Familiar Disappointment

Last week this Texan had the distinct pleasure of returning to the most famous of landmarks in the Lone Star State, the “Cradle of Texas Liberty”:  The Alamo.

The Alamo

The Alamo Sanctuary

To many residents of the State of Texas, journeying to see the Alamo is a kind of sacred pilgrimage.  My last chance to pay homage was more than 2 decades ago.  So with this year being the 175th anniversary of the famous battle, and with my having meetings in downtown, well…it was time.

It was strange to go back if only because I was struck by the impressions I’d had as a child returning with the same strength.  Memories I’d forgotten came back with the strength of not just vision and smell, but emotion.

Coming up to the doors of the sanctuary, you are greeted with a sign reminding you that this is a sanctuary and that not only are cameras unwelcome, but so are loud conversation, cell phones and gentlemen wearing hats.  As you open those heavy doors and enter….

It’s so very small.  Granted, the sanctuary (with the facade of which we are so familiar), is only a fraction of the whole mission which was known as The Alamo, but it’s still a bit strange to see that the most prominent image of something so large in legend is so small in fact.  Even when you walk the gardens and the Long Barracks (the gardens are not part of the original grounds, the Barracks are), it’s simply…not what you expect.

And for me, well, my images of the Alamo legend are formed primarily from the children’s book Girl of the Alamo by Rita Kerr.  It’s the (slightly fictionalized) tale of Susanna Dickinson, one of the women who survived the battle.  In the testosterone fest of male battle figures, Susanna Dickinson is one of few females who gets any attention out of the entirety of the Texas Revolution.  When you’re a your female child, this is the one thing you have to latch onto.  It’s the perfect combination of a female connection, wrapped in the mystique of a character.  I might never meet Anne Shirley or Jo March or any other such character from my formative years of reading, but Susanna Dickinson was real.  She was legitimate.  She lived and breathed and made a mark on history in a place you could see and visit.

So, obviously, as much as the Alamo is a symbol for Texas, for some of us it’s also a literary journey.  A place to see where a character who entered the pantheon of key figures in our formative minds, lived and suffered and survived an incredibly event.

And no one tells you anything in that building.

The sacristy is where the women and children took refuge in the battle, but just walking through, you see nothing of where.  It was a disappointment as a child.  I still remember walking through that sanctuary, in awe of what it was and what had happened, but still disappointed that there was not some indication, symbol or sign that the character in my book had been in a particular spot in that smaller-than-you-might-imagine building.

And I felt it again this time.  As I walked to the back of the sanctuary, where a series of plaques list the names of the fallen, I strained to see something.  Was there a new sign?  Was there a place where it would tell me that “Susanna Dickinson and her daughter Angelina crouched here as the Mexicans entered”?  But no.  And the sinking feeling entered my stomach just as it did so long ago.  The room seemed even smaller, and the display cases seemed lower, but at the end of my day as I walked back out of the gardens by the Long Barracks, past the Texas Lawmen that watch that entrance, I felt that same little let down I did as a child.

Maybe in another few decades, I’ll find what I’m looking for.  Or perhaps grow up enough to let go of the need to find a character that’s only partially real.

Musikalischer Mittwoch: Christmas Songs that Make Me Grinch-y

If you thought I was going to limit myself to one Christmas Song discussion for the season, you clearly do not know me.  At all.  Even a little.  Because I love Christmas music.  A lot.

Except for the songs that I loathe.

Let’s talk Cammy’s least favorite Christmas songs:

– “Deck the Halls”:  It all comes down to the Fa-la-la-la-la bullshit.  Honestly.  It’s like someone was too lazy to write real lyrics.  A catchy little melody wasted because someone wasn’t up to the challenge of putting in actual words.  However, it’s perfectly acceptable to just leave that fa-la-la-la-la shit in if you’re turning this song into a filk.  Which is all it’s really good for.  Fa-la-la-la f-you.

-”We Wish You A Merry Christmas”:  I wish I could like this one because anything that mentions a “figgy pudding” is kind of cool….but no.  It’s repetitive and obnoxious and gets stuck in my head for hours on end.  And how am I supposed to be cheerful about these people refusing to leave until you give them figgy pudding.  What if I don’t want to turn it over to those greedy little bastards?  Someone should write a better song with a figgy pudding in it.

-”Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”: The quintessential example of a musical genre trying to capitalize on the holiday season.  Also, I always hear this in malls at Christmas. and since a mall at Christmas is one of the many levels in my personal incarnation of hell…..

-”Ding Dong Merrily On High”:  It’s a train wreck or really good and really bad.  Generally I hear this one performed by professional or semi-professional choral groups.  Unfortunately, listening to people who are, for the most part, trained vocal musicians singing phrases as goofy as “Ding Dong Merrily On High”  and “O-io-io-io” is something I can’t take seriously.  On the flip side the “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” section is awesome and totally worthy of the people performing.

-”I Saw Three Ships on Christmas Day”:  This song is one of many events in my childhood that probably render me an excellent candidate for therapy.  First of all, growing up in South Texas I was already mystified by a large proportion of the Christmas songs out there (snow, ice, sleighs….these are completely foreign.  I still remember my older cousin explaining to me what a sled was), so I really didn’t need the complete bafflement I got from this song.  To this day I hear it and, even though I understand it more now, I’m still overwhelmed by the memory of my childhood confusion:  Why three ships?  What do ships have to do with Baby Jesus?  Last I checked in my picture book of the Christmas story,  Bethlehem wasn’t a beach town and Mary got there on a donkey.  And Baby Jesus got there, well, however babies s get out of Mommy’s tummy.

A Keen Time Vampire

As a kid, I never had a Nintendo.  My parents are thrifty.  To them, computers should be for doing work, so we had a home PC.  But dedicated gaming consoles?  Not so much.  Eventually they did give in, but Nintendo’s were higher than the Atari 2600.  If they were going to “waste” money on a game console, it was going to be as little as possible.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved the Atari (viva Ms. Pacman!), but I felt left out of the side-scroll adventure world of Super Mario.

Then came a substitute–something similar, but, honestly, cooler, for the home PC:  Commander Keen.

It had the same side-scroll action as Super Mario, but it was different–and I liked different.  A kid in a Bean & Bacon Mega rocket, crash landed on a planet, battling with wolfmen and toothy-green aliens armed only with a blaster and pogo-stick.

Hours of my life were poured into this game.  My brother and I even managed to find the “secret” level.

And now, far more years having passed than I like to admit, I found out that some clever souls have put Commander Keen online.  Apparently it’s sans sound, but already I’ve wasted several hours of pleasant frustration as I try to get my fingers to replicate the old moves.  I still haven’t found my pogo-stick and I’m getting zapped by the clammy things too often for comfort, but it’s worth it.