Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Atlantis of Texas

Historians have been searching for the lost city of Atlantis forever it seems. Fables have said that Atlantis was the hub of the ancient world and it was they who taught the Egyptians and Mayans how to build the pyramids and Greeks how to build their temples. They taught the world reading and writing, mathematics and science. The people of Atlantis seemed to be all-powerful until nature showed them their mistaken belief and swallowed them up, never to be seen again.

Here in Texas, we have our own Atlantis phenomenon, the seaport of Indianola. Once a thriving town of immigrants from Europe (mostly Germany), Indianola disappeared from the coast of Texas and slipped beneath the salty waters of Matagorda Bay. In 1875, Indianola’s growing sea port was second only to Galveston. The hurricane of 1875 almost completely destroyed the town, but the people rebuilt it stronger and better. Unfortunately, the fury of nature returned with the hurricane of 1886 putting the final nail in Indianola’s coffin.  The post office was closed and the town was declared dead.

As I gaze out over the waters of Matagorda Bay, the salt infused wind blows gently across my face. I strain my eyes and focus on the water’s surface hoping to locate some sign of history lost. It was here where the French explorer La Salle came to discover a new world. It was here where the Germans started their historic death march to Comal County. It was here where the US army brought camels to test their usefulness in the Texas desert. It is here where now there is only a watery desert, void of mankind’s interference. Visions of a bustling seaport fill my mind as the rhythmic waves wash across the shoreline on this lazy summer afternoon. No signs of the ruins of the courthouse or other structures remain along the shore. Man continually attempts to change the landscape of earth but nature is always there to remind him who reigns.

Though the town has disappeared, there are many items of interest to view. A large statue of the French explorer La Salle reigns over the grasslands of the coast. The old Indianola cemetery reminds us of the brave souls who helped make Texas great. Remains of another LaSalle statue, weary from storms past, guards the entrance to the Indianola Cemetery. An old cistern reminds us of the unavailability of fresh water needed to quench the thirst of the settlers. A few of the homes of Indianola standing after the hurricane of 1886 were disassembled and relocated to the distant towns of Victoria, Cuero and Gonzales, preserving the legacy of Indianola.

Indianola may have vanished like the great city of Atlantis, but she will always be remembered in Texas Thru My Back Door!

For more pictures of this scenic location visit the photo page on my website http://www.ajpetter.com/Page_3.php

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Sweet Life

Retired life is sweet.  How sweet?  It’s as sweet as honey wine.  

Dating back to at least 2000 BC, honey wine, or mead, is believed to be one of the oldest known fermented beverages.   As part of the growing Texas wine industry, there are now a number of wineries that focus on producing mead.    In fact, the Rohan Meadery, located just north of La Grange, has some award winning varieties.  Armed with a sweet tooth and break in our busy schedule, we decided a day trip was in order.

For Al and I, there’s just no way to travel through the La Grange area without stopping in Ellinger for kolaches at Hruska’s .  So, we decided to make that our first stop of the day.  It was so crowded that we had to wait in line for a table, but it was worth the wait for sausage and cheese klobasnikys followed by fantastic cottage cheese kolaches and Al’s personal favorite, the poppy seed kolache.

It’s a short trip from Ellinger through La Grange to FM 2981 and the Rohan Meadery.  Descendants of Moravian immigrants, John and Wendy Rohan started their meadery in 2009 using locally produced Texas wildflower honey along with a variety of fruits to flavor their wines. 

As we drove up the gravel path toward the winery, I couldn’t help but smile at the brightly decorated building with its lovely patio area.   Inside the tasting room, we were greeted by Wendy Rohan, whose cheerful demeanor perfectly matched the sunny décor.

The $5.00 tasting fee typically covers 5 generous pours, but on this lazy summer day, business was slow and Wendy offered us a bonus 6th tasting.  Although the meadery offers dry wines, we sampled a range of semi-sweet to very sweet wines including Blackberry Melomel, Raspberry Melomel, Temperament, and Honeymoon, their Czech inspired traditional honey wine. Our personal favorites were the award winning Raspberry Melomel and the Honeymoon Traditional.  I must admit that I’ve never tasted mead before and it is indeed very sweet, but according to Wendy, not nearly as sweet as many of the European varieties of mead.

After eating kolaches for lunch followed by 6 different varieties of sweet honey wine, I was ready for a change of pace and an opportunity to lower my blood sugar.  So with the wisdom that only comes with age we decided to counteract the side effects of excessive sugar intake with a trip to Royer’s Cafe in Round Top.  Clearly the wine was still affecting me.  Why else would I agree to settle my stomach by going to a diner famous for its pies!

Fortunately there were no antique shows in Round Top that afternoon and we were able to get seated right away.  Now did you think that after all that sugar we actually went there for the pie?  Although I admit that looks can be deceiving, neither one of us is actually senile yet.  We went for the burgers.  As a self-professed bread addict I have to say the hamburger buns were delicious and the fresh beef and produce were just what we needed. 

OK, I admit it.  We did split a piece of pie before we left.  After all, we’re consenting adults.  The interior of this unforgettable small town treasure is literally papered with glowing reviews and thank you notes for their famous pies so, how could we not?

Kolaches, honey wine, burgers and apple pie…  I can’t think of a better way to sample the sweet life in Texas Thru My Backdoor.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

San Leon Memories

On a warm, dark summer night back in the 50’s, my dad would load his green 1951 Chevy pickup truck with fishing gear and a 7 ½ HP Elgin Outboard Motor.  Us boys were already in the truck, excited about the fishing trip to San Leon we were about to embark on.  Fishing was one of the wonderful hobbies my dad shared with us.  We did not know or understand at the time that we were poor and that the fish we caught were needed help feed our growing bodies.   For us, this was an adventure to see who would catch the most fish and the biggest.  I was the youngest at this time with two older brothers. Everything was a competition for us.  For dad though, it was probably a great opportunity to get out of the house and out of mom’s way. 

The warm, humid moonlit night gave way to a rainbow of orange and red hues cast by the morning sun through the distant rain clouds on the horizon.  The drives along Red Bluff Road in the ‘51 Pickup was bumpy at best and as slow as molasses, but we didn’t care.  We were going FISHING! The trek moved from Red Bluff Road to Highway 3 and on to San Leon without a hitch.  With the light of day upon us, we pulled into the bait camp.  Dad went inside to rent a 14’ semi-v hull aluminum boat and buy some bait while we gathered our fishing gear and headed to the boat ramp.  A light breeze filled our nostrils with the smell of saltwater.  Sea gulls could be heard crying out for any scrap a fisherman was willing to part with to eat. 

Soon Dad emerged from the bait house and pointed to the boat we were going to take.  Running like one of us three might be left behind, we darted toward the boat.  Dad was the last one to get to the boat but he was carrying the outboard motor.  As he got into the boat, with one strong arm, he yanked the motor into the boat with him.  He then set it down on the transom and tightened the motor clamps to secure the motor to the boat.  After checking that we all had our life vests on, he grabbed the pull handle of the motor and with a quick jerk the purr of the motor resonated.  When I heard the clunk of the gears engaging, I knew we were on our way to Redfish Island.  Our fishing journey had started!

Well, back in those days, we mostly caught croaker, sandtrout, whitings and saltwater catfish known as hardheads (those you threw back!).  An occasional highly prized speckle trout, redfish or black drum would make it into our ice chest.  Dad would never let us use live bait so we were stuck with dead shrimp or cut bait. “Too costly for you boys to waste!” Dad would say when we asked to use live shrimp. We didn’t really care as long as we caught some fish.

Today, I still enjoy fishing and still don’t use live bait.  I prefer artificial lures to catch those prized fish.  My dad instilled a love of the outdoors into this boy that would last for a lifetime with memories that will never be forgotten.  Though I don’t fish as much as I would like too, I still get down to San Leon once in a while.  But now I head over to Bubba’s Shrimp Palace and gorge myself on large, fresh, fried shrimp!  I believe they have the best and largest fried shrimp you’ll find anywhere in the Houston area.  And if you are really hungry, try their all-you-can-eat fried shrimp dinner for $9.99 on Monday night!  Located at 113 6th Street in San Leon, you can’t miss the large pink building.  So pull on your boots, loosen up your belt and enjoy Texas thru your backdoor!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Head and Shoulders Above the Rest

As you travel I-45 north of Conroe, it’s impossible to miss the imposing statue of one of the most central figures of Texas history, Sam Houston (The Raven).  Like most people, I certainly recognized the statue as a landmark in my journeys up the highway, but had never thought to stop and really examine the monument.  However, I’ve discovered that just a 30 min. stop to tour the park and visitor center is more than worth the time invested.

Soldier, legislator, governor, adopted member of the Cherokee nation, military commander, and president, Sam Houston embodied the larger than life persona so often associated with Texas.  It’s fitting that his statue would tower over the highway leading to his final hometown of Huntsville.  It’s well known that Sam Houston was the general who defeated Santa Anna to win our independence from Mexico.  But, did you know that he was president of the Republic of Texas twice and served in the U.S. Congress after Texas entered the United States as a state?  How soon we forget those who did so much for us.

From the large breezy porch of the visitor center to the quiet tree lined paths, the memorial creates a tranquil and reverent atmosphere that seems to obscure the fact that this small park is located directly adjacent to a major highway. Standing next to the statue, you get a true sense of the height of this monument. At 67 feet plus a 10 foot high base, it is an appropriately impressive display for a larger than life character like Sam Houston.  However, what struck me most was what he had to say.  On the side of the base is a plaque with this quote, “The great misfortune is that a notion obtains with those in power that the world, or the people, require more of governing than is necessary. To govern well is a great science, but no country is ever improved by too much governing…most men think when they are elevated to position, that it requires an effort to discharge their duties, and they leave common sense out of the question. Govern wisely and as little as possible.”  Wisdom never grows old or tired and Sam Houston’s philosophy of government is just as relevant today as it was in his time.  That’s why I used his quote and this location in my book, “The Second Coming-The Republic of Texas”.  

Now that I’ve hopefully piqued your curiosity, you may be wondering how to get to the visitor center.  The best way I found is to take the next exit north of the statue leading to Huntsville and turn right on the feeder road (State highway 75) and head back south.  The visitor center will be on your right. There is ample parking and clean restrooms at the site.  So the next time you drive by, slow down a little, smile up at ol’ Sam and thank him for everything he did to enable the great life we live today.  Hope you enjoy a little Texas History Thru My Back Door!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Teepee Motel

The other day I was watching a re-run of an old cowboys and Indians show on TV.  This got me to thinking how cool it would be to sleep in a teepee!  As kids, we loved watching old westerns and we often ran outside afterwards and play acted the shows.  We didn’t have exact plastic replicas of guns and bows like the kids have today, so we used sticks, string and our imagination to stage our shows.  As the youngest, I nearly always lost or died in battle at the hands of my older brothers.  I didn’t care; it was still fun to play-act. 

So I told Suzanne to pack her bags.  We’re going to Wharton and stay in a Teepee!  Off we went, making our way to US 59 heading south.  What a great adventure.  Luckily Suzanne didn’t question my sanity.  If I wanted to sleep in a teepee, she would, too.  As we got close to Wharton, we veered off onto Business 59.  Soon we came upon the Teepee Motel!  I could see the relief in Suzanne’s eyes as we pulled up to an honest-to-goodness vintage motel built back in 1942 and reminiscent of the Route 66 era of the 50’s and 60’s.  

Checking in, we were given the keys to our very own Teepee!  The room was clean with a rustic Native American Indian décor.  And best of all, it was air conditioned.  Outside they had giant arrows stuck into the ground at an angle as if shot from a giant bow.  If only I could have stayed here as a child.  What memories would that have made?

The next morning I woke up Suzanne early so that we could travel to Prasek’s Hillje Smokehouse.  Just down the freeway past El Campo in the little town of Hillje, Prasek’s serves fantastic kolaches.   Poppyseed kolaches are one of their specialties and if you get there late in the morning, they will be all gone.

We quickly got dressed and made the short drive.  Sure enough, there was already a crowd at the bakery counter salivating over the kolaches behind the glass.  We patiently stood in line waiting for our turn to voice our order while inhaling the fresh baked smells from the counter full of pastries.  Prasek’s has some of the best kolaches and klobasnikys around the area.  By the way, they also make a pretty good link sausage and we love their Southern Pecan coffee (available for purchase in 12 oz bags).  The clean and spacious dining area is decorated with a variety of hunting and fishing trophies.  There’s even a large fish tank to occupy the children while you eat.  After consuming our kolaches, Suzanne and I were raring to go to our next adventure in Texas Thru My Back Door!