Generals and Cardinals

Recently, I attended a parents’ breakfast meeting at the Robert E Lee High School that Mattie now attends. Only a few mums and dads attended, the 7am start time probably putting many off; I have to admit, I had been partly lured by the promise of a light breakfast which consisted of delicious (and anything but light) pastries and cake, a large plate of fruit and copious amounts of steaming coffee. The meeting had been called by the head of the school district mainly to introduce, and gain support for, a new bond issue that will result in improvements for a number of schools in this part of San Antonio. During a subsequent Q&A session, an African American parent seated behind me enquired as to the latest status regarding the school’s name.

When, more than three years ago, Mattie and I arrived in San Antonio, I knew little of the American Civil War though I did know that Robert E Lee (of whom there is a rather handsome large statue outside her school) was a revered general of the Confederacy, which stood for the right to own slaves, the use of which formed the economic backbone of the south’s economy at the time. But after the recent Charleston church mass shooting, many African Americans, and others, too, have become more sensitive to the names of certain public buildings in the southern states.

At the breakfast meeting, the African American parent articulated his views for several minutes but the other parents remained silent on the issue; it was like the elephant in the room. The head of school district’s final response was that opinions swing both ways and until there exists sufficient support for a formal vote, the school’s name remains. As only a small percentage of African Americans lives in San Antonio (much larger populations live in the north and east of Texas) I imagine that a vote, at least in the near future, is unlikely, though I like to think that Robert E Lee (decent man as he was in many ways), were he to rise from his grave today, would say, ‘Time to move on.’

After the meeting ended, I drove to Guadalupe River State Park, about 40 minutes’ drive north-east of San Antonio. The beautiful cypress-lined river that runs through the park is again deep enough to swim in since the May floods, and after a short hike I took a picnic and book, cushion and blanket to the river bank and spent a lovely couple of hours swimming and reading, the silence only punctuated by bird song and the buzzing of royal blue dragonflies. A pair of majestic, black-headed vultures looked down haughtily from a tall tree and tiny grey fish swam at the river’s edge.

On the northern side of the river, beyond a handsome limestone bluff, stands an old farmstead with a rusting tin roof that once belonged to early German settlers. What a marvellous location for a house, I thought, though of course the new immigrants would have had to contend with the Comanches and Apaches that roamed the area and used this very river. My previous visit to the state park had been in winter when most of the trees were bare and there was a stunning flash of scarlet every now and then as northern cardinals swooped amongst the trees.

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