Time by the Sea

I have not long returned from a trip to England. I normally go in the fall but this year I went earlier in order to see my ailing father who is suffering from an asbestos-related disease. I wanted to see him while he is still Dad.

In early July, when I knocked on the bright front door of my parents’ little seaside flat in Worthing, it was my father who came to answer it for my mother was briefly out. Although he had lost weight, I was relieved to see that Dad looked pretty well, better than I had thought he would look, and he was chirpy. I made him a cup of tea and for an hour we chatted together like old times.

During my July stay, I would often take Dad for a drive to the sea. He liked me to park near a small village called Ferring from where we could look out at the shingle beach, the waves, the clouds, the seagulls flying by. During our first trip, a rather smart looking gull with a brown head sat on the nearby grass, occasionally flying away, but always coming back to the same spot. At one point as we sat and chatted, I turned and looked to the north and the South Downs. Somewhere up there amongst the trees was Cissbury Ring, the ancient hill fort that my father and I had sometimes walked around together. Earlier that morning it had been an effort for him to walk to the garden gate.

‘Look at that colour,’ Dad suddenly exclaimed. The sun had just popped through a cloud and the sea had taken on a pearly hue. ‘What colour would you call it?’ I asked, and he pondered for a few moments before calling it a ‘type of greenish-grey’. I then pointed out a yacht in the far distance and we tried to work out which coastal town it was nearing. Later, he remarked on the fact that the yacht had disappeared. ‘Oh yes. so it has,’ I replied.

Back in San Antonio I often think back to that first trip to the sea and our little exchanges. They are particularly precious to me because subsequently my father was not feeling so well; he hardly seemed to have the breath to speak. Thankfully, a procedure carried out in hospital, just before I left, helped him.

This weekend Michael and I will be looking plenty at the sea in Corpus Christi. The tiny bay where I like to swim is covered with crushed oyster shells, not shingle. Here the gulls have black heads rather than brown, I see plump silver fish plopping in and out of the water, a brown pelican swooping down to catch one, terns soaring by. And, if I’m ever so lucky, a dolphin.

Sweet Tweets

After a grotesque week of a FBI director being sacked and yet more Trump twitter rants, it is delightful to hear the sweet tweets of cardinals and scissor-tailed flycatchers as I cycle in the vicinity of Espada Mission. This Mission (one of five in San Antonio) is my favourite for its simplicity. It is, I also suspect, the least visited; I can eat my sandwich on a bench under an old oak in almost solitary splendour and gaze at the small adobe building with its ancient bell, or the many pots of flowering plants on the surrounding lawn. On this particular occasion as I sit under the shady tree, I also think of my father who is ailing.

As I then get on my bike and cross the nearby San Antonio river, I hear the sound of a goods train on its way to Brownsville on the Mexican border. Here, Queen Anne’s lace and sunflowers line the river bank, turtles bask on rocks, herons fish. On the other side of the river, I forego the newer cycle path and instead follow an old route that runs slightly inland and crosses through a number of fields. A great white heron and two large, plump ducks stand on the edge of an irrigation ditch, quite undeterred by my presence as I stop and gaze. The land around here is full of these irrigation ditches which are fed by a nearby acequia (acqueduct) built by Franciscan monks and American Indians in the early 18th century.

A little further along I see a group of female labourers dressed in bright colours, hoeing a field of maize and I have an immediate flashback to a trip to south-west China some years ago when I witnessed similar scenes. I continue to cycle along the old road, lined with mesquites, palms and huge pecan trees, until I arrive at Mission San Juan. Here I cross back over the river and a little off the beaten track I find the old Espada dam built on Six-Mile Creek. A small park surrounds the dam and nearby a photographer is taking photos of a newly wedded couple. As I walk my bike along the creek I am thrilled to see a male wood duck with its red eyes and green head on a small island in the middle of the water. On the other side of the creek I see the San Juan cemetery. Next to that, though hidden by trees, is Stinson Airfield. The airfield was opened in 1915 by three young siblings of the Stinson family and was used to train pilots during the first and second world wars. Now it offers helicopter tours.

I follow the cycle path back along the San Antonio River towards my starting point. On the way I make a short diversion over a bridge where hundreds of purple martins swoop and dive, then through a field stuffed with Indian Blanket wildflowers, to the aforementioned acequia that feeds all the irrigation ditches. This old limestone structure is the only remaining Spanish acqueduct in the US.

Just before I return to the grounds of the Espada Mission, I follow a road lined with tall sabal palms and dotted with tiny houses with tin roofs. In one of the gardens there is a large nativity scene surrounded by light bulbs. Other gardens are filled with enormous Weber cactuses and century plants. There is a field of black cows and ginger goats. A stray dog comes up and barks at my bike. Birds tweet.

Simple and Sweet During Unsettling Times

My father has been unwell lately and we are awaiting the results of tests carried out. We are all keeping our fingers crossed tightly that it is not as dire as it looks. I have called him several times and during a recent conversation, he mentioned that my eldest brother, Greg, had taken him to look at the sea. ‘It’s comforting’, Dad said, a simple comment that touched me. Later on, as always, he wanted to know all about our life over here and I said that Mike and I had just spent a day in Austin at the film festival. Immediately he asked, ‘Is that cowboy country?’ ‘No I replied,’ with a smile, for he has always had a great interest in American history, especially the cowboys and Indians period. I have often sent him books on this subject.

My father’s other favourite subject is the renovation of our house in Corpus Christi, which I pray he and Mum will still be able to visit one day. I described a recent trip there, and in particular all the birds that flock to the area during migration. At Oso Bay near the house, I told him, I had seen two great blue herons each with a plump silver fish, about a foot long, in their beaks, and close by a fisherman wearing an old battered straw hat in the water, plying his rod.

Dad has always been keen on birds himself and when I was in India on holiday many years ago I brought him back a red lacquer box with all sorts of colourful birds on its sides. It has been there, near his bedside, whenever I’ve returned home.

Whilst I was observing the herons, I looked up at the grassy bank and saw that it was covered in pink evening primrose and Indian Blanket, set against a perfectly blue sky. ‘Mum will love to hear that,’ my father commented, and I told him that whole swathes of bluebonnets, scarlet Indian Paintbrush, golden daisies and other wildflowers now line the verges of the interstate running south of San Antonio all the way to Corpus Christi.

Towards the end of our conversation, I asked Dad if he had started reading the latest book I had sent him, a novel about an aging soldier from the American Civil war who agrees to transport a young captive of the Kiowa back to her own people. ‘No, not yet,’ my father replied, ‘But I’ve had a look through it.’ I remembered Mum saying he hadn’t felt up to reading lately and I cannot begin to imagine what a bewildering time it must be for her, too, her own life held in suspension as we await the test results.

Mike told me that when his own father had been very ill, he remembered his mother holding his father’s hand and reminding him of the evenings they would sit on the upstairs balcony of their farmhouse to watch the cattle grazing nearby.
‘It was so sweet,’ Mike said.
‘Sweet, and simple, and it cost nothing,’ I replied.

Memories of Washington DC

When I was at the doctor’s surgery recently, I saw a young woman wearing a black veil that sparkled with diamond-like sequins. She had a baby in her arms and a small toddler by her side, and I commented how sweet the baby was and she gave me a big smile. As she kept looking round at me, I asked her where she was from. At this she motioned to a young man standing at the reception desk who approached and in good English explained that they were from Afghanistan, that he had been an interpreter for the US army and that they had only been in the US a month. I welcomed them to San Antonio and wished them good luck.

I often think of that young Afghani couple, especially given the recent turn American immigration policy has taken. Not long after that encounter, Mattie and I were in Washington DC for a few days, between Christmas and the New Year: I had wanted to experience the city before Obama left, and Mattie (unlike Mike!) wanted a cold Christmas – and cold it certainly was.

Now that Trump is in power and I hear some pronouncement coming out of a senator’s or congressman’s mouth in Washington, I think back to our first evening there when we walked around the Capitol after dark. It was all lit up, there was hardly a soul around and it looked particularly beautiful viewed through the bare branches of the surrounding trees. I remember how we turned a corner and much to our delight saw a huge Christmas tree filled with green and blue lights. It was on a lawn facing the Mall that is dotted with monuments and Smithsonian museums, all of them free. I remember how splendid the Capitol was inside, too, not least the murals in the Senate chambers that were painted by a pupil of Raphael.

Now, when I see Trump in the Oval Office signing one of his executive orders, I think back to the National Christmas Tree outside the White House with its hundreds of white lights, the little children excitedly watching the clockwork trains running around it, and the 50 smaller Christmas trees encircling it, each representing a State. And I remember the drone of military helicopters landing on and leaving the White House lawn, seeing them fly to and from the Pentagon, the tourists pointing and taking photos.

When Trump recently nominated a new Judge to the Supreme Court, I remember how silent and majestic that building was, too, by night, and the glorious ‘beaux arts’ Library of Congress next door with another huge Christmas tree in its lobby, and its gorgeous reading room. I recall wandering down streets in the Capitol historic district lined with 18th and 19th century houses, the indoor food market, the small park with its famous statue of Lincoln and the freed slave, the bookshops and funky little restaurants and cafés.

When Trump sends out an incendiary tweet, I compare that to President Lincoln and his appeal to the ‘better angels of our nature’. I think of the tree-lined path that leads peacefully from the Washington Monument down to the awe-inspiring Lincoln Memorial (Mattie remembered the scene from ‘Forrest Gump’ that was filmed near there!) And I recall our watching Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ at the Ford Theatre where Lincoln was assassinated, and the tiny museum in its basement where we saw the actual gun and bullet. During the performance I often looked up at the box where Lincoln had sat and I wondered what he would think of his country right now.

When Trump this week gathered together a few black sympathisers, I recalled my visit to the new Smithsonian African American museum on the Mall (whilst Mattie was visiting the Natural History Museum). My disappointment on learning that only ticket holders were allowed in – and then my delight when a Pennsylvania couple immediately approached and offered me, a total stranger, a spare. I remember the joyfulness and the chatter on the top two floors of the museum that showcased sport, music and the arts. And the intensity and silence in the basement where inscriptions and exhibits documenting slavery were carefully studied. (I was quite surprised that only 10% – if that – of visitors on that packed day were white.)

I recall the conversations I had with people there, in the museums and on the streets. The Botanical Gardens and the poinsettia displays. The open-air ice rink by the National Gallery where I would drink a gluhwein whilst watching Mattie skate. Seeing the snow come down, ever so lightly, on our last day.

Christmas Eve Thoughts

This morning was the first time, I think, that I have woken up in an empty house on Christmas Eve morning: Mattie has been staying with a family not far away and will not be back until eight tonight. And Michael, who went to our house in Corpus Christi yesterday to speak to a couple of workmen about replacing the patio, will not return until this afternoon. I did not join him as it was my greeter duty at the McNay Art Museum; although relatively quiet there, I enjoyed seeing the staff and the splendid Christmas tree with its audacious Mexican-style baubles beautifully created out of coloured paper.

So I was missing Michael and Mattie when I first awoke! Then, as always, I got up and made myself a cup of coffee, using the Italian espresso maker my sister Molly and her husband Tom bought for me during their visit last year. I always think of them as I grind the Guatemalan beans and then fill the pot with water. Whilst waiting for the coffee to bubble, I put on my favourite seasonal CD, ‘Christmas in New York’, featuring songs by opera singer Renee Fleming. My mother also has a copy and whenever it is playing I wonder if she is listening to it, too. Not this time, though, for as I poured the coffee into my mug, I glanced up at the kitchen clock and knew that she and Dad were on their way to London, to spend Christmas with my youngest brother and family.

I drank the coffee in bed whilst reading ‘Christmas Stories’, an anthology of short fiction that my mother gave to me during my first Christmas here. It has become something of a tradition for me, re-reading my favourite stories from it each year. The first I always read, even though it is so sad, is Nabokov’s simply titled ‘Christmas’ because the language and rhythms are so achingly beautiful. Then I tend to read Truman Capote’s ‘A Christmas Memory’, followed by Dickens’ ‘The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton’ from the Pickwick Papers. Finally putting the book down, I decided to finish crocheting a hat that I am making for our trip to Washington DC on Boxing Day. I rarely, if ever, crochet or knit in bed but this morning, alone, and with the weather looking gloomy and inside feeling so cosy, it seemed the ideal thing to do.

Later, I telephoned my brother David, to wish him a happy Christmas, knowing that he and his close friend Annique were about to leave for Molly’s. The line was poor so we said our goodbyes and then I got in the car headed for Eisenhower Park, in the far north of the city. I only discovered this park recently and it has become my favourite for it is just like being in the heart of the hill country. The trails, which meander through prickly pear, yuccas and cedar are a favourite of roadrunners, too. Today the weather was rather gloomy but occasionally a speck of blue could be seen through the cloud and the sun managed to poke through and there were some lovely views from the higher points. A couple of doggies accompanying their owners gaily sported Christmassy kerchiefs around their necks.

As soon as I arrived back home, Mattie rang to mention a doggie she herself was keen to have, a stray she had seen wandering around, and could we have him or he’d go to a dog pound? I replied that we had enough to think about at the moment, what with Christmas and our trip to Washington. ‘I need a dog in my life,’ she insisted, dramatically, before calling off. Then Michael rang to say he was due to come home around three and I mentioned, somewhat sadly, it must be the first year that Mattie hadn’t rushed excitedly into our room in the morning to declare it was Christmas Eve.

Later today, after I have wrapped all the presents, we will have tamales for dinner, a typical (Mexican) dish for this time of year. Our neighbour John said he enjoys tamales the way they ate them when he was little, covered in chilli con carne, and he looked at me askance when I said I like tamales with salad and avocado. Michael will drink a Mexican beer to accompany his and I, a spritze (New Zealand Sauvignon mixed with Topo Chico, a Mexican sparkling water which is fizzier than the European ones). Later, we will have a drive around San Antonio to see the lights. Oh, and before I forget, Merry Christmas everyone!

Loving, Turkeys and Trump

This weekend, Mike and I went to see the film ‘Loving’, a true story set in 1950s Virginia which, at the time, banned interracial marriage. The film traces the lives of a white man and a black woman who fell in love, and who believed they could get around the ban by marrying out of state. Instead, they found themselves arrested (she was pregnant at the time) and at their trial were given the choice of either a 25-year ban from Virginia, or face imprisonment. After several years of exile, the Lovings returned to Virginia with their three young children, but lived in constant fear. Only when their case was successfully brought before the Supreme Court, in 1968, could the family finally breathe easily.

As I was watching the film, it struck me how apt was the timing of its release, given the way Trump manipulated race and people’s fears in this recent election. In part, I found the film uplifting, for it demonstrated how far this country has come regarding race. But I also wondered how far backwards the country might now go.

On November 8th, when it began to look as if Trump would become the next president, it felt totally surreal. ‘We’re watching history in the making,’ I remember saying to Mike. But it wasn’t the sort of history we wanted and we both went to bed feeling fearful, and without a clue as to what the future might bring forth.

The following morning, I had coffee with Millie, a neighbour from Peru. She, too hadn’t slept well the night before and felt anxious. But as I left, Millie said she had seen a lot of different governments come and go in her own country, including dictators, and people had somehow managed to get through it. Perhaps there’s a silver lining, I replied, thinking that the Washington gridlock might finally be broken.

Another of my neighbours, Ella, is from Turkey and each time Turkey is in the news, I always think of her. Over brunch today, Ella told me that she had planned to visit her family in Turkey earlier this year but then the coup happened. ‘How are your family?’ I asked, and she shrugged, resignedly, ‘They are used to it.’ But her (Iranian) husband, she said, still doesn’t feel well after the US election results. I can’t begin to imagine how they both must feel.

During a recent cycle ride, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a health official shortly after Macey and I had arrived in the country. She had asked me how we were settling in and then, what I thought about US politics. I replied that though very frustrating, there was never a dull moment. And she looked at me and said, ‘We need some dull moments.’ How true those words were!

Life goes on and later on during my cycle ride, I came across four wild turkeys and was reminded that Thanksgiving is just around the corner. We plan to spend a few days in Corpus Christi and are very much looking forward to it. The weather is lovely, too, after a recent cold spell, though after stepping my toes into the pool yesterday, I think my swimming days this year are, sadly, over.

Here and There

I was walking in a local park recently, found myself trampling acorns, and was immediately thrown back to the days when I once walked Mattie to her new middle school, soon after she came to San Antonio. She would have been 12 then and I remember our walking up the street where we live, a wide boulevard where most of the front gardens sport at least one live oak tree, and we would see who could find the largest acorn and make the biggest crunch.

Hard to think Mattie will be 16 next month and is in her sophomore year of high school. During the last week of her summer holidays, we went to Philadelphia for a few days, and what a lovely city it is with its easy downtown walking, plethora of historical buildings, art museums, French-style bistros and other restaurants boasting fine new American cuisine. Mattie and I were immediately reminded of London (especially east London) as we walked around the city with its elegant Georgian architecture, tucked away cemeteries, leafy squares, small gardens and old hospitals. We thought of Lewes, too, our former home, and one narrow street in particular (Elphrick Alley) which has been continually inhabited since 1700; Mattie was particularly struck by the fact that one of its front doors was numbered 116, the number of our old house.

On our return to San Antonio, I asked Mattie what she remembered most about her trip to Philadelphia and she said it was the fact that I’d unknowingly booked a hotel in the gay part of town; and that we had seen a homeless person sitting on the pavement with a sign by his collection box with the words F*** Trump (Macey gave him a dollar).

Back in south Texas, we have witnessed an invasion of Snout butterflies – parts have literally been swarming with them. I first became aware of these butterflies a week ago whilst out cycling in Comfort, a town settled by German immigrants, and found myself engulfed in what at first I thought were leaves falling but were in fact small brown butterflies with a patch of orange and spots on their wings.

Last Friday, whilst I was driving back from Garner State Park in the hill country, large swarms were crossing the countryside and I arrived home with a splattered window screen and a number of dead butterflies lying flattened in the radiator grill (in as perfect a condition as if a lepidopterist had pinned them to a board).

Garner State Park was as lovely as ever, the river is deep enough for swimming and the hiking affords splendid views of the surrounding hill country. I was particularly delighted to see growing on the hillside the native Lindheimer morning glory, a short climber with trumpets of the most beautiful, almost luminescent, pale bluish-mauve. This was the first time I had seen it growing in the wild, unexpectedly popping up behind a prickly cactus here, a scrubby tree there. On the drive to the park, I had spotted at least a dozen hawks and Michael and Macey, very unusually, spotted one in a neighbour’s front garden this weekend. (Mike has just entered my study to say that he can hear the hawk screeching nearby and we wonder if it has a nest in our neighbour’s red oak.)

Recently, at Mitchell Lake in south San Antonio, I saw a large flock of barn swallows darting around and read that they tend to gather by water in preparation for their onward flight to south America where they will spend the winter. They certainly looked very pretty with their apricot breasts and forked tails. As I was watching them, ten red-winged blackbirds in loose formation flew close by followed by a scarlet cardinal. Egrets were perched in mesquite trees around the lake that soon will welcome hundreds if not thousands of migrating ducks.

I recently learned this is also the time of year for broad-winged hawks to be flying over Corpus Christi, on their way from Canada to south America. I hope to get a sighting of them at some point next weekend. A lot of improvements were made to our house there over the summer, though there are still odds and ends to tie up, the painting and tiling to be done and a new patio to be built. Happily, we have seen the last of our workman, Victor, who did his job pretty well but was growing more and more erratic as time went by. We plan to go down this Friday and already I am thinking of oleander shrubs profuse with pink, dark red and salmon-pink blossom and the cream and soft pink of frangipane trees.

Summer Evenings in Corpus Christi

Mattie has just returned from a ten-day holiday in San Francisco where she stayed with Mike’s daughter, her husband and two little ones. It was 15 year-old Mattie’s first independent trip away and she loved it! When Mike and I picked Mattie up from Austin airport earlier this week, she was wearing a bright yellow T-shirt with ‘California’ emblazoned on the front and a pair of swish new sunglasses. The intrepid traveller immediately announced that she would like to go back and work in California for a while after she finishes High School, so hopefully, this will encourage her to spend a little more time on her studies and less on her social life when she embarks on her sophomore year next month.

Whilst Mattie was in San Francisco, Mike and I spent some time ‘camping out’ at our new holiday house in Corpus Christi whilst Victor, our Hispanic carpenter and jack-of-all trades, was on a two-week break. It was nice to have the house to ourselves and together come to a few decisions, especially regarding how to build the new patio which is rather ugly and full of cracks. In somewhat better condition is a long driveway which we had at first thought about reducing in size until Mike suggested a small sail boat would fit very nicely there. Mention of sailing takes me back twenty years to the time I took lessons in a dinghy on Piddinghoe Lake, near Lewes in the UK – cold winds, sore hands and jumping into icy water to practise capsize drill immediately spring to mind. I have a feeling that sailing on the Gulf coast will be a more pleasant affair.

During our stay in Corpus Christi, we also celebrated Mike’s birthday (July 3rd), having dinner at an excellent restaurant, Liberty Hall, on nearby Mustang Island. The restaurant’s reputable chef specializes in seafood and I have to say my Brazilian stew was once of the best meals I’ve tasted in a long time; Mike was similarly delighted with his Caribbean-style grilled drum. Afterwards, we took a stroll on the beach but the wind was unusually strong and several tents belonging to holiday-makers who had come down to celebrate July 4th, lay broken on the sand. So we drove back to Corpus Christi and had a drink on the small wooden patio of a weatherbeaten fishing pier/café near Oso (‘Bear’) Bay, not far from our new home. It was lovely sitting there, looking out over the sea to the twinkling lights of Bay Bridge to the west and Mustang Island to the south.

Whilst cycling along Oso Bay last month I saw a dolphin leaping in and out of the water. It was the first time I had seen a dolphin in this particular stretch and I stood for a while watching it, entranced (though the several fly fishermen standing only feet away from it seemed totally unphased). My favourite time for cycling along Oso Bay is in the early evening when the laughing gulls and terns come flying back from wherever they have been during the day. Watching them, I imagine loved ones and friends, both over here and on the other side of the world, settling down, too, or already fast asleep.

Mother’s Day

Whilst browsing through some old magazine articles that I had written about Mattie’s adoption and our early years together, I came across one on the theme of Mother’s Day.

It had never occurred to me prior to Mattie coming into my home that Mother’s Day might be a difficult day for an adopted child. On our first Mother’s Day Mattie was only four and I remember she was quite grumpy but I couldn’t understand why (surely, she couldn’t be missing her birth mother?)

On Mother’s Day five years later, Mattie’s lovely former foster mother, whom she had looked on as a mother, was in hospital terminally ill. Mattie and I were sitting side by side in church that day as the young vicar reminded the congregation that Mother’s Day was a sad day for many. I felt the tears run down my cheek and fetching a hankie from my bag looked sideways at Mattie: she had that firm mouth she always has when trying to be brave.

Unlike the UK, Mother’s Day in the US is on the second Sunday in May and Mattie seems to have enjoyed the day more as she has got older. There was a tradition of Mike taking her out shopping to buy a card and a gift and afterwards taking us to a restaurant with a big enough patio to take the crowd.

But this year, 15 year-old Mattie showed little interest in Mother’s Day and as she has been quite a difficult teenager of late, I was sure, when I woke up on Mother’s Day, she wouldn’t even mention it.
‘I won’t mind,’ I had told Mike the previous evening.
‘I think you will!’ he replied.
As I was making my morning coffee on Sunday morning, I heard a noise on the stairs and Mattie came running into the kitchen and gave me a big hug. ‘Happy Mother’s Day, Mummy,’ she cried out.

Later the three of us went for a late breakfast at Sol Luna, one of our favourite Mexican restaurants. There were plenty of babies, as well as dressed-up mums, seated on the patio, and dads and granddads, too, carrying small bouquets of flowers. Service was slow, the female wait staff having been given the day off, which I thought rather sweet. There was a pleasant drone of happy chatter and Mattie seemed very happy. The three of us hadn’t chatted together so happily in a while and as we came out of the restaurant I remarked to Mike, ‘It’s the best Mother’s Day I’d ever had!’

Easter in Corpus

Mike and I spent Easter Sunday at our recently purchased ‘holiday’ home in Corpus Christi. The house is situated just 3 minutes’ walk from the water; in fact, when you come out onto the front lawn and look left, you can see the bay and palm trees.

Inside the house, strangely enough, I am reminded of an English cottage. Perhaps it is simply due to the wainscotting on the walls, but each time I enter it, I feel as though I am stepping into an episode of ‘The Railway Children’. At the moment, we spend most of our spare time there clearing up – the house was full of dog hair and the pungent smell of mothballs when we first took it over. We have also been busy in the front and back yards cutting down dead or dying shrubs and trees, and I enjoy planning what might replace them. We have already planted a frangipane, a Texas ebony and a bottlebrush tree. However, these are tiny, in 1-gallon pots and Mike is somewhat leery of them. ‘How long will that take to get to full size?’ is his common refrain.

One of the first tasks on our list is to treat the front lawn which has a greyish, dead-looking spot; Mr Gonzales, the elderly plumber who replaced the old drain pipes before we took possesion, is certain that scrub-worm is the cause of it. All it needs, he told Michael, is to put a few holes in the earth and fill them with soap powder and water it well. (At this point I am reminded of one of my favourite books, ‘Stones from Ybarra’, written in the 1960s by a young American couple who inherited and did up a house in northern Mexico. I came across this book by chance in a second-hand bookstore in San Antonio and only then learned that Mike had read it years earlier. So when we first viewed the Corpus Christi house and I spotted ‘Stones from Ybarra’ on a bookshelf, I thought it a good omen.)

The house will need some renovation, including a new kitchen and the conversion of the office, which was formerly a garage, into a master bedroom and bathroom. Apart from that and the myriad small things that always needs to be done in a newly acquired home, it needs a thorough lick of paint. Most of the floors are covered in Saltillo tile except two of the bedrooms, one of which Mattie has claimed as hers.

Outside the kitchen, we will replace the cracked concrete patio with Mexican brick and its overhead metal cover with something more aesthetic. The back yard is quite extensive and at the back of the kitchen is a narrow, shaded strip which contains a couple of tall palm trees, a pile of terracotta shards and broken bird boxes. (There was a dead squirrel here, too, but this thankfully has since been removed by an opossum, perhaps, or a hawk.) There is the constant sound of birdsong in the garden and the occasional drilling of a woodpecker. Some of the birds I have seen in the trees I shall have to look up in my bird book.

Corpus Christi seems to be a friendly town and some neighbours have already popped round to say hello. Opposite lives the head of the art department at the local university (his wife, a working artist, commutes from Georgia at the moment.) Next to them live an elderly couple who built their house back in the 1950s. The wife’s immediate comment regarding the people from whom we purchased the house was ‘They were far too liberal for us,’ and within ten minutes she had regaled me with a potted history of not only them but almost everyone in the street… In the house to our right, Mario and his family have already offered to help out in case we need anything doing whilst we are not around. We haven’t met the people on the other side of the house but two dead-looking limbs of their Arizona ash tree hover threateningly over our side of the yard.

Corpus Christi has two fairly large beaches situated a couple of miles further east and dotted along the coast are a number of tiny parks, too. One of these, Poelnish Park, is close to the house and sports the tiniest of beaches (our ‘local beach’ I call it) and I intend to take a swim there one day. I pass by Poelnish Park each time I cycle, to the occasional sound of a helicopter hovering in the sky above, towards the naval coastal station about two miles east. Much of the ride is along a long narrow spit, on one side of which is Corpus Christi Bay and on the other some wetlands. Herons, pelicans, terns and many other shorebirds abound and at this time of year the grass verges are sprinkled with pink, lemon and blue wildflowers. On Easter Sunday, there was no traffic and apart from a few fishermen (and the birds of course) it was empty and silent, quite blissful in fact. I stopped cycling more than once to gaze at the city of Corpus Christi across the bay and the long bridge that crosses from it to the barrier island. Those of you who have read ‘Dear Mummy, Welcome’ might recall that Mike took me to Corpus Christi for a couple of days just before I adopted Mattie. At that time we had even considered living here. We definitely made the right decision to settle in San Antonio, but looking across the bay, it occurred to me that we have, in a sense, ended up here after all.