Our roundabout route through Texas has put us on a lot of FM (farm to market) roads. Rte 77 North, a long, smooth, two-lane highway lined with primrose and bluebonnets, takes us most of the way from the Gulf Coast to Dallas/Fort Worth. Along the way are lush, green fields with ponds and the occasional creek running by. All the green is beautiful but we are wary of water these days, having heard the news of flooding in neighboring Louisiana and even on Interstate 10.
We roll along these country roads, passing signs for cowboy churches, Czech and German restaurants, and more BBQ places than we can count. Texas flags fly from almost every building and trucks with lone star stickers and longhorn mudflaps pass us in no-passing zones, as if we need more reminders of this state’s ego. So far on BigTrip, Texas wins for state pride.
We get to Waco in time for afternoon shakes at the famed Health Camp, which serves nothing healthy and offers nowhere to camp, and then we stop for a night at a nearby RV park. In the morning, we head to Cedar Lake State Park, which we’ve planned to be our DFW base for the rest of the week. The park is pretty but it’s in rough shape after flooding washed out whole sections of the park and left other sections with crumbling concrete pads and muddy ravines. We are lucky to find a space to fit the Woodebago (we’ve reached spring break season and everywhere is crowded with campers), although it is hilly and takes us a while to get her level. After all this time, we still have trouble estimating how many blocks we need on each side, front and back.
So we are lucky. And then we aren’t. Our first morning we discover ants. If there’s one thing we’ve learned it is not to underestimate the power of the tiny, black sugar ant. We pack, hook up, and dash (as much as a 31 foot RV with a toad can dash) out of Cedar Lake.
We find a private RV park, settle in, and bake a cake to celebrate the first of our BigTrip birthdays (a birthday I’ll never forget). The next day we visit Dallas to see the JFK/Sixth Floor Museum. Looking out the window of the sixth floor of what was once the Dallas Book Depository, the audio tour directs your attention to the two Xs in the road below that mark the spots where President Kennedy was shot and killed in 1963. From this window view, you can also see the grassy knoll and wonder for yourself if there was a second shooter and/or a conspiracy (Elian thinks yes and we have a friendly debate about it on the ride home). The exhibit is detailed with photos and artifacts about Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald, Lee’s killer, Jack Ruby, the Warren Commission and the House Committee that investigated the assassination.
That night, the skies cloud over and we pull up our blankets as the temperature drops abruptly. By dawn, it is storming and hail pounds our roof so hard we are sure it will crack the skylight vents or damage the slide out. Only our little table suffers dents.
Six feet. That’s how wide across the horns are on a Texas longhorn, we learn at the Fort Worth Stockyards the next day. We watch a dozen of these impressive animals walk by us in the daily longhorn drive down main street and then visit them and the rest of the animals up close in their stables. Fort Worth feels different from Dallas. A local woman, when we asked if they are like Minnesota’s twin cities, describes FW as slower, smaller and nicer than Dallas. “We don’t go over there,” she says with a big Texas smile and a wink.
Also in Fort Worth is this year’s Texas homeschool convention. Since BigTrip is a homeschooling experience for all of us, we’ve decided to attend.
The convention is fascinating for many reasons, among them that I immediately feel both welcome and very out of place. I’ve been to dozens, maybe hundreds, of educational conferences but never to a homeschooling one. And this is not just a homeschool convention, but a Christian convention, introducing itself as such in the program. They won’t turn away speakers or exhibitors who don’t fully agree with their statement of faith, the program explains, but they won’t approve any who are Anti-Christian. This strikes me as funny since among all the many people we know who aren’t Christian, or religious at all, I can’t think of any who would ever call themselves “Anti-Christian.” Anyway, we spend a good while reading the program and feeling lost, not knowing what “apologetics-oriented” means or what the “metaphysics of amazement” might be. There are sessions on building “Biblio plans” and we aren’t sure if this is a reference to books, like a library list, or a reference to the bible. We head off to sessions, bewildered by some of this unfamiliar vocabulary and cringing (at least I was) at some of the sessions (Loving Your Husband and Home-Educating Your Children, sponsored by Princess Books and Merchandise) and exhibits (the big Dino head at the Creationism booth).
A lot doesn’t fit for us. But it is a community worth learning from, even if we don’t agree with all the messaging. This is a strong group, who has the whole “it takes a village” thing down, possesses amazing oration skills, and seriously values learning and pedagogy. “Teaching your own children raises the stakes, right? You really have to learn how and what to teach them, am I right?” asks one woman who befriends me en route to a session, her three children trailing behind her (ours are sitting in the wide convention center hallway, plugged in to Minecraft). Another woman, her husband and four kids in tow, tells me it’s easier to homeschool as a military family. “He’s gone, then we move, then we move again. I don’t know how people manage to keep track of all their kids in changing school systems.” “I just like learning with them,” says a third woman with a baby in a sling and twin pre-teens beside her. Some of these things I can now understand since it does feel easier knowing exactly what and how our kids are learning. We don’t have to wonder if they missed some assignment they were supposed to do, or cross our fingers that they’re getting what they need. And it’s really nice to have the freedom and time to teach them whatever we want. Of course, we also don’t have jobs or any income, and there is a dark side of our homeschooling experience that I’ll save for another post. But, for now, we’re glad we came (the kids were thrilled since the exhibit booths handed out candy).
Now, we’re headed south to San Antonio to meet up with family. But first, it’s time to get back to the basics of love…Let’s go to Luckenbach, Texas.