Come June In Rockport

The Texas Story Project.

The best part of summer is usually at the beginning of the season. That is especially true in Texas, except for the fact that spring or fall months or even a sunny, chilly, and glorious blue sky day in January can be even more pleasant. If you’ve lived in Texas for any length of time, then you know what I mean.

My father decided that June was the best month to spend a week in Rockport with the family for summer vacation before it got too hot. We stayed at Palm Village, which was a family owned motel situated between Rockport and Fulton near the bridge that now takes you to Key Allegro. Once long ago, there were two teenaged girls who could be seen riding a bicycle built for two on the premises of Palm Village. They had fake hair braids trailing down their backs and they thought they were very stylish and sophisticated. The hair braids are gone and so is Palm Village, but the two cousins are still around and returned in May 2014 to Fulton/Rockport together for the first time in about 52 years.

Before Key Allegro was developed, we walked on a small wooden foot bridge near Palm Village to get to the desolute beach area where all of the homes are located now and it was like a private playground for us kids.  Everyone in the 50's and 60's knew of Palm Village with its arched entrance. The cottages were painted a vivid flamingo pink and the grounds were immaculate. The Hanson family took reservations one year in advance because it was so popular with families from various parts of the United States. Though my father had fished and hunted in the 1930’s-1960’s at St. Charles Bay and the Rockport area, this week with the family was a special time. My brother and I looked forward to going there any time of year but a full week in Rockport was exciting. Sometimes the cousin, who traveled back in time with me in 2014, would spend this week with us. As the 60's approached, she and I had fun deciding what clothes to pack for vacation, which included goofy straw hats, sunglasses, and new sandals plus those long fake hair braids that we wore certain days. We must have been quite a sight riding on a bicycle built for two that the owners had on the motel premises.

It was not a long distance from our home south of San Antonio to Rockport, which was fortunate because my brother and I always wanted to get there as soon as possible. Crossing the old narrow Copano bridge was always a thrill. I've crossed many bridges in the world and the Golden Gate Bridge stands out as special, but I still feel happy and ultimately at peace whenever I cross Copano Bay. We could not wait to see that old narrow bridge, which later became a fishing bridge when a new bridge was built. The old bridge was a drawbridge for boats and barges and we kids hated to see the draw bridge up because it delayed us getting to our final destination. Daddy would drive up Fulton Beach Road and, if I recall correctly, would first check in at Palm Village. That first day we would always go into Rockport. There were very few eating establishments other than Kline's and later Duck Inn in those years, but we usually headed for Mary's Malts and enjoyed our hamburgers and malts at a picnic table by the bay. Next was the tour of the shrimp boats and, for us kids, it was especially important if the boats were in the harbor and we could see the names. I always looked for the one that had the same name as me. Shrimp boats in those years were rather large compared to the boats often seen now in that area. Closer to evening, we played miniature of the few places in Rockport where kids could have fun. I have yet to play on a miniature golf course that was quite like the old one in Rockport with its nautical theme, and it's too bad that it did not stay in business, as my own children and grandchildren certainly would have enjoyed it.

The cottage we stayed in had two bedrooms and a kitchenette. The best part of the cottage was the screened porch facing the bay. The bluff down to the water was filled with beautiful wildflowers and had a playground with swings and a merry go round, which made it a favorite spot for all the kids. The pier was long, and in those days we could swim at the half way point and fish at the end. This is where I first experienced seeing dolphins swimming close to the pier and could actually hear them breathing. I loved dolphins from an early age...listening for them as they would swim by the pier at night. Once my mom, brother, cousin, and I were swimming near the pier and in the distance we saw a dorsal fin. We were scared that it was a shark, and Mom started leading us out of the water to climb the steps to the pier. My younger brother and I hastily got out of the water, but my older cousin just froze and we had to drag her out! It was most likely not a shark but rather a friendly dolphin that we saw. To this day, as we reminisced on our 2014 visit to Rockport, my cousin and I have not forgotten how my little brother pushed her off the pier and she scraped the skin on her foot from those pesky barnacles! The pier at Key Allegro North Condos is in the exact location of where the old pier was, except they don't allow swimming off the pier anymore. When it came to swimming, our parents had strict rules and not just NO SWIMMING after eating!  We could swim very early in the morning before it got too hot and then we could swim after rest time in the afternoon…after the sun had lost its intensity and before dinner. We really worked up an appetite swimming, and many nights Mom and Dad were cooking shrimp or fish. We always had platters of fresh seafood, and I vividly recall going with Dad to the docks in Fulton to buy shrimp "off the boat" and being fascinated with watching the women working at the conveyor belt with the day's shrimp catch.The only entertainment available and certainly all we really needed in the 50’s and 60’s was the miniature golf course, swimming, fishing, sightseeing, playing, talking, and just relaxing.

The 1950's and 1960's were not perfect times as is sometimes depicted in movies, TV, and books, but there was, however, more simplicity and an appreciation for small comforts in life. Fancy vacations were not always the norm for many families, though my family was fortunate enough to visit many states and national parks and my parents loved to travel…and by that I mean travel by car! Not many of my friends or classmates in those years were flying all over the country or out of the country for that matter. Dad made a point of learning and explaining the history of any place we went to visit and it was the same for Rockport, which later became a second home. From Dad, we learned about the turtle cannery and the cattle industry in that area. As a teenager, I was in the Fulton Mansion long before its very first restoration by the state and remember the view of the bay from the upper floor as being quite pretty. I could never have envisioned all the time and work that has been put into maintaining it over the years.
After Dad bought a home off the Fulton Beach Road not far from Charlotte Plumber’s Restaurant, while I was in college in the 1960’s, we heard interesting stories from our elderly next-door neighbors who were born in that area and were related to some old Rockport families. She was born at St. Mary’s which is now a ghostown near Bayside. St. Mary’s was a settlement and major port before Rockport and, also, was the birthplace of Clara Driscoll who is considered the "Savior of the Alamo.” Our elderly neighbor told us stories of the mail being brought to St. Mary's by sailboat when she was very young. It wasn't until I was a teenager that I saw the town of Rockport from the bay when Dad bought a boat. I was never a big adventurer when it came to boats, nor was I overly fond of fishing, but I do recall fun sightseeing trips. Considering the fact that I lived in the country south of San Antonio, I still found it rather unnerving to get to a very small island and to be walking around and suddenly come face-to-face with cattle.

In 2014, I had invited my cousin to go with me to Rockport for a few days just to get away while my husband was on a business trip. I also planned and hoped to look at homes for sale in the area and so our adventure began as older adult women who were still young at heart. We stayed at a lovely hotel on the Fulton Beach Road that was nice and quiet during the week days and before the summer season would begin with the arrival of tourists. We had also, thankfully, missed the influx of thousands of women for the fishing tournament. We ate out and walked to the sentimental favorite restaurant the first night but sampled a couple of newer restaurants too. Doughnuts and coffee at a place where my Dad used to go long ago was a given for breakfast one morning. One night, we walked on the pier in Fulton (heavily damaged by Hurricane Harvey) and stared at a magnificently beautiful full moon shining on the bay. That, in itself, made the trip worthwhile. Strange that the first morning we were in Rockport, a very late cool front had blown in. I don't remember a front ever coming in so late in the spring and it was not hot or humid on all of our wanderings.

We shopped more than we should have for ourselves, our children, and grandchildren, but what fun we had going into all the stores. We were a little disappointed that the old shell shop was closed but both of us, at least, had been there in recent years with friends or family. We drove to Key Allegro where we had played in the sand as kids before the homes were built and we took pictures of the big Blue Crab in Rockport. We paid our respects to Big Tree and noted the new beautiful fence that surrounds that venerable oak. We drove to many places in Fulton, Rockport, and Lamar looking at old homes that were there when we were children and drove by homes in newer developments. During the many years of visiting Rockport, I do not recall ever stopping at the Schoenstatt Shrine. I'm glad we stopped, got out, and walked around the grounds. The chapel was open and my cousin and I sat inside for a short while. The shrine and surrounding area was so lovely and peaceful on this spring day.  Schoenstatt translated from the German  means beautiful place and it certainly is that.

My cousin commented on how nice it was to actually return to a place that had not changed in so many ways after so many years. Change is a given in my observations of most places though...even Rockport, but I knew what she meant. I found myself visualizing landmarks and people from long ago in the Rockport area. My heart ached a little each time we stopped at the stop sign where we used to turn to go to my parents’ vacation home, which was eventually sold. There is no more soda fountain in the souvenir shop downtown, or Mary’s Malts, or the miniature golf course, or even Peg Leg walking along the road near Palm Village…there is no Palm Village and the pink cottages have not been there in more years than I can even remember! Memories sometimes live in one's heart forever. My Rockport home away from home will always be a very special place for me even with a few changes. I know that my cousin feels the same way and I'm very happy that we made that sentimental journey “home!” Later that same year, much to my surprise, my husband and I had a home built in that area and I now consider Rockport my other home.
What is a trip to Rockport without driving to Aransas Pass and going by ferry to Mustang Island? Another past and present excursion. Most kids love to jump waves in the Gulf of Mexico…my sons did and now my grandkids feel the same way. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, there would be at least one trip to Corpus Christi to drive around and eat at a restaurant and sometimes shop, but mostly we stayed close to Fulton and Rockport with an occasional outing to the Rockport beach. As a young girl, I especially loved to be at Rockport Beach when a fierce-looking rain storm would come in because it was so beautiful to see the water change to an eerie and beautiful shade of emerald green and to watch the dark clouds move inland. Being in the warm water was heavenly, as the first rain drops fell, and then much too soon we were forced to get out of the water by PARENTS! There were always trips to Goose Island/Lamar Peninsula to once again see Big Tree. Now, I equate the Big Tree ritual visit to paying homage and, for me, it is not a good idea to ever leave Rockport without seeing it…or in recent years going to the chapel alone at Shoenstatt.

There were countless pictures taken of my family and friends in front of that awesome ancient Oak through the years. As I get older, the tree appears smaller, but I know that is due to having some of its branches trimmed. It has withstood and survived so much. As an adult, I still love to go to downtown Rockport and look in the Sea Shell Shops and look at the art and photography of many talented people in this old art community. I could not have imagined long ago that one day I would take grandchildren into the oldest sea shell shop or that I would be buying them shells or dolphin figurines…us walking in the same place I did as a child but I know what is missing! In a souvenir/gift shop downtown, there used to be a pharmacy in the back of the store that had an old fashioned soda fountain where I experienced my very first pineapple milk shake. A wonderful delight on a really hot summer day in Rockport.

I've seen many beautiful and special places from the east coast to the west coast and have experienced travel outside of the country. I've visited and enjoyed beautiful, pristine beaches in the Caribbean and in Hawaii, but Rockport will always have a special place in my heart because of fond memories of relaxing moments and happy times with family and friends. It’s a peaceful place. I just wonder sometimes if anyone remembers Peg Leg...I know with certainty that he was very real and not a figment of my imagination.

Sherrill Pool Elizondo graduated from Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State) with a degree in English and Education. She is a sixth generation Texan and interested in genealogy. She’s been an aspiring writer for over 35 years and is the proud parent of three sons and has six talented and remarkable grandchildren who now all reside in the state of Texas. Some of her stories can be seen online at Boomer Cafe, 70 Candles, Grand Magazine, and Texas Escapes. Texas Escapes published her account of the time she spent as a United States Pavilion guide during Hemisfair’68 in San Antonio. She was born and raised in San Antonio and has lived most of her adult life in the Houston area and now enjoys another home in Rockport, Texas.

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