At Home on the Rio Grande

†††††††††††††††† We went home for a few days last month, to spend a little time with my mom and dad, Joe and Betty Claeys, and to celebrate Dadís birthday.† Iím not speaking of the farm near Ghent, MN, where Mom and Dad also have a home, their roots, and their fields with amber waves of grain.

Dad turned 86 on Saturday, March 5th, and Mom threw a party for him at their home in the Alamo Country Club† while we were there.† Thatís Barb Voges, a Winter Texan from Bemiji, on the couch with Dad.

Iím referring to their home near the Rio Grande, the river and the valley just north of the Mexican border, in Alamo, TX, where my parents built their wintertime home long ago near fields of cabbages and orange trees and where weíve visited often over these past many years.

Dad opened funny cards and gifts and Mom served 16 people in grand casual style.† It is their culture to serve cocktails around 7 p.m. and then a late meal around 10 p.m. before everyone goes home.

More Winter Texans, from left to right, thatís Barb Voges, Sharon Bollman of Bemidji, Linda Olson of Blackduck, and Betty Van Luik of Starbuck.

Thatís Clarita Rennemo of Killior with her arms around Ray Voges (left) and Dennis Bollman.

Mom steps into the picture from the kitchen.

Mom visits with Fern Hillman of Gibbon and Ruben Van Luik of Starbuck.

Dad enjoyed his birthday cards and the people who gave them to him.

Seated at the dining table were (left to right) Deloyd Hillman, Bud Olson, Wally Rennemo, and Al Orsen.

Momís spread was soon ready for everybody.

Happy Birthday, Daddy.

One adventure we always include at home on the Rio Grande is a trip into Mexico, the City of Progresso, to be more exact.

The ritual remains unchanged.† We park on the USA side and witness and hear hundreds of chirping blackbirds filling trees next to the parking lot.

Nearby is a giant pile of grain ó Dad said itís probably sorghum ó with hundreds more blackbirds swarming overhead as well as creating dark patches on the pile like inkspots on a blotter.

As we approach the International Bridge, this sign welcomes the Winter Texans.

We can see the long bridge through the wrought iron gate, still on the USA side, which is probably meant to keep people out rather than in.

Thatís my dad on the left and my husband on the right, walking south across the International Bridge over the Rio Grande.† Mom and I are only a few steps behind.

Thereís the Rio Grande, which doesnít look so grand from this perspective.

Mom and Dad pointed out the wall that was being built ó on the USA side ó and then construction stopped so it just stands there like that.

As we reach the Mexican side, there are children on the banks underneath the bridge begging for coins with their familiar lingo.† ďLady, hey lady!Ē† Some of the more agile kids climb to the top of the bridge and poke their caps through the slats as they beg us to put money in them.† ďLady, hey lady!Ē

We step off the bridge and encounter a large sculpture of an eagle chewing on a snake at the entrance to the city.† I suspect it signifies the triumph of good over evil.† After I take a picture of Mom seated next to it, we file through the turnstiles, each of us needing a quarter to pass through to the main street in front of us.

Then we begin our walk down the sidewalk lined with vendors and shops, most of them being pharmacias.† The bakery is always our first stop.† We must have a cup of coffee and a sweet roll.† Itís part of the tradition.

After shopping at the Canada Store, buying a few other things along the way, having a couple margaritas at the Galleria, we find ourselves back at the bridge ó on the other side of the road, of course.

Part way over the Rio Grand River is a marker defining the boundary between the two countries.†

There they come, the men carrying our bags of goodies.

We like to play follow the leader.

Mom makes us some coffee at their house and then we go for a ride.

As we drove by this place, Dad said, ďThereís my bank.Ē† He wasnít talking about H.E.B., which is a nearby grocery store.

As usual we sat at Whataburger one morning for a couple hours, having coffee.† Dad likes to order the sweet rolls.† Coffee is either free or a nickel, depending on whether you walk in with a Whataburger mug.†

While we sat at Whataburger, a parade started right outside the window.† Thatís a City of Alamo firetruck.

Looks like Mexican boys in the marching band but they are Mexican Americans.

Same for these senoritas dressed in pink.

A group of younger kids were on a hayrack throwing candy at people sitting on the curb.

One of the floats honored Our Lady of Guadalupe, who appeared to Juan Diego in Mexico in 1531.

These little ones were probably the cutest of all.

It was soon time to leave home at the Alamo Country Club and the Rio Grand Valley.

It got blurry because of the tears that always well in my eyes as I say goodbye.

Love you.

Susan

Bye, Mom.† Bye, Dad.† Thank you for everything.

Although weíve often stayed at Mom and Dadís, even with our kids, now we choose to stay at the nearby LaQuinta.† Our room comes with breakfast so Mom doesnít have to cook in the morning for us and she doesnít have to bother about clean sheets and bedding.