It is a little over an hour drive from the Christian Charity Care Center in Alton, Texas to the Way of the Cross Training Center (WOTC) in Harlingen, Texas. We take what are considered backroads in Texas, but would be main highways in Saskatchewan. It would be quicker to take the freeways if the two locations were not both seven miles north of the main east-west freeway and if the ongoing construction was ever completed.
Many of the overpasses are being upgraded. To do this they bypass the work area by guiding traffic between concrete barriers, placed right at the edge of the lane. Juanita and I call these “Texas” barriers, but our better informed daughter has explained they are more properly called “New Jersey” barriers. Either way I hate them. The speed limit is reduced to 55 mph but the traffic stays at 70. If the section between barriers is one lane the other drivers tailgate if you go 55. If two lanes they tailgate and then pass. This would be acceptable if there was room to pass, but things are close with the choice between clipping the barriers or the adjacent vehicle (or is that adjoining vehicle?) plummeting along the heaving, temporary pavement that veers away from the original road surface.
Maybe it is not as bad as all that, even for a wide hipped Dodge dually, but I keep having flashbacks to a predawn rush to the border over those same roads on our first trip to Mexico with our rig.
Thursday, February 1st we pulled up stakes again and headed east a bit back to WOTC for our second SOWERS project there this winter. What’s this about stakes? What has that got to do with camping’ in a fifth wheel trailer? We use tent stakes as part of our effort to prevent the Internet satellite dish from becoming a metal and fiberglass tumbleweed in the wicked Texas winds. In addition to the stakes and the weight of the stand, there is also a five gallon bag of water on each corner of the stand. Seems to be over-kill, but the arrangement has stood up to winds that were clawing metal siding off a building we were parked next to near Houston. Rather have thoughts that things are overbuilt than firsthand experience that they were under-built.
Work at WOTC in February
SOWERS women worked at putting material in a couple of thousand binders that will be handed out to pastors at a pastors’ conference WOTC is holding in Managua, Nicaragua this Spring. Last year was amazing and this year promises to exceed that. For the latest news on this program go here. If you are interested in going to Nicaragua to help at the Pastors’ Conference this spring or other events later in the summer, check out the WOTC web site. They need cooks, bottlewashers and medical people and probably a few other skills J. You won’t come away unchanged. When not working on binders, Juanita and Bertha helped sort donated clothes in the WOTC warehouse in Harlingen where there is a food bank for the needy and where material is provided to numerous ministries in the valley and over the border.
SOWERS men worked on a mobile home that will, when finished, provide housing for a missionary couple at the training center. The mobile home had been through a flood before being donated to WOTC and relocated and set up in its present spot. In December the SOWERS men, added flashing to the roof vents, replaced the door frame and some other rotten, structural wood and removed any remnants of the original flooring and fasteners used on it.
The January SOWERS group repaired the water-damaged ceiling and installed stringers to support a new, metal roof above the original roof and installed the first two sheets of metal roofing.
February SOWERS work included installing the rest of the metal roof and further structural repairs. Then, while the ground was relatively dry (things dry quickly in brisk southern winds) anything such as insulation hanging down under the trailer was removed. We now have a new eye cup in our first aid supplies. Seemed like a good idea when we couldn’t find the old one and discovering that using a regular plastic glass was a bit messy in the confined space of an RV bathroom Juanita is such a patient person, but you had to have deduced that, if you have been following our adventures. But I digress.
Then it was time to pressure wash and re-paint the trailer. During one day when it was too cold for the paint to set the window screens got replaced. Most of the painting was brush and roller, but for some of it more original techniques were used. Did you know that in a thirty mile per hour wind the wind coming around the end of a trailer will blow the paint off the brush coming out of the can (sitting on the ground) and carry it six feet before it hits the ground?After the outside was painted the ceilings were touched up and a general interior clean-up was done. As the ministry gets funds they will hook up the power and the sewer and install flooring and a missionary family will have a more comfortable place to live than a WOTC motel room in Harlingen.
In addition to “SOWER Bob” there was “Volunteer Bob”. Volunteer Bob comes down every winter for a couple of months to help out at WOTC. In addition to the many things he worked on at the three WOTC he worked with the SOWERS for several hours a day. It was a bit confusing to have two Bob’s and we tried different names for them. Calling them Old Bob and Young Bob wasn’t too helpful. They were within a few months of the same age and it was too hard to keep straight which was what side of 78. Ended up calling them Mr. Drew or Mr. Poor when I wanted to get one’s attention and not the other’s. For a couple of 78’s they worked more like long-playing 33’s.
After we left WOTC to travel to our next project SOWER Bob and his wife stayed around waiting until it was time to go to their next project elsewhere in the Rio Grande Valley. Not content to sit on their hands or rest on their laurels they both pitched in for a couple of more days and got a few things done that needed doing, but the project time had run out for. I’m sure it was appreciated since there were no SOWERS scheduled at WOTC for March.
One Sunday afternoon we went as a foursome to a kite festival at South Padre island.
There were kites of all sizes and shapes even an eight tentacled octopus kite the size of a greyhound bus. There were kite ballets with two, three or four kites flying in elaborate patterns together in time to music. In one performance on of the kites dropped because its string had broken. The announcer mentioned that a set of kite strings for an acrobatic kite cost from fifty to two hundred dollars. I think I’ll keep to flying my $1.49 kite.
After watching kites for a while we walked out on a boardwalk through the salt marshes and sand dunes and saw the local flora and fauna up close without trampling it in our curiosity.
Iwo Jima Memorial
Another Sunday afternoon we went to the Iwo Jima Memorial and museum and the marine academy between the training center and town. There is a statue of the flag raising on the island of Iwo Jima during WWII. This statue is plaster and was used to cast the bronze version seen at the ArlingtonNationalCemetery near Washington, DC. It seems bigger than I remember the one at Arlington to be, but it has to be the same size. Perhaps because it is painted and sits on a base about eight feet high it seems bigger than the Arlington one which is closer to ground level.
Iwo Jima is an island that was on the path to invade Japan. The battle for it took thousands of lives. There are books and web sites devoted to the story of the battle. One site says that “in 36 days of fighting there were 25,851 US casualties (1 in 3 were killed or wounded). Of these, 6,825 American boys were killed. Virtually all 22,000 Japanese perished.” Not to minimize a single death in Iraq or other protracted campaigns, but the character of the populace has certainly changed when one thinks of the fuss about relatively few combat deaths in recent decades.
Wedding in Matamoros
One weekend we went to Juanita’s nephew’s wedding in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico. We stayed in the luxury hotel where the reception was held. The wedding itself was held in a graceful, old Catholic church. Juanita’s nephew is from Houston, and doesn’t speak Spanish. His wife is originally from Matamoros and some of here family does not speak English. The priest moved back and forth between languages and did most things in both Spanish and English. This made for a long but touching ceremony.
The reception was incredibly elegant. The bride was the oldest of five sisters and the last to marry. Her father has only ever worked as a migrant laborer and has put all five daughters through university and provided wedding for them all. As the five piece band played the three hundred plus guests enjoyed a multi-course meal and then the reception proceeded.
There are customary ways of tossing out the bouquet and the garter that are quite a bit more elaborate than we are used to as North Americans. The bride and groom stand on chairs with an article of clothing stretched between them. All the women present form a line and pass between the bride and groom and then weave at ever increasing speeds around the hall, and return to pass between them several more times. Then, with many deliberate false starts and moving the waiting group from one location to another by the MC the bouquet is tossed. The same sort of process occurred surrounding the tossing of the garter.
The wedding fiesta carried on until . At least we heard that. We turned in a lot sooner.
The next morning we said our goodbyes to anybody who happened to be around and headed back across the border and took the long way home back to Harlingen. We stopped for brunch in a tacqueria and drove out to South Padre Island and walked down to the beach and breakwater at the South end and then went to the north end of town where the kite festival had been held. I flew my $1.49 kite while Juanita read her book and watched the other kites. Half a mile away, closer to the water, there was a sail powered cart. I don’t know what you call them, but it looked like an ice racer with wheels. While I was flying the kite and leaning against the front of the truck a few different retired people drove up and got out and visited for a while. Didn’t know them, but it was a pleasant social event. I wonder what it was about the situation that made it comfortable to just start visiting.
On the way back we took a detour and drove up to ArroyoCity. I have this mental image of an arroyo as a deep canyon. Well, I guess a more accurate meaning is a stream, especially a seasonal one.
ArroyoCity seems to have a dam down stream of it to back up the water to near the lip. Some of the water gets pumped off for irrigation, but at this time of the year the levels were fairly high. Speaking of mental images, when I saw ArroyoCity on the map I pictured a dust bowl sort of town. Reality could not have been more different. The road through town runs parallel to the arroyo with well maintained single-family homes fronting onto the road and backing onto the river. In most cases a car was parked out front and a boat out back.
Outreach in Matamoros
Talk about contrasts. Matamoros is a city of a million people. We experienced one part of it at the wedding and wedding reception. The day after the February project ended we experienced another part of it.
On Friday, February 23, we went across to Matamoros with Way of the Cross staff and a group of 17 SOWERS from various projects in the Valley to do some outreach - first to a colonia east of the dump and then to the dump itself to minister to some of the families that scavenge there. A couple of them at the dump ministered to us more than we did to them, I think.
Rosa, a lady in her fifties, lives on what she finds at the dump. She was saved at the dump seven years ago and has led many other dump people to the Lord. It was a blessing to hear her speak. She said that she had had been offered the opportunity to move to the States, but declined as she wanted to stay at the dump and continue to serve her people.
Travel between projects – playing tourist
Before church we got the fifth wheel hooked up and ready to go. After church we headed out and drove for two and a half hours to Mathis, Texas to spend the night.
On Monday we headed into Corpus Christi to visit the Texas Aquarium and the USS Lexington. As we started climbing the harbor bridge Juanita realized that the camera should have been at the ready. She quickly dug it out of the bag and waited while it did its eye rubbing routine. I wonder how many great pictures have remained unshot because the moment passed while waiting for a digital camera to get its capability together.
I drove relatively slowly to give the photographer time, but the best, most-unobstructed view of the ship and the aquarium had been passed. As we drove over the hump of the bridge I tried to help find a spot that offered an adequate view and helped coach the picture taking. This was somewhat of a distraction from driving, of course. The right rear wheel lifted about two feet off the ground as it rode up the concrete barrier at the side of the lane (Texas highway engineers must just love these things – you see more of them here than any other state). A bit of a course correction and all feet were back on the ground without straying into the lane to the left (well, not much) and despite what another person present may say we were never in any danger of going over the edge of the bridge into the harbor.
The tire was only a little scuffed. A few weeks later, when we had it inspected, the tire guy said it looked okay, but did spot a dangerous cut in the sidewall on the left front and we switched that tire for the spare.
We spent a pleasant couple of hours in the Texas aquarium which emphasized Gulf of Mexico specimens in its collection. There was a dolphin show and touching ponds where you could touch sharks and sting rays. There were scheduled displays and talks at various times and you could go and watch divers inter-relating with the specimens while a commentator provided information and history of the specimen in the exhibit.
The USS Lexington is an aircraft carrier built during the Second World War. It had originally been slated to be named something else, but a very dramatic loss to Japanese forces of an earlier aircraft named Lexington inspired the ship yard workers to petition to have the carrier they were building named Lexington. It was on active duty for many years and was finally de-commissioned in 1991 and now is tied up in Corpus Christi as a museum with many aircraft and other displays on board.
One thing that is included in your admission to the museum is a choice of two movies in the “Mega-Theater”. We elected to attend one about Lewis and Clark’s journey across America. The show was at a specific time and the ship is broken up into several tour routes so we started on those and showed up at the appointed time for the 45 minute movie before continuing with the rest of the tour routes.
When we arrived in the area under the bridge approach I saw signs stating some outrageous appearing amount for a day of parking for the aquarium. In not the first burst of uncontrolled cheapskate-like behavior in my life, I elected to park at a meter. This proved to be slightly more expensive than the lot parking since there was a lot more content than expected at the aquarium and the museum. It also meant that towards the end of the tour of the “Lady Lex” we were in danger of running out of time on the meter and we had one last tour route to go through. Since it was the engine room and the aquarium had been Juanita’s choice for the day and the ship mine, Juanita elected to go plug quarters in the meter and read her book while I toured the engine room.
Part way through the engine room tour I went to check the time and realized I no longer had my Palm Pilot on my belt. Mild panic set in and a plan of action took hold in response. I continued on the one way tour fairly briskly, entered the darkened theatre and checked around a bit on the floor with no success and then went to the ticket booth where you enter the ship to ask about a lost and found. Then it was off to the office of the ship and a talk with a helpful young woman there. I explained the absence of the Palm Pilot and that it most likely had fallen off my belt in the truck and was sitting there it could also have been knocked off my belt by the arm of the theatre chair and be on the theatre floor, told her where we had been sitting and got her telephone number. Well, her number at work. Juanita takes a dim view if I go around collecting home telephone numbers of young women. It is probably best to humor her in this area.
Then it was off the soon-to-close-for-day ship and down the ramp with a guard at the end preventing people from boarding that late in the day. I checked the truck seat and no Palm so phoned the ship and talked to theyoung woman and told her that it was not there and the most likely place was the theatre and that we were planning on leaving the Corpus Christi area the next morning before the ship museum opened and gave her my cell number. Then it was a brisk walk back to the aquarium to talk to the desk there – no Palm Pilot had been turned, but there was a nice little digital camera. Not a good time to ponder the carelessness of people I said nothing and then quickly walked backwards through the time at aquarium to every place I had sat down. Sitting down is the most likely time for the Palm to come off my belt since a persistent bulge of fat tends to ride up and push on the clip. That’s just one of many good reasons to shed some pounds, but I digress, as if that hasn’t happened already in this document, but I digress further.
The cell phone rang! Palm found on the theatre floor! Come pick it up! The guard will let you up the ramp! A quick waddle and we were reunited. Praise God for honest people.
On the morning of Tuesday, February 27th we left Mathis and headed to Bryan, Texas. We didn’t have to “pull up stakes” since the dish was stored in the basement of the rig just before leaving Harlingen. We traveled the whole trip by the well maintained, secondary roads of Texas. We got there mid afternoon and did a few things to get settled and spent a pleasant evening at home.
On Wednesday morning we went to the George Bush Presidential Museum on the grounds of TexasA&MUniversity. The changing display was of 120 Texans who had made their mark on the world. There was a picture of each, plus some memorabilia, such as LBJ’s amphibious car which he would startle ranch visitors with by suddenly just driving across a lake or river that was in their path. Somewhere you could find a list of all that are in the exhibit, but I found it interesting to find Janis Joplin (and other rockers) along with the expected politicians (Ross Perot, the Bushes, etc.), sports stars (Tom Landry et al) and businessmen (Conrad Hilton, Howard Hughes, etc.).
There was a piece of the Berlin wall on display and current events displays from that era. Also, outside, was a sculpture that was made based on the artist’s dream about horses galloping to freedom over the wall.
We went to the local Carnegie Library – the oldest remaining Carnegie Library in Texas. After a little doorknob rattling we read the sign on the door more closely and determined that “Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday Hours” did not include “Wednesday”. Then we found a tacqueria that served us enough for four people. After eating forever we took our “away” boxes and headed back to the rig after picking up some supplies at an RV dealer.
And that takes care of February.
Coming up in March
March 1 - Travel to Tyler, Texas
March 2 - Travel to Big Sandy, Texas for SOWERS project at ALERT academy.
March 3 - go to Dallas to pick up our daughter and her husband at the airport. They will be helping out at ALERT on non-SOWERS project work for two weeks. They will be staying in staff housing, but we will still get to see them quite a bit I expect. She has worked for the ALERT/ ATI/ IBLP/ Bill Gothard facilities several times in the past, but this will be the first time since graduating as a civil engineer. Her husband is a pipe fitter/steam fitter so I am sure they will keep him busy too.