Oh! The Places I’ve Been – “A” is for AUSTIN


Welcome to the 2013 April A to Z Blogging Challenge! Today marks the first day of the challenge, and my “A” pick is the beautiful, friendly capital city of Austin, Texas.

I traveled to Austin for the first time right after Christmas in 2008. At the time, I was one of six candidates for two open positions on the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners’ Board of Regents. The results of the election wouldn’t be known until after January 1, 2009, and I had no idea I’d be elected. So, my husband and I had a vacation in the “Live Music Capital of the World.” (I would fly back to Austin in February of 2009, and the subsequent year, too, as a Regent for the ACFE).

photo by J. LeVie
photo by J. LeVie

There are guitars in the airport! How great is that? And in late December, we were treated to mild weather (enough to swim in the Hilton’s rooftop pool, although our friends thought we were crazy – hey, 60 degrees in December is pretty good for us New Englanders).

We had our first (and quite possibly only) chicken-fried steak at the Gristmill out in Gruene (“hand breaded and deep-fried, topped with cream gravy!”). Lone Star beer at Chuy’s. Fish tacos and Shiner Bock at the Hula Hut, and again at Iron Cactus. I’ve yet to find fish tacos as good as those in Texas, and I live in the Ocean State!

Talk about Texas pride. Oh, if only we Rhode Islanders felt this way about our little state (but sadly, we don’t). I took a walk around my friend’s neighborhood one afternoon and every house proudly displayed something about Texas: the state flag, the lone star (on a mailbox, flagstone, side of the house), the Texas Longhorns. The University of Texas football stadium holds 100,119 fans (the entire cities of Warwick and Newport combined). You want to support the Longhorns? Wear burnt orange. Who knew? I arrived in Austin wearing that color, purely by accident, and was welcomed as a native daughter.

photo by J. LeVie
photo by J. LeVie

Austin is unique. Growing. Different. If you think Texas is all about guns and cattle and Dallas, think again.  “Keep Austin Weird” isn’t just a slogan, it’s a way of life for some Austinites. I’ve been there four times, and would return in an instant. Because I still haven’t been to Franklin BBQStubb’s, or Lambert’s.

The Saddest Day of the Year


“What’s the saddest day of the year?”  My dad was driving the Ford Country Squire station wagon, and I was sitting in the front, because my sister wasn’t with us.  Otherwise, I’d be in the back, staring at his head.  We were going downtown for confession at Saint Francis chapel.

I thought about his question.  “The day after Christmas?”  That seemed logical.

“No.  Think about it.”  He took a drag of his Kent cigarette. “To a Frenchman, it’s the Eiffel Tower, to a Dutchman, it’s a pretty flower, to an Indian, it’s a mon-u-ment, to a smoker, it’s a Kent!”

“The last day of summer?”  He shook his head, and looked a little exasperated.  We pulled up next to the curb.  Providence was quiet on a Saturday afternoon.  He turned off the engine and faced me.

“No, the saddest day of the year is next Saturday.  Holy Saturday.  And do you know why?”  He didn’t wait for me to try to figure it out.  “It’s because Jesus is dead.  He died on Good Friday, and didn’t rise from the dead until Easter Sunday.  So Holy Saturday is the saddest day of the year.  Come on, let’s go.”  We got out of the car and walked on the sidewalk to the chapel.  My dad wasn’t a hand-holder; he just expected you to keep up, so I walked fast to stay with his long strides.

He pushed the door open.  The door to the chapel was on the side of the building.  You went inside and walked down a flight of stairs to the chapel.  It smelled like wax and vinegar.  I wrinkled my nose.  My dad put his hand on my shoulder and marched me to a pew in front.  There were four confessionals in Saint Francis, one at each corner.  The one in front had a green light shining, which meant there was a priest inside.  On either side of the priest’s closet, there was a place to go and confess.  They had the most beautiful velvet curtains: thick and soft and dark.  I loved to stroke the velvet and thought it might be nice to have a pillow made of this material.  If someone was inside and confessing, there was a red light above, and you couldn’t go in.  You really weren’t even supposed to sit too close, because listening to another person’s sins was a sin.  One time when my sister was with me, I was sitting in the pew and could hear her whispering, but I couldn’t tell what she was saying.  I slid farther away, but really I wanted to move closer, because someone broke the arm off my Barbie and if she did it, I wanted to hear her confess it.  Then I’d know.  But even if I did, I couldn’t tell her, because then she’d know I was listening, and listening to someone’s confession was a bigger sin than breaking the arm off a Barbie.

While my dad was behind the velvet curtains, I walked up to the candles.  I loved the candles.  They flickered inside little red glass cups, and if you wanted to light a candle, you had to put money in the box.  An offering, my dad said.  If I had a dime in my pocket, I would put it in the slot and listen to it clink.  Then I would take a long wooden stick from the little bucket of sand, and hold it in one of the flames until it had a flame, too.  Then I would light my candle.  My dad said you were supposed to offer a prayer for someone when you lit a candle, so I would offer a prayer for everybody in my family, because I didn’t know anyone who had died.

~~~

My friend in Texas is getting married.  We would have liked to go to Austin for the wedding, but since I left my job last year to pursue writing full-time, we’ve had to cut back considerably, especially on travel.  A weekend in Austin for her wedding would have cost us about two thousand bucks, so I had to tell her we couldn’t be there.  She said she’d send us an invitation anyway.

The invitation arrived last week.  She’s getting married on April 7th.  When I looked at the invitation, suddenly it clicked – she’s getting married on Holy Saturday.  And for my friend Vicki, it will be the happiest day of the year.