I hope everyone in Minnesota had as great a holiday season as our family’s at this year’s destination in Austin, Texas. We rented a large, beautiful six bedroom house on Lake Austin that had room for a dozen family members and plenty of room for visitors. We also had an extra 50-60 degrees of temperature to play with than at our home in Minnesota.
Down in Texas, my list from the bucket for 2013 emptied like we were slopping the hogs. The first item I checked off called for dining at a “Top Chef” restaurant named after Filipino Chef Paul Qui. The food was quite different. The eclectic menu came with an $888 dinner tab that stood my hair on end; both of them.
A Mexican restaurant named Guero’s is a well-known Austin destination that is on many people’s bucket list. I asked the owner, my friend Rob, about one of the many photos on his wall.
“What did Bill Clinton say to you when he shook your hand?” I asked.
“He said, what’s good to eat?” he replied.
Next on my list was a trip to San Antonio where we visited the Alamo, the site of a huge military blunder by Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie in the war between Texas and Mexico. We also visited the famous Riverwalk, highlighted by a boat ride down the San Antonio River.
The next bucket list check-off was a trip to the LBJ Presidential Library. I thoroughly enjoyed the old photos of LBJ’s early days in Texas. The photos of LBJ’s albatross, the Vietnam War, told an entirely different story. The surprise of the library was the section that told the story of his creating the Pacific Crest Trail. Etched in marble was none other than our rural McGregor, Minnesota, friend, author Cheryl Strayed, who wrote the best seller, “Wild: Lost and Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.”
The final item on the bucket list turned out to be the highlight of our entire trip. My wife and I always wanted our sons to see where it all began for Karen and me. I wanted them to meet our Texas friends and vice-versa. Our reunion party of 50 some people (many Minnesota and South Dakota transplants) included our 14 immediate family members. One of those members was Tom McKenna, my wife’s newly found half-brother. For Tom, an orphan who had no knowledge of this side of the family, the gathering was a huge welcome. Everyone fell in love with our Canadian side of the family and the feeling was reciprocated.
This was not on our bucket list, but the Austin music scene made this one of our greatest "destination holidays" ever. We saw our friends, Christine Albert and Chris Gage, at four different venues. Each time they added several Texas musicians from the audience, including Sarah Elizabeth Campbell who closed one of the shows with “Have Yourself a Merry Christmas.” It would be the last song she ever sang on stage for she died in her sleep on Christmas night.
Christine played with toe-tapping, finger-clicking pianist Marcia Ball at the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar. I literally ran into Marcia the next night at Donn’s Depot and asked if she remembered me. Of course she didn’t as I had not seen her since 1972 when she performed as “Frieda and the Firedogs” around local Austin bars. I got a hug when I told her I had followed her career for the last 40 years.
Earlier that evening, as I spoke with Christine on break, she said, “Stick around Wick. I have some people setting in next set.”
The next thing I knew, she was introducing me to West Texas legend Butch Hancock.
Her husband and our old South Dakota friend, Chris Gage, has played a piano bar gig at Donn’s Depot for the last 19 years. Made from a half dozen old boxcars, the night club is an Austin icon. After the first set, Chris opened the floor to the plethora of Texas musicians waiting in the wings to jam on stage. The highlight of the night was when Christine performed several songs in French as she sang the crowd all the way back to post-war Paris.
It was finally time to depart. An accidental meeting at the airport gave us the opportunity for the family photo we had vowed to take, but somehow managed to avoid.
As we debated the family holiday destination for next year, I hollered out, “San Juan, Puerto Rico!”
I only got one other person to join me. It looks like the next one will be in New Orleans, Louisiana. Break out the beads and bongos.