When our daughters were in grade school and middle school, Renaissance Man and I decided it was time to take them to a Texas beach. We had frequented the beaches of the Pacific and the Atlantic as well as the beaches around Gulf Shores, Alabama, but never any of the Texas beaches mostly because the locals we spoke to steered us away. They warned us in particular of the beaches on Galveston Island using descriptors like smelly, grungy with pockets of oil residue and excessive seaweed. No one mentioned the feral cats.
But Galveston beckoned to us in spite of the sub-par beach reviews. We were interested in exploring NASA, the Strand, Moody Gardens and other local historical attractions, so we booked a stay at an island hotel, planned for a four-day long week-end in July and eventually headed south. The drive from the fort should only be about five hours but this trip lasted more like seven. The old grey Jeep Waggoner was packed with all the traveling requirements of three little girls and their parental units. As I recall, the trip between Fort Worth and this side of Houston was uneventful with a short stop in Huntsville for a family picnic below the towering statue of Sam Houston. This giant of a statue is certainly big like Texans like to brag.
“The 67-ft. tall (plus 10-ft. base) statue is named “A Tribute to Courage.” Sam Houston, celebrated political architect of Texas, towers in concrete above Interstate 45, with walking cane and snappy duds of a 19th century statesman (though he could also be mistaken for a statue of P.T. Barnum). In the summer humidity of east Texas, we appreciate the tensile strength of one who could dress like this and still lead.” – http://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/7247
The state penitentiary is also located in Huntsville where Texans regularly enact the death penalty. RM and I didn’t think our three little girls needed to learn about that practice quite yet so we drove further south. The traffic thickened on I-45. North of Houston, we came to a complete stop in six lanes of interstate filled with every manufactured vehicle produced in the known world and only the inside lane creeping along with a stream of cars exiting off onto jammed access roads. Lots of trucks. Welcome to Houston traffic, newbie’s! RM and I had lived in L.A. and Atlanta but there is something especially unnerving about Houston traffic. There are loops inside of loops filled with speeding vehicles going every which way including offroading in vehicles more designed for NASCAR than mudding. On this trip, we witnessed a fire-red Miata as it attempted to veer around traffic on the inside parking lane, then it somehow launched into the air and landed with aplomb on top of a row of bushes lining the exit ramp. I know I saw the driver’s “oh sh – -“ facial expression as he squealed by us exiting rapidly from the roadway – that’s how close he was to killing us and our three little darlings. We didn’t have time to stop and render aid as all the other cars kept moving along like salmon swimming upstream in crazy succession. The girls were oblivious to the impending danger as they were engrossed in their car toys or napping even over the sound of the police and ambulance sirens. Now I understand what “white knuckle” driving really means as RM’s hands were locked around the steering wheel and I actually witnessed his knuckles as they turned white as he clenched hard to the wheel in hopes of saving us all from certain death and dismemberment. We lurched forward. South of Houston, the traffic began to clear and we looked out the wagon windows to a series of oil refineries and other industrial development that stretched as far as we could see. It smelled like money. We drove on and finally came to the bridge that takes you over the bay and onto Galveston Island. We were starting to relax as the traffic had slowed and we could smell the sea. It was a very soothing smell to this frazzled young mother and I was ready just to get to the hotel and get the munchkins out of the car and to the beach. The girls were ready to get out of the car too as the break back in Huntsville had been hours ago. My girls can drive eight hours with only one bathroom break after year’s of RM training and little water intake.
The hotel was o.k. The security bars and the long hall of hotel doors, reminiscence of the Green Mile, did not bode well but the room was clean, had a nice kitchen for easy meal preparation and we could see (if we tilted our head way to the left) a corner of the beach and the Gulf Ocean. The hotel sponsored three beautiful pools in various sizes and depths which seemed unnecessary with the ocean just right next door. They were extremely necessary come to find out. We gathered up our gear and sporting our best swimwear headed over the busy, four lane road to the concrete stairs that provided access to the beaches below the hurricane wall. As we climbed down the stairs, we noticed huge numbers of feral cats picking at dead fish parts and wet seaweed for nourishment. They would scatter when humans approached much to my girls’ dismay but to my appreciation as these cats didn’t look like they wanted petting. They reminded me of the tough cats featured in the film, An American Tail, that the three C’s liked to watch. Tails cut off, missing eyes and chewed ears seemed to be the group norm for most of the members of this infamous, or how I will refer to as, the Galveston Island Cat Gang. They owned the space under the beach stairs.
After passing through cat alley, we ventured further out to the beach and set up the chairs, umbrellas, cooler, beach toys, sand pails and shovels and proceeded to have a wonderful evening as the sun set over the beach. We all poked our toes in the water. Reviews were correct that the beaches were not pristine but we found an area that was relatively seaweed free and managed to build a few sand structures. The girls splashed in the ocean but did not go too far out. They had all watched the movie Jaws too many times with their older cousins that the thought of going beyond knee-deep limited their swimming range considerably. RM dove in and swam way out where I could barely see him and bobbed up and down in the warm ocean water to demonstrate to his girls how safe the water was. They were not convinced. It was late and getting dark so we all trudged back to the hotel and crashed for the night. We repeated this schedule daily except we substituted the pools for the beach (why lug all that stuff to the beach when the pool was right out the hotel door – no lugging and the girls would actually get into the pool water). Alternating swimming in the pool – not the beach – with days touring local attractions was a bit of a compromise but it turned out to be a fun and educational family vacation. RM was an aircraft designer earlier in his career so he was thrilled that we agreed to make a day of it at NASA. The associated museum may be worth the terrorizing drive.
On the last night, we decided to “splurge” and eat out at a local seafood restaurant. The girls wanted to eat at Joe’s Crab Shack as they had walked by its beckoning bright lights for several nights and were lured in by the chain’s propaganda that they viewed too often between children’s television programming back home. RM wasn’t too excited about it because he knew the prices would be inflated and the seafood just adequate but he relented after much whining and “pretty pleases” from his three little girls. The dinner was as expected but we did get everyone to try calamari so that was a triumph. We were all nicely sated as we headed out of the restaurant to cross the highway for one last glimpse of the ocean before heading home in the morning. We all stopped to unwrap the complimentary Crab Shack mint and then proceeded out of restaurant. C3 always stayed close by my side due to an earlier traumatizing misadventure at a firework show so she was next to me as we dashed across the road. It wasn’t too busy but we did need to jog to get across ahead of the light traffic. As we crossed, C3 took in a big gulp of air and the mint in that painstakingly…. slow-motioned…. moment… was jammed into her tiny esophagus in its entirety. She stopped in the middle of the road trying to gag but nothing was coming up. I grabbed her around the middle, carried her to the side of the road, and with my girl scout training performed the Heimlich maneuver on her all while the other two C’s and RM looked on in disbelief. After two quick punches to her abdomen up came the mint and the entire contents of her stomach including her recent fried fish dinner from Joe’s Crab Shack out onto the pavement. RM’s face was perfection. On one hand he was glad his little darling was fine but on the other hand there was an over-priced, recently eaten dinner wasted on ground.
Not quite a total wash of our hard earned resources for out from under the stairs in steady formation strode the Galveston Island Cat Gang to lick up our mess. From this day forward, C3 is not allowed to eat mints while walking, running, talking, jumping…ok, don’t give her mints. I wonder if those feral cats are still living in their kitty condos by the sea?
Hope your family enjoys the summer vacation you are planning for them this year. They are always an adventure.
“Never give this cute kid a mint” — her mother.