August 11: Houston, Steinbeck-style Texas party
Soundtrack: KTRU Radio, KPFT Pacifica Houston
Texas is a state of mind. Texas is an obsession. Above all, Texas is a nation in every sense of the word.
John Steinbeck, Travels With Charley in Search of America
I woke up to read The Grapes of Wrath and clean five pounds of shrimp for Cousin Jon’s birthday party. In the overstocked home of my brother-in law Greg, with its cupboards filled with canned goods and convenience foods, I relived the Travels with Charley vibe of the Texas orgy Steinbeck had with his in-laws.
These were Doug’s relatives; my parents had died and my sisters left Texas years ago. Laura K. went to New York straight out of college and Pamela had sold off both hers and the folks’ houses; she was finally leaving home bye bye and landed in California. The extended family were three brothers, two sisters-in-law, two sets of cousins and six child cousins, while I had only my sisters and one niece. We were a dying line, but the Lacys lived on, mostly solid southern and respectable. Even the gay brother was an opera singer with a Ph.D. Charlie had spent most of his summers from the age of six going back and forth between the Lacy cousins’ and my folks’ in the piney woods of Nacogdoches. His name was Houston, after all.
The morning was spent clearing off the dining room table for the feast. Greg sold real estate out of a home office after years of working for Coldwell Banker; he mentioned that the house across the street was for sale cheap after Katrina refugees had trashed the place and moved out. He had the keys and we took a look inside. he bathroom had leaked into the kitchen and the ceiling was sagging and moldy. A few battered pieces of furniture remained, including a black and gold television console that looked a little like a puppet show with shelves on the backside. One bedroom was littered with discarded toys and clothes; another had a huge hole in one wall. Greg said that a man from New Orleans had moved his relatives in after the hurricane and went back to work on cleanup and reconstruction; the people he had left behind brought in an unsavory element that had ruined the property. What had been a respectable suburban house was now an abandoned wreck.
in the afternoon I took the car for an oil change at the local Chevy dealer and bought salad and wine, my contribution to the celebration. I also was pleased to see that Kinky Friedman not only had hit records and books and ran for Governor, but was marketing his own hot sauce at Safeway!
When the clutter was removed from the table and safely stored in the spare room, the table set by Cousin Barbara, and all the plates and bowls set out, the rest of the family arrived. Jon was 25 now and only adults showed up for the party. He had two grandmothers and a grandfather, an uncle and an aunt, as well as his mom and dad and sister at the table. Grandmother Lacy sat at the head of the table in her wheelchair, smiling sweetly and occasionally nodding off as the evening wore on. What do people talk about at such affairs? Even Steinbeck was vague. One thing sure, we were not to discuss religion because Jon had just returned from an organization in California that his parents considered a cult; he was bit of a fanatic about the improvements that his Master had made on the Bible. Doug and I were glad he had found something to believe in; Charlie had questioned everything to the end. After dozens of shrimp and cake and a couple of glasses of wine, having achieved a “proper insensibility,” I read a little more Grapes of Wrath and curled up on the couch.