My family settled in New Jersey from England and Holland at the start of the 18th century. My mother’s family were the Covenhovens and owned the farmhouse which served as the headquarters for the Battle of Monmouth during the Revolutionary War. So perhaps it’s natural that I believed all United States history originated from the northeastern shores and oozed westward, flowing like a slow moving swill of thick, maple syrup that stuck fast to everything.
Then we came here, to Austin for a month, and began to explore.
We traveled to Fredericksburg, and the first night ate schnitzel at a German restaurant and drank a crisp, fruity, local Riesling; mimicking those of the Mosel River valley area of Germany. The waitress took our order in heavily accented English with a staccato of guttural, Germanic overtones.
Across the street, the baker sold poppy seed strudel – the same stuffed-full-of-poppyseed selections commonly sold in Budapest and Bratislava. Our waiter shared that the owner divested of his second bakery just that week. “It’s in Berlin,” he laughed, “All week he has been watching the euro slide waiting for the transaction to complete.” “Wow Pat,” I whispered, “This place really is German.”
We traced back country tracks to the one room school houses of Gillespie county founded by people with names like Mathias Schmidt and in towns called Luckenbach. These schools were started by a wave of German immigrants in the mid 1800s and served the rural, farming neighborhoods for over one hundred years.
Then we made our way south and toured the oldest cathedral in the United States, predating the Revolutionary War, in San Antonio. We biked past Spanish missions of the same era. Everywhere, we found a history every bit as deep and rich as what I grew up with.
Somehow, I failed to realize that while the English settled the east, the Spanish came to occupy what is today Texas. Initially, Texas belonged to Mexico which was a colony of Spain. Then, Mexico gained independence from Spain before Texas ultimately asserted its freedom from Mexico. A decade later, Texas joined the United States and became the only sovereign nation to achieve US statehood. (Am I the only person who didn’t know that?)
How bizarre to realize that in this area, a time existed when the Mexican population comprised the original settlers and the Americans were the unwelcome immigrants.
In the first mission, Concepcion, services were about to begin as we parked our bikes and walked tentatively to the door. The sound of acoustic guitar and tambourines created a Catholic/mariachi fusion which blended with the English and Spanish banter of arriving families.
People stood in the aisles and outside the doors. The usher insisted we come in, “Don’t worry, the band is just practicing. Service hasn’t started.” Even though we were dressed for biking, not church service, people stood to greet us as the usher led us on a quick tour; “Please, look around. Come here. Take your photo at the alter. You being here is what makes it special!”
As I reflect back on our time in Texas, I realize, through good days and bad, how rich our history is and what a wonderful melting pot this created. Or maybe we are more like a stew; a savory blend of ingredients where the origin of each chunk is still distinguishable.
Most days it works. When it doesn’t, we make international news and dissect our shortcomings. But when it all melds together, the result can be fantastic.
During my time in Europe, when people asked me what I missed about home I always answered, “The diversity.” This. Right here. I grew up with it. But I never realized a second version existed in the heart of Texas. And that it would remind me so deeply, and act as such a welcome, that I am home.
Categories: The United States