Monday, April 18, 2011

San Antonio

Our family took a five day vacation to a place I've always dreamt of visiting: San Antonio, Texas.
 The kids were great on the plane, and Lorelei made fast progress on her Hooked on Phonics workbook along the way.
 Gryffy says, "Cheese!"
 When we got to San Antonio, we went straight to the riverwalk from our hotel. Along our stroll, the kids spotted Rainforest Cafe.
 We hit the town just in time for Fiesta celebrations--parades, mariachi bands, performers. It made for a magical vacation for our little princess and cowboy.
 The kids had their faces painted at the town center. Lorelei picked a white rabbit...
 Our little cowboy, well... he wanted something with a bit more color. We didn't waste time arguing.
 He fell asleep on the way back. Mommy almost broke her back carrying him the length of the riverwalk.

 I was so excited to see the Alamo with the kids. We've studied world landmarks and Lorelei always points out the Alamo on posters and tv. To be here and celebrate its history--freedom and all it inspires--was an honor. And luck, we took our second visit to the Alamo (just blocks from our hotel) on the morning of the Parade of Flowers, and ran into the queens of the parade. Gryffy was rather smitten with the ladies, and they were quite smitten with him, too. Lorelei fit right in--visible or not, diamonds or flowers, she always wears a crown.

 We had so many wonderful meals on the water. The seating was easy to come by, the boats and little ducklings floating by put on a delightful show, and the prices were very reasonable.
 Halfway through dinner, the Parrot Man made Lorelei his assistant. She was so brave and said this was the highlight of her trip. The lady at the table next to us was impressed with how good Lorelei was with the animals--we were, too. She loved every moment!
 Gryffy wasn't so sure about this. And we thought he was a pirate.
 Lorelei got a parrot kiss! (It cost her a cracker.)
 While Mark was at conference meetings, I took the kids to Ripley's Believe it or Not. There were some impressive things to see--the kids' favorites being the tarantula with 12 legs and the man whose eyes popped out of socket at will. But I loved capturing a picture of the kids touching the Berlin Wall, because I remember so vividly when the wall fell. I was nine. I had an obsession with Germany as a child--I'd never been there, but I would dream about it and come home after school and read the encyclopedia entry for the country so often my World Book began to fall open to the page. (We named Lorelei after a place in Germany--I'd picked that name my first trip there at 16.)
 Parade of Flowers.
 As part of Fiesta, the local high school Mariachi Bands would float by on barges, playing and singing. They stopped right by our table. It was enchanting!
 Lorelei loved seeing the violins!

 One of my favorite activities was the boat tour. We took one at night and one during the daytime. And what a bargain--under $10! I've always regretted not riding a gondola in Venice, but couldn't imagine paying upwards of $80 as a college student (if I could do it over again, I would). I was getting ready to pay a hefty amount here, but San Antonio is so affordable! Granted, it's not a private gondola, but it was fantastic nonetheless, and I felt like royalty floating along the San Antonio River with my family, even if we were packed in like sardines.
 A gorgeous Rhein restaurant we passed near the Old Town.
 To please the kids, we went to Sea World, and just as we got inside Shamu came lumbering towards us for a photo op.
 The real Shamu put on a great show, too.
 The kids' favorite thing as Sea World was feeding the dolphins.

 Lorelei got a stuffed animal dolphin at Sea World as a souvenir; Gryffy got a deep sea diver toy. Later that evening, Gryffy's deep sea diver experienced a very traumatic underwater adventure in the hotel loo (but on the upside, Gryffy's doing great at pooing in the potty).
 And here we are atop the Tower of the Americas, which is higher than the Seattle Space Needle. It didn't bother the kids a bit to be up this high. I thought at least one of them might object.
I've saved my favorite part of the trip for last.

It was Palm Sunday.  A homeless man (who I didn't entirely trust, and I'm not really sure was homeless) asked for money, and I gathered the kids and rushed by, feeling a bit uneasy, leaving Mark to deal with his request.

Immediately I felt ashamed of my behavior, and was convicted somewhere deep inside. About twenty steps later, I asked Mark if we could turn around and offer this man breakfast. Mark, bless him, gave the "if-you-really-want-to" response, which I love about him. We turned around, and suddenly this man was gone--we couldn't find him anywhere. But I felt better knowing at least that I had fixed that part of my heart that had been so dismissive and closed. And I prayed that God would help me be a better person.

I should have known better.

God likes to mess with me.

It wasn't five minutes later when we emerged from a bridge crossing the Riverwalk to find a very filthy, emaciated homeless man in an army shirt and stained pink pants walking along with all he owned--a bag attached to a rickety walker.

Oh no, God. Please, not him.
I'm ashamed to admit it, but these were my initial thoughts.

But I knew exactly what God was telling me to do. And when I asked Mark's permission, he gave me the typical "if-you-really-want-to" response. This time, it wasn't exactly what I wanted to hear, and all the same, it was exactly all I needed to hear.

"Sir, would you like to join us for breakfast? Just down there?"

I don't know who was more surprised by the words that had fallen from my mouth. The man agreed, and I helped him maneuver his walker down the stone steps to the riverwalk, then went ahead and requested a table at the Republic of Texas, right on the river. I had no idea how the restaurant (a nice one, at that) would handle the situation, but all the same we sat down--the kids, Mark, this man and me.

I asked him his name.

"Mr. Dire," he replied, in the gentlest, barely audible voice. I spied on his army green shirt, just above the pocket, this very name, etched in blue pen, which confirmed I'd heard right. The name spoke to everything about him.

We ordered food and endured several curious stares from passersby--not rude, just baffled.

Mr. Dire immediately took a small vial of scented oil from one of his many pockets and rubbed it on his dirty cheeks, as if trying to cover the smell of not having bathed for I-can't-imagine-how-long. It smeared away just enough dirt to show his skin tone through it, a leathery tan. He offered Mark the oil as well--Mark refused kindly--and then reached into his pocket to grab a massive supply of peppermints to litter the table.

It was his way of thanking us.

He told us he gives peppermints to people when they give him money.

He gave us all he had.

I wanted to learn about Mr. Dire's life. I leaned in and tried to listen the best I could, but his voice was so soft, and his words were so warped by his mouth, not a single tooth in it. And so I just stared into his eyes--beautiful, locked-in hazel blue eyes that seemed so grateful to gaze into the eyes of another human being.

Just as soon as Mr. Dire finished his huevos rancheros, which took little more than fifteen minutes, he tried to give Mark a dollar (Mark wouldn't accept) and immediately excused himself with an ample supply of thanks. I asked if we could take him to CVS for some supplies to help him along, but he wouldn't let us do anything for him.

As he left, I said, "God bless you," and felt tears welling up.

Then the waiter, a young Hispanic guy who had been so graciously attentive to us, walked over to our table and smiled. The hostess was smiling, too.

"Another customer saw," he said, "and he's paid for all of your meals."

By this point, I had to bury my face in my napkin, overwhelmed by tears. My thoughts just spilled from my mouth:

"And that's how our God works," I said, crumbling into a mess.

"You taught me a lesson today I will never, never forget," he said so sincerely, as I thanked him for being so kind to us, so ready to fill our waters and treat us, and especially Mr. Dire, well--I told him I was worried the restaurant might turn us away.

We left him a big tip as we got up, still deeply touched by the generosity of some anonymous stranger who had been sitting nearby.

Five minutes or so later, this time two blocks down on the street above, we ran into Mr. Dire again.

"Mr. Dire!" I yelled down the sidewalk near a street full of traffic. Three boys sitting on a bench nearby looked at me like I was mad, because now I was running after this homeless man. "Mr. Dire, thank you for eating with us today. It really blessed us."

He put his hand on my shoulder, looked into my eyes again, and nodded, and then we parted ways.

He probably went on just the same as he had before, but not me. I felt like heaven had suddenly intersected earth, and was a blathering mess the rest of the day.

And all day long, I could smell the fragrance of Mr. Dire's very distinct, woodsy oil--on our hotel elevator, on the riverwalk, gusting at me like a breeze as I wandered along. It was everywhere, it seemed. And it was beautiful.

1 comment:

  1. Love the story of Mr. Dire! We should always entertain strangers, for we never know if they may be angels:) Have you read Same Kind of Different as Me? Inspiring - as are you!