The Bandera Dream

The Texas Story Project.

The year was 1946. It was summer. And like all Texas summers, it was hot.

The month of July that year marked a cataclysmic change for me. We were moving from Civilization, with its sidewalks, movie houses, and ball parks, to Bandera, Texas. Now, Bandera didn't have a movie house or many sidewalks, but it did have cattle, sheep, and wide-open spaces. My father, a physician with a little too much fondness for the bottle, was moving us to Bandera in order to build a twelve-room hospital that would double as a motel when patient levels were on the slim side. My mother, a sometime jazz lounge singer and small town beauty, would serve as cook for the hospital. So, Harry-my-dad, bought his Texas dream tract of land on the river; a place, he said, with everything on God's green earth that a boy could want.

Finally, the fateful day arrived: moving day.

We lumber out to the car, my brothers and sister and I. The grass has already given in to the relentless summer heat; it crunches under our feet, brown and fragile, sending up small puffs of defeated grass which the wind snatches away. Overhead, the cicadas chatter at us, their metallic voices rising and falling with the heat. Harry-my-dad stands by the white Cadillac which is waiting for us. It's a beauty of a car, with paint as white and shimmery as my mom's platinum blonde hair. He's got the top down on the convertible, all four doors open, and is leaning on one of them, a cigarette dangling out of one side of his mouth.

"Y'all get in the back," he intones. "Dottie, you sit up front, with me." All four of us kids cram into the back seat. The red leather already feels hot.

My family is quite a picture, taking off for our Bandera, Texas Dream. Harry-my-dad and Dottie-my-mom, both chain smokers, sit in the front of the Caddy, already engulfed in a cloud of smoke. We can barely see the tip of my father's hat through the smoke.  However, we can easily distinguish Dottie-my-mother; her oversized blonde hairdo seems to tower above the smoke.

The drive seems endless to six-year-old me, with the never-ending heat, and the wind, and the smoke which wafts directly to the back seat. The miles drag slowly by. We feel pretty lucky though that my father has decided to bring a huge burlap sack filled with oranges for us to eat along with a log of bologna.  So for mile upon mile we eat oranges. Then we eat more oranges. We eat and eat and eat until we are dead sick of oranges. Oddly, however, the bag still seems to contain too many oranges to count. We don’t want any more oranges. But when we tell Harry-my-dad that we’re hungry, he yells back through the smoke and wind, "Eat an orange, for God's sake!"

Now, the thing about that Cadillac is, it has these really large fins on each side of the back end and leading up to the fins on each side there is like a little ridge. My older brother Graham looks at the burlap sack, then looks at me and says, "Watch this!"  He takes one of the oranges out of the bag, holds it out the back, one eye closed for precision, and rolls it down the little ridge to the fin. We watch as the orange picks up speed, zipping down the ridge to the fin where it launches off the back and with a loud SPLAT! hits the asphalt, exploding in a glorious mass of pulp and juice. Graham and I stare at each other, our eyes speaking silent volumes of joy. Was there anything ever more perfect than that orange exploding? We know right then what we will be doing for the next several hours. My other brother, Richard, who is sitting at the opposite side, decides to try the same thing on his side of the car. Roll, roll, roll…down the ridge…over the fin…and SPLAT! His orange explodes with the same satisfying orange-y goodness! In no time at all, oranges are flying off the car left and right, leaving a trail of orange pulp behind us until all the oranges in the bag are gone. How my parents do not notice I do not know. Perhaps they cannot see behind them because of the cloud of smoke that encircles their heads.

After a while, Harry-my-dad jerks out his cigarette.  "Pat!", he barks out. "Hand me an orange!" My brothers and I stare at each other in terrified silence.

Graham, the oldest, manages to stammer out, "Uh, Dad, we were so hungry that we…ate…them all." At that, Dottie-my-mother picks up her purse and smacks dad on the shoulder - hard. "I told you to stop at the truck stop for something to eat!", she yells at him. Harry-my-dad jabs the cigarette back in his mouth as he mumbles about the dadgum kids. We breathe quiet sighs of relief, staring out the back of the car, our minds full of the glory of exploding oranges as we speed on towards Harry-my-dad's Bandera, Texas Dream.

That Bandera Dream had many episodes, some funny, some mundane, and some downright tragic. Small town life was many things, but for Harry-my-dad's clan, it was never boring. There was an eccentric rhythm to life in our world. Patients coming and going. Dead bodies to be picked up in the family car since Harry doubled as the coroner. Snakes to be shot and cattle to be branded. And above all, was the dream. We knew when things were rough and Harry-my-dad was "on a tear." We'd walk in and there would be Dottie-my-mom, standing in the hospital/motel kitchen, clad in her best swim suit and high heels cooking up Harry's favorite steak, a peace offering extended in the hope of conjuring dad's Bandera Dream into a reality.

Reagan Gately is a freshman at St. Mary's University in San Antonio, Texas. He is currently studying mechanical engineering and one day hopes to own his own design firm.

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