Monthly Archives: March 2013

Makes Sense To Me


Copyright Bill Waterson


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A True Irish Story


In 1986, my wife, child and I took a trip to Ireland. We spent a week in Dublin, enjoying the city. We walked the old streets and cross the  River Liffey and enjoyed the sights and smells of the place. Gabriel, then not quite 2, charmed many an Irish man and woman. It was a wonderful trip. 

Then we rented a car and decided to see the West. The serenity of the countryside was broken only by the moments of sheer terror as I barely avoided head-on collisions with big trucks. Remembering to drive on the right side of the road was often a problem when the road was no bigger than our driveway back home. But we struggled on, down through Cork, up to Kilkenny and into the Dingle Peninsula. We reached the Atlantic and looked out across the great ocean. It was lovely. 

Somewhere along the way, in some rural area of green and brown tones, we stopped at a country pub for a sandwich, soup and a rest. It was late afternoon and the sun was sinking towards the horizon. The pub was a small place and poor. There were maybe four people inside, the owner and three work men. They were right out of a casting office for Irish Farmer. Study work clothes, wool caps, heavy, mud-stained boots (at least I hoped it was mud) and hands thick and gnarled with years of pulling a living out of Irish soil. They stared with curiosity at three Americans in their midst, nodded a greeting and turned back to their pints and their talk. 

We ate quickly before the boy could grow too restless and left with thanks. No body said a word. At the rental car, I noticed that the keys I was sure were in my pocket were actually dangling from the ignition. And the doors were locked. Crap. 

After pulling on the doors like that would work, I returned to the pub and the curious stares of the folks inside. I asked if they had a coat hanger I could use to unlock my car door. The pub owner stood silently. “I locked myself out,” I said. He nodded, turned and walked into the back. The farmers watched me as though I was recently released from an asylum for the criminally stupid. 

The pub owner returned with a wire coat hanger and handed it over silently. I left. Back at the rental Ford, I was able to pop the lock, get the keys. As Ginny got Gabriel back into the car, I bent the hanger back into shape and returned it. My re-entry stopped the conversation as I handed the hanger back to its owner. 

He smiled. ‘Ah, keep it, lad,” he said. “Ye may have need o’ it up the road.’ 

And then they laughed. Great roaring laughs that told me I would be the subject of many a pub conversation for years to come. 

‘And, then this American idjit locked his keys in the car while his wee child was fretting and…” 

I’ve pretty much hated vacations since.

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Happy Alamo Day To Texans Everywhere

AlamoBattlePaintingTexasStateLibraryNArchivesToday marks the 177th Anniversary of the fall of the Alamo. In which a military disaster and defeat for would-be revolutionists helped spawn an independent Texas.

The Alamo battle has been the pawn of patriots and racists and poets and rascals. It has stood for the nobility of sacrifice and the result of shameful opportunism. Yet it remains the Alamo, a monument to the redemption of hope. Love it or hate it, the Alamo shows that we humans can engage in things that are bigger than the sums of our parts.

Viva el Alamo.

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As you know by now. William Barrett Travis’ letter has come home to the Alamo. That’s as it should be. The ‘victory or death’ letter is a beautiful example of a stirring 19th Century defiant challenge that is part bombast, part cry from the heart. It’s a great letter. It’s just not my favorite one from Travis. But more on that later.

For Texans of a certain age, you learned the ‘victory or death’ letter in mandatory Texas history lessons in school. Most of us remember it well.

Commendancy of The Alamo
Bejar, Feby. 24th, 1836
To the People of Texas & All Americans in the world —

Fellow Citizens and compatriots —

I am besieged by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna – I have sustained a continual Bombardment & cannonade for 24 hours & have not lost a man – The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken – I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, & our flag still waves proudly from the walls – I shall never surrender or retreat. Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch – The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily & will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country –

Victory or Death

William Barret Travis
Lt. Col. Comdt.

It also burnished the image of a arrogant, overly touchy failed lawyer who fled debtors in his native South Carolina to a career in the Mexican state of Texas defending slave owners and those who hunted runaway slaves. It was the looming revolt of native-born Tejanos, new and sometime illegal immigrants from the United States against the despotic rule of Mexico’s president Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna became Travis’ transformation. In the town of Anahuac, Travis railed against what he saw as Mexican injustices against settlers. Effectively so. Mexican officials filed criminal charges against Travis and he fled to San Antonio with volunteers and eventually took a command in the militia that later seized the town from the Mexican Army.

My friend, Scott Huddleston of the San Antonio Express-News, has forgotten more about Alamo lore and the machinations of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas in establishing the Alamo Myth of noble, largely White males, dying bravely in sacrifice for freedom. I encourage you to read Scott’s reporting on the letter and the broader recasting of the Alamo’s tale. It’s good stuff.

It’s just not my favorite Travis letter from the Alamo.

There are something like seven letters Travis sent out from the Alamo, variously asking for reinforcements and informing Sam Houston and other leaders of the fledgling revolt how the Alamo garrison was defiantly responding to the Mexican siege, and also what desperate straits their food and ammunition were. And then there’s the last letter, little more than a hurried note scratched on a small piece of paper.

Travis’ young six-year-old son, Charles, who had come to his custody shortly before he decamped for San Antonio,  had been left in the care of Travis’ friend, David Ayres at his home near Washington-on-the-Brazos. And on March 3, 1836,  exactly 177 years ago, Travis sent this note out by the last courier to safely leave. It read:

Take car of my little boy. If the country should be saved, I may make him a splendid fortune; but if the country should be lost and I should perish, he will have nothing but the proud recollection that he is the son of a man who died for his country.

There are many reasons to remember the Alamo, I suppose. And a few to forget it. But at least at that moment, Travis’ thoughts focused on his son and the hope for his future. Travis certainly knew he had no future. Just three days later, the superior forces of the Mexican army poured over the Alamo’s walls. Travis died on the north wall during the final assault. He was just 26 years old.

That’s why I remember the Alamo.

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March 3, 2013 · 9:05 pm