Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Remembering to Remember

I'm looking forward to the big weekend coming up.  We are going to be swimming at the pool, and the lake, and enjoying a campfire with our friends.  My son is going to be smoking a brisket one night, and my husband is making steaks another. It's the widely recognized kickoff to the Summer. These and a few other plans are in the forefront of my mind, but as I was going over a list of the things I am going to be doing, a conversation I had a couple of years ago seems to take over.

I happened upon an older gentleman named John I have known for some time.  He and his wife were usually at the bar area of a restaurant that used to be open in town.  He was a veteran of the Vietnam war and didn't talk about it much, or anything else really. I knew he was because he always wore a hat with a US Marine insignia on it and someone had mentioned when he served. It was Memorial day and I told him I was thankful for his service and told the waitress to put their tab on ours. 

Unexpectedly, he stopped me, and he said with a slightly sad look on his face, "I appreciate the thanks, but that's not what this day is about.  There is Veteran's day for that.  Most people don't know it, but today is for honoring the fallen soldiers."

That rang true to me, as I thought of my family and friends that had served, and those that had given the greatest sacrifice.  I said a prayer of thanks for those who had given so much so that we can be here to enjoy all the things this country has to offer, and I appreciated the parades I had seen just a little more than I had before, and I made a point to put a flag pin on my shirt.  Those are just little things, but they have really big meaning. 

There are a lot of people who have some negative things to say about our home, but they can, because of these men and women.  It's nothing new anymore, in the 60's they burned flags, and today they kneel at football games, but that same spirit of defiance was what our forefathers so vehemently fought to protect, and our fighting men and women carry on that fight.  I for one am going to just be thankful I can enjoy a BBQ with my family and not be worried about anything more dangerous than the extra jalapenos I see my son sneaking into the beans.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Around the World in 80 Minutes

One of the bigger draws in our neck of the woods is about 15 miles away, but it might as well be 1000.  Around here, most things go just a little slower.  The banks still have banker's hours, and most of the town shuts down by 10pm.  The contrast of Winstar World Casino and Resort is a bit stark, to say the least.

When you look at it, it stands out, impressive against the backdrop.  Turn your head in one direction and there is Thackerville, a tiny Oklahoma border town, turn it the other way and you there is the whole world looking back!  Winstar World Casino is the largest casino in the whole world.  Including Vegas.  It is a giant loop of casino and resort that is divided up into different regions of the world as you walk along.  You can go from New York to Italy to Beijing in steps, not flights.

Years ago, before the casino was built, people in the small towns around here thought of Thackerville as the backwoods.  People in a town with 2 stop lights used to joke about them as being "small town".  At some point, however, developers started buying up large chunks of land, which shot up all kinds of flares in a place where everyone knows everything that goes on in the area, or so they thought.
At first nobody knew what to think for sure, though, because of confidentiality agreements and corporate land grabs.  Rumors circled, and the leading one was that Disney was the purchaser.  A small tie to one of the purchases linked back to a company that was owned by the mouse, and the fire was started.  Everyone was blown away by the thought of middle America Disneyverse.  Then suddenly... nothing.  The rumors faded away, and life moved on as things seemed to stop moving with the Thackerville mystery project.  Years passed and people forgot about the project as kids grew up and they had kids, and football seasons came and went.  Then all of a sudden, there was construction.  Big construction.  In a whirlwind, there were buildings going as fast as they could be built.  Mostly like big circus tents at first, then replaced by more permanent structures.

What they thought would be a playground for families became, well, actually a playground for families.  They built a casino for sure, but there were giant park like pools, and a coliseum style venue where you would have once expected a banjo to be played that now housed performances from the likes of Hall & Oates, Willie Nelson, Lil' Wayne, and Weezer.  There are all kinds of restaurants to enjoy and tons of activities.  As I've mentioned in previous blogs, I love seeing live music, so having a world class act performing minutes from our front door is as my kids say, pretty awesome.

Winstar is always a lot of fun for us to visit in our downtime, and our guests always come back with great stories.  People watching is for sure a guilty pleasure I indulge in and if you do too, there are few places you can see such a varied amount of people in one place.  I have seen grannys in zany t-shirts sitting next to gentlemen in 3 piece suits.  The Bond-like juxtaposition to the mob-mom from the Goonies on vacay at the slots is something to behold for sure!  

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Sibling City Rivalry

I really enjoy getting around to the small towns here in the north Texas hill country, as you may have gathered if you have read my other blog posts.  Most think all these little places are the same, but that is so far from the truth.  Each of these hamlets has a certain specific charm, and soul.  There is a certain sport in learning what that is, as many small towns are skeptical of outsiders.  It is a foreign concept for most people from large cities on the outside looking in at these tiny communities to know what it is like to know almost everyone that lives in your town.  There is a certain finesse required to get to know what these places are all about from the locals' perspectives.

One of these towns is our neighbor to the West, St. Jo.  Muenster and St. Jo have a certain familial tie and consequently, a bit of a sibling rivalry.  Many of the larger families in the area are spread from Lindsay, Valley View, and Gainesville to the East to St. Jo and Nocona to the West, and all the little spots around and in between.  But, people from St. Jo and Muenster, while often related, will still poke some tongue in cheek fun at one another.  The jovial nature of the people around here can be found in the name itself.  When I first heard of St. Jo, I assumed it was named after a patron saint or something like that.  Curiosity eventually caught up to me so I checked it out at the Stonewall Saloon Museum on the town square.  Originally, St. Jo was a trading post at the head of the Elm fork of the Trinity river, where the California and Chisolm trails both had access to it.  One of the founders, named Joe Howell, was a tea totaller, and thus was given the name "St. Jo" as a joke.  Which stuck to the town name!  All jokes aside, though, St. Jo is nestled in a gorgeous countryside and has so many unexpected little nuances to offer, that people often never get to take in all the great things about it.

If you are in the area doing some shopping, which there is plenty of at all the cool shops in town, make sure you hit the square.  This spot features some great places to see and spend.  If you want to see some history, the Stonewall Saloon Museum has just what you are looking for.  For shopping, there are some great options, like Panache, Gypsy Trail, The Vintage Market, and Trailtown Treasures.

One of the more widely, albeit niche, famous things about St. Jo is a little place on the square called C.T. Chappell Boot Shop. This shop has been here for 3 generations of boot makers!  Highly lauded, it is written about and cited in Texas Monthly as well as in many books about boots, boot making, and leather work.  There is a certain prestige in having a pair of these boots.  Any ol' tenderfoot, fresh off the Uhaul with California tags can stroll into Allen Boots off Congress street in Austin and walk out with some $1,500 Lucchese's and turn a head or two, but a pair of Chappell's boots are a real rare commodity.  Each pair is hand made to the owner's foot and by Carl himself.  They also offer seminars on boot making if you are so interested.  If this piqued your interest, you should call ahead before you expect to take a pair of your own home as there is a wait list, but, the store is something to behold whether he is making your pair or not!

After shopping, don't miss taking in the scenic surroundings on one of the great drives around the countryside in St. Jo, you can head to the Devil's Backbone, a ridge that Kiowa and Comanche used in the past as a lookout because the view of the area was so vast.   Just south of town, is a place called the Running N Ranch.  Amarillo has it's more well known Cadillac Ranch, but we have our own local eccentric artist putting in cool art pieces for the world to see. Earl Nunnely retired and started spending his golden years creating! It's a private property, but the owner is used to people coming by, a lot of bikers, especially, and even moved his fence so people could stop and check out the art installations.

If you are starting to work up a hunger from your day, make sure you check out Lazy Heart Grill on the square.  They have great food, but my favorite thing comes after dinner, Buttermilk Pecan Pie or a jar of Bannana Pudding!  This is such a cute place to kick back and fill up.  I like coming on weekend nights because they usually have a cowboy or two singing songs on the mic!  If you get lucky, you might catch one of our local butchers, here in Muenster, Kelly Bob, he plays there often.