also provided us with a much appreciated first soda fountain experience. Across the street from the old drugstore, there is a statue of a rare albino buffalo that sits on the county courthouse lawn. Mom, Aaron, and I posed for a picture in front the buffalo. 

So on Saturday, Cathleen and I raced to find as many things from my original account that still remained in Snyder. I remembered right where the soda fountain had been, but there didn't seem to be a drugstore anymore. We stepped into Pam Robertson's Mason Jar Mercantile Gifts & Antiques. It was a charming little store, and the owner was just as sweet. She was talking to a young woman named Baylee Lewis. We explained why I was looking for the soda fountain and about my family's "Walk." They both opened their mouths in surprise. I quickly shared about my family's adventure. Both women were amazed and shared a nice conversation with us before directing us to the other end of the block where she thought we could get some information on what happened to the drugstore. The original soda fountain now sits in a theater across the square and is only open during shows and plays. We also learned Helen Feinsod's home number and we gave her a call. 

A few minutes later, we were happily reunited with Helen and her daughter Celia, sharing old memories. Helen no longer owns the Purple Sage, but she and her daughter own a laundromat called "Wash Happening" and a party room known as "The Gathering Spot." Helen was very interested in reconnecting with my Mom who still runs a laundromat on Ventura Ave back home. I'm glad they will be talking after so many years of losing contact.

Cathleen and I were soon driving towards the "Walk's" half way point of Denton, TX. We stopped in the historic town of Albany where there is still a working soda fountain, and I had a chocolate soda. It was delicious. We stopped to take some pictures of a Hickory BBQ restaurant my family had eaten at when we walked through. It was closed until 6 PM and we had to press on. 

After the ice storm

White buffalo 1987
Today's buffalo

Remembering the fallen in Snyder, TX for Memorial Day

Chatting with Pam and Baylee

Where the old soda fountain used to be.

Reconnecting with Helen and Celia Feinsod

1929 Model A. Look who's driving!

1939 Buick

Monday, May 28, 2012

On Friday, Cathleen and I headed back to Whites City after a good night's sleep in Carlsbad, NM. As we pulled up to the Whites City Post Office, old memories began to flood my mind.

I remembered picking up our General Delivery mail so many years ago. Mr. Jim McCain, who wrote the all original Star Free Press stories including last week's article, had published our Whites City general delivery address on the front page of our local paper in Ventura. It was two days before Christmas, and we had just hiked across the desolate stretch of highway between El Paso and Whites City/Carlsbad area.  Two inches of snow blanketed the ground around us and walking into the warm inviting Post Office of Whites City was something I'll never forget. The Post Master was Jodi Tapp. When Dad walked up to the window and inquired about if we had any mail, Ms. Tapp got this huge smile on her face and said, "I've never seen so much mail in General Delivery for anyone in my entire 12 years with the Postal Service! Who are you guys!?" We had received five inches thick of letters from people back home. Many of the letters were from people we had never met telling us to press on and not give up! Many people were praying for us. The paper had recently shared about our breakdown in Eastern Arizona where we almost quit the walk. People wanted us to keep going! It was so encouraging, and now there was no way I was going to quit this goal with my family! My Dad explained to her that we were walking across America as a family. I wrote in my account that Ms. Tapp made us Christmas peanut butter brittle. This gesture made us feel so at home and welcome.

Small town America has a heartfelt friendliness that is still present today. You just might have to work a little harder to find it. Today's tough economic times have hurt a lot of folks. People are less trusting and more cynical at times.  But underneath the scrapes and cuts of losing jobs, families divorcing, losing loved ones, and social media robbing the dinner table of family interaction, there lies dormant a memory of America's resolve to never give up and never surrender. America's greatness lies in the character of its people. I am ever hopeful that we will overcome these present challenges if we just place one foot in front of the other and not allow defeat and fear to dissuade us from pursuing our dreams. I thank God for this opportunity to visit America again.

Back at the Whites City Post Office, Vicki Wood, today's Post Master, greeted Cathleen and me with a big smile after I shared my "Walk" memories with her. She even took Cathleen and my picture in front of the Post Office.  Matlin Smith of the Carlsbad Current Argus newspaper used this picture in a great story she wrote about our current rediscovery of my "Walk."

Please see to view the article in Sunday's Carlsbad, NM newspaper.

Cathleen and I said a warm farewell to Vickie and her assistant Amy, and headed up to Carlsbad Caverns. My family had visited the cave on our cross-country trek. It was mid-afternoon and the entrance to the cave was closed. The ranger informed me that we could still go down the elevator until 5 PM for 6 dollars a piece. Compared to other National Park experiences, that's a bargain! Down in the caves, a magical world awaited. The Big Room in Carlsbad Caverns is so majestic! God's handy-work is everywhere, even deep within the ground.

After a 45 minute rush through the Big Room, Cathleen and I were rushing back to Whites City to mail my Dad, Mom and brother postcards of the cave. The post office was closed. I rushed next door to a general store that sold local area souvenirs and inquired about buying some stamps. The man at the counter said he thought they might have some. After checking several different drawers, he asked the and older man who looked to be the owner if they had any. He tersely replied, "No we don't carry stamps for everybody." At that moment a customer rushed over and said, "My daughter and I have some in the car! We were going to write some postcards as well! How many do you need?" I gave her a dollar and she handed over 3 postcard stamps. That was so cool!

After mailing the postcards, we were off to Snyder, Texas and the next stage of our rediscovery!
Nearing Whites City in December, 1986 with El Capitan in the background.

Covered in a blanket of snow in December, 1986. Whites City lives up to its name!

In the caverns, 1986

Talking with the current Whites City Post Master Vickie Wood

Vickie reading an old article about the U.S. Family Walk 

At the base of the Welcome to Carlsbad sign.

Gotta love those West Texas two lane road 75 mph speed limits.  I'm glad it was only 55 mph when my family walked!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Thursday we headed off route to the little historic town of Mesilla just south of Las Cruces. My wife Cathleen remembered a restaurant called La Posta that she had written an article on for her university's student-run magazine. Cathleen graduated from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces and so this brief intersection had my future wife living in the city we walked through on our coast to coast walk across the U.S. 25 years ago. The restaurant looked the same and the authentic Mexican food was superb. We split a lunch and it was enough for both us.

The town has a plaza that takes one back in time to the days of the Mexican old West and feels enchanting. We were informed by a passer-by that the town is indeed haunted. Dia de los Muertos themes were present in some business and I was surprised at how serious the stranger was. It reminded me of an episode from the 1980's cartoon, Scooby Doo. What's ghosts were haunting this town?

After a nice walk, we drove to crossing over the Rio Grande River, but instead of finding one of the most famous rivers in the U.S. or Mexico, we found a drive riverbed that stretched to the horizon. There was no water to be seen. Soon Cathleen and I were at the Texas border. We stopped for Cathleen to snap a picture of me at the Welcome to Texas sign.

During my family's "Walk," we had walked paralleling I-10 on Texas Hwy 20 through downtown El Paso. As we drove down Mesa St also Hwy 20, I was transported back in time and remembered the wonder of suddenly being amongst the tall buildings of downtown El Paso. We had been walking for weeks through wilderness and small towns since leaving Phoenix and the sensation was surreal.

Dad and Mom were informed by my grandparents that my Mom's younger brother Mark would be on business in El Paso. Uncle Mark was living in Mexico City at the time with his Mexican wife Laura. We would learn later that year that she was pregnant with their first child, Gabriella. Gaby was the first cousin that Aaron and I had on Mom's side of our family. I remarked in my journal that we spent a few days with Uncle Mark. He slept on the extra bed in our tent trailer at night and he drove to his convention in El Paso during the day. Uncle Mark had driven our whole family into Ciudad Juarez, Mexico across the International boarder from El Paso, TX. He had to check on a rental car or something. Drivers in that city were were wild. Cars swerved in front of other others and stopped suddenly with no warning. My Uncle Mark masterfully wove us through what appeared to be motor chaos. Crossing the boarder truly felt like being in another world. Today Juarez has the distinction of being the bloodiest city in Mexico with thousands killed by drug cartel violence every year. Uncle Mark brought us back into El Paso with ease and I was excited to be in another country.

After spending several days and more time than my parents had planned for for, we trudged eastward through the high desert of Western Texas. I wrote in my journal that we had walked to the little town of Cornudas, population 13. It was comprised as a cafe and store out in the middle of nowhere. May's Cafe served a "pretty good burger." On the restroom wall was a sign stating. "In this land of Sand and Sun, please don't flush for number one." The cafe had pictures of the many visitors to her cafe including President Ronald Reagan. The owner sadly recalled later that his photo had been stolen from under a glass table cover and she was saddened by that. May had opened the store in 1981 and we had been served by her in 1986! The cafe served ice cream by the scoop in those days. It still serves ice cream, but in pre-packaged ice cream sandwiches and bars. May had owned same place for 30 years! Cathleen and I enjoyed chatting briefly with her and a friendly Walmart truck driver. Then it was on  to Carlsbad for the night.  A few miles past El Capitan, the route takes us back into New Mexico.

The air quality was poor, most of it coming from Juarez and El Paso smog, as Cathleen and I continued our drive towards the Guadalupe Mountains National Park and El Capitan Peake, the highest point in Texas. We stopped to snap some photos. We soon were back in New Mexico driving through Whites City at the entrance to Carlsbad Caverns National Park before arriving for the night in the City of Carlsbad. Back in 1986, what was waiting for us in Whites City NM, truly amazed and encouraged my family to press on towards the goal.

On a special note, I would like to thank Rich Bolas of Your West Valley News for an insightful well written article and Dave Martinez for creative photography.

At La Posta Restaurant

One of the haunting inhabitants

Plaza de Mesilla

Downtown Mesilla

Present day Rio Grande

Between Las Cruces and El Paso

Downtown El Paso

May's Cafe is a patriotic place! 
Friendly folks

Wisdom expressed over the front door in May's Cafe

In Cornudas, Tuesday is the day of rest.

Outside of May's

Below the Guadalupe Mountains of Texas

The mighty El Capitan

Suset over the Guadalupe Mountains