Mares: Return to the Lydia Ann

May 10, 2016

The controversy in Woodstock, Vermont over school uniforms resonated for me recently on a trip to Texas. I was playing paternal archeologist, excavating with my older son layers of places and memories of central and coastal Texas where I grew up.

I went to a school where BOTH boys and girls wore uniforms K-12 and we were all better for it. The school had a wide disparity of wealth, and khakhi pants for boys and simple jumpers for girls took away conspicuous clothing consumption at a swipe. It also made dressing for school a no-brainer – deciding which pair of khakis to wear.

Our route took us 700 miles from flood-soaked Houston to Austin and the Hill Country, then to the Gulf Coast, up to Galveston, and my hometown nearby and then to Houston.

As we deliberately drove two-lane roads, the sprinkle of memories became a gully-washer. In addition to school uniform memories, there were teachers, neighbors, coaches, family, events like getting a driver's license at age 14, high-school high jinks, summer jobs digging ditches, and my father taking us hunting and fishing.

There, the economy was, and is built on oil. On this trip, the bust in oil prices showed in the capped wells, and thousands of trailers for sale.

With no zoning, much of the land that once absorbed heavy rains has been paved over, making Houston vulnerable to ever greater floods.

The 50 miles from Houston to Galveston seemed one long strip of car dealerships, housing developments, and malls - visual pollution that was almost tactile.

One night at dinner with four high school friends and their wives, I tried to explain Bernie Sanders, while they tried to explain Ted Cruz

And there were pockets of tranquility at either end of the trip.

In the West Texas Hill Country around LBJ's hometown of Johnson City, the land is too poor for cattle or billboards, so the roadsides were refreshingly dappled with bluebonnets, Indian Paintbrush and lavender.

But my favorite stop was a poignant moment at the Lydia Ann lighthouse on the coast, near Corpus Christi, where friends of ours had tended the beacon for almost 20 years. And I had just read the novel "The Light between Oceans" about lighthouse keepers in Australian right after 1920.

To climb the Lydia Ann’s 63 stairs again, and see 15 miles in every direction, was to go back in time - both physical and literary.