Illustration by Michael Witte.

Illustration by Michael Witte.

Babs Rodriguez unpacks a lifetime of travel memories. Here’s the full story from the March 2014 issue of Texas Highways.

The best sort of travel comes back home with you, settling in your brain like a disheveled suitcase that never gets completely unpacked. Sometimes what you’ve brought back feels like a flip file of snapshots, flashcards of small memories. Other times you bring back a full-length feature film to be played over and over in your mind as you drift off to sleep or daydream at your desk. Sometimes the memories are more tactile, an odd collection of prized, if eccentric, souvenirs of experiences that have touched you in some way.

Having recently moved, I have been sorting through all sorts of real time memorabilia (yes, and junk). An unexpected consequence of all this sorting – of books, notes, photos, and correspondence – has been a wash of memories stored away during 50 years of traveling in Texas.

There’s not always a dot-to-dot connection to what floats to the surface of my consciousness. It isn’t as if a postcard from Palestine suddenly spurs me to remember the soft shift of my heels as I walked down a trail of powdery soil in East Texas. Rather, one day while packing a box of office supplies, I am overwhelmed by the memory of dogwoods in full bloom near Lady Bird Johnson’s girlhood home.

Another day, sorting dishes, the golden wilderness that is far West Texas just before sunset flashes into my mind. Fond recollections of a crumbling adobe village, half ghost town, half pueblo, near the village of Polvo pulls into focus.

I think it was something in the breeze across my new back porch — or maybe the rooster in the yard behind mine — that transported me back to the overblown tropical fecundity of the Rio Grande Valley. That memory was a particularly colorful one. I could see the Great Blue Herons slouching, unflappable and wise on the banks of the acequias; mesh sacks of Ruby Red grapefruits and Valley oranges begging to be hefted into my trunk, the slant of light on a vendor’s pyramid of purple onions.

In other reveries the air smells of salt and the sea.

Perhaps steadily opening and closing boxes for about a month is what triggered my random access memory to pop open file drawers in my head that have been long closed and sometimes completely forgotten.

One day, while setting up my new kitchen, a vision of a roadrunner that I once hailed on a hiking path outside Meridian scrambled up from somewhere. I giggled to remember my son’s first encounter with the large and surprisingly nimble bird that he’d immediately tried to race, his short legs pounding down the trail.

Sorting through bathing suits I surely never wore, I closed my eyes and saw clearly a picnic I’d once shared alongside the Pedernales River with friends from Switzerland, both of whom were stunned at the sudden appearance of a snuffling armadillo they thought must be an undiscovered creature from prehistoric times.

It’s a great comfort to know that while I’ve been divesting myself of bags and bags of clothing, trundling armloads of books to the half-price bookstore and calling the Salvation Army to make regular pick-ups of all manner of things, I have been able to carry along with me to my new home decades of memories that touch on all the senses: The resonant jack-hammering of giant redheaded woodpeckers in the Piney Woods; the burble of a spring in the Hill Country outside Blanco; the smells of burning piñon near Terlingua; the blinding glint of the sun off South Padre sand dunes; the rubbery feel and delicious promise of fresh-picked mushrooms (Boletus edulis) in the Big Thicket.

There were other food memories randomly triggered by a stack of maps: My first barbecue lunch at Krause’s, experienced on a warm day when I skipped an anthropology class at the University of Texas (because a beau invited me); German lunch at Schilo’s on the river in San Antonio with a new husband; the first time I ever ate a mariachi, a small, palm-sized taco, at a roadside café on my way to Laredo; a late-afternoon burger in the tilted, wheezy clubhouse at Tres Rios, a 1920s YWCA camp operated as an old-fashioned fishing retreat outside Glen Rose. The last memory clearly contained the way it feels to bounce barefoot across broad-backed river rocks and swim in a pool where the spring water rushes in as blue as the sky.

Each memory was spurred by something seemingly unrelated. I think it was my subconscious working hard to relieve my stress. Movies have always been my favorite escape and as I steadily worked myself into a stupor –sorting, packing, hauling, driving from place to place and waking up to do it all again another day – escaping into these memories become like settling in to watch much-loved mini-documentaries about my life.

Now I am 90-percent unpacked. And with my folk-art hung and bookshelves arranged I am enjoying the comfort of my humble little home. I am grateful to have the hardest chores behind me, but happier still that now when I settle in for a cup of tea I am able to plug in to a new slate of memories long stored away. Most of all I am thankful that for all I’ve tossed away and passed along, these memories are mine forever. And they cost me absolutely nothing to move.

From the March 2014 issue
The June 2024 cover of Texas Highways: Treasures from the Coast

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