July 25th, 2019
We have been driving down to Texas almost every year for the last thirty years. I think that we have traveled every possible route between Wisconsin and the Lone Star State. Recently, we settled on a path that takes us through Bloomington, Illinois and St. Louis, Missouri. Then it winds through Branson and the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas. Eventually, after driving along a variety of back roads in Texas, we arrive in Bryan. That is where we always wind up.
I am trying to remember all the trips we have made to Texas. I can’t. The memories tend to compress and blend together. Karin remembers things that I cannot recall, I probably remember things that she does not. We both probably remember things inaccurately. Maybe that doesn’t really matter.
Throughout the years, much has changed. We first went to Texas to visit my younger brother, Marc. He went there to study at Texas A&M. I don’t know why he did that, but he did. He studied aerospace engineering for a year, and he was very active in the Corps of Cadets. He was the guide on bearer, which apparently is an honor of sorts. Texas A&M is kind of like a southern-fried West Point. When we drove down to Bryan/College Station to see him, he had already met his future wife, Shawn, and he had jettisoned his plans at the university. He wasn’t going to school any more, but he wasn’t going to leave that local area.
Marc was eleven years younger than me. Somehow, we had a very close connection. I lives seemed to run in parallel. Our experiences we oddly similar.
Over the next few years, Karin and I and our kids returned to visit Marc and Shawn in Bryan. They got married in 1990. Marc and Shawn struggled financially, but they seemed happy. They liked going to coffee shops, especially “Sweet Eugene’s” in College Station. Shawn and Marc played in a Christian punk band, “Veil of Veronica”. They had two daughters, Maire and Roise. I remember driving down to see them in 1997. Marc had a job as a bus dispatcher, and he went into work quite early. He woke up me on the morning of my departure to say goodbye. We shook hands.
Marc died in February of 1998. It was in a car wreck. He hit a bridge abutment and went through the windshield of his Mazda. Shawn was devastated, and their girls were traumatized. We went down for the funeral. Our son, Hans, couldn’t handle the vigil in the funeral home, so he went outside with Karin. When he stopped near a stand of trees, he told Karin that he could feel Marc’s spirit, and that was okay to go back into the building. I remember, before they closed Marc’s casket, that I bent down to kiss his forehead. That was coldest thing I have ever felt in my life.
After Marc’s death, we kept a close relationship with Shawn and her family. We kept going down there year after year. Hans became enamored with Texas. When Hans got into his teenage years, he wanted to spend his summers with Shawn in Texas. He went o Bryan every summer, even if Karin and I didn’t. Shawn always found activities for Hans. He got along well with her daughters. There was a time, when Roise was little, that she referred to Hans as her “bestest hero”. I am not sure that she still thinks that way.
We got know Shawn’s family as the years went by. We met Shawn’s mom, Delphia, who was a smart and feisty woman. I remember her getting irritated with me, and then calling me a damn Yankee. Delphia married Tom Heck, an older man who was originally from from Louisiana. They bought an old, country house near Calvert. Shawn’s younger brother, Mark, was generous, loyal, smart and ambitious. He worked at the local newspaper, The Eagle, and eventually he became the operations manager there.
In 2008 Hans moved down to Texas. He had gone to school to be a carpenter, and he was going seek his fortune in Bryan. Unfortunately, the Great Recession hit just at that moment, and Hans wound up working in the mail room at The Eagle. Mark, Shawn’s brother, got him the job. The hours sucked and the pay was minimal, so Hans joined the Army in 2009. Even so, he never really left Texas except for basic training in Kentucky (Karin and I took him from Fort Knox to Bryan, via New Orleans, in the fall of 2010), and his deployment in Iraq. Hans spent most of military time with the armored cavalry at Fort Hood, Texas.
For a while, everything seemed to revolve around The Eagle. Shawn worked in the press room for some time. She met her second husband, Bob, there. Eventually, Stefan went down to Texas, and he worked in the press room too. I think that was in 2014. We made some trips to Bryan to visit Shawn and her girls. sometimes we went to visit Hans. Sometimes we went to visit Stefan.
Shawn married Bob. Their marriage was intense, loving, and brief. Bob was diagnosed with brain cancer shortly before their wedding. He was a good man. I only met him once or twice, but I liked him.
People started to leave. Bob succumbed to the cancer after a valiant fight. Delphia died from dementia. Mark shot himself. Tom died in a house fire at the very end of 2015. He and Hans had been sharing the farm house in Calvert after Delphia passed away. The house burned to the ground while Hans was away working in the oil fields.
Karin and I still traveled to Bryan. Shawn moved from her house to a variety of places. She is still nomadic. Maire moved to Oregon with her husband, Jon. Roise had a baby girl, Lani. The pieces on the board kept moving, but the chessboard has always remained Bryan.
Now we’re here again. Hans married Gabby last Friday. Karin and I are babysitting their seven month old, Weston. We will be going home to Wisconsin in a few days.
I am certain that we will be back.