A few weeks ago, I took one of my best friends to San Antonio.
We had one mission: to see that most anti-climactic of all tourist attractions – The Alamo.
It was my bridesmaid present to her, because there is no one alive who loves Texas more than this girl.
Yet she had somehow lived 22 years without setting eyes on that blessed memorial.
For those who have never seen it, The Alamo is mostly one dark, smallish room. Three more rooms, barely larger than closets, squat beside the front doors, but these can not be entered. They house between them, one old military uniform of unspecified origin, a cannon that may or may not have been used in the battle of The Alamo, and that’s it.
The walls of the original building stand at about ten feet of rough stone. Above that, renovations have added three more feet of smooth concrete and a domed roof. Most of that main room is taken up by a diorama of the original fort, and a crowd gathers here with little else to draw their attention.
At the back, plaques hold the names of the dead, and a pair of imposing, old doors lean against the exterior wall. These doors, I found out, have no connection to The Alamo, but evidently, James Bowie passed through them many times, so sure, they belong.
We wait in line for this. And pay $10 for the audio tour.
It’s so Texan.
We take the sight of a lost battle and resurrect it as a point of pride. We claim ruins as a monument to our stubborn refusal to surrender. We teach our children to remember this, remember The Alamo. Remember that in the end, we won Texas.
There is no humility in this defeat, no plaque for the soldiers who besieged this sight, no nuanced discussion about Mexico’s lawful claim on the land and the contracts that first attracted these American frontiersmen.
No, here the marquis of the Crockett Hotel smiles down on the courtyard and the gift shop sells the great mementos of our time: stuffed armadillos and lapel pins emblazoned with the phrase Come And Take It.
My feelings about Texas are admittedly conflicted – one minute I am filled with a fierce and familial pride, and the next Texas Public Schools are Teaching Ridiculous Things About the Bible or Rick Perry’s unpopular opinions are flooding my dash.
I groan inwardly every time I remember that two years of my history education were devoted to Texas, two more were spent studying American History, and the entire history of the rest of the world got 6 months. True story.
But as we drove west toward San Antonio with hardly even a gas station to break the expanse of land around us, I marveled again at this landscape that seems to be all sky and cloud and sun. It feels sometimes as though that sky belongs especially to us, we who drive along these highways, without mountains or trees, exposed on the surface of the earth.
With both the good and bad, it is the place from which I have come and the place I choose to call home. This state frustrates me, at times, with its self-aggrandizing, and embarrasses me with a lack of self-awareness.
But I’ll admit it, I do love my Texas. And our anti-climactic memorial.